Biography - William Burns

WILLIAM A. BURNS is a general merchant at Belknap, and a man of honorable standing in business circles throughout Johnson County. He is a .son of Tarance Burns, who is one of the settlers of the far-famed Oklahoma Territory. The latter was born in Alabama, and was a son of James Burns, who was both a shoemaker and a trader. In order to extend his operations in the latter line the grandfather removed to Cincinnati when his son Tarance was quite young. In 1844 the family came to Illinois, voyaging down the Ohio in a keel boat that held all their earthly possessions — the said boat belonging to young Tarance, who was quite an expert boatman. When they arrived at their journey's end in Pope County, they found it to be a wild country with but few settlers, and after a short time they removed to Washington County, and settled on some unimproved Government land, which the grandfather took up, hastily constructing a rude log cabin for shelter, and then actively entered upon the pioneer task of making a home. He accumulated a fair property, and was a worthy type of the pioneers among whom he spent his last days.
In his boyhood, the father of our subject attended school as opportunity offered, and his father also taught him to make shoes, but he never pursued the trade in after life. He early evinced a liking for the water and for all the things pertaining to boating, which his life by the Ohio River fostered, and he became familiar with all kinds of boats, understanding the management of each craft, and this knowledge was quite useful when the family migrated by water to this State. He was married after coming to this State, in Perry County, near Du Quoin, to Trissa Bowlin, a native of Tennessee, and upon their arrival here they settled on a place adjoining his father's. In 1856 Mr. Burns went to Union County to take an interest in a sawmill business, the mill having been the property of his father. He subsequently sold it and, going to Kansas, ran a livery stable in Cherokee County until 1872. In that year he bought a farm in what is now a well-improved part of the county, but afterward went to Kiowa County, in the same State, and farmed there three years. He did not find it very profitable, as he had to contend with drouth and hot winds, so he sold out, and, coming back to Illinois, bought a farm in Belknap.
Kansas, however, seemed to have a strong fascination for Mr. Burns, and within a year's time he was there again, having first disposed of his property here. He once more conducted a livery stable in the eastern part of Cherokee County. He finally abandoned that, and after visiting Oklahoma, took up his abode in western Kansas, having a good farm in Kiowa County, amply supplied with all conveniences for carrying on agriculture advantageously. The failure of crops on account of dry weather caused him to seek "greener fields and pastures new," and he found himself in Oklahoma at the time of the great rush when the territory was opened up for settlement. Although there was not land enough to go around among all the people gathered there, Mr. Burns was fortunate enough to secure a quarter of a section, and is still living upon it.
Mr. Burn's first wife, the mother of our subject, died in 1872, and he was afterward married to Isabel Warrick, a native of Illinois. He has had eleven children, namely: Anderson, who died in infancy; William A.; Susan J., wife of John Smith, of Oklahoma; James H., a barber in Kiowa County, Kan.; Polly Amanda, who died in Illinois; John Franklin, who lives in Oklahoma; Henry C., a resident of Crawford County, Kan.; Marcus L., who died at the age of two years; Mary J., who died at the age of four years; Rowan M., who lives in Oklahoma; and Alice, who died in infancy.
William A. Burns was the second child of the family, and was born in Washington County March 13, 1847. He had a common-school education, and was early drilled in farm work, helping his father on the farm until he was about ten years old, and then assisting him in the sawmill. He remained an inmate of the paternal home until his marriage at the age of twenty-three to Miss Sarah L. Barrier, a native of North Carolina, whence her parents came to Illinois in 1868. Her father is dead, but her mother is still living in Johnson County. After marriage Mr. Burns went to farming in the southwestern part of the county, where he owned forty acres of land, and after making some improvements took up his residence on it, and remained a year, gathering in a good crop in the meantime. Selling that place, he went to Union County to work in a sawmill, the same in which he had learned the business with his father, but owned by another person. He worked by the day, prudently saving his wages, until 1875, when he came to Belknap, and at first engaged as a carpenter, building a house with another man. In 1876 he bought a small stock of general merchandise and ventured into business in a small way, continuing until 1880, when he disposed of his stock in trade. In 1881 he bought a half interest in a general mercantile establishment at Belknap in connection with W. L. Williams, to whom he eventually sold his share in 1888. A year later he again entered the business world at Belknap as a general merchant, and is doing well from a financial point of view, carrying a fair line of goods and receiving his full share of patronage.
Mr. Burns married for his second wife Miss Nora Odum, a native of Williamson County. Her father was originally from Tennessee, and died in Hamilton County, and her mother died in Saline County. Of the children of our subject's first marriage, Charles O. and Laura Ida are at home with him, and Thomas F. died young at Belknap. By his second marriage there were three children born: Tarance; and Ettie and Rettie, twins, the latter dying when ten months old.
Our subject is one of the leading men in the public life of Belknap, as well as in local politics, and is also prominent in township affairs. He was constantly on the School Board of the township for several years, and has been a member of the Village Board of Trustees nearly ever since he settled here. In 1876 he was appointed Postmaster, and held that office until 1881. Politically he is a Democrat of approved loyalty to party standards, and is the present Committee man for his township. He is a man of sound business principles, and his patrons always find him affable, agreeable and accommodating, while his friends know him to be open-handed and warm-hearted.

Extracted 16 Apr 2016 from 1893 Biographical Review of Johnson, Massac, Pope, and Hardin Counties, Illinois, pages 136-137.

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