Monday, January 23, 2012
McKaskia Stearns Bonnifield (1833-1913)
A pioneer citizen in both the Kansas and Nevada Territories, McKaskia Stearns Bonnifield was originally born in West Virginia on September 14, 1833 (the year 1834 is also given by some sources as his year of birth.) The Bonnifield family moved to Iowa when McKaskia was three, and it is interesting to note that he was one of 15 children born into the Bonnifield family before his father's death in 1838. The few sources that detail Bonnifield's life mentions him by the initials "M.S.", and when he was originally discovered by me, I had to do quite a search to find out what his first and middle names actually stood for!
McKaskia Bonnifield attended the Alleghany College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and married in this town in 1855 to Laura Ames, with whom he had three daughters, Emily (1882-1927), Delia and Dora (1872-1928). After graduating from Alleghany, Bonnifield removed to Kansas, where he passed the state bar exam in 1856. During his stay in Kansas, Bonnifield was active in the Free-Soil Party movement and was elected to a term in the Kansas State Senate in the late 1850s. Strangely, considering the notability of this office, no sources mention how long his service was. He eventually left Kansas and resettled in Humboldt County, Nevada in 1862.
Within a few short years of his moving to Nevada, Bonnifield became known as one of the leading lawyers in the territory and also staked a claim in the state's vast mining industry. Public office also beckoned to Bonnifield, and in 1868 he was elected to the Nevada Territorial Senate, where he served until 1872. In 1887 Laura Ames Bonnifield died after thirty-two years of marriage and two years later McKaskia remarried to Nellie Lovelock, a widowed resident of Winnemucca. In 1892 Nellie gave birth to a son, McKaskia Jr., who died a little over a year later on February 12, 1894.
Further political honors were accorded to him in 1892 when he was named as a Democratic presidential elector, and is remarked by the History of Nevada: Her Resources and People as carrying "the vote of the state to Washington, the three electors casting their ballots engraved on silver plates." Three years after his service as an elector, Bonnifield was elected as an Associate Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court and served on the bench for six years.
After his retirement from the court in 1901, Bonnifield reestablished his earlier law practice in the city of Winnemucca, Nevada, and also maintained active involvement in the Masons, Independent Order of Odd-Fellows and was a member of the local Methodist Episcopal Church. He died in Winnemucca on July 14, 1913, at age 79, and was survived by his second wife Nellie. The portrait of McKaskia Bonnifield shown above was discovered in the 1904 work A History of the State of Nevada: Her Resources and People. This book also stands as one of the few available resources that give a proper biography of Bonnifield and his political/judicial career.
Bonnifield in his later years.