Aulne pioneer: from sodbuster to river straightener
Marion County’s early leaders weren’t all politicians, lawyers, and business executives.
Farmer and stockman James W. Harrison (1864-1947), who helped build Aulne’s church and was among the first to break prairie sod with an oxen yoke, was among the county’s most respected early leaders.
Arriving from Ohio in 1874 at age 10, he was among the top students in District 14 schools, earning a 97 grade in 1880.
He went on to become what the Record of the time described as “one of the rustling and successful farmers and stock dealers of Wilson Township,” building a comfortable new farmhouse and marrying in 1886.
“I built a house,” he later said, “but my wife has made it a home.”
He made frequent trips to Kansas City, primarily to sell hogs, and in 1898 urged fellow farmers to quit their “calamity howling” and grow kaffir corn, an southern African variety of sorghum that he said would yield 75 bushels of seed per acre and provide three times the fodder of common corn.
A fire, reportedly caused by a mouse and a match, nearly destroyed his beloved farmhouse in 1904 but was averted by quick action.
By 1911, when the county had 123 school districts, he was the clerk of the District 14 schools he had attended in his youth.
After his brother-in-law, Virgil Healea, became Marion’s only police officer killed in the line of duty in 1916, he unsuccessfully ran for sheriff.
Instead he was appointed in 1920 one of three commissioners of the all-important Cottonwood Valley Drainage Commission, which oversaw straightening and rechanneling of Luta Creek and the Cottonwood River to reduce flooding near Marion.
He later sold his farm and moved to Peabody, where he was superintendent of the city park for 11 years until his retirement.
He died in 1947 and was buried in Claney Cemetery. His widow — Matie Healea Harrison, mother of the couple’s eight children, — lived until 1975, when at 108 she was Marion County’s oldest resident.
Last modified April 4, 2018