George Pierson Morehouse has a place among the prominent and well known public men of Kansas due to an exceptional range of interests and activities. His life had touched agricultural and business affairs, and had bad its influence in the political, legal and literary life of the West. For many years he lived at Diamond Springs or Council Grove in Morris County, but at present resided in Topeka, though he still spends considerable time upon the large stock farm known as the old “Morehouse Ranche” at Diamond Springs, which he owned and upon which the family settled nearly fifty years ago.
At that time, the Kansa or Kaw Indians were on their reservation nearby, and going back and forth to the great buffalo ranges only two days drive to the westward. Large herds of long-horned cattle were driven along the old Santa Fe trial and the Kaw Indian trail, guarded by the then simon-pure festive cow-boy; the only settlers were few, scattered and located along the watered and wooded streams; and the vast sea of luxuriant prairie grass between the water courses died unused and became the dangerous food for the conflagrations which annually swept over that region. Game also was very plentiful.
Inured to the many rigors of frontier life of that period, George P. Morehonse grew to manhood and became expert as a hunter and horseman. Money procured from the sale of furs, skins and wolf pelts bought clothes, school books and other luxuries. The terms of the district school on Diamond Valley at that time were short and primitive, but with the required preparation, principally by self-study, he entered the Albion Academy in New York, where he graduated in 1884, and also became an academic graduate of the University of New York before returning to Kansas. Apparently he adapted himself to the change from the crudeness of Kansas ranch life to the refinements of eastern schools; for, before be returned to his western home he was elected president and orator of his class and won three prizes-the Bailey prize in anatomy and physiology; the Coann prize in oratory; and the Inter-Academic rhetorical prize.
While in the East he began the study of law but came home and engaged in the management of the cattle ranch for two or three years. During this time he was chosen trustee and assessor of Diamond Valley Township, which was at that time about four times its present size. He became active in public development in the community; helped locate the present line of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway through Morris County; and personally secured the two stations of Burdick and Diamond Springs in the then Diamond Valley Township, when the railway was determined, according to their policy, to give the township but one station.
Mr. Morehouse afterwards finished his legal education at Council Grove and was admitted to the bar of Morris County in 1889. Within a short time he was appointed city attorney of Council Grove and served in that position for nearly six years. Afterwards he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the office of county attorney of Morris County, and at the end was elected for a full term to that office and prosecuted the violators of the prohibition cause with unusual vigor. When a mere boy he received a commission as United States census enumerator for the southwestern part of Morris County and before he was old enough to vote was a frequent speaker and debater upon early railway matters and politics. During his long residence at Council Grove he became active and widely known in the organization of the republican party and often served as secretary of the county central committee, secretary and chairman of the congressional committee, and also as a member of the Republican State Central Committee.
The only partner Mr. Morehouse ever had in his legal practice was his young friend, the late Clarence A. Crowley, who also served several terms as county attorney.
In the campaign of 1900 Mr. Morehouse was a candidate for state senator of the Twenty-third District (Morris, Marion and Chase counties) and was elected by over 1,000 majority, serving through three sessions during the four years. He took an active part in the legislation of that strenuous political period, serving as chairman of the Congressional Apportionment Committee and as a member of the Judiciary, Elections, Education and Public Health committees. During the session as member of the Election Committee he tried four important contest cases-three senatorial and one judicial-winning favorable comment for his judicial thoroughness and fairness.
He was the author of the first automobile legislation in the West, and at a time when much ridicule was cast upon such then advanced legislation. This measure, which provided how automobiles should be equipped with safety devices, their rate of speed in city and country, and how they should be operated when meeting frightened horses, etc., caused much comment and was the foundation of legislation along that line which all now admit is proper.
It was his measure that legally recognized the sunflower as the state flower and floral emblem of Kansas and advertised it as the “Sunflower State” of the nation.
When the Soldier’s Monument Bill was before the Senate and drew out a spirited debate, the Topeka Capital in mentioning the occasion and in publishing most of his remarks, said: “One of the best speeches in the senate in favor of the bill to provide a monument for the soldiers of Kansas was made by Senafor George P. Morehouse. He is one of the most forceful speakers in the senate and his address on this occasion was one of the best efforts of the session.”
When the new manual training and industrial educational bill was before the Legislature and such an institution was established at Pittsburgh, Senator Morehouse was its leading advocate in the Senate and his speech on that new departure in educational methods was published and widely circulated.
In the Senate and upon the stump he was a pioneer advocate of equal rights and suffrage for the women of Kansas. As early as 1901 he introduced and secured the passage by the Senate of “an act relating to suffrage, being an act to give women the right to vote for presidential electors.” Had it become a law, Kansas women would have taken part in three presidential elections prior to their first experience in 1916 under the general suffrage amendment clause.
While he was a member of the Kansas Senate the Council Grove Republican had this to say: “The Senate of Kansas had always been a body of bright men-able lawyers or individuals of more than local influence and reputation. To maintain a standing among them, one must possess a high grade of tact and ability. Among the present leaders and infinential members of that body is Senator George P. Morehouse. He had lived in this county most of his life and had taken such an important part in all public affairs, even since before he was a voter, that he is known by everybody…. While Senator Morehouse does not shun the rough and tumble of a political campaign and is an effective public speaker and popular political mixer’ yet his tastes are of a scholarly character and have been more or less broadened by travel and as a student of the best books, with which his private library is filled. He is active in literary and educational work such as the Shakespeare Club and Library Association and prominent in the work of the Presbyterian Church.
“His political convictions along republican lines are such that no one ever doubts where he stands upon public questions. In the senate last winter he was placed on six of the leading committees and was one of the hardest worked members of that body. As a member of the elections committee he helped frame that new ballot law upon which fusion had been broken, and was an able advocate of the stringent temperance law-the Hurrell bill-and frequently defended it against the attacks of the whiskey power.
“Senator Morehouse by his presence in the senate lent an odor of clean politics to the surroundings of that prominent body and whenever he arose to cast a vote or express a view upon any matter, he commanded the respect and attention of both the members and the visitors present. His every act and word were for the interest of his constituents and the state at large, and won for him many kind words from the press and public men. There is hardly a paper in the state that had not commented favorably upon his work and felt proud that he was a member of the senate. We may well feel proud that we possess such a good citizen and able representative in the senate.”
During the latter part of his senatorial term Mr. Morehouse was chosen as president of the Kansas State Republican League-often termed the “Boss Busters” -the pioneer organization which did so much to reform Kansas politics from its “skull and cross bones” tendency, and which started the movement for the election of United States senators by popular vote.
As the historian and genealogist of the Morehouse Family Association of America, Mr. Morehouse had gathered the largest collection of the history of that family in existence. This history will probably be published. It had always been a matter of Morehouse family pride that its ancestors were among the early pioneer settlers of America. Some of them came prior to 1640 and were active in the founding of early New England towns and in the formation of the colonial governments.
The family is of Scotch-English origin, the name first appearing soon after the year 1000 in North England, where it was originally Moorhouse, from having built their “houses-upon-the-moors” or “Moorhouses” as it is still used is Scotland and Yorkshire.
Thomas Morehouse, recognized as the emigrant ancestor of most of the American Morehouse families, was in Watertown, Massachusetts; about 1635; at Wethersfield, Connecticut, 1640; at Stamford, Connectiout, in 1641, where he was one of the original settlers who purchased the townsite from the Indians for one hundred bushels of corn. He came from Yorkshire, England, with the migration of Puritans conducted by Sir Richard Saltonstall. He settled permanently at Fairfield, Connecticut, prior to 1653 and became prominent in its development-owning the tide-water mill and being sent as a member to the General Court (Legislature) at Hartford. He left four sons-Samuel, Thomas, Jonathan and John-who at an early date became the heads of the numerous branches and descendants which settled in New York, New Jersey, Ohio and the West. Thomas Morehouse, the first, died at Fairfield in 1658, leaving a will. It is estimated that over two hundred of his descendants served in the Revolutionary war.
His son John settled at Sonthampton, Long Island; was an ensign in King Phillip’s war in 1676 and was the ancestor of George P. Morehouse, who is of the eighth generation from Thomas the immigrant.
The history of the family is one of honorable achievement from the time its heroic members took part in the Crusades to the Holy Land and received the honorable decoration of the large Saltire or St. Andrew’s Cross, down to the present, whether in the public or private walks of life.
Horace Morehouse, father of George P., was a native of Tompkins County, New York. In the early ’50s he removed to Decatur, Illinois, before a railroad had reached that place, and established the well known hardware firm of Morehouse-Wells Company, as afterwards known under the management of his younger brother George E. Morehouse, to whose estate it still belongs. Horace Morehouse was one of the founders of the republican party in the west and active in securing the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for the presidency in 1860. He helped build the noted “Wigwam” at Decatur, in which was held the first republican state convention, where the noted Lincoln rails were presented and where Lincoln was first mentioned at the “rail splitter candidate.”
In 1871, with others, Horace Morehouse drove overland in covered wagons to Diamond Springs, Morris County, Kansas, where he opened up the stock farm still known as the old “Morehouse Ranche,” as above mentioned. Horace Morehouse like many of his ancestors was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and active in its work, being one of the founders of the Presbyterian Church at Council Grove, where for several years he was engaged in the mercantile business. He died in the City of Topeka in 1915 in his ninetieth year.
George P. Morehouse was born at Decatur, Illinois, July 28, 1859. Besides him there are four living brothers: Charles H. of Salt Lake City, Utah; Robert H. of Topeka; James H. and Marey M. of Twin Falls, Idaho.
The mother was Lavinia F. Strong, a native of Auburn, New York, who died at Diamond Springs, Kansas, in 1885. She was a woman of scholarly tastes, a clever writer of prose and poetry, and her influence encouraged Senator Morehouse along the same line and fired his ambition to seek a more liberal education than was possible at frontier district schools. She was the only daughter of Rev. Noble Davies Strong M. A., a Presbyterian minister, an early graduate of Middlehury College, Vermont, author and educator and for years at the head of academies at Auburn and Cortland, New York. He was a descendant of “Elder John Strong” one of the founders of Northampton, Massachusetts, who came with the Puritans in 1630, and was the father of the numerous and noted Strong family in America, which had produced so many educators, authors, jurists and divines.
April 23, 1906, George P. Morehouse married Mrs. Louise Thorne Hull at Los Angeles, California. She is a native of Morgantown, West Virginia, a daughter of Captain Amaltha and Anna (Berkshire) Thorne, late of Piqua, Ohio, and through them a descendant of prominent Virginia families. Her grandfather, Col. Raiph Berkshire, was a colonel of Virginia troops and served several terms in the Virginia Legislature. In 1834 he became a pioneer to Henry County, Indiana, where he was also a state legislature and probate judge for many years. Her cousin Judge Ralph L. Berkshire of Morgantown was one of the early circuit judges of the new State of West Virginia, and also presiding judge of the Supreme Court for six years. He was prominent in the formation of the new state and a member of the committee at Morgantown, which on April 17, 1861, drafted the first resolution, widely published, and known as “The First Loyal Voice from West Virginia.”
Mrs. Morehouse had been a resident of Topeka since 1881, coming in that year from Piqua, Ohio, with her younger sister Emma (Mrs. C. H. Morgan). A recent Kansas publication had said: “Mrs. Morehouse is a lady of education and refinement, personally popular and widely known for her business ability and her substantial support to educational and moral institutions. The Morehouse home, opposite the State Capitol, is noted for its informal and generous hospitality. For several years past it had been the frequent meeting place for the sessions of the Kansas Authors Club and the ‘rest haven’ where Kansas writers and literary people have passed many pleasant hours. For a number of years Mr. Morehouse had been active in the affairs of the Kansas Authors Club, serving two terms as its president. For six years past he had acted as its secretary, during which time it had been incorporated and become the leading literary organization in the state, its annual state meetings and banquets being noted events.”
For many years Mr. Morehouse had been a director and life member of the Kansas State Historical Society; and at the present time is also first vice president and in line for its president next year. He had been devoted to its work and interests; serves as the chairman of its archaeological department and had contributed numerous historical articles for the society’s publications. He was probably the first person to suggest the movement to permanently mark the old Santa Fe Trail and other famous overland highways and helped the Historical Society and the Daughters of the American Revolution in that worthy undertaking, making many historical addresses at the celebrations incident to the dedication of the Santa Fe Trail monuments across Kansas.
Many years ago he commenced the preservation of original data concerning this pioneer highway of old time Kansas (which passed his early home) and had also saved a large fund of the language, legends and traditional lore of the Kansa or Kaw Indians and had contributed numerous articles along those lines for newspapers and magazines. In recognition of this, and especially for having written a history of the tribe, he was chosen its official historian at one of the last council meetings it ever held; he possesses some of their ancient sacred charts and data, which is being prepared for publication. Mr. Morehouse is the author of several widely published articles, addresses, poems and pamphlets upon ancient western highways, early Spanish and French explorations, archaeology, Indian life and legends. He discovered the correct meaning and derivation of the word Kansas and shown that it is of neither Indian nor French origin-as usually claimed-but that it comes from the Spanish verb “cansar” which means to molest, stir up and harass, and the noun “cansado” a disturber and troublesome fellow; and was first used by the Spanish explorers with Onate about 1601, when they called those Indians which bothered them “Escansaques.” From this came the names Cansa, Cansez, Kansa, Kansas and one hundred and fifty other variations applied to this tribe, of which Mr. Morehouse had found historical record.
He is a working member of the International Society of Archaeologists and as a student of aboriginal, Spanish and French matters of early Kansas had made some important discoveries not heretofore mentioned by Kansas historians. Some time ago he recovered from the Indians an ancient Aztec historical chart. It is a remarkable document 18 feet long by 8 inches wide and one of the largest ever found. Its hundreds of signs, symbols, pictures and hieroglyphics give, according to competent authority, 200 years of the history of the Aztec Nation after they left Aztlan and came to Mexico.
Mr. Morehouse is a Knight of Pythias and once served as chancellor commander of the order at Council Grove and deputy grand chancellor of the state jurisdiction. He was also an officer of the Modern Woodmen of America. He is a member of the Presbyterian Church and for many years was superintendent of its Sunday school at Council Grove. He was one of the incorporators of the Council Grove Library Association and acted as its treasurer for a long time.
His great-grandfather having been a commissioned officer in the Revolutionary war, Mr. Morehouse is a Son of the American Revolution. At one time he contemplated a military career; but his only experience along that line was being commissioned a lieutenant and recruiting officer in the Kansas National Guard. He is a working member of the Kansas State Bar Association and at present chairman of its memorial committee.
In his library Mr. Morehouse had collected much rare Americana, also many ancient legal, literary, scientific and religious works, many in Latin, some of which are the oldest in this country, having been published in the Old World over 400 years ago. The Morehouse home in Topeka is on Capitol Square, at 216 West Eighth Street.