Pittsburg Biographies
Updated: March 31, 2008  

Alexander Besse
1868 - 1944

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Alexander Besse was born November 13, 1868 in La Vout-sur-Loir, France and came to America, landing in New Orleans in 1884. He came to Pittsburg a short time later beginning his business career peddling lamp wicks and shoestrings in the county. In about 1894, he opened his first store at 104-108 West Fifth Street offering a variety of everyday merchandise needed by the citizens of the growing town. He soon added organs and sewing machines to his inventory and by 1900 had outgrown his small store on 5th Street and relocated to 413 N. Broadway, where he began selling pianos which had become the instrument of choice for homes at that time.
Around 1910 or 1911, Besse got involved in the mining of coal in the area by organizing the Besse-Cockerill Coal Company with Carl Cockerill, a well-known early coal mine operator in the area. The company was one of the first coal companies to use large steam shovels in strip mining operations. He left this company after about five years and sold the company to John Italiani. After the sale, Besse invested and owned the Oskaloosa Coal Company in Oskaloosa, Iowa and the Pittsburg & Arkansas Zinc Company in Zinc, Arkansas. He also was involved in lead mining near Joplin, Missouri.
April 1, 1917, businessmen Willard H. Daly, Robert H. “Bert” Klock and his son Glenn E. Klock, formed the Pittsburg Amusement Company to operate several of the theatres in town. Daly owned the 800 seat Mystic Theatre (1907-1920) at 122 E. Fourth, the current site of Brenner Mortuary. The Klock’s owned the Klock Theatre (1919-1926), later the Midland Theater (1926-1958), at 414 N. Broadway, the current site of the Kansas Teacher’s Credit Union. Alexander Besse became involved with the company in 1918 and ran the Main Street Theatre in Picher, Oklahoma for a few years.
In June 1919, Besse began construction on the Colonial Theatre across the street from the Klock Theatre. To build the new theatre, the Amusement Company purchased the building at 409 N. Broadway from A. H. Shafer owner of the Kettler Furniture & Carpet Company. The furniture company moved to 614-616 N. Broadway, and ironically in February 1926 the Archie Josephson Amusement Company of Kansas City purchased that building for a 1500 seat theatre development that never transpired.
He married 1st - 11 November 1891 at Lone Oak, Crawford Co., KS, Myrtle L. Smith. She was born about 1875 in Illinois. They were divorced about 1906. He married 2nd about 1907 Ethel McKillop, the daughter of John & Ethel E. McKillop. She was born in Oct 1886 in Kansas and died in 1953. They were divorced in 1930. He married 3rd in November 1943, Hattie M. Gedney.

Alexander Besse, 75, whose influence was felt in many phases of Pittsburg business life for many years died at the hospital here at 8:40 o'clock last night as the result of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered Monday. The home is at 520 West Kamas. Funeral services will be at 10:30 O'clock Sunday morning in the E. K. Smith chapel with Dean G. W. Trout officiating. Interment will be in Mt. Olive cemetery at the side of his mother and first son, George. The body is at the chapel.

Elks As Pallbearers.

Lavon Graham Holden will sing "No Night There" and "Abide With Me," accompanied by Mrs. Herbert Hallman. Pallbearers will be members of the Elks lodge including Webb Tewell, Edgar C. Webber, Jack Nesch, Tom Stevenson, Earl Henney, O. E. Coulter, Arthur Fowkes and George Lageske. Mr. Besse was stricken shortly, after noon Monday while at the Machinery Exchange, which he operated at 614 and 616 North Broadway, causing him to lose his voice; the first indication of his illness. He was taken to his home and then admitted to the hospital Tuesday noon.

Property Owner.

Owner of considerable residential and business property in and around Pittsburg and the tri-state area, Mr. Besse began his business career when he was fourteen years old peddling lamp wicks and shoe strings in this district starting out with 40 cents worth of lamp wicks. He was born in La Voit-sur-Loir, France on Nov 13, 1868, and came to the United States when h was twelve years old, landing in New Orleans with only 50 cents in his pocket. He first worked as an apprentice machinist there for a period and then worked as a machinist at Parsons for a short time before coming to Pittsburg. As his peddling business thrived Mr. Besse branched out, increasing the variety of his merchandise and finally adding sewing machines to his list of offerings. About 50 years ago he opened his first store at 104-6-8 West Fifth and later added organs to his stock, selling them over the entire district. He moved to 413 North Broadway in 1900 about the time pianos replaced the organ as a favorite musical instrument in the homes and soon was offering pianos to his customers. He took considerable pains in decorating the interior of his new store and is believed to be the first merchant in Pittsburg to do this. He closed his store in 1913 and moved to an office upstairs in the same building, remaining there until December 1940, when he moved to the present business site of the Machinery Exchange and A. Besse Enterprises. During the intervening years, he had concentrated on real estate and investments. He had residential and business property in Pittsburg, business property in Picher, Okla., farm property at Catoosa, Okla., and farm property around Oskaloosa.

Interested in Mining.

He was a pioneer in the steam shovel stripping of coal land in this district. He was associated with Carl Cockerill in the Besse-Cockerill Coal Company, and was one of the first to use the bigger shovels in stripping operations. The company was started about 1910 or 1911 and Mr. Besse continued to be associated with it four or five years when the company was sold to John Italiani. At one time he owned the Oskaloosa Coal Company, which he purchased from Joe Elwood and Sam Degan. Another mining property in which he was interested was Pittsburg & Arkansas Zinc Company at Zinc, Ark. He also had an interest in lead and zinc near Joplin and near Crestline. In 1920, Mr. Besse, with R. H. Klock and W. H. Daily as partners, formed the Pittsburg Amusement Company, Inc. He was named the treasurer and general manager of the company, and held that office until the time of his death. The Midland and Colonial theatre buildings are leased to the Fox theatres by the company. Mr. Besse owned the Colonial building and Glenn Klock of Neodesha, owns the Midland building. Mr. Besse was a heavy stockholder in the Hotel Besse. He contributed heavily towards its construction, which led to the hotel being named after him.

C. of C. President.

He was a member of the Elks lodge and of the Chamber of Commerce, having at one time served as president of the chamber. A few years after coming to this country. Mr. Besse brought his father and mother here from France. They lived at Chicopee and his father worked as a miner. He, quietly played a role of charity contributing to worthy causes, although only a few persons were aware of his charitable activities. A noticeable example of his charity was a fund he made available for years to provide milk to underprivileged children in the schools. Mr. Besse was married three times first to Myrtle [L.] Smith at Lone Oak in 1889 [actually 11 Nov. 1891], which ended with a divorce. Surviving children born to this union are Harold Besse of Jacksonville. Fla., and Mrs. Frances Beaumont Howland of Denver. Mr. Besse was married in 1907 to Ethel McKillop in Pittsburg, which also ended with a divorce. Surviving children are Alden Besse, 204 South Olive and Lavon Besse, 409 West Jefferson. In November 1943 he was married to Hattie M. Gedney, who survives. Also surviving are three grandchildren, one being in the navy. - The Pittsburg Daily Headlight, Saturday, May 12, 1944

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Father: John Alexander Besse born May 1930 in France and died before 1910 in Crawford Co., KS
Mother: Harriett born March 1836 in France and died in 1919 in Pittsburg, Crawford Co., KS. She is buried in the Mt. Olive Cemetery in Pittsburg, KS

Children of John Alexander and Harriett Besse:
1. Alexander 1868 - 1944
2. According to the 1900 census, she had 7 children with 6 living

Children of Alexander Beese and Myrtle L. Smith:
1. Harold N. born - 18 May 1893 in Crawford Co., KS and died in June 1960 in Duval Co., FL
2. George born 1896 and died 20 Oct 1897 in Pittsburg, Crawford Co., KS. He is buried in Mt. Olive Cem., Pittsburg, KS
3. Frances 1897 -?

Children of Alexander Beese and Ethel McKillop:
1. Lavon born in 1908 Crawford Co., KS and died in 1977 in Pittsburg, Crawford Co., KS. She is buried in the Highland Park Cem., Pittsburg, KS.
2. Aldon M. born 19 Feb 1910 in Crawford Co., KS and died 20 Aug 1973 in Grand Prairie, Dallas Co., TX. He married Helen Scott and had 3 children: Alden Jr., Marsha and Sondra.

        Besse Family Web Cards & Personal Data Sheets  

Besse Family Stone
Highland Park Cemetery - Pittsburg KS

Ethel (McKillop) Besse
Highland Park Cemetery - Pittsburg, KS

Lavon Besse
Highland Park Cemetery - Pittsburg, KS