Hiram Milton Northrup, the only son of Andrus Bishop and Martha McHenry Northrup, was born in Oleon, New York on June 4,1818. His mother died when he was two years old, at which time his Aunt Sarah Lockwood, his mother’s sister, cared for him until he was 14.
Under her care, he received a good common school education, and just before his aunt’s death, he got a job in the store of Rumsey & Day in Olean. After working for about a year, he went to McKean County, Pennsylvania, where he got a job teaching in a district school of some 60 students for $8.00 per month. In 1835, he rafted down the Ohio River to Cincinnati and engaged in shipbuilding. In 1838, joined his father, who ran a store in Wetumpka, Alabama. A year later, he was given the management of his father’s store and, soon afterward, a share in the business, the firm becoming Northrup & Son. However, in 1844, his father lost whatever assets and money they had collected.
Hiram then relocated to Westport (Kansas City,) Missouri, at which time it was little more than a few huts and shanties. Northrup immediately engaged in the Indian trade, his first venture being with the Comanche of Texas and New Mexico, which proved disastrous. He and other men went as far as the Verdigris River, where one of the men died, others were taken sick, and the Osage Indians robbed them of nearly all of their goods and stock. Though he barely escaped with his life, Hiram was undaunted and soon partnered with E. P. Hart in the Indian trade.
Hiram then went to St. Louis, Missouri, where he made the acquaintance of several heavy dealers. Though he was without capital, he was able to secure, on credit, $3,500 in goods that were immediately shipped to Kansas City, Missouri. The following year Mr. Hart sold his interest to Pierre M. Chouteau, who held it for 12 months before selling it to Northrup. Hiram continued the establishment alone for many years. His trade continually increased until it included the Wyandot, Shawnee, Delaware, Peoria, Piankeshaw, Potawatomi, Osage, Kanza, Seneca, Sac and Fox, and Cherokee tribes. From the Indians, he bought or traded furs, robes, peltries, wool, horses, and cattle, which he shipped to eastern markets.
After a few seasons, he united his interest with those of Silas Armstrong and Joel Walker of the Wyandot tribe.
Northrup was married at Wyandotte (Kansas City, Kansas) at the Methodist Mission, on November 27, 1845, to Margaret Clark, the accomplished daughter of Thomas Clark, chief of the Wyandot Nation. The Northrups would eventually have four sons. Hiram became a member of the Wyandotte tribe by adoption and was elected to one of the Legislative committees of that nation. In the next years, he took a deep personal interest in their affairs, defended their rights, and labored to correct the abuses practiced upon them and other tribes.
Afterward, he embarked on the Santa Fe trade, in partnership with Joseph S. Chick, under the firm name of Northrup & Chick. They sold the first bill of goods sold wholesale in Kansas City, Missouri. His firm also sold the first goods that went to Topeka, Lawrence, Manhattan, Emporia, Humboldt, and the Osage Mission. Their trading posts were established all over the Indian Territory, and their trade extended to New Mexico, Arizona, and the territory that now includes Colorado, Utah, Western Missouri, and the Cherokee Nation. Soon, the company controlled a large share of the Santa Fe trade. Their sales at the various posts amounted to upwards of $300,000 annually.
After the Town of Kansas was laid out, Northrup bought two lots for $115, where he built a log house on what is now the corner of Main and Fourth Streets. He was part owner of the steamer Lizzie, which attempted the navigation of the Kansas River.
They also established the first post office at that point and became responsible to the Government for all deficiencies in the receipts to meet the mail service. The firm also, at one time, when the credit of the Kansas City, Missouri, was worth almost nothing, loaned the city $60,000, which was expended on public improvements.
In July 1856, a Northrup & Chick wagon loaded for the New Mexican trade was stolen just outside of Westport. The theft led to the organizing of a local vigilance committee. Later in the year, a new route blazed into Kansas through Iowa and avoided Kansas City. It was estimated that 20,000 took this route in 1857.
In 1857, Northrup & Chick established a branch of the Union Bank of Missouri in Kansas City. Northrup was then made president of the first bank west of Lexington, Missouri.
A few years before the Civil War began, he was sent by the Wyandot council to Washington, D.C. as their agent to collect about $ 53,000 due them from the government. The amount was collected and paid over to the satisfaction of the nation.
In 1860, when the Missouri Legislature passed a law prohibiting private bankers from holding office in any State bank, Northrup was obliged to resign his position at the bank.
Just after the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, a party of 15 Jayhawkers entered and robbed the bank of Northrup & Co. The banking house of Northrop & Co. then moved to New York City due to the general insecurity of life and property in Western Missouri. While in New York, Northrup was a director of the Hanover National Bank, a member of the New York Stock Exchange and of the Gold Exchange, and favorably known to all the leading merchants and bankers of the city. The bank was prosperous in New York until the panic of 1873, when, like many similar institutions, it suspended business.
Closing up his affairs in New York, Northrup returned to the West, locating in Wyandotte, Kansas, where his real estate interests were considerable. Here he established the banking house of Northrup & Son and soon built up one of the most reliable banking institutions in the West. On June 1, 1887, the bank was reorganized and renamed the Northrup Banking Company, with H. M. Northrup as president, A. B. Northrup as vice president, and K. L. Browne as cashier.
Hiram’s wife, Margaret Clark Northrup, died at their home in Wyandotte, Kansas, on June 28, 1887, prompting the Wyandotte Herald newspaper to write:
“… no woman ever filled the place of wife and mother with greater affection or more conscientiously… In all her relations in life, she sustained her part well, meeting all the requirements and all the responsibilities of wife, mother, neighbor, and friend, in a becoming manner, always doing her whole duty and doing it well. Her many excellent qualities of head and heart gathered around her a large circle of warm, personal friends, who at her death attested their appreciation of her virtues by numerous floral offerings, and by following her remains to their last resting place in Huron Place.”
Northrup was known and respected for his kindly and genial disposition, his sunny and equable temper, and his large benevolence and generosity toward his fellow men. He lives quietly and unostentatiously in Wyandotte, working daily, even at his advanced age, preferring to wear out rather than to rust out.
Hiram Milton Northrup died on March 22, 1893, at the age of 74. He was buried next to his wife at the Huron Indian Cemetery
Kansas City, Kansas
Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
Cutler, William G; History of Kansas; A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1883.
Latin American Studies