Why Does This Blog Exist?

You never know what you'll find here - anything with genealogical or historical value is fair game. This blog will be updated as I clean out my office, go through boxes and piles, or find pertinent items at antique shops. In the meantime, I hope you find something of interest here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Josiah Elam West of Stearns County, Minnesota

The history of his life is almost the history of St. Cloud, as he came here within a few months after the town had its beginning and it continued to be his home until his removal by death. There was no hour when he was not loyal to its interests or when his best  efforts were not given to its growth and development. There was no prominent undertaking during all these years with which he was not identified or in which he did not take a leading part. Born December 12, 1833, in Green county, Ohio, he remained there until a lad of six years when his parents removed to Piqua, Ohio, where he lived until 1846, when being left an orphan at the age of thirteen years, he went to Spring Valley, Ohio, where for the next two years he worked in a woolen mill and brick yard. Removing to Logansport, Ind., he made that city his home for three years, clerking in a store, while the next three were spent at Bloomington, Ill., part of the time as clerk in a store and part of the time as laborer in a brick yard; then still moving westward he reached Minnesota in 1854, stopping at St. Anthony Falls, where he put up ice in the winter and ran a restaurant the remainder of the time, always ready to do anything rather than be idle.

In 1855 he came to St. Cloud and still taking hold of whatever job was to be had instead of waiting for something easy to turn up worked for several years in a sawmill and a brick yard. Later he became a general merchant, and during the subsequent years was at different times a dealer in lumber, a real estate agent and a builder. St. Cloud has today more than a score of buildings he erected during his active life.  Two of the more important enterprises which he carried to completion, or which were especially due to his energy and enterprise, were the West House, a fine three-story hotel, which burned after it had passed from his ownership, and the dam across the Mississippi river which  generates the power that not only lights the city and propels the cars on the street railway but keeps in motion the machinery of most of our manufactories. The success of this last undertaking crowned one of the ambitious purposes of his life and was due to his persistence and indomitable energy.

His father, Caleb West, was born in Connecticut, December 27, 1796, and his mother, Elizabeth Elam, April 14, 1799, in Virginia, their marriage taking place November 25, 1819, in Green county, Ohio. The father was a cabinet maker until 1839, after which he kept a hotel, and here possibly may be discovered an inherited trait which inspired the son with a desire to provide St. Cloud with a fine hotel. Both parents made Ohio their home until their death, the father passing away October 10, 1845, and the mother only a few months later, January 12, 1846.

In the matter of education his opportunities were limited, being confined to a few months now and a few months again in the primitive schools of the communities in which his boyhood days were spent, ceasing entirely with six months in a school at Logansport. But what was lacking in these earlier opportunities he made up largely by a keenness of observation, a ready assimilation of facts, a good deal of after reading and a retentive memory, so that he had a good general knowledge of current affairs and was able to grasp readily and comprehensively such situations as required prompt decision and action. Captain West was patriotic to the core and promptly translated his patriotism into active service. August 15, 1862, he enlisted as a private in Company I, largely a St. Cloud company, of the Seventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, and remained in active service until the close of the war, being mustered out August 16, 1865. During this time he was promoted successively to the office of sergeant the month following his enlistment; to be second lieutenant April 1, 1864, and to the captaincy of his company May 26, 1865, and had the unusual record for these three years of not having been off duty by reason of sickness a single day and was absent on furlough only two weeks.   He was with his regiment during General Sibley's Indian campaign in the summer of 1863, going South that fall and participating the following year in the battle of Tupelo, Miss., in the Oxford raid and the burning of that city; the skirmish at Tallahatchie river; the pursuit of General Price through Arkansas, when a march of three hundred miles, from September 17 to November 24, was made on ten days' rations; on the chase after General Rice through Missouri; at the battle of Nashville; in the pursuit of General Hood; and at the siege of Mobile was under fire almost continuously from March 25 to April 8, 1865. After his return home and to civil life Captain West was appointed postmaster at St. Cloud, serving from April 15, 1869, to March, 1886, and again from March, 1890, to March, 1894, making a total of twenty-one years. From 1870 to 1883 he was a trustee of the Soldiers' Orphans Home, and from 1883 to 1887 was a director of the St. Cloud Library Board and its president.

Captain West was married at Bloomington, Ill., in October, 1854, to Alcetta Francis Mason; at Clearwater, Minn., November 26, 1878, he married Emma Cambell; and July 9, 1896, he married Mary Martha Cambell whose death preceded his by but a few months. There were born as the result of his first marriage three sons, Willis Mason, November 15, 1857; Paul, September 2, 1860; and Max, November 11, 1870. The eldest of these, Willis M., is a member of the faculty of the University of Minnesota; the second, Paul, is a practicing physician located at Roseland, Louisiana; Max, the youngest, died in December, 1909, at Washington, D. C, where he had been engaged for some time in the service of the government as an expert examiner in the Bureau of Corporations.

Captain West had been in feeble health for some months, gradually wasting away, until the end came Thursday, November, 1911, when he had almost completed his seventy-eighth year. The funeral services were held the following Sunday afternoon, in the Presbyterian Church, under the direction of the Grand Army of the Republic. With his death St. Cloud lost one of its most enterprising and progressive citizens. He was ever on the alert to discover what could be made to aid in the growth and development of his home city, and his time and energies and means were freely given toward making all such enterprises a success. Coming to St. Cloud in the days when pioneering meant privation, when the demand was for stout hearts and willing hands, he was ready to meet whatever situation presented itself and make the very best of circumstances. Always buoyant and hopeful, he inspired his fellow citizens with his own confidence and set an  example of progressiveness which was contagious. He loved his country, giving to its service three of the best years of his life, and he loved its flag. He was possessed with a burning desire to have the children of the country grow up to love and honor the emblem of the nation's unity and glory, and it was through over-zealous efforts in this direction that he contracted a sickness which doubtless hastened his death. It was one of his final requests that his coffin should be draped with the flag whose stars and stripes he had so devotedly followed through days of darkness and peril, and that his remains should be borne to their last resting place by his fellow comrades in arms. His memory will long be cherished as that of a good citizen and a brave soldier, and of the Association of Old Settlers he was a most active, valuable and devoted member, whose loss will long be severely felt.

(from “History of Stearns County, Minnesota” by William Bell Mitchell, 1915)

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