William Higgins


William Higgins, of Bartlesville, has been a witness of and participant in much that is vital in the history of this great section of the Middle West for fully sixty years. He and his family were in Kansas during the fratricidal struggle which made that a free state. William Higgins cast his first vote for Abraham Lincoln in 1864, while with the Union army at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory. He is a former secretary of State of Kansas, and for fifty years has been closely acquainted with Oklahoma citizenship and tribal affairs. He first came to Oklahoma in May, 1899, in the service of the Indian department with the Dawes Commission as appraiser of Indian lands for allotment. At the beginning of the oil excitement he resigned and in 1903 went to Bartlesville and has been a prominent resident of that city since 1904.
In Norristown, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, William Higgins was born April 2, 1842, a son of Patrick and Elizabeth Jane (Flanagan) Higgins. His parents were solid and substantial people, endowed with a large amount of common sense, had good ideals and aims and endeavored to put them into practice, and were both of the Catholic faith. Patrick Higgins was born in the City of Sligo and his wife in Belfast, Ireland. The former lived to be eighty-nine and the latter to seventy-seven years of age. Patrick Higgins was an Irish schoolmaster and mechanic. He was a free state democrat, but when he settled in Missouri in 1848 found that such democrats were not popular. In 1854 he moved to Kansas and gave his aid and influence in making that a free state.
First in Missouri and then in Kansas Territory William Higgins spent his early years beginning with his first conscious recollection. What schooling he had came from his parents, and public schools, from a Catholic academy and from printing shops, which have always been recognized as a great university training school. However, his character has been molded and shaped by hard experience in the frontier life of the West. He has been in and has seen every territory west of Missouri, Iowa and Arkansas come into statehood.
As a boy during the terrible border warfare between the Missouri and Kansas people of the ’50s, he endured the hardship of frontier life and of drought fanatical strife. He himself shared in some of the experiences of those days, witnessed the destruction of homes and lives, and all the brutal savagery and passions of the civil warfare, which beginning in Kansas, in time enveloped the entire nation. Nowhere was the Civil war fought with greater fury and hatred and with less regard for the honorable rules of warfare than in the border district. William Higgins is one of the few men still living who witnessed the battle of Osawatomie on August 30, 1856, between the border ruffians under Colonel Reid of Independence, Missouri, who had 300 men under his command, and John Brown, who had about forty of his followers. Mr. Higgins says this was not a battle, but a very tame affair, between two parties of outlaws, neither of which showed a keen desire to fight. Brown did his best to get away, while Reid and his men thought Brown had from 800 to 1,000 sharpshooters in the timber and marched into Osawatomie, a village of less than 600 people, sacked the town and burned the homes, leaving women and children without shelter or food.
After witnessing this battle Mr. Higgins, then a boy of fourteen, went to Leavenworth on September 11, 1856, and in the same month he became a teamster and drove a team for the Government to a supply train from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney. In 1857 he went into Salt Lake City, Utah, with Col. Sidney Johnson’s army, and continued to follow the plains life up to August, 1860.
He then returned to the home of his parents at Paola, Kansas, expecting to go back to Utah to engage in business. The Civil war prospects caused a change in his plans, he resumed work at the case in a printing office. Some years earlier he had gained his first knowledge of printing, and his work as a newspaper man is one of the most important features of his career.
On April 7, 1861, at Paola, Kansas, he enlisted in the Union army for three years. He was the first one to offer his services in Miami County, Kansas. He was mustered out of the service at Fort Leavenworth October 19, 1865. He has in his possession an honorable discharge as a private veteran of the Civil war and his record as a soldier was clean. His service was in the Western Department, composed of Missouri, Kansas, Indian Territory, Arkansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. This department was more a guerrilla war zone than one in which honorable war methods prevailed. In the entire department only eighteen honorable battles were fought between the regular army forces of the Union and Confederate sides; though there were Indian massacres and outlaw guerrilla warfare by Quantrill, Anderson and other outlaws.
After the war Mr. Higgins started the Miami Free Press at Paola, but sold it in 1867, and then established the Le Roy Pioneer in Coffey County, Kansas. That paper he sold in 1868, and going to Coffeyville in Montgomery County was associated with ex-Senator E. G. Ross on his paper. In 1870 the plant was destroyed, and he then established at Columbus, Kansas, a republican paper which he conducted until 1878. While his work in the newspaper field and otherwise did not bring to Mr. Higgins great wealth, he has prospered, and his influence has always been exerted on the side of improvement. All the papers he started are still alive excepting the Miami Free Press.
In 1876 Mr. Higgins became connected with the claim and law department of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, and in 1880 when that road passed out of the hands of receivers he went with the claim and law department of the Santa Fe Company. He has held but two public offices, has never asked for nor sought an official position, has never asked a man to vote for him, and he says that it has been his best pleasure to play the political game for principle and good government and capable citizenship rather than to hold an office.
However, in the State of Kansas the name of William Higgins has long been well known in state and local affairs. In 1888 and again in 1901 he was nominated and elected to the office of secretary of state on the republican ticket. He made a creditable record during his administration in both terms. This was the only elective office for which Mr. Higgins was ever a candidate before the voters. In earlier years he had been honored by the Legislature and governors of Kansas. He was appointed to state positions, and since coming to Oklahoma has served as clerk of United States Court at Bartlesville, and President Roosevelt appointed him postmaster of that city. The democratic governor of Oklahoma appointed him a member of the Gettysburg Commission as the representative of the Grand Army of the Republic. He has been elected department commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Oklahoma, and has been a member of that order for more than thirty-seven years.
The one organization to which Mr. Higgins has been chiefly devoted throughout his life has been the republican party. He is an old fashioned conservative type of republican. He believes in high tariff, strong state and National Government, and has had little sympathy with many of the theoretical reforms which have held the stage of public attention during recent years, particularly those designed to control and regulate business affairs. Mr. Higgins says that he became a member of the republican party organization and has kept his dues paid up ever since and before he cast his first vote for Mr. Lincoln in 1864 in November while with the army in Indian Territory.
As to churches he believes in the good of such organizations, though he is not a regular attendant. He was reared a Catholic. He also believes in schools and all forces for education. He has tried to guide his life in accordance with the divine laws and in Oklahoma as elsewhere he has endeavored to support those laws made by men, but which he finds have not been enforced by public officials in compliance with the full meaning of the obligation of an oath of office.
On January 20, 1863, during the Civil war time, Mr. Higgins married Miss Julia A. Gallaway at Paola, Kansas. The two daughters of that marriage are still living. At Parsons, Kansas, on November 30, 1879, Mr. Higgins married Laura Virginia Knisley. To this union also were two children born, Helen W. and Theo C. The daughter Helen died four years ago, and the son is now living with his parents, unmarried. The daughters by the first wife were Cora Jane and Alice Agnes Higgins. Cora Jane married in 1884 Henry Mudd of Adrian, Missouri, a farmer, and they now live in California. Alice Agnes was married in 1887 to Lincoln Etyner, and they now live on a farm in Ogle County, Illinois. Helen W. Higgins, who died at Long Beach, California, in 1911, married Franklin T. Metzler, a wholesale merchant of Colorado Springs, Colorado.