Thomas McConnell, BiographyPorter County biographical sketches . . . .

Transcribed biography of Thomas McConnell

THOMAS MCCONNELL. Although Thomas McConnell has not made Porter county, Indiana, his home for many years, yet the people of that county claim him as a citizen and he, himself, thinks of that section of his native state of Indiana as home, though he lives in far away Texas. He is now an old man, but he has led a life of such unusual activity that if life were granted to men in proportion to the amount of work they accomplished he would be due about as many lives as the proverbial cat. During his active days he was known as one of the most able newspaper men of the middle west, and much of his success along these lines lay in his executive ability. He was one of those men who start things, get them into running order, and when matters begin to run smoothly and routinelike, he was off for some more active enterprise. It is such men as he, hard workers, enthusiastic over the little events of every day life, brave in the face of defeat, always ready to see the humorous side of anything, who know the joy of life and are able to bring it to the ken of others. Mr. McConnell is now retired, but he is still the center of his family circle, still the leader in thought at least of his friends, and today he is as well informed on the progress of the world as he was when it was his business to be so. Such a man is a delight to be with, and one can but envy his family and friends.

Thomas McConnell was born in Goshen, Indiana, on the 28th of February, 1836. His father was the late Joseph McConnell, and when the lad was eight years old his father moved to Morgan Prairie, five miles southeast of Valparaiso, Indiana. This was in the summer of 1844, and in the fall of that year the boy was sent to school at the county seminary, which was at the time under the direction of Professor Ashley Pierce. He here obtained a fairly good education, and learned a love of books that has remained with him through life. This fondness for books led him to take up the printer's trade, which he studied under the late Judge W. C. Talcott in the old office of the Practical Observer at Valparaiso. When he was but a lad of nineteen he was teaching school. During the winter of 1855-56 he taught school out in Iowa at Lasalle. The year of 1856 was a presidential electoral year and saw Mr. McConnell back in Valparaiso, taking an active part in the campaign, although he himself was not yet old enough to vote. Driving a four horse team through the country and singing at the top of his voice:

"Brave Charlie,
Strong Charlie,
Not a man but he
Plants upon the topmost crag,
The flag of all the free."

During this period he was pressman on the Valparaiso Republican, then published by Dr. Cameron, who later became Brevet Major General R. A. Cameron.

In the spring of 1857 Mr. McConnell cast his maiden vote in the first mayoralty election ever held in Valparaiso, Thomas G. Lytle being the candidate of his choice. This was near the end of his Porter county residence, for he was soon to be called away by the needs of his country, and was never again to make his permanent home in this section.

With the outbreak of the Civil war he enlisted as first lieutenant in Company B, of the Sixty-third Regiment of Volunteer Infantry. He served in this capacity but a few months, resigning to take other service at the advice of Mr. Colfax and Senator Henry S. Lane, who were warm personal friends of his. After the capture of Vicksburg he was in the service of General Cameron and campaigned throughout the southwestern part of the state of Louisiana.

After the close of the war Mr. McConnell went into the subscription business in Chicago, but he did not stay in the city long. His next venture took him to Princeton, Wisconsin, where he established the Republic, and for several years conducted the paper with much success. During his residence here he was appointed deputy United States marshal and it fell to him to take the census of Green Lake county in 1870. He next went to Winneconne, Wisconsin, where he originated the Winneconne Stem. He was extremely popular with the people among whom he had cast his lot. They admired his brilliance, his keen judgment of times and conditions, but they liked him personally for his sturdy principles of justice and morality. Therefore when the election of 1873 rolled around he was sent to the state legislature, as the representative from the Neenah, Menasha and Winneconne district. In his journeys about the state he came to be more and more impressed with the opportunities which it offered to the settler, and his observations finally culminated in the town of Meadow Valley, which he laid out and organized in the county of Juneau, and which is now a flourishing little town. For seven years he resided here, as superintendent of the White Hay and Cranberry Company, which operated with an acreage of ten thousand five hundred acres.

The old longing for newspaper work again came upon him and after a time he began the publication of the Necedah Signal. A few years with this paper and then he went into the neighboring state of Minnesota and at Houston, that state, became the publisher of the Houston Valley Signal. Out here on the prairie he felt the fascination of the west as he had never felt it before, and after a time, leaving Houston, he went to Carthage in Miner county, South Dakota. Here he founded the paper known as Our Prairie Home, which is now the Carthage News. His interest and activity in politics and things political did not cease upon his removal to a new country, and the people in this section were not long in discovering that they had a natural leader among them. During his residence in the state he was secretary of the Dakota State League and chief clerk of the house of representatives of the state legislature.

Then followed a serious illness that lasted for three years, the result in part of overwork. The doctors gave him only a few months to live, and recovery seemed absolutely impossible -- he had not even a fighting chance. Not knowing the meaning of the word surrender, Mr. McConnell, making the remark that "he would not die while he could breathe," determined to put up such a fight for life that would make death a glorious passing out at any rate. He removed to Sunset, Texas, in November of 1888. At this time Mr. McConnell is an active and hearty old man, and not one of the physicians who attended him at that time are alive.

After recovering his health to such an extent that he was again able to take up his beloved work, he began the publication of the Sunset Signal. At this period of Texas' history the wild and woolly tales that one used to hear concerning the cow country were all too true. Mr. McConnell was not accustomed to mince matters in his paper, and the stand which he took in regard to cattle stealing and the various other misdemeanors prevalent at that time caused him to be regarded with something more than dislike by the lawless element. Their hatred and fear of his power, for, then as now, the editor of a paper had a weapon that was more powerful than anything else in the country, provided he was fearless of death, led them not only to threaten his life but to carry their threats to such an extent that several times he escaped by a narrow margin the revenge that they had planned for him. It is a fact worth noticing that every man who conspired against him is now in state's prison, has gone out of the country, or is in his grave. Under the Harrison and McKinley administrations Mr. McConnell was very active in his favorite game, politics. He was one of the leaders of the Republican party in Texas, and was a figure that commanded the respect of every body of politicians wherever he appeared.

The eldest son of Mr. McConnell is the Honorable C. A. McConnell, an editor of Kansas City, Missouri. He is in his fifty-third year, while his eldest son, the grandson of Thomas McConnell, is twenty-eight years of age and is a successful manager in a large business. The second son of Mr. McConnell is a real estate man in Sunset, Texas; his third son is one of the world's most successful portrait painters, and lives in Paris, France; the youngest son is an expert machinist, residing in Decatur, Texas. The eldest daughter of the family is the wife of the Honorable J. Wesley Smith, who is one of the prominent attorneys of Spiro, Oklahoma. The second daughter is unmarried. Mr. McConnell has a young wife, and they have a baby girl a little over nine months old.

For the last twelve years Mr. McConnell has resided in the university town of Peniel, near Greenville, Texas. Here he is enjoying his years of rest, enjoying his old age and freedom from the responsibilities that have hung over him for the greater portion of his life.

Source: Lewis Publishing Company. 1912. History of Porter County, Indiana: A Narrative Account of its Historical Progress, its People and its Principal Interests. Chicago, Illinois: Lewis Publishing Company. 881 p.
Page(s) in Source: 843-846

This biography has been transcribed exactly as it was originally published in the source. Please note that we do not provide photocopies or digital scans of biographies appearing on this website.

Biography transcribed by Steven R. Shook


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