BUTLER COUNTY'S EIGHTY YEARS BIOS
JAMES W. TETER
(Transcribed by Lori DeWinkler)
James W. Teter, farmer, stockraiser, petroleum producer, and probably with only a single exception, the most extensive property owner and wealthiest man ever to reside in the county, was born in Upsher County, Virginia, (now West Virginia) in 1849. He died in El Dorado, September 29, 1929, at eighty years of ago.
Mr. Teter’s outstanding success was the result of hard work, coupled with sound judgment of values and an accurate understanding of the great farming and livestock industry. He started from the proverbial “taw” and within a lifetime wrested from the Butler and Greenwood county prairies an enormous wealth, consisting of thousands of acres of farm and grazing land; hundreds of head of cattle; and riches in oil production. It is generally reported and, no doubt, is correct, that he was one of the two most successful men this county ever developed.
He was born on a farm in what now is West Virginia, but his parents, hoping to improve their condition, removed to Iowa, when he was a child less than ten years old. In 1865, the family made their first trip to Kansas, settling in Coffey County. They remained in Coffey County four years, or until 1869, when the father decided to take the long trail to California and Oregon and the far Northwest. He stayed there but a short time, not quite a year, when he yielded to the second call of Kansas and returned with his family to this state, coming direct to Butler County and locating at Sycamore Springs (now Cassoday). Three years later, or in 1873, they removed to Prospect Township.
Judge Volney P. Mooney, personal friend of virtually every man of consequence in Butler County and accurately familiar with their traits and character, says in his history that James W. Teter received his education mostly in the rough and ready school of experience and always was a student of men and affairs; that he studied conditions and reasoned from cause to effect and became one of the capable business men of Butler County, meeting with a well merited success. This success started, it is related, as a boy when he traded a rooster to an Indian for a pony. By degrees he acquired more than 11,000 acres of land, 3900 acres in Butler county and about 6900 acres in Greenwood County. The home place, located only two miles from El Dorado contains 850 acres. When oil was discovered in this section in 1915, much of the Teter acreage in both Butler and Greenwood counties yielded vast quantities of rich petroleum. But regardless of his extensive land interests and his oil he is better known as a cattleman, raising hundreds of head of Herefords annually. And he handled cattle for the sheer love of the work; seemingly unmindful of the financial returns. A delightful story is told of him in illustration of this: It is said that he shipped a trainload of livestock to Kansas City, receiving a check for $30,000; he slipped this check in hi vest pocket; upon returning home, he hung his vest in the closet, forgetting the check until he had occasion, several months later, to use the vest and, incidentally, discovered the check in one of the pockets. He had no membership in the Chamber of Commerce or other business organizations, but was a generous contributor to all public enterprises and particularly was a supporter of improved highways. Neither did he have any fraternal affiliations, probably because he did not have time to attend meeting regularly. In religion, while not a communicant of any church, he usually attended the Methodist but gave freely to all. Politically, he was independent, with perhaps a leaning toward the Republican party in national affairs.
Mr. Teter was of German descent, but there is no accurate record of when the family was established in American; however, it is known to have been many generations prior to the emigration of James W. Teter’s parents into Iowa and Kansas in that the town of Teter and Teter Creek in West Virginia are named for the family. John Teter, father of James W. Teter, is described as a typical pioneer, “a big hearted, stalwart man, noted for his physical strength and endurance and he belonged to that type of men who were absolutely unconscious of danger.” He was a cattleman and one of the pioneers of that industry in this section, attaining no inconsiderable success. He died in April, 1904, his wife having died five years earlier, or in 1899. They were the parents of eight children, two boys and six girls. Washington Teter, brother of James W. Teter and the other boy of the family, was famous as a hunter, having made frequent hunting expeditions in the Rocky Mountains and even into Mexico in pursuit of big game. He was well known throughout this section and died in El Dorado in 1915.
James W. Teter was married three times, each a most excellent exemplar of fine womanhood and each of whom materially contributed to his constant success. In 1878, he married Miss Mary Marshall, daughter of William Marshall, farmer of Prospect Township. Of this marriage, six children were born: Ora, married Charles R. Nuttle, well known El Dorado citizen; Hattie, married Robert McCully, Butler County, and who died in El Dorado, in 1930; Letha, now Mrs. Warren Coleman, Los Angeles, California; John, William and Merle, all of Butler and Greenwood counties. Mary (Marshall) Teter died November 19, 1891, and in 1892, Mr. Teter married Miss Louise Ladd, daughter of Ola Ladd, pioneer Greenwood County farmer. Two children were born of this union; Gladys Teter Spencer, of Wichita, and James L. Teter, at home. The second Mrs. Teter died October 9, 1904. On June 28, 1905, Mr. Teter was united in marriage to Miss Sadie Miller, of Butler County. The present Mrs. Teter is the daughter of Robert and Katherine (Kyle) Miller, both natives of Ireland, but who came to Butler County in 1876, settling at Chelsea. Mr. Miller died in El Dorado, in 1915, and the mother, Katherine Kyle Miller, in 1918, also in El Dorado.
Mrs. Teter is a graduate of State Teachers’ College, Emporia, and taught school prior to her marriage. She is active in the church life of the city and is a member of the First Presbyterian congregation. She also is a member of the Study Club and otherwise prominent in social and religious organizations. Mrs. Teter is the mother of three children, Margaret Ruth, who after graduation in 1930 from Lindenwood College, St. Charles, Missouri, traveled around the world with Miss Frances Frazier; Robert Elden, who also made a trip to Europe after his graduation from Kansas State College, Manhattan, and Helen Bernice, who attended Lindenwood College, University of Kansas, and Kansas State College, Manhattan. Helen Bernice was married on October 18, 1933, to Robert A. Zebold, Jr., and lives on a plantation at Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
A GALLANT KNIGHT
The mold that made James W. Teter is broken. There will never be another like him. He typified all that was rugged and strong and fine in the development of the great cattle industry of this part of the United States. There was nothing about him of the bedecked and bespangled cowman hero of the silver screen—a pseudo-creature that has little foundation in fact and that lives only in the fancy of glamorous dreamers. There was romance, yes—the romance of the stalwart youth who came with his pioneer parents to those rolling hills of Kansas sixty-four years ago. There was picturesqueness, yes—the picturesqueness of the virile man who rode herd unhesitatingly and unafraid in all kinds of weather and under conditions to cause the heart of the stoutest to quail. There was shrewdness—the calculating genius of the man who knew his cattle and knew his country and who possessed simple and loyal faith in both. There was valiance of heart, there was unfailing persistence, there was unending toil—the ability of a great, brawny, masculine man to count no hours, to waver before neither summer’s rains nor winter’s snows when range duties were pressing. All these qualities were rolled up and embodied in that fine personality that the cattle country of Kansas knew lovingly and admiringly and respectfully as “Jim” Teter.
The tales that hover around this hoary head, now laid low, are legendary. They will never all be told, for the life of “Jim” Teter was both epic and epochal in its sweep. There is a well-thumbed page in the who’s who of the cow country for “Jim” Teter. And whatsoever may be written of him now or in days to come is inextricably bound up with the unfolding and creation of that vast empire of the Flint Hills of Kansas in which the Big Beef Steer rules, and shall rule for aye, as king.
“Jim” Teter knew to the last melancholy phrase the hardships of the pioneer stockman. He had drained to the last drop the potion of difficulties—of scanty pastures, of summer seasons when the streams ran dry, of failing and uncertain markets, of disease and pestilence among his herds, of the ravages caused by the storms, of all the thousand and one trials and impediments that beset the path of him who lived by the herd. Through it all this head was unbowed and his gaze steady. He possessed in a remarkable degree the faither that moves mountains and he never let go of a simple and abiding belief that the country and the industry with which he was affiliated would justify the hopes reposed in them. So he stood foursquare, through fat years and lean. Year by year, he added to his holdings of land. Season by season, he improved the quality of the breed of beef cattle. And so, he won through at last to what the world views as success—the triumph that is marked by the acquisition of material possessions. But, his great victory was wrought in the culmination of his dreams, in the realization of his hopes and a strong man’s sturdy efforts behind them, in the unyielding possession of the faith that moves mountains. It is insignificant, and beside the point in this commentary, that in his latter years the broad acres of his cattle ranges produced petroleum in great abundance and brought to him added wealth and ease and all the fruits of prosperity. But long before that happy time he had won the great fight—the unmarred victory of a man’s man who will not be deterred by any obstacles which the world, the flesh and the devil may interpose.
The Kingdom of Butler and its environs in the blue stem pastures will never forget “Jim” Teter. No knight of old gaily caparisoned and with nodding plumes, ever made a more handsome figure than he—in his plain and durable habiliments of the working day—seated erect and easily on his favorite saddle horse, “White Sox.” That figure has passed from our ken; it was one fit to stand by Caesar. This country will hold him affectionately in memory for the quaintness of his ways, for his native shrewdness, for his kindness in the home, for the remarkable family of upright sons and daughters he has left. But its enduring reminder will be of the strong, bluff, hearty man’s soul of him, which bore woes and afflictions and hardships and setbacks uncomplainingly and which, in the course of the stirring years, “came out of great tribulation.”—R. A. Clymer in The El Dorado Times, October 1, 1929.
James W. Teter of Butler County who died this week in his seventy-ninth year put sixty-four years of his life into one corner of rural Kansas. He won out. It is a rather remarkable record when you come to ponder it.
Some ancestral urge tied the Teters into the Flint Hills and their green, deeply recessed creeks. That location meant cattle. In sixty-four years there have been as many heartbreaks in the cattle business as in any other activity on earth. Application, industry, shrewdness, capacity and all that have met defeat over and over again. Strong men by the score, men moved by the Anglo-Saxon passion of land and kine, have been beaten down and out. This distorted onesided industrial era has a good many sins to answer for and that is one of them.
The times didn’t beat Teter down and out. He hung on and put his times under him and kept them under, flat on their back.
Increase of land values, a phantom, and oil luck, fairy gold, and not major in the equation. Teter had exceptional experience of both, but his victory was not in land values and oil. His victory was in cattle, the one worth while because he won it.—Victor Murdock in The Wichita Eagle, October 2, 1929.