Pages 570-571, transcribed by Carolyn Ward from History of Allen and Woodson Counties, Kansas: embellished with portraits of well known people of these counties, with biographies of our representative citizens, cuts of public buildings and a map of each county / Edited and Compiled by L. Wallace Duncan and Chas. F. Scott. Iola Registers, Printers and Binders, Iola, Kan.: 1901; 894 p., [36] leaves of plates: ill., ports.; includes index.




WILLIAM A. COWAN, one of the best known of Iola business men, was born at White Post, Indiana, December 9, 1842. May 10, 1860, in company with his father and other members of the family, he started for Kansas, arriving in Iola June 22. After a month of prospecting he decided to remain permanently in Iola and this has ever since been his home.

For the first few years of his residence in Iola Mr. Cowan worked at odd jobs and as mail carrier, in the meantime serving an apprenticeship at cabinet making with Joseph Culbertson. In 1869 he entered the store of Ridenour & Baker, then the principal mercantile establishment of the town, and served with them for four years. Having accumulated a small capital, in 1873 he entered into partnership with W. H. Richards in the grocery business. The firm prospered and when, six years later. Mr. Cowan withdrew from it he had sufficient capital to warrant him in erecting a commodious store building on the west side of the square, in which he placed a stock of groceries, soon afterwards adding also a stock of drugs. A few years later he sold his interest in this store to his brother, S. J. Cowan, in order to assume an official position in the Iola Carriage Works Company, in which he was a large stock holder. When this company quit business Mr. Cowan took charge of the drug department of Cowan & Ausherman's store and also assumed the agency of the Pacific Express Company, both which positions he continues to fill.

During the '70s Mr. Cowan studied law for the mental training, but never practiced the profession. He filled the office of township clerk and school district clerk for many years, served one term on the city council, three consecutive years as mayor of the city and later five years as city clerk. Physically Mr. Cowan is of slender figure, weighing but one hundred and twenty-five pounds, and of rather frail appearnance,[sic] and yet he has reached his fifty-ninth year without having spent a day in bed, or even so much as lost a single meal from sickness during his whole life. After making this statement it does not need to be added that Mr. Cowan's personal habits are irreproachable. From his boyhood he has so conducted himself as to win the respect and the entire confidence of all with whom he has had business or social relations. As his official record shows, he has enjoyed the esteem as well as the confidence of his neighbors, having won both by a consistently upright life. Ever since he became a citizen of Iola he has labored unselfishly for the upbuilding of the town, and has con-


tributed liberally in money and in time toward this object. Still in the prime of life. he enjoys the high regard of his fellow townsmen and is a large factor in the business life of the ci y.[sic]

Inquiry into the family history of W. A. Cowan reveals the fact that about the year 1790 two Cowan brothers came from Scotland, one locating in North Carolina and the other in Virginia. The Virginia brother had one son, Robert Cowan, a Colonel in the Virginia military organization. A son of this Colonel Cowan served in the War of 1812, appearing on the rolls as Ensign W. A. Cowan. Ensign Cowan married Miss Bathsheba McBride. Their only son, John M. Cowan, was the father of W. A. Cowan, the subject of this sketch. John M. Cowan was born April 12, 1810, at Romney, Virginia. He learned the trade of a tanner and worked at it until he removed to Monticello, Indiana, in 1835. In 1836 he married Eliza A. Rifenberrick, a daughter of Dr. Samuel Rifenberrick, of Monticello, and soon afterwards removed to Pulaski county, Indiana, where he was appointed post-master of a country office called White Post. He held several local offices and was a member of the legislature in the 50s, serving in that body while Schuyler Colfax served in the constitutional convention, then in session, the friendship then formed between the two proving to be of life long duration. After coming to Kansas, as above related, Mr. Cowan was for several years engaged in the grocery and drug business, his last regular employment being that of mail carrier. His wife died in 1886, and he survived her but a few months, passing away July 3, 1887. Eleven children were born to them of whom the following survive: Mary B., wife of Benjamin F. Pancoast; Maria L., widow of B. Brewster; W. A.; Samuel J.; Ella F., and Emma C., wife of E. T. Barber.

W. A. Cowan was married April 16, 1868, to Lizzie A. Fulwider, and to them have been born two sons, Chester L., of Denver, Colorado, and Oscar L., of Iola.

Previous | Home | Next