Biography of John K. Gowdy
Rush County, IN Biographies





JOHN KENNEDY GOWDY, son of Adam McConnell and Nancy (Oliver) Gowdy, was born at Arlington, in this county on August 23, 1843. In 1849 the family moved from Rush to Jasper county, Indiana, where John K. received his education in the public schools. His father, who was a public speaker of ability, attained prominence in politics and was elected a delegate to the second state constitutional convention which met at Indianapolis in October, 1850, and a member of the legislature for the legislative district then composed of Jasper, White and Pulaski counties. Responding to the nation's call when Civil war threatened the life of the republic, John K. Gowdy enlisted in Company L, Fifth Indiana Volunteer cavalry, at Lafayette, July 17, 1862, at the age of eighteen. He served with his regiment in the pursuit and capture of John Morgan, the notorious raider, and in Kentucky during the spring and summer of 1863; with General Burnside in the East Tennessee campaign during the fall and winter of 1863-64; with General Sherman in the Georgia campaign until after the evacuation of Atlanta, and then with General Thomas at Nashville, Tenn. After three years and three months of service he was mustered out with his company at Pulaski, Tenn., October 5, 1865. After the close of the war he returned to Rush county. On January 24, 1867, Mr. Gowdy was married to Eve E. Gordon, daughter of one of the pioneers of Rush county. To this union were born two children, Latta Theodore, who died in infancy, and Fanny Alice, who was married to Robert E. Mansfield, American consul general to Chile, on April 17, 1906. In 1870, Mr. Gowdy was elected sheriff of Rush county, to which office he was reelected two years later. In 1879, he moved from the farm to Rushville. In 1882, he was elected to the office of auditor of Rush county for a term of four years. at the end of which time he was renominated by his party by acclamation, and again elected, serving eight years as auditor. He also served his party as chairman of the Rush county Republican committee for ten years, 1879 to 1889. In the capacity of chairman of the county committee, and in the management of local political affairs, Mr. Gowdy showed such genius for organization and displayed such splendid executive ability that it brought him into prominence and made him a potent factor in state politics. In 1890, Attorney General Louis T. Michener resigned as chairman of the Indiana Republican state committee, and Mr. Gowdy was chosen to succeed him. In 1892, when the state committee was reorganized he was elected chairman. His ability as a leader enabled him to create and maintain for many years one of the most efficient political organizations ever effected in Indiana. In 1894, Mr. Gowdy was again chosen chairman of the committee, and the success of the party in Indiana in that campaign, when the entire Republican state ticket and thirteen representatives in Congress were elected, the first time in the history of the state that one party secured a full Congressional delegation, added to the reputation that Mr. Gowdy had already gained as an organizer. In 1896 when the Republican state committee was reorganized Mr. Gowdy was chosen chairman for the third time, and it was in the great campaign of that year, when William McKinley was elected President, and the free coinage of silver at the ratio of sixteen to one was made the paramount issue by Mr. Bryan, that the executive ability, resourcefulness and splendid political judgment of Mr. Gowdy were demonstrated. The party was confronted with a new and dangerous issue and disturbed by internal dissension, but under his leadership achieved one of the most notable political victories in the history of he state. During that memorable campaign Mr. Gowdy made the acquaintance and won the friendship of many men of national prominence, including Major McKinley, the presidential candidate, and Mark Hanna, chairman of the Republican national committee. His conduct of the contest in Indiana, which early took an advanced position in favor of the gold standard, received the enthusiastic support of the managers of the national campaign, and focused upon the state the political attention of the entire country. It was during that great contest that Mr. Gowdy's friends bestowed upon him the sobriquet of "Oom Jack," comparing him with Oom Paul Kruger, the great, strong, fighting character of South Africa. The term was one of affection and endearment used by Mr. Gowdy's friends and admirers. Soon after the inauguration of President McKinley in March, 1897, Mr. Gowdy was appointed consul general to Paris, where he achieved the honor and distinction of being one of the most efficient and popular officials who ever represented the United States Government at the French capital. Consul General Gowdy's official residence in Paris covered a most interesting period, and a series of historic events, including the Spanish Anierican war, the meeting in Paris, after the war, of the commission which arranged the terms of peace between the United States and Spain, and the Paris exposition in 1900. Mr. Gowdy was the recipient of many honors and compliments from various societies and organizations in Paris, and from the French government he received the decoration of Officer of the Legion of Honor, being the first American consular officer to have that distinction bestowed upon him. He also received as a mark of esteem from the American Chamber of Commerce in Paris, a beautiful, hand illumined certificate of commendation and appreciation for honorable services rendered that association personally and officially. Among other special and distinguished acts was his assistance in locating the body of John Paul Jones, the American naval hero, whose remains were found in a Paris cemetery, disinterred and returned to his native country under naval escort, and buried at Annapolis with naval honors. On July 3, 1900, Consul General Gowdy delivered the address presenting the statue of George Washington, at Place d' Iena, Paris, a gift of the American people to the French government. It was also his pleasant duty, as consul general, to certify the signature of the signers of the deed of transfer of the Panama canal property by the French government to the United States. After eight and a half years of official residence abroad Mr. Gowdy resigned his position as consul general, and returned with his family to his home in Rushville, to resume his business, and to live among his neighbors and friends. His homecoming was made a gala day by his old friends and neighbors, and many admiring friends throughout the state, who gathered at Rushville in large numbers to receive, and to extend a welcome to him and his family, the reception being characterized by a warmth of greeting and enthusiastic demonstration that testified to the affectionate regard in which he was held by the people in his home and in his native state. Mr. Gowdy represented the best type of American citizenship. Born in Indiana in 1843, his early impressions, education and training were received and character formed during that period of the nation's history when patriotism was the dominant note, and loyalty to the Government and its institutions characterized public sentiment. The best estimate that can be obtained of a man's character and personal worth is the concensus of opinion in the community in which he lives; an estimate based upon an intimate knowledge of his home life. Judged by this standard the memory esteem and affections of the people of Rushville, and of Rush county that evidenced a very high regard for him as a citizen, a neighbor and a friend. Endowed with a strong, but genial personality, a kindly disposition and a charitable nature, he impressed those with whom he came in contact as a man of high ideals and compelling purpose, a leader of men. Positiveness of character was one of Mr. Gowdy's chief characteristics. When once he made up his mind to do a thing, decided upon a plan of action, he pursued it with a determination that never hesitated until the object was achieved, or every resource at his command exhausted. To this fixity of purpose was largely due his success as an organizer. Men believed in and cooperated with him, knowing that once he entered upon a project and, believing he was right, that he would pursue it industriously and determinedly to a conclusion. In 1866, Mr. Gowdy joined the Methodist Episcopal church, of which he remained a consistent and devout member. Although prevented by ill health from attending services, or participating actively in the work for many years, he never lost interest in the progress and welfare of his chosen church, and his. Christian faith continued always to be a comfort and a consolation. He was a charter member of the Rushville post of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Freemason and an Odd Fellow. His charities, which were general and extensive, were conducted so quietly and unostentatiously that few except those who were beneficiaries of his bounty knew to what extent his hand went out to the poor, the needy and distressed. Like his daily life, his charities were inspired and directed by generous, Christian impulses. Although exercising a wide influence for good, personally, morally and socially in the community, and throughout the state, all his private and public acts were characterized by extreme modesty. He was essentially a home person, preferring always the quiet and comforts, the pleasure and intimate associations of the home to the formalities of social life, or the discomforts, and the promiscuous associations encountered in travel and in public places. His love for children was reciprocated, as shown by the affectionate regard in which he was held by all the little folk in the neighborhood of his home. In the summer time crowds of youths of both sexes were wont to gather under the big white tent under the trees in the rear of his home, where he spent most of the days during the hot weather, reading and conversing with the visiting children, and exchanging greetings with passing friends and neighbors. While observing the actions of the children, and listening to their conversation and candid comments on the actions of each other, he frequently remarked: "The hope of the American nation is in these boys and girls, and if properly educated and trained in the ethics of government, the future of the republic is secure." Mr. Gowdy endeavored to inspire the children who came within the sphere of his influence with high ideals, pure motives and, patriotic sentiments. And many Indiana men of the younger generation testify to the inspiration and encouragement they received through his kindly, good advice, and from his patriotic example. Mr. Gowdy died at his home in Rushville on June 25, 1918.

From:
Centennian History of Rush County, Indiana
Edited by: A. L. Gary and E. B. Thomas
Historical Publishing Company
Indianapolis 1921


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