Balie Peyton Waggener is a descendant of typical American ancestry, his great-grandfather having served as a lieutenant-colonel in the Continental army during the war for independence, and his grandfather was a major in the United States army in the war of 1812. He was born in Platte county, Missouri, July 18, 1847, a son of Peyton R. and Bniseis S. (Willis) Waggener, and until the age of fourteen years attended the public schools, where he laid the foundation of his education. At the age of fourteen he obtained a situation as toll-gate keeper on the old Platte City & Western turnpike. While thus employed he began the study of law, reading his law books at the toll-gate after his day's work was done. In 1866 he entered the law office of Otis & Glick, at Atchison, where he pursued his studies with such assiduity that, on June 10, 1867, he was admitted to the bar. Three years later he formed a partnership with Albert H. Horton, then United States district attorney, under the firm name of Horton & Waggener, which lasted until the election of Judge Horton to the office of chief justice of the Kansas supreme court, in 1876. In 1887 Mr. Waggener formed a partnership under the firm name of Waggener, Martin & Orr, which continued until April 30, 1895, when the firm was dissolved and Chief Justice Horton resigned his position as chief justice and became a member of the new firm, known as Waggener, Horton & Orr. David Martin, Mr. Waggener's former partner, became chief justice of the supreme court of Kansas to succeed Chief Justice Horton. In 1902 Judge Horton died, and later his place in the firm was taken by ex-Chief Justice Frank Doster, under the firm name of Waggener, Doster & Orr. It will thus be seen that Mr. Waggener was associated in the practice of law with three exchief justices of the supreme court of Kansas.
On Jan. 4, 1876, Mr. Waggener was appointed general attorney of the Missouri Pacific Railway Company for the State of Kansas, and on May 1, 1910, he was made general solicitor for that company for the states of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, his son, W. P. Waggener, succeeding him as general attorney for Kansas. During the forty-four years Mr. Waggener has been engaged in the practice of law he has won an enviable position at the bar, through his own personal efforts. He has never ceased to be a student of all subjects pertaining to that most jealous of professions, and it is worthy of note that he is the possessor of one of the most complete law libraries in the United States, containing upward of 10,000 volumes. He keeps his library at his residence, which is one of the handsomest and best appointed in the city of Atchison, and it is there that he prepares most of his cases.
Although primarily a lawyer, Mr. Waggener has found time to engage in other enterprises. In 1892 he was elected president of the Exchange National Bank, of Atchison, Kan., which position he has since held. He constructed and put into operation the Atchison Railway, Light & Power system in the city of Atchison, and owns a 500-acre farm, beautifully located, a short distance west of Atchison, and it is one of the most modern farms in the state, in its equipment of buildings, etc. Here he works out his ideas regarding the raising of alfalfa, hogs and mules, in which he has become a recognized authority.
In addition to his professional and business interests, Mr. Waggener has manifested a public spirit in matters pertaining to the political conditions of his city and state. Firmly grounded in Democratic principles, he has become one of the unquestionable leaders of that party and occupies a high place in its councils. In 1869 he was elected to the Atchison city councilwhen he had barely attained to his majority. In 1872 he was the nominee of his party for the office of attorney-general of the State of Kansas, and in 1873 was made city attorney. From 1889 to 1891, and again in 1895-97, he was mayor of the city. In 1902 he was elected a member of the lower branch of the state legislature, which had a large Republican majority, and during the term held the important position of chairman of the judiciary committee. It is generally conceded that he influenced much of the legislation of that session, and his record so commended him to his constituents that, in 1904, he was elected to the state senate from a strong Republican district, carrying the district by a majority of 1,500 votes, although, at the same election, Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican candidate for president, carried the same district by over 3,600, an indisputable testimonial to Mr. Waggener's personal popularity and his ability. Mr. Waggener is a member of all the secret orders. In Masonic circles he is a well known figure, being a Knight Templar and a Thirty-second degree member of the Scottish Rite, and also a member of the Shrine.
On May 27, 1869, Mr. Waggener married Miss Emma L., daughter of William Hetherington, one of Atchison's prominent citizens, and of this union was born a son and daughter, both now married. The son is a "chip of the old block," being general attorney of the Missouri Pacific Railway Company for the State of Kansas, and a director in and president of the Exchange State Bank of Atchison.
But perhaps the trait of character that most endears Mr. Waggener to the people of Atchison county is that liberality which led him, in 1897, to inaugurate the system of giving an annual picnic to the children. Every year, at his own personal expense, he furnishes free transportation, free entertainment, and free refreshments to all the children of Atchison county who can attend his picnic, and the larger the crowd the greater is his delight. These picnics are not given for the purpose of increasing his popularity, or for any self-aggrandizement whatever, but solely that he may steal at least one day in the year from his business cares and derive a wholesome recreation in contributing to the amusement of the young people. An Atchison paper says:
"Every year since he has been giving his picnic it has broken the record of the year before, until this occasion is now counted a more important holiday in Atchison than the Fourth of July." The report of the secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society for the year of 1911 contains the following:
"An interesting feature of President Taft's visit to Kansas was his attendance upon Balie Peyton Waggener's picnic to children, at Atchison. Waggener, for twelve years past, has been celebrating his birthday each year by giving a picnic to the children of the neighborhood. This year he obtained the promise of President Taft to attend his picnic, and so it was deferred until the date of the President's coming to Kansas. Therefore, on Sept. 27, Mr. Taft left Topeka about an hour after laying the corner stone of the Memorial Hall building and reached Atchison in time for Waggener's twelfth annual picnic. In speaking to the children President Taft said: 'I feel highly indebted to Mr. Waggener for the opportunity of attending this unique entertainment. To entertain thousands of children once a year during a period of twelve years is a privilege for which I envy Mr. Waggener. He undoubtedly learned that important truth that the real pleasure of life is putting happiness into others. When Mr. Waggener was welcomed at the union depot by 3,000 of his little friends it was a token of thanksgiving to God for having saved him to the people. I'm not here to talk tariff, reciprocity, or any political topic, but to enjoy this wonderful exhibition, of thanksgiving, happiness, and prosperity.' Then, taking in his hands a silver loving cup, he continued: 'A token is this, Mr. Waggener, that carries real sincerity of friendship. I present this beautiful vase of silver in the name of these people here assembled, as a sign of love and esteem. I congratulate you on the eminence you have obtained.' Waggener responded: 'This is a distinction unmerited. I have no words to express my grateful acknowledgment.' Balie Waggener's picnic has become a feature of Kansas history, of a most pleasant nature. He is a life member of the State Historical Society, and as a member of the legislature he was always an ardent and most liberal friend of the society."
Upon the occasion of Mr. Waggener's return from Rochester, Minn., after undergoing a surgical operation of a serious nature, the following comments appeared in the "Kansas City Journal":
"Everybody in Kansas knows Balie Waggener, either personally or by reputation. Many know him as a big railroad attorney, who has gained wealth and influence; others as a successful politician, and still others as a citizen whom they may meet any day on the streets of Atchison. But none of these people knows Mr. Waggener as the children of Atchison know him, for every tot and chick in town just naturally loves him and he in return loves them. When Mr. Waggener was forced to go to Rochester, Minn., two months ago, to be operated on for a serious malady, juvenile Atchison moaned the absence of its great friend, and there were many anxious little hearts that beat in hope of his recovery. Saturday, Mr. Waggener returned to Atchison. It was a most unusual home-coming for any man, and the children of Atchison turned out to give him joyful welcome. The little boys and girls and babies were at the depot, in their stiffest curls and whitest dresses and shiniest faces. Hundreds of these boys and girls formed in lines, through which Mr. Waggener passed on his way to his home. His automobile was pelted with flowers and glad childish shouts filled the air. And it is recorded that big tears filled the eyes of the recipient of this demonstration, and for once he couldn't say a word. And he didn't need to. For many years he has been doing things to give pleasure to the children of Atchison, and now it was the children's turn, and they naturally took possession of that home-coming and made it the most beautiful and touching thing that has ever happened in the life of Mr. Waggener. Few men in this world ever were so fortunate as to enjoy such an ovation. Men who have done important things have been received by town bands and by citizens covered with fluttering badges. Men have come back to their home people to be received in the opera house, and cheers have echoed in their receptive ears. But it must be understood that no such a home-coming as Waggener's could come to an ordinary man. It was the tribute of sincere devotion and genuine friendship. It couldn't be bought with money or earned by material success. These Atchison children didn't care a rap for Waggener the railroad attorney, or Waggener the politician, or even for Waggener the exemplary citizen. It was Mr. Waggener, the good kind friend they loved, to whom the welcome was given, and it sprung from sheer joy that he had recovered his health and was with them once more. And who can say that the earth holds a more splendid triumph as the crowning glory of a life than this. All other laudations and exclamations are tame compared with the flushed enthusiasm of hundreds of happy children shouting from their hearts:
'Waggener, Waggener, sis boom ah,
Our friend, our friend, rah! rah! rah!'"
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