Biography of Hon. Ezekiel J. Sankey
Decatur County, IA Biographies





Hon. Ezekiel J. Sankey, of Leon, has taken a very important part in local public affairs and for three terms represented his district in the lower house of the state legislature. He was for many years a farmer and stock raiser in Decatur county but is now engaged in the real estate and farm loan business. His birth occurred on the 2d of August, 1843, at Potters Mills, Center county, Pennsylvania, and he is a son of Ezekiel and Elizabeth (Brown) Sankey. The Brown family is of English descent and was early established in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, where representatives of the name gained prominence as cloth manufacturers. The paternal grandfather, Ezekiel Sankey, who with two brothers emigrated to America from Scotland before the Revolution and located in Pennsylvania, enlisted in the Pennsylvania line for service in the war for independence and participated in the battle of Long Island, where he was wounded and captured by the British. He was held on the British prison ship in Wallabout bay, Brooklyn, New York, and suffered the cruelties then inflicted on prisoners by the enemy. At length he was exchanged and as soon as he had sufficiently recovered from the effects of his wounds he reentered the service and was at the front until the close of the war, being with the colors in all for five years and nine months. After the close of hostilities he was married and settled in York county, Pennsylvania. He was the father of three children, Sarah, Thomas and Ezekiel.

Ezekiel Sankey, the father of our subject, was born in York county, Pennsylvania, and is a second cousin of the late Ira D. Sankey, the noted evangelist, who worked for many years with Dwight L. Moody. Ezekiel Sankey was a minister of the gospel and a co laborer of John Winebrenner, one of the founders of the church of that name. Mr Sankey preached in Pennsylvania but in 1849 came west to Burlington, Iowa, intending to locate upon a farm and devote his time to agricultural pursuits. On the 26th of April of that year he arrived in Burlington with his family and ten hours later his son Thomas died of cholera, while two hours after the demise of the son the father died of the same dread disease, which was then epidemic. The mother of our subject was born in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, and was married in 1839. There were but two children in the family: Ezekiel J., of this review; and Thomas D., who was born on the 4th of July, 1845. Following the sudden demise of the latter and of the father Mrs. Sankey and our subject were left alone among strangers two thousand miles from home and with but limited means. The mother would have returned to Pennsylvania but was forbidden to do so by the health authorities. In the fall of 1849 some Pennsylvanians of her acquaintance came west and she joined them, settling in Concord township, Louisa county, Iowa. Subsequently she married Samuel Fittro, a native of Pennsylvania, and they resided twelve miles southwest of Muscatine until the demise of Mr. Fittro in 1854. In 1856 she removed to Decatur county, where she resided until 1901, dying at the age of eighty years, in the faith of the Methodist Episcopal church, to which she belonged. All of the children of the second marriage are deceased and our subject has practically no relatives living save his immediate family.

Ezekiel J Sankey attended a subscription school from 1850 to 1851 and later the public schools. In 1856 he removed with his mother to this county, locating four miles north and a half mile east of Leon, where he resided until August 15, 1861, when he enlisted in Company L, Third Iowa Volunteer Cavalry. In January, 1864, he reenlisted for three years as a veteran, and on the 11th of June of that year was wounded at the battle of Guntown. He was sent back to Memphis and then returned home on furlough but as soon as possible rejoined the army although the wound in his leg was not yet healed. He was honorably discharged on the 26th of February, 1865, on account of wounds, after serving for almost four years. He was with the Army of the Tennessee and participated in the campaigns in Tennessee and Mississippi. His regiment was a part of Wilson's Cavalry Corps, which was under the command of General Wilson. Twenty years after the close of the war it was necessary to have his left leg amputated about eight inches from the thigh joint as a result of the wound received at Guntown.

Upon returning home from the front Mr. Sankey purchased one hundred and eighty five acres of land in Franklin township, Decatur county, and turned his attention to the operation of his farm, while his mother kept house for him until his marriage. In 1867 he was elected sheriff of Decatur county and two years later was reelected to that office, having proved able and fearless in the discharge of his duties. At the expiration of his second term he purchased a farm on West Elk creek, in Grand River township, and operated it as a stock farm until January 1, 1878. He then removed to Leon, as he had been elected county treasurer. He has since resided in Leon and during the intervening thirty seven years has contributed much to the development of the city. From 1885 until 1889, or for four terms, he was clerk of the district and circuit courts and since leaving that office has devoted the greater part of his time to the real estate and farm loan business, in which he has met with gratifying success. In 1900, however, he was the democratic candidate for clerk of the supreme court and received about one hundred and eighty nine thousand votes as against one hundred and ninety one thousand votes cast for the republican candidate. In 1903 he was chosen to represent his district in the house of the state legislature and served throughout the thirtieth and thirty first general assemblies. In 1908 he was again elected as state representative, defeating his republican opponent by a majority of two hundred and four although the district normally returns a three hundred and fifty republican majority. No better proof of the confidence in which he is held by his fellow citizens could be found than in his repeated election to offices of trust and responsibility and he has at all times proved worthy of the honor.

Mr. Sankey was married in Center township on the 6th of May, 1866, to Miss Mary M. Gillham, who passed away in 1907, when fifty nine years of age, leaving eight children, namely: Eugenia, the wife of Fred Teale, cashier of the Farmers & Traders' Bank of Leon; Moreau, of Des Moines, who is married and has three sons; Kate, the wife of T. J. Smith, of this county; Lois, who married James A. Lea, of Pocatello, Idaho; Newton, who is engaged in mining in southwestern Colorado; Cleora, a trained nurse now living in San Francisco; Warren, who is a traveling salesman with headquarters at Indianapolis and who is married; Carlisle, a resident of Iowa, who is married. Thomas and Bessie died at the ages of fifteen and six years respectively.

Mr. Sankey is one of the leaders in democratic circles in this part of the state and has done much to secure the success of the party at the polls. He at one time belonged to the Masonic order but is not now affiliated with that organization and has also allowed his membership in the Grand Army of the Republic to lapse although he helped to organize the local post. He is in sympathy with the beliefs of the Protestant churches and his life has conformed to high moral principles, but he is not a member of any church. He gives the credit for whatever success in life he has achieved to his mother, whose energy, ability and unswerving integrity have been an inspiration to him to perform every duty to the best of his ability. When the railroads were first being built in this part of the state, in 1872, he did much to secure rail connection with the outside world for Decatur county and throughout the more than half century that he has resided in this county he has at all times sought to further its advancement. There are few if any better known men in the county and none are held in greater respect and esteem than he.

From:
History of Decatur County, Iowa
And its People
Vol II
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Chiago 1915


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