Thursday, December 31, 2015

Peru Italian Blackerby Ping (1842-1890)

                                                 Portrait courtesy of Mr. Lynn Summers.

   As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to the new year it's time to devote 2015's final posting to a man who has duly earned the title of  "Strangest Name of the Year". Following in the stead of Omicron Pi Lockhart in 2013 and Uno Sylvanus Augustus Heggblom last December, this year's honoree hails from Kansas, where he served two terms in the state senate from Crawford County. His name? Peru Italian Blackerby PingIf you were like me, your jaw literally dropped to the floor when the sight of that impressive name caught your eye, and hiding behind that unique, lengthy name is story of a man who imbued the pioneer spirit of the mid 19th century, being a resident of Iowa, Kansas and Oregon during his short life of just 47 years. 
   I'd like to begin with a small bit of background as to how this particular article came into being. In October of last year, I located the name of "P.I.B. Ping" listed amongst a number of other prominent Kansans in a work entitled "The United States Biographical Dictionary: Kansas Volume", published in 1879. After this initial discovery, I had an inkling that I was about to uncover a highly unusual name. Needless to say, I was not disappointed! A Find-a-Grave listing for "Peru Italian Blackerby Ping" soon revealed his full name, and I soon set to work finding out more about the man who is very likely the oddest named individual ever to be elected to public office in Kansas! Sadly, following my initial discovery of Ping in the aforementioned work, little else could be located on him. A Facebook message to the Crawford County, Kansas Historical Society requesting a portrait and further information on Ping went unanswered, and after several months I was beginning to think that Mr. Ping would forever remain that "faceless" Kansas senator with an unbelievably unique name. 
   All of that changed in November of this year when I discovered a link to a portrait of Mr. Ping via, and after leaving a short message there requesting information I began a fruitful correspondence with one Lynn Summers, who, as it so happens, is the great-grandson of Peru I.B. Ping!! Besides allowing the use of the rare portrait of Ping featured above, Lynn was also kind enough to send along a number of pertinent details on his great-grandfather's life, including ample information on Ping's stay in Oregon (which I'd previously been unaware of), as well as excerpts of newspaper articles written by him for the Girard Press. I am forever grateful to Lynn for sharing his wealth of knowledge on his great-grandfather, and this article would not have been possible without his help! 
    An Iowan by birth, Peru Italian Blackerby Ping was born in the Des Moines County town of Burlington on September 4, 1842. The son of Thomas (1815-1885) and Sarah Wright Ping (1818-1890), PIB Ping was the eldest of eight children.  The exact reasons behind Ping being bestowed the names "Peru Italian" have unfortunately been lost to history, but one can see that both his parents were certainly "geographically inclined" in regards to the naming of their son! The Ping family would remove to neighboring Wapello County when their son was an infant, and in the succeeding years, Thomas Ping would become a standout figure in the town of Ashland, where he is recorded as owning several businesses. PIB Ping was educated at the Ashland Seminary in that county, and is recorded as having attained high marks in the "study of higher mathematics".  
    At the dawn of the Civil War PIB Ping enlisted in Co. I, 1st Iowa Calvary, U.S. Volunteers, serving with that regiment until being honorably discharged in 1864. His service receives prominent mention in the United States Biographical Dictionary, which notes that Ping "was with Fremont during his Missouri campaign" and in 1863 was one of the first Union soldiers to enter Little Rock, Arkansas after it was captured. Ping's father Thomas also served the Union during wartime, being Captain of Co. E. in the 17h Iowa Regiment. Unlike his son, Thomas didn't escape the war unscathed, as he was captured by the Confederates and held prisoner at Columbia, South Carolina for a few months.  
   At the conclusion of his service, PIB Ping returned to Iowa and shortly thereafter began reading law in Ottumwa, studying under state representative and senator Edward Holcomb Stiles. He would continue his study there for about a year, and in 1866 arrived in Douglas County, Kansas, where he recommenced with reading law. Ping was admitted to the Kansas bar in 1868 and in that year entered political life for the first time, being elected as County Attorney for Wilson County, Kansas. His time as county attorney extended until 1870, and two years later removed to the town of Girard in Crawford County, his father Thomas Ping having resettled there a few years previously. After reconnecting with his family, PIB and his father established the law practice of "Thomas Ping & Son", which would continue on for a number of years afterward.

                               A small picture of PIB Ping that appeared on the 1877 Kansas legislative composite.

   Within a few years of his resettlement in the Sunflower State PIB Ping had established himself as a prominent figure in the Girard community, and in 1875 reentered political life when he was selected as assistant secretary of the Kansas State Senate. Further political honors came his way the following year when he served as a delegate and secretary to the Kansas Republican State Convention that would nominate delegates for the upcoming Republican National Convention that would be held in Cincinnati. 
   In 1876 PIB Ping received the Republican nomination for state senator from Kansas' 13th district. He would be elected to that office with "the largest majority given any candidate upon the ticket" and entered into a four-year term at the start of 1877. Ping proved to be busy as a freshman senator, and his tenure in that body saw him hold a seat on a number of committees, including Counties and County Lines, Corporations, Education, Engrossed Bills, and Roads and Bridges. He would serve as chairman of the committee on Mines and Mining and was acknowledged as having been:
"An active laborious member of the Senate, served his constituency faithfully, securing the passage of several important measures in their interest, and approved himself in the Legislation of that session a man of sound practical wisdom and superior ability."
   As a rising young Republican amongst the ranks of the state senate, PIB Ping worked closely with John James "J.J." Ingalls (1833-1900), the U.S. Senator from Kansas for nearly two decades. Through information provided by Lynn Summers, it is interesting to note that during the latter portion of his senate term Ping was inadvertently caught up in a vote-buying scandal involving Ingall's 1879 bid for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Lynn relates that Ping testified in front of U.S. Senate subcommittee that had been investigating the matter, and in the 1880 election year saw his reelection hopes dashed when the editor of the Girard Press newspaper received the Republication nomination for the state senate. One can surmise that Ping's connection to the brouhaha involving Ingalls led to his being passed over for renomination!
  After leaving the senate Ping continued to be active in Republican circles in Girard and in 188o traveled to Middleport, Ohio. On September 4th of that year, he married in the neighboring village of McArthur to Viola Morrison (1857-1905), a former resident of Girard. Their union would see the birth of one daughter, Ethel Kate May Ping (1881-1916). 

                                    Viola Morrison Ping (1857-1905), portrait courtesy of Lynn Summers.

   Following his marriage Ping and his wife returned to Girard where PIB continued practicing law. In 1882 he was appointed to the post of "special agent for swamp lands" under the auspice of General Land Office, work that would require his removing to Oregon for a period of three years. Ping's three year sojourn through Oregon and the neighboring states was profiled by Lynn Summers earlier this year in an intriguing write-up published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly. While Ping may have been hundreds of miles away from his family in Girard, he kept in contact with them and his community through a series of letters published in the Girard Press. These "travelogues" amounted to 68,010 words, excerpts of which were collected by Lynn and published in his earlier mentioned article. 
   Based in Portland, Oregon during his first two years as a land agent, Ping's letters back home give the insight of  a mid-westerner on life in the Pacific Northwest, with the author commenting on pertinent topics relating to his life in an unfamiliar territory, including travel, the weather, business life, the political climate, as well as the people he encountered. Through his work as swamp land agent, Ping traveled throughout Oregon's frontier, visiting settlements in Yaquina Bay, Meacham, La Grande and Tillamook Bay. In May 1884 he returned to Girard, Kansas for a two month leave, and during his time home attended a political convention. He would resume his duties in Oregon sometime later, this time returning with his wife and daughter
    Ping's remaining months in the Pacific Northwest saw him visit Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and by June 1885 had returned home to Girard Kansas. He resumed his earlier law practice and real estate dealings and from 1888-1889 served a term as Mayor of Girard. Active in a number of fraternal groups in Crawford County, Ping was a member of the local Odd Fellows Lodge, the Knights of Honor, the Sons of Veterans and the Gen. Bailey Post No. 49 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Peru Italian Blackerby Ping died in Girard on August 22, 1890, a few days short of his 48th birthday. His Girard Press obituary records "consumption' (tuberculosis) as his cause of death and he was later interred under a modest headstone at the Girard Cemetery
  Following PIB's death, his wife Viola and daughter Ethel relocated to Middleport, Ohio, where they would reside with Viola's mother and father. Following Viola Ping's death in 1905, Ethel Kate May Ping worked as a bank teller in West Virginia and became a pianist of some note, even attending the Sherwood Music School in Chicago. She would later teach at the Kansas State Agricultural College and married in 1913 to Carl Shafer. The couple would later have two children, John and Mary (born 1916), the latter being the mother of Mr. Lynn Summers.
   In regards to the help and support I've received in compiling this article, I'd like to state how amazing it is that history (however obscure or forgotten) can connect people, even ones that are thousands of miles away from one another! The appreciation that I have in regards to the help Lynn has given me can't be measured in words! Rarely have I been given such a wealth of information on a politician that I'm writing about, and I'm forever grateful to Lynn for his permission to use some of the photos featured in this article, as well as for his sending along new information on his great-grandfather and extended family. Many thanks once again for your help!

P.I.B. Ping's obituary from the Girard Press (courtesy of Lynn Summers).

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