Samuel Blackburn Cope was born in Columbiana County, Ohio, in 1833. Although Ohio did not yet officially require the recordkeeping of births, Sam’s birth date is confirmed in the extensive family records of the Gilbert Cope Foundation as well as in later census records. The name “Samuel” had been a common name for many years in the Cope family; “Blackburn” was his mother’s maiden name from her ancestors in Ireland.
When growing up, Sam’s family was always on the move, from Ohio, to Iowa, then across the border to Missouri. Although many of the Cope relatives were farmers, Sam, his father and brothers were horse traders, raising and then selling the horses to New Orleans buyers who would then boat the horses down the river.
Kansas would also be an important part of his story: in 1856 and for almost five years, Sam experienced life in “Bleeding Kansas,” so called for the period of chaos and violence, pre-war, during the settling of the Kansas Territory. Using the principle of “popular sovereignty,” it was decreed that residents could determine whether their area would become a free state or a slave state. Consequently, settlers on both sides of this issue fought for control of every piece of ground that they could.
In November 1861, Sam moved back to Missouri where he enlisted as a Private, Co. C, 7th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry Volunteers. During the Civil War, Missouri was a border state, meaning that it had soldiers from both sides of the conflict, literally brother versus brother, who were fighting within the greater national war. On August 16, 1862, Sam was taken prisoner at the Battle of Lone Jack, an important Confederate victory in Jackson County, Missouri, near Kansas City. According to family diaries, he was shot in the leg and along with some of his fellow soldiers was about to be executed when incredibly good fortune came his way. Unbelievably, because one of his co-prisoners shared the hailing sign of the Masonic brotherhood to one of the Confederate officers, Sam and his fellow prisoners’ lives were spared and they were paroled on the spot. Gratefully, Sam returned home to his parents.
On August 22, 1862, Sam deserted at Lexington, Missouri. A year later, in August 1863, he returned to duty, mustered into Co. M, 1st NE Cavalry Regiment, Missouri Home Guard. To realize this change, a search of his military records reveals letters written by three prominent former military men, who vouched for Sam’s character. They stated that they knew Sam, that he had been living with his family and that he wanted and deserved to rejoin active service. Of course, he had to “make good” the time lost by desertion. Finally, Sam mustered out in Little Rock, Arkansas in February 1865.
Sam married Sarah Ann Martin in April 1866. The 1870 Census reveals that the couple had moved back to Missouri, and had started a family that would eventually grow to include four children. In 1881, Sam and family are back in Kansas and according to family records, Sam was now a grocer and interestingly, also working as some type of public lawyer. In another big move, some of the Cope’s were enticed to join the land rush in Oklahoma. In Sam’s case, an older son made it to the Land Office in Enid, Oklahoma. And after so much moving in his life, from state to state and back again, Enid was the site of Sam’s final home.
Sam, who had been honorably discharged, received a Pension until his death in 1911 in Enid. Sarah, his widow, received his pension until her death in Los Angeles, California in 1937.