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Hon. Balie Peyton Waggener, of Atchison, is easily one of the most distinguished Kansans of the present generation. A half century had come and gone since he came to Atchison as a young law student He practiced with eminent success, is one of the ablest railroad attorneys in the United States, and for a number of years had carried the responsibilities of the office of general solicitor for the Missouri Pacifie Railway Company.
Mr. Waggener is much more than an eminent lawyer. He had served with fidelity and conspicuous ability in high public places. The power he had come to exert through his profession and through his business interests as a banker had been applied to the welfare of his home city and the state at large. But the distinction which he cherishes most is a title conferred upon him not by reason of his professional prominence, nor by public office nor by learned institutions, but a spontaneous tribute from the most discriminating of all eritics of greatness–the title “children’s friend.”
Mr. Waggener is of old American ancestry. His great-grandfather fought with the rank of lieutenant in the American war for independence. His grandfather subsequently served as major in the United States Army during the War of 1812. Mr. Waggener’s parents, Peyton R. and Sophronia Briseis (Willis) Waggener, were pioncers in Northwestern Missouri, and it was at their home in Platte County, Missouri, that Balie Peyton Waggener was born July 18, 1847.
As a boy he had only limited advantages of the local schools. At the age of fourteen he was appointed to a position as toll-gate keeper on the old Platte City and Western Turnpike. To grow up and be a lawyer was the ambition he foetered during these early boyhood duties, and in the little house beside the toll road he kept a few law books, reading them when not standing at the tool-gate and also after the day’s work was done. In 1866 he enrolled as a law student in the office of Otis and Glick at Atchison. His diligence and application were such that he was admitted to the bar on June 10, 1867, before he was twenty years of age.
Mr. Waggener was always especially fortunate in the choice of his professional associates. Men of mature years and secure position in the profession were doubtless attracted by his promising abilities, and when his own fame was secure it was deemed a distinction even by the foremost lawyers of Kansas to be connected with Balie P. Waggener in practice. Three years after his admission to the bar he became a member of the firm of Horton & Waggener, the senior member of which was Albert H. Horton, then United States district attorney. This firm continned at Atchison until 1876, when the senior partner was elected to the office of chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. In 1887 Mr. Waggener formed a partnership as Waggener, Martin & Orr. This flrm was dissolved April 30, 1895, and was reconstituted as Waggener, Horton & Orr. After retiring from the bench Chief Justice Horton resumed his former associations with Mr. Waggener. David Martin, a partner in the earlier firm, succeeded Judge Horton as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Judge Horton died in 1902, and subsequently his place in the firm was taken by ex-Chief Justice Frank Doster, making the name Waggener, Doster & Orr. Mr. Waggener was therefore associated with three chief justices of the Kansas Supreme Court. In 1910 Mr. Orr withdrew from the firm, and the firm thereupon became Waggener & Challiss, and later on, in 1916, became the firm of Waggener, Challiss, DeLacy & Brown.
On January 4, 1876, Mr. Waggener was appointed general attorney of the Missouri Pacific Railway for the State of Kansas. He filled that position nearly thirty-five years and on May 1, 1910, was made general solicitor of that company for the states of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. His son W. P. Waggener succeeded him as general attorney.
Through all the years of his practice Mr. Waggener had put into his profession the very best of his conspicuous mental talents and strength and integrity of character. Beginning as a comparatively obscure lawyer in almost a frontier state, he had risen to rank with the ablest members of the American bar. Mr. Waggener is a student and scholar. It is said that he had collected about him one of the most complste law libraries in the United States, containing upwards of ten thonsand volumes. This library is at his residence in Atchison, and for years he made it a custom to prepare most of his cases in his study, where his privacy was safeguarded more than in his office.
In 1892 Mr. Waggener was elected president of the Exchange National Bank of Atchison, and he had gulded that solid institution through all the subsequent years. He also perfected and put into operation the Atchison Railway, Light & Power Company. A source of recreation and one of his most cherished interests is his noted Green View Stock Farm, containing 500 acres and beautifully situated a short distance west of Atchison. It is a model country estate, equipped with everything to guarantee efficiency of farm management, and though owned by a man of wealth it had been conducted not without profit and with an advantage that had flowed to the good of Kansas agriculture and live stock interests in general. To not a small degree it had been an experimental station. Here modern methods have been adapted to agriculture in a praetical way, and for a number of years Mr. Waggener had been a recognized authority on farming and animal husbandry. The annual sales of live stock raised on his farm are an event in stock circles in the Middle West and buyers attend these sales from all parts of the country.
Politically Mr. Waggener had always been a democrat. Whilo political honors have not been in his line, he had considered it a public duty to help build up and support a strong party organization and his influence had been a factor in making the democratic party in Kansas strong and efflcient and in later years frequently successful over the state at large. Mr. Waggener had been in practice only a short time when in 1869 he was elected to the Atchison City Council, In 1872 he was his party’s nominee for the office of attorney general of the state. In 1873 he was chosen city attorney for Atchison. From 1889 to 1891 and again from 1895 to 1897 he was Atchison’s honored mayor. In 1902 he was elected a member of the lower branch of the Legislature, and was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and one of the active leaders on the floor of the House on the minority side. In 1904 he was elected to the State Senate from a strong republican district. This was perhaps the greatest triumph of his political career. He carried his district by a majority of 1,500 votes, while at the same election Theodore Roosevelt, the republican candidate for president, carried the district by over 3,600. Mr. Waggener was a member of the Senate during the sessions of 1905 and 1907 and in November, 1912, he was again elected by a majority of over 2,000. Mr. Waggener served in the Senate until 1916.
His name appears on the membership rolls of many fraternal and civic organizations and he had long been prominent in Masonry. He is a Knight Templar and Scottish Rite. Mason and also a member of the Mystic Shrine.
On May 27, 1869, he married Emma L. Hetherington. Her father, William W. Hetherington, was one of Atchison’s most prominent citizens. They are the parents of two children: William Peyton Waggener, mentioned elsewhere; and Mabol L., wife of R. K. Smith, vice president and general manager of the Mississippi Central Railway.
A reference to the files of the Atchison papers and the state press generally reveals the fact that Mr. Waggener’s name had been more frequently connected in recent years with occasions that are never described in the political news but in those more intimate events connected with the happiness and joy of children. In 1897 Mr. Waggener gave some definite expression to his long cherished regard for and interest in children by inaugurating an annual pienie for the children. Every year since then at his personal expense he furnishes free transportation, free entertainment and free refreehments to all the children of Atchison County who attend these pienies. It is said that the larger the crowd the greater his personal delight in the affair. The Atchison County children’s picnics are now an institution, and every year the occasion receives a great deal of attention in the newspapers of the state. In fact a record of the picnic had been placed in the snnals of the Kansas State Historical Society. The Historical Society’s secretary in the year 1911 mentions the visit of President Taft to Kansas, and the President’s presence at the Waggener Pionic in Atchison County. On September 27th of that year the President left Topeka about an hour after laying the cornerstone of the Memorial Hall Building and arrived at Atchison so as to participate in Mr. Waggener’s twelfth ansual picnic. It became Mr. Taft’s duty and pleasure to present the founder of these picnice with a silver loving cup, given by the people of Atchison County. The words of Mr. Taft in presenting the cup were quoted as follows: “A token is this, Mr. Waggener, that carries real sincerity and friendship. I present this bsautiful vase of silver in the name of the people here assembled as a sign of love and esteem. I congratulate you on the eminence you have obtained.” The response of Mr. Waggener was: “This is a distinction unmerited. I have no words to express my grateful acknowledgment.”
Several years ago Mr. Waggener was obliged to undergo a surgical operation in the famous hospital at Rochester, Minnesota. His return to Atchison was signalized by such a reception as would be gratifying even to kings and emperors and such as is seldom accorded to a man either in private or public life. The Atchison children had prayed for his recovery while he was in the hospital, and when word came that be was safely by the erisis and would soon return home preparations were made to extend him a welcome. All the children were on hand, and the sutomobile conveying Mr. Waggener from the station to his home passed through lines of children on both sides. The Kansas City Journal bad a special reporter on the scene, who described it in the following words: “Few men have been so fortunate as to enjoy such an ovation. Men who have done important things have been received by town bands and by citizens’ clubs with fluttering badges. Men have come back to their home people to be received in the Opera House, and cheers have echoed in their receptive ears. But it must be understood that no such home coming as Mr. Waggener’s could come to an ordinary man. It was the tribute of sincere devotion and genuine friendship. It couldn’t be bought with money or earned by material success. These Atchison children didn’t care a rap for Waggener the railroad attorney, nor Waggener the politician, nor even for Waggener the exemplary citizen. It was Mr. Waggener the good, kind friend they Ioved, to whom the welcome was given, and it sprang from sheer joy that he had recovered his health and was with them once more. And who can say that the earth holds a more splandid trimmph as the erowning glory of a life than this? All other laudations and exclamations are tame compared with the flushed enthusiasm of hundreds of happy children shonting a weleome from their hearts.”
Mr. Waggener is a member of the Kansas State Historical Society and one of its most liberal and interested friends.