“We are Pioneers!”

It’s a chant that I can recall from high school. Many schools have no rationale for their mascot. We do. The founders of Leavenworth who arrived here were farmers, fortune seekers and immigrants looking for a new way of life. These people built our land, our Leavenworth.

One of our most notable pioneers was a man born in Turkey. David Josiah Brewer came to America at a young age with his American missionary parents to start his education. After attending Yale and Albany Law School, he surprised his family by turning down the opportunity to work with them. He told them, “There is life alone in duty done, and rest alone in striving.”

He certainly found strife when he came to this area in 1858. Brewer arrived in Kansas City with his father’s gifts of an umbrella and a pair of rubber shoes, losing the shoes in “the quagmire that they called streets.” He had barely settled here before he joined a group headed to Pike’s Peak for the gold rush. Like many of that era, he did not find gold. In September 1859, Brewer found his way to Leavenworth. At the age of 22, he had 65 cents to his name and said that was enough to put down roots.

Brewer initially struggled in Leavenworth among the many attorneys. He quickly proved his pioneer spirit and gained a reputation as an honest attorney. By 1861, he had married and found steady income as a federal commissioner.

In 1862, Brewer said, “I want to be a legislator. I care nothing about a judicial career.” He came up empty handed. Subsequently, the position of probate judge was offered to him, which he thought was a consolation prize and initially turned it down. He later accepted the position and his judicial career was born.  

In 1864, Brewer won the election to be a First Judicial District judge. Four years later, in 1868, he stepped down to be the Leavenworth County attorney. As judge and county attorney, he viewed lawlessness as an offense to the preservation of the new state and the Union itself. In 1870, Brewer became a Kansas Supreme Court justice. After serving 14 years, President Chester Arthur appointed Brewer to be a U.S. District judge. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison selected him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, where remained until his passing in 1910. He is buried in Leavenworth.

As a justice, Brewer authored many opinions that showed his Leavenworth spirit. He pioneered new ideas, particularly for minorities. As the superintendent of schools in Leavenworth, he helped establish the first school for African-Americans in the state. As a Kansas justice, he authored one of the first judicial opinions upholding the right of an African-American citizen to vote in a general election. As a U.S. justice, Brewer advocated for labor protections for women. Brewer exemplifies Leavenworth’s spirit of hard work, determination and fairness.

Todd Thompson is the Leavenworth County attorney.