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ABNER JEFFERSON PONDER. It is an indisputable fact that the United States stands alone in the preeminence of having an array of citizens, who, without adventitious aid or accident of birth, have attained to wealth and distinction in public affairs. This is the glory of the country, and every man who has it in him can prove himself a man. This thought naturally suggests itself in looking over the career of A. J. Ponder, for he began the hard battle of life in early boyhood, and has climbed step by step the ladder of success until he now not only commands a goodly amount of this world’s wealth, but also holds a high place in the estimation of his fellows. He is a noble type of the true American citizen, for he is loyal, public spirited and charitable, and in the community in which he has so long made his home he is a leader of thought and influencer of action, and always on the side of justice and right. He is a product of Hickman County, Tennessee, for there his eyes first opened on the light of day December 13, 1822.
His parents, Archibald and Sarah (Kinzie) Ponder., having also been born there. In the fall of 1842 these worthy people started overland for Missouri, driving a yoke of oxen, their objective point being Arkansas, but upon their arrival in Ripley County they were persuaded to settle here, and a location was made in the woods, ten miles from Doniphan, but they afterward moved to a farm four miles southwest of that place, on Current River. Although the land was clothed with a rich growth of primeval forest, many of the stately monarchs of the forest were laid low by the sturdy stroke of Mr. Ponder’s axe, and prior to his death, which occurred in 1852, at the age of sixty-five years, a considerable clearing and some other valueabe improvements had been made. Although a gunsmith by trade, his attention was devoted to other pursuits after locating in Missouri, and at the time of his death he was ably discharging the duties of county treasurer. He always supported the men and measures of the Democrat party, and showed his approval of secret organizations by becoming a member of the Masonic order. By his wife, who died in 1851, he became the father of eight children, three of whom are now living: Abner Jefferson; Daniel K., who is associate judge of Ripley County, and Albert, who is engaged in farming two miles east of Doniphan.
When the subject of this sketch had attained a proper age he was placed in the common schools of Tennessee, but after he attained his eleventh year much of his services were required on the farm, and thereafter his opportunities for acquiring an education were few and far between. At odd times he learned the trades of blacksmithing, gunsmithing and wagon-making, and at these occupations he worked at various times in order to “turn an honest penny,” but after coming to Missouri he assisted his father to clear and improve about seventy-five acres of land before a thought was given to his own interests. In 1867 he moved to Doniphan and opened a general store, which he placed under the management of George Lee Waugh, but at the end of two years took the management of the business into his own hands, and conducted the establishment with marked success. During the thirteen years that he sold goods, his patronage grew and increased very rapidly, and extended to surrounding counties, and even into Arkansas. He purchased all kinds of farm products and made a specialty of cotton, which business proved to be quite profitable. Although at first he was compelled to haul all his goods from Pilot Knob-over eighty miles away-his journeys there and back were cheerfully made, and notwithstanding the many inconveniences he experienced, owing to the newness of the country, his efforts prospered. For some time after the war his services were employed in settling up estates-more than forty in all-and although he was not the public administrator, he performed the duties of that official, and in every case satisfactorily.
The soundness of his judgment soon came to be relied upon, and in 1870 the people of Ripley county showed the implicit faith and confidence they had in him by electing him to the office of county treasurer, regardless of his protests and the fact that his most earnest desire was to keep out of the political arena. He refused to make out a bond, hoping thus to force the people to make another selection, but this they would not do, and he reluctantly entered upon his duties, and filled the office with marked ability for ten years. He proved himself a beau ideal public servant-faithful, efficient, trustworthy and courteous, and upon retiring from the office he carried with him the respect and good-will of political foes as well as friends. While in office he built the county court house, but under the following circumstances: Mr. Ponder had gone on the bond of a man who was to do the work, as guarantee for the faithful performance of his contract, but these obligations were not fulfilled, and in order to save himself Mr. Ponder took the contract himself and erected the building. Since 1880 he has not been very actively engaged in business, but gives some attention to the real estate business and the loaning of money. It can with truth be said that no man has been more the architect of his own fortune than Mr. Ponder, for when quite young he began to make his own way in the world, and from that time to this has ” hoed his own row.” his earnest and persistent endeavors in business life, coupled with strict integrity, honesty of purpose and liberality in all directions, have resulted in placing him among the wealthy and highly honored citizens of the county. Unlike many who have made their own way in life, he is modest and unassuming in his manners, and the sweet spirit of charity and liberality are among his most pronounced characteristics. The faults and failings of others are not crimes in his eyes, for he is well aware that to “err is human,” and believes that kindness and sympathy will bear better fruits than harshness and criticism. It has been his good fortune to amass a large amount of wealth, but he uses it wisely and well, and has the satisfaction of knowing that it has been won through honorable and careful business methods, and never at the expense of others, and therefore can but be a blessing.
Mr. Ponder is familiarly known throughout the county as “Uncle Jeff,” and in the various enterprises that have been projected for the good of the section, he has been helpful and very generous in his support. In 1844 he was married to Miss Delilah Ponder, who died soon after their marriage, and in 1847 he wedded Miss Sarah Ann Cross, who lived until a few years ago. To their union five children were given, only one of whom is living: Jefferson A., who is a successful farmer of this county. Those deceased are Catherine, wife of Daniel Yingling; Elizabeth, who was the wife of Robert Russell of this county; Rudie Ophelia, who is the wife of Thomas Sandling of this county, and Louisa, who died when quite young. Therecia Young became the third wife of Mr. Ponder, but died very shortly after their marriage, and Jane Cross, whom he next wedded, also died soon after the celebration of their nuptials. He next married Mrs. Margaret Dalton, widow of Elijah Dalton, Sr. Mr. Ponder is an elder in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is a member of the A. F. & A. M., was the first master of Doniphan Lodge, and represented that lodge in the Grand Lodge of the State. Politically he has ever been a stanch Democrat.