Labette County, in the southern tier, is the second county west from the Missouri line. It is bounded on the north by Neosho county, on the east by Crawford and Cherokee, on the south by the State of Oklahoma, and on the west by Montgomery county. It was established by the legislature of 1867 and the boundaries fixed to include the territory extending from the sixth standard parallel on the north to the boundary of the state on the south, and from the Cherokee neutral lands on the east to the Osage reserve on the west. Labette was formed of the southern part of Dorn county (q. v.). It took its name from the stream which had been named in honor of Pierre Labette, a Frenchman.
The first white man to make a permanent settlement within the limits of the county was John Mathews, who established a trading post among the Osage Indians, where Oswego now stands, in 1840. Larkin McGee, who came to the county in 1847 and established a trading post where Chetopa now stands, found five families there at that time. They were the families of Mrs. Tianna Rodgers, William Blythe, Finchel Monroe, Daniel Hopkins and a man named Tucker. John Mathewson had attained considerable prosperity, having a two-story frame house plastered on the inside, fine blooded race horses and a private race track. He took his horses to all the big races in the west and was very successful. In 1857, George Lisle, Abraham Ewers, George Ewers and Samuel Steel came to the present site of Chetopa, built a double log house, a shop and an office, and established a trading post. During the war very little was done in the way of settlement. It is said that the raids and disorders of guerrilla warfare so destroyed the settlements that from 1860 to 1865 there were only two white men living within the limits of the county, S. M. Collins and A. T. Dickerman, who had received the consent of Chief White Hair to locate at a point 4 miles south of the present city of Oswego. In the fall of 1865 immigration began again and among those who settled at this time were J. C. Rexford, A. P. Elsbee, C. C. Clover, D. M. Clover, Bergen VanNess, C. E. Simmons, Norris Harrar, Cal. Watkins, William White and sons, and Grant Reeves, most of them locating along the Neosho valley.
Early in the war John Mathews allied himself with the Confederacy and raised a body of troops over which he was commander. He fought a guerrilla warfare until killed in 1863. In Nov., 1863, about 300 soldiers (Indians, half breeds and whites), under command of Capt. Willits, Adjt. Able and Lieut. Joslyn, came into the county, and, stating that they were acting under orders from their superior officers, burned practically all the property of the settlers in the county. The Chetopa settlement was wiped out and the settlers driven to council Grove, James Childers was brutally murdered for his money and left unburied, his neighbors being refused permission to bury him. On the occasion of Mathews being killed and his buildings burned, which must have happened before the wholesale raid, the male inhabitants were all arrested and tried by court martial on the charge of assisting the rebels.
The first postoffice in the county was granted to Chetopa in 1859. There was then no mail route to that point and no available means of securing the service, hence the office was not opened until 1861, when a route was established. Some of the early postoffices were: Chetopa, Montana, B. F. Simmons postmaster; Jacksonville, M. L. McCaslin postmaster; Oswego, D. N. Carr postmaster, and Neola in the same year with W. J. Connor postmaster. The first school was taught in Oswego township by Mrs. Herbaugh. The first religious services were held by Rev. J. P. Barnaby, a preacher belonging to the Southern Methodist church, who established a circuit among the settlements in 1858. The first marriage was between Sarah Rodgers and Larkin McGee, in 1848, and the first birth was that of their son. The first newspaper was the Eagle, published at Jacksonville in 1868, by B. K. Land.
In 1865, the news of the treaty with the Osages caused a flood of immigration to come into Labette county and settle on lands, even before the treaty was ratified and while the Osages were away from home on a hunting expedition. When the Indians returned and found their lands occupied by the whites, they were very much dissatisfied and asked their agent to have the intruders removed. An order was issued commanding all settlers to leave the Osage lands. This created great consternation and resulted in a meeting of some 300 of the settlers at Hickory creek. A deputy was appointed to carry a petition to the Indian agent, asking that the settlers be permitted to live on their claims. An agreement was finally reached by which each claim holder was to pay the Indians $1 per year until the treaty was ratified and they received pay for their lands, which occurred the same summer. The winter of 1866 was an unusually hard one. The weather was cold and bleak and the cabins insufficient for protection. The streams were swollen so that it was impossible for some time to secure provision. The provender for cattle and horses gave out, and as it was impossible to procure more most of the animals died of starvation or disease, and in the spring many of the settlers were without the means to farm their lands. The Indians who had been paid for their lands and had moved away, came back to steal from the settlers, and intimidate as many as possible into paying rents. In Feb., 1866, the settlers of Labette and Hackberry creeks formed what was known as the Hackberry Mutual Protection Society for the purpose of protecting the persons and property of its members from the red men. Similar organizations were effected in other parts of the county, and in May a county organization was formed. Speedy retribution was visited on the perpetrators of all sorts of lawlessness.
In the fall of 1866 the citizens of what was soon to become Labette county, thinking they ought to have a separate county government, and not wishing to await the pleasure of the legislature called an election and elected C. H. Bent as representative to the legislature. Not bearing legal credentials he was not given a seat. The matter was taken up immediately, however, and the county of Labette was created, after which Bent was seated. The governor located the county seat temporarily at Oswego, and appointed the following officers: Commissioners, S. W. Collins, J. Rice and C. H. Talbot; probate judge, Bergen Van Ness; district clerk, Elmore Craft; county clerk, A. T. Dickerman; sheriff Benjamin Rice. An election was held in May, 1867, at which the following officers were chosen: Commissioners, Nathan Ames, D. C. Lowe and Mr. Shay; sheriff, Benjamin Rice; probate judge, Bergen VanNess; assessor, A. W. Jones; county clerk, A. T. Dickerman; district clerk, Elmore Craft; treasurer, C. C. Clover; superintendent of schools. J. F. Newlon; county attorney, J. W. Parkinson. The county seat was permanently located at Oswego.
This county was the field of the operations of the famous Bender family (q. v.), who committed several atrocious crimes in the '70s.
The county is well supplied with railroads. The first one built was the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, which enters the county in the central part of the north line, and extends southeast to Oswego and South to the state line. The next line to be built was the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe, which runs across the extreme northwestern corner. The St. Louis & San Francisco R. R., which passes through the central part of the county from east to west, was constructed in 1879. A line of the same road which passes through the northern part was built in 1882. In addition to these lines there is the Missouri Pacific R. R., running from east to west across the southern tier of townships, and three other lines of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas, one running east from Altamont, one runnning north from Parsons, and another crossing the northern line of the county and running southwest through Mound Valley.
The townships of the county are as follows: Canada, Elm Grove, Fairview, Hackberry, Howard, Labette, Liberty, Montana, Mound Valley, Mount Pleasant, Neosho, North, Osage, Oswego, Richland and Walton. The cities, towns and villages are, Oswego, the county seat, Altamont, Angola, Bartlett, Cecil, Chetopa, Dennis, Edna, Elm City, Idenbro, Labette, Laneville, Mathewson, Montana, Mortimer, Mound Valley, Oswego, Parsons, Valeda and Wilsonton.
The surface of the county is generally undulating prairie, with gentle slopes, and numerous streams. The largest stream is the Neosho, which flows south through the eastern tier of townships as far as Oswego. Labette creek rises in the northwest and flows southeast across the county. Big Hill, Pumpkin, and a number of smaller creeks, drain different parts of the county. Well water is found in abundance at a depth of 30 feet.
Common limestone for flagging, and a superior grade of sandstone are plentiful. Brick clay, coal and salt are to be had in commercial quantities. Oil and gas underlie almost the entire surface of the county.
The area is 649 square miles or 415,360 acres, of which nearly 300,000 acres have been brought under cultivation. The farm products for 1910 were valued at $2,855,112, of which corn brought $643,776; oats, $610,160; wheat, $116,953; hay (including alfalfa), $318,695; animals sold for slaughter, $572,963; poultry and eggs, $155,070; and dairy products, $259,977. The population of the county in 1910 was 31,423, a gain of 4,036 during the preceding decade, and the assessed valuation of all property was $35,377,355.Pages 82-85 from volume II 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 July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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