Last week, I began exploring a box of photos and memorabilia given by the Ely family to the Edwards County Historical Society. It led to finding out about the Kirkfield Post Office established by Robert O. Kirk in 1881. Kirkfield was where Benjamin J. Ely, Sr. would choose to settle his family.
Benjamin was born on December 30, 1858 in Kirksville, Missouri one of 14 siblings. His father, Judge David A. Ely, had established a large slave-holding plantation there in 1835. I could find no connection between Robert O. Kirk, a Union soldier from Massachusetts, and the Confederate founders of Kirksville, MO.
After finishing his education in the Missouri State Normal, Ben studied law at Quincy Business College. About 1880, he went with his father and brothers to Maryville, California, where they established an extensive wheat ranch that failed. When his father died in 1887, Ben returned to Missouri to care for his mother, Mary.
Left: Early picture of Benjamin
Above: Benjamin & Martha with Roy and James.
Ben married Martha Alice Crow on Feb. 13, 1890. They had four children (Roy, James, Benjamin Jr., and Mary Ruth) before moving with Mary to Kirkfield in November, 1901. Ben bought a large acreage where he would farm and raise cattle and horses. Three months after arriving, Martha gave birth to twins boys, but only one, Manning, survived.
Like his father, Ben had an interest in politics. In 1904 he ran for Edwards County Commissioner of the Second District as a Fusion Candidate. I was not familiar with that term “fusion”, and found it to be when both political parties back the same candidate. Despite that double endorsement, he lost the election.
In 1905, the Lewis Press ran a weekly Kirkfield column which gives a glimpse into prairie life. The year began with visits by the neighbors to the Ely home on January 2 where, “Everyone ate a hearty supper, visited to a late hour and returned home happy.”
The January 20 issue reported, “A good visit by the fire has been enjoyed by our farmers this week while the cold weather lasted. 12 degrees below zero has been the mark. Our farmers are pleased with the heavy snow on the wheat fields.”
Everyone in the neighborhood was busy throughout January. D.E. Bear, M.C. Trotter, and L. J. Rumsey were butchering hogs. Ben was building fence. Ed Sultz with the assistance of his neighbors was husking corn.
Pat Sweeny, Jr was marketing Ben Ely’s wheat in Kinsley. He was also busy hauling telephone poles and wire from Kinsley for the Watson Telephone Co. Ben and his neighbors were installing new telephones.
Mr. Wills was looking forward to ordering a steam plow for sod and old ground plowing. He had nearly 500 acres engaged, the largest contracts being 160 acres in one field for Ben Ely, and another 100 acres for Geo. L. Vedder and 120 Acres for Peter Lancaster.
The end of the January also brought the end to the Kirkfield post office. Wendell took over that service.
With the beginning of February “A general cayoute chase is reported to take place in our vicinity soon. Mr. Vedder and Mr. Ely ran cayoutes last week but the animals were so numerous, they could not all chase the same wolf long enough at one time to catch a single one.”
February got colder and a revival meeting at nearby Trotter school was postponed because it was 25 degrees below zero. Ben was sick in February, and his children had whooping cough in April.
In a snow storm on Friday, April 14, S. E. Bear and his steam plow and a factory expert arrived in Kinsley. On Monday, the 20-horse engine was hitched with 8 plows and working successfully in Kirkfield. Nearly 50 people visited the scene to see the machine that could replace six 3-horse teams and cost one-third less.
In 1909, Ben decided to sell his farm and stock and move into Kinsley to give the advantages of education and city life to his children. He bought the house which still stands at 814 Colony Ave. His mother died the next year, and 12-year old Manning, who had never been well, died in 1914.
Benjamin J. Ely, Sr. was active in civic life. He was president of the Board of Education for seven years, mayor of Kinsley for two terms, and the chairman of the Democratic County Committees. He was a member of the Masonic Order and a Knight Templar.
At the time of his sudden death on August 27, 1926, he was applying for a patent for an automobile awning. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery.