”Francis Marion Starns, Sr.—It is probable that an interesting volume, entitled ‘Sixty Years in Kansas,’ could be written concerning the career of Francis M. Starns, the oldest retired pioneer and veteran of Sabetha, Kans. He was not only a pioneer in the struggle to redeem a wilderness of prairie and make it habitable for mankind, but he was actively engaged in the border warfare and the struggle to make Kansas a free State, and was one of the first in this section of the State to advocate the cause of prohibition, in behalf of which he has been a life long advocate, espousing the cause of prohibition at a time when he incurred the hostility of even his friends and neighbors because of his outspoken tendencies in voicing his convictions.
Francis M. Starns was born at Geneva, Kane county, Illinois, December 1, 1836, and is a son of James and Matilda (Ware) Starns, who were the parents of eight children, six of whom are living, as follows: Eliza, widow of William McBride, Jamestown, Kans.; Francis Marion, the subject of this review; William H., retired Civil war veteran, Ottumwa, Iowa; James F., retired farmer, Sabetha, who was a soldier in the Eighth Kansas infantry; Martha J., widow of John Fletcher, Pomona, Cal.; Milton J., a retired Civil war veteran of Salina, Kans. The other two children of the Starns family died in infancy, and it is a very remarkable fact that there has not been a death among the children of James and Matilda Starns in seventy-five years. James Starns was born in East Tennessee, February 14, 1799, and was a son of William and Abigail (Crabtree) Starns, natives of Carolina and descendants of colonial ancestral stock. James died December 22, 1888. Matilda, his wife, was born near London. Madison county, Ohio, in 1809, and died in 1870. James and his wife came to Kansas and joined Francis M. in 1856, driving across the country via the ox wagon route.
In his younger days, Francis M. Starns followed the trade of brick maker and carpenter. When he was still young his parents moved from Illinois to Indiana, and in 1844, they made a settlement at Ottumwa, Iowa, where he received the major part of his schooling, attending school for about three months of the year. In 1856, he came to Kansas and settled on 160 acres of raw, unbroken prairie land, one and a half miles northeast of Sabetha, in Berwick township, Nemaha county. His parents came to the State during that same year, driving a team of oxen. They built a log cabin, which served as their first home in Kansas, and Francis M. tilled his land until the outbreak of the Civil war and then enrolled as a member of Company D, Eighth Kansas infantry. His greatest battle was at Chickamauga, where he was wounded in the right forearm and incapacitated for duty. He received his honorable discharge from the Union service at Nashville. Tenn., in 1864. and returned to his farm near Sabetha. It is well to remark here that he took part in the border warfare and was detailed by Jim Lane and John Brown for border service in keeping order along the border of Kansas and Missouri and protecting the State from forays of the border ruffians and pro-slavery men. In those early days when towns were few and far between, there was not town on the site of Sabetha and his nearest trading point was White Cloud, Kans. Mr. Starns well remembers the famous ‘grasshopper years’ and the hardships incidental to the loss of his crops—but time and patience changed conditions in Kansas and he prospered as the years rolled on, and he tilled his fine farm of 160 acres until his retirement to Sabetha in 1907, at which time he disposed of his acreage at a good price. He is well-to-do and is interested in the Mutual Telephone Company of Sabetha.
Mr. Starns has been three times married. His first marriage was in 1857, with Eugenie Archer, of Pontiac, Ill., and who died in 1858. His second marriage was in 1859, when he married Isa J. Vassar, born in Gentry county, Missouri, February 21, 1840, and died August 13, 1908. Seven children blessed this union, as follows: Mrs. Alice E. Haigh, Baldwin, Kans.; John F., a carpenter living at Fremont, Neb.; Mrs. Mary Bird, Sabetha, Kans.; Martha, wife of E. P. Buck, deceased; Francis M., Jr., a blacksmith and auto dealer, Oneida, Kans.; Ada, deceased; Nellie E., wife of B. Roberts, a carpenter. On September 1, 1909, at Colorado Springs, Colo., he married Mary E. Offutt, born in Montgomery county, Maryland, August 17, 1845, and who came to Holt county, Missouri, with her parents ‘when six years old. She attended the normal school at Peru, Neb., and the Oregon, Mo., Normal College, and taught in the district schools of Missouri for ten years.
Mr. Starns is a Prohibitionist in politics. Since 1884 he has been a sincere and active advocate of prohibition, and was one of the original prohibition men of Kansas. When he first advocated and talked in favor of prohibition among his Methodist Church brethren, his fellow members were not ready to adopt his views regarding the matter. He is a strict prohibitionist and has lived to see the cause which he has so consistently advocated during many long years gain ground year after year and has seen its spread and adoption in many States, cities and counties of the Union, and is hoping that the Almighty will spare him long enough to see his beloved cause a nation-wide affair and adopted by a national vote of all the people of the country.”
Source: History of Nemaha County, Kansas, by Ralph Tennal, Standard Publishing Company, Lawrence, Kansas, 1916, pages 644-5