The family of our subject has been known in Richland county since the
pioneer period, and, without invidious comparison, it can with propriety be
said that no other name is better known or more highly esteemed in Richland
county. Honored and respected by all, there is today no man in the county
who occupies a more enviable position in the estimation of the public, not
alone by the success he has achieved, but also for the commendable and
straightforward policies which he has ever pursued and the blameless life he
has lived. He has led a life of noble endeavor, a life not devoid of
hardship and failure, but withal successful and happy and one that is
calculated to benefit any locality, therefore those who know Mr. Higgins are
glad to accord him the respect due him, and in his old age he has the cheer
of loyal friends and the thought that his life has been lived in a manner
that has resulted in no evil or harm to anyone.
Bryant Higgins, an account of whose interesting reminiscences of the early days appears in this work, and who has been one of the leading business and public men in Richland county, who is now living in honorable retirement, enjoying a well-earned respite, was born in Edwards county, Illinois, September 28, 1838. George Higgins, grandfather of the subject, was a native of Connecticut, whose father, Willis Higgins, was born in Ireland, and was a follower of Cromwell. When that great leader went down in defeat, Willis Higgins soon afterward emigrated to America, locating at Hartford, Connecticut, where he passed the remainder of his life. He used the prefix "O" to his name, O'Higgins. He was a military man most of his life, belonging to the English army. George Higgins, grandfather of our subject, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and became a tanner, which profession he followed for a number of years. He came to Illinois in 1803 with his family, settling where is now Friendsville, Wabash county, then known as Edwards county, which included nearly one-third of the state. All was then wilderness west of the Alleghany Mountains. He was among the early pioneers of this state. Many hardships were endured on his trip overland. He took up land, cleared and improved farms. He was a typical pioneer of sterling traits. George Higgins was a Revolutionary soldier, having been in a regiment of Connecticut infantry. The subject has a pair of spectacles which his grandfather wore from Dorchester Heights to Yorktown. It is a relic which he prizes very highly. A well one hundred and fifty feet deep was dug at Friendsville in those days when it was inside of what was then Fort Barney, and George and Ransom Higgins, the latter the subject's father, helped dig the same. It is still in use. George Higgins died there at an advanced age. Our subject's father, Ransom Higgins, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was reared, and in this state he married Ann Bullard, a native of South Carolina. In 1800 Ransom Higgins made the long trip overland on horseback from Hartford to Vincennes, Indiana. It was a trip of inspection to the vicinity of what is now Friendsville for the purpose of finding a place for settlement of a colony which came in 1803, already referred to. He returned to Connecticut in 1801 and accompanied the colony west two years later. He was a millwright and probably built the first mill in this locality in 1805 on the Embarass river. It was driven by water power. It was located where Billet Station now stands on the Big Four Railway, the mill having been built for a Mr. Brown. The father of our subject is described as a very humane man. He was a man of great physical endurance, six feet and four inches in height and weighed two hundred and seventy pounds. About the time he built the mill referred to he found an Indian in the woods with a broken leg, whom he carried to shelter and nursed. Soon after this the Indian warned him that Brown and his family would be killed. Mr. Higgins urged them to leave the mill and seek shelter, but they refused and were soon afterward killed. Mr. Higgins was afterwards known to the Indians as "Big Medicine Man." He was Justice of the Peace for many years, being among the first in the territory. He was also Overseer of the Poor. He was a man of great bravery and courage and made a gallant soldier in the War of 1812, and also in the Black Hawk war, and enlisted for the Mexican war, but was later sent home. He was at the battle of Tippecanoe. His death occurred in 1850 in Edwards county, at the age of sixty-eight years. His faithful life companion, a woman of many fine traits, passed to her rest in Olney at the age of seventy-nine years. They were the parents of eight children, all deceased except the subject of this sketch, who was the youngest of the family.
Bryant Higgins, our subject, was reared amid pioneer scenes on a farm. He attended subscription and public schools, also had private tutors, and made good use of his opportunity, such as it was in those early days, to secure a fairly good education. He studied civil engineering and surveying under a Mr. Sloan, making rapid progress in this line of work, which he followed with gratifying results for many years. He located in Richland county in 1851, and has since resided here. He did much of the early surveying in Richland county and has seen the same develop from the wilderness to its present high position among the sister counties of this great commonwealth, always doing his just share in the work of progress.
Mr. Higgins was one of the loyal sons of the Union who was glad to offer his services under the old flag when the dark days of rebellion came, having been among the earliest to enlist in April, 1861, in Company D, Eighth Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry, his enlistment having been for three months. The subject and John Lynch were instrumental in organizing Company D, which was the first company organized and mustered from Richland county. After his first term of enlistment had expired he enlisted in Company G, Twenty-sixth Illinois Volunteer Infantry, in which he served in a most gallant manner until the close of the war, having been mustered out at Moscow, Tennessee, in 1865. During his service he was in the siege of Corinth and the battles there, also fought at Iuka, Farmington, the siege of Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge, the siege of Atlanta. He was wounded at Farmington, Mississippi, May 9, 1862, having been hit in the right elbow by a piece of shell. He was examined for promotion twice and was on General Loomis' staff, but was not commissioned, being orderly sergeant. Nineteen years after the war closed he was presented with a badge made at Meriden, Connecticut. It was given to Mr. Higgins by Gen. John Mason Loomis, who had it made in recognition of services rendered by the subject. The arrangement of the badge commemorates the Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Seventeenth and Twentieth Army Corps, the subject having been a member of the Fifteenth, John A. Logan's Corps, which was never defeated, and was never set against a town it did not capture. The old cartridge box of forty rounds became the badge of the Fifteenth Army Corps.
After the war Mr. Higgins returned home, having married in 1862 while on a trip to Springfield, Illinois, on military business. He took up surveying and civil engineering and did much work settling old disputed business. In 1892 he was elected County Surveyor, being the only Republican on the ticket elected in a Democratic county, which fact proved his great popularity in his locality. He has lived in Olney many years and has taken an active interest in the welfare of the community. In the spring of 1907 he was elected a member of the City Council, being the sixth year as a member of the same. He also served one term as City Surveyor. He now lives retired in a beautiful and comfortable home, modern and nicely furnished.
The wife of Mr. Higgins was Sarah E. Marney before her marriage, the daughter of Robert and Sarah E. (Morris) Marney, pioneers of Richland county, where Mrs. Higgins was born. Her father was a native of Scotland and her mother was born in Kentucky. The Morris family were great slave owners, bringing them to Illinois, and later freed them here. Colonel Morris, grandfather of Mrs. Higgins, also her father, Robert Marney, were in the War of 1812 and were in the battle of Tippecanoe, Colonel Morris being wounded there. Robert Marney was the first Probate Judge of Richland county.
Mr. and Mrs. Higgins are the parents of five children, four boys and one girl, two of whom are living. Their oldest son, Lew K., is in the employ of the Wells Fargo Express Company at Oakland, California. James, the youngest son, is fireman on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; Edward died in infancy; Mary died at the age of sixteen years; Robert was killed in a railroad wreck in Arizona when thirty years old, having been conductor on the Santa Fe Railroad.
Mr. Higgins has been a keen and alert man of affairs, and long a man of power in his community. Over half a century has passed since he came to this county and his name is inscribed high on the roll of honored pioneers.
Extracted 26 Apr 2017 by Norma Hass from 1909 Biographical and Reminiscent History of Richland, Clay and Marion Counties, Illinois, pages 20-23.