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David Overmyer Papers

1879-[1971] (bulk 1879-1907)

Microfilm MF 7193.02
Manuscript Collection No. 463




Attorney, political candidate, Democratic Party stalwart. Of North Vernon, Ind.; Topeka, Kan.

Correspondence and speeches of David Overmyer as well as a biographical essay with descriptive information about his scrapbooks & other records by his daughter Grace Overmyer and a copy of a newspaper article about his 1906 campaign. Included in the correspondence are letters from William Jennings Bryan, Benjamin Harrison, Nelson Appleton Miles, Mary Elizabeth Lease, George Glick, William J. Stone, John Clark Ridpath, William Alexander Harris, and Jasper R. Monroe. Overmyer wrote to both the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad and the Union Pacific Railway. Subjects include political & legislative issues in Kansas, 1880-1906; the Kansas Democratic Party, Democratic politics nationally, & Democratic National Conventions; railroads, specifically the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Co.; prohibition; suffrage; populism; and the Topeka Elks lodge.


1879-[1971] (bulk 1879-1907)


0.2 ft. (3 folders)


Overmyer, David, 1847-1907.


David Overmyer correspondence ; speeches, article ; biographical essay

Portion of title:

Article ; biographical essay

Correspondence ; speeches, article ; biographical essay

Speeches, article ; biographical essay

Biographical essay


Microfilm MF 7193.02
Manuscript collection no. 463


Text is in English.


This finding aid describes materials on microfilm held by the Kansas State Historical Society. Microfilm may be used in the Research Room in the society’s Center for Historical Research during regular research hours. Microfilm may also be borrowed through interlibrary loan for your use at a participating public, academic, or research library. Information on interlibrary loan is available from the Kansas State Historical Society and on its web site, http://www.kshs.org. Support for telephone, mail and online research and reference is limited.

In a continuing effort to improve the completeness and accuracy of finding aids, revisions are made as more or new information becomes available. Consequently finding aids in paper format, on microfilm, and on the society’s web site may differ slightly.


Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka)


David Overmyer was born 1 May 1847 in Pickaway County, Ohio, near Circleville. In 1849 his parents moved to Jackson County, Indiana, and settled on a farm. He went to public schools and attended Asbury University, now DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, intermittently for three years. After he left college, he moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, and taught himself law. He was admitted to the Bar at Vernon, Indiana, in 1869. He practiced law in North Vernon.(1)

He married Alice Hicks in 1874. They had five children; four of them lived to survive him.

Overmyer was a Republican and in 1876 a candidate for a Republican presidential elector in Indiana.

In February 1883 the Overmyers moved to Topeka, Kansas.(2) The following year, Topeka voters elected David Overmyer to the Kansas Legislature as an independent, anti-prohibition Republican. He served in the 1885 regular and 1886 special sessions. He never favored prohibition, and increasingly disagreed with his fellow Republicans over tariffs, so in 1886 he decided to become a Democrat. Two years later, he ran as a Democrat for Congress but lost.

In a relatively short span of time, Overmyer became a well-respected attorney and political advocate. The United States attorney for the District of Kansas appointed him in 1890 to be a special master in chancery to collect testimony relating to a suit filed in the U.S. Circuit Court, District of Kansas, by the U.S. attorney general to resolve the title to lands claimed by the Black Bob Band of Shawnee Indians. He gave his final report and recommendations to the judge five years later. Overmyer represented Democrats at four-way debates with Republicans, Populists, and Prohibitionists in Salina, Kansas, in 1891 and Topeka in 1894. It is said that he argued more cases before the Kansas Supreme Court in 1890s than any other attorney.

In 1892, Overmyer advocated revision of the Kansas constitution to remove what he believed were privileges for vested interests. He felt a new constitution should abolish railroad passes given to politicians (an issue about which he was passionate), the redemption of land for debt, and the garnishment of workers’ credits. He was in favor of trial by jury for libel, heavy income taxes on the rich, protections for railroad workers, taxation of churches, and the protection of Labor against private police such as Pinkerton’s. These stances later became issues in his 1894 gubernatorial election bid. He was named a delegate from Kansas to the Pan-American Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1893.

David Overmyer was the 1894 Democratic candidate for governor, but he was defeated by E. N. Morrill. Morrill later offered Overmyer several State positions in the hope that would make him less politically visible; Overmyer declined. In 1895 he served as a Kansas delegate to the Western States Conference Convention meeting in Topeka.

In 1901, Overmyer was a candidate in the Legislature for United States senator, and though all non-Republican members voted for him, he did not prevail. Some Democrats tried to draft him for another gubernatorial campaign in 1902 with the hope of a presidential bid in 1904, but Overmyer declined, not wanting to be part of a fusion ticket with the Populists. Similarly, in 1904 he declined the Kansas Democratic Convention’s attempts to nominate him for Congress and State railroad commissioner.

He reluctantly ran for Kansas attorney general in 1906 when Democratic gubernatorial candidate W. A. Harris said he would not be a candidate unless Overmyer also ran. Neither man was elected.

Overmyer was a delegate to several Democratic national conventions and gave the speech nominating Nelson Appleton Miles, whom he greatly admired, for president. He was renowned for this oratory and his skills as an attorney; he also wrote extensively on political issues. He argued the Original Package Case(3) before the United States Supreme Court, and the L. C. Gunn Habeas Corpus Case (1893) before the Kansas Supreme Court. He defended Moses Harman, publisher of the Valley Falls, Kansas, radical newspaper Lucifer the Light-Bearer, against obscenity charges. Overmyer was also an advocate for organized labor.

It was Overmyer who gave the Populists their nickname, but he never liked them, calling them “negatively oriented agitators who offered little in the way of constructive criticism.”(4) In addition to admiring Nelson Miles, he also looked up to William Jennings Bryan. At his death, the The Topeka Mail and Kansas Breeze said about him, “For the past eight or ten years he has practically controlled the policy of the Democratic party of Kansas, and during the same period has been recognized as one of the leading lawyers in Kansas.”(5) He consistently favored re-submitting the prohibition amendment in the Kansas constitution to the people of the State in the hope they would repeal it. He crusaded repeatedly against the practice of railroads giving free passes to political officeholders. He fought against a bill advocating more power for grand juries in certain cases. He was an ardent supporter of the free coinage of silver. Barney Sheridan of the Kansas City Post newspaper called him a “champion of human rights,” but ironically he opposed suffrage for women.(6) Despite his dislike of Populists, he served as lead counsel for Webb McNall, the Populist Kansas insurance commissioner. He argued in favor of the separation of church and state and against the reading of the Bible in schools. He worked to rid Kansas of inequities of wealth and privilege, and he fought for what he believed to be society’s common good. In later years his legal practice concentrated on insurance and constitutional law. He was described as “A lover of books, a thinker, a philosopher”(7) who also liked history. He was a charter member of the Elks lodge in Topeka.

David Overmyer contracted pneumonia December of 1906, and it was then that doctors found he had a severe case of diabetes. He was unable to maintain a diet to reduce its effects, and his physicians warned his family that the disease would prove fatal within a year. He died suddenly at home on 9 January 1907 of heart failure brought on by the diabetes. He was survived by his wife, Alice; daughters Grace and Amy; and sons George and David, Jr.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of Overmyer’s correspondence and speeches, dating from 1879 through 1906, a biographical essay written by his daughter Grace Overmyer in 1971 containing an overview of scrapbooks about him, and the typescript of a newspaper article from his 1906 campaign for attorney general stating his views on the enforcement of prohibition.

The correspondence is arranged chronologically. Though sparse, the correspondence contains letters from several notable personalities of the period: Benjamin Harrison, who, ten years later would become the 23rd President of the United States, and William Jennings Bryan some twenty years before he would become involved in the Scopes trial. There is also a letter from Mary Elizabeth Lease, populist from Kansas, who wanted to use one of his articles in an educational advertising campaign. Jasper R. Monroe, physician and author from Indiana, also wrote a letter discussing his failing health. Monroe wrote Holy Bible Stories: Modern Rendition of Some Ancient Fables and Dramas and Miscellaneous Poems as well as co-wrote The Iron Clad Age.

A letter from William J. Stone, written while he was serving as governor of the State of Missouri, discusses the “fight” Overmyer was facing in Kansas. Written in 1896, Stone was likely referring to the battle over the silver standard in which Stone had been involved. Stone suggested utilizing several Kansans he thought would be valuable allies, distributing issues of The St. Joseph Gazette and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to Kansas’ residents and soliciting help from William Jennings Bryan in the cause. Stone also offered $150 in funds to aid Overmyer in the fight.

There is an invitation from John McLean to attend dinner with McLean and Bryan in Washington, D.C. Several years later, Bryan wrote Overmyer letting him know that he had received a copy of his article and was looking forward to reading it but was saving it for Sunday, as he thought it would “make good Sunday reading.” He also wrote a letter of condolence to Overmyer’s widow after his death, and this is included in the collection.

John Clark Ridpath, Editor of The Arena, wrote a letter telling Overmyer that his article was slated for publication in the September 1897 issue.

William Alexander Harris wrote a letter apparently responding to Overmyer’s support in his nomination and suggesting a meeting to discuss strategy. A letter from M. A. Low, representing the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company, thanked Overmyer for his actions on behalf of the company.

There are three letters from Nelson Appleton Miles, arguably the most colorful character represented in the collection. Miles, a decorated Civil War hero and frontier commander involved in nearly every major confrontation on the Plains, wrote a letter expressing a desire to meet Overmyer. Later he wrote a letter discussing the upcoming Democratic convention in 1904 at which Overmyer offered Miles as a nominee for President. Finally, Miles sent a letter to Overmyer’s widow expressing condolences.

The researcher interested in later nineteenth century elocution and oratory traditions will want to read the speeches in this collection. Three speeches are contained in the fourth folder. The first speech was delivered in Leavenworth, Kansas, on October 6, 1892, on German Day; the second was delivered to the Topeka Elks in 1898; and he gave the third on the accession of William J. Hook when he took the office of judge of the District court, 1899. Also in this folder is a typescript of a newspaper article from Leavenworth during the 1906 campaign stating that Overmyer and Harris would enforce the prohibition law despite their personal feelings against it. Nine other speeches are in the scrapbooks kept by Grace Overmyer, microfilmed on the same roll, and others have been published and are in the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas library holdings. David Overmyer was acknowledged by many to be an eloquent speaker.

Grace Overmyer’s overview of the family’s scrapbooks, titled, “My Father’s Scrapbooks: A Brief Review of their Contents (and a Few other Records)” is a narrative of David Overmyer’s career and addresses a number of topics as well as Grace’s reasons for preserving the information. It has a detailed description of the scrapbook contents and a few personal anecdotes.

Other than Grace Overmyer’s overview, this collection does not provide researchers with much information about David Overmyer’s career or his personal life. But there is information to be gleaned about Overmyer and his times from his correspondence and his speeches.

The earliest scrapbook is believed to have been assembled by David Overmyer, but the others may have been created by his wife, Alice. Grace Overmyer donated one book, volume B, to the archives at DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, David Overmyer’s alma mater; the other volumes - A, C, and D - are in the Kansas State Historical Society’s Kansas library collection and have been microfilmed on the same roll as his papers.

In addition to the manuscript collections listed in the “Related Records” section, below, the Kansas State Historical Society’s State archives holdings for records of Kansas Appellate courts, record group 677, contain individual case files in which Overmyer was the attorney. A number of his addresses, writings, and legal arguments that were published are in the collections of the society’s Kansas library. Other addresses are in the scrapbooks, described above. It is likely that case files containing arguments, motions, and other documents by Overmyer in the federal Courts may be found at National Archives facilities in Washington, D.C., in the records of the U.S. Supreme Court, record group 267, and Kansas City, Missouri, in the records of U.S. District and Circuit Courts, record group 21, for the District of Kansas and, after 1890, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, record group 276.

Contents List

Organization of the Papers

Collection, no. 463. Organized into 3 series by type of material.

Contents: ser. 1. Correspondence, 1879-1907 - ser. 2. Speeches ; article, 1892-1906 - ser. 3. My father’s scrapbooks : a brief review of their contents (and a few other records) / by Grace Overmyer, [1971].

Description of the Collection

The entire collection is on microfilm roll MF 7193.02, available in the Kansas State Historical Society's (KSHS) Library reference room or through interlibrary loan. The three David Overmyer scrapbooks in the KSHS library collection are also on the microfilm.

Series Descriptions

Series 1. CORRESPONDENCE, 1879-1907. 22 items.

Letters & invitations received, many from notable acquaintances, and holograph (handwritten) copies of letters sent. The letters acknowledge receipt of, inform him about publication of, & request permission to use Overmyer’s articles; discuss the “fight” Overmyer was facing in Kansas - probably relating to the silver standard - as well as political strategy, Democratic Party matters, & the 1904 Democratic convention; thank him for work done; and express condolences to his widow. Correspondents include William Jennings Bryan; William Alexander Harris; Benjamin Harrison; Mary Elizabeth Lease; M. A. Low of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Co.; John McLean; Nelson Appleton Miles; Jasper R. Monroe; John Clark Ridpath; William J. Stone; and officials of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad and the Union Pacific Railway.

Arranged chronologically.

Item list follows the collection register at the beginning of the microfilm.

Series 2. SPEECHES ; ARTICLE, 1892-1906. 4 items.

Speeches delivered in Leavenworth, Kans., 6 Oct. 1892, on German Day; to the Topeka Elks, 1898; and on the accession of William J. Hook to a District court judgeship, 1899. Included is a typescript of a newspaper article from Overmyer's 1906 political campaign concerning the enforcement of prohibition.

Arranged chronologically.

Item list follows the collection register at the beginning of the microfilm.


Narrative of David Overmyer’s career, topics related to his life, the history of the 4 scrapbooks about him, and Grace Overmyer’s reason for preserving the information. Includes a detailed description of the scrapbook contents and personal anecdotes.


(1)Some sources say his practice was in Vernon, however he appears to have lived in North Vernon throughout his tenure in Jennings County; cf. United States, Census Office, 1870 and 1880 censuses of the United States: Indiana: Jennings County. Database on www.ancestry.com, accessed 11 Aug. 2006.

(2)Some sources state that the family moved to Topeka in September 1882.

(3)Wilkerson v. Rahrer, 140 U.S. 545 (1891).

(4)Shannon Rafter Brown, “David Overmyer: a Political History.” Term paper, University of Kansas, [1958], 3.

(5)David Overmyer biographical sketch, The Topeka Mail and Kansas Breeze, 22 May 1896, 45

(6)David Overmyer biographical sketch, The Topeka State Journal, 11 Jan. 1907, in Kansas State Historical Society, “Kansas Biographical Scrapbooks,” 125:134.

(7)Topeka Bar Association, Memorial to David Overmyer ([Topeka, Kans. : Topeka Bar Association, 1907]), 8.

Related Records and Collections


Moses Milton Beck: ms. collection 274

Burr H. Bunn: ms. collection 305

Albert A. Doerr: ms. collection 763

John Guthrie: ms. collection 368

John A. Halderman: ms. collection 370

Albert H. Horton: microfilmed

Joseph Kennedy Hudson: ms. collection 395

Harrison Kelley: ms. collection 408

H. Miles Moore: ms. collection 450

People’s Party of Kansas & Democratic Party (Kans.), State Committee, history collection: no. 627

L. H. Riddle Diaries, 1887-1891: microfilm MS 39.01

Charles & Sara T. D. Robinson: microfilm MS 640 - MS 652

Edmund G. Ross: ms. collection 491

John Pierce St. John: ms. collection 494

Dennis M. Schockley misc. collection

Washburn University history collection: no. 654

The manuscripts collection also contains a wealth of other material on late nineteenth and early twentieth century Kansas politics, government, and political figures; specific items are accessible through the card catalog in the Library and ATLAS, the on - line catalog.

 Other Finding Aid

Item list filmed after the collection register at the beginning of the microfilm roll.


Blackmar, Frank W. 1912. “Lewelling’s Administration.” Transcribed from Kansas: a Cyclopedia of State History. vol. 2. Chicago: Standard Pub. Co., 1912 (http://skyways.lib.ks.us/genweb/archives/1912/l/lewellings_administration.html, accessed 8 Aug. 2006).

Brown, Shannon Rafter. [1958]. “David Overmyer: a Political History.” Term paper, University of Kansas. Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) Library call number K BB Pam.v.15 no.13.

Findlaw. 2006. “U.S. Supreme Court, Wilkerson v. Rahrer, 140 U.S. 545.” http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?friend=nytimes&court=us&vol=140&invol=545, accessed 8 Aug. 2006).

Gresham, John M., & Company, Chicago. 1969. Biographical and Historical Souvenir for the Counties of Clark, Crawford, Harrison, Floyd, Jefferson, Jennings, Scott and Washington, Indiana. Chicago: Chicago Print. Co., 1889; Evansville, Ind.: Unigraphic.

Kansas State Historical Society. “Biographical Scrapbook,” vol. 125 (O, vol. 2). KSHS Library call number K BB 125.

Missouri, State Archives. “Governors,” Missouri History, Missouri State Archives, Records Services, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/history/historicallistings/governors.asp accessed 3 Aug. 2006).

The Province and the States: a History of the Province of Louisiana under France and Spain, and of the Territories and States of the United States Formed Therefrom. 1904. Madison, Wis.: Western Historical Association. KSHS Library call number GL 973 G62.

Topeka Bar Association. [1907]. Memorial to David Overmyer. [Topeka, Kans.: Topeka Bar Association.] KSHS Library call number K BB Pam.v.7.

The Topeka Mail and Kansas Breeze. 1896 July 2. KSHS Library call number K 978.1 -Sh1 T62.

Index Terms


Bryan, William Jennings, 1860-1925. (correspondent)

Glick, George Washington, 1827-1911. (correspondent)

Harris, William A. (William Alexander), 1841-1909. (correspondent)

Harrison, Benjamin, 1833-1901. (correspondent)

Lease, Mary Elizabeth, 1853-1933. (correspondent)

Miles, Nelson Appleton, 1839-1925. (correspondent)

Monroe, Jasper R. (correspondent)

Overmyer, David, 1847-1907.

Overmyer, David, 1847-1907-Correspondence.

Overmyer, Grace. (co-author)

Ridpath, John Clark, 1840-1900. (correspondent)

Stone, William Joel, 1848-1918. (correspondent)

Corporate Names

Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad Company. (correspondent and subject)

Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway Company.

Democratic Party (Kan.)

Democratic Party (U.S.)

Democratic National Convention (1896 : Chicago, Ill.)

Democratic National Convention (1900 : Kansas City, Mo.)

Democratic National Convention (1904 : St. Louis, Mo.)

Elks (Fraternal order). Topeka Lodge, No. 204 (Topeka, Kan.)

Kansas. Legislature.

Union Pacific Railway Company. (correspondent and subject)

Geographic Names

Kansas-Politics and government-1865-1950.

North Vernon (Ind.)

Topeka (Kan.)


American letters-Kansas-History-19th century.

American letters-Kansas-History-20th century.

Boycotts-Law and legislation-United States.


Political candidates-Kansas.





Document Types

Speeches, addresses, etc., American.


Lawyers-Indiana-North Vernon.


Additional Information for Researchers

 Restrictions on Access


 Restrictions on Use

Notice: This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). The user is cautioned that the publication of the contents of this collection may be construed as constituting a violation of literary property rights. These rights derive from the principle of common law, affirmed in the copyright law of 1976 as amended, that the writer of an unpublished letter or other manuscript has the sole right to publish the contents thereof unless he or she affirmatively parts with that right; the right descends to his or her legal heirs regardless of the ownership of the physical manuscript itself. It is the responsibility of a user or his or her publisher to secure the permission of the owner of literary property rights in unpublished writing.

It is presumed that these documents entered the public domain on 1 January 2003 in conformance with applicable provisions of copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code).

Custodial History

Correspondence and speeches kept by David Overmyer’s widow, Alice, following his death; transferred to their daughter Amy Overmyer Rafter at Alice’s death; and to Amy’s sister, Grace Overmyer, following Amy’s death.

 Preferred Citation

Note:  [identification of item and / or series], David Overmyer Papers, 1879-[1971] (bulk 1879-1907), Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MF 7193.02.

Bibliography:  Overmyer, David. Papers, 1879-[1971] (bulk 1879-1907), Kansas State Historical Society microfilm MF 7193.02.

 Acquisition Information

Gift: Grace Overmyer, 1971

 Processing Information

Collection register prepared by Kirsten Hanna, 2006. Biographical sketch by Robert L. Knecht.


No additions to this collection are expected.

 Location of Originals

Originals at the Kansas State Historical Society (Topeka).


Microfilm. Topeka, Kan. : Kansas State Historical Society, 2006. Roll MF 7193.02, lab no. 57438.