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., [155] leaves of plates): ill., maps (some fold.), ports.; 27 cm.

John O'Dea

JOHN O'DEA. Only a complete newcomer or a resident who professed no interest in his fellow citizens would fail to recognize the name of John O'Dea in Stevens County. In that county he has lived since childhood, grew up with the handful of citizens who once made up the bulwark of civilization in this western country, was himself for several years representative of the dignity and power of the law as sheriff, and is now peacefully and not unprofitably engaged in the business of farming in Harmony Township.

His father, Matthew O'Dea, is one of the fine old pioneers who is still left to merit the esteem of the present generation. Matthew O'Dea was born near Dublin, Ireland, in 1841, had a fair education, was left an orphan, and came to the United States with three brothers and two sisters, concerning whom there is the following brief record: Thomas, who died at Des Moines, Iowa, leaving a family; Dennis, of Douglas County, Kansas; John, who died in Illinois; Bridget, who died at Kansas City as Mrs. Keeting; and Ellen, wife of Philip Ryan, of Bloomington, Illinois.

Matthew O'Dea, who learned the tinner's trade, went to Illinois before the Civil war, after a brief sojourn in Ohio. At Bloomington, Illinois, he followed his trade, but abandoned it to take up farming. In Dewitt County, that state, he married Margaret Lahey, daughter of John Lahey. Some years later, having prospered very modestly by their efforts in the Prairie state, they set out for Western Kansas, traveling by train to Hartland, and in March, 1887, arrived in Stevens County and established themselves on the Cimarron River. The homestead they took up thirty years ago with its many improvements and changes represents home scenes to this worthy old couple today. The dugout that served as residence the first year gave way to a soddy, and from that five years later they moved into a comfortable frame dwelling, where they still live and enjoy the fruits of a modest prosperity, all won by their earnest labors from Stevens County soil. Matthew O'Dea has made farming and stock raising his source of profit, and of late years has handled principally the White Face Herefords. Besides his homestead he took a tree claim, and his total land holdings have been brought up to a section. While living in Illinois he took out his citizenship papers, and has been regularly identified as a voter with the democratic party. His official service has been as member of the school board of joint district No. 1. He and his good pioneer wife had four children: Eva, wife of Ed O. Stewart, of Grant County; John; James, of Stevens County; and Dennis, who died in Kansas when a child.

John O'Dea was born in Dewitt County, Illinois, February 15, 1876, and was eleven years old when the family gathered their property about them and set out for the long journey to Western Kansas, their home for some time having been in McLean County, Illinois. His boyhood recollections are mingled associations with the corn belt region of Illinois and the bare prairies of the West. His education was the product of country schools plus a term or so of more select advantages at Garden City. At twenty-one he started out for himself as a farmer and stockman, taking as his homestead the southwest quarter of section 9, township 31, range 35. He both proved it and improved it, and has added many substantial values. His bachelor days were spent there in a single-room dugout. This was succeeded by a frame house of six rooms, in part of which he began housekeeping at the time of his marriage. His crops have been of the dependable feeds and grains, such as kaffir, cane and maize, and he has always kept a few head of stock. Adjoining his homestead he subsequently bought another quarter section, which furnishes him enough land for his operations.

From this farm he was called into public life by his election as sheriff in 1904 on the democratic ticket. He succeeded Sheriff Kelso. In 1906 he accomplished re-election by defeating his opponent by a single vote. His term as sheriff did not test his courage in the face of bloodshed and riotous crime, for Stevens County then, as now, enjoyed an era of complete peace, and during four years he arrested only three persons for minor breaches of the law. In fact, he might have almost forgotten his official dignity, had it not been for the rather numerous papers he served in foreclosure suits under mortgage and administering sheriff's sales. Outside of sheriff he has been a member of the School Board in the home district. He was reared under the influence of the Catholic Church, and is affiliated with the Modern Woodmen of America.

May 15, 1907, at Garden City, he married Miss Emma May Kepley. She was one of the eleven children of David Kepley, who was born in Tennessee, was a Confederate soldier during the war, and from Indiana came to Kansas as one of the pioneers of Grant County, where he possesses one of the best improved farms in that section of the state. He married Miss Luckabill. Mr. and Mrs. O'Dea have one son, John Dale.

Pages 2186-2187.