ZEPH ROBERTS, who struggled with the adversities of early life in Kansas and followed the march of civilization along the line of several frontiers from Montgomery County westward, has been a resident of Finney County since 1891 and has attained that happy vantage ground of life where he can survey a satisfactory career of material achievements, the rearing of industrious and capable children, and enjoy the many honors worthily bestowed by community esteem.
Mr. Roberts has lived out a life of more than three quarters of a century. He was born in Madison County, Illinois, April 29, 1841. His father, William Roberts, was born in Kentucky and about 1830 moved from Cumberland County of that state to Madison County in Southern Illinois. In 1832 he was a member of the first mounted rifles in the Blackhawk war. He was a practical farmer and died in Illinois in the fall of 1844. William Roberts married Sarah Champ, who died in January, 1888, in Haskell County, Kansas, when almost eighty years of age. Her father, Maj. Richard Champ, served with the command of Gen. Francis Marion in the Second South Carolina Dragoons during the Revolution. He afterward moved west to Kentucky, became a planter and died in Cumberland County. William Roberts and wife had the following children: Maria, who married James Claridge and died in Jersey County, Illinois; William C., a Union soldier who died in Scott County, Illinois; Zepheniah, of this sketch; Mrs. Sarah Thompson, living in Pike County, Illinois; and George, who served in the Union army and lives in Adams County, Illinois.
Zeph Roberts acquired his education in the country schools of his native county. On April 21, 1861, a few days before his twentieth birthday, he enlisted in Company F of the Fourteenth Illinois Infantry, under Captain Littlefield. His colonel was John M. Palmer, then and for years afterward a distinguished figure in Illinois in national affairs, who served in the United States Senate, as governor of Illinois, and was candidate for president in 1896 on the sound money wing of the democratic Party. The Fourteenth Illinois mobilized at Camp Duncan in Jacksonville, was ordered to Quincy, and after crossing the Mississippi and the Missouri had its first real experience in war. The principal battles and campaigns in which Mr. Roberts had a share were those of Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, Champion Hills, Jackson and the siege of Vicksburg. From Vicksburg his command was ordered to Louisiana and helped capture Fort Beauregard. They then participated in the Meridian raid in Mississippi, returned to Vicksburg and was put aboard the boats for Clifton, Tennessee, to reinforce General Sherman's forces. While a portion of the Sixteenth Corps reached Sherman, another portion, in which was Mr. Roberts, was detailed to convey beef cattle down to Chattanooga for the army and en route they barely escaped capture by Joe Wheeler's cavalry command. Leaving Chattanooga Mr. Roberts' regiment was sent to Huntsville, Alabama, and from there was ordered home to Springfield, Illinois, for muster out. The survivors of the regiment nearly all carried some sear as an evidence of the three years of service, Mr. Roberts among them.
About the time he was let out of the army Mr. Roberts married, and a few years later he sought the new and open country of Kansas. In November, 1868, he reached the site of Coffeyville on the Osage diminished reserve. Here he located what was known as a "tomahawk claim." In pioneer times that was a familiar method of acquiring a claim, somewhat similar to the squatter practice. At that time the lands were unsurveyed and a homeseeker in locating a claim could take a tomahawk or an ax and blaze out the lines of his location, these standing as evidence of his proprietary rights until they could be legally recorded. After finding a location among the Osages Mr. Roberts' family followed him in the spring. Their first Kansas home was 140 miles from Lawrence, the nearest accessible railroad point. He began the improvement of his land, and a little later the firm of Coffey & Wilson brought a saw mill to that locality, establishing it on the Verdigris River. Mr. Roberts was employed as their mill engineer, and remained with the enterprise two years, at the same time living on his claim. The lumber made by that mill was sold to settlers to build their homes and was hauled away as fast as the plant could saw it. This mill was one of the big institutions and benefits to the country. After leaving the mill Mr. Roberts resumed farming, and subsequently changed his residence to Little Cheyenne Creek, not far from Pond Creek Postoffice and on the Fort Arbuckle and Fort Sill trail. There he continued farming and roughing it, and did many things in the old primitive way, and at the same time watched the new and poor settlers come in and take up the public domain. His home was in Montgomery County from 1868 to 1875.
During the winter of 1868-69 Indian troubles and scares were numerous, and it seemed that nearly all the Indians were ready to strike at the aggressive white settlers. Many times messengers went out to notify different localities of impending danger and also furnish important information to Government agents or contractors supplying beef for soldiers and for the "good Indians." On one occasion at old Westralia a call was made for volunteers to act as the courier to take a dispatch to Chetopa. Mr. Roberts was the man selected for the work, and he spent that night riding his "buckskin Jo" over an almost trackless region. He delivered his message and returned without harm.
Deciding to try the frontier again, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts took their stock with them and drove toward the setting sun to a homestead in Western Kansas in Haskell County. They had hardly become settled when the noted blizzard of January, 1886, came. In that terrific storm all their thirty-two head of Shorthorns, the first cattle of that strain introduced into the region, perished. They saved their teams and remained on their location for six years more, proving a half section near the old "Example" postoffice. This region they abandoned because it was so dry and because of the ill health of Mr. Roberts. His older sons were also restless and showed a disposition to leave.
Therefore, in 1891, the family moved to Garden City, where Mr. and Mrs. Roberts have since lived. Mr. Roberts has given twelve years of service on the city council and four years as a member of the board of education. He was president of the council and ex officio mayor and later mayor. He has given as much time to the public service at the county seat as any other local citizen, and this service has again and again brought him commendation and is one of the satisfactions of his retired life.
In Hancock County, Illinois, September 1, 1864, Mr. Roberts married Miss Martha Wilhite. Her father, Robert Wilhite, was a Virginian, a farmer, and married Peachey Rucker. Of their five daughters and two sons four are still living. The children of Mr. and Mrs. Roberts are: William S., who lives in Eugene, Oregon, by his marriage to Miss Doty has five children; Alpheus, a resident of the State of Washington, is married and has three children; Albert, living in California, married Martha Chamberlain; James, of Salem, Oregon, married May Warner and has three children; John, of Bates County, Missouri, married Annabell Wynn; Edgar, who served two terms as county attorney of Finney County, is now a leading lawyer at Elkhart in Morton County, he and his brother George Clinton having been soldiers of the famous Twentieth Kansas Regiment in the Philippines, and Edgar married Bertha Baker and has five children; Miss Josephine is a successful teacher at Colorado City, Colorado; George C., of Garden City, married Laura Craig and has five children.
Mr. and Mrs. Roberts both take a pleasant and optimistic view of the earlier hardships they encountered and endured and numerous disappointments of life in the West. With all that they reared a large family and are proud of the success and the character for industry, earnest and worthy efficiency of their children. They have lived together as man and wife for more than half a century. On their golden wedding anniversary they entertained a large concourse of friends who showed their appreciation of the work of these good old neighbors and brought them many fine gifts and memorials of friendship.
Mr. Roberts has been active in the Grand Army post as a member of James R. Fulton Post No. 257 at Garden City, and is a past commander. Mrs. Roberts is past president of the Woman's Relief Corps No. 240. Mr. Roberts owns a Grand Army badge made from the pinoak tree under which Generals Pemberton and Grant negotiated the terms for the surrender of Vicksburg in 1863. These good people are active members of the Presbyterian Church and regular and devout in their religious duties.
Transcribed from A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, Secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. [Revised ed.] Chicago: Lewis Publishing Co., 1919, c1918. 5 v. (xlviii, 2530 p.,  leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.
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