Morris County Kansas Appraiser A Story of Immigration and Generational Land Ownership

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Welcome to the Kansas Oral History Project, where we delve into the stories of legislators who served from the 1960s through 2000. In today’s interview, Dave Webb, an auctioneer and appraiser, sits down with Phil Martin, a resident of Pittsburg, Kansas, to discuss his family history and the legacy of land ownership in Morris County, Kansas. Join us as we uncover the fascinating journey of Martin’s ancestors, their immigration from Italy to Kansas, and their establishment of a successful farming operation.

The Journey from Italy to Kansas

Martin begins his story by sharing the incredible tale of his great-grandparents’ journey from Italy to Kansas. In 1885, his great-grandfather and great-grandmother left Turin, Italy, and settled in the Americas. They made this momentous decision to escape the turmoil in Italy, as their sons were eligible for the draft and Italy was engaged in numerous wars. The family arrived at Ellis Island and eventually made their way to Oswego, Kansas, where they bought an 80-acre tract of land. After a few years, they moved to the Weir Scamming area and purchased a larger plot of 160 acres. Martin’s great-grandfather generously gave each of his sons a farm, ensuring that the land remained within the family for generations.

The Significance of Oats and Mining in Morris County

On their farm, Martin’s ancestors primarily grew oats, which were used to feed the mules working in the nearby mining area. During that time, mining operations did not have advanced machinery like conveyors and drag lines. Instead, they relied on wheel power. Martin’s family played a significant role in supporting the mining industry through their oat production. He also highlights the unique method his great-grandparents used to secure their land in Kansas. They sent money to a trusted individual in Oswego, who purchased the property on their behalf. Today, such a transaction may seem risky, but in those times, it was a common practice guided by trust and familiarity.

The Legacy of Land Ownership in the Martin Family

As the interview progresses, Martin shares the remarkable story of generational land ownership in his family. His grandfather married his grandmother in 1906, and they had five children. Three of the sons continued farming, while his father pursued a different path. Eventually, Martin and his father inherited an 80-acre plot of land adjacent to their home, expanding their total holdings to 160 acres. The significance of this story lies in the fact that Martin’s great-grandfather had given each of his sons a piece of land, ensuring the continuity of their farming legacy. This strong connection to the land is a testament to the family’s hard work and dedication.

Life in Pittsburg, Kansas

Growing up in Pittsburg, Kansas, Martin attended Pittsburg High School and later pursued a graduate degree in economics at Pittsburgh University. He decided to remain in Pittsburg, making it his home for the majority of his life. Martin briefly left the area when he served in the Army Reserves during the Vietnam era. However, he returned afterward and became involved in various roles, including serving as a deputy County Treasurer and later as the County Appraiser for Crawford County.

The Evolution of Property Valuation

Martin delves into the changes in property valuation that occurred during his tenure as County Appraiser. Initially, the primary focus was on personal property valuation, as real estate values remained fixed and only the additions and new buildings were considered for assessment. Personal property, such as farm machinery, oil, and gas inventories, were the major areas of concern for taxation. Martin recalls the transition from households filling out forms to appraisers conducting on-site visits.

A New Role as Property Valuation Director

After John Carlin was elected governor, Martin was appointed as the Property Valuation Director. This was a pivotal moment in his career, as he oversaw the property valuation process for the entire state of Kansas. One of the significant challenges he faced was addressing the issue of the severance tax. During this time, Martin worked diligently to ensure that the property tax system was fair and transparent, appearing before taxation committees to advocate for necessary changes. The valuation of oil became a particularly pressing issue, as the price fluctuated significantly during that period.


In conclusion, Phil Martin’s story provides a glimpse into the rich history of immigration and generational land ownership in Morris County, Kansas. His family’s journey from Italy to Kansas and their success in agriculture is a testament to hard work and determination. The legacy of land ownership and their contribution to the mining industry highlight the importance of family and community. Martin’s personal journey, from his education to his various roles in public service, demonstrates a lifelong commitment to his community. Overall, the story of Phil Martin and his family is a captivating tale of resilience, perseverance, and the enduring value of land and heritage.

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