BALIE PEYTON WAGGENER
It is not difficult to classify Balie P. Waggener so as to determine his position in the civic body of Atchison, but it is not easy to write a review comprehensive enough to give a proper estimate of this distinguished citizen who has been honored in his home, city and in the state of Kansas. When one thinks of Atchison it is only natural to refer to the city as the home of Balie Waggener, who is indisputably grouped among the prominent and widely known figures who have shed fame and luster upon their home city. A leading attorney, statesman, progressive citizen, builder, farmer and stockman, friend of all children, capitalist, and public benefactor are some of the terms of which might be applied to him without fear of contradiction from the mass of the people who know him best.
He was born in Platte County, Missouri, July 18, 1847, a son of Peyton R. and Sophronia Briseis (WILLIS) Waggener, who were American born and descended from old American families. The great-grandfather of Mr. Waggener served in the Continental Army as a lieutenant-colonel during the American War of Independence, and his grandfather was a major in the United States Army during the War of 1812. Balie Waggener attended the public schools until he attained the age of fourteen years and then obtained a situation as toll-gate keeper on the old Platte City & Western turnpike. He was ambitious to become a lawyer and during the interims of his duties in attending the toll-gate, and after his day's work was done, he read his law books. The next step in his preparation to become a member of the legal profession was to enter the law office of Otis & Glick, in Atchison. This was in 1866, and so assiduously did the young man apply himself to his studies that he was admitted to the bar June 10, 1867. Three years later he formed a partnership with Albert H. HORTON, then United States district attorney, under the firm name of Horton & Waggener, which lasted until the election of Judge HORTON to the office of chief justice of the Kansas supreme court in 1876. In 1877 Mr. Waggener formed a partnership under the firm name of Waggener, Martin & Orr, which continued until April 30, 1895, when the firm was dissolved and the firm became Waggener, Horton & Orr, Chief Justice Horton having resigned his position and again entered the firm. David MARTIN, Mr. Waggener's former partner, became chief justice of the supreme court of Kansas to succeed Chief Justice Horton. In 1902 Judge Horton died and later his place in the firm was taken by Ex-Chief justice Frank DOSTER, under the firm name of Waggener, Doster & Orr. It will thus be seen that Mr. Waggener has been associated in the practice of law with three chief justices of the supreme court of Kansas. In 1913 Mr. Orr withdrew from the firm to become special assistant to the attorney-general of the United States and the firm is now known as Waggener, Challiss & Crane, being composed of W. P. Waggener, James CHALLISS and Albert CRANE. Mr. Waggener now devotes his time and legal talents almost exclusively to his duties as general solicitor for the Missouri Pacific railway.
The ability of a lawyer having the caliber of Mr. Waggener was bound to attract attention and on January 4, 1876, he was appointed general attorney of the Missouri Pacific Railway for the State of Kansas, and on May 1, 1910, he was made general solicitor for that company for the states of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, his son, W. P. Waggener, succeeding him as general attorney for Kansas. During the forty-four years Mr. Waggener has been engaged in the practice of law he has won an enviable position at the bar through his own personal efforts. He has never ceased to be a student of all subjects pertaining to that most jealous of professions, and it is worthy of note that he is the possessor of one of the most complete law libraries in the United States, containing upward of 10,000 volumes on every conceivable legal subject. He keeps his library at his residence, which is one of the handsomest and best appointed in the city of Atchison and he prepares most of his cases in the study of his home where privacy is possible.
Naturally, a man of Mr. Waggener's vigor and broad-mindedness would engage in enterprises outside of the practice of his profession, and he has done so in such a manner as to profit himself and the community. In 1892 he was elected president of the Exchange National Bank of Atchison, which position he has since held. He perfected and put into operation the Atchison Railway, Light and Power Company in the city, and is the owner of the famous "Green View Stock Farm," comprising 500 acres beautifully located a short distance west of Atchison and which is one of the best equipped and most modern farms in Kansas. Through experimentation and adapting modern methods of agriculture to the cultivation of his land and the breeding of fine live stock, Mr. Waggener has become a recognized authority on agriculture and animal husbandry. The annual sales of fine live stock which are produced on his farm have become an annual event in this section of Kansas and the West and are largely attended by buyers from all parts of the country.
In addition to his professional and business interests, Mr. Waggener has manifested a public spirit in matters pertaining to the political conditions of his city and state. Firmly grounded in Democratic principles, he has become one of the foremost leader of his part and occupies a high place in its councils. In 1869 he was elected to the Atchison city council when he had barely attained his majority. In the year 1872 he was the nominee of his part for the office of attorney general of the State of Kansas, and in 1873 was made city attorney. From 1889 to 1891 and again in 1895-97 he was mayor of the city. In 1902 he was elected a member of the lower branch of the state legislature, which had a large Republican majority, and during the term held the important position of chairman of the judiciary committee. It is generally conceded that he influenced much of the legislation at that session, and his record so commended him to his constituents that in 1904 he was elected to the state senate from a strong Republican district, carrying the district by a majority of 1,500 votes, although at the same election Theodore Roosevelt, the Republican candidate for President, carried the same district by over 3,600, an indisputable testimonial to Mr. Waggener's personal popularity and his ability. Mr. Waggener served in the senate of the Kansas State Legislature in the sessions of 1905 and 1907 and was reelected by a handsome majority of over 2,000 in November of 1912. He is now holding the position of state senator from this district.
Mr. Waggener is a member of many secret orders and is prominent in Masonic circles, being a Knights Templar and a Thirty-second degree member of the Scottish Rite, and a member of the Mystic Shrine.
On May 27, 1869, Mr. Waggener married Miss Emma L., daughter of William W. HETHERINGTON, one of Atchison's prominent citizens, now deceased, a review of whose life and career is given elsewhere in this volume. Two children were born to this union: William Peyton Waggener, a "chip off the old block," and present general attorney of the Missouri Pacific railway for the State of Kansas and president of the Exchange State Bank of Atchison; Mable L., wife of R. K. SMITH, vice president and general manager of the Mississippi Central railway.
Perhaps the trait of character that most endears Mr. Waggener to the people of Atchison County is that liberality which led him in 1897 to inaugurate the system of giving an annual picnic to the children. Every year, at his own personal expense, he furnishes free transportation, free entertainment, and free refreshments to all the children of Atchison County who can attend his picnic, and the larger the crowd the greater is his delight. These picnics are not given for the purpose of increasing his popularity or for any self-aggrandizement whatever, but solely that he may steal at least one day from his business cares and derive a wholesome recreation in contributing to the amusement of the young people. This innovation has occasioned at various times favorable and commendatory comment in the press of the state and a record of these picnics has been placed in the annals of the Kansas State Historical Society. The report of the secretary of the historical society for the year 1911 has considerable to say concerning the visit of President Taft to Kansas in that year and his attendance upon Balie Peyton Waggener's picnic to the children of the neighborhood. The President left Topeka on September 27, about one hour after laying the cornerstone of the Memorial Hall building and reached Atchison in time for Mr. Waggener's twelfth annual picnic. The President spoke words of high praise of Mr. Waggener and presented him with a silver loving cup in behalf of the people of Atchison County. Mr. Taft's words in making the presentation were: "A token is this, Mr. Waggener, that carries real sincerity of friendship. I present this beautiful vase of silver in the name of the people here assembled as a sign of love and esteem. I congratulate you on the eminence you have attained." Mr. Waggener responded: "This is a distinction unmerited. I have no words to express my grateful acknowledgment." Balie Waggener's picnic has become a feature of Kansas history of a most pleasant nature. He is a life member of the State Historical Society and has always been an ardent and most liberal friend of the society.
When Mr. Waggener was forced by illness to go to Rochester, Minn., for the purpose of having a surgical operation performed, his safe return to his home was made the occasion of a time of great rejoicing by the children of the city, and a reception was given him, such as had never been given an Atchison citizen before nor since, and which occasioned state-wide comment on the part of the press as a fitting testimonial of the great love and esteem in which he was held by the children and people of his home city. During the time he was a Rochester undergoing a surgical operation and his subsequent recovery, the children of the city had been praying for his restoration to health and his safe return to their midst. It was their great friend who was ill, and, when the word came that he would arrive home on a certain evening the children prepared to receive him in an appropriate manner. All the children of Atchison turned out to give him welcome, and hundreds formed in line, though which Mr. Waggener passed on his way to his home. He and his automobile were pelted with flowers and tears filled his eyes, and he was unable to express his heart-felt appreciation of the reception which is people had given him. It has been described as the most beautiful and touching thing that has ever happened in the life of Mr. Waggener. To quote briefly from the Kansas City Journal, which described the incident: "Few men in this world were so fortunate as to enjoy such an ovation. Men who have done important things have been received by town bands and by citizens covered with fluttering badges. Men have come back to their home people to be received in the opera house, and cheers have echoed in their receptive ears. But it must be understood that no such homecoming as Mr. Waggener's could come to an ordinary man. It was the tribute of sincere devotion and genuine friendship. It couldn't be bought with money or earned by material success. These Atchison children didn't care a rap for Waggener, the railroad attorney, or Waggener, the politician, nor even for Waggener, the exemplary citizen. It was Mr. Waggener, the good, kind friend they loved, to whom the welcome was given, and it sprung from sheer joy that he had recovered his health and was with them once more. And who can say that the earth holds a more splendid triumph as the crowning glory of a life than this? All other laudations and exclamations are tame compared with the flushed enthusiasms of hundreds of happy children shouting from their hearts:
"'Waggener, Waggener sis boom ah!
Our friend, our friend, rah! rah! rah!'"
History of Atchison County, Kansas
by Sheffield Ingalls - 1916
Clemi Higley Blackburn, September 2003