Sedgwick County, in the southern part of the state, is 135 miles west of the Missouri line, 250 miles east of Colorado and is the second county north of Oklahoma. The territory of which it is comprised was included in Butler county until 1867, when Sedgwick was formed by act of the legislature. The description was as follows: "Commencing at the northwest corner of Butler county, thence south to the southwest corner of the same; thence west to the west line of range 4 west; thence north to the south line of township 22; thence east to the place of beginning." In 1872 four townships on the north of the west tier were given to Reno county, and two full tiers from the north were given to Harvey. The county was named in honor of John Sedgwick, a general of the Civil war, who was killed at Spottsylvania Court House, Va., in May, 1864.
The first settlers were William Greiffenstein, who located on Cowskin creek and established a trading post in 1865; Charles Whittaker took a claim in the Little Arkansas valley in the spring of 1866; Durfee & Leedrick built a ranch on the Little Arkansas in 1867; about the same time Lewellen & Davis opened a post for trading with the Indians, and Eli Waterman and John Lawton located in the county. In 1868 came J. R. Mead, H. W. Vigus, William Whitman, M. A. Sales, D. S. Munger, Milo B. Kellogg, John Allison, Charles Hunter, F. H. and Harvey Dunlap, Robert and William Houston, David Edmounds, John D. Goyler, James French, David Wousick, and about a score of others. That year Sedgwick was organized into a township and attached to Butler county for judicial purposes. D. S. Munger was appointed the first justice of the peace and the first election was held in November, at which 35 votes were cast. The officers chosen were as follows: Trustee, M. A. Sales; clerk, H. W. Vigus; treasurer, S. B. Boyd; superintendent of public instruction, Mrs. Sales (mother of M. A. Sales).
An attempt to effect county organization was made in the fall of 1869, when an election was held which was declared void by the governor on account of irregularities. A new census was taken and in the winter of 1870 the governor issued a proclamation organizing the county, designating Wichita as the county seat, and appointing S. C. Johnson, William Lockard and Henry Stein commissioners. The commissioners appointed John Ward clerk, divided the county into three election districts and called an election in April for the choice of officers and the selection of a permanent county seat. The contest was between Wichita and Park City. The total vote was 260, many of which were said to have been fraudulent, but of which Wichita received the majority. The officers elected were: County clerk, J. M. Steele; county attorney, T. J. Fulton; register of deeds, L. F. Buttles; clerk of the district court, D. A. Bright; probate judge, Reuben Riggs; sheriff, W. N. Walker; treasurer, S. C. Johnson; superintendent of public instruction, John P. Hilton; surveyor, William Finn; coroner, E. B. Allen, and commissioners, N. A. English, T. S. Floyd and Alexander Williams. J. M. Steele and H. E. Vantrees were made justices of the peace. The first term of district court was held in June, 1870, and was presided over by Hon. W. R. Brown.
There were a number of Indian scares in Sedgwick county, and although no fighting took place here, a detachment of the Fifth United States infantry, under command of Col. Barr, was stationed on the site of Wichita in 1867. A number of the men, at the expiration of their term of enlistment, became settlers in the vicinity. During the last Indian scare, which occurred in 1874, more than 1,000 people from Sedgwick, Kingman, Sumner and Harvey counties came to Wichita in a single day. In a few days they all returned to their homes. Shortly after that it was reported that the Comanches and Apaches were about to raid southern Kansas. Gov. Thomas A. Osborn ordered S. M. Tucker of Wichita to raise a company of 50 men for Indian service, and sent Adjt.-Gen. Morris to that point with commissions for the officers of the company, arms and equipment, etc. Mr. Tucker was made captain; Cash Henderson, first lieutenant; and Mike Meagher second lieutenant. They started on the campaign on the morning of July 11, and were gone 10 days but saw no Indians.
In common with other border territory Sedgwick county was the scene of a number of murders and outrages on the part of "gangs" and ruffians, most of whom at some time or other "died with their boots on." Six of such deaths occurred in 1873, while Wichita was a cattle shipping point.
The first court-house was built in 1872 and was located at the corner of First and Main streets. The city court and jail occupied the basement. In 1874 a county jail was erected. The present court-house is one of the best in Kansas. The site for it was donated by the founders of Wichita and the building, which was erected at a cost of $220,000, was paid for by 20-year bonds.
Prior to 1872 all the travel was by wagons and stage coaches, the main road being known as the Kingman trail. A stage station was maintained at Wichita, at which point there was a ferry across the Arkansas. The first railroad was the Wichita & Southwestern, built in 1872 by a company of local capitalists. The president of the company was J. R. Mead; treasurer, William Greiffenstein; secretary, H. C. Sluss; directors, Solomon H. Kohn, J. M. Steele, S. C. Johnson, G. H. Smith, George Schlieter, C. F. Gilbert, T. J. Peter, R. W. P. Muse and F. J. Fulton. In Aug., 1871, the county voted $200,000 to aid in the construction of the road. During the last year before the road reached Wichita it was estimated that 800,000 cattle were driven through Sedgwick county. In 1880 the St. Louis & San Francisco railroad was completed to Wichita. In 1885 the Missouri Pacific was built from the east, and a little later the Wichita, Anthony & Salt Plains and the Wichita & Colorado lines were projected by local capitalists, and both became a part of the Missouri Pacific system. About that time the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe road was built from Sedgwick to Wichita, thence west to Kingman, the people of Wichita furnishing the right of way from that point to the west line of the county. In 1886 a line known as the Kansas Midland was built from Wichita to Ellsworth by Wichita capitalists, Senator Bentley, W. E. Stanley, J. O. Davidson. C. R. Miller, Robert E. Lawrence and others being the promoters. It became a part of the St. Louis & San Francisco system. The next year the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific was built across the county from the northeast. This being the main line of that road from Chicago to the gulf, the Sedgwick county people felt themselves very fortunate in securing it although they never realized any profits from the stock which they bought in the concern. The last road to be constructed in Sedgwick county was the Kansas City, Mexico & Orient, about 1906 or 1907. It connects this territory with the rapidly developing southwest and is one of the most valuable lines that has ever come to the county. Beside these roads which pass through Wichita, a branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe runs from east to west through the southern part and another line of the same road cuts across the southeastern corner.
In regard to the financial affairs of the county it is recorded that the first levy of taxes was 2 1/2 cents on the dollar. In 1872 the county was bonded for $200,000 for the first railroad, and being ambitious and eager for public improvements, especially new railroads, liberal bonds were voted at frequent intervals. These bonds were always promptly paid in full, $155,980 being paid off in the year 1880 at a time when new enterprises were being pushed very rapidly. In 1911 Sedgwick county was one of the three largest tax paying counties of the state. In 1880 the assessed valuation of property was $3,117,460, which was a remarkable growth from practically nothing in 1870. The assessed valuation in 1910 was $108,139,773. The county affairs are in excellent condition financially. The public buildings are paid for and bridges and roads are in good shape.
The Sedgwick County Agricultural Society was organized in 1873, and the first exhibition was held in October of that year. The next year on account of the drought and grasshoppers there was nothing to exhibit and the county had to accept outside aid. In 1875 the crops were bountiful, but in 1876 the grasshoppers again caused considerable damage. In 1882 the value of garden produce and animals sold for slaughter was $610,000, and the number of bushels of grain raised was 5,332,320, of which 3,665,610 bushels was corn. In 1884, out of an abundant corn crop, Sedgwick county sent 33 car loads of the grain to the food sufferers in Ohio in recognition of the help it had received ten years before. Although as a reaction to the boom of the '80s times were a little dull in the towns for the next few years, the land kept on producing crops which formed the basis of general prosperity. Sedgwick is at present surpassed by only four counties in the value of her farm products, which in 1910 were worth $5,616,683. Of this amount corn, the largest field crop, was worth $1,325,088; wheat, $490,785; oats, $676,074; hay, $645,812; animals sold for slaughter, $1,539,012. The Sedgwick County Fair Association had a tract of 40 acres which, when the association became bankrupt, was bought by John V. Carey for $5,000, the amount of the judgment against it, and formed the Carey Park addition to Wichita. A state fair, held at Wichita, took the place of the county institution. (See State Fairs.)
The legislature of 1893 authorized the establishment and maintenance of an industrial school at the expense of the county, the amount to be spent for buildings and grounds not to exceed $10,000. A branch of the state entomological department was established in Sedgwick in June, 1911, and is of great assistance to the farmers in ridding their farms of pests and increasing the volume of produce.
Sedgwick county is divided into 27 townships as follows: Afton, Attica, Delano, Eagle, Erie, Garden Plain, Grand River, Grant, Greeley, Gypsum, Illinois, Kechi, Lincoln, Minneha, Morton, Ninnescah, Ohio, Park, Payne, Rockford, Salem, Sherman, Union, Valley Center, Viola, Waco and Wichita.
The general surface is rolling prairie, level in places. The timber belt along the streams are unusually wide, averaging more than a mile, and contain all the varieties of wood common to Kansas soil. The bottom lands are also wide and comprise 50 per cent. of the area. Well water is accessible at a depth of from 10 to 50 feet. The Arkansas river enters in the northwest and crosses the entire county southwest. The Little Arkansas enters in the north, flows south, joining the larger stream at Wichita. The north and south forks of the Ninnescah river enter and unite in the southwest, the main stream flowing southeast into Sumner county. Cowskin creek has its source in the central part and flows southeast. Limestone, clay and gypsum are abundant. The population of the county in 1882 was 19,166; in 1890, 43,626; in 1900, 44,037, and in 1910, 73,095.Pages 662-665 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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