Cowley County, located in the southern tier, the fifth county west of Missouri, was created in 1867 with the following boundaries: "Commencing at the southeast corner of Butler county, thence south to the 37th degree of north latitude, thence west to the east line of range 2 east, thence north to the southwest corner of Butler county, thence east to the place of beginning." It was named in honor of Lieut. Mathew Cowley of Company I, Ninth Kansas, who was killed at Little Rock, Ark., in 1864. The county is bounded on the north by Butler county; on the east by Elk and Chautauqua; on the south by the State of Oklahoma, and on the west by Sumner county.
It is believed that N. J. Thompson was the first actual settler in what is now Cowley county. He built a cabin on the Walnut river, near what he supposed was the south line of Butler county, in Aug., 1868, but it was afterward found that he located in Cowley county. The land was still an Indian reservation, but the white settlers were attracted by the fertility of the soil and another settlement was soon made south of Thompson by William Quimby and a man named Sales. Cattle dealers began to come among the Osages to purchase their herds and carried back reports of the rich lands, which caused a number of white settlers to trespass on the Indian reserve and make settlements. Among those who came in 1869 were James Renfro, T. B. Ross. John and Joseph Stanbury, F. W. Schwantes, S. B. Williams, B. F. Murphy, T. A. Blanchard and some others, extending the settlements southward to within 4 miles north of the present city of Winfield. In June, 1869, C. M. Wood brought a small stock of groceries from Chase county to sell to the Indians. This stock he kept at Renfro's house for a time, but soon erected a stockade and cabin on the west bank of the Walnut nearly opposite where Winfield now stands. The Indians were numerous and knowing the insecurity of the whites in the country, began to steal and make unfriendly demonstrations, which caused Wood to move back to Renfro's for safety.
About the same time that Wood came, E. C. Manning and P. Y. Becker came down the valley and erected a cabin for the latter at the bend of the Walnut river about 2 miles below Winfield, and on June 11 Manning laid claim to the land where a part of Winfield now stands. In August all the settlers in the valley were ordered off the Indian lands. Wood's stockade was burned and all the settlers but T. B. Ross left for Butler county. Later the settlers began to drift back, and in September several families came down the valley to settle near Manning. These settlers each paid the Osage chief $5 for the privilege of remaining. Among them were W. G. Graham and family, Mrs. Graham being the first white woman of north Timber creek. Prettyman Knowles, James H. Land and J. C. Mountfort also located in this neighborhood. In December Alonzo Howland, W. W. Andrews, Joel Mack, H. C. Loomis, A. Mentor and others took up claims. Mr. Howland built a dwelling on his land just south of where Winfield now stands, which was the first frame house in the county, the lumber for it having been hauled 100 miles.
During the summer of 1869 H. C. Endicott, Edward Chapin, George Harmon, W. Johnson, Patrick Sommers and others took up claims as far south as the site of Arkansas City. In June, 1870, a party of men took claims along the Grouse valley, among whom were John Nichols, O. J. Phenis, D. T. Walters, Gilbert Branson and William Coats. Up to this time all settlers had been trespassing on the Indian lands, but on July 15, 1870, the Osage diminished reserve was opened for settlement and the whites began to pour into the county. The land was surveyed and sold to actual settlers in quantities not exceeding 160 acres each. Among the new arrivals were J. C. Fuller and D. A. Mulligan, who bought A. A. Jackson's claim which adjoined Manning's. Max Shoeb built a log blacksmith shop, and W. Z. Mansfield opened a drug store in a log cabin, the first of its kind in Winfield.
The first newspaper of the county was the Cowley County Censor, owned and edited by A. J. Patrick, the first issue being dated Aug. 31, 1870. The first postmaster in the county was C. H. Norton of Arkansas City, who was appointed on April 18, 1870. The next was E. C. Manning at Winfield, who was appointed in May. The first United States census was taken in June, 1870, and the population at the time was 726. The first session of the district court was held at Winfield on May 23, 1871, by Henry G. Webb, judge of the Eleventh judicial district. Arkansas City and Winfield were hardly established as towns before schools were opened. In 1871 a $10,000 school house was built at the latter place and the same year thirty-seven districts were organized, although only three erected buildings. The Methodists were the pioneer religious organization in the county. They perfected a church organization at Winfield in the spring of 1870 under the direction of B. C. Swartz, and in the fall the Baptists organized a church at Winfield. These were followed soon by other denominations.
Early in Feb., 1870, a bill was introduced in the legislature to organize Cowley county. This bill named Cresswell (now Arkansas City) as the county seat. The citizens of Winfield determined to have their town made the county seat. C. M. Wood, A. A. Jackson and J. H. Land made a canvass of the county and found that it contained over the necessary 600 inhabitants for organization. Papers were made out and forwarded to the governor, petitioning him to have Winfield made the seat of justice. On Feb. 28, 1870, the governor proclaimed the county organized, with Winfield the temporary county seat. W. W. Andrews, G. H. Norton and A. F. Graham were appointed special commissioners, and E. P. Hickok, clerk. The first meeting of the board was held on March 23 at the house of W. W. Andrews, who was elected chairman. A special election for township officers, and to locate the county seat, was ordered for May 2. At that election Winfield received 108 votes for county seat, Creswell 55, and thus Winfield became the permanent seat of justice. The following officers were elected: Morgan Willett, Thomas Blanchard and G. H. Norton, county commissioners; H. C. Loomis, county clerk; E. P. Hickok, clerk of the district court; F. A. Hunt, sheriff; John Devoe, treasurer; W. E. Cook, register of deeds; T. B. Ross, probate judge; F. S. Graham, surveyor; and W. S. Graham, coroner. At the general election in November E. S. Stover was elected state senator from Cowley; E. C. Manning, representative; T. B. Ross, probate judge; J. M. Patterson, sheriff; E. P. Hickok, clerk of the district court; A. A. Jackson, county clerk; G. B. Green, treasurer; E. S. Torrance, attorney; Walter A. Smith, register of deeds; H. L. Barker, surveyor; H. B. Kellogg, coroner.
On Aug. 22, 1871, a petition was circulated to change the county seat to Tisdale, which was located at the exact geographical center of the county, but the vote resulted in a victory for Winfield. In 1873, the county buildings were erected, consisting of a court-house and jail. The former, which cost $11,500, was located on a block of land, one-half of which was donated to the county by the town company and the other half purchased by the commissioners.
Cowley county is divided into the following townships: Beaver, Bolton, Cedar, Creswell, Dexter, Fairview, Grant, Harvey, Liberty, Maple, Ninnescah, Omnia, Pleasant Valley, Richland, Rock Creek, Sheridan, Silver Creek, Silverdale, Spring Creek, Tisdale, Vernon, Walnut and Windsor.
The general surface of the county is gently rolling prairie. There are some bluffs in the east, and the western part is quite level. The valley of the Arkansas averages about 5 miles in width; the valley of the Walnut averages about 2 miles and the smaller streams from a quarter of a mile to a mile. Timber belts are found along the streams that vary from a quarter of a mile to a mile in width and contain Cottonwood, elm, hackberry, mulberry, walnut, oak, redbud, pecan, hickory, ash and cedar. The county is well watered by the Arkansas river which crosses the southwestern portion, and the Walnut river, which flows south in the western part of the county, and their tributaries, the most important of which are the Muddy, Dutch, Timber, Silver and Grouse creeks. Cowley county is one of the first counties in the state in the production of corn. Oats, winter wheat and other grains are also extensively raised. Live stock raising is one of the leading industries, and dairying is a paying business. There are about 300,000 bearing fruit trees in the county that bring in a large income. Magnesium limestone of an excellent quality is found and extensively quarried, both for local use and shipment out of the county. Gypsum is found in large quantities in the west. A large salt marsh exists in the southwestern portion.
Few counties in the state have better transportation facilities. Five lines of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railway system center at Winfield; the Missouri Pacific enters the county near the southeast corner and runs west to Winfield; a branch of the same system runs from Dexter to Arkansas City; the St. Louis & San Francisco crosses the county diagonally from northeast to southwest, through Winfield, and a line of the Kansas Southwestern runs west from Arkansas City. Altogether, the county has over 200 miles of main track railroad.
The population, according to the U. S. census for 1910, was 31,790. The value of farm products, including animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter, was $4,321,090. The five leading crops, in the order of value, were: corn, $674,865; hay, $581,383; oats, $398,559; Kafir corn, $172,500; sorghum, $101,760. Dairy products to the value of $429,123 were sold during the year.Pages 467-470 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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