Shawnee County, one of the original 33 counties created by the first territorial legislature in 1855, is located in the northeast section of the state, the third county south from Nebraska and the third west from Missouri. It is bounded on the north by Jackson and Jefferson counties; on the east by Jefferson and Douglass; on the south by Osage, and on the west by Wabaunsee and Pottawatomie. It was named for the Shawnee tribe of Indians. According to the boundaries first described Shawnee county lay wholly south of the Kansas river, its southern line extending as far south as that of Douglas county. By the act of 1868 the northern boundary was extended beyond the Kansas river to a line 6 miles north of the 2nd standard parallel, the triangular corner in the northwest between the Kansas river and the 2nd standard parallel being ascribed to both Shawnee and Wabaunsee counties. In 1869 this strip was given to Shawnee and it thus assumed its final form.
The county was crossed by branches of the Oregon and California trails. Prior to 1847 the white people living here were missionaries or traders. The first trader was Frederick Chouteau, who established a post on the west bank of Mission creek 2 miles south of the Kansas river in 1830. In the same year Rev. William Johnson came to the Kaw Indian village which had been established about the Chouteau post and resided for two years. In 1835 the government farm was established in the valley of Mission creek and in that year the first plowing was done in the county. During the summer, mission buildings were erected on the northern part of the farm. This mission, together with Chouteau's post, the government blacksmith, the government farmer and a few other employees constituted the first settlement. In 1840 the three Papan brothers, whose wives being half Indians were entitled to special reservations covering the site of North Topeka, came to that locality. Two years later they established a ferry above the island on which the Topeka reservoir was later built. For many years it accomodated the travel from Fort Leavenworth to New Mexico and that of the Oregon and California trails. In the flood of 1844 all their houses, boats and improvements of every kind were washed away. This flood was one of the worst in the history of the county. All the houses and improvements for many miles on both sides of the river were destroyed and the water on the site of North Topeka was 26 feet deep. The missionaries sent east for help forthe white people and destitute Indians. (See Floods.)
Among the people who came in 1847 were Jonas Lykins, Father J. B. Hoecken, who established a Catholic mission in Auburn township; a colony of settlers from Indiana, New York and Iowa, which located in Silver Lake township; and a colony which settled in Rossville township. The next year a number of settlers located in Soldier township; Rev. Isaac McCoy and his daughter Elizabeth, Rev. Robert Simerwell and daughter Sarah came to the Baptist mission, which was established that year in Mission township. They opened and taught an Indian school. The government established a trading post in 1848 at the site of Rossville, where Thomas N. Stinson, who later figured prominently in the history of Tecumseh, built the first house in March. Two months later a dozen traders located there, and the place was called Uniontown. The next year cholera broke out among the Indians in the neighborhood with terrible violence and the town was deserted except for Stinson, Whitehead and McDonald, who remained with Dr. Gallimore and his wife to help check the disease, of which the doctor and his wife later died.
Of the towns which were founded in this period and later became defunct none had as great prospects as Tecumseh, founded in 1852 by Thomas N. Stinson. Rochester was founded in 1854 by J. Butler Chapman; Indianola, by H. D. McMeekin; Mairsville, by Thomas W. Mairs; and Washington, by Capt. E. Allen, in 1855; Kenamo, by Joseph Allen, in 1856; Williamsport, by citizens of Williamsport, Pa., and Carthage, by W. B. Stith, in 1857. Topeka, founded in 1855 by Col. Cyrus K. Holliday and others, is the only one of the early towns to survive. In 1854 settlers came into the county by hundreds and a new era in its history began.
The first territorial legislature, which in 1855 defined the boundaries of the county, also organized it, making Tecumseh the county seat and by a ballot elected the following officers: probate judge, William O. Yeager; board of commissioners, William O. Yeager, Edward Hoagland and William Yocum; sheriff, George W. Berry. In September the following officers were appointed to complete the organization: county clerk, John Martin; treasurer, Thomas N. Stinson. County buildings were erected at Tecumseh to be paid for by county and territorial tax. The county was divided into Tecumseh and Yocum townships. In 1857 it was again divided into the townships of Tecumseh, Topeka, Brawnville, Burlingame and Wakarusa. In the next decade frequent changes were made, and finally in 1868 the present division into Auburn, Dover, Menoken, Mission, Monmouth, Rossville, Silver Lake, Soldier, Tecumseh, Topeka and Williamsport, was made. In Oct., 1855, Gov. Shannon appointed John Martin register of deeds and John Homer assessor.
Owing to the fact that Col. Holliday, who had been elected to the legislature at an election ordered by Gov. Reeder and held on May 22, 1855, was not seated, and that the candidate elected by the Missourians and pro-slavery men on March 30 was seated in his place, the free-state citizens of Shawnee county did not recognize the acts of the legislature which convened at Pawnee that summer, hence they did not consider the county organized. On these grounds they refused to pay taxes and made it so unpleasant for the tax collector that it was impossible to keep the same man in the office for more than a few weeks. The office of sheriff was not a popular one. The whole territory was then in a turmoil over the slavery question, and late in the fall of 1855 Shawnee county contributed one of the free-state companies which went to the defense of Lawrence, which was then being besieged by border ruffians and Missourians. This company was organized on Nov. 27, with Daniel H. Home as captain. The next year a company of Shawnee county men was organized under Capt. William F. Creitz for protection against the raiders from Missouri, and aided in securing a food supply which had been cut off from the free-state towns. It also marched to Bull creek to repel Capt. John Reid, a Missourian who was leading a raid on Osawatomie. Upon the way back to Lawrence Capt. Creitz received word that Col. Cooke had been ordered by Acting-Gov. Woodson to take possession of Topeka, and the company hastened home in time to prevent this from being done. In Sept., 1856, about 50 Shawnee county men went to the assistance of Gen. Lane at Ozawkie and were with him at Hickory Point, later disbanding by order of Gov. Geary.
The first county election was held in Oct., 1857, when the free-state ticket was elected as follows: Member of council, Cyrus K. Holliday; representative, James A. DeLong; probate judge, Phillip Schuyler; sheriff, Jehiel Tyler; treasurer, A. Polley; register of deeds, F. W. Giles; surveyor, Joel Huntoon; commissioners, Harvey W. Curtis and Hiram Shields. After the election it was found that under the territorial laws the offices of sheriff, surveyor and register of deeds were appointive instead of elective. At its first meeting in Jan., 1858, the county board made Mr. Giles clerk of the board of commissioners, clerk of the probate judge and register of deeds. Mr. Tyler was commissioned sheriff by the governor. Mr. Huntoon was made surveyor by the commissioners. Edward Hoagland was appointed to the office of probate judge in place of Mr. Schuyler, who declined to serve.
The new free-state officials found county matters in a state of chaos. No schools had been established nor no bridges built; financial matters were in a desperate condition, owing to the building of the court-house at Tecumseh and the failure to collect revenues; there was no jail, and no provision had been made to pay for the board of persons arrested by the sheriff. A bridge costing $900 was built over Deer creek by county bonds issued by the commissioners, and the sheriff was authorized to issue certificates for the advance payment of taxes in order to meet the exegencies of his office. In February the county government was changed by the legislature so that each township had a board of commissioners, the chairman of each township board being a member of the county board. The first county board under this arrangement was, Jeremiah Murphy, Eli Hopkins, P. T. Hupp, A. H. Hale, and George Bratton. Considering the fact that the greater part of the county indebtedness was incurred in building a court-house at Tecumseh, without a vote of the people, and that the organization of the county prior to the election of 1857 was spurious, the new county board repudiated the obligations incurred by the county prior to the first Monday in Oct., 1857.
By act of the legislature ordering the counties to vote on the location of their county seats in Oct., 1858, such an election was held in Shawnee county and resulted in the choice of Topeka. After considerable delay Judge Hoagland announced the vote but declared the election "invalid and void." Inasmuch as the only thing which could invalidate the election was the delay in publishing the vote, the legislature, by special act of Jan. 25, 1859, removed the county seat from Tecumseh to Topeka, in view of the fact that the latter town was the choice of the people. No court-house was built until after the Civil war, and on their removal to Topeka the county offices were scattered all over town.
The first bridge over the Kansas river was built at private expense by a company organized in Topeka. It cost $10,000, was completed on May 1, 1858, and ten weeks later was swept away by high water. The first newspapers in the county were established in 1855. The Kansas Tribune was started at Lawrence in January and moved to Topeka the next December. The Kansas Freeman was started at Topeka on July 4. Both these papers were started as weeklies and later became dailies.
During the Civil war Shawnee county raised several companies for the defense of the Union and of the State of Kansas. The Second Kansas state militia, which was mustered into service in 1864 to repel the Price raid, was almost wholly a Shawnee county regiment. The officers were: George W. Veale, Topeka, colonel; Henry M. Green, Monmouth, lieutenant-colonel; Andrew Stark, Topeka, major; Edward P. Kellam, Topeka, adjutant; Samuel J. Reeder, Indianola, quartermaster; S. E. Martin, Topeka, surgeon. The officers of companies A and B were Topeka men; Company C was raised and officered in Tecumseh; D was from Indianola, E from Topeka, G from Auburn and H from Williamsport. The battery was officered by Topeka men. Of the regiments from Kansas mustered into the United States service, Company A of the second infantry and Companies E and H of the Eleventh cavalry were largely composed of Shawnee county men. This county contributed to a number of other regiments, notably the Seventeenth.
After the war, which had arrested the growth of the county, the commissioners proceeded with the work of establishing schools, building bridges and roads, etc., which had been begun in 1859, and in 1867 the citizens voted to build a court-house and a jail, which was done at a cost of nearly $69,000. The court rooms occupied the second floor, the county offices the main floor, and the jail was in the basement. In 1886 a jail and sheriff's residence were erected at a cost of $40,000. The present court-house was completed in 1895, the cost of the site and building being $180,000. In 1865 a pontoon bridge over the Kansas river was built, which lasted till 1870. The next year Mortimer Cook built a toll bridge, which was purchased jointly by the city and county at a cost of $100,000. In 1895 the county voted $150,000 for a new bridge and the Melan bridge was built. At the time it was commenced it was one of the largest Melan arch bridges which had been built. It withstood a severe test in the flood of 1903, which swept away nearly every other bridge on the river. In 1905 the channel of the river was widened and a new span added to prevent damage by future floods, and in 1911 still another span was built.
In 1874 the Shawnee County Agricultural Society was organized and it held fairs each fall for more than a dozen years at Topeka, but finally the county fairs were so overshadowed by the state fairs held on the same grounds that they were discontinued. A state fair association was organized in 1880. Various citizens of Shawnee county subscribed a total amount of $3,600 to the capital stock. A state fair was held the next year on the county fair grounds. The county has always contributed either by public or private subscription to the state fairs. In 1910 Shawnee county voted $50,000 to the new state fair association. (See State Fairs.)
The first schools were organized in 1859. In 1882 there were 81 organized districts, 91 school houses, 133 school rooms, with as many teachers, and an average attendance of 4,305 out of a school population of 11,496. In 1910 there were 99 organized districts, 338 teachers, 16,994 persons of school age with an average attendance of 8,827 pupils. The value of school property in 1882 was $265,000; in 1910 it was $1,132,800 including the property of the public schools in cities.
The first railroad was the Union Pacific, which was completed through the county in 1866. Work was begun on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in the fall of 1868. The Union Pacific enters on the east line and crosses west following the north bank of the Kansas river. A line of this road has recently been built from Topeka northwest to Onaga in Pottawatomie county. The main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe from Kansas City enters on the east line, crosses west to Topeka, thence south into Osage county. A branch of this road from Atchison enters in the northeast and crosses southwest to Topeka, where it connects with the main line. A branch of the Missouri Pacific from Fort Scott enters in the southast[sic] and crosses to Topeka, where it terminates. The Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific runs its trains over the Union Pacific tracks from Kansas City to Topeka, thence over its own tracks following the south bank of the Kansas river into Wabaunsee county. A line of this road extends north from Topeka into Jackson county.
Owing to more settled financial conditions Shawnee county suffered less from the various depressions than some of the newer counties. During the winter following the drought of 1860 this county received 361,165 pounds of provisions. In the hard times of 1874 Shawnee county not only took care of its own but subscribed funds to help the people in other parts of the state. In 1885 there were said to be 3,000 destitute people in the county, 800 of whom were being supported at public expense. A bad season for crops was the cause of this condition. The assessed valuation of property in 1860 was $1,178,994; in 1870 it was $4,696,253; and in 1910 it was $79,863,791. In 1882 there were about 100,000 acres of land under cultivation, most of it planted to corn. In 1910 corn was still the leading crop, the crop of that year being worth $1,453,736, hay, the crop next in value, was worth $524,716. Irish potatoes were worth $107,858. The total value of farm products for the year was $5,429,222, of which various dairy products contributed over $2,000,000.
In 1890 Shawnee county was prominent in the "Original Package" difficulty by reason of the Federal court ordering the county attorney to discontinue actions brought against the violators of the Kansas prohibitory law, and the governor ordering the state attorney to appear in the place of the county attorney.
During the Spanish-American war of 1898-99 two full companies and parts of other companies were recruited in Shawnee county. Company A of the famous Twentieth Kansas was almost wholly recruited in Topeka, and the Kansas troops were mobilized at Camp Leedy, Topeka.
One of the principal disasters of late years was the flood of 1903 which destroyed a great deal of property along all the streams in the county, especially the Kansas river and the Shunganunga. Less destructive floods occurred in 1904 and 1908. In 1911 the county built dikes of concrete at Topeka to prevent a future overflow at that point.
The surface of the county is rolling prairie with a few hills and bluffs along the streams, prominent among which is Burnett's mound, one of the beauty spots of the county, located southwest of Topeka. The bottom lands along the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers are from 1 to 3 miles wide and these together with the creek valleys comprise about one-third of the area of the county.
The Kansas river, which is the largest in the state, flows across the county from west to east, just north of the center. Among its tributaries are Soldier creek from the north and Mission from the south. The Wakarusa enters on the south line in the west part and flows east across the county into Douglas. Blue and gray limestone is found in the bluffs and along the banks of the streams. Clay for brick is plentiful. Coal has been mined to a limited extent. Sand of a superior quality is dredged from the Kansas river and shipped in large quantities. Timber belts along the streams average three-fourths of a mile in width and contain oak, cottonwood, ash, walnut, hickory, hackberry, basswood, elm, mulberry, box-elder, redbud and ironwood. There are two medicinal springs at Topeka.
The population at various stages in the history of the county has been as follows: In 1860, 3,513; in 1865, 3,458; in 1870, 13,121; in 1875, 15,417; in 1880, 28,029; in 1890, 49,172; in 1900, 53,727; in 1910, 61,874, showing a steady growth at all periods.Pages 683-688 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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