William S. Norton. Whatever their environment, men of true ability have the power to raise themselves above circumstances, and apparently handicaps and difficulties act only as a spur to increase effort and accomplishment. There are few Kansas whose careers better illustrate the truth of this assertion than that of William S. Norton, who is known so well in Cherokee County as a financier and business man.
Mr. Norton could review by personal recollections practically every phase of life in Southwestern Missouri and Southeastern Kansas during the last half century. He was a Union soldier during the war and the keynote to his success can probably be found in the fact that he has been ever ready to meet danger and difficulty and has always been unusually resourceful in every exigency of a long life.
As to his ancestry it can be stated that the Nortons were English people and were pioneers to the State of Ohio, where they settled before the War of 1812. Their first point of settlement on coming to America was North Carolina.
Mr. William S. Norton was born in Edgar County, Illinois, July 26, 1844. His father was Amos Norton, a native of Mount Vernon, Ohio, where he was born in 1826. After spending the first nineteen years of his life in the vicinity of Mount Vernon, he moved to Edgar County, Illinois, where he married and subsequently identified himself with farming a raw tract of land in that section of the Prairie state. Amos Norton was a Kansas pioneer. The territory was barely opened for settlement when he arrived in 1854 at Fort Scott. He homesteaded a claim there. After working his land for two years, he removed to Buffalo, Dallas County, in Southwestern Missouri. In that rough and rugged district of Missouri he spent his summers in farming and followed the carpenter trade in the winter months. When the war broke out Amos Norton quickly showed his stand for the Union cause. He lived in a part of Missouri where Union sentiment could not be spoken without the hazard of personal danger, but in spite of that he enlisted in February, 1862, in Company B of the Fourteenth Missouri Cavalry. He was elected lieutenant of his company and was soon afterward appointed quartermaster. He was mustered out of this organization in February, 1863, and was soon afterward appointed colonel of the Eleventh Missouri Cavalry. On April 2, 1863, he was captured by a band of guerillas beaded by John Turner, and as nothing further of his fate was ever learned it is probable that he was put to death by his captors in Southwest Missouri. Though a Unionist, he was in politics a Douglas democrat. He was a thorough Christian, an active member of the Baptist Church, and belonged to the Masonic fraternity. In 1843, in Edgar County, Illinois, Amos Norton married Elizabeth Frazier. She was born at Greencastle, Indiana, September 23, 1825, and died at Columbus, Kansas, September 24, 1900. She became the mother of six children: William S., the oldest; Mary Jane, who died at Portland, Oregon, in 1910, the wife of Mr. Cusack, who was a farmer and is also deceased; Serilda Ann, who lives at San Diego, California, the widow of John Crawford, who was a farmer during his active career; John D., who was a miner and died at Galena, Kansas, in 1905; Beverly B., who was pursuing his studies at Dubuque, Iowa, in 1876, when he was killed, being thrown from a horse; and Douglas, who was town marshal at Carle Junction, Missouri, and on November 4, 1884, while on the discharge of his official duties, was killed, being shot by a member of a band of toughs.
From the peaceful scenes of an Illinois community William S. Norton was projected into the rough and oftentimes turbulent life of Southwestern Missouri when he was about ten years of age. Most of his education came from the public schools of Buffalo, Missouri, and a select school at Springfield, that state. At the age of seventeen, about the time the war broke out in 1861, he left school to enlist in Company A of the Independent Mounted Rangers, and his first service with this organization was to act as a bodyguard to the governor of the State of Missouri. Later his company was organized in the Fourteenth Missouri Cavalry, and later he veteranized and became a part of the Eighth Missouri Cavalry. With these different organizations Mr. Norton spent more than four years following the flag of the Union and was mustered out at Little Rock, Arkansas, in September, 1865, under order No. 171. While the great theatre of the war was east of the Mississippi, it is certain that no service was attended with greater hardships and more constant danger than came to those who followed the Union flag in the southwestern country of Missouri, Arkansas and the Indian Territory. Mr. Norton was at the Battle of Carthage, July 5, 1861; at the decisive engagement of Wilson Creek, at Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove, Helena and Poison Springs, Arkansas, and in a number of other minor battles of the campaign in those two states. For ninety-three days and nights he and his comrades were under fire at Four Corners, Arkansas, a point where the states and territories of Arkansas, Missouri, Indian Territory and Kansas adjoin. This engagement followed the Battle of Pea Ridge. During a charge of cavalry at Springfield, Missouri, he was slightly wounded by a sabre cut.
Since the war Mr. Norton has always enjoyed the friendship and communion of his old army comrades, and in 1867 he joined the first Grand Army Post organized at Carthage, Missouri. He has since been an active member of Frank P. Blair Post, Grand Army of the Republic, at Galena; Columbus Post and John A. Dix Post at Baxter Springs, Kansas.
After the war Mr. Norton resumed life in the desolated districts of Southwestern Missouri. Locating south of Carthage, in Jasper County, he followed farming during the open months of the year, and for two years taught winter terms of school. He then moved across the Missouri line and accepted the privilege of becoming one of the first white homesteaders on the lands vacated by the Indians in Cherokee County. He filed on a claim of a quarter section near Baxter Springs, on a part of the head-right of Chief John Ross, former chief of the Cherokee tribe. After three years spent in improving and developing his claim he returned to Carthage, Missouri, and for several years was in the freighting business. He conducted a freighting outfit between Carthage and Sedalis, Missouri, and also operated it through different points in old Indian Territory. This was in the years before railroads opened up the southwestern country, and that form of transportation reached Southeastern Kansas in 1871, and he turned his attention to other lines.
From 1871 to 1877 Mr. Norton was a merchant at Joplin, Missouri, and also became identified with the mining districts in that vicinity. From 1877 until 1882 he was engaged in merchandising and mining at Galena, Kansas, and from there removed to Scammon, Kansas, where he was known as a merchant and coal miner up to 1892. Then, on account of ill health, he retired temporarily from business affairs, and for eight years lived at Baxter Springs. Mr. Norton is a man of wide experience not only in practical business affairs and in dealing with men, but also in the law, and during his residence at Baxter Springs he was a practicing lawyer for a part of the time. Out of the eight years he spent there he served as mayor of the town for six years.
On January 17, 1900, Mr. Norton removed to Columbus, and once more resumed business as a coal operator and merchant. In 1903 he retired from the mercantile business and has since sold most of his mining properties, though still interested in a small scale in this industry.
Though nominally retired from business, his interests are so widespread as to make him a man of commanding importance in financial circles. He is president of the Columbus State Bank, is a stockholder in the First National Bank at Columbus, is the largest stockholder in the International Life Insurance Company of St. Louis, of which he was a director for a number of years, is a stockholder in the Prudential Casualty Company of Indianapolis, in the Casualty Company of Kansas City, and the Great Western of Phoenix, Arizona, and the Southwestern Casualty Company of St. Louis. He owns an interest in the building occupied by the First National Bank of Columbus and the building occupied by the Columbus State Bank, is owner of the building which is the home of the Daily Advocate on Kansas Avenue, and is regarded as one of the largest farm land owners in Cherokee County. His farming interests include six different farms and aggregate over 1,200 acres. He also is owner of 100 acres of mineral land in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. His own home is at 221 North Kansas Avenue, and he has another residence in the western part of Columbus.
His career as a public spirited citizen also calls for some mention. He has always been a live republican, and in 1888 was elected a member of the Kansas State Senate. He served four years, and during that time figured in procuring the passage of a number of bills for the benefit of his constituents. Coming from a district of the state where the mining industry was of great importance, he was author of the “shot firing bill,” a measure which relieved the coal miners of a large part of the hazard they had hitherto endured. This bill prohibited the firing of shots while any men were still in the mine. For two years coming, 1907-08, Mr. Norton served as mayor of Columbus. He is active in the Presbyterian Church, belongs to the Columbus Commercial Club, and fraternally is affiliated with Prudence Lodge No. 100, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Columbus Chapter No. 223, Royal Arch Masons; Fort Scott Consistory No. 6 of the second degree Scottish Rite, and is a charter member of Mirza Temple of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine at Pittsburg, Kansas. He is also affiliated with Pittsburg Lodge No. 412, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks.
In 1863, while still serving as a Union soldier, Mr. Norton was married at Bolivar, Missouri, to Miss Martha J. McKinney. She died in 1864, and her only child, Martha J., died soon afterward. On April 3, 1883, at St. Joseph, Missouri, Mr. Norton married Miss Mary J. Stahl. Her father was captain of a company in the Second United States Dragoons during the war, was wounded and taken prisoner in one battle, and died while confined in Andersonville Prison. Mrs. Norton died at her home in Columbus May 20, 1910, after a happy married life of twenty-seven years. Mr. Norton has a daughter and son. Maude, who had completed her education in the Hardin College at Mexico, Missouri, and was at the entrance of a promising young womanhood, when drowned near Baxter Springs, Kansas, June 10, 1905, at the age of twenty. Claude W., the only child now living, was graduated from the Military Academy at Mexico, Missouri, in 1905, and is now connected with the International Life Insurance Company of St. Louis.