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Peter Heil, now living retired at Topeka, was born in Jefferson County, New York, December 9, 1840. When sixteen years of age he moved with his father, John Peter Heil, to Buchanan County, Iowa. His mother’s maiden name was Louisa Bueling, and she died when her son Peter was six years old. His parents were natives of Germany, and came to the United States separately as young people, being married in New York State. When in his native state, Peter Heil attended district school for a few months, but after the removal of his people to the West his help was required to operate the home place and he had little chance for schooling thereafter.
In 1859 Mr. Heil accompanied the family in a covered wagon across Iowa and Missouri into the State of Kansas, the team driven by him consisting of six cows. On the way the little party met many of the disgusted returning argonauts from “Pike’s Peak,” who had flocked to Colorado at the report of the discovery of gold. The Heil family located on the prairie of Tecumseh Township, Shawnee County, where they bought out a claim consisting of some 172 acres, of which twelve were timberland on East Deer Creek. With the exception of a log cabin, about 16×20 feet, with a “shake roof,” and some three or four acres of land broken, all the land was virgin as from the fashioning hand of the Creator. Here they arrived too late to commence operations that year, but in 1860 broke ground and put out crops, which, owing to the drouth, proved an absolute failure.
Peter Heil, in 1860, in consideration of having assisted his father in the building of a stone house, was “given his time.” He at once came to Topeka, where for a short period he worked at the baker’s trade, but this vocation did not prove congenial and he soon sought other means of making a livelihood. He finally secured a position driving cattle out to the Delaware Indian Reservation, near Lecompton, and there he was engaged in herding until the holidays of 1861. Early in that year he returned to Topeka, where he started to learn the brick and stone mason’s trade under the tutorship of John Elliott, but the Civil war came on at that time to interrupt his activities in that direction. On July 16, 1861, he enlisted as a private in Company A, Fifth Kansas Cavalry, a command which fought its first engagement without uniforms, at Morristown, Missouri. This was followed by guard duty in guarding a supply train for the army of Gen. N. Lyon, and at Fort Scott they heard of the battle of Wilson’s Creek, after which they were for a time employed in reorganizing the scattered units of the Federal army. Later Mr. Heil’s command participated in the battle of Osceola, where it destroyed a great amount of supplies intended for the Confederate army, and subsequently, with 600 or 700 other Federals, Mr. Heil took part in an engagement with a large force of the enemy at Dry Wood, near Fort Scott. In 1861 and 1862 the Fifth Kansas wintered near Barnesville, and in the spring of the latter year went to Springfield with the intention of joining General Curtis. The command was delayed by an engagement at Carthage, and did not reach Curtis’ command until after the battle of Pea Ridge had been fought. At Springfield the Fifth Kansas was engaged in guarding supply trains coming to General Curtis’ army, and while thus engaged was intercepted by a detachment of Texas cavalry while crossing Black River. After a stirring half hour, the Texans were routed. The command then went on and joined General Curtis’ army at Helena, Arkansas, where it was used in scouting and in raids, in which it participated in a number of minor engagements. Under General Washburn the Fifth was on a raid across the Mississippi River, in January, 1863, harassing the rear of the enemy at the time of General Grant’s endeavor to go from Memphis to the rear of Vicksburg. During the siege of that city the command was stationed in the rear of the beleagured city, to keep communication open, and took part in the engagement of July 4th, in which the Federal troops, although greatly outnumbered, killed, wounded and captured enough of the enemy to equal their entire force. The retreating Confederates were then followed to Little Rock, which place was captured, and the command then went to Pine Bluff, where the battle was fought November 25th against the forces of General Marmaduke. The command remained at Pine Bluff until its term of enlistment had expired. Here Mr. Heil, with others, went out to reinforce an empty supply train, and, encountering a large force of the enemy at Mark’s Mill, Mr. Heil was captured. He was taken to Camp Ford, near Tyler, Texas, where he was confined ten months, when he was exchanged and sent to New Orleans, and from that city to St. Louis. He was given a thirty-day furlough and ordered to report at Leavenworth, Kansas, where, April 24, 1865, he received his honorable discharge.
On his return from the war, the young soldier resumed his trade, but the hardships of army life had so undermined his health and strength that he was compelled to seek a vocation in which he could again build up. Accordingly, he bought a tract of land in Mission Township, where he continued to be engaged in its successful agricultural pursuits until the fall of 1895, and since that time has resided at Topeka. On first coming to this city Mr. Heil established himself in the seed and supply business, but two years ago retired from active pursuits. In his political views Mr. Heil is a progressive republican and on a number of occasions has served in positions of public trust. He is a Methodist in his religious belief, and is a trustee and was on the building committee of the Lowman Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church. He is a member and post commander of Lincoln Post No. 1, G. A. R. During a long and active career, as soldier, farmer, business man and citizen, Mr. Heil has been true to every trust reposed in him, and is eminently deserving of the esteem and confidence in which he is held.
On December 26, 1865, Mr. Heil was united in marriage with Miss Susan Cox, daughter of Samuel Cox, and to this union seven children have been born, namely: Mary, who died in infancy; Ernest K.; Louis P.; Sheridan and Sherman, twins, both of whom died in infancy; Mabel L., and Roy Harrison.