Norton County, one of the northern tier, is the fourth from Colorado. It is bounded on the north by the State of Nebraska; on the east by Phillips county; on the south by Graham, and on the west by Decatur. It was created in 1867 and named for Orloff Norton, captain of Company L, Fifteenth Kansas cavalry. The boundaries were defined as follows: "Commencing where the east line of range 21 west intersects the 40th degree of north latitude; thence south to the 1st standard parallel; thence west to the east line of range 26 west; thence north to the 40th degree of north latitude; thence east to the place of beginning."
It is 30 miles square. The county was prematurely organized in 1872. The prime mover in the event brought about the organization for the purpose of exploitation. He disappeared from the county in June and went to Topeka, where he prepared a forged petition and presented it to Gov. Harvey. It contained but 8 names of residents of the county. The governor refused to act upon it. Immediately he prepared an affidavit stating that there were not less than 600 inhabitants in Norton county. This was sent to the governor and a second petition stating that there were at least 600 inhabitants in the county followed. It asked for organization, made recommendation for officers and asked that Billingsville be declared the temporary county seat. Although this petition did not contain the name of a single resident of Norton county the governor acted upon it and appointed Richard M. Johnson to take the census. As Johnson was a fictitious character, Billings had things his own way in regard to the census, and a bogus census was gotten up in short order. It was presented to the governor on Aug. 22 and the same day the proclamation of organization was issued declaring Billingsville the temporary county seat and appointing the following officers: Clerk, David C. Coleman; commissioners, J. W. Vance, S. D. Reed and James Hall.
The commissioners met and appointed Sept. 24 as the day for the first election. Forty-one votes were cast. Norton received 38 for county seat and the following officers were elected: Treasurer, Henry Oliver; sheriff, James Hall; clerk of the district court, S. Marsh; surveyor, D. W. Mills; probate judge, Edward Newell; register of deeds, Samuel Newell; coroner, William Gibbon; commissioners, W. J. Vance, Abram Louk and Peter Hansen. N. H. Billings was elected county attorney, superintendent of public instruction and representative. He succeeded in having school bonds voted, which carried by only one vote, that of his wife's sister, a minor. When he took his seat in the legislature he had the rights of majority conferred upon her, hoping by that means to make the election legal. During that session a measure was introduced in the house of representatives as a joke to change the name of Norton county to Billings to tickle the vanity of that member whom his fellow law makers had dubbed in jest "the fiery untamed Demosthenes of Norton." C. C. Vance represented the county at the next session and the name was changed back to Norton. Another county seat election was held in 1874 and Norton was again victorious.
The first settlers came in 1871, and the first homestead was taken by George Cole in September of that year. In November James Hall, D. C. Coleman, Charles Brazee and Fred Hyde settled in the county. In the spring of 1872 a party composed of S. Marsh, Charles Hillsinger, Mott Wood, Henry Oliver and Thomas Brown came from New York to the Prairie Dog valley. The immigration was heavy that year. The Indians had not abandoned this part of the country yet and several "Indian scares" occurred. At one time a band of Sioux just returning from a battle with the Pawnees, and with the bloody scalps of the latter dangling from their belts, visited the settlers and indulged in a war dance, but did no serious damage.
The first school was taught by J. H. Simmons in 1873 with 16 pupils in attendance. The first physician was Mrs. P. A. O. Briggs. She would often go 50 miles in the worst weather to see patients when she knew they were unable to pay her a cent. The menu at the first wedding was coffee, ham and corn bread. The first postoffices were at West Union and Port Landis in 1874. Alfred Coleman and John Landis were the first postmasters. The first general merchandise store was established at Norton in 1873 by Newell Bros. The first term of court was held by Judge A. J. Banta in the fall of the same year. It occupied 20 minutes.
According to the bogus census of 1872 there were 636 people in the county, though the real number probably did not exceed one-third of those figures. Ten years later the population was a trifle under 6,000. The number of acres under cultivation was 205,921, having increased from 3,156 in 1874. The value of agricultural implements in use was $23,000, the number of fruit trees about 25,000.
The population in 1890 was 10,617, that of 1900 was 11,325, that of 1910, 11,614. These figures do not indicate a depression such as occurred in many Kansas counties, especially in the early '90s. The assessed valuation of property in 1910 was $18,242,467. The total value of farm products that year was $2,527,204. Wheat, the principal crop, was worth $647,519; corn, $307,633; tame grasses, $271,430; prairie grass, $136,432; oats, $135,522; sorghum, $88,000; Kafir corn, $68,000. Animals sold for slaughter brought $531,501; poultry and eggs, $103,978; dairy products, $147,593. There were more than $2,500,000 worth of live stock in the county and 85,000 bearing fruit trees.
The county is divided into 23 townshipsAldine, Almelo, Almena, Belle Plaine, Center, Clayton, Crystal, Emmett, Garfield, Grant, Harrison, Highland, Lenora, Leota, Lincoln, Modell, Noble, Orange, Rock Branch, Rockwell, Sand Creek, Solomon and West Union. The postoffices in 1910 were Almena, Calvert, Clayton, Dellville, Densmore, Devizes, Edmond, Lenora, Norton and Oronoque.
The surface is prairie, bottom lands comprising 15 per cent. The principal streams are: Sappa creek in the northwest, Prairie Dog through the center, and the north fork of the Solomon in the south. They are lined by thin belts of native timber. Limestone, sandstone and potter's clay are found. A branch of the Missouri Pacific R. R. enters in the south from Phillips county, runs west and terminates at Lenora. A branch of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy enters in the northeast, runs southwest to Norton and west into Decatur county. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific enters in the northeast and crosses southwest through Norton into Decatur county.Pages 374-476 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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