Biography of Julius Weiss
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Julius Weiss. Recently the Topeka Daily Capital had an illustration on one of its pages showing a banquet table surrounded by a group of some of the best known and most prominent veteran business men of Topeka. Underneath was a text explaining the occasion.
A part of this reads as follows: “Fifty years at the old stand, forty-seven years at the same number and still an active business man. That is something of a distinction. March 1, 1866, Julius Weiss, a young captain of calvary who had served all through the Civil war in an Illinois regiment, opened a grocery store on Kansas Avenue. Wednesday evening, March 1, just fifty years to the day, a group of Mr. Weiss’ friends gathered at his home, 421 Tyler, to celebrate the anniversary with him. Everybody there felt it was a great event, and it was.
“A likeness of Mr. Weiss taken fifty years ago, with bushy hair and long moustache, so fashionable in the early ’60s, judging by all Civil war photographs, was shown on the place cards. It didn’t look much like the kindly man with closely cropped gray VanDyke and high forehead who sat smiling at the head of the table. It was a unique dinner party and a jolly one. Several of Mr. Weiss’ fifty-year customers were there. Nowadays we call them patrons. In the group were pre-staters, early-staters and a few recent comers like E. H. Crosby and F. M. Pelletier. Mr. Crosby didn’t come to Topeka until 1880, and was called a tenderfoot when he made the fact known.”
Some interesting individual history is revealed in the career of this veteran Topeka merchant. He was born at Magdeburg, Prussia, January 25, 1838, being the only survivor of three children. His parents were Theodore and Henrietta Weiss. His father was the manager of one of the first beet sugar refineries in the Kingdom of Wuertemberg, the king of that country being a stockholder in the concern. A man of splendid education, who had studied both in his own country and in Paris, he had unusual abilities and was a splendid representative of that fine German stock which came to America about 1848. He brought with him his family in that year, landing at New Orleans, and thence going up the river in the steamboat which carried General Scott after his victorious campaign in Mexico. Establishing his home in St. Louis, for some years he followed his profession as a metallurgist and assayer. Naturally he traveled a great deal, and was one of the first to go to the lead and zinc fields of Joplin, though a permanent boom in metals in that southwest Missouri country did not come until some years later. He finally moved to Topeka, where he died. His wife passed away at St. Louis.
Julius Weiss was ten years old when he came with the family to America, and later in the same year his mother died and the family soon moved to Bond County, Illinois, where he grew up on a farm. He attended the district schools and afterwards took a course in Bryant & Stratton’s Business College at Chicago.
His first experience in business came after he was eighteen years of age and in a general store at Greenville, Illinois. He was clerking in that store when the war broke out in 1861. In July of that year he enlisted in the Third Illinois Cavalry, Company D, as a private, but was later made commissary of the regiment in 1862 with the rank of first lieutenant. In 1864 he was promoted to captain of Company H in the same regiment, and continued with that command and in that rank until mustered out in October, 1865.
He saw a great deal of hard fighting and campaigning during the war. His first service was in the Southwest Missouri campaign under General Curtis, and he participated in the battle of Pea Ridge. His command was then sent to Helena, Arkansas, and from there to Vicksburg under General McClernand. He was in the battle of Haines Bluff, then crossed the river, was ordered back to Memphis, and was on duty there and at Corinth guarding the Memphis and Charleston Railway. He was in the cavalry raids in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama as far as West Point, where the Federals had to retreat before General Forrest. Prior to this they had made a raid to Holly Springs, where they destroyed scores of locomotives and other Confederate supplies. His term of enlistment having expired and a reorganization of the regiment being effected at Memphis, Mr. Weiss accompanied the command to Paducah, Kentucky, where he was on guard duty, and afterwards his regiment as dismounted cavalry participated in the last battle of Nashville. Captain Weiss was not present at Nashville, since he had been ordered to St. Louis to procure supplies. He rejoined his command at Cross Hollows, Tennessee, afterwards was sent to Eastport, Mississippi, where the regiment was recruited to full strength of twelve companies. It was stationed there during the great floods of the Mississippi River in the spring of 1865. On being sent back to St. Louis the regiment was again remounted, rearmed and reequipped and was ordered to the northwestern frontier at St. Paul, Minnesota. As Captain Weiss said at his fiftieth anniversary banquet he and his comrades went out to fight Indians, but much to their disgust they saw no Indians, at least in a hostile attitude. The regiment made camp at Minnehaha Falls, and from that point went to Devils Lake, Dakota, thence to Fort Berthold on the Missouri River, back to Devils Lake, then to Red Wing, to St. Paul, and finally to Springfield, Illinois, where he was mustered out with his command in October, 1865.
After this long and interesting career as a soldier, Captain Weiss returned to Greenville, Illinois, and resumed work in a store. From there in time claimed a population of 2,500. It was really nothing more than a frontier village with scarcely any municipal improvements. Here he engaged in the crockery and grocery business, and that line he has continued ever since, though the crockery department was discontinued a number of years ago. At first the firm name was McLean & Company, but six years later became Whitton & Weiss. In 1882, owing to the death of Mr. Whitton, a change was made to J. Weiss & Company, and that title has been significant of high class business in Topeka for the past thirty-five years.
Mr. Weiss is a Presbyterian, and is a democrat in politics. In 1872 he married Miss Ella Whitton, a sister of his former business partner. To their marriage were born two daughters, Margaret and Grace. Grace married Harry Chandler, and died leaving a daughter named Margaret.
Captain Weiss’ father during his professional career acquired a fine selection of minerals, which he had carefully classified. This collection descended to Julius Weiss, and in the summer of 1915 he presented it to Washburn College, and it is the most valued part of the mineralogical exhibit in that institution.