James R. Mead, one of the founders of Wichita and one of the noted pioneers of Kansas, was a Vermonter, born May 3, 1836, and at an early age showed his love for out-of-doors life. During his school days he read and dreamed of the Great American Desert, and in the fall of 1859 started for the plains. For four years he traded with the various Indian tribes in the present State of Kansas, hunted buffaloes and finally established a post on the Salina River, about twenty miles from its mouth. In 1861 he contracted his first marriage, and two years afterward the couple moved from the trading post to the settlement at Salina, then growing into a village. Later, he established a trading post at Towanda, farther west on the Whitewater River, and while residing there organized a great buffalo hunt which first made him acquainted with the charming country at the mouth of the Little Arkansas. There he established a branch trading post. During the Civil war the Confederates drove away the Wichita Indians who had occupied that locality, but Mr. Mead, as a Union agent, kept them in hand and loyal to the Federal cause. In 1864 he was elected to represent Butler County and the lower house, and in 1868 was sent to the State Senate by the district comprising the four counties of Morris, Chase, Marion and Butler, together with all the territory west of the state line which has since been organized into thirty-five counties.
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After the death of his wife in 1869 Mr. Mead sold his trading post at Towanda and moved to a claim he had previously taken adjoining Wichita, which is now a valuable part of the city. In 1871 he organized a company to construct the Wichita & Southwestern Railroad, the first line to give Wichita railway connections, and, witbin six months had it in operation. For several years after locating in Wichita, Mr. Mead conducted an extensive trade with the Indians through his trading post, loeated near the mouth of the Little Arkansas. The panic of 1873 found his business unduly expanded and, through the failure of the First National Bank which had extended him a large credit, he was much embarrassed, but to secure the depositors of that institution turned over to them substantially all his property. During the later years of his life he was virtually retired from business, although at the time of his death, March 31, 1910, he was vice president of the Mead Cycle Company of Chicago, which he and his son, James L. Mead, had organized in 1895. The deceased was not only a president and leading member of the State Historical Soeiety, contributing many articles to its archives, but was an ardent student of biology and ethnology, and for thirty years prior to his death an active member of the Kansas Academy of Science.