Portrait from the Kansas Legislative Directory of 1903.
The life of one term Kansas state senator Elhanan Van Lew Peterson is examined today, and, like Esom G. Farris (profiled a day or two ago), was a transplant to the Sunflower State from Indiana. Interestingly, Peterson and Farris served in the same legislative session (the 1903 term), albeit in different houses. A native of Seneca County, New York, Elhanan Van Lew Peterson was born in the town of Lodi, New York on June 1, 1835, the son of Amos and Penelope (Van Lew) Peterson. His early life saw him working the family farm and attending the district school in the area, and at age sixteen entered into a teaching career himself.
After earning enough money, Peterson enrolled at an academy near Albany, New York in 1854 and from there began study at the Union College at Schenectady. He graduated in the class of 1858 and soon after returned to teaching, his work eventually taking him to a school near Port Worthington, Mississippi. This school, located near a large cotton plantation, brought Peterson into contact with the plantation owner (a Mr. Lashley), a slave owner and a cousin of Vice-President John C. Breckinridge. Peterson would even meet Breckinridge while visiting Baton Rouge, the two men having dinner with another relation of the aforementioned Mr. Lashley.
Following his stay in Mississippi Peterson briefly taught at a boy's academy in Winchester, Tennessee before relocating to Alabama to accept a teaching position in the town of Athens. He remained here until the early 1860s, and shortly before the opening of the Civil War had relocated to Peru, Indiana, where in August 1861 he enlisted in Co. A., 39th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. Peterson would attain the rank of first lieutenant in that company and in January 1862 married in Ann Arbor, Michigan to Caroline Gregory (1832-1924). The couple were wed for over fifty-two years and would have two children, Henry Gregory (1866-1885), who was killed in a hunting accident, and Penelope (born 1868).
Following his marriage, Peterson returned to service and in late 1862 saw the 39th Indiana change into a cavalry regiment (the 8th Indiana Cavalry), and would serve as a captain in company M. Peterson's tour of duty saw him action at some of the war's most notable engagements, including the battles of Corinth, Shiloh, Pulaski, Green River, Perrysville, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, and for a time was retained as judge advocate on the staff of Union Generals Joshua W. Sill and Richard W. Johnson.
Honorably discharged in November 1864, Elhanan Peterson removed to Champaign, Illinois at the conclusion of his service and during his residency was a partner in the firm of Peterson and Lloyde, dealers in book, music, and paper stationery. In 1884 Peterson retired from that business and the company continued on under his partner D.H. Lloyde (albeit under a different name). By 1885 Peterson and his family had relocated to Norton County, Kansas, and after establishing himself in the town of Norton aided in the organization of the State Bank of Norton (later renamed to the First National Bank of Norton), of which he would serve as cashier.
In the succeeding years Peterson would serve as bank president and in 1886 was elected to his first political office, that of Norton's mayor. After retiring from banking pursuits in the early 1890s Peterson farmed, raised cattle and in November 1900 was elected to the Kansas State Senate from the 40th senatorial district. During the 1901-03 session, Petterson sat on the committees on Assessment and Taxation, Banks and Banking, and Congressional Apportionment, and in January 1902 addressed the Kansas State Board of Agriculture on the importance of alfalfa to the state, with the Topeka State Journal noting that:
"He said that in a few years that alfalfa would assume the greatest importance of any product in the state; that as a forage plant it had no equal; that the semiarid regions of the western part of the state are particularly adapted to it."
In the latter portion of his term Peterson would introduce legislation that would provide assistant state officers and chief clerks with a pay increase to $1,800 and $1,500, respectively, and in March 1903 was named as U.S. Postmaster of Norton, Kansas, a post he continued to fill until February 1907. At some point following his leaving the postmaster's office Peterson and his wife removed to Brownsville, Cameron County, Texas, and on December 19, 1914, Elhanan V. Peterson died in that city, aged 79. Peterson's remains were later returned to Kansas for burial in the Norton Cemetery under a modest white military headstone.