THOMAS BENTON MURDOCK GRAVESTONE PHOTO
El Dorado Republican, Monday, Nov. 8,
1909, Pg. 2
Vol. XVII, No. 111
In 1841 Thomas Benton Murdock was
born in the mountains of Virginia. He was one of five children, who lived
to maturity, of Thomas Murdock and Katherine Pierrepont. From the
mother’s side came the pride of the Pierreponts; from the father’s the
insurgent instincts of the Irish Murdocks who left Ireland after the Irish
rebellion failed in 1798. So, even though reared in the mountains among
most simple people and most primitive surroundings, the Murdocks who have
dominated Kansas for half a century have been proud soldiers of the militant
democracy. They have been fighters who led naturally, by instinct and
training but never fighters for the old order. They always were pioneers,
always moving out into new territory of thought and action, looking forward.
Thomas and Katherine Murdock could not endure the iniquity of slavery so in 1849
they freed their slaves and left the slave country for Ohio. They settled
near Ironton but lost everything they had in the panic of 1855, and loaded their
household goods on a boat, went down the Ohio to the Mississippi and journeyed
as far west as Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. There the family spent the winter and
the father went to Kansas and found a location. He brought his family to
Topeka in the winter of ’56-’57. They rented a little hotel and kept
tavern, among others having for guests, Jim Lane and A. D. Stevens, famous as a
border fighter under Montgomery and afterwards killed at Harper’s Ferry under
old John Brown. Going and coming in the little Kansas tavern of the
Virginia abolitionist were the men who made Kansas free and famous in the great
conflict that began at Lawrence and ended at Appomattox.
In this atmosphere of strife and
patriotism young Benton Murdock, a youth in his late teens, grew up. In
1860 the family homesteaded at Forrest Hill, near Emporia, and the father and
mother lived in Emporia the remainder of their lives; the father died in 1896
and the mother in 1887.
When the civil war broke out
Thomas Benton Murdock enlisted with his father and brother, Roland, in the Ninth
Kansas Cavalry and served until the end of the war. He served in the Rocky
Mountains in ’63 and there met J. H. Betts, now of El Dorado. When they
met seven or eight years later in El Dorado John Betts kept eying Murdock and
finally said: “Say, aren’t you the chap that relieved me of that army
overcoat out west?” Murdock’s company was confiscating government
property where ever he found it. Murdock looked at Betts and replied:
“Well I guess I am. But I’m here to start a newspaper. What’s
“Bully,” returned Mr. Betts,
willing to let bygones be bygones, and they have remained friends for forty
Returning from the army where he
had gone snow blind on the plains—a calamity that hung over him of his later
days—young Murdock who had been a hod carrier and general work man as a youth
around Topeka, learned the printing trade. He worked in the office of
Emporia News then owned by P. B. Plumb and Jacob Stotler who had married Leverah
Murdock during the war. His brother Marshall who had worked at the
printers trade during the war was running the Burlingame Chronicle at the end of
war. Young Benton went back to Ironton, Ohio, married the sweetheart of
his boyhood, Francis Crawford, and came to El Dorado, March 4, 1870, and founded
the Walnut Valley Times with J. S. Danford. His wife lived only a few
years leaving at her death their daughter Mary Alice.
From the first Mr. Murdock became
a leader in politics in Kansas. He stood for the Walnut Valley and the
Kingdom of Butler. In 1876 he was elected a member of the state senate.
He served with such men as E. N. Morrill, Charles Robinson, J. M. Hadley, father
of the present governor of Missouri, Benjamin F. Simpson, J. R. Hallowell, D. W.
Finney, W. A. Johnston, new chief justice of Kansas, all members of the senate,
while in the house were Lyman U. Humphrey, John Gilmore, A. W. Smith, L. B.
Kellogg, P. P. Elder. His political career was fostered and guided by Mrs.
Antoinette Culbreth-Murdock who for a generation has been wife, friend, comrade,
guide and inspiration, who bore him five children of whom Ellina Culbreth only
now is living. Mrs. Murdock survives him with his two children. In
1880 he ran for senate again but was unfairly defeated he thought. He sold
the Times and moved to Topeka and became connected with the Topeka Daily
Commonwealth, then controlled by the Baker family. But El Dorado held his
heart and he returned in 1883 and founded the El Dorado Weekly Republican.
The Daily followed the Weekly in 1884 and the paper at once took a prominent
place in the affairs of Kansas.
Mr. Murdock was, during the late
senator’s life time, a friend and ally of P. B. Plumb. He and Plumb were
young men together in Emporia, thought alike and had much in common in training
and in aspirations. And so after Plumb died the courage and independence
and progressive Kansas spirit that made Plumb an insurgent who voted against the
adoption of the McKinley bill, lived on Kansas through Mr. Murdock. He was
politically always with the scouts, with the pioneers, ever with the skirmish
line. It was the spirit of ’60 in his soul the rebellion of the
ancestral Murdocks in his blood.
In 1888 he was again elected to
the state senate. He served until 1892 and was on the committee that tried
Theodosius Botkin and went over the old county seat troubles of western Kansas.
He was defeated for re-election by the Populist wave, and until appointed fish
and game warden by Governor Stubbs never held public office of any kind again.
But he was a public man all the
time. His influence on the state has been more rather than less because of
the fact that he was not in office. In every Republican state convention
for forty years Mr. Murdock has been a power of the first class. Yet he
sacrificed that power and worked for the primaries which put convention
politicians out of power. He was never selfish, never little, never mean
and so it happened that he was large enough to retain his influence in the state
and multiply it through the primary. Gradually he has grown in strength
with the people of Kansas, and since 1902—his last alignment with the old
political machine—he has been easily the leader of the forward movement in
Kansas Republicanism. Others have had the honor; but he has made them.
He has expressed as no other man has been able to express it, the sentiment of
popular protest against the wrongs of government by ring rule. He has been
the voice of the people—an indignant people clamoring for a larger part in
their state government.
He fought with arms for freedom in
his youth; he offered his body then; he gave his life to freedom in this latest
struggle, and fought with his spirit—a brave, successful fight.
As an editor he was equipped as
few men are equipped—with an individual style. He expressed something
more than an idea. He reflected an idea plus a strong, unique personality.
He therefore in a way dramatized whatever he wrote—made it the spoken word of
a combatant in the conflict, the defiance of a partisan in the contest. So
thousands of people knew him as a voice, who did not know him as a man as we of
his home have known him for forty years.
Here was his real life, his real
friends, his real success. For before he was a Kansan he was a Butler
county man, an El Dorado man. He always stood by the home folks. Of
course he took part in local matters, and having taken part had to take sides.
He was never neutral in any important contest here at home. But he always
fought in the open, and he always fought fair. He never abused a man.
He attacked causes, movements, orders, administrations, organizations and
principles of his opponents—but the personal character of the men he
opposed—there was the limit. He never returned abuse for abuse. He
had no newspaper fights. He never made his personal enemies objects of
newspaper ridicule. He had no office black list. Every man or woman
in Butler county received exactly the same treatment from the Republican under
Mr. Murdock that every other man or woman received, no matter whether he or she
was friend or enemy. He strove always to be fair. Many is the
politician in this county in the old days who has fought Mr. Murdock knowing he
could always depend on Mr. Murdock to be fair, to keep to the issue, to be
silent on old scores, to leave personal matters out of the question. Men
have risen to power in this community opposing Mr. Murdock who have capitalized
his innate decency, and have risen more by reason of his charity and humanity
than by their own ability. He was a gentleman of the old school, was
Thomas Benton Murdock, and that fact has given more power to those who opposed
him often than their own worth should have given to them.
As his best qualities grew
intenser, as people grew nearer to him, as they who knew him best here in his
home community thought more of him than those who knew him in the state, so even
better than they knew and loved him in the town, did they him in his home.
Mr. Murdock was a home man clear to the core. Some men are least known at
home. He was best known there, and best beloved. For there he showed
always his best side. He kept the finest part of his heart and mind and
soul for those who met him in his home. There he was in his kindest, his
gentlest, his most human aspect. Home was his heaven. There he
brought all his joy. There he left the world behind. When blindness
threatened him, as it did for a quarter of a century off and on, it was in his
home that he found his only solace. When enemies pursued him, when cares
overcame him, when troubles compassed him about, he turned always up the
hill—always homeward. There he drank the elixir of life, and returned
full armed, anew and strong to the contest.
When his soul went out into the
Greater soul that gave it, how lovingly he must have followed the last ride of
his shattered clay tenement as it journeyed through the Kansas that he loved,
down the West Branch into the Walnut Valley that loved him, up the hill through
the gloaming into the home that was his first heaven. For it was a journey
with a climax in love. And when those whom he knew best and loved best
gathered about his wasted body of death, his soul triumphant in the new life
must have felt glowing even through the dark veil the warmth of an affection too
deep for words and tears.
So his last wish was granted.
And after “taps” had sounded we left all that was mortal, only a withered
husk of the exalted and risen soul of Thomas Benton Murdock under the prairie
grass out in the sunshine. Sunshine and prairie grass—and the end.
T. B. Murdock in writing of the
death of his brother, Marsh, January 3, 1908, said:
“There is no death. There
are no dead. No waiting for the resurrection, in that it releases the
spirit from the body. If there was a Christ, and there was, and if he said
something while on earth, and he did, he said it to Martha at the grave of
Lazarus: ‘Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.’
The immortal spirit of husband and father has passed through the shadow of the
borderland of the shoreless river, ‘and his voice is drowned in the rushing
“He has Crost the Bar. His
dying eyes had read a mystic meaning which only the rapt and passing soul may
know. Let us believe that in the silence of the receding world he heard
the great waves breaking on a farther shore, and felt already upon his wasted
brow the breath of the eternal morning.”
Funeral services over the late T.
B. Murdock were held from the family home on Walnut Hill, Sunday afternoon,
November 7, 1909. Reverend Dean Kay of Trinity Episcopal church, Topeka,
conducted the service and very beautifully expressed, sincere and true were his
thoughts on immortal life, his tribute on the personality of Mr. Murdock.
He was assisted by Reverend I. Newton Roberts of the El Dorado Trinity Episcopal
The rooms were banked with
exquisite flowers, tributes from friends in this city and from over the entire
state. The house and lawns were filled with people.
Brief interment were held in the
west cemetery and “in the shadow of the evening,” were closed with “the
soul stirring simple sound—the trumpeting of “taps.”
The relatives of the family who
were here to attend the funeral were: Mr. and Mrs. Paul Eaton, Victoria
Eaton, Mrs. R. P. Murdock, Marcellus Murdock, E. T. Allen, Victor Murdock, of
Wichita; Mrs. Jacob Stotler,; Miss Leverah Stotler, Mr. and Mrs. A. Pemberton,
Irene Pemberton, Murdock Pemberton, Emporia, Mrs. Emma Brady, Chicago.
Those from out of town attending
George Plumb, J. S. Watson, P. B.
McCabe, W. Thornton and J. S. Gibson of Emporia, comrades of Mr. Murdock in the
Ninth Kansas Cavalry. J. S. Watson was Mr. Murdock’s “bunkie.”
Other distinguished attendants:
Governor W. R. Stubbs, Senator J. L. Bristow of Salina; Frank MacLenan, editor
of Topeka State Journal; John Dawson, attorney for State Board of Railroad
Commissioners; Henry Allen, editor of the Wichita Beacon; Mayor Davison,
Postmaster W. C. Edwards, Tom Biodget, editor Kansas Magazine, E. B. Jewett, J.
R. Meade, Lock Davidson and John McGinis, of Wichita; William Allen White and
wife of Emporia; J. W. Moore of Marion; Victor Hodgin, superintendent of the
fish hatchery at Pratt; Dan McGowan, of Emporia; E. C. Newby of the Cottonwood
Falls Leader, his wife and daughter, Pauline El Dorado; W. W. Bugbee, of New
York and Augusta Kuster of Los Angeles, California.