William Howard Russell was born at Livermore, Pennsylvania on November 24, 1867, the son of James Alexander and Elizabeth Servilla Beham Russell. His father had been born at the family farm on the banks of the Conemaugh River near Livermore on October 9, 1829. James served in Company A of the 54th Pennsylvania Infantry (Militia), which saw service in the pursuit of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan’s 1863 raid of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.
James Russell brought his family to Kansas in the spring of 1879 and settled on a claim southwest of Rush Center. Upon arrival James taught school and engaged in farming, eventually winning appointment as postmaster of Rush Center. He died February 2, 1904. He had been a member of Dahlgren Post No. 474, G.A.R., at Rush Center.
William taught for three years in the Rush County schools, and became manager of the Prairie Lumber Company of Rush Center. He began to read law, and was admitted to the bar at LaCrosse on November 20, 1888. He soon gained a reputation for the successful prosecution of violators of the prohibition law in the county. He formed a partnership with his younger brother, Frank.
In the span of his life he would be the Attorney and President of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank of LaCrosse. He served as President of the Southwestern Kansas Bar Association, and was active in the affairs of the Evangelical United Brethren Church and Masonic Lodge at LaCrosse.
Russell joined the Sons of Veterans in 1891 as a member of Tim McCarthy Camp No. 223. He rose rapidly in the ranks; Russell served on national committees, including chair of Constitution and Bylaws, which oversaw the revamping of the Order’s Constitution. In 1895 he was elected as Commander-in-Chief at the Sons of Veterans Encampment at Knoxville, Tennessee. He had been serving as Division Commander in Kansas at the time.
He married Bertha Ellen Smith on Christmas Day, 1895. They had seven children: Howard, Grace, Guy, Winifred, Donald, Everett, and Bertha.
William H. Russell died at LaCrosse on August 31, 1950, at the age of 82. He is buried at the LaCrosse Cemetery.
Information for this article was compiled by Blair D. Tarr, Old Abe Camp 16, Department of Kansas, from the following sources:
Illustriana Kansas, (1933)
William E. Connelley’s Kansas and Kansans, (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1918)
The Sunflower Picket, September 1, 1896
The Lawrence Journal-World, September 1, 1950
The Rush County News, August 31 and September 7, 1950.
Submitted July 2005