Biography of Alexander Caldwell

Alexander Caldwell. Among the notable men in the history of Kansas, few are more deserving of perpetuation in its annals than is Alexander Caldwell. From the time when he came to Leavenworth, in the spring of 1861, until his recent retirement from the cares of active life, he was identified with events and movements that made Kansas history in numerous and diversified directions. A pioneer in the work of transporting military supplies to the army posts west of the Missouri River, with the coming of the railroads he turned his attention to railroad construction and management; as a manufacturer he became one of the prominent figures in Fort Leavenworth’s industrial life; as a financier he was the directing head of what became one of the leading financial institutions of the state; and in public life he held positions of high honor and trust. He was the father of the Soldiers’ Home at Leavenworth, and was also instrumental in the securing of an appropriation for the establishment of the United States Military Prison (now the Federal Penitentiary) at this point. His entire career had been one which had reflected honor and credit upon his splendid abilities, his absolute integrity and his devotion to high ideals of citizenship.

Alexander Caldwell comes of notable ancestry. Born in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, March 1, 1830, he is a son of James Caldwell and a grandson of Alexander Caldwell, who was the progenitor of the family in America. The elder Alexander Caldwell was a native of County Donegal, Ireland, and on coming to America settled in New Jersey, where he followed farming in connection with operating a stone quarry, and where he died. James Caldwell, his son, was also a native of Ireland, and for years operated a charcoal furnace and iron furnace in Pennsylvania. He married Jane Matilda Drake, a daughter of James Drake, who was the proprietor of Drake’s Ferry, across the Juniata River, ten miles below Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and who was a member of the family of Sir Francis Drake, and a lineal descendant of Sir Thomas Drake of England. James Caldwell served in our war with Mexico, being captain of Company M, Second Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, and was mortally wounded at the battle of Chapultepec, September 12-14, 1847, and died.

Alexander Caldwell, of Leavenworth, had but limited advantages in his boyhood. He was clerk in a store at Columbia, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when his father enlisted in the Mexican war, being seventeen years of age at this time, and, leaving his clerkship, overtook his father at Pittsburgh and persuaded the elder man to allow him to join Company M as a private. Thus, at an age when he should have been in school, he fought at National Bridge, Puebla, Contreras, Churubusco, Chapultepec, Monterey and the skirmishes around the City of Mexico. He returned to his native state fatherless, and for a time found employment as cashier in the First National Bank of Columbia, where he gained a thorough knowledge of banking, which was to stand him in good stead in later years.

Mr. Caldwell came to Leavenworth, Kansas, in the spring of 1861, and for a time contracted with the United States Government to transport army supplies to the military posts west of the Monroe River, and to Salt Lake City, under the firm name of A. Caldwell & Company. While engaged in this work he had considerable dealings with the Mormons at Salt Lake City, and notably with the great leader, Brigham Young. In this transporting work he employed as many as 5,000 teams and 60,000 head of oxen, and provided employment for upwards of 5,000 men. He continued in this line of endeavor until the building of the railroads. During this time he became interested in railroad construction work, and had the contract for the building of the Missouri Pacific Railroad from Kansas City to Leavenworth in 1866, and in 1869 extended this line to Atchison. He remained as president of the road until it was sold. With others, he organized the Kansas Central Railroad Company and built its line from Leavenworth to Miltonville, Kansas, later serving as vice president of the company. During this time Mr. Caldwell had become one of the foremost figures and a potent factor in affairs in Kansas. In 1871 he was elected United States Senator to succeed Senator Ross, who was the successor of Senator Lane, and served in the session of 1872 and 1873, then resigning his exalted position to attend to a multiplicity of other duties. As senator, he was instrumental in having passed the bill that required one term annually of the United States Court be held at Leavenworth, was instrumental in securing an appropriation for the establishment of the United States Military Prison (now the United States Penitentiary) at Fort Leavenworth, was instrumental in having the Old Soldiers’ Home established here, and on two occasions when Fort Leavenworth was in imminent danger of being abolished was the prime factor in having it retained here.

From 1874 until 1888, with Mr. Caldwell as its president, the Kansas Manufacturing Company, at Leavenworth, was one of the important commercial houses of the West, furnished employment for hundreds of men, and the Caldwell wagon, manufactured by the concern, was sold by the thousands all over the western part of the country. When the First National Bank at Leavenworth was established, Mr. Caldwell became a depositor, and later a director. In January, 1897, he was elected president of this institution, a position he had since held, and to his keen business acumen the bank is indebted for the position it occupies today as one of the foremost financial institutions in Kansas. So long as history endures, the name of Alexander Caldwell will stand in a foremost position among the great men of Kansas.

Mr. Caldwell married Miss Mace A. Heise, of Columbia, Pennsylvania, a member of an old and, honored family of that region, and three daughters were born to that union: Minnie, Emily and Pattie, the last-named of whom died in 1889, at the age of eighteen years, unmarried. Minnie became the wife of Dr. Squire S. Taylor, who died in December, 1889. Two children were born to them: Geraldine Caldwell, now the wife of Maj. Clarence O. Sherill, United States Engineer; and Alexander Caldwell, who, in order to perpetuate his grandfather’s name, dropped the name of Taylor and is known as Alexander Caldwell only. Mrs. Taylor later married John D. Robertson, who died January 6, 1908. Emily married Harry C. Grace, now residing at Washington, D. C., and is the mother of one child: Olive Caldwell.




MLA Source Citation:

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 April 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/kansas/biography-of-alexander-caldwell.htm - Last updated on Sep 29th, 2011

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