During my college days at Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State College) in Springfield, I lived very close to Phelps Grove Park a few blocks south of the college. I knew that the park was named after John S. Phelps, who had once owned the land where the park was, and I had a vague knowledge that he had been a well-known person, but I really didn't know much about him.
A lawyer by trade, Phelps came to Springfield in the late 1830s and was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1840. In 1845, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and served there until 1863.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, while still a member of Congress, Phelps joined the Union army as a private but was quickly promoted to lieutenant colonel and then colonel. During the winter of 1861-62, he raised a regiment, called simply Phelps's regiment, at Rolla, and the unit joined the Federal army in early 1862 as it marched into southwest Missouri and drove the occupying Confederates into northwest Arkansas. Phelps led his regiment at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862 but then shortly afterwards was mustered out of the service.
In 1876, Phelps was elected governor of Missouri and served one term from 1877 to 1881.