William David Pope, my husband David’s great-grandfather, was born to a family of early pioneers who settled in the Blue Mound area of Macon County, Illinois about 1827. He was born on 8 October 1848 to James Madison Pope and Louisa Hanna Taylor Pope. William was the oldest of six boys: Thomas John, Charles Willis, Millard Fillmore, James Franklin, and Zachariah Taylor. A sister, Sarah, died in infancy. He, like his ancestors, was a farmer all of his life.
The family land was flat with the exception of a cone-shaped hill in the distance that took on a blue hue. The area was called Blue Mound. Mosquito Creek, a narrow rivulet of water, ran through the farm. At one time the family farm had forests but, whether as a means to stay warm or a way of making extra money, a great deal of the forest slowly faded into memory. The land was rich and productive. And his father James was a successful farmer and a good role model for his children.
No doubt William had a normal childhood. He attended school and most likely helped his father with the farm. All of that ended at the age of fourteen when his father and uncle Zachariah left home in August 1862 to serve in the Civil War. Four months later in December his father was dead, dying of measles and cardiac obstruction at Camp Butler in Sangamon County, Illinois. About the same time his uncle, Zachariah, died in the same camp. Two lives wasted to disease, neither one able to serve their cause. Being the oldest boy a good deal of the burden of running the farm fell to him and his mother. Fortunately he had a large extended family to help out, but the shadow of the deaths of his father and uncle settled over the family during this time.
William’s life would change again 24 September 1866 when he married Elizabeth Ellen Smith. He was seventeen and she was sixteen. They were two youngsters, no doubt eager to make their way in the world. Two years later this young couple would experience loss when their one month-old daughter Minnie Alice died on 19 January 1869. She is buried in Pope Cemetery in Blue Mound.
This young couple must have been fearless as they set out for Kansas in 1869 where they settled in Franklin, Bourbon County. There is evidence that Elizabeth’s father and step-mother left Illinois about the same time and settled in the same area as the young couple. Perhaps they traveled together. No matter the circumstances it took a lot of gumption to leave the known behind.
Their second child Mary Louisa was born in Kansas on 28 April 1870 followed by Annettie Bell in 1872, and Hattie Lu Ella in 1874. On 20 March 1877, Walter Colby, their first son, was born. Again sorrow filled the family home when Walter died on 20 February 1879. At the young age of thirty, William knew heart-ache. He had lost his father, his uncle, his little sister, and two children.
Sometime between 1874 and 1880, William and Elizabeth were back in Blue Mound, Illinois with their three girls. William, like his father, was a prosperous farmer. His farm included sixty-three acres of land that was tilled or fallow and three acres of land in permanent pasture. The value of land, equipment, and livestock was close to $3,000, a goodly sum for that time period. He had two horses, two milk cows, one cow, two calves, fifteen swine, and one-hundred fifty poultry. The farm produced eggs, sixteen hundred bushels of Indian corn, one-hundred twenty-five bushels of oats, four-hundred seventy-four bushels of wheat, and forty gallons of molasses. It appears that he did this with the sweat of his own brow and the help of one hired hand. William was thirty-one. And of course Elizabeth helped when not tending the family garden and seeing to the children.
During 1880, Arthur Lee, their only surviving son was born on 14 August. Sometime after Arthur’s birth, probably early the next year, the family was on the move again. Who knows why the Pope’s decided to move away from their established farm and extended family. Perhaps the fertility of the land in Illinois was failing or the wide-open spaces were calling. Whatever it was, the Pope’s landed in the Fort-Scott area of Kansas and stayed. Their last daughter Lola Devin, my husband David’s grandmother, was born 5 April 1883.
As train transportation continued to expand at the end of the century, the Pope’s traveled back and forth to Macon County. They attended the funeral of William’s mother, Louisa, in 1896 and traveled to a family reunion in September of 1897. The reunion was covered by The Daily Republic Newspaper in their 20 September 1897 edition and read:
“Pope Family Reunion
Pleasant Gathering Sunday at House of Z. T. Pope on West Main Street
On Sunday there was a pleasant family reunion at the home of Zach T. Pope, district manager of Singer Sewing Machine Company, 1765 North Main Street. There are six brothers in the family, and all were present except Charles Pope, of Morrisonville, whose absence was greatly regretted. Those present were William D. Pope and wife, of Ft. Scott, Kan.; J. F. Pope and family of Morrisonville; Thomas J. Pope and wife, of Blue Mound; Zach T. Pope, of Decatur and family; and Uncle Willis Pope, of Lincolnville, Kan., the total number present being 21. A splendid dinner was served and all day the families were at the home engaging in social converse, and listening to stories of the early days in Macon county and life in Kansas, related by Uncle Willis. The Pope brothers will probably visit the state fair at Springfield next week. It was the first time the brothers had met at one place since the death of their mother a few years ago. All of the brothers except Zach are farmers and are doing well.”
William died on 13 April 1911 at the age of 62 and is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery in Fort Scott. He and Elizabeth were married forty-four years. As a testament to her, he appointed her as the executrix for his estate. He left each of his children $500 with the remainder of the personal property to Elizabeth and at her death the land was sold and proceeds divided among their children.
Not only was he a successful farmer, but during his lifetime William was a member of the Mason’s Rising Sun Lodge No. 8 in Bourbon County. Was he a pillar of the community? No one knows, but given how well he managed his farm and took care of his children and his wife, he would have been judged to be a success.