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Joseph W. Laybourn. It is doubtful if any one now living knows the ups and downs and vicissitudes of Kansas life during the past half a century better than Joseph W. Laybourn, president of the Citizens State Bank of Osage City. Mr. Laybourn is an honored veteran of the Union army, and came to Kansas soon after the war. He had been a farmer, coal miner, banker, land owner and in every relationship, whether a poor man or high in the scale of prosperity, had been public spirited and a willing worker for the community benefit.
Mr. Laybourn was born at a little village called Catawba near Springfield in Clark County, Ohio, April 15, 1841. His parents were Joseph and Mary (Allen) Laybourn. His mother was born in 1804 while coming with her parents from England to New York City, and the vessel landed its passengers four days after her birth. It was a voyage by the old fashioned sailing ship and the family had been on the sea for nearly six months. The first Laybourn ancestor came from England to America soon after the close of the Revolutionary war, locating in New York State. Later he moved across the country into the wilderness of Ohio. This branch of the Laybourn family were iron workers chiefly, and in Ohio most of the male members followed the blacksmith’s trade. Joseph Laybourn, Sr. was himself a blacksmith and he grew up in the early days of Ohio when it was necessary to clear the forests, grub the stumps, and perform the heaviest kind of labor in preparing land for cultivation. Joseph Laybourn was a hard worker, and living at a very early time and being a comparatively poor man could give his children few advantages. His children attended subscription schools and Mr. Joseph W. Laybourn received most of his education from such an institution of learning. The principal school he attended as a boy was a log cabin, and in the absence of glass windows greased paper was put over the sash to keep out the cold and allow some light to filter in. Only the older children attended such a school during the winter and a summer term was kept for the smaller children. Joseph Sr. was not only a blacksmith but also a colporteur for the American Bible Society and did much in his time to extend the preaching of the Gospel and he always entertained the ministers and circuit riders. His life was a busy one though brief in years, since he died during a cholera epidemic in 1849. He was the first resident of his community to take the disease, and he left a family of three sons, the oldest of whom was only fifteen years of age. These sons were: Henry O.; James S., who died in the Soldiers Home at Dayton, Ohio, about 1874; Joseph W.; and one daughter, Hannah A., who died of cholera at the age of thirteen, her death occurring three days after her father’s death. The mother of these children died in 1860.
All the sons enlisted and became gallant defenders of the Union during the Civil war. Joseph W., though the youngest, was the first one to go into the army. Early in 1861 he became a member of a three months regiment, of Company D the Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and after his enlistment expired he reenlisted. He first went into action at Rich Mountain, West Virginia, was in McClellan’s West Virginia campaign, fought at Cheat Mountain and Beverly, and was then engaged on scout duty along the Cheat River. His regiment was afterwards sent to Louisville and was a part of the division commanded by Gen. O. M. Mitchell. From there it was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, and then toward Huntsville, Alabama, for the purpose of cutting the communication between the eastern and western divisions of the Confederate army. It participated in the battle of Corinth and succeeded in capturing Huntsville and Mr. Laybourn and his comrades were for a time engaged in guarding 160 miles of railway track and a part of the Tennessee River. When General Bragg made his famous detour to the rear of the Union troops with Louisville, Kentucky, as his objective, Mr. Laybourn was in that section of the Union army which by forced marches hastened across the states of Tennessee and Kentucky and arrived at Louisville just twenty-four hours before the advance guard of the Confederate army would have reached that city.
On the 8th of October, 1862, occurred the battle of Perryville, which was a concluding phase of the Bragg campaign in Kentucky. In that battle Mr. Laybourn was wounded by a piece of shell, which struck his right eye. His gun was also shot in pieces. He was left on the field for dead, and after regaining consciousness crawled into a wood where he had to remain owing to his weakness from loss of blood. There he endured all the horrors and discomforts of the soldier’s life, having nothing to eat and drink for three days, and was finally found by a detail left to bury the dead. For six weeks he remained in a hospital, and during that time his regiment was participating in the raid through Northern Georgia and was captured as a body at Rome, Georgia. While on detached duty at Louisville Mr. Laybourn took French leave of that place and rejoined his regiment which in the meantime had been sent to Columbus, Ohio. After that he participated in a number of skirmishes, but his chief work during the remaining months of the war was to assist in the capture of General Morgan during his raid through Southern Indiana and Southern Ohio.
Both his brothers also made honorable records as soldiers. Henry O., the oldest, enlisted in Company F of the Ninety-fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry. During his service in Kentucky he was taken ill and died in a hospital at Louisville from chronic diarrhea. James S., the other brother, enlisted in 1863 in Company E of the One Hundred and Seventy-third Ohio Infantry, but on account of sickness was never in active service. He later spent his active years in Dayton, Ohio, at the Soldiers’ Home, the first institution of its kind established after the war.
Thus Mr. Joseph W. Laybourn is the only surviving member of the family, and was the only one of the sons to marry. Following the war he returned home and for several years engaged in the carpenter trade and also took any honorable employment offered him. On August 27, 1865, he married Elizabeth J. Dawson. Fifty years later, in 1915, Mr. and Mrs. Laybourn celebrated their golden wedding anniversary. They were extremely poor when they married and they have since shared and lessened all of the hardships of life by their mutual companionship and have advanced together toward the comforts of later years. Mrs. Laybourn was born in Ohio, a daughter of George and Ellen L. (Wright) Dawson, and is of German and Irish descent. John S. Dawson, a brother of Mrs. Laybourn, was in Company F of the Forty-fourth Ohio Volunteer Infantry which later was the Eighth Ohio Cavalry. While with the infantry he was stricken with the measles and died in a hospital at Clarksburg, West Virginia. Mr. and Mrs. Joseph W. Laybourn had one child, John H., who died at the age of eighteen years in Osage County.
After his marriage Mr. Laybourn cast about for the means to support himself and his bride and soon afterward he and his brother-in-law set out for Kansas as a state where the opportunities were more promising than could be found in Ohio. They arrived in Osage County, spent several months in looking about, and during that time Mr. Laybourn spent all his ready money and was still unsuited as to a regular vocation or location. In the meantime Mrs. Laybourn’s mother had bought a small farm of 136 acres four miles south and one mile cast of Osage City. There Mr. Laybourn undertook to mine coal, and also engaged in general farming. He went through all those bleak years with which Kansans of forty or fifty years ago are so familiar. The grasshopper year of 1874 he weathered by teaching a school. He also had to contend with ill health. He was stricken with an illness in February, 1884, and had to be hauled from his coal mine to his home.
At one time Mr. Laybourn undertook extensive operations as a Shorthorn cattle raiser, but his ambition for success in this field led to an expenditure of more energy than he possessed, and again he broke down in health. He gradually rehabilitated his fortunes and for a number of years had enjoyed a position among the successful men of Southeastern Kansas. He had sold much of his property and now keeps only about 160 acres and his town home.
Mr. Laybourn was one of the organizers of the Citizens State Bank of Osage City, and the stockholders unanimously chose him as its first president. He went into that office in 1903 and after a year and a half was again elected by the directors and had remained its official head down to the present time. The original capital was $10,000 and at the present time the bank had an average of $200,000 deposits, a surplus of $10,000, and undivided profits of $7,000. The other officers and directors are: Frank Colstrom, vice president; C. H. Curtis, cashier; C. J. Curtis, assistant cashier; N. M. Doythitt, A. H. Howard, Ed. Miller and T. H. Lewis, directors.
As to his present politics Mr. Laybourn may be classified as an independent, a voter for the man rather than for the party. Years ago he was prominent in the populist movement, and was the first county chairman in the state to organize his county. Later he became a member of the state committee, was a delegate to the Omaha National Convention, and was placed on the national party committee. For two terms he served as township trustee of Oliver Township, and in 1890 was census enumerator in his township. Governor Lewellyn appointed him a member of the State Board of Pardons, and he filled that office for fifteen months. Since January, 1866, a period of over fifty years, Mr. Laybourn had been an active member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, had held all the local chairs, and had been deputy grand master of the State Grand Lodge. He had also filled the various chairs of the Knights of Pythias.
In 1890 he was one of the organizers of the Farmers’ Alliance. Mr. Laybourn since 1912 had been on the board of directors of the McPherson Insurance Company, the largest purely mutual farm insurance company in the world, with insurance of $78,000,000. Mr. and Mrs. Laybourn have lived devout and Christian lives, are active Methodists, were liberal contributors to the building of their home church, and were on the building committee during the erection of the handsome new church edifice in Osage City. Mr. Laybourn is also a church trustee.