submitted by Neal Carter, Sept. 28, 2007

One of Muscatine’s Most Prominent Citizen Gone to His Reward

The news spread like wild fire along the streets, this morning, about 10 o’clock, “R. M. Burnett is dead!” He had come down town, as was his usual custom, to have the young lady was in the habit of reading to him at his old store room, now occupied by Neidig & Leysen, occupy the morning hours by reading, and was in his usual health and good spirits. About ten o’clock, while talking, he suddenly threw his head backward, apparently having fainted. Dr. Cal. W. Smith was summoned and with the aid of Messrs. Dolsen, Neideg and Joseph Biles, he was borne to the counter and laid down. He still breathed, and the JOURNAL’S manager, who happened in at this time in response to word sent him by his friend, Mr. Burnett, who wished to see him concerning something, was dispatched to Nesper’s drug store for restoratives. In the meantime L. G. Burnett, who had been summoned, arrived with the family physician, Dr. H. C. McAlister. The restoratives were applied, but to no avail. The grand old man gave one long gasp and all was over, apoplexy having caused his death.

The news of his sudden demise fell like a thunderbolt on his many friends, who had been in the habit of seeing him go back and forth daily, escorted by his reading clerk or some friends. They could scarcely believe that Mr. Burnett had gone so suddenly to his reward, and many an eye was dimmed with tears, as they learned of his sudden taking away.

Deceased was born in Onondaga county, New York, July 11, 1821, consequently was in his 71st year. He resided in his native State until in 1852, when he came to Iowa, locating in Muscatine, engaging in the book and stationary business, which he continued for nearly a quarter of a century, being compelled in 1876 to retire from business on account of the loss of his eyesight. From his arrival here up to his very last moment, almost, he was interested in the welfare of his country and home city, and was always ready to talk in defense thereof. He was thoroughly posted in all matters of public interest and had a rare gift of eloquence. Always taking a prominent part in public matters, he was frequently called upon to address his fellow citizens, and in his characteristic, earnest manner espoused the cause of right, receiving the closest and most respectful attention. One little incident that vividly impressed this characteristic as a man and good citizen upon all was at the time of the Garfield memorial meeting on our streets, when he so fervently invoked the Divine blessings upon our bereaved nation and the afflicted family.

Not only in matters of public interest did he take a prominent part, but in the church and Sabbath school he was active. He was one of the most earnest and faithful members of the First Baptist church, being deacon of the church and superintendent of the Sabbath school for nearly thirty years.

In both of these his presence will be greatly missed, as scarcely any one remembers when Mr. Burnett was absent from either the morning services or the Sabbath school, except when he was out of the city – to have his eyes treated or away or a visit to his old home. He was one of the most devote and consistent Christians in the city and it may be truly said of him “a good man has gone from us,” and he has the crown that awaits the faithful.

He was ready to go. His lamp was trimmed and burning, and he was only awaiting the summons. “Well done thou good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joys of thy Lord.” Only a few days ago in conversation with friends he said nothing troubled him. He had everything his heart could desire and he was happy, which statement seemed remarkable to his friends, who thought he might be worrying over the loss of his sight. He was ready to go, and so suddenly did the messenger come that not a pain was felt by him in the final transition.

Mr. Burnett was twice elected to the Legislature, in 1866 and 1868, faithfully serving his constituency at both sessions. He for four years held the appointment of Regent of the University and was a valued official of that institution. He was one of the organizers of the Merchants Exchange National Bank, now the First National Bank of Muscatine, and was one of its directors from its organization. He also was one of the organizers and directors of the Muscatine Savings Bank.

Mr. Burnett was married in 1840 to Miss Frances Edwards, in Onondaga county, N. Y., who died May 16, 1864. by this union four children were born, all of whom, except Lewis G., now bookkeeper at J. M. Gobble & Co.’s, have preceded him in death.

The funeral is appointed for Saturday, but the hour has not been fixed.

It is no ordinary loss that this community sustains in the death of Hon. R. M. Burnett, though he had comparatively retired from public life. These were some of his characteristics: He was outspoken with the candor of positive truth. He was frank and generous in his approval and equally free and severe in his condemnation. There was an integrity in his friendship and an earnestness in his recognition of friends which endeared him to those who knew him intimately. The personal qualities which marked his private intercourse were still more conspicuous in his public life. There was always the same positiveness of manner and speech. His large frame, his vigorous health, (except the affliction of blindness for more than a dozen years) and his commanding presence were not more remarkable than the robustness of mind, his stout heart, his stalwart courage and his unflagging energy.

His political opinions showed his sympathetic nature, as they were molded on the question of human rights. Being originally a Democrat, he became a Republican during the controversy of the Missouri Compromise and the attempt to establish slavery in Kansas.

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