Biography of Joseph Kelley Cornelius

Joseph Kelley Cornelius, born June 20, 1830, in Henry County, Kentucky, is a prominent pioneer of Richardson County, Nebraska. He moved to Illinois at twenty-one, then to Richardson County in 1860, purchasing 320 acres of land. Cornelius engaged in freighting during the early 1860s, surviving an Indian attack near the Arkansas River. Returning to farming in 1865, he expanded his holdings to 880 acres, becoming a leading local agriculturist. He retired to Humboldt in 1911. Married to Maria Tighe in 1866, they had six children. Cornelius was active in community and church affairs and supported Woodrow Wilson in the 1916 election.

Joseph K Cornelius
Joseph K Cornelius

It is a fine thing to see a man who has come down to the autumn of his years, after life’s trying vicissitudes, and find that his nature has not been embittered but still retains its sunshine and serenity, as has been the case with Joseph Kelley Cornelius, one of the venerable and honored pioneer citizens of Richardson county, who is residing at Humboldt. He was born in Henry county, Kentucky, June 20, 1830, and is therefore eighty-seven years old at this writing (1917). He is a son of Isaiah Cornelius, who was born in England, August 26, 1795, and died May 6, 1866. The latter’s father, Matthew Cornelius, immigrated from England to America in 1796, locating at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where his son Isaiah was reared. He was bound out until he was twenty-one years of age as an apprentice. After his marriage he bought a farm, but not being a man of robust health he engaged in the lighter occupation of school teaching, also he was a minister of the gospel. He came West in an early day and his death occurred in the state of Missouri. His family consisted of ten children, of which number Joseph K., of this sketch, was fifth in order of birth, and the only one now living. His wife was Elizabeth Holmes before her marriage.

Joseph K. Cornelius received a common school education in Kentucky. When twenty-one years old he went to Illinois, where he engaged in farming about nine years. In the spring of 1860 he came to Richardson county Nebraska, locating in Porter precinct, five miles east of Humboldt, when settlers were few and the vast plains were the domain of red men and wild beasts. He got a tract of three hundred and twenty acres direct from the government, for which he paid as low as ninety cents per acre. He purchased land warrants. He began life in typical pioneer fashion, put up a small log cabin, and broke the virgin sod. However, his health being frail he drove oxen on the plains for some time in 1862, southwest of Denver, Colorado. His health improving he worked a while as a driver and freighter between Deliver and Laramie, Wyoming, during the summers of 1863 and 1864. There were twenty teams in his outfit, and once, while on his last return trip from Leavenworth to Fort Union, New Mexico, while encamped near the Arkansas river he encountered a band of hostile Indians, a fight ensued, and although soldiers were only a half mile away they did not help. Mr. Cornelius was at the rear of the wagon train when the savages fired at him, but missed, killing an ox. Before the fight was over it was found that ten white men and two negroes had been killed and several wounded. All they had of value was stolen and carried away by the raiders. The Indians finally went away, fearing the soldiers. Bert Edwards, a young man in the party of teamsters, was killed. Al Edwards was also scalped, as was a boy named Magee, and a man named Waddell, who was lying sick in one of the wagons, was killed and scalped. It seems that Captain Davenport, with forty soldiers, well armed, was nearby, but for some reason, possibly fearing the Indians, the captain left the wagon train to its fate. Mr. Cornelius had a number of narrow escapes from death. just after his last trip he was sick at Fort Leavenworth for two weeks.

After his career on the plains, Mr. Cornelius returned to his farm in Richardson county, which he developed and improved, operating it successfully from 1865 to 1911. Prospering through good management and close application he added to his original holdings until he had a total of eight hundred and eighty acres, all of which he still owns. He farmed on an extensive scale and raised large herds of live stock annually for the markets, in fact, he ranked among the most progressive agriculturists in the southeastern part of the state for a period of over a quarter of a century. Having accumulated a handsome competency and on account of advancing age he retired from active work in 1911 and moved to Humboldt, where he owns an attractive modern home, and here he is living comfortably, surrounded by all that goes to make life easy and pleasant, enjoying a well-earned respite after a long life of industry.

Mr. Cornelius was married on December 5, 1866, to Maria Tighe, who was born in Ireland in 1840. She is a daughter of Murtaugh Tighe, who brought his family to America from Ireland; he first lived in Illinois and later located in Richardson county. Nebraska, in the spring of 1865.

The following children have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius: Alpheus B., who lives on the homestead in Porter precinct; John M. is a ranchman in Canada; Nellie is at home; Kittie is also a member of the family circle; Logan is farming a part of the home place in Porter precinct, and Bessie is at home. There are seven grandchildren.

Politically, Mr. Cornelius is a Republican, but he supported Woodrow Wilson in the general election of 1916. He is a member of the Christian church. He has always assisted in any movement having for its object the general upbuilding of his precinct and county, and his personal reputation has never been assailed. He owns several hundred acres of land in Canada.


Edwards, Lewis C., History of Richardson County, Nebraska : Its People, Industries and Institutions, Indianapolis : B.F. Bowen, 1917.

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