In the summer of 1872, Captain Russell Scott Osborn, a civil war veteran born in New York in 1833 but raised in Illinois before settling for six years in Iowa, made a 450-mile trek with his wife Sabrina Letitia and their children. Captain Osborn was a jack-of-all trades—a farmer, a comb maker, a brick maker, a book peddler, a lumberjack, a stonemason, and a Congregational minister, to name a few. And he would need all of those skills in the years ahead.
By August, they had arrived at a homestead near Bull City in Osborne County, Kansas. They were done moving from state to state. For the rest of their lives, Captain Osborn and his children would call Kansas home.
But Captain Osborn remained restless. He farmed a variety of crops, whatever the land and conditions would allow. He cut stone from the surrounding hills and built a house for himself, his wife, and his eight children. He built stone houses for others. He built a stone mill in Alton. He built the Ash Rock Church in rural Rooks County, and the First Congregational Church in Stockton. As a Congregational minister, he organized churches across the region. He preached for a time at the Ash Rock Church and First Congregational Church.
Eventually, he even tried his hand in politics. He began as a Republican, but to help the struggling farmers in the region, he became involved in the Farmers’ Alliance and then the Populist Party. Because of his energy and skill as a communicator, he was elected Kansas Secretary of State in 1892 and moved to Topeka.
His time as Secretary of State was tumultuous. In 1893, he witnessed the Legislative War, where Populists and Republicans fought over who would control the House of Representatives. The dispute became violent as the Populists locked themselves in the House chamber, which provoked the Republicans to break down the doors with a sledgehammer. The dispute ended when the Governor put down the violence between the two parties. Ultimately, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the Republicans would control the chamber.
Captain Osborn left politics after that. He remained in Topeka until 1898, when Sabrina Letitia, his wife of 41 years, passed away. He then moved back to the old homestead in Osborne County, where he lived for a time before moving to Stockton for the last years of his life.
He passed away in 1912, surrounded by his children.
But his family would remain in Kansas for generations to come. His son and grandson would get law degrees and practice law in Stockton. His great-grandchildren would move away from Stockton as adults, some settling in other small Kansas towns, while others moved beyond Kansas.
But those great-grandchildren would return to Stockton from time to time to celebrate Captain Osborn’s memory. They brought their children – Captain Osborn’s great-great-grandchildren – to the First Congregational Church to be baptized.
I know this story because I am one of those great-great-grandchildren.
There are stories like this in families across our beautiful state. Some of our families came to Kansas many years ago, some just arrived. But these stories, whether old or new, enrich our history and connect us to the communities we love. On this Kansas Day, let us celebrate our history, our stories, and the amazing story of this state we call home.
Matt All, President/CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas.