Biography - Walton Collins

CAPTAIN WALTON M. COLLINS, SR., who at one time owned and operated a farm of more than four hundred acres near Greenfield and is now living a retired life in the city of Greenfield, dates his residence in the county from the fall of 1831. His memory forms a connecting link between the primitive past and the progressive present. He has close and intimate knowledge of the history of the county through more than seven decades and has watched its evolution as the conditions of frontier life have been put aside and the advantages of an advanced civilization have been taken on, bringing forth the county to stand in a conspicuous place in the foremost ranks of the leading counties of the commonwealth.
Captain Collins was born in Bourbon county, Kentucky, March 20, 1831. His father, the Rev. John Collins, was a native of Maryland, born on the 7th of May, 1801 and in 1816 he removed to Kentucky with his mother, the family home being established in Bourbon county, where he attained his majority. He was afterward married there to Marian Pifer, a native of Bourbon county, and began farming in that county, residing there until 1831, when he came with his family to Greene county, Illinois. He purchased a claim and entered the land from the government, thus becoming owner of two hundred acres which he placed under a high state of cultivation, after which he sold the farm. He then bought another tract of land in Rockbridge township and was closely identified with agricultural interests, yet he did not confine his attention entirely to his field of activity, for he labored earnestly for the moral welfare of his community as a local preacher in the Methodist Episcopal church. He died in Greene county, June 7, 1860, having for some time survived his first wife, who died in 1835. Rev. Collins afterward married again.
Captain Collins is the only surviving member of the family of four children born of the father's first marriage. He was reared upon the old homestead farm and went to California in 1849, attracted by the discovery of gold on the Pacific coast. He made the trip overland with a drove of cows and was six months on the way, traveling across the long hot stretches of sand and over the mountain passes. At length his eyes were gladdened by the sight of the green fields of the Pacific coast country. He made his way to the gold fields and was engaged in mining for about a year, being fairly successful. He then returned to the east in the fall of 1851, crossing the isthmus of Panama and proceeding to his home by way of New Orleans and up the Mississippi river. The money which he had earned in his mining ventures he invested in land, purchasing one hundred and twenty acres in Rubicon township, and thus he made preparation for having a home of his own.
Captain Collins further completed his preparation by his marriage on the 11th of March, 1852, to Miss Nancy Jane Ruark, a native of Alton, Illinois, but reared in Greene county. The young couple began their domestic life upon the farm which he had purchased and there lived for three years. In 1856 he removed to Rockbridge township, where he purchased four hundred and seventeen acres of land. With characteristic energy he began the further improvement and development of that farm and built thereon a large neat residence and good barns and outbuildings. Upon the farm he also raised and fed cattle, having annually one hundred head of cattle which he shipped to the city markets. He also bought, raised and dealt in mules and found this a profitable source of income. He continued his farming operations until 1897, when he sold the farm and removed to Greenfield, where he purchased residence property. He now owns four dwellings in the city and two business houses. He has been very successful as a business man, making judicious investments, and through his unremitting diligence and keen foresight he has so managed his affairs that the result has been most gratifying from a financial standpoint.
In 1895 Captain Collins was called upon to mourn the loss of his first wife. There were thirteen children of that marriage, nine of whom reached mature years, while eight are yet living and are heads of families, namely: Lorenzo, who is now living retired in Jacksonville, Illinois; James, a practicing physician of Carlinville, this state; Charles, a lawyer of Chicago; Alonzo Y., a prosperous farmer of Greene county; Walton M., who is engaged in the hardware business in Greenfield; Marian L., the wife of Charles Smith, of Rubicon township; Nancy J., the wife of John Waller, of Rubicon township; and Rosa, the wife of Frank Dams, of Macoupin county. They also lost one son, William, who died in early manhood.
Captain Collins was again married in Liberty, Clay county, Missouri, October 6, 1896, when Mrs. Mary A. King became his wife. She was born in Greene county and is a daughter of Thomas C. Robinson, one of the early settlers of this part of the state, having established his home here in 1837. Mrs. Collins was reared here and in 1856 she gave her hand in marriage to Dr. John J. Hodge, a physician who practiced here until his death in 1860. There were three children by that marriage: John C. Hodge, now a merchant of Beaver, oklahoma; Anna B., the wife of James Robb, of Liberty, Missouri; and Johnetta, the wife of Dr. Edward Burrows, of Holly Grove, Arkansas. Mrs. Collins was married again in Greene county to Aquilla King, and located on a farm in Rubicon township, whence they afterward removed to Jacksonville, where Mr. King died. There were two sons of that marriage, Thomas R., now of Kansas City; and Charles A. King, of Liberty, Missouri.
Politically Mr. Collins is a stanch Republican. He cast his first presidential vote for Millard Fillmore and in 1860 he supported Abraham Lincoln and has since given his ballot for each presidential nominee of the party. He won his title by serving as captain in the state militia for a year and a half and he later served as captain of Company C in the One Hundred and Thirty-third Illinois Infantry, enlisting for one hundred days. He served at Rock Island in guarding prisoners and after the expiration of his term of service in the Civil war was honorably discharged. He has never cared for political office, content to do his duty as a private citizen. His wife is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church and Captain Collin's identification with the church dates from the time when he was sixteen years of age. He has been active in its work and upbuilding and for two years served as superintendent of the Sunday school. He belongs to the Masonic fraternity, was a treasurer of Fayette Lodge No. 107, for twenty yeas and is also a member of the Grand Army post at Greenfield. His life might well be compared with a quiet stream bordered by green fields. There has been nothing of the character of the turbulent roaring river that attracts the artist, but is more like the little brook that enriches the land through which it flows. Captain collins has labored energetically and persistently not only for his individual success, although his career has been crowned with desirable prosperity, but has also put forth strenuous and able effort in behalf of advanced movements which touch the general interests of society and have direct bearing upon the public good.

Extracted by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Greene County, Illinois, by Ed Miner, published in 1905, pages 463-465.

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