From the collections at the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum. Reprinted with permission from The Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and the Leavenworth Times. Donated by Debra Graden.


Career of 'Tom Moonlight; Noted Soldier, Politician

by Harry H. Seckler

(printed December 4, 1949)


Local history does not relate that any citizen of Leavenworth city or county, form the city's founding in 1854 to the present time, ever has held so many military and civic titles as did Colonel "Tom" Moonlight.

As a warrior he advanced from 'high' private to brevet brigadier general and closed his military career as adjutant general of the Kansas state militia.

As a civilian he was for several terms this county's representative in the state legislature; twice a presidential elector; once candidate for governor and only his refusal to accept the nomination a second time prevented him from holding the highest office in the state. Sandwiched between times that he held these titles he was a governor of territorial Wyoming and a few years later a United States minister to a foreign country.

The detailed story of "Tom" Moonlight's colorful career is one "for the book," because he was at one time or another a candidate for office, first as a Republican; then as a Democrat, but popular with those of both political faiths.

Moonlight was by birth a Scotch man. Being thrown upon his own resources at the age of 14, in the land of bagpipes and thistles, he decided to and did come to the United States where for seven years he worked in mills, glass factories and on truck farms in the vicinity of Philadelphia, Pa. He enlisted in the US army and advanced through all of the grades from corporal to orderly sergeant during the Seminole Indian war in Florida, and also fought Indians in Texas and Kansas. Mustered out of the service at Fort Leavenworth in 1860 he concluded to lead the simple life of a farmer and purchased a tract of land in Kickapoo township.

When hostilities broke out between the north and south, Moonlight left the farm, recruited men to form a battery of artillery, and his organization was assigned to General Lane's brigade. His valor soon won for him a commission as colonel. An incident in his career, chronicled in a history of prominent Kansans, leaves no doubt as to his bravery. Price, the Confederate general, with 15,000 men made a raid in southwest Missouri and made plans to invade Kansas. In 1864 Colonel Moonlight was stationed at Mound City, Kans., with but one regiment of men, yet he advanced to meet Price, tho' his scouts told him he was overwhelmingly outnumbered. But contrary to orders he marched his command to engage the Confederates who, drawn up in battle array, but with very thin lines, were not aware of Union troops nearby until Moonlight, forming his men at the brow of a hill swept down to the attack which proved so sudden that the Southerners became demoralized, lost heart and disintegrated as an army. Thus, it was said, Moonlight prevented Price from carrying out his boast that he intended and would capture Fort Leavenworth.

Returning to Leavenworth at the close of hostilities Moonlight became active in the political arena as a Republican. In 1864 he was a presidential elector; in 1866 elected secretary of the state. History relates that he declined a second nomination for that office, and later on his views on prohibition and also the endeavors of Congress to impeach Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency upon the death of Abraham Lincoln, causing him to transfer his allegiance to the Democratic party.

It was lean pickings for Democrats in Kansas about that time. They nominated Moonlight for governor, but he was defeated by John A. Martin who won a second term. Offered the nomination again in 1882 Moonlight refused it, but without doubt would have won because George A. Glick, who was the second choice of the convention accepted and was the first Democrat to be elected to the office in Kansas. Under Glick's tenure Moonlight was mad adjutant of the state militia.

He was presidential elector at large when Grover Cleveland was elected President his first term, and Moonlight was rewarded by being appointed governor of territorial Wyoming. Under Cleveland's second administration he sent the local man to fill the post of US minister to Bolivia, which position he held for four years.

In 1898 Colonel Moonlight returned to his farm in Kickapoo township, but not for long, the family moving to Leavenworth where a home was established at the southeast corner of Fourth and Market Sts.

Mrs. Moonlight died in 1894, and was followed by her husband on February 7, 1898. There were born to the couple seven children, two boys and five girls, one of the former died at 23 years of age, when the family resided in Kickapoo; a girl at the age of 21 in Leavenworth, and the other, Mrs. Theodore Simons, aged 23, at Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Within a period of but seven months, from May 5, 1948, to December 7, 1948, the remaining four members of the family passed away: Agnes, widow of the late E. E. Murphy, at Colorado Springs, Colo., May 5, 1948; Ellen Elizabeth, wife of A. B. Brown, in Kansas City, Mo., October 31, 1948; Jessie Edith, wife of John W. Haussermann, at New Richmond, Ohio, July 8, 1948; Walter on December 7, 1948, at Eureka, Kan. The three daughters were interred in Mt. Muncie cemetery, and the son Walter, at Eureka, Kan., where he had served as mayor of the city. He was a practicing physician.

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