Every community was and still is built up by the hard work and efforts of individuals whose lives were spent caring for their families and communities, and their contributions are often forgotten except perhaps by their descendants via family stories and family members who are interested in genealogy.

This is an unfortunate reality, for everyone’s life has value, and their efforts to care for their loved ones and the community at large helped to build up the Osawatomie community.

John Churchill was such a man whose life left a lasting positive impact for those whom he left behind, and Osawatomie benefitted from his contributions to the community.

A Centenary of Catholicity in Kansas 1822 -1922 reprinted an article from the Western Spirit that reported on John Churchill’s passing, stating “A patriot and a patriarch, John Churchill, died in his home on Tuesday, May 4, 1916.”

Churchill died at 83, and led an interesting life, for he was born in County Mayo, Ireland, on June 23, 1833, and immigrated to the United States when he was 16 years old.

Churchill first stepped on American soil at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and worked a variety of jobs, among them as a steward on various steamboats and finally ending up in his primary occupation in life, working on the railroad.

Churchill served in the Union Army during the Civil War, enlisting in the First Missouri Infantry. Following his service to his country, he returned to working on the railroad, becoming employed by the Missouri Pacific Railroad in Saint Louis, Missouri.

He married Mary j. McElhenny on April 15, 1865. Churchill’s employment with the Missouri Pacific Railroad facilitated his move to Osawatomie in 1889, where he loved and brought up his family in Osawatomie.

The Western Spirit paid eloquent tribute to John Churchill, stating “Miami County has lost a man who gave a good example, whose life was a pattern for young men. He was an Irish gentleman in the fullest sense of the word, honest, brave, religious, temperate, and charitable. In speaking of him as an Irishman we refer only to the place of his birth; the honor he always accorded to the “Old Sod,” but in all else, he was a stout American in every fiber and every thought. When war called for stout arms and brave hearts he went to the front in behalf of his country, and his record as a soldier is one of the best.”

The Western Spirit also praised John Churchill as an open minded, tolerant man but also a devout Roman Catholic, stating “In church matters he was considerate of everyone else’s feelings and beliefs.

Deep down in his heart he was a Catholic and he so lived that in being an honor to the Church Militant he was sure to be honored at last by the Church Triumphant.”

John Churchill is an example of the “ordinary” people who lived in the past whom historians do not normally consider to be “important” in history, but their lives and examples still live on in the ideals and beliefs that they passed on to their descendants, and therefore the lives of “ordinary” people in the past matter as their ideals and beliefs still live on today.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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