The salient features in the life record of James W. L. Slavens, deceased, were those which connected him with the bar of Kansas City as a prominent attorney and identified him with the pioneer development of the city. He stood for progress and advancement in municipal lines and for one term was honored with the mayoralty. His life record began in Putnam County, Indiana, August 3, 1838. His great-grandfather, John Slavens, was a Scotch-Irish Protestant, who settled in Virginia in early life and there reared a large family, his youngest son being Isaiah Slavens, who served for five years in the Revolutionary war, valiantly defending the interests of the colonists. After the war he married a Miss Stewart of Maryland and removed to Kentucky, where he engaged in farming for some time. Three of his sons enlisted for service in the war of 1812 and Isaiah Slavens afterward joined them, immediately volunteering and serving out the term of his enlistment. His last days were spent in Putnam county, Indiana where he died at the venerable age of eighty-six years.
His son, Hiram B. Slavens, the father of our subject, was born in Montgomery county, Kentucky, in 1802, and acquired a good education for those days. For several years in early manhood he taught school in his native county and in 1827 he removed to Putnam county, Indiana, where he entered land from the government and engaged in farming, making his home upon his place which he there developed throughout his remaining days. He was widely known as a loyal and enterprising citizen and a earnest, effective friend of the cause of education. He gave active aid in founding Ashbury University of Indiana and in many other ways showed his deep interest in the intellectual progress of the state. In 1830 he married Sarah Holland, a daughter of William and Susanna (Grant) Holland, of Bath county, Kentucky. Her ancestors came from England and Scotland in colonial days and settled in Virginia.
James W. L. Slavens was reared upon his fatherís farm and assisted in its development until he was old enough to attend school, when he entered the Asbury University of Indiana, pursuing a classical course, which he completed with high honors in 1859. Following his graduation he removed to Douglas county, Illinois, where he was married to Miss Mattie McNutt, a daughter of Collin and Mary McNutt, both natives of Douglas county, Illinois, where Mr. McNutt was engaged in general farming until about 1870. He then removed westward, settling in Kansas City, where he lived retired until his death, while his wife also passed away here.
Prior to his marriage Mr. Slavens had purchased a tract of land in Douglas county, Illinois, and after that important event in his life he settled upon his farm to improve and develop it. He fenced the land and there carried on general agricultural pursuits for a year, after which he placed a tenant upon the property. In the meantime he gave considerable attention to the study of law, which he prosecuted exclusively the ensuing year and in the spring of 1861 he entered upon the practice of the profession in Tuscola, Illinois, with William McKenzie. Soon after the outbreak of the Civil war he enlisted for service in the Seventy-third Illinois Volunteer Regiment and was commissioned quartermaster. Soon after going to the front, however, he was detailed for duty in the subsistence department, where he continued until the close of the war, serving the last year on the staff of Major General George H. Thomas. He was mustered out in July, 1865.
In the fall of that year Mr. Slavens came to Jackson county and after living for a short time in Independence, took up his abode in Kansas City in the spring of 1866. He began the practice of law with his brother, Luther C. Slavens, who is a prominent attorney here and an ex-circuit judge. For seven years he continued in active practice of his profession and then turned his attention to the packing business, becoming one of the first beef and pork packers of Kansas City, thus being a pioneer in the enterprise which is today an important source of income of Kansas City and this portion of the west. In 1867 he was elected city treasurer and served for one year, while in the spring of 1868 he formed a partnership with E. W. Pattison and William Epperson for the purpose of engaging in the beef and pork packing business. They built a large stone house which is still standing in West Kansas City and in the fall of that year they packed forty-five hundred head of cattle, which was the beginning of the large beef packing business for which Kansas City has become celebrated. The following year Mr. Slavens became associated in the packing business in Kansas City, Missouri, with J. C. Ferguson and other well known men of Indianapolis and built a large brick packing-house, carrying on the business for ten years, during which time they annually packed thirteen thousand beef cattle and forty thousand hogs, sending their output to all parts of the world. He devoted his attention to the business until his retirement, the industry constantly growing in volume and importance and yielding a huge annual revenue to the proprietors. For a few years prior to his death he lived retired, having suffered a stroke of paralysis. He was also interested in real estate and owned considerable city property.
Unto Mr. and Mrs. Slavens were born eight children, of whom seven are yet living, namely: James M., who is a traveling salesman for the Moore Chemical & Manufacturing Company of Kansas City, making his home at No. 3737 Genesee street; Hiram C., who resides in New York city; Luther C., who makes his home in Los Angeles, California; Leander P. of Boston, Massachusetts; and a daughter who makes her home in Kansas City; Carl C., who at one time was engaged in the drug business in Kansas City but now makes his home in South Dakota; and Mrs. Clifford Jenkins, whose husband is one of the most prominent merchants of Kansas City.
The death of the husband and father occurred February 10, 1905. Kansas City had come to know and honor him because of his activity and enterprise in business, his unquestioned loyalty to the public good and the sterling traits which he manifested in his social relations. In politics he was an earnest republican, taking an active interest in the party and its work. He was not only called to the office of city treasurer during the early years of his residence here, but in 1877 was elected mayor of Kansas City and for one year served as mayor of Westport, which is now a part of the city. He was opposed to anything like misrule in municipal affairs and stood for progress and improvement, regarding a public office as a public trust. Fraternally he was connected with the Masons and with the Good Templars, the latter association indicating his attitude on the temperance question. Both he and his wife were pioneer members of the Grand Avenue Methodist Episcopal church, in the work of which they took an active part.
Mr. Slavens was a lay delegate to the general conference of the church held in Baltimore in 1876. His position was never an equivocal one and his influence was always found on the side of right, justice, truth and advancement. In his public service he looked beyond the needs and interests of the moment to the exigencies and possibilities of the future and labored not for the day alone but for the succeeding years as well. His early training as a lawyer proved an element in his later success in other ways, for the analytical, intuitive trend of mind which he had cultivated enabled him to readily understand a situation and place correct value upon his opportunities. His business career was marked by steady progress and by the achievement of most honorable success. He had a very wide and extensive acquaintance among the prominent pioneer families and his memory is yet enshrined in the hearts of all who knew him. Mrs. Slavens has until a recent date resided at the old home at No. 3016 Oak street, which she still owns, together with other property which she rents. She is now residing at No. 4123 Jefferson street. She came to Kansas City with her husband in the early years of their married life and has since made her home here, having a large circle of friends in the city.
Kansas City, Missouri: Its History and Its People 1800-1908 (vol. 2)
by Carrie Westlake Whitney, S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., Kansas City, 1908.