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Otto Philip Byers. Something less than forty years ago Otto Philip Byers was a railroad section hand in Kansas. He was a boy in years, and he grew to mature manhood in the close and orderly discipline of the railroad man’s life, in close touch with working men and working conditions. That he had risen to mature manhood in the close and orderly discipline sponsibility is a tribute both to his personal aggressiveness and also to the fundamental character which he probably inherited from a long line of fighting and industrious American ancestors. His later day distinction among Kansas business men is as the chief builder and now the president of the Anthony and Northern Railroad.
Mr. Byers was born at Tampico, Indiana, May 2, 1863, while his father was in the Union army. His father was Jasper J. Byers, who was born in Darke County, Ohio, May 18, 1834. He grew up in his native county, when a young man went to Quincy, Indiana, was married there September 19, 1860, and in that community took up the profession of physician and surgeon. In 1859 he graduated from the Cincinnati Eclectic Medical College. The best years of his life were spent as an able and hard working country physician. In 1862 he removed to Tampico, Indiana, and continued practice there until his death on September 19, 1888. In 1861 he enlisted in the Union army, and through nearly four years was under the command of General Sherman, participating in all the engagements of his regiment and was through several notable campaigns, including the march to the sea. He held the rank of first lieutenant in the Fifty-ninth Indiana Regiment of Infantry. In politics he was a democrat and was a Knight Templar Mason. One of the chief interests of his life outside of his profession and home was the Baptist Church. Doctor Byers married Sarah Ellen Archer, who was born at Orleans, Indiana, November 25, 1835, and died at Tampico, Indiana, September 19, 1865. She was the mother of only two children, James J., a railroad man living at St. Joseph, Missouri, and Otto Philip. The original American ancestor of the Byers family was a Holland Dutchman who came over with Henry Hudson and settled in New York, his descendants later going into Pennsylvania. Mr. Byers’ great-great-grandfather, Philip Byers, was a soldier in Washington’s army during the Revolution. It will be recalled that the British troops, upon being compelled to evacuate New Jersey, poisoned many wells in the course of their retreat, and this soldier, Philip Byers, drank from one of those wells and died from the effects of the poison. Mr. Byers had still another ancestor in the Revolution. This was also a great-great-grandfather. His name was George Gwinnup, his relationship coming through the mother of Dr. Jasper J. Byers. George Gwinnup was a native of Wales, and became involved in a rebellion of that country against the Crown, as a result of which he sought refuge in America and settled in New Jersey. He joined the Revolutionary army and fought with Washington for seven years. He crossed the Delaware River on that famous Christmas Eve just before the battle of Trenton, and he continued to serve the colonial cause until the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown. The paternal grandfather of Otto P. Byers was Philip Byers, a native of Pennsylvania, who in early days moved to Darke County, Ohio, where he followed farming and where he died before his grandson was born.
Through his mother Mr. Byers claims other notable forebears. Her maternal great-grandfather was Joseph Archer, who was the sole survivor of a family murdered by the Maumee Indians on the present site of the City of Cincinnati. He was at that time seven years of age, was taken captive by the Indians, and lived among the Indian wigwams for nine years, learning the language and customs. He was finally delivered out of this bondage, went to Kentucky, and spent the rest of his life in that state. He is buried at Shelbyville, Kentucky. The previous ancestry of the Archer family cannot be traced, since this Joseph Archer was too young to remember any of his antecedents. His son, John Archer, the great-grandfather of Mr. Byers served with the rank of colonel in the Kentucky Sharpshooters, and was with General Jackson both in the War of 1812 and in the later Seminole Indian war in Florida. He was in command of his regiment at the battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1814. In that battle he ordered his troops to roll bales of cotton before them as they advanced, and while his men played a gallant part in that victory they lost only one soldier in the entire regiment. During the Seminole Indian campaign he led his men across the Chattahoochie River behind the breastworks of the Seminole, routed the Indians out, and that gave General Jackson the opportunity to make a clean and complete victory. This John Archer finally settled in White County, Illinois, where he died and is buried. His oldest son, James M. Archer, was the father of Sarah Ellen Archer, mother of Mr. Byers. James M. Archer was born at Shelbyville, Kentucky, August 21, 1814, and died at Plainfield, Indiana, December 29, 1883. He was a pioneer settler at Plainfield and a merchant there. January 8, 1835, he married at Orleans, Indiana, Jane Glover, who was born in that community April 22, 1817, and died at St. Joseph, Missouri, July 14, 1906.
Otto Philip Byers began his serious career when most boys are at home and in school. He was only two years of age when his mother died. His early education was acquired in the public schools of Indiana, but he left school at fourteen and spent the following year working in the timber woods of Indiana.
On August 29, 1878, at the age of fifteen, Mr. Byers arrived in Kansas, landing at Brookville, where he soon found employment as a section hand with the old Kansas Pacific, now the Union Pacific. Later he went into the train service on Smoky Hill and Denver divisions, was also a station agent, and was employed by the Union Pacific at various places along the route until July 23, 1887.
His next railroad connection was with the Rock Island, and he was telegraph operator with a track laying outfit that constructed the Salina branch and the California line to Liberal, Kansas. Later he was Rock Island agent at Hutchinson. On January 1, 1901, he was promoted to division freight agent, with headquarters at Hutchinson, and filled that post until January 1, 1906.
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Leaving railroad work temporarily, Mr. Byers engaged in the wholesale coal business at Hutchinson until December, 1911. About that time he took the lead in that group of men who began the construction of the Anthony and Northern Railroad. This is one of the important feeder lines in West Central Kansas and had done much to open a rich and prosperous section of county. It runs for a distance of 100 miles from Pratt to Kinsley, and from Truesdale to the north line of Pawnee County. The railroad company’s general offices are in the Hoke Building, Hutchinson, occupying all the second floor. The executive officers are: Otto P. Byers, president; J. E. Conklin, assistant to the president; F. C. French, vice president; T. A. Fry, treasurer; and E. M. Vetter, secretary.
Mr. Byers in the last forty years had had some notable experiences as a railroad man. These are well told and are preserved as permanent historical records in Volumes 12 and 13 of the Kansas State Historical Society’s collection. In those volumes can be found stories of the blizzard of January, 1886, and also the story of the building of the Hutchinson and Southern railroads constructed by Mr. Byers in 1889-90.
Mr. Byers is a republican in politics. His home is at 428 Sherman Avenue, East, Hutchinson. On January 8, 1885, at Abilene, Kansas, he married Miss Mary Rowe, a native of Abilene. Mr. and Mrs. Byers have two children. Walter Philip, born at Abilene, April 7, 1887, is a cattle raiser and farmer at Dombey, Beaver County, Oklahoma. Florence, who was born at Hutchinson August 2, 1890, is the wife of W. H. Williams, a cattle raiser and farmer at Boyd in Beaver County, Oklahoma.