Elk County, in the southeastern part of the state, is the fourth county west of the Missouri line and in the second tier north from Oklahoma. It is bounded on the north by Greenwood county, on the east by Wilson and Montgomery, on the south by Chautauqua, and on the west by Cowley and Butler. The county was established in 1875 by an act which divided Howard county into Elk and Chautauqua counties. Its history prior to that date will be as that part of Howard county which later became Elk.
In common with the surrounding territory, the lands of Elk county were settled before they were legally open to white occupation. The first white man to locate within the limits of the county was Richard Graves in 1856. He was twice driven out by the Indians and finally abandoned his claim. A strip of land 6 miles wide along the eastern border which was legally open to settlement formed the attraction which drew the earliest immigrants, but once here many of the more adventurous risked their lives to take up the rich lands in the river bottoms belonging to the Indians. By 1870 these squatters had reached a considerable number, among them being J. C. Pinney, James Shipley, R. M. Humphrey, Elison Neat, H. G. Miller, J. B. Roberts and others. Among those who settled within the legal limits were Isaac Howe and Eliza Lewis, who were among the first five that located in Liberty township. The claims were all staked out by private survey, which gave rise to a great deal of trouble among claimants when the government survey was made. Those who had been possessors of fine tracts of land by private survey often found themselves without anything or only with a small strip, when the true lines were run. The land which was cut off by the government survey having no legal owner, there were parties ready to file on it without delay. This brought about claim wars, which sometimes resulted in the death of one of the parties involved, and sometimes were settled peaceably. All pioneer districts experience trouble of some sort and this happened to be the difficulty which was most keenly felt in Elk county.
The first church organization was made by the Missionary Baptists in Liberty township in 1866. The first church building to be erected was at the town of Longton in 1871. The first newspaper was the Howard County Ledger, published in 1871 by Adrian Reynolds. The first marriage was between D. M. Spurgeon and Sarah Knox, and the first birth was that of Sarah F. Shipley in Dec., 1866.
The dissension among the towns of Elk Falls, Howard, Boston, Peru and Longdon, which had reached a serious and lawless stage, and in which three companies of militia took part, led to the organization of Elk county. In 1871 steps were taken to have two new counties formed, but it was not accomplished until 1875, when Edward Jaquins introduced a bill in the legislature to that end, which was passed, and the counties of Elk and Chautauqua formed out of Howard county, by running a line east and west through the middle. The organization of Elk was perfected by calling an election at which the following officers were chosen: Commissioners, Thomas Wright, John Hughes and G. W. McKey; county clerk, Thomas Hawkins; county treasurer, W. W. Jones; sheriff, J. W. Riley; register of deeds, Frank Osborne; probate judge, A. P. Searcy; county attorney, S. B. Oberlander; county superintendent, J. N. Young. The county has suffered twice from defaulting treasurers, and once from a defaulting sheriff. In 1879, the citizens of Howard erected a court-house in return for the county seat being located at that place. The agricultural society of Elk county was organized in that year and held yearly fairs.
The first railroad to be built was what is now the east and west line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in 1879. Another line of the same system enters the county, on the north, runs directly south and connects with the first line at Moline. A third line runs southeast from Longton into Montgomery county.
The county is divided into ten townships, as follows: Elk Falls, Greenfield, Howard, Liberty, Longton, Oak Valley, Painterhood, Paw Paw, Union Center and Wild Cat. The towns and villages are, Blanche, Bushy, Cave Springs, Chaplin, Elk Falls, Grenola, Howard, the judicial seat, Longton, Moline, Oak Valley, Upola and Western Park.
The surface is rolling and in some places hilly and bluffy. Bottom lands, which average about one mile in width, comprise 20 per cent. of the area. The timber belts along the streams average a quarter of mile in width and consist of oak, cottonwood, elm, hackberry, box elder, maple, hickory, butternut, red-bud and sycamore. The principal stream is Elk river, which enters the county in the northwest corner and flows southeast. Its main tributaries are Wild Cat, Paw Paw and Painterhood creeks. There are numerous other streams. Well water is found at a depth of 20 feet. Sandstone and limestone are found in abundance; marble of a fair quality and coal are found in limited amounts, and oil and gas are present in commercial quantities.
The farm products of the county amount to about $2,250,000 a year. The total area is over 400,000 acres, nearly two-thirds of which have been brought under cultivation. In 1876 there were 46,000 cultivated. and in 1882, 68,000. The number of apple trees in 1882 was 58,000, as against 100,000 in 1910. The most valuable crop is Indian corn which brings $250,000 a year. Kafir corn comes next, and is worth about $150,000 annually. Other leading products are millet, oats, wheat, hay, live stock, poultry, butter and eggs. The total assessed valuation of property is over $14,000,000 as against $1,000,000 in 1880. The population in 1910, according to the government census report, was 10,128, about ten times what it was in 1880.Pages 573-575 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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