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Biographical Sketch
Alfred G. Otis
Atchison County, Kansas


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The following transcription is from a 750 page book titled "Genealogical and Biographical Record of North-Eastern Kansas, dated 1900.  These have been diligently transcribed and generously contributed by Penny R. Harrell, please give her a very big Thank You for her hard work!

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Alfred G. Otis

Alfred G. Otis was born in Cortland county, New York, December 13, 1827, being the son of Isaac and Caroline A. Otis.  While a mere boy his father removed to Barry county, in the then new state of Michigan, and engaged extensively in farming.  His son Alfred, with other members of the family, was thus reared upon a farm and shared all the labors and hardships of pioneer life.

At the age of twenty Mr. Otis resolved to enter upon a professional career and determined, as the first step, to obtain a thorough classical education.  As the father was burdened with the care of a large family, the son set about the task of acquiring his education unaided.  His first studies in Latin and Greek were commenced in the evening upon the farm after the day's work was done.

Afterward, by teaching, he acquired means to prosecute his studies at the Kalamazoo branch of the State University.  Entering the university at Ann Arbor, as a sophomore, in 1849, he was graduated in regular course in 1852. He then went south to Mississippi, where he taught school and studied law at the same time.  From there he entered the Louisville Law School, where he was graduated in 1854, after which he began practice in that city.

In October, 1855, he removed to Atchison, Kansas, where he has resided continuously since.  He engaged at once in the active practice of his profession and for several years was extensively connected with the land litigation which about that time sprang up in the new territory, and in which he took a leading and important part.

In 1860 Judge Otis, then in full practice, formed a partnership with Hon. George W. Glick, a lawyer of about his own age, who had recently arrived in Atchison from Ohio.  This partnership continued until 1873 and the firm did their share of the legal business of the state, both in state and federal courts and before the United States land office.  They were the regularly employed attorneys of the Central Branch, Union Pacific Railroad, from 1865 during the whole of this period, and after the dissolution of the firm, in 1873, Judge Otis retained the same position until he was elected to the bench in 1876.

During this period, though in the full tide of actual business and professional labor, he yet found time to actively aid the Episcopal church, of which denomination he was a member, being the warm personal friend of Bishop Vail, the Episcopal bishop of the diocese of Kansas.

On the 22nd of April, 1887, was the "silver wedding" day of Alfred G. Otis and Amelia J. Otis, and was thus described by the local papers: "Twenty-five years of married life, moving along happily, with children growing up, an honor to their parents and friends, is what is not accorded to everyone in this whirling, changeable world. 

Yet that has been the experience of Judge and Mrs. A. G. Otis. Twenty-five years ago yesterday they were united in marriage in the city of Philadelphia and soon thereafter came to Atchison, where they have since resided and their career has been one of uninterrupted prosperity.  As a lawyer, as a judge, as a banker, Judge Otis is known and respected, not only throughout the state, but the west, and his high reputation has been the work of his own hands.

He has been honored with official positions by the people and has fulfilled them faithfully.  He has had the perfect confidence of all, because he has shown himself worthy of it. Mrs. Otis has grown up with the society of Atchison and has recognized, in the fullest sense, her obligations to it.

As a friend, a neighbor, a true Christian lady, she has won the love and regard of a very large circle of friends and acquaintances. It must, indeed, have been a source of pleasure to the two, whose lives had been passed together so happily, to see around them not only the children who had so faithfully obeyed the command 'Honor thy father and thy mother,' but hundreds of friends with whom the best years of their life had been passed. "The occasion was not one of ostentatious display; no presents were expected; it was a sincere tribute to Judge and Mrs. Otis by friends who had known them long and well.

To say that the spacious rooms of the family mansion were crowded would but feebly express the idea. And yet all received that kindly, cordial welcome and kind attention that ever distinguishes genuine hospitality, and the hours passed most happily with social converse and pleasant reminiscences of the old times in Atchison.

It was a real reunion of friends and neighbors who had lived together for a quarter of a century. Among those present was ex-Governor Glick, Judge Otis' former law partner, and his estimable lady. "In bidding goodnight to the host and hostess and the children who had been born and reared under their roof, each guest expressed the wish that Judge and Mrs. Otis might live to celebrate their golden wedding as happily and that no shadow might fall across their household in the intervening years."

The following old settlers' day address calls to mind many of the old times in the early history of Atchison.  Judge Otis spoke substantially as follows: "In looking over the past, the history of Kansas would seem to divide itself naturally into three divisions, before the war, during the war and since the war, infancy, youth and manhood.  This refers not merely to its people and population, but also to its diversified interests, its commercial development and the political and moral progress of the state.

Under the act of 1854 Kansas became a territory and treaties then and soon afterward made opened it up for settlement.  The appearance of the country at that time, in its undeveloped and primitive state, before civilization and settlement had changed its general features, presents a marked contrast to the subsequent development of the state.

Like the photographs of a man taken at different periods of his life, the changes that took place as it passed from one condition to another were marked and interesting. "Its first appearance was primitive and rude.  Its second period began to show signs of wonderful progress in every particular.

Its third period, since the war, showed still greater progress, the most wonderful in its entire history, changes almost magical, railroads, towns and cities springing into being, cattle on a thousand hills took the place of deer and buffalo.  The plow and the scythe, the school and the church began to assert themselves and demonstrate their beneficent power. "It seems to me proper and in accordance with the spirit of this occasion to deal in reminiscences and the expression of personal observation, and this is what I propose to do."

At this point Judge Otis described his arrival in Kansas, at Leavenworth, in October, 1855, and the appearance of the city at the time.  Continuing, he spoke at length of a number of the early settlers, John Bennett, George T. Challis, Samuel Dixon, Henry Adams, L. Yocum, Heber Taylor, P. B. Wilcox, P. T. Abell, Mayhew, Haskell, Newman, Jackson, Wade, Eli C. Mason, Senator Pomeroy, Dr. Alderson, John A. Martin, Dr. Stringfellow, John M. Crowell, John M. Price, George W. Glick, I. S. Parker, Major Grimes, Dr. Grimes, Thomas Wise, Cheesborough Kelly, Benton, William Hetherington and others, a long list and many of them now dead.

Then he added: "In conclusion, old settlers, let me say, Kansas is our future home.  It is a matter of congratulation that we have lived here, had such joyous friendships.  Here with our families gathered around us we shall spend the balance of our days, and departing do so without regret, grateful that we have been permitted to live and die here."

Judge Otis spoke extemporaneously and to the delight of his auditors.  The following sketch discloses something of the early pioneer days of Judge Otis' life: Hon. Alfred G. Otis is another man who came to Atchison unheralded and poor, and who has earned both fame and fortune and one of whom Atchison and her people are proud.

Judge Otis is a native of Michigan, but came to this section from Louisville, Kentucky.  His capital stock was a copy of Blackstone, a genial temperament and abundance of brain.  His devotion to the interest of his clients was proverbial and herein was the foundation of his future eminence.  He was a great student and many were the times that the writer found him in the small hours of the morning endeavoring to unravel intricacies of law problems.

No hour was too early or none too late, nor no journey too arduous when the interests of his patrons were involved; his time was their own, and right well did he champion their fortunes. "We remember, with great pleasure, many instances of unselfish devotion. When the alarm was sounded on a memorable occasion in 1856 that the interests of the Atchison steam ferry were in jeapordy, how quickly he mounted his horse and sped to Louis Burns, at Weston, and how successfully he managed the complications.

This and many other instances of like character are to his credit, but none stand out in such bold relief and none more pronounced than his efforts on behalf of the preemptors of this section.  The land office opened at Doniphan, but after a brief career was moved to Topeka.  His frequent trips to Doniphan and his journeys to Topeka, on a horse, and his camping on the ground with a blanket before a log, on the north side of the river, in the interest of a pre-emption right to a valuable tract adjoining the city, will never be forgotten, and are called up a fresh as we wander back to those early days and think of the struggles and privations of this young attorney in the battle for future greatness.

Judge Otis studious and painstaking disposition, his struggles and devotion, had their reward.  He was successful in the practice of law, far beyond the average, and as the most capable man of the time was elected, some twelve years since, as judge of the district court, which position he held with great distinction for several years.

The old Otis house was named in his honor, and many other marks of appreciation of the man are recorded. In late years he became wearied of the law and having earned large wealth has devoted his time to the care of his estate and the management of the Atchison Savings Bank, of which he is and has been president for many years.  Such, in brief, is Judge Alfred G. Otis, and it is the wish of the Champion that he may live long to enjoy his well earned reputation and wealth and the respect of his fellow citizens."

In 1891, when about 64 years of age, Judge Otis' health became very much impaired, not so much from any acute disease as from a general breaking down of the system, and it seemed for a time that he had reached the period of life when the grasshopper becomes a burden, but eminent physicians who were consulted, notably those of the Johns Hopkins University, assured the family that such incidents were common to men of about that age, between 60 and 70, that nature was tired and must have rest, and prescribed absolute freedom from all care and all responsibility as an absolute essential to recovery.

This course was followed and for over two years the charge of all business affairs and family interests wholly devolved upon Mrs. Otis and their son, William A., who managed everything with singular prudence and care.  At the end of that time Judge Otis recovered his health and strength, both of body and mind, fully and perfectly, and resumed the care of his own affairs with vigor and strength apparently as complete as in his younger days.

But he realizes fully, to use his own language, that he has passed the three score and ten and that the autumn leaves are thick about him.  His old comrades have nearly all gone over the range and he is now the oldest settler of the city.

In 1862 Judge Otis was married to Miss Amelia Harres, of Philadelphia, and they have a family of five children still living: Amy, Mark E., Pearl, Theodore and Carl.  The family were in all eight children, two, Grace and Harrison G., having died in infancy.  The eldest, William A. Otis, was for a long time an active member and officer of the Syms Grocery Company, of Atchison, but his health failing him he found it necessary to seek the climate of Colorado, where he died August 8, 1899.

Amy Otis was married, in 1895, to Edwin S. Earhart, an active lawyer in Kansas City, Kansas, where they are living. Mark E. Otis is engaged in active business in New York City.  The remaining three are still a part of the home circle, where all reside in a beautiful residence overlooking the Missouri river and surrounded by a grove of trees of Judge Otis' own planting and where he brought his wife in 1862.

Of the same family Judge Otis has one brother, Charles E., who for the past 9 years has been the district judge at St. Paul, Minn., and another brother George L. Otis, now deceased, was for a long time one of the leading pioneer lawyers of Minnesota, and at one time the mayor of St. Paul. Ephraim A., another brother, is a well known lawyer of Chicago, Ill., and another, Isaac N., now deceased, was formerly a devoted minister of the Presbyterian church at Boulder, Colorado.

The father of this family Isaac Otis, died in 1854. The mother, Caroline A. Otis, who often visited Atchison, died in 1883.

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Last update: Monday, December 26, 2005 18:09:45

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