“PAXTON, WILLIAM A., pioneer capitalist, and business man of Omaha, Neb., enjoys the distinction of having been the principal promoter of the great enterprise of the founding of South Omaha, one of the greatest meat packing centers of this continent. He was born on his father’s farm at Springfield, Ky., Jan. 26, 1837. His father was a native Virginian, descended from Scotch ancestry. He was the next to the eldest of five children.
During his earlier years he attended the district school at his native place, and when he was twelve years of age his father moved to Middleton, Montgomery county, Mo., again settling upon a farm. In the fall of the following year William left home and worked for a farmer a year and a half at $8.50 a month. With his savings out of his meager salary he was able to buy ox teams and engage in breaking prairie for settlers in that vicinity. After two years thus employed he was engaged to take charge of the farm of M.J. Regan at a salary of $200 a year. He continued four years in that work, until, in 1857 Mr. Regan secured a bridge contract on the old military road from Omaha to Ft. Kearney and took Mr. Paxton with him to execute it. He reached Omaha Jan. 13, 1857, and worked as foreman for Regan until December, when, having finished the contract, he returned to his former home in Missouri and took up farming, having previously, on Feb. 22, he married Mary Jane Ware, daughter of James W. Ware, who has shared his fortunes ever since. Two children have been born to the, William A. Paxton, Jr., and a daughter who died in infancy. Two years following his marriage were spent, with poor success, in farming in Missouri, and he returned to Omaha in 1860 and engaged in freighting from that place to Denver, a life of arduous toil and constant danger from Indians. In 1861 he worked for some time for M.J. Reagan at the building the Western Union telegraph line westward from Omaha across the continent. In the latter part of that year, having again saved a small amount of money, he returned a second time to Missouri and resumed farming, at which he lost nearly everything he had. With his wife and $135, all he possessed, he again started to Omaha, arriving July 7, 1863. He soon found employment in a livery stable operated by Wilbur & Coffman, where he worked until June the following year at $50 a month. Upon leaving this employment he took charge of a freighting outfit operating between Omaha and Denver and Ft. Laramie. In the fall of 1863 he purchased of Edward Creighton a team for freighting going in debt $1,050 for it, which he agreed to pay in four months. With this as nucleus he continued in the freighting business, adding to his equipment as his earnings would permit, until in 1867, he secured a grading contract on the U.P.R.R. Upon completing the ten miles west from Julesburg, he went to Sherman and was engaged in getting out ties for the same road until June, 1868, when he took 6,000 men and 1,500 teams of the U.P. grading forces from Rock Creek, Wyo., to Green River, where he worked for three months. He was then sent to Tie Siding, Wyo., to work in getting out ties, where, during the winter, he sold out his train and returned to Omaha. In May, 1869, with the money he had made in his railroad work, amounting to about $15,000, he bought a lot of cattle in Kansas, which he drove to Omaha and sold, clearing $12,000 on the deal. This was his start in the business which was destined to yield him a large fortune. Meantime, however, he took a contract for the construction of ten miles of the O. & N.W.R.R., running north from Omaha to Oakland. He was one of the incorporators of this line, which afterward became a part of the C, St. P., M. & O. In 1870, in company with others, he went into the business of supplying the government with cattle, giving his attention at the same time to his ranch at Ogalalla, Neb. At the end of six years he gave up the contracting business, but he continued in the cattle business until 1883, when he sold out for the snug sum of $657,000.
When the builders of the Paxton hotel had decided to stop at the fourth story, Mr. Paxton insisted that another story should be added, and he suggested that if they would make the building five stories he would raise the necessary funds, which was agreed upon. After this was done the parties submitted to him three names for the house, one of which was his own. He rather objected to this honor, but he was overpersuaded, and the new hotel edifice was named in his honor. In 1888 he built the Paxton block, one of the finest office buildings of the city, at a cost of $441,000. The Ware and Granite blocks are also testimonials of the faith he had always had in Omaha. In 1879 the Paxton & Gallagher wholesale grocery business was established, which has been a material factor in the upbuilding of Omaha’s jobbing interests. In 1886 he was one of the organizers of the company that erected the Paxton & Vierling iron works, which for years has furnished employment to a large force of men. He was vice-president of the Omaha Telephone Co. in 1879, and in 1880 he was one of ten men who purchased and equipped the old fair ground north of the city, where the state fairs were held for several years thereafter. He has always been a large holder of Omaha realty, and it is said that the buildings he has erected in Omaha have cost upwards of $600,000. In 1878 he was one of the chief organizers of the first Union Stock Yards Co., which, after operating for a time on the Nebraska side of the river, removed to Council Bluffs. In 1883 he became one of the most active and enterprising promoters of Union Stock Yards Co. of South Omaha, of which he is now the president. In fact, he has ever since been prominent in the affairs of that very important and successful corporation, and has participated in the organization and operation of various auxiliaries, including the Union Stock Yards bank of South Omaha, the Union Stock Yards R.R. Co., and the South Omaha Land syndicate, which founded the city.
Mr. Paxton has always been a democrat, but upon the division of the party in 1896 on the silver question he adhered to the gold standard faction. In 1881 he was elected to the lower branch of the state legislature.
He has always been a man of marked generous impulses, and many of his fellow townsmen recall his acts of kindness in lending substantial aid at times it was most needed. The fact that his generosity has often been imposed on has not deterred him from giving new examples of it.”
Source: Illustrated History of Nebraska, Vol. 1, by Sterling Morton, Albert Watkins and George L. Miller, Western Publishing and Engraving Co., Lincoln, 1911, pages 731-2