The average woman, left penniless, destitute, and even burdened with debt at the hour of her greatest sorrow in life, the demise of a loved husband, is very like to throw herself upon the more or less doubtful mercies of friends or relatives and made no attempt to take up the burden of gaining a livelihood by her own exertions. However, this may be the case in many instances, but the exact opposite has been the career of Mrs. D. N. Wheeler, one of the wealthiest real estate proprietors in Atchison, who, during the thirty-four years that have elapsed since the demise of her husband which left her with a small home burdened with debt, and otherwise penniless, has amassed a competence which has placed her in the ranks of the largest individual taxpayers in the city of Atchison.

She was born in Chautauqua County, N. Y., a daughter of Ezekiel and Almirah (TROWBRIDGE) ROOKS, both of whom were natives of New York. Her father died when she was four years of age, and she was reared in Erie County, Penn. where her mother removed after her father's death. Rooks County, Kan. is named in honor of the Rooks family of New York, who farmed one of the first settlements in Rooks County during the pioneer days of the early sixties in Kansas. While a student in the academy at Erie, Penn., she met her future husband, who was then traveling passenger agent for the Chicago & Northwestern railway. After their marriage in Erie in 1869, they went to Omaha, Neb., where Mr. Wheeler was connected with the Union Pacific railway. They had the honor of being the guests of George PULLMAN of the Pullman Car Manufacturing Company, as passengers on the first Pullman train run over the Union Pacific tracks en route from Omaha to San Francisco. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they attended a reception at the Occidental Hotel, after which Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler traveled in California visiting points of interest. They had some interesting experiences during their travels over the country while Mr. Wheeler was engaged in his duties in connection with the Union Pacific railroad. S.H.H. CLARK, president of the Union Pacific railroad was a very dear and warm friend of the Wheelers and after Mr. Wheeler's death she accompanied the Clark family to San Francisco and was domiciled at the Palace Hotel as their guest. She was with the Clarks at St. Louis when the Union Pacific railroad was sold for $60,000,000 and she was in New York when Mr. Clark signed this transfer. Mrs. Wheeler still retains the friendship of the Clark family and frequently visits them.

Mr. Wheeler had charge of the expedition to North Platte when Generals GRANT and SHERMAN made the treaty with the Indians and Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler became personally acquainted with the famous generals. A souvenir of this experience is a pack of playing cards which General Sherman gave Mrs. Wheeler when the party was on the return trip and which was used in playing Bezique by the two generals to while away the time. Mr. Wheeler was the conductor of the train which brought in the survivors of the Plum Creek, Neb., Indian massacre in which many of the settlers were killed and scalped by Indians. Mr. Wheeler died in 1881 leaving his young wife practically destitute in the little three room house which they had undertaken to buy in Atchison for $600. At the time of his death there was an incumbrance of $400 on the house and Mrs. Wheeler was so poor that a load of coal which she had ordered for delivery at the home was returned because it was thought she would be unable to pay for it. She at once began to display the spirit which has enabled her to triumph over all difficulties and earned her living by teaching drawing and painting in the old Monroe Institute, supplementing her salary by giving private lessons at her home on Saturdays. She managed by dint of the strictest economy to pay off the mortgage on her little home and has since remodeled it into one of the most attractive places in Atchison. This beautiful home is situated high up on the bluffs, bordering the Missouri river and offers a view from the east windows over broad reaches of the Missouri which is unsurpassed for beauty and distance anywhere in the West. Mrs. Wheeler while without business experience of any kind whatever at the time of her husband's demise, embarked upon a career of investing her savings in residence properties until she is now the owner of twenty fairly valuable pieces of real estate in Atchison. She followed the time-tried plan of the cumulative method of buying houses, which she would place in good repair for rental purposes, going in debt for a home and then gradually paying out, and eventually buying another and so on, until she is now paying taxes on a property valuation of over $40,000, her taxes alone amounting to $2.00 per day or over $730 yearly. At the same time she has gained a valuable knowledge of real estate, she has learned to know and accurately judge human nature, a combination of wisdom which is irresistible in achieving success. She is a saleswoman of great ability, and has frequently been pitted against some of the shrewdest traders in Atchison and has never been worsted in an encounter. Endowed with a keen observant mind and a remarkable memory, she has made many prominent friends during her career, and has often been called upon to assist them in various capacities, an instance of which is found in the aid which she gave Bishop TUTTLE in the preparation of his reminiscences of the Old Santa Fe Trail. To quote the words of a prominent friend of hers, who has known her for many years and witnessed her struggles to attain affluence. "Mrs. Wheeler is a very remarkable woman."

Taken from:

History of Atchison County, Kansas

by Sheffield Ingalls - 1916

Submitted by:

Clemi Higley Blackburn, September 2000