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Joseph A. Wells was one of the earliest settlers in Neosho County. He moved into that section in March, 1866, less than a year after he was discharged with an honorable record as a soldier of the Union. On April 4, 1866, he took up his claim of a quarter section of land three miles northwest of the townsite of Erie. For over half a century he has been identified with that community.
After farming for a year and a half, Mr. Wells sold his claim, and moved to Erie. In the meantime he had been elected to the office of probate judge, and filled that position with credit for two years. Since then he has been engaged in the real estate, insurance and law business. In 1873, at the time of the panic of that year, he left Kansas and went into Texas, where he followed contracting for a couple of years.
Mr. Wells is of very old American stock. His immigrant ancestor John W. Wells came from England to Virginia in colonial days and during the Revolution was a member of Washington’s body guard. In the next generation Philip Wells, great-great-grandfather of Joseph A. Philip, lived in Georgia and was a shoemaker by trade. The great-grandfather was Carter Wells, who died in Tennessee, where he was a very early settler. Grandfather Philip Wells became a Baptist minister, and died at Walkerville, Illinois.
Samuel Wells, father of Joseph A., was born at Brush Creek, thirty miles west of Nashville, Tennessee, in 1800. He lived a long and useful life and died at Walkerville, Illinois, in 1892. He spent his early years farming on Brush Creek in Tennessee and married his first wife there. In 1832 he removed to Walkerville, Greene County, Illinois, and was one of the first to clear up a tract of land and engage in farming in that locality. For fifty years he was one of the leading citizens of that community. A democrat by inheritance and individual belief, late in life, when James Blaine was a candidate for President, he supported that statesman and ever afterwards voted the republican ticket. He was one of the leaders in the Baptist Church and built and paid for the church across the road from his old home in Illinois. His first wife, Mary Smith, had four children, all now deceased. For his second wife he married Mary Powers, who was born in Tennessee in 1812 and died at Walkerville, Illinois, in 1849. Their children were: Joseph A, John C., deceased, Elizabeth, Sarah and George W., deceased, so that Joseph A. Wells is the only surviving member of his mother’s family. Samuel Wells, in 1852, married Sarah Sullivan, who is now deceased. There were twelve children by that union, and all are now deceased except David W., who resides on the old home farm in Walkerville. At the time of his death Samuel Wells left a fine estate of 500 acres.
On his father’s farm at Walkerville in Greene County, Illinois, Joseph A. Wells was born March 24, 1838. As a boy he had the advantages of such education as was imparted in a log cabin schoolhouse at Walkerville. Until he was twenty-two he lived on and worked on his father’s farm. Then for one year he was engaged in farming for himself.
Mr. Wells had been married a little over two years and was becoming comfortably settled when the tocsin of the war sounded and called him into active service to preserve the Union. August 8, 1862, he enlisted in Company H of the 91st Illinois Infantry. Much of his service was spent in guarding the border of the Southwest, and he was in New Mexico a part of the time. He also, with his regiment, took an active part in the operations around Mobile Bay, in the siege and capture of that city, and he was a participant in the battle that followed the succeeding day when Whistler, Alabama, was captured and large quantities of munitions fell into the hands of the Union forces. His muster out from the army came July 12, 1865.
A few weeks after his return home he went to Northern Missouri and bought a farm, but remained on it only until the following spring, when he came and joined the settlers of Neosho County. Mr. Wells has given his time and resources to a number of business affairs, and was one of the men responsible for the opening of the oil and gas fields around Erie. He has some fine property, including forty acres of alfalfa bottom land a mile west of Erie, a residence at the corner of Seventh and Main streets, another dwelling house at the corner of Seventh and Grant streets, and an office building on Main street.
Mr. Wells recalls the exact date of his conversion from the democratic party to allegiance with the republican organization. It was after he enlisted in the army and came as a definite decision on December 22, 1862. Since then for fifty-four years he has actively supported and worked with the republican organization. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church, has served as master seven times of Erie Lodge No. 76, Ancient Frce and Accepted Masons; is a member of Fort Scott Consistory No. 4 of the thirty-second degree Scottish Rite; of Valley Chapter No. 11, Royal Arch Masons at Humboldt; of Erie Camp No. 1101, Modern Woodmen of America; Lodge No. 275, Ancient Order of United Workmen; and Lodge No. 77 of the Sons and Daughters of Justice at Erie.
On March 25, 1860, at the age of twenty-two, Mr. Wells married Miss Matilda Wood, daughter of Pleasant and Cynthia (Caid) Wood. Her father was a farmer and both parents are now deceased. Mr. and Mrs. Wells have lived together more than fifty-five years and in that time have reared some children who have gained distinction. Loyal T., who was a farmer, died at Erie in 1899. Seth G., a resident of Erie and a printer by trade, served one term as state auditor of Kansas. Byron C., who died at Erie in 1898, was deputy postmaster. Logan H. is an attorney and in the insurance business at Muskogee, Oklahoma. Jay C. is a horseman at Reno, Nevada. Jennie E., the only daughter, is the wife of James E. Rogers, who is bookkeeper in the office of the state treasurer at Topeka.