The soldier-sheriff of Rock Island County needs no introduction to that county’s people. That he is well and favorably known is evidenced by the office with which they have honored him, and which he now holds and fills so acceptably.
Edward Kittilsen was born in Moline, July 19, 1854, his parents being Andrew and Frederika (Johnson) Kittilsen. His father was a native of Norway and his mother of Sweden. Their son received a public school education in Moline, and upon its completion he entered the business college conducted by Mr. Frey in Rock Island. After pursuing a commercial course in this institution he served as clerk in a grocery store for a time, and later learned the molder’s trade. At twenty years of age he engaged in the ice business, and in that enterprise he was prosperous and successful until the spring of 1880, when his winter’s harvest of ice, and his ice house as well, were destroyed by the overflowing of the Mississippi, bringing to him a severe loss. In that same year he was appointed upon the Moline police force, and two years later rose to the rank of deputy marshal, and in 1883 was appointed chief of police, which office he held continuously for more than twenty-three years, or until he resigned to assume the office of sheriff of Rock Island County to which he was elected in November, 1906.
But Mr. Kittilsen has achieved military, as well as civil honors. He joined the Illinois State Militia in 1875 and was elected a corporal of his company, later advancing to the rank of first sergeant. Subsequently he became sergeant-major of the Fourteenth Battalion, and after the consolidation of that battalion with the Sixth Regiment he continued to hold that same rank. On April 29, 1886, he was advanced to the office of major, and in 1893 was commissioned lieutenant-colonel of the Sixth Regiment, Colonel D. Jack Foster being first in command. He held that office for ten years, and on August 13, 1903, was commissioned colonel of that regiment, succeeding Colonel Foster, and which rank he still holds.
In 1898 Mr. Kittilsen was prominently mentioned as a possible candidate for the office of sheriff of Rock Island County, and there is no doubt but that he would have been nominated and elected to that office at that time, but it was then that the call to arms came to the Sixth Regiment to take its stand and enact its part in the defense of the United States in the war with Spain that was then upon us. In Colonel Kittilsen’s mind there was no doubt as to where his duty lay, and there was no hesitancy upon his part in following that clearly indicated path of duty which he saw before him. His duty was with his regiment, and no matter what self sacrifice upon his part it might involve he proposed to stay with his regiment and to share with it whatever might be its destiny in the war with the foreign power that had been forced upon us. And so, without an instant’s faltering, he laid aside an attractive and remunerative civil office that was easily within his grasp had he but stretched forth his hand, and, turning his back upon that bright political future that seemed just about to open for him, he marched resolutely away with his regiment to face whatever dangers it might be called upon to encounter. The unselfishness and patriotism of that act proved the man a hero, and it is well that the people of Rock Island County did not forget that unselfishness or that heroism.
A short review of the movements of the Sixth Regiment during that brief but decisive conflict shows that although but limited opportunity was given to the Sixth to distinguish itself in active service, yet when the men were under fire at the battle of Guanica in Puerto Rico they displayed such steadiness and bravery as to be worthy of most honorable mention. –
On April 28, 1898, the Sixth Regiment went to Springfield, Illinois, each individual company going directly to that place from its own home city. On April 11th of that same year they were mustered into the United States volunteer service, and together with other regiments they departed for Camp Alger, a receiving camp in Virginia, near the City of Washington. They remained in Camp Alger, where other regiments from different states were constantly being received, and here the Sixth remained until the 5th of July, when they were ordered to Charleston, South Carolina, to take transports for Cuba. The expected transports were somewhat delayed, and it was not until July 10th that the Sixth finally embarked. The Sixth and Seventh were the only Illinois regiments sent to Camp Alger, and the Sixth was one of the first to arrive at Cuba. Upon their arrival at that island they were under orders to await the surrender of Santiago, which was then being successfully besieged, and while awaiting that city’s surrender the transports lay in Sibony Bay. When Santiago fell it crushed the power of Spain in the Island of Cuba, and the services of the waiting regiments were not needed there. But as General Miles was forming an expedition to invest Porto Rico, the Sixth, together with other regiments, was joined to his command, proceeding to Porto Rico on the transports that had brought them to Cuba. They were to land at Guanica, a small fortified town which the Spaniards were holding and where they had stationed a considerable force of cavalry and infantry. A United States gun-boat advanced and covered the landing of the troops by a sharp bombardment of the town, the Spanish force retreating to the nearby mountains. An extensive picket line was thrown out about the troops landed, and as nightfall approached the Spaniards, finding that their Mauser rifles possessed greater range than the antiquated Springfield rifles with which the volunteers were armed, began an intermittent, but galling fire. At last, growing more bold, they made a charge and came swarming down from the mountain sides. The Sixth Regiment, with the exception of a few companies had been assigned to picket duty, and as the Spaniards came down their progress was intercepted by a hill which was held by Company G, of Dixon, Illinois. Their advance was stopped by the fire of this company, who succeeded in doing considerable execution among the Dons. This was the only battle in which the Sixth Regiment participated, the treaty of Paris bringing the war to a close soon afterward. From Porto Rico the Sixth embarked for the north upon the transport Manitoba, leaving the port of Ponce. After an uneventful voyage of .a few days they arrived at Weehawken, off New York, and from there they took train directly to Springfield where they remained until they had turned in their arms and equipment, then being given a furlough of sixty days. Upon the expiration of their furlough the companies of the Sixth again returned to Springfield, remaining there until their mustering out. which occurred on November 25, 1898. This ended Colonel Kittilsen’s career as an officer in the United States volunteer service, and unless occasion should again arise to demand his return to that service, he will doubtless devote the remainder of his life to the gentle arts of peace.
On the 17th of September, 1884, in Moline, occurred the marriage of Mr. Kittilsen and Miss Corolla Stewart, who had been born and reared in Hamilton, Canada. Five children have been born to them, Myrtle L., Arthur E William W., John A. and Helen Shiloh, all of whom are now at home.
Mr. Kittilsen has always been a loyal Republican. He is a member of Doric Lodge, No. 319, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons; Moline Lodge, No. 133; Independent Order of Odd Fellows; the Knights of Pythias, the Modern Woodmen of America and the Select Knights of America. Although not affiliated with any church himself, his wife is a member of the Baptist Church at Moline, and to this church Mr. Kittilsen gives his support.
Although he has at the time of the writing of this sketch, held the office of sheriff of Rock Island County scarcely more than a month, he has even in that brief time demonstrated his capability and efficiency as an incumbent of that office, just as he did for twenty-three years as chief of police, and just as he did as colonel of the Sixth Regiment. He is courteous, considerate and obliging. It is certain that he will be one of the best and most popular sheriffs the county has ever had, and when his four years incumbency is at an end he will leave the office with hosts upon hosts of friends in addition to those he already has at the present time. The highest compliment that can be paid to Edward Kittilsen is the general opinion among all who know him that he is a man who does his duty as he sees it, and that he is upright, fearless and absolutely sincere.