Robert BURGESS, of Wenona, the most extensive importer of registered draft horses in America, his name well known throughout the country in this connection, is a native of Devonshire, England, born June 9, 1852. His parents, William and Jane (ELLICOTT) BURGESS, were farming people of that country. The parents both died when Robert was in his youth. He was reared to farm life and received but limited educational privileges. He worked at farm labor in his native country until he was eighteen years of age. He was about to be bound out to a blacksmith but thinking that he would not like that pursuit he entered upon an apprenticeship to the tailor's trade. He did not find it congenial either so he asked for the fifty dollars which was the sum of his inheritance from his father and with that limited capital started for America. He sailed from Liverpool in 1870 and landed in New York city, after which he proceeded on an emigration train with about twelve hundred emigrants from New York to Chicago. He did not like the companionship, however, and wishing to get rid of the party he was with, he looked upon the map and there saw the town of Ottawa, to which place he proceeded. He then at once began the search for employment and in the vicinity of Ottawa worked at farm labor for two years and was afterward in a paper factory in the city for about eighteen months. During that time he saved up a few hundred dollars and with this capital he purchased a half interest in a half bred stallion sired by old Louis Napoleon, for which he paid four hundred dollars. This was his start as a breeder of horses, a business in which he has continued with splendid success, until he today stands foremost as an importer of registered draft horses in America. The Farmers' Mail and Breeze of Topeka, Kansas, has said:
The great Wenona Stud has not only led in numbers but in addition has carried off the highest honors at the great fairs and shows in competition with the best horses in America. The Wenona Stud since 1900 has won the following championships at the International Livestock Show which is held at Chicago each year and is considered the greatest horse and cattle show in America. For four years since 1900 they have shown the champion stallion, each year winning on a different horse. In 1900 Jim Corbett 4898, was champion. In 1902 Southgate Marmion 6524 (15859) was champion. In 1904 Childwell Chorister 7550 (20348) was champion, and took the gold medal as the best imported stallion, and in 1905 the magnificent young stallion, Rolleston Wonder 7931 (22730) carried off the championship. BURGESS' victory was complete when in 1905 he not only showed the champion but carried off the first prize on group of five stallions, winning with Burston Pride, Magnum Bonum IV, Rolleston Wonder, Bank Jack Tar and Conger. Cottered Prince 7549 (19516) was the champion Shire at the World's Fair, 1904; and at the Lewis and Clark Exposition 1905, Redlynch Conquerer 6521 was champion Shire. Robert Burgess & Son were also the only exhibitors that won three champions and three grand champions on stallions at the St. Louis Fair. The success of the Wenona Stud has not been accidental. It is the result of a lifetime of work and careful study, close application to strict, safe business methods and knowing what breed and type of horse was most suited to the needs of a great, new and undeveloped country. For upward of thirty years Robert BURGESS has devoted his entire time to building up at Wenona the great business of which this article treats. He has been a tireless worker, spending months of each year, winter and summer, in France, Belgium and England. Mr. BURGESS puts the value of his show herd at about eighty-five thousand dollars, which is certainly a very conservative estimate."
When Mr. BURGESS landed in New York he had but fifteen dollars in his pocket. He embarked in his present business connection with his brother Charles, with whom he was associated for twenty years. The partnership was dissolved about twelve years ago and seven years ago Robert BURGESS admitted his only son Charles into a partnership under the firm style of Robert Burgess & Son. Mr. BURGESS probably owns the finest farm in the state of Illinois. It is known as the Meadow Lawn farm and adjoins Galesburg. He also has other extensive real-estate interests in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and Minnesota.
On the 2d of May, 1872, Mr. BURGESS was united in marriage to Miss Evalyn WILCOX, a native of Massachusetts, and they have three children: Charles, Bertie and Mabel. The son wedded Anna McEACHEM, of Marshall county, Illinois, and they have two children, Robert And Charles.
During his many trips abroad Mr. BURGESS has won many friends, not a few among the royalty. He is an interesting and entertaining gentleman, having greatly broadened his knowledge through travel and the experiences- which it brings. Coming to America practically a penniless boy, he is now a millionaire and his success stands as an illustration of what may be accomplished by energy, close application and strength of character. He has ever been watchful of opportunities and has utilized the means at hand. Moreover he has conducted his affairs along such strictly honorable business principles that his name stands as a synonym for business probity to all acquainted with his history. Fortune has certainly dealt kindly with him, for all the blessings that fall to man on earth seem to be his. Yet he is a self-made man in the fullest sense of that oft misused term, his prosperity resulting from his industry and integrity. It is to such men that the west owes its prosperity, its rapid growth and its advancement. In everything pertaining to the upbuilding of his adopted county he takes an active part and is a liberal contributor to the enterprises that insure its progress.
Extracted July 2011 by Norma Hass from Past and Present of Marshall and Putnam Counties Illinois, 1907.