Benjamin Harding

Native American Heritage Museum
Highland, Kansas

Formally Presbyterian Mission to the Iowas, completed in 1846. Now a Kansas State Historical Site.
[Doniphan County,]

Benjamin Harding (1815-1904) was born in Exeter, Otsego County, New York. After teaching in a Pennsylvania school for three years, he moved to Livingston County, Missouri in 1844, teaching in Livingston and adjoining Chariton counties. He became a trader to the Iowa Tribe at the Great Nemaha agency in 1846, continuing there until 1849. He then taught in St. Joseph, Missouri until 1852 when he moved back to Kansas to again trade at the Iowa Mission. [Cutler, History, Doniphan County, Part 18]

In 1854 Harding made one of the first land claims in Doniphan County and was elected secretary of the Squatter Association of Whitehead District. He also served on the Association's "vigilance committee" to whom all complaints about claim jumping were brought. As secretary, Harding was to give notice in writing to alleged claim jumpers to appear at the next meeting for a hearing. In addition to provided a legal system in a place where no formal system existed, the Squatter Association was strongly pro-slavery. The group resolved: "That we will afford protection to no abolitionist as settler of Kansas Territory" and " That we recognize the institution of Slavery as already existing in this Territory, and recommend to Slaveholders to introduce their property as early as practicable." Harding, the future free- state man, voted for the resolutions which were adopted unanimously. [Caldwell, Squatter Association, 23]

But Harding's free-state colors would soon show. In the November, 1854 Congressional Delegate election, he was appointed election judge for the voting site in his home. He "incurred the enmity of the pro-slavery people" by his insistence on following the rules set out by Governor Reeder for the election. He was indicted for those actions and twice called to court in Leavenworth to answer the charge, which was finally dismissed. [Crawford, Biographies, 206.]

He attended the Big Springs convention in 1855 and was elected to the Topeka Free-State Legislature. While serving in the Legislature, he was called as a juror to Judge Lecompte's court for the March 1856 term. Sheriff Whitehead, for whom the Squatter Association had been named, knew Harding had to be in Topeka and apparently called Harding with an intent to arrest him for contempt of court. Harding was subsequently arrested and charged with contempt and "instigating treason." Harding answered that he was attending to his duties and had not intended contempt for the court. Judge Lecompte replied that the "dignity of the court must be sustained," and assessed a $10 fine plus costs. [Cutler, History, Doniphan County, Part 18]

In 1859 Harding returned to education, licensed as the first teacher in Doniphan County. The first county superintendent, John Bayless, organized the first school district at Wathena in April 1859 and Harding took charge of the school. Mr. Harding told of his first certificate: "I received my certificate, the first he ever issued, from Mr. Bayless, in 1859. Went on horseback to Highland, ate dinner with him, when he had his daughter bring her school books, and from them he questioned me till he was satisfied. There was no fooling about him." [Katner, History and Growth, 123] He continued in public life, as well, as a member of the Territorial Legislature in 1858 and 1859 and later as Register of Deeds for the county. serving on the Council until 1859. He served in the State Militia and was Captain of Company K, Ninth Kansas State Militia. The Ninth was active during the Price Raid in 1864. [Cutler, History, Doniphan County, Part 18]

Charles Clark