MEMORIES IN FOCUS: The stoic face of a typical pioneer years ago
MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO
Pioneer John Willis Hamilton (1832-1912) in an undated photo.
Not all early settlers went on to fame and fortune. Most lived relatively quiet lives, enduring the challenges of pioneer living.
John Willis Hamilton (1832-1912) was such a man.
Born in Ohio, he moved to Indiana and at age 20 married Docia Angeline Wolfe when she was but 15 years old.
After Jonnie, as he was known, served for 22 months as a cavalryman during the Civil War, he and his family relocated to Kansas, eventually staking a homestead claim in 1880 to 80 acres, now owned by Don and Dawn Hett west of 160th and Quail Creek Rds.
He farmed there until after his wife’s death at age 58 in 1896, eventually retiring and moving to Marion, where he purchased land along Vine St. a block north of Santa Fe St. in what now is an agricultural area.
Although his obituary reports that he was widely known and highly respected, his name seldom appeared in newspapers of the time.
Exceptions were in 1900 and 1908.
In March 1900, an Emporia newspaper reported that Hamilton, age 73 and still living in Wilson Township, regularly walked five or six miles nearly every day for a month to attend revival meetings.
The Marion Record responded:
“Even this instance of a vigorous old age must pale into insignificance compared to the true story we are now about to tell.
“Mr. Richard Baker, a well-known and highly esteemed citizen of Marion, 83 years of age, cut four cords of wood in two days last week — two cords per day for two consecutive days.
“Now let any town in Kansas beat that if it can.”
Whether Hamilton’s vigor truly paled in comparison to Baker’s might be explained by Hamilton’s next appearance in the newspaper: as part of a testimonial for patent medicine in 1906.
In those days, local residents often were enlisted to sing the praises of various products in newspaper advertisements.
Hamilton, by then relocated to Marion, offered this testimonial:
“I had been troubled a great many years with kidney and bladder disorder. I did not know what it was to go to bed at night without being disturbed from three to six times to pass the secretions of the kidneys. They would pain and burn in passage, which naturally weakened my back and subjected me to pains across the kidneys and sides.
“I began using Doan’s Pills some time ago, which I procured at Stanford and Billings’ drugstore, and found the greatest relief and benefit from their use. I think very highly of them.”
A stimulant and diuretic, the pills contained at the time a vasodilator similar to aspirin and extract of bear’s grape and juniper berry plants along with a extract of a South African plant thought to disinfect the urinary tract.
Pills still are marketed under the Doan’s name today but contain only a different cousin of aspirin as a pain reliever.
The Hamiltons had 10 children, but Jonnie outlived all but two of them. His wife and one of their children, Silas, who died a year after his mother at age 28, are buried in Claney Cemetery,
Hamilton died 15 years later at age 79 after contracting a brief illness while visiting the couple’s daughter, Mrs. John Harlan, in Tacoma, Washington.
New research indicates he was buried there rather than in a Potter’s field at Claney Cemetery, as some museum documents suggest.
Last modified April 2, 2020