Samuel Newitt Wood (1825-1891)
Although reared as a Quaker, Wood was always a fighter.
[Kansas State Historical Society]
Samuel Newitt Wood was born in Mount Gilead, Ohio into Quaker farming family. He attended local schools and showed an early interest in politics, serving as county chairman for the Liberty Party in 1844 when he was 19 years old. He campaigned for Martin Van Buren in 1848 and for the Free Soil Party in 1852. He met his wife in 1849 while working at an Underground Railroad station near his home. Having until then earned a living as a school teacher, Wood began reading law in a local office in 1852 and was admitted to the bar in Morrow County, Ohio, in 1854. He had been an opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and soon after acquiring his law license, he "went to Kansas to fight the battle over again." [Biographical Sketch, usacitiesonline]
Wood and his wife toured eastern Kansas to select a claim, settling on a place four miles west of Lawrence in Wakarusa township, where he immediately became active in free-state activities. He was a losing candidate in the "bogus" election in March 1855 and was one of the rescuers of Jacob Branson from Sheriff Sam Jones in the precipitating event of the "Wakarusa War," late in 1855. [Connelly, History, Lawrence] Later Jones tried several times to arrest Wood but failed as Wood was surrounded by free-state men. [Robinson, Interior and Exterior, Ch.14]
In the early Kansas days, the Wood family lived simply. Clothes were not often changed. Sam's perpetually dirty shirt "gained state-wide notoriety and the mere mention of his shirt made one newspaper editor want to scratch." [Malin, Soft Winter Wheat, 173] On the other hand, the family made a good impression on a Quaker visitor in 1858:
"...we spent the afternoon & lodged there, and his wife, a well educated & sensible woman, treated us kindly. [Mr.] Wood is a lawyer by profession & seems to be in easy circumstances. The family are living in a temporary house, but a little snug bed was prepared for us in the loft, the ascent of which was by irregular boards some of which bent as we trod upon them." [Jackson, English Quakers Tour, 51]
Wood was a delegate to the Topeka Constitutional Convention in 1855 and to the first Republican National Convention in Pittsburgh in 1856. Later that year, he attended the Philadelphia convention nominating Fremont for President and campaigned for the candidate in Ohio and elsewhere. [Biographical Sketch, usacitiesonline]
In 1859 the family moved to Cottonwood Falls in Chase County, where Wood started the first newspaper in the county, the Kansas Press. After 13 issues, Wood abruptly moved to Council Grove in Morris County, taking the press with him. As he explained:
We decided very suddenly to remove our Press to Council Grove. Our reasons are soon told. We come to Cottonwood Falls last spring, believing that a town would spring up at the Falls, and in a few months we should have business all around us; but instead, one-half of our town site was jumped by a person who dog-in-the-manger-like, would do nothing himself, or allow anyone else. Persons came to the Falls to build Mills, but the land was in dispute and they left disgusted. Others proposed establishing Stores, but our town site being in dispute, they would not venture; and thus scores of men, as well as business was driven from us. We were paying out $25 per week to keep up our paper, and from Cottonwood Falls were receiving no support because there was nothing there. COUNCIL GROVE, on the other hand, is a business place; doing a larger business than any other town in Southern or Western Kansas. . . . The people there wanted a paper, offered us inducements which we believe it our duty, as well as interest, to accept. [Gaeddert, First Newspapers, 29]
Wood was elected to the 1859 Territorial Legislature from his new home district and reelected in 1860, serving as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In 1860, he was one of the organizers of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. He was elected in 1861 to the first State Legislature, and was again chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate. Declining a federal appointment in the Lincoln administration as a customs collector in Texas, Wood joined the Union Army at the beginning of the war. As an officer in the 2nd Regiment of the Kansas Infantry, he fought at the battle of Wilson's Creek and was then assigned to a battalion of Missouri soldiers he helped recruit. With the Missouri battalion he fought at Salem and campaigned in Arkansas, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He resigned his commission in 1863 and returned to Morris County where he was elected to the 1864 State Legislature and served as State Adjutant General. [Biographical Sketch, usacitiesonline]
Wood was a notable advocate for women's suffrage. His mother had presided at the first women's suffrage meeting in Morrow County, Ohio. At the Leavenworth Constitutional Convention in 1858, Wood moved to strike out the word 'male'" in the franchise clause. His motion failed 21 to 35. [Tappan, Journal, March 31, 1858] In the 1866 State Senate, Wood offered a resolution favoring women's suffrage and in 1867 he started a new newspaper, the Chase County Banner, which editorially advocated the rights of women.
Samuel Wood was elected to the Kansas House in 1867, and was elected Speaker. Late that year, he was appointed a state court judge, but resigned in 1869 to operate a Texas cattle ranch for two years. Returning to Kansas and politics, he broke with the mainstream Republican Party in 1873, supporting Horace Greeley and the new Liberal Republican Party. He was always a reformer, being progressively a Republican, Greenback, Labor and Populist party member. He published the Emporia Kansas Greenbacker, and the Topeka State Journal, both reform minded papers. [Blackmar, History, 933]
In 1885, Wood was a partner in a town company, "Woodsdale" in Stevens County in western Kansas. Hugoton was the only town in the area, and it was assumed it would become the county seat. But Wood and his partners maneuvered to get Woodsdale named instead. As an inducement, they offered free town lots to all who would move there. When the county election was held, Hugoton prevailed but, after the election, the conflict continued. In the spring of 1887, Wood and one of his partners went to Topeka to seek a reversal and on their return, they were captured by a Hugoton posse and subjected to a mock trial. They were found guilty and sentenced to accompany the posse to "No Man's Land" (Oklahoma) for a "buffalo hunt." Twenty-four Woodsdale men volunteered to go to "No Man's Land" to rescue them. The rescuers captured the Hugoton posse, took them to Garden City and charged them with kidnapping. But the trial was held in Hugoton and they were acquitted. The "County Seat War" reached its climax on July 25, 1888 in a hay meadow in "No Man's Land" in a shoot- out between the two sides. Since the fight took place outside the jurisdiction of any court, there was no successful prosecution of those involved. Hard feelings continued and three years later, in 1891, Samuel Wood was murdered by one of the hay meadow men while in Hugoton answering a summons to appear in court. [Biographical Sketch, usacitiesonline]