DAVID AUSTIN TILTON. Practically all the history worth while in Greeley County has been enrolled before the eyes of David Austin Tilton, who is new living retired at Tribune. Mr. Tilton has lived in Greeley County thirty years, and he knows the life of this section from every phase and angle. His active years were spent as a stockman and farmer, and while he came into the work with about as limited capital as most of the pioneers, he has been substantially rewarded by his persistence, thrift and industry, and has long since ceased to worry about the future.
Mr. Tilton is not only a pioneer of Kansas, but is also one of the surviving veterans of the great Civil war. He is now living in his seventy-fourth year, having been born near Wheeling, Ohio, December 14, 1844. His parents were Austin and Julia (Pond) Tilton, who were married in Ohio, and when David A. was a child they moved to Adams County, Illinois. The children of the family were: Laura, who married Joseph McDonald and died at Payson, Illinois; Augusta, who married A. J. Fryer, of Iola, Kansas; Henry, of Laharpe, Illinois; David A.; John, of Joliet, Illinois; Jane, who married Douglas Griggs and lives at Payson, Illinois; Charles, of Columbus, Illinois; Emma, who married and died at Iola, Kansas; Julia, wife of Tilman Dooley, of Payson, Illinois; and George, of Garnet, Kansas.
During his early life in Adams County, Illinois, David A. Tilton acquired only such advantages as were afforded by the schools at Payson. Even then he could not attend school throughout the full term, and he has trained himself most effectively in the school of experience, and in that his education is not yet completed. He was a boy of eighteen when he enrolled in the Union army in 1862. He was a member of Company K of the Seventy-eighth Illinois Infantry, under Captain Vernon and Colonel Benson. His regiment was in the second division of the Fourteenth Army Corps, and for a part of the time was under the command of General Thomas. Mr. Tilton went through some of the most strenuous campaigns of the war, participating in that magnificent advance made by the Union armies through Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia until the Confederacy was split in twain. He fought at Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Lookout Mountain, and then entered upon the long Atlanta campaign, where he fought in the battles of Peach Tree Creek, Kenesaw Mountain, Ringgold Gap, the siege and capture of Atlanta, the battle of Jonesboro, and from Atlanta he marched to the sea with the forces of General Sherman. After the capture of Savannah the army went north through the Carolinas, fighting numerous small engagements, and the active service concluded with the surrender of General Johnston. General Johnston surrendered in May, 1865, and that virtually concluded the war. Mr. Tilton and his comrades then went north through Richmond to Washington, and arrived in time to take part in the Grand Review. He was mustered out and discharged at Chicago, and returned home about July 1, 1865. In spite of his arduous service he had neither wounds nor capture, although he had a narrow escape at Jonesboro.
After adapting himself again to the pursuits of civil existence Mr. Tilton was employed with his father as a carpenter and as a farmer. After his marriage he engaged in farming at Payson, but left that locality in 1877 and crossed the Mississippi into Missouri. He spent six years as a farmer in Shelby County, and in 1883 came to Kansas. For a time he lived in Montgomery County, then went into Crawford County, and in April, 1887, arrived at what was destined to be his permanent home in Kansas.
He came west seeking government land, and found himself a stranger in a strange locality. There was a family located on practically every quarter section, and soddies or dugouts dotted the entire landscape. Mr. Tilton entered a preemption in Colony Township, the northeast quarter of section 13, township 18, range 43. He filed at the land office at Wakeeney. Before bringing out his family he put up a small frame building 16 by 18 feet. In that home he and his wife and children began housekeeping on June 18, 1887. Among other first things in the item of his experiences in the county was the digging of a "dry well," and in order to earn a little money he worked for others on tree claims. He was not absolutely destitute, but possessed a narrow margin of money when he came to Greeley County, and he was unable to buy a team until the following year. The harness, wagon and team cost him $200. With that he broke sod for himself and for others. The first year his crop was fodder only, but the second year he harvested a large crop of cane. In the fall of 1888 a man came along from Colorado and gave him a couple of calves. That was the nucleus of his stock industry. He also hauled cane to Coolidge, ten miles away, and traded it for a couple of heifers. Thus he made a start toward raising stock, which has proved his chief reliance as a Western Kansas farmer.
To pay for his government preemption Mr. Tilton borrowed $200, mortgaging his claim for the money. During the next five years he succeeded in paying the interest and the taxes on the land, but finally relieved himself from the mortgage by allowing the company to take the land. He continued to live in that community about six years. All the time he was on the preemption he had to haul water for the house and stock. Notwithstanding these disadvantages and hardships he was somewhat better off financially when he left than when he came.
The experience of the next few years was as a renter. He finally bought a place north of Horace. It had a temporary house upon it, and moving his improvements from the old preemption he developed a five room residence. Here he found himself much better off than at his first location, chiefly because he had an ample supply of water for his live stock. In the meantime his herd had grown, and he had a number of cattle and young stock grazing on the grass. At his new location he raised sufficient feed for winter forage, and by that time was selling enough stock to support his family.
Since coming to Greeley County Mr. Tilton has sown wheat only three times, and out of three attempts he secured one crop. His second farm was in Tribune Township, and he remained on it for sixteen years. He still owns 480 acres there, including a half section in section 36, township 17, range 41, and a quarter section in section 35. He found it profitable not only to raise cattle but also horses, and when his business in this line was at its height he kept about 140 head of cattle and some forty head of horses. Mr. Tilton moved to Tribune in August, 1911, and since that date has given only a nominal attention to business affairs.
The county has found in Mr. Tilton a very capable and public spirited citizen. While living in Colony Township he assisted in organizing school district No. 21, and helped build the sod schoolhouse. He was on the school board much of the time he lived there. He was also treasurer of the township board. While in Tribune Township he was a director of school district No. 20, and was also treasurer of that township. In politics Mr. Tilton has been a steadfast republican since casting his first vote, fifty years ago. However, his participation in party affairs has been limited to attendance at county conventions. He is a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, and his family are Methodists.
Mr. Tilton was married in May, 1866, more than half a century ago, to Miss Elizabeth Bennington. Mrs. Tilton was born February 4, 1844, a daughter of Berton and Sarah Jane (Scott) Bennington. Her father was a native of Lincolnshire, England, and was married at Payson, Illinois, his wife being of Scotch ancestry. Mr. Bennington followed farming throughout his life, and both he and his wife died at Payson. They were members of the Methodist Church. Their children were: Mrs. Tilton, William, Samuel, Berton, Mrs. Mary Bell and Joseph.
Mr. and Mrs. Tilton have lived to see a large family grow up about them, and they now have numerous grandchildren, many of whom live in other states. Robert, the oldest child, was living in Oklahoma when last heard from. Lucy married Abraham Opp and died in Greeley County, leaving a daughter, Mrs. Daisy Davis, of Colorado Springs. May is the wife of Ira Isenberger, of Grant Pass, Oregon, and had three children, Zetta May, now deceased, and Roy and Carl. Edith is the wife of Walter Bell, of Marshall County, Kansas, and has four children, Arthur, Grace, Jennie and Meredith. Viola died at Franklin, Nebraska, as the wife of I. N. Cooper, and was survived by five children. Annie married Benjamin Tapman, of Hanover, Colorado, and has children named Edith, Hiram, Floyd, Cleo, Jessie. Cora is the wife of William Davis, of Trinidad, Colorado, and her children are May, Charles, Ralph and Cora. Zetta married Benjamin Manheim, of Golden, Colorado, and is the mother of Dorothy, Lizzie, Robert. Nettie married Bert Holmes, of Hoisington, Kansas, and has two children, Clifford and Philip. Vida A. is the wife of Clifford Barnes, a resident of Tribune and county clerk of Greeley County.
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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