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Kansas City, Missouri; its history and its people 1808-1908 (Volume 2) online

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Its History and Its People




Vol. II




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Robert Thompson Van Plorn, journalist, soldier and statesman, was
born in what is now East Mahoning, Indiana county, Pennsylvania, May
19, 1824, a son of Henry and Elizabeth (Thompson) Van Horn. His
paternal grandparents were Isaiah and Dorcas (Logan) Van Horn, of Bucks
county and later of Indiana county, Pennsylvania, while his maternal grand-
parents were Robert and Mary (Cannon) Thompson, of Ireland. On the
paternal side he is of Dutch descent, the first representative of the family
in America, Jan Cornelissen (John, the son of Cornelius), having emigrated
from Hoorn, Holland, and settled at New Amsterdam (New York) in 1645.
One of his descendants, Christian Barentsin Van Horn, settled at Communi-
paw. New Jersey, in 1711, from which branch of the family Colonel Van
Horn is directlv descended.

On his mother's side he is of Scotch-Irish ancestry, his maternal grand-
parents having come from County Londonderry, Ireland, to America, land-
ing at Philadelphia in 1789 and afterward removing to what is noAV Rayne
township, Indiana county, Pennsylvania.

His great-grandfather, Henry Van Horn, was captain of a company
of Pennsylvania troops in the Revolutionary army and died in the service,
while his grandfather, Isaiah Van Horn, served in the same company until
the end of the war.

His father, who was born in Bucks county, Pennsylvania, in 1788,
was a farmer by occupation and passed away in 1877. His mother, whose
life span covered the years between 1788 and 1858, was a native of Ireland
and did much by her influence in shaping the active virtues of her son's
life. They were married in Indiana county, Pennsylvania, in 1814, and
Robert Thompson wa.s the fifth child and second son of the family of seven
children, of whom four were sons.

Reared on the paternal farm, the educational opportunities of R. T.
Van Horn were limited to a few months' attendance during the winter at a


subscription school, where he learned reading, writing, arithmetic and a lit-
tle geography but grannnar was not then taught in schools of that section
of Pennsylvania. At the age of fifteen he Ijecanie an apprentice in the office
of the Indiana (Pa.) Register, where he remained for four years, master-
ing the i)rinter's trade and at the same time acquiring, through industrious
reading, a generous store of information. From 1843 to 1855 he worked a^
a journeyman printer on newspapers in Pennsylvania, New^ York, Ohio and
Indiana and at intervals edited and published a country journal. Meanwhile
he varied his occupation by boating for a time on the Erie canal, steam-
boating during two seasons, as he found employment, on the Ohio, Wabash
and Missi.ssippi rivers, and acting at one time as a clerk on a river steamer,
deriving from the latter position the title of captain, which clung to him
until his Civil war sen'ice. During that period he also studied law in the
office of William Ranks, of Indiana, Pennsjdvania, and of Hon. T. A.
Plants, of Meigs county, Ohio, with whom he was engaged in legal practice
for a short time and who, twenty years later, was his fellow congressman.

On July 31, 1855, he located in City, Missouri, where he has
since resided, devoting a lifetime of strenuous and successful effort to the
interests of this city. The following October he purchased the Enterprise,
a small weekly ];)a])er which had been launched but a few months before
and wa.» then on the point of suspension, paying for the journal his entire
cash capital of two hundred and fifty dollars and incurring a debt of like
amount, of which, however, he was afterward freely discharged by the
fctockholders in recognition of his ability, valuable service and fidelity to
local interests. On its fir.<t anniversary thereafter the paper was changed to
the Kansas City lournal and in June, 1858, developed into a daily paper.
and for three years after purchasing the Journal ]Mr. Van Horn himself
performed much of the labor of type-setting and press work, as well as of
editing. In hi> lunids the .Journal became the promoter of all local enter-
prises, advocatinti, tlu-onuh its columns not only the bading industries of
Kansas City but cvci-y trunk line of railway now reaching the city before a
locomotive (-uiic into .-iuht. l^'i^om the l^eginniug it was the moldcr of local
enterprise and gave ins})iration to its activities, and it was a recognized
power in attracting poj)ulation not only to the city but to all the outlying
region. During the whole of its existence it ha- b.'cn the leading commercial
and political organ west of St. Louis. Elevat(>(l in tone and sagacious in direct-
ing j>ublic sentiment and jtarty jiolicy. it ha> Keen an ini])ort:uit factor in de-
veloping; the wonderful resource- of tlie new we-t. 'IMu'ougli its columns
ihc mind of the editor was everywhei'e manifest in editorials for the im-
provement of City, urging the citizens to build up the center of
mountain ;uiil pi'nirie eomiiK rcc. mid every editorial was o]")timistic, encour-
aging ;ui<l .-tiniulatinu and entirely IVce fi'om sarcasm and ])itterness. Dur-
ing the ]»olitical cani|iai^n of iSdO and ))i'ior thereto the Joui-nal had been
a conservative democratic pa]iei-. oppo.-ed Id ilie extreme sensational views
of both the north and th.- .-outli. -u|i|>oiiiiio Mi-. Douglas for the presidency.
Upon tlie outbreak of the Civil wai\ however, it d':'clared unqualified attach-
ment to tlie T'nion and in JSCl contended for the reelection of Lincoln,


since which time it has been a steadfastly republican journal. In 1897
Colonel Yan Horn retired after forty-one years' control of the paper, hav-
ing directed its conduct even during his long period of congressional service,
and at the same time wrote much of its editorial matter.

In 1856 an organization wa.s formed, under the name of the Kansas
City ^\ssociation for Public Improvement, of which Mr. Xau Horn was an
originator and which later became the Chamber of Commerce. Shortly
afterward he was elected alderman and in 1857 appointed postmaster of
this city, serving as such until the beginning of the Civil war.

In April, 1861, when the first blow was delivered against the Union,
Mr. Yan Horn, a Douglas democrat, denounced the assault and appealed
to all good citizens to aid in supporting the government. He was selected
as the Union candidate for the mayoralty and elected by a decided majority
over Dr. G. M. B. Mauglis, a secessionist, which election is significant in
that it saved Kansas City to the Union, being the only city in the state
where a municipal election turned on the great issue of loyalty to the gen-
eral government. To defeat the purposes of the Union municipal author-
ities in Kansas City and elsewhere, the Missouri legislature dominated by
secessionists, passed a bill divesting the mayor of power to control the local
police and vesting that power in a board of police commissioners to be ap-
pointed by the governor, then Claiborne F. Jackson, at which critical
juncture Mayor Van Horn displayed practical patriotism, energy and cour-
age. Eepairing to St. Louis, he there met General Nathaniel Lyon and
Hon. Frank P. Blair, to whom he communicated his fears for the safety of
Kansas City and his desire that its loss should be averted, and in return he
was assured that assistance would be afforded at the earliest possible moment.

A few days later Kansas City was occupied by a small force of United
States troops from Fort Leavenworth, the officer in command being under
orders to recognize only Mayor Van Horn in the disposition and use of his
command. The latter, under authority of the Avar department, then re-
cruited what was known as ''Van Horn's Battalion of United States Reserve
Corps," the first organized Union force in ^lissouri outside of St. Louis,
which was mustered into the service of the United States under his com-
mand. He then assumed charge of the post, Captain Prince and his troops
retiring, and from that time until peace was restored Kansas City remained
in possession of the Union forces. Mayor Van Horn established a fortified
camp, known as Fort Union, at the southwest corner of Tenth and Central
streets, and instituted a rigid guard system and school for military instruc-
tion. Meanwhile the resident secessionists sought to embarrass him but his
fertility of resource effected their complete discomfiture. He ignored Gov-
ernor Jackson's police commissioners and on one occasion, in the exercise
of his own authority as mayor, quelled opposition by threat of using his own
troops as a United States officer.

The seizure by the Union troops of Kansas City on June 10, 1861,
only a few hours before a superior force of Secessionists had fixed to occupy
it, has never been realized as its importance warrants. This city has ever
been a strategic point in both commercial and military operations. Its


topography dominates the whole southwest. It was the objective of both
campaigns of General Sterling Price and had it been occupied by his army
in this incipient movement, the whole country south of the Missouri river,
if not all of the state, would have been dominated by the Confederate arms,
and Kansas and Iowa the theater of hostile operations — and rendering Fort
Leavenworth untenable, or in a state of siege — involving the task of recon-
quering Missouri. Military men have ever so recognized the absolute neces-
sity of holding Kansas City. And history records the evidence that the
initiation and accomplishment of this vital action was due to Colonel Van
Horn as a civil magistrate and a military commandant. The entire event
was unique as it was important and far-reaching in its effect and in its re-

On July 17, 1861, with two companies of his battalion he made an ex-
pedition southward and, near Harrisonville, skirmished with the enemy
under Colonel Duncan, whom he defeated, losing one man killed, and kill-
ing three of the enemy. In command of two companies of his own bat-
talion and two companies of Peabody's St. Joseph Battalion, he confronted
the army of General Price in its approach upon Lexington, Missouri (be-
ing attached to Colonel Mulligan's command), September 12, and in that
aftair. known as "the fight in the lane," and the bloodiest encounter of the
campaign, the enemy was driven back more than two miles, suffering con-
sideraVjle loss. AVith hi^ command he was engaged during the entire siege
and on tlio last day Avas severely wounded. After being exchanged his
battalion was made a part of the Twenty-fifth Missouri Infantry Regiment
and he was promoted to the lieutenant colonelcy. The regiment was then
a.«signed to the Army of the Tennessee and, with General B. M. Prentiss'
Division, took a conspicuous part in the d&sperate battle of Shiloh. The
brigade commander, Colonel Peabody, being killed, throughout the en-
gagement Colonel Van Horn commanded the regiment, which was part of
the brigade to receive the first Confederate onslaught, and had his horse
killed under him. In the operations against Corintli he acted for a time as
brigade coiiiiii;iii(ler and when the city was occupied, his regiment, which
had become proficient in engineering, was assigned to the duty of construct-
ing Batteries A to F, carrying on the Avork under the direction of the reg-
ular engineer officers. These works were the principal point of attack by
the Confederates the following October and their sneees~fnl defense gave the
vieti'vy (f» General Roseerans.

ICarly in 1863 Colonel \*an llorn'^ r^oiinent. greatly depleted through
the casualties of active service, was retnrned to Missouri for recruiting pur-
po.«es and later ordered to New Madrid, Missouri, to open a military road
throngli the New River Swamp, but the project Avas abandoned by order of
General Sdiofield after a personal reconnoi.ssance and adverse report by Colonel
Van Horn. In July the latter was assigned to duty as provost marshal on
the .staff of General Thomas Ewing, commanding the District of the
Border, tlie assignment being made by General Schofield at the urgent solic-
itation of many citizens of Jackson county, whose sympathies Avere aroused
by needless suffering imposed upon many through the execution of the


famous "Order No.. II." Intent upon the suppression of disloyalty and
with that faithful submission to superiors characteristic of the true soldier,
he executed his orders with firmness, his conduct during that distressing
period and in a position of peculiar responsibility being that of which only
the noblest of men could be capable. At the same time he mitigated the
severity of his orders to the extent of his pow-er, tempering his acts with for-
bearance, consideration and sympathy and in many cases aiding with sub-
sistence and assisting to new homes those w^ho had been dispossessed.

Early in 1864 Colonel Van Horn's regiment was consolidated with
Colonel Bissell's engineer regiment, which necessitated the discharge of su-
pernumerary officers, among whom was Colonel Van Horn, who was hon-
orably mustered out, Colonel Flad, the ranking colonel as well as a profes-
sional engineer, being retained in service.

Doiring the Price raid in October, 1864, Colonel Van Horn, then mayor
of Kansas City, was charged by General Curtis with the organization of the
militia and the construction of city fortifications and devoted himself ardu-
ously to his duties. As volunteer aide to General Curtis he witnessed the
battle of Westport and the defeat of the Confederate forces.

In political life Colonel Van Horn devoted all his energies to advanc-
ing the interests of Kansas City and the region tributary thereto. In 1862,
while with his regiment in the field, he was elected to the state senate and
in the session of the following January was one of the seven members who
effected the election of John B. Henderson to the United States senate,
which event was a potent factor in the conduct of Missouri politics for years
afterward. In the session of 1864-5 he had charge of the bill providing for
the completion of the IMissouri Pacific Railway to Kansas City, the first
railway to reach this city, and with the aid of M. J. Payne and E. M.
McGee, who urged the measure in the house, success was attained. In 1864
he was elected to congress from the eighth Missouri district, serving in the
thirty-ninth, fortieth and forty-first congresses (1865-71) and in the forty-
seventh and fifty-fourth congresses (1881-3 and 1895-7). He officiated in
congress as chairman of the house committee of the joint committee on
printing, on the committees of Indian affairs and on Pacific railroads, as
well as various other important committees, and was always known as an
active and vigilant member. He was untiring in his efforts to secure the
passage of measures of importance to the growing west as well as those of
national interest: introduced bills for the improvement of western rivers,
the consolidation of Indian tribes, the first railroad bridge across the Mis-
souri river at Kansas Citv and the first bill for the organization of Okla-
homa Territory; and was also personally influential in effecting a treaty
with the tribes in the Indian Territory by which the first railroad was
granted the right of way through that section. He aided in securing the
legislation providing for the building of the Kansas City, Fort Scott & Gulf
Railway and enabled the company to secure the neutral lands, now the
counties of Crawford and Cherokee, Kansas, in aid of construction: and also
secured the passage in the house of representatives of the bridge charter of
the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad.


Colonel Van Horn supplemented his sei-vice as a public official with
per.?istent and vigorous effort through his newspaper and in attending con-
ventions and legislative gatherings where the interests of Kansas City could
be at all furthered. His knowledge of western affairs was such that his
party in Missouri, and by unanimous endorsement of the legislature of Kan-
sas, combined in vigorously urging his appointment as secretary of the in-
terior under President Hayes. From 1875 to 1881 he was collector uf
internal revenue of the sixth district of Missouri. Always accorded great
skill and sagacity as a politician, Colonel Van Horn has been a valued mem-
ber of many national and state committees and conventions and served as
a delegate to the republican national convention of 1864, 18G8, 1872, 1876,
1880 and 1884. being one of the ''308" voting for General Grant in the con-
vention of 1880. He also served twice as a member of the national republican
committee and as chairman of the republican state committee of Missouri.

He was one of the organizers of the Kansas City Academy of Science
in 1877 and its president for many years. His interest in scientific subjects
led him to warmly advocate, through his paper the establishment of a man-
ual training school and the present excellent institution of Kansas City
probably owes its existence more to the sentiment created by his utterances
than to any other agency.

As a writer Colonel Van Horn was always lucid and vigorous. Affect-
ing none of the arts of the polished writer, his sentences are models of clear,
easily understood and grammatical English, characterized by an expression
peculiar to the deep and logical thinker, absolutely sincere and fearless.
For many years preceding his retirement from journalism he wrote a Sun-
day article embodying philosophical reflections upon topics of current in-
terest, which frequently verged, upon the metaphysical and were at times
daring in their adroit indictment of mental faults and moral offenses. Al-
ways (loliglitfully readable, they attracted such wide attention that com-
petent critic.-, including some who could not approve all the conclusions of
the writer, urged their publication in book form. For some years past he
has written but little except in the way of occasional encomium upon some
well regarded pioneer who has passed awaj^, such writings including a tribute
to the memory of Colonel M. J. Payne, read before the Kansas City His-
torical Society. Perhaps his latest work of peculiar local interest is his
article on " Border Troubles" written for the Encyclopedia
of the Hi.-tory of Missouri.

Colonel Van Horn is recognized as a man of distinguished literary
attainments and superior mind and stands foremost among the many able
and energetic ni.'n engaged in the making of City. Every stc]) taken
for the aihanccnicnt of the citN' wa- in the face of almost insuperable ob-
stacles and all that was accomplished for it was ])nrcly through undismayed
hopefulness and unconquerable determination, and among those who di.s-
played these attributes in their perfection was Colonel ^'an Horn. During
his forty-one years' service as editor, in the legislature and in congress, and
unceasingly in his personal effort as a jirivate citizen, hi- life work has been
for the upbuilding of Kansas City.


A type of manhood that ha,s made it possible for the people of this
country to enjoy in the fullest measure the richness of this life which is
their inheritance, for more than forty years he has stood as the embodiment
of that kind of energy which has made the name of Kansas City a synonym
for enterprise, intelligently and honestly directed, in all sections of the
United States. He is distingxiished as having been the moving spirit among
a coterie of men of rcmarkaljle practical sagacity, in knowing how to seize
upon opportunities that would command and hold the avenues of commerce
from the Lakes to Galveston and to determine in advance what should be
the gateway between the Mississippi valley and the Pacific.

The preparation he received educationally to play the part in life in
which he was destined to become a most conspicuous actor was most meager.
Complimented on his wide and scholarly reading and the firm grasp he
had on scientific and philosophic subjects and his comprehensive knowledge
of public men and national affairs, he took from a library shelf three small
books — a "United States Spelling Book," ''Introduction to the English
Reader," and old arithmetic, "The Western Calculator." "These," he said,
"were the sources of my information. I studied them in the winter when
the weather was too bad to work out of doors." His ethical training con-
sisted chiefly of the shorter catechism of the Presbyterian church, of which
his grandfathers, father and brother were elders. How well his contact with
different types of men with whom he mingled had prepared him as a torch-
bearer for the forefront of this western procession, is not now a question of
speculation but one of deeds accomplished.

In his personal character Colonel Van Horn is modest in the extreme,
readily yielding to others more credit for accomplished results than he
cares to have ascribed to himself. A deep student of books, a close observer
of events and a rare judge of men, through a long and eventful life in which
he has met in familiar contact the greatest actors in a wondrous era, he is
a rarely entertaining conversationalist, uniting in his discourse the knowl-
edge of the historian, the wise discrimination of the critic and the well-
tempered judgment of the philosopher. Owing to his true friendship in
which confidence is never lost or debased, his name is deeply engraved on
the hearts of thousands of men and women who knew him in the early
struggles, trials and triumphs of Kansas City and he is esteemed by all who
know him as an honest, sympathetic and public-spirited citizen. His every-
day life is simple, unpretending and democratic, bringing him in close touch
with all classes, whose thoughts, feelings and aspirations he understands
far better than those who stand aloof.

A statesman, philosopher, scholar and thinker, his mind which was
trained by a long and powerful system of analysis, so that it worked with
the precision of a splendid piece of machinery, moves in an ever-widening
circle of knowledge. Indissolubly connected with Kansas City, its rise,
progress and destiny, is the name of Colonel Van Horn, whose public
services and private virtues belong to this nation as one of its great historic
characters. And by universal sanction Kansas City has conferred on him
the title of "First Citizen."


At Pomeroy, Ohio, on December 2, 1848, he married Adela H.,
daughter of Caleb and Matilda (Buckingham) Cooley, of Meigs county,
Ohio. They had four children: Caleb Henry, who died at the age of eight;
Charles C, who died in his twentieth year; Robert C, also deceased, who
served as assistant under Postniaster. Theodore S. Case and at the time of
his death, which occurred when he was thirty-five years of age, was a stock-
holder in the Kansas City Journal and actively engaged on that paper; and
Dick Y'dn Horn, born November 15, 1851, who for thirteen years was a
member of the staff of the Kansas City Journal.


Charles S. Keith, who since 1907 ha^ been president and general man-
ager of the Central Coal & Coke Company, the largest concern of the kind
in the southwest, was born in Kansas City, January 28, 1873. The family is
of Scotch lineage and the progenitor of the American branch came from
Scotland in 1642. His father, Richard H. Keith, a native of Lexington,
Missouri, became a resident of Kansas City in 1871 and established business,
which is now conducted under the name of the Central Coal & Coke Com-
pany and in which connection he became one of the most prominent business
men of this section of the country, controlling mammoth interests in both
lumber and coal. As stated, he was a native of Lexington, born in 1842.
The early American ancestors lived in Virginia, while Mr. and Mrs. Smith
Keith, j)arents of Richard H. Keith, removed from the Old Dominion to
Missouri in 1889. Reared in this state, Richard H. Keith attended the old

Online LibraryCarrie Westlake WhitneyKansas City, Missouri; its history and its people 1808-1908 (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 65)