The date of settlement of the first white person in this county is unknown; whether it was John Mathews or some of the parties in the neighborhood of Chetopa, I cannot say. The letters which I present herewith contain the most authentic information I have been able to gather on the subject, and I give them here as I have received them.
"Hon. Nelson Case, President Labette Co. Historical Society -
DEAR SIR: In response to your request for some facts relative to early history, I will contribute the following.
"I came to what is now Labette county on January 17, 1847, and established a trading-post at the point where Chetopa now stands. I came here from Spring Place, Murray county, Georgia. The name of that place was spelled with an 'h' at the end - 'Chetopah,' and meant four houses; 'Che' in the Osage Indian language is house, and 'topah' is four. Chetopah had a town, and lived on the Verdegree River, west or northwest of Chetopa town. He was only chief of his town. Each town had a chief and there was a principal chief over all.
"I found five white, or partially white, families there when I arrived. They were the widow Tianna Rogers and family, consisting of four sons and three daughters, all grown, living about one mile north of Chetopa; William Blythe, whose wife was a white woman; Finchel Monroe, who had a white wife; Daniel Hopkins, a white man with a Cherokee wife; and a white man named Tucker, who had a Cherokee wife. These families lived near Chetopa, on the Neosho River, below where the town is at present. In 1848 I married Sarah Rogers, daughter of Tianna Rogers; we had born to us three sons and one daughter. Two of my sons, John and Albert, live in the Cherokee Nation, ten miles from Chetopa. The other two children are dead. Tianna Rogers and all the family are dead.
"John Mathews, a Kentuckian, who had married an Osage woman, lived and had a trading-post at the point where Oswego now stands. He had been there some years when I came; he had a farm of about forty acres in cultivation on the prairie. He had a good house standing on top of the bluff in the edge of the prairie; there was a spring near it, just north and east of the house. His house was a framed house, with two stone chimneys, the framing timbers hewn out; it was boarded up on the outside with boards split or rived out of burroak trees, then shaved and smoothed, and the house sided up and painted white. It looked quite nice compared to our log houses. His house was plastered on the inside, done in workmanlike style. All of the rest of the people lived in log cabins. I do not know how long he came before I did probably several years. He was a heavy trader, and wealthy. He had one negro woman with him who was a slave, till he was killed. He had fine blooded race-stock, with race track south and west of his house, and between his house and his cultivated land; he had fast horses. He would take trips to Missouri, Kentucky, Texas, and other States, racing, and was very successful. Mathews had a good many horses and cattle.
"Cattle lived without being fed, and did better in the winter than in the summer, for in the summer the mosquitoes and green-headed flies nearly ate them up. In the fall the peavine, and in the winter a winter grass and flag that grew around the lakes, made a good range for stock. Where you now have good farms we then had large lakes on which immense numbers of geese, ducks, pelican, swan, brant and other fowl flourished. We never fed hogs, but the hickory and other nuts furnished food that kept them fat. There were plenty of wild turkey, fish, antelope, deer and other game, also honey-bees, wolves, panthers and other wild animals to hunt for traffic, and wild horses could also be caught on the prairie.
"There was a good deal of sickness, principally fever and ague, and no doctor within twenty-two miles; everyone had to be his own doctor. The winter of 1848-49, and also that of 1849-50, were unusually cold and severe. In the latter the snow was thirty inches deep, crusted on top, and stayed on the ground about six weeks. These two winters stock suffered a good deal, but other winters were not so bad, although I am of the opinion they were colder than they are since the country has settled up.
"The settlers lived by hunting and trading with the Osages, and other tribes of wild Indians that roamed over the country. The Cherokees claimed and extended their laws to the mouth of the Labette Creek, until the south line of Kansas was established. The Osages lived in towns, usually along the streams, with one chief to a town. One town, called Little Town, was situated where Oswego now stands. Pah-Che-Ka, one of the chiefs of the Osages, lived, at Little Town. White Hair was the principal chief of the Osages, and lived on the Neosho River six miles south of Osage Mission, and down the river; this was the largest town in the Osage Nation at that time.
"The Labette Creek took its name from a Frenchman of that name who then lived om the creek nearly west of where Oswego now stands. He had a full blooded Osage for a wife. It is said he once lived opposite the mouth of Labette Creek; if he did it was before Dr. Lisle or myself saw that country; when I knew him he lived on the Labette, southwest of Oswego. He was a very common old Frenchman.
"There are many things of note that happened in an early day, and in the first settling of that country, that I could tell, that I cannot write.
DEAR JUDGE: In compliance with your request for a statement in reference to matters connected with my first visit to Labette county, and settlement therein I herewith comply.
"About 1850 1 met a man by the name of Wilfred Cox, on a steamboat on the Ohio River, on his return from the West to his old home in Pennsylvania. He was a school teacher, and had taught in various places, and finally reached Council Grove, in this State; thence he came down to Osage Mission with stockmen, and from there in one way and another got down to the Abrose McGhee place, near where Chetopa now stands. This was some time probably in 1847 or '48. He built him a canoe in which he floated down the river to Van Buren; after teaching school there and at other points in Arkansas he started back home, and it was on this return trip that I saw him.
"He gave me a full account of the Neosho River and its scenery, describing the valley from the north of the Labette to the McGhee place; he said it was the finest valley he had ever seen. I made notes of what he said, took a full description of the country, and made a sketch of a map. On this information I decided to make a trip as soon as possible to this country. On March 20, 1857, in company with Abraham Ewers, George Ewers and Samuel Steel, I started from my home in Powhatan, Belmont county, Ohio, for the Neosho valley, at the point last spoken of by Cox.
I came on a steamboat to St. Louis, and from there to Osage City, Missouri, by rail; at that point we bought two yoke of oxen and drove through. We came by the Quapaw agency, where Major Dorn, the Indian agent, was located, with whom I had a conversation, and arranged to meet him a short time thereafter at Osage Mission to act as his clerk in the payment to the Indians of the funds coming to them from the Government.
"We crossed the Neosho River at Rocky Ford on the State line on the evening of April 17, 1857; there we camped near the residence of James Childers, who was a white man, and who had married one of the Rogers girls; he lived on the west side of the river, in what is now a part of Cherokee county. The next day he came with us to the present site of Chetopa, where I decided to locate, and where we encamped. After arranging with those who came with me to proceed to getting out the logs with which to build, I started for Osage Mission to meet Major Dorn. It was now near the last of April; I clerked for the Major during the disbursement to the Indians of their funds. During this time I attended a meeting of the council of the Osage chiefs, held at that place, at which they discussed the propriety of paying a bill of about $39 to a young man by the name of Peyett, who had acted as inerpreter to Dr. Griffith, of Carthage, who had a year before that time been sent by the Government to vaccinate the Osages. Several of the chiefs made speeches opposing the payment, saying, 'That if the Government intended to do them a kindness it ought to pay the interpreter as well as the doctor'; when they came to the close, White Hair requested Chetopa to speak for him, and he depicted in very strong language the horrors of the small-pox, and what benefit they had received from the young man, who had well earned his money, and that being a just debt they should pay it, and suggested that it be paid by the chiefs; the ranking chief, White Hair, to pay $10, and the other chiefs a less sum.
"After finishing my duties as clerk at this point I returned to my company at Chetopa, where I spent the summer with them in getting out and hewing logs for one house and having enough cut for another. Some time in July I started back to Ohio for my family, and returned with them, arriving at Chetopa about the 20th of November of that year.
"I was met at Jefferson City, to which point the railroad was completed, by the boys from Chetopa with a team, who brought us back to Chetopa in that way. While I was gone the boys had raised a house, which was a double log house with 12 feet space between the two parts; it stood on the northwest quarter of block 24, near where my residence now stands. The next season we put up a shop and office, which was made of shaved boards and covered with the same material; the boards of the roof being two feet long, while those covering the sides were four feet; I split and shaved them myself, out of pecan, in the winter of 1857-58. This building was 16 by 40 feet, one part of which was used for my office and drugs, and the other for a gun shop and blacksmith shop. It stood on the south side of what is now block 24, just west of the alley, about where my present office and shop stand. I also built a smoke-house and stable; inclosed about 25 acres with high rail fence, the rails being of walnut, and the fence was about ten rails high; the lot extended to about what is now Third and Sixth streets, and from about Maple on the south to Elm or Oak street on the north. I lived upon these premises until November 19, 1863, when I was driven from them by the United States troops, and just as I was leaving saw them all in flames. I lost my library and other valuables in addition to the building that I have described. My wife, Phoebe, died on the last day of 1860, and my daughter Penina had married J. E. Bryan, and was then living at Council Grove.
"I took my daughter Martha, and two sons, Albert and John, and started for Council Grove on the day last named, November 19, 1863. The following persons also accompanied us on that occasion part of the way: Elizabeth and Christian McMurtry, two children of John McMurtry, who had recently died in the army; Larkin McGhee and family; Jane Jackson, whose husband was then in the army; and Mrs. Walker, whose husband had been driven into the Rebel army. In addition to my own property which was destroyed at this time, the following persons also had all of their property burned: Sarah Rogers had a large hewed-log house and a large stable on what is now Mr. Crichton's place north of town; George Walker, a Cherokee, had a house, stable, crib, etc., west of the river, just south of where Mr. Edwards' mill now stands; John McMurtry had a house near where the west end of the bridge across the Neosho now is, which was set on fire but would not burn, and was afterward torn down. Larkin McGhee had a house and stable and some grain just south of the branch south of Chetopa, on land now owned by Dr. Halderman. There were perhaps 300 soldiers composed of Indians and whites under the command of Captain Willits, Adjutant Ahle, and Lieutenant Joslyn, who did this burning, and who stated that they acted under instructions from their commanding officers. At this same time they arrested James Childers and demanded of him his money; they had been informed that he had $6,000 buried. At first he denied having any, but after they had put a rope around his neck and stretched him up for awhile, and after letting him down, he acknowledged having $2,000, and told them where it was; they found this and wanted more; he said that was every cent he had. He was stretched up and let down two or three times, and was finally killed, his throat cut, and left unburied, and was eaten by the hogs. I asked to be allowed to go back and bury him, but was refused permission. I got this statement in reference to his being killed from his son. This entirely broke up the Chetopa settlement. I stayed at Council Grove until September, 1865, when I went back to Chetopa, and in November of that year moved my family back. I lived with George Walker that winter, and built on my farm across the river, and have ever since had my home in or near Chetopa.
"Soon after coming to the county I traveled up the Neosho, and came upon a clearing on the east side of the river nearly opposite the mouth of the Labette, where I was informed a Frenchman by the name of Pierre Labette had lived for a number of years, but who some time previous had moved west. It was from him that the creek was named.
On the occasion of the United States troops coming down the river from the capture of Mathews, after he had been killed below Chetopa, a detachment of the troops came to the Chetopa settlement and arrested all of us, and took us to the Mathews premises at Little Town, now Oswego, where we were held in custody over night, during which time we were tried by court-martial for assisting or encouraging parties to go into the Rebel army. Colonel Blunt presided at the trial, and after a full hearing all of us were discharged, but were kept, however, until the next day. While I was on my way back to Chetopa I could see the flames from the Mathews buildings, which had been fired by the troops before they took their departure. The evening before Mathews was killed he took supper at my house on his way down from his place to the Nation. When I returned from the Mathews place after our release as aforesaid, I started to bury him, but found that he had been already buried.
"In the fall of 1859 I got up a petition for a postoffice at my place, and had 41 signers between Little Town (now Oswego) and Timber Hill, in the Nation. I was instructed by the Department at Washington to have all the signers the heads of families, either male or female. I had all but two; they were away at the time, and did not get back until the petition had gone to Washington. Counting five to a family it would make 215; then counting thirty single men who had no families, I think there were about 250 when the war broke out, living on or near the river between the points named. I was granted the postoffice - and it was to be called Chetopa, Dorn county, Kansas some time in the summer of 1960, but as there was no mail route near here which could carry the mail we had to wait until 1861 for a new route to be established, which was done, and the contract for carrying the mail from Grand Falls, by Quawpaw Mission, Baxter Springs and Cherokee on Cherry creek, Osage Mission, thence by Chetopa to Grand Falls, was advertised to be let in June, which was not done on account of the war breaking out that summer, and the mail arrangements in the southwest abandoned.
In 1827 or 1828 the east boundary of the Osage reservation was surveyed by Major A. L. Langham, and the northeast corner established. In the summer of 1857 Colonel J. E. Johnston, with about 500 United States soldiers forming an escort to the surveying party, surveyed and established the south line of the State. This force was stationed for some time on Russell Creek. There were with the expedition two astronomers, two geologists, two botanists, and a number of engineers and surveyors. There were 20 wagons with which to haul provisions. After completing the survey to the southwest corner of the State, they came back, having their wagons loaded with salt which they had procured on the salt plains in the western part of the State. It was on this expedition that Colonel Johnston established the ford at Chetopa across the Neosho.
In 1871 the south line of Kansas was retraced in compliance with the 21st article of the treaty with the Cherokee Indians, made July 19, 1866. This work was done under the supervision of Rev. D. P. Mitchell as chief engineer. In the fall of 1884, commencing in August, a party of Government employees came to Oswego and established their headquarters, making astronomical observations and a geological survey of the country.
The survey of the Osage Ceded lands into sections was completed in the spring of 1867.
A number of articles have been written, and some of them by persons whose names would carry with them authority, on the origin of the name of the county. This name was first applied to the stream running through our county, and subsequently to the county itself when it was organized. Two or three letters, will be found in this work which incidentally refer to this matter. W. S. Mathews, son of the old Indian trader, says the Osage name for the stream meant "some kind of animal; then the French called it La Bette, which means, the same thing." This more fully agrees with the origin of the name as commonly given, but is not to my mind as reasonable as that given by Larkin McGhee and Dr. Lisle, both of whom say that the name was given to the stream on account of the first white settler at or near its mouth - Pierre Labette. This man lived at one time on the east of the Neosho opposite the mouth of the Labette, and subsequently farther up the stream, and afterward went farther west. I think it reasonable to say that it was for him the stream was named; but whatever the origin of the name, it was given to the stream at a very early date. I have seen in a book originally belonging to the St. Louis office of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and now in our State Historical Society, a map of the Osage survey made and signed by Isaac McCoy, dated Westport, Missouri, September 13, 1836, on which the stream is quite correctly located, and the name thereon written "Le Bete Creek." At the first Republican convention, held at Jacksonville in September, 1866, where it was agreed that Neosho county should be divided, it was on motion of G. W. Kingsbury agreed that the south part of the county, when it should be organized, should be called "La Bete." J. S. Waters, who was present and took all active part in the work of the convention, says: "That day was the first time I know of the word La Bete having been written, and it was that day written as I have written it above. There was some dispute as to whether there should be two or one t. When the county was organized it was given this name as then agreed upon."
The following acts of the Legislature have in some way fixed or affected the boundaries of our county.
By section 10 of chapter 30 of the laws of 1855, all the territory lying south of Allen county was constituted the county of Dorn. Its east line was 24 miles west of the Missouri line, and its width was 24 miles (which was supposed to take it to the west line of range 18).
By "An act to more particularly define the boundaries of the several counties in Kansas Territory," approved February 22, 1857, the county of Dorn is made to commence at the corner of sections 14, 15, 22, 23, town 28, range 21; thence south to the Territory line, and west to same sections in range 17.
By chapter 31 of the laws of 1860, the east line of Neosho county is declared to be the line between ranges 21 and 22, and the western line the line between ranges 17 and 18; but as yet no bill had been passed creating Neosho county.
By chapter 18 of the laws of 1861, approved June 3, 1861, the name of the county was changed from Dorn to Neosho.
By chapter 29, laws of 1867, approved February 7, 1867, Labette county was created, and made to embrace from the 6th standard parallel on the north to the south line of the State, and from Cherokee Neutral lands on the east to the east boundary of the Osage reserve on the west. Subsequently the Legislature made provision for a vote being taken as to whether the line between Cherokee and Labette counties should be as above fixed, or whether a part of the way the river should form the boundary. This legislation gave rise to a protracted dispute as to what really was the boundary between the two counties, but finally all parties interested acquiesced in considering the west line of the Cherokee Neutral Lands as the line between the two counties.
By chapter 38 of the laws of 1870, the east line of Montgomery county was made to run south between sections 2 and 3, thus taking a strip from Labette county and placing it in Montgomery.
Transcribed from History of Labette County, Kansas and its Representative Citizens, ed. & comp. by Hon. Nelson Case. Pub. by Biographical Publishing Co., Chicago, Ill. 1901
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