Col. Phelps was born in the State of New York in 1845 and grew up there. He attended Albany Law School and soon after graduation in 1867, he left his home state and headed west hoping that less settled areas might have more opportunity for him to practice law. When he arrived in this area, he heard there was an immediate need for an attorney in Prescott, so he walked the ten miles there and was hired immediately. He tried the case and won, then walked back to Carthage to set up an office on the south side of the square with E.O. Brown.
He first married Lois Wilson of Ohio in 1868. He quickly became interested in State and local politics and won the election for state representative in 1874, serving two terms. He was a Democrat and became a Democratic Party boss (hence the title “Colonel”). He also was an attorney for the Missouri Pacific Railroad and the family quickly settled into spending summers in Carthage and winters in St. Louis. While there in 1894, the Phelps and their son were taking a carriage ride when the horses bolted. Mrs. Phelps jumped from the carriage hitting her head on a curb and fracturing her skull. She died shortly, leaving Mr. Phelps with two daughters and a son to raise.
Col. Phelps remarried in 1905 to Bridget O’Leary and they had two sons. One died in childhood; the other, George, also became a prominent Carthage attorney. In 1895, he had completed a beautiful new home at 1146 Grand Avenue where the family continued to live. Historic Phelps House is now open for tours and rented for special occasions and is tended to by Carthage Historic Preservation, Inc.
Col. Phelps political workings were largely responsible for the choice being made to build the capitol in Jefferson City out of Carthage stone. He was responsible for securing the White River branch of the Missouri Pacific railroad in Carthage. He also moved from his house north of town and established a dairy farm 2 miles south of Carthage that is now the site of Carthage High School and the Technical Center.
He was known to be a generous and charitable man, often helping those in need but never mentioning his good deeds. His charity extended to new businesses, helping many new companies, helping young men become educated, and helping widows left in dire straits; he gave freely to many churches, no matter the denomination.
After being unwell for two years he underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic but did not recover from the surgery, passing away in 1916, while a member of the Missouri Senate.