Books offer glimpse into Benton Township pioneer life

LaRoux Gillespie’s passion for research has helped him become a prolific writer of historical and genealogy books, many of which document the history of Butler County.

Gillespie has researched and written six books about Butler County, including Merchants of Augusta, Kansas 1870-1880, Augusta Land Office 1870-72, and Indianola, Butler County, Kansas.

The author describes his most recent books, John Waters 1842-1924 and John Waters and Family 1871-1968, as “A true story of a simple man and the life he lived. It is the story of a pioneer.”

With the assistance of 372 pages of raw documentation from the Veteran’s Administration, a history composition paper written in 1924 by John Waters’ granddaughter Mary-Kate Waters, and over 1000 pages of photos, journals, diaries and other information from Elizabeth Snodgrass, Gillespie shares the rich history of a John and Mary Waters and their claim on a beautiful section of Benton Township.

Courageous character

Mary-Kate Waters tells a captivating story of her grandfather’s life and adventures from his birth in Nashville, Tenn., his escape from an unhappy childhood in New Orleans at the age of nine and stowing away on river freighter bound for St. Paul.

At the age of 17, he left the river life and found himself in Texas, where he worked as a cow hand until circumstances landed him in the Confederate army infantry along the Mississippi River.

There are more adventures before he became a prisoner of war in 1863 and taken to Point Lookout, Maryland. After ten months he was given the opportunity to take the oath of allegiance and was able to enlist in the Navy and became a gunner.

Eventually he received an honorable discharge from the Navy and by 1867, he was a citizen of Pennsylvania and part owner in a saw mill. During this time, Waters became educated and met his future wife, Mary. They were married in 1871, he sold his share of the saw mill and embarked by rail for Kansas. They got as far as St. Louis, where they purchased oxen and a white mule and continued their arduous journey by wagon.

Benton Township

When they reached Butler County, they were unable to find any available land near the Walnut River, the Whitewater River, or Dry Creek. They ventured to what would become Benton Township, where John Waters purchased 160 acres.

There were few trees, mostly meadows and miles of pastures.

Their house was half dugout and half sod, but eventually they would have the distinction of having the only two-story house in the country. Lumber, brought from Florence, the nearest railroad town, was used to build a second story on top of the sod house. Later they were able to build a new house with two rooms downstairs and two upstairs.

John and Mary were known for sharing the bounty of their well irrigated garden with their neighbors.

They had six children, but a boy and a girl died in infancy. Their son, Mathew John Waters died in 1871 and was the first person to be buried in the Indianola Cemetery, located about 1/2 mile south and a 1/4 mile east of the Waters’ house.

Mary died at the young age of 38 in 1888, and was also buried in the Indianola Cemetery.

John married twice after Mary died. In 1894, he married Sarah Shaver. He was 50 and she was 39. They were only married three months with Sarah filing for divorce on grounds of gross neglect and extreme cruelty. He later married Jemima Dennison in 1900. He was 58 and she was 37.

John died on Nov. 20, 1924 in Wichita. He was buried in Indianola Cemetery next to Mary and two of their children. The farm remained in the family until 1942 when his son Warren Waters sold it after Jemima died. Jemima was also buried in the Indianola Cemetery - next to John.

Gillespie’s books offer a unique glimpse into the life and times of John Waters and his family, strong resilient Butler County settlers.

These books and others by LaRoux Gillespie are currently at the Augusta Historical Museum, 303 State St.

About the author

The Augusta High School graduate is the author of 32 books and over 260 technical publications. He is an industrial consultant on finishing edges of metal parts and travels internationally for that work. He is a graduate of Kansas University, Utah State University and Meiji University in Tokyo and recently received an honorary doctorate from Don State Technical University in Russia for his metal finishing work. He has served as president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and in 2012 was honored with KU’s Distinguished Engineering Service Award. In 2011, he married a high school classmate (from 53 years ago) and they live in Derby.

Belinda Larsen can be reached at