Brown County, one of the northern tier, was created by the first territorial legislature with the following boundaries: "Beginning at the northwest corner of Doniphan county; thence west 24 miles; thence south 30 miles; thence east to the west line of Atchison county; thence north to the northwest corner of Atchison county; thence east with said north line of Atchison county to the southwest corner of Doniphan county; thence north with said west line of Doniphan county to the place of beginning."
In all the places where the name appears in the act of 1855 it is spelled "Browne." It was named for Albert G. Brown, United States senate from Mississippi, who spelled his name without the final "e." Dr. J. H. Stringfellow, a member of the Kansas legislature of 1855, stated that the county was named after O. H. Browne, a member of the house from the Third representative district, but the final "e" was dropped in the spelling of the name, by subsequent legislatures.
On Sept. 17, the commissioners of Doniphan county passed the following resolutions: "That the county of Brown be and is hereby organized as a municipal township to be known as Brown county township," and ordered that the election for a delegate to Congress be held at the house of W. C. Foster, on the south fork of the Nemaha. The commissioners also appointed William C. Foster and John C. Bragg justices of the peace and William Purket constable. The following summer an order was issued to survey the boundaries between Doniphan and Brown counties, which was done, but in 1858 the legislature transferred some of the territory of Brown to Jackson county, which left it in its present shape; an exact square 24 miles each way. In September Brown county was divided into two townships, Walnut and Mission.
Brown county is bounded on the north by the State of Nebraska; on the east by Doniphan county; on the south by Atchison and Jackson, and on the west by Nemaha county. It has an area of 576 square miles and is divided into the following townships: Hamlin, Hiawatha, Irving, Mission, Morrill, Powhattan, Robinson, Walnut and Washington. It is well waterered by Cedar creek in the southwest, Wolf creek in the east, and numerous other creeks, the most important of which are Pony, Walnut, Roys, and Craig.
The surface of the county is gently undulating. The creek bottoms average about half a mile in width and all the streams are fringed with belts of timber, the principal varieties being oak, walnut, honey-locust, hackberry, sycamore, elm, box-elder and basswood. Limestone is abundant and sandstone of a good quality is found, both of which are quarried for local use. Two mineral springs in the western part of the county are claimed to have medicinal properties. Brown is one of the leading agricultural counties, corn, winter wheat and oats being the largest crops. It is also a good horticultural region, and there are over 200,000 fruit trees of bearing age.
According to Morrill's History of Brown County, one of the overland routes, the "California Trail," (q. v.) "wound along the divides passing Drummond's Branch, crossed the western part of the present site of Hiawatha, followed the divide between the head waters of Wolf and Walnut, and left the county near the present site of Sabetha."
Some of the first settlers in Brown county were Missourians who marked claims and then returned home to spend the winter, while others from a greater distance made permanent settlements. As early as April 10, 1854, William Gentry and H. C. Gregg settled in Powhattan township. On May 11, 1854, Thurston Chase and James Gibbons located on Wolf creek. They were followed by William and James Metts, who settled in what is now Hamlin township. On Aug. 3 E. R. Corneilison entered a claim on Walnut creek and the following March brought his family to the new homestead. His brother William also came at that time. W. C. Foster came to Brown county in the fall from Nemaha. John Belk, his sons, William and King, and Thomas Brigham settled near Padonia and Jacob Englehart settled on a farm not far from the present town of Hiawatha.
Early in the spring of 1855, the settlers on Walnut creek formed a protective association, elected officers and made rigid laws for the purpose of enforcing the right of actual settlers and prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors to the Indians. The first trial under these laws took place at the house of Jesse Padon, on the bank of the Walnut. Complaint was made against Robert Boyd and Elisha Osborn for selling liquors to the Indians and sixteen settlers gathered, determined to enforce the law, the only settler absent from the gathering being ill. Although the accused were not present, the trial proceeded, they were declared guilty and the verdict rendered was that their stock of liquors should be destroyed and that they should each pay a fine of $20. Padon was appointed to execute the order of this court and was accompanied by all the settlers to see the decree enforced. Boyd and Osborn kept their liquors at the edge of Pilot Grove, some 3 miles from Padonia. When Padon informed them of the decision of the court they declared themselves willing to give up the liquor and pay the fine, but upon promise to sell no more to the Indians, they were allowed to remain in the county and retain the liquor, though they paid the fine.
The first white child born in the county was Isaac Short, who was born in Aug., 1855. The first marriage was that of Hiram Wheeler and Elizabeth E. Root on July 30, 1857. The first school was taught in 1856 in a log cabin erected the year before on John Kerey's farm and John Shields was the first teacher. The cabin was also used as a church as the first religious services in the county were held there soon after it was built. A Methodist minister named Allspaugh held services in a grove near John Belk's farm house in 1855. Early in 1857, the Methodists organized a church at the house of William Belk, and a Baptist minister held services at the residence of E. H. Niles.
A branch of the underground railroad was established through Brown county for fugitive negroes, and many of them were passed over this line by John Brown and other anti-slavery men.
Early in the spring of 1857, quite a colony came from Maine, among them George Ross, J. G. Leavitt, I. P. Winslow, Noah Hanson, W. G. Sargent and Sumner Shaw. The Iowa Indian trust lands lying in Brown county were advertised for sale to the highest bidders on June 4, 1857. They sold rapidly, but eventually most of the lands fell into the hands of speculators, some of the settlers leaving as soon as they perfected title to their claims, without making any permanent improvements.
The first 4th of July celebration was held by a public gathering on the farm of John Powe on Mulberry creek in 1857. Sometime during the summer of that year Philip Weiss contracted to make a weekly trip to Iowa Point to bring the mail. This was probably the first mail route in the county and was purely a private enterprise. He used a team of horses and a lumber wagon for his trips, and carried passengers, express and freight as well as mail. An act of 1855 provided for a mail route from St. Joseph via Highland to Marysville, Kan., but it was not started until 1858. On Aug. 8, 1857, the first postoffice was established at Claytonville, with George E. Clayton as postmaster.
On Feb. 14, 1857, the state legislature detached Brown from Doniphan county and located the temporary county seat at Claytonville. The act also provided for the election of three commissioners to locate a permanent county seat. The new board of commissioners organized on March 16, 1857, and among other business divided the county into four municipal townships, Iowa, Claytonville, Walnut Creek and Lachnane. On March 31 the commissioners held a second meeting and appropriated $500 to build a court-house on the north square in Claytonvillea frame building 20 by 30 feetto be ready for occupation by June 1, and William Oldham was appointed to build it.
At the election on Oct. 5, the free-state men carried the county by a vote of 136 to 72, F. N. Morrill being elected to the legislature by the counties of Brown and Nemaha. On Nov. 16 the free-state board of county commissioners organized when Ira H. Smith was chosen county surveyor; David Peebles, clerk; and John S. Tyler, assessor. At the election I. P. Winslow, Isaac Chase and I. B. Hoover were chosen commissioners to locate the permanent county seat. They met on Dec. 14 at Swain's store and the first ballot resulted, Padonia 1, Hiawatha 1, and Carson 1. The following day the board visited the town sites of Carson, Hamlin, Padonia and Hiawatha. Padonia offered to donate a square of ground and a $3,000 court-house; Hiawatha offered to erect a building 20 by 30 feet for a court-house and donate every alternate lot of the town site, and Carson offered one-half of the lots in the town site and $1,500 in labor and building material. A second ballot resulted the same as the first, but on a third two votes were cast for Carson and 1 for Padonia. The county seat, therefore, was removed to Carson, but it did not remain there long, as the next legislature passed an act providing for an election to submit the question to a vote of the people, which resulted in 128 votes for Hiawatha and 37 for Carson, with a few scattering. On May 25, 1858, the county commissioners appropriated $2,000 for building a court house with jail and offices attached. On Oct. 4, 1877, the county commissioners decided, "That a proposition be submitted to the people on the 6th day of November, authorizing the board to build a court house, the cost not to exceed $20,000." This measure was approved by the people and the commissioners, early in 1878, contracted with E. T. Carr of Leavenworth for its erection.
At the outbreak of the Civil war nearly one-half the voters in the county entered the army, forming a party of Company I, Thirteenth Kansas infantry, and in 1864, the militia was ordered to gather at Atchison. The Hiawatha company consisted of 6 men; the Walnut creek company of 41, and Robinson company of 100. Upon their departure to the front the homeguard was organized and within twenty-four hours had an enrollment of 79 men.
The first newspaper, the Brown County Union, was established by Dr. P. G. Parker in the spring of 1861, at Hiawatha, but the office was destroyed by fire the following winter. On Aug. 20, 1864, H. P. Stebbins started the Union Sentinel and the third paper, the Hiawatha Dispatch, made its appearance in 1870.
There are three lines of railroad in the county with over 97 miles of main track. The St. Joseph & Grand Island enters the county on the east, about midway north and south, crosses in a northwesterly direction through Hiawatha and enters Nemaha county. A line of the Missouri Pacific, built in the early '80s, crosses the northern boundary about the center, passes through Hiawatha and leaves at the southeast corner. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific road enters in the south, branches at Horton near the southern boundary, one line leaving near the southeast corner, the other traversing the county in a northwesterly direction and connecting with the main line in Nebraska. Hiawatha, the county seat, is a large shipping point for all agricultural products and has several factories, but Horton in the south is the largest town in the county, and has the repair shops of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific road located there, and is also the division point of that road.
In 1910 the population of Brown county was 21,314, and the total value of farm products, exclusive of live stock, was $2,921,381. The principal crops were corn, $1,920,240; hay, including all kinds, $428,716; oats, $394,522; Irish potatoes, $63,578; wheat, $37,614.Pages 237-241 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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