Calvin Reasoner – 1996 Inductee

The only known photograph of Calvin Reasoner, when he was a member of the 1873 Kansas Legislature. Photo courtesy of “kansasmemory.org, Kansas State Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply”.

The annals of Osborne County history cite many individuals of exceptional ability. Few, however, can match the versatile Calvin Reasoner. Clergyman, newspaper editor and reporter, attorney, author, judge and politician, Reasoner left his impression on the early history of Osborne County and rightfully takes his place in the Osborne County Hall of Fame.

Calvin was born May 13, 1837, in Adamsville, Muskingum County, Ohio. He was the sixth of eleven children born to Jacob and Nancy (Hill) Reasoner. Little is known of his early life, other than that he was a college graduate with several degrees of merit, including Doctor of Laws. On March 8, 1863, Calvin married Venetia Shearer in Jackson County, Ohio.  Together they raised four daughters, May, Florence, Clara, and Elsie.

After their marriage the Reasoners moved west to Leavenworth, Kansas, where from 1864 to 1869 Reasoner was pastor of the First Christian Church. In 1870 he moved his family west again, this time settling in Tilden Township in Osborne County, Kansas. There Calvin joined with others and founded the town of Arlington. To insure the stability of the new town he and his partner Frank Thompson opened a general store, and in 1871 Calvin became the town’s first postmaster.

It was on the steps of Reasoner and Thompson’s general store that the organization of Osborne County took place on May 27, 1871. Much to Calvin’s consternation. however, Osborne City was selected the temporary county seat and not Arlington. To champion Arlington’s cause, the first newspaper in the county, the Osborne County Express, appeared with Calvin Reasoner as editor. The county seat contest was spirited, but in the third and final election held in November 1872 Osborne City garnered 267 votes to Arlington’s 214 and dashed its supporters’ hopes forever. The Arlington post office was discontinued and the town quickly faded away.

Calvin accepted defeat graciously and moved his family to Osborne City, where he opened a successful law practice and real estate business. He served as editor of the Osborne Times newspaper in 1873 and was elected mayor of Osborne in 1881. In 1873-74 he served both as the county representative to the Kansas Legislature and on the board of trustees of the Kansas Institute for Education of the Blind. In 1876 he compiled the newspaper series Historical Sketches of Osborne County in which was preserved much of the history of the county’s first five years.

In 1881 the Reasoners divorced. Calvin then married Ellen Jillson on December 16, 1882, in Massachusetts. This marriage also ended in divorce four years later. By 1888 Reasoner was working in Washington, D.C., as a special correspondent for the Topeka Daily Capital. The 1890s saw Calvin move to Utah, where he served as a probate judge in Ogden and wrote influential political articles urging less state government control by the Mormon Church. In 1896 his self-published book, Church and State: The Issue of Civil and Religious Liberty in Utah, influenced many Utah legislators in writing that state’s constitution.

Calvin Reasoner later lived in Warrensburg, New York, and in Sanford, Florida, where he lived with relatives.  He died there December 6, 1911, and was laid to rest in Sanford’s Lakeview Cemetery.   To date there is no known photograph of Calvin.

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Selections From “HISTORICAL SKETCHES OF OSBORNE COUNTY”

by Calvin Reasoner

Introduction:  Since the announcement a few weeks ago that an effort would be made to preserve a record of the historical details incident to the earliest settlement of our county there has been a commendable interest manifested in the mater by a number of our most intelligent citizens, and we can promise you a series of articles in which the most important historical matters can be preserved.  Let it be noted, however that in this series we will endeavor to follow no particular method whereby a systematic presentation would be secured.  Some articles will be furnished to us entire and will be published as presented and due credit be given to each contributor.  When the whole is spread upon the record, however scattering, it will not be difficult to systematize and put in proper shape. – C. R.

The first item we shall mention is the pecuniary condition of the early settlers in general.  It is no disgrace to those who came first into our county to say that the majority of them were very poor in this world’s goods, however blessed they might feel to be in their hopes of another and better life.  At the present, after half a dozen years of settlement, but few are well circumstanced.  Few have more than the barest necessities of life.  A very limited number have the comforts of life and scarcely any are able to afford the luxuries.

It must be expected that a majority of the settlers in a new country, and especially in a homestead country, will be poor.  Before the homestead law was enacted lands were often sold to the highest bidder and men of capital as well as those of moderate means would purchase lands.  The wealthy would buy large tracts and hold them for a rise in prices through settlement and the poor would buy each a farm for a home.  It was consequently by the improvements of the poor that speculators would get an advance on their lands.  But in a homestead country no man can get more that a small amount of land and in order to hold that he must live upon it.  Thus a man of wealth can scarcely invest his means until lands begin to change hands.  Some capital may be invested in the purchase and sale of goods, but even this kind of business is very much limited by the general destitution.

The markets . . . so far as there were any, were very remote from the settlers of our county–as they are still–but in 1870 and 1871 there was very little produced for sale, even if there had been a good market.  The principal staple was buffalo meat, and this was carried down the Solomon [River] valley as far as Solomon City [110 miles away] or sometimes to Junction City [160 miles], both places being trading points.  Buffalo meat was carried in wagons, sometimes in the raw state, and frequently it would be dried.  The latter would sell at from six to ten cents per pound and the former at from three to six.  Occasionally prices would vary from these figures but these were about the average.  The employment was therefore better than nothing and it was all that was available at the time.  Hence a great many of the settlers in 1870, 1871, and 1872 became of necessity buffalo hunters.

Let us draw a picture which has often been verified in our past history.  Here comes a covered wagon slowly moving up the road which was recently merely a buffalo hunters’ trail.  There are two persons walking and a boy driving.  Inside you notice, as the team approaches, that there are women and children; also bedding, boxes, tools and traps of various kinds; a shovel and a broom stick out behind and a small chicken coop hangs on at the rear.  The little cavalcade halts in our presence and inquires for vacant lands.  They want to get ‘timber and water.’  You tell them that there is plenty of vacant land with timber and water at a certain point and then inquire how far they have come.  Well they have driven some two or three hundred miles in search of a home and now they have got to their destination and they feel like laying the foundations of a new home.  They don’t feel discouraged by the entire newness of the country but indicate a determination to make the best of it.  They drive on to the place indicated and soon take hold on the surroundings and show they are able to take advantage of everything that offers in the building up of a new home.

You visit them in few weeks and find that they have used timber enough to build them a comfortable house capable of withstanding the winds, the heat and the rains.  They are breaking some ground and planting corn in the sod.  If the season is favorable they will get some ten or fifteen bushels per acre of sod corn and this will suffice to feed the team and perhaps a cow; and if it be not far to mill some of it will be ground for bread.  If there are no mills the corn can be parched or boiled.  I have known families to live all winter on little else than boiled corn and thankful to get even that meager supply.  If the season should fail to be one that would produce corn our settler will have hard times.  They have no money, perhaps.  Probably they did not bring five dollars into the country with them.  Some brought considerable money and soon consumed it in living expenses and then were quite destitute.

What then must our poor family do?  There is no work that will bring any remuneration.  How many poor settlers a few years ago contemplated life from this unhappy standpoint.  If the settler could get to haul a load of goods or freight of any king for a merchant or anybody else this would be of help; anything he could turn his hand to.  In this state of things it was very convenient to turn buffalo hunter, and for two purposes–one to supply the family with food, the other to have something for market to supply other things.

The year 1870 was tolerably good for wheat in the lower part of the Solomon valley, where it had begun to settle up and be cultivated, but it was dry through June and July.  In the vicinity probably corn would not have made more than half a crop.  Rains began early in August and continued through the fall.  All through the early part of the summer hot winds prevailed.  Some of the rains in the latter part of the season were exceeding heavy, so that the ground in many places was flooded with water.  During the latter part of this year 1870 Mr. [Frank] Stafford settled with his mother and her family on Little Medicine Creek near the mouth.  About the same time Baronet Gow, Will Garrison and Joseph Hart settled there, and these were the pioneers on Little Medicine.  They were soon joined by Wiley Wilson and others.  The winter was remarkably mild and pleasant and very favorable for the maintenance of stock without grain.  Gow had two yoke of oxen and had no grain to feed them, but they lived through and came out in the spring in good order, having had nothing but buffalo grass to subsist on.

Gow was a great devotee of the ‘weed.’  He had been out about a month and was severely punished for want of it when he succeeded in getting half a dollar and came out post haste down the valley to the writer’s store to get tobacco–I should have said ‘tobaker.’  His chagrin can scarcely be imagined when he got to the store and found that he had lost his money.  His words fell thick and fast and most of them indicated that he had been brought up under some of the numerous forms of orthodox religion.  A caddy of bright navy seemed to intensify his disappointment.  On being handed an immense plug his dental outfit set to work in good earnest as though the making of ‘amber’ was the chief end of man and to expectorate it around the height of human happiness.  It was not expected at the time that the plug would ever be paid for but it was and hundreds of dollars more within the next two years by this same honest, hardy, good-natured Baronet Gow.  Mr. Frank Stafford was one of the first three commissioners appointed by the governor and was subsequently elected to the same office by the popular vote.  He still resides in single blessedness on Little Medicine.” — Osborne County Farmer, March 3, 1876, and July 7, 1876.

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