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James C. Cooper

James C. Cooper, early Kansas mineral collector, was born near Baltimore, Maryland on June 16, 1832. According to his obituary (Lovewell, 1913) , his early education was very rudimentary, consisting of four winters in the common schools of Maryland in the early 1840s. At an early age he went to sea on a merchant ship and spent five years before the mast. He went around Cape Horn to California in 1849, and there the lure of gold led him to devote 14 months to placer mining on the North Fork of the American River. He returned to Baltimore in 1851, and worked for a while as a reporter for the Daily Argus of Baltimore, and later for the Philadelphia Press. He was then hired to join an engineering corps in the location survey of a railroad up the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia.

At the invitation of his uncle, Peter Cooper, who had a glue factory in Brooklyn, he went there and worked three years in the glue factory. Peter Cooper was the builder of the first locomotive in America, but is better known as the philanthropist who founded Cooper Institute in New York City.

In 1855 James Cooper married Virginia V. V. F. Porter, of Brooklyn, and that same year they moved to Castle Grove, Iowa where they spent five years in farming. Evidently this life did not suit him, for in 1860 he entered railway service, which was to be his main occupation for the next half a century. His first job was with the Illinois Central Railroad, and while in that position he found time to publish a newspaper in Centralia, Illinois for several years, at least through 1870.

When the real estate department of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway was organized in the 1870s, Cooper was hired as its secretary, and moved to Topeka, Kansas. In 1880 he listed himself on the census there as a superintendant for the Santa Fe Mining Company, probably also a branch of the railroad. He remained with the company in different positions until 1886, when he entered the service of the Rock Island Railway as right of way agent, and after one year took charge of the tax business of that company, where he remained until he had, on his retirement, rounded out 50 years of railroad service. At the end of this period the tax office of the Rock Island Railway was moved to Chicago, and Cooper retired in Topeka on a pension.

Throughout his eventful life he maintained a keen interest in science, and was especially well read in geology and mineralogy. Having free travel available to him thanks to his railway employment, he was able to visit many localities to collect minerals, especially crystal specimens, of which he gathered, identified and classified 36,000 examples. Mineral dealers and colleges became interested in his collection, and he sold valuable collections to Washburn College and to Kansas State University. But he retained a large private collection in Topeka, and had contemplated moving to California had his health not failed him. He died on September 15, 1911 at the home of his daughter, Virginia C. Hartzell, while visiting her in Los Angeles. By 1900, four of his five children had predeceased him; other than Virginia, his only surviving relatives were a granddaughter and his twin sister, Mrs. H. A. Merrill of Grand Rapids, Nebraska.

James Cooper was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Kansas Academy of Science (where he served as president), and the National Geographic Society, as well as several fraternal orders. Lovewell (1913) eulogized him as follows:

"His Academy associates will miss the enthusiasm with which a new mineral would always excite him. As a 'forty-niner' from California it was interesting to hear him recount his experiences from those stormy times of which so few are now left who can bear personal testimony. His face was so alert and youthful that it was hard to realize that he could have been an actor in those far-off events. He illustrated in his life the possibilities of scientific culture open to a man engaged in business pursuits. Without the advantages of early school training, he became an expert in mineralogy and made valuable contributions to this branch of science."

US Federal Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910.
LOVEWELL, J. T. (1913) James C. Cooper. Transactions of the Kansas Academy of Science, v.25, p. 179-181.
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