Bio: Coon, James K. Polk (Commemorative Bio - 1895)

Poster: Crystal Wendt


James K. Polk Coon

James K. Polk Coon (deceased), Prominent among the names of the representative business men of Lincoln County, more especially of the city of Merrill, is found that of this gentleman, who for several years was a leader in the community, and became a martyr in his devotion to his country.

He was born September 27, 1844, in West Edmeston, Otsego Co., N. Y., a son of Elijah H. and Prudence C. Coon, the former of whom was also a native of New York State, born of Scottish ancestry, and was a son of Jabez Coon. The latter was one of five brothers who came to America, settling in Otsego County, N. Y., on farms near Coonsville, in that county, which village was named after them. Jabez Coon married Matilda Holmes, by whom he had thirteen children, six reaching mature age, viz.: Elijah H. (the eldest of the family), Nelson, Daniel, Joshua, Jefferson and Betsey, the others dying when young. Jabez Coon was one of a hardy, robust race, was a man of influence in his day, and was respected far and wide for his many good qualities, as was also the entire family. Mrs. Prudence C. Coon, mother of James K. Polk Coon, was an adopted child (brought up by her uncle, Rev. Daniel Coon, who was a brother of her mother, Mrs. Nancy Coon Bowler), and she was of Scotch and Irish descent. Rev. Daniel Coon and two other of her uncles were noted ministers of their day.

Elijah H. and Prudence Coon were the parents of eight children, to wit: Fannie A., now the widow of Albert Burdick, and living at Merrill; Elijah Morgan, also of Merrill; Cortland J., deceased; William M., deceased; James K. P., deceased, subject of sketch; Julius J., of Toledo, Ohio; Mrs. Emma Witter, of Wausau, Wis.; and Mrs. Alice Champagne Fleming of Merrill. The father was by vocation a manufacturer of and dealer in furniture; was something of a politician, and held many prominent public offices. He was a man of sterling character, well educated, a leader of men, enjoying to the day of his death the esteem and respect all classes. He died in Delaware County, N. Y., in 1853, his wife surviving him till August 16, 1887, when, in the city of Merrill, she too passed away.

James K. Polk Coon, the subject proper of this memoir, received but a limited education at the common schools of his native county, remaining with his mother up to the time of his enlistment in the army, in the meantime working out among the neighboring farmers. He had a war record worthy of prominent mention, and suffered much while in the service of the Union. At the age of seventeen, October 14, 1861, he enlisted at Friendship, Allegany Co., N. Y., in Company C, Eighty-Fifth N. Y. V. I., three years services, and was honorably discharged April 24, 1865. He participated in the siege of Yorktown, Va., battles of Williamsburg and Fair Oaks, and in the seven-days; retreat. In the campaign along the railroad between Newbern and Goldsboro, N. C., his regiment was under the fire of the Confederates seven days, thence it proceeded to Plymouth, and was in the attack on Fort Gray, where, after three days’ hard fighting, the entire command was taken prisoners, Mr. Coon along with the rest. He was first confined in Andersonville and Charleston, S. C., whence, October 8, 1864, he was transferred to the stockade at Florence, where, on January 9, 1865, he and four others “made a break” for freedom. Their flight, however, was soon discovered, and bloodhounds being put on their track, they were captured seven days afterward at the Little Pee Dee river and taken to Wilmington, thence to Goldsboro, Raleigh and Salisbury, making short stops at each place till they came to the last named. On February 26, 1865, the end of the struggle being now at hand, our subject and the rest of the prisoners were sent to Greensboro, N. C., where they were paroled and allowed to make the best of their way to Wilmington, N. C., at which point the Union forces were stationed, Mr. Coon arriving there, March 1, 1865, whence he was sent to Parole Camp, Annapolis, Md., where he was laid up with fever, brought about by severe hardships and lack of proper food, etc.; but, receiving a furlough, he set out for his old home and to his mother, who, until she received a letter from him, written at Annapolis after his release from captivity, thought him dead. He reached home the night the President Lincoln’s assassination.

After his returned to the pursuits of peace Mr. Coon was engaged some twelve years in the manufacture of butter and cheese in New York State, and in 1878 he came to Merrill, his first employment being with P. B. Champagne, merchant and lumberman. In the following year (1879) our subject went to Illinois, where he again took up, near Peoria, the cheese-manufacturing industry; but in 1880 he returned to Wisconsin, again entering the employ of P. B. Champagne, having charge of his general store at Merrill. In December, 1884, he was appointed secretary and treasurer of the Champagne Lumber Co., which incumbency he filled two years, or until 1886, when he attended the anniversary of the Grand Army of the Republic, held at San Francisco, Cal. On February 1, 1887, he took up the insurance business; later, in company with Mr. Bruce, he engaged in the real-estate and insurance business at Merrill, in which he continued up to the time of his death. He died February 21, 1893, at Tucson, Ariz., whither he had gone for the benefit of his health. He was a public spirited, generous-hearted and whole-souled man, one who made many friends, who deeply mourned the taking away, in the prime of life, of good man. He left a sorrowing widow and two children, mention of whom will be made further on. In politics he was a zealous Democrat, but no office-seeker, and though often urged to accept office invariably declined the honor, preferring, rather, to work for this friend. In social affiliations he was a thirty-second degree Mason, always taking a lively interest in the affairs of the Order, and he was also prominent in the G. A. R., having served Lincoln Post no. 131, at Merrill, as commander, and was junior vice-commander during the incumbency of General Weissert, as commander of the State department. He was also aid-de-camp of the staff of Gen. Lucius Fairchild during the years 1886 and 1887, up to his decease-in fact he ever took a most active interest in the G. A. R., and was a zealous, untiring worker in its interests. 

On December 5, 1865, Mr. Coon was married to Miss Alice Vilmina Withey, who was born in the town of Wirt, in the western part of Allegany County, N. Y., March 9, 1849, daughter of George and Catherine (Moyer) Withey, who were the parents of seven children, viz.; Mary, Caroline, Sarah, Alvira, Alice V., Jennie and Helen. The father of these children was born in Otsego County, N. Y., in 1807, and died in western Allegany County, N. Y., in January, 1879; he was a son of Stephen and Lydia Withey, who had four children: Alva, Eliza, George and Harriet. Stephen Withey was born about the year 1769, and lived to be ninety-two years of age. The mother of Mrs. Alice V. Coon was born in Germany July 22, 1821, and died April 15, 1893, at Bolivar, Allegany Co., N. Y.; she was a daughter of Jacob and Mary Moyer, farming people, who had a family of eight children, named respectively; Caroline, Dorothy, Elizabeth, Mary, Jacob, John, Catherine and Louis, all born in Germany. The parents came with their family to America about the year 1833 on account of the father’s health, and decided to remain; but he did not long survive his arrival in the New World. To Mr. and Mrs. Coon have been born two children: Mamie Genevieve, born in Richburg, Allegany Co., N. Y., march 21, 1870, married to Herman Charles Wolff (sketch of whom follows): and Georgia Prue, born in Merrill, Wis.; September 24, 1880, and entered Kemper Hall school at Kenosha, Wis., on her fifteenth birthday.

---Source: Commemorative Biographical Record of the Upper Wisconsin Counties of Waupaca, Portage, Wood, Marathon, Lincoln, Oneida, Vilas, Langlade and Shawano. publ. 1895 by J. H. Beers & Co., Chicago 1110 pages, illustrated; Page 86-88


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