Rice County, in the central part of the state, is in the second tier of counties west of the 6th principal meridian, and in the fourth tier north of the Oklahoma line. It is bounded on the north by Ellsworth county; on the east by McPherson; on the south by Reno, and on the west by Stafford and Barton. It is crossed a little to the west of the center by the 1st guide meridian west. It was named in honor of Brig.-Gen. Samuel A. Rice, of the United States volunteers, who was killed at Jenkins' Ferry, Ark., April 30, 1864.
Although Rice county was created and its boundary lines fixed by the legislature of 1867, it was not until 1870 that it was settled. The first homesteader was John A. Carlson, who came in February of that year. He was followed by Andrew J. Johnson, C. S. Lindell, August Johnson, John Enrick Johnson, John P. Johnson, Q. W. Peterson, John Quincy Adams of Mass., and Leonard Russell. In Aug., 1870, R. M. Hutchinson, A. J. Howard and J. E. Perdue, of the firm of Hutchinson & Co., stopped upon the Little Arkansas with 4,000 head of cattle. Howard and Perdue returned the next January and located claims. A great many settlers came in 1871. A colony from Ohio located at Union City, 3 miles from the present city of Lyons. Buffalo was still plentiful in the vicinity, and was a great help to the homesteaders as a source of food and cash income. The first frame houses were built in this year, the lumber being hauled from Salina, a distance of 60 miles.
The county horticultural society was organized with Rev. J. B. Schlicter, president. The first murder among the settlers was committed on Aug. 27, 1871, when Edward Swanson shot and killed P. B. Shannon. The first natural death occurred the next day, and was that of John Chitty. The first birth was that of twins, George and Angie McKinnis, in September of that year. The Santa Fe trail ran through Rice county and there are a number of records of disasters to travelers prior to the coming of the settlers.
The county was organized on Aug. 18, 1871, the temporary county seat being fixed at Atlanta (Lyons). The officers appointed were: Commissioners, Daniel M. Bell, Theodore A. Davis and Evan C. Jones; clerk, Edward H. Dunham. The first election was held in September, when the following officers were chosen: County commissioners, Moses Burch. William Lowery and S. H. Thompson; county clerk. T. W. Nicholas; treasurer, T. C. Magoffin; coroner, J. W. Holmes; register of deeds, G. W. Poole; surveyor, T. S. Jackson; probate judge, Levi Jay; county attorney, H. Decker; clerk of the district court, William H. Van Osmun. Atlanta received 64 votes for county seat and Union City 48 votes. In the general election of Nov., 1871, Henry Fones was elected coroner; W. P. Brown, county attorney; Evan C. Jones, county surveyor and superintendent of public instruction; and J. M. Leidigh commissioner in place of S. H. Thompson. In March, 1872, the south tier of Congressional townships was detached and added to Reno county, in order that Peace (now Sterling) would thus be too far from the center ever to become the county seat. In 1876 an election for relocation of the county seat was held. Peace received 336 votes against 457 for Lyons, which up to this time had been called Atlanta. Rice county was at first in the 8th judicial district and attached to Ellsworth for judicial purposes. It was later changed to the 9th district.
The first newspaper was the Rice County Herald, started at Atlanta in 1872 by a Mr. Frazier. The first marriage was performed on Jan. 1 of that year, the contracting parties being James A. Moore and Ada Cartwright. The first train passed through the southwest corner of the county on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R. in July, 1872. The Salina, Atlanta & Raymond railway company was organized in 1872, but later became defunct without building any track. The first business establishment was Salady's grocery store at Atlanta in 1871. The first postoffice was at the same place, Earl Joslin, postmaster.
Soon after its organization the county was divided into three commissioner's districts, and these districts were later divided into townships as follows: 1st district, Farmer, Eureka, Lincoln, Pioneer, Raymond, Center and Valley; 2nd district, Sterling, Atlanta and Victoria; 3d district, Union and Washington. Five more have been organized sinceGait, Harrison, Mitchell, Rockville and Wilson. The towns in the county having postoffices are Lyons, Alden, Bushton, Chase, Crawford, Frederick, Gait, Geneseo, Little River, Mitchell, Pollard, Raymond, Saxman, Silicia, Sterling and Wherry.
In 1871 there were 130 persons of school age in the county. The next year there were 293, and there were 9 organized districts. The total expenditures for school purposes in that year was $118. The county normal institute was established in 1877. In 1882 the number of persons of school age had increased to 3,488. In 1907 the number of persons of school age was 4,456, and the organized districts numbered 94.
Three railroads pass through the county. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe enters in the east and crosses west through Lyons into Barton county. A branch road diverges at Little River, in the eastern part and runs northwest into Ellsworth county. Another line of the same road from Hutchinson, Reno county, to Ellinwood in Barton, crosses the southwest corner through Sterling. A line of the St. Louis & San Francisco enters in the southeast and crosses northwest through Lyons into Ellsworth county. A line of the Missouri Pacific railroad enters on the southern boundary and crosses north through Sterling and Lyons into Ellsworth county. Another line of this road crosses the extreme northern portion east and west. There are 151 miles of track in the county.
The surface in the western portion is nearly level, in the central and eastern parts somewhat rolling. Extending many miles along the Little Arkansas are sand hills which have been thrown up by the winds throughout a long period of time. Limestone is found in the northeast and the southeast; sandstone in the northeast and near Raymond in the southwest; red ochre is in the northeast; there are beds of gypsum in Washington township in the southeast; immense beds of salt underlie the county, and the finished product is manufactured at Lyons and Sterling. "Bottom" lands average from one to two miles in width and comprise about 15 per cent. of the area. Timber belts along the streams average from 50 feet to one-third of a mile wide and contain cottonwood, elm, hackberry and oak.
The principal stream is the Arkansas river which flows across the southwest corner. Cow creek, which drains the western and central parts, is an important tributary. The Little Arkansas has its source in the northeastern part of this county and flows south and southeast into McPherson county.
Rice is one of the best agricultural counties in the state, the annual farm production running between four and five millions of dollars in value. In 1910 the corn raised in this county was worth $1,500,000; wheat, $500,000; live stock sold for slaughter, $1,250,000; poultry and eggs, $124,000, and dairy products, $114,000. The crops for the year before were better in many respects, the corn alone bringing nearly $3,000,000, and the wheat and oats together netting considerable over a million.
The population in 1910 was 15,106, and the assessed valuation of property in that year was $34,000,000, which makes the wealth per capita about $2,240, or about $700 above the average per capita wealth of the state.Page 579-581 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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