Biography - WALTER J. CASPER

Many of the more progressive farmers of Southern Illinois are specializing in their work, realizing that there is more money in this method than in merely carrying on general farming, and one who has demonstrated the practicability of his ideas is Walter J. Casper, who owns one of the finest tracts of land in Johnson county, located near New Burnside, and whose specialty has been the growing of fruit. Mr. Casper was eminently fitted in his youth to carry on his present vocation, his father, a half century ago, having laid the foundations for the present great fruit industry of the Prairie state. Walter J. Casper was born September 23, 1850, on a farm near Anna, Union county, Illinois, and is a son of Peter H. and Elizabeth A. (Henderson) Casper.

Peter Casper, the grandfather of Walter J., was born in Rowan county, North Carolina, of German ancestry, and was one of the first pioneer settlers of Union county, coming to this section during the early twenties, when this part of the country was a vast wilderness. He had been married in his native state to a Miss Fullenwider, and brought his family to a little log cabin, around which he made a clearing, and here engaged in agricultural pursuits during the remainder of his life. He and his wife had a family of four sons and three daughters, namely: Caleb, Stephen, Henry, Peter H., Mrs. Elinor Miller, Mrs. Katherine Miller and Mrs. Esther Davis.

Peter H. Casper was born on the wilderness farm in Union county, in 1823, and there grew to manhood. At the outbreak of the Mexican war he enlisted in the United States army, under Colonel Bissell, and served throughout that struggle, after which he returned to Union county and secured two tracts of land from the Government, to which he later added from time to time until he owned six hundred acres of tillable land. In 1846 or 1847 he was married to Elizabeth A. Henderson, and they had a family of ten children, of whom seven grew to maturity, namely: Walter J.; Mrs. America Josephine Yost, of Danville, Illinois; Stephen Douglass, residing in Anna; Mrs. Addie Laura Appell, living at the old homestead in Anna; Lincoln L., who resides on a farm in Union county; John R., a hospital attendant at "Watertown, Illinois; and Oscar H., living at Anna. The father of these children died October 12, 1878, and his widow survived him until October, 1893, when she passed away. Mr. Casper was the pioneer orchardist of Union county, and in the face of the ridicule of his neighbors, who were content to farm along in the old way, planted five hundred trees, demonstrating by his success that Illinois was an ideal spot for the growing of fruit. Always an active citizen and great patriot, during the Civil war Mr. Casper assisted the United States marshal in many ways, being especially active in preserving order and raising troops, although, owing to an infirm limb, his enlistment was barred. The respect and esteem in which he was universally held proved his worth to his community, and in his death Union county lost one of its able agriculturists and public-spirited citizens.

Walter J. Casper received his education in the district schools in the vicinity of his father's farm and the Anna high school, and continued to work with his father until he was twenty-one years old. During the next three years he was engaged in the mercantile business, and ran a confectionery store and news stand at Vienna and Anna, but eventually returned to the farm, where he continued until January 15, 1879. He had previously, in 1878, bought a small farm of six acres, on which was a little house and barn, and at the time of his father's death he received forty-seven acres from the estate. This land he sold in 1888, and November 13th of that year came to New Burnside and purchased one hundred and twenty acres of land, only partially cleared at that time, but which is now in a high state of cultivation, and on which are situated a fine residence and large barns and outbuildings. Since that time he has bought more land, but after improving it has disposed of it, and he now owns the original tract. On first locating here he immediately began planting fruit trees, starting with apples and peaches, and he was so successful with the former that he has continued with them until he now has fifty solid acres of apple trees just coming into bearing. His orchard contains four thousand trees in all, and he has about sixty varieties of apples, thirty-five varieties being displayed by him at the Horticultural Exhibit at Anna in 1911. He has more varieties than any other grower in Southern Illinois, and is an experimenter and proficient horticulturist. A frequent exhibitor at horticultural fairs, he has secured many prizes for the excellence of his fruit, and is one of the leading members of the Illinois State Horticultural Society. Years of careful study in his business have made Mr. Casper an absolute authority on fruit culture, and his advice is constantly being sought on matters of this nature.

On January 15, 1879, Mr. Casper was united in marriage with Miss Marie C. Miles, daughter of William T. and Fyla (Marshall) Miles, natives of New York state, who emigrated to Cobden, Union county, Illinois, in 1867, and the former of whom died in 1881, while the latter still survives. Mr. and Mrs. Miles had three children: Cyrus A., who died in 1887; Arthur O., who makes his home at New Burnside; and Marie C. Mrs. Casper was educated in the Southern Illinois State Normal University, at Carbondale, and taught the graded schools of Cobden, Anna and Jonesboro, in Union county, for five years. She and her husband have had three children: Norman Walter, Roscoe (who died in infancy), and Ivo Marie.

Extracted 07 Nov 2018 by Norma Hass from History of Southern Illinois, by George Washington Smith, published in 1912, volume 3, pages 1140-1142.

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