An old atlas of 125 years ago would reveal that what is now Haskell County was located in the Great American Desert. This territory was first divided into Sequoyah and Garfield Counties. In 1873 Arapahoe County was created. By an act of the Legislature of 1883 Kearney, Grant, Sequoyah and Arapahoe Counties became Finney County. In 1886 they were again reshuffled and old Sequoyah became Finney. That which was formerly Arapahoe was finally sliced off the southern part of Finney to become Haskell County. .In 1893 Garfield County was made part of Finney.
The county was fairly well settled before it officially became a county. In the early 1800s the trend of settlement seemed to be toward southwest Kansas, and the rich level acres of Haskell County no doubt appeared inviting to many who had been cooped up on the small hillside farms of the Middlewest. The people came from all walks of life, bent on gaining a bit of public domain by filing a claim on 160 acres with the agreement to live on it for five years. Tree claims were also available through establishing groves of trees, and these claims dotted the county.
In the early years the only towns of any size in the county were Santa Fe in the exact center and Ivanhoe, located six miles north. Lockport was a small village situated on the Gray County line. Many communities attempted to establish their own towns, going so far as to set up post offices, although the towns failed to materialize.
March 31, 1887, Governor John A. Martin appointed Charles A. Martin appointed Charles A. Stauber to take a census and make an appraisement of the property in the county. Stauber filed his report with the governor on June 27 showing 2,841 inhabitants with a valuation of taxable property at $850,119. Upon receipt of his information the governor issued his proclamation July 12, 1887, declaring the county organized, pursuant to an act of the previous legislature creating the county and describing its metes and bounds, resulting in a county square in shape that was 24 miles by 24 miles and containing 368,640 acres. Santa Fe was named temporary county seat. A census was taken and 2841 People were counted within the newly formed county, 586 of them being voters.
Governor Martin appointed J. E. Marlow, C. H. Hunnington and Joe Comes commissioners of the county; Lowery G. Gilmore, county clerk, and J. B. Shumaker, sheriff. These officers met in a room of the offices of OBrien and Manuel and took oath of office. County business began in a room in Santa Fe rented for $20 per month, furnished with a table and six office chairs purchased by the county. The Haskell County Review (later to become The Haskell County Monitor) was designated the official county newspaper.
Originally Haskell county was divided into nine townships: Example, Lockport, Boone, Ivanhoe, Haskell, Loco, Arapahoe, Dudley and Review. Soon after, these were combined into the three present townships: Dudley, Haskell and Lockport, each eight miles wide and 24 miles long.
The records of each tract of land in Haskell County, regardless of size, begin with a patent from the United States Government signed by the President or his agent and thereafter, each transaction is recorded. Because Haskell was once a part of Finney County, early land transactions are difficult to trace. It must be remembered that the county was actually created before it became an official county. Very early files show that the first transcript from Finney County recording Haskell County land was dated August 10, 1885, from Ivanhoe town to Theodore Haering. This deed was filed August 11, 1886, and was followed by a deed covering Lot 1, Block 26, Town of Ivanhoe, filed May 17, 1887. Consideration was $100.
After Haskell County became an official body, filing was begun in the new county under direction of the first register of deeds, L. A. Crull. The first deeds were conveyances of town lots, the earliest being to Steven E. Cave for lots in Citizens Addition to Ivanhoe filed October 21, 1887, and one from Ivanhoe Town Company to F. B. Gifford covering Lot 7, Block 17, Ivanhoe, dated October 22, 1887, consideration $175.
The first deed between individual covering town lots was filed November 9, 1887, conveying Lots 21 and 22, Block 51,Town of Santa Fe. Grantor was John H Allen et al and Grantee was A. McGinley, consideration $90. December 14, 1887, shows a deed recorded from William M. Johnson to School District #23 covering Block 19, Highland Addition to the Town of Santa Fe, the party of the second part agreeing to build a $4,000 schoolhouse on said land by September 1, 1888, otherwise the contract to become void. Consideration $500. (No record of building.) The earliest deed recorded on land other than town lots was filed December 30, 1887, from Kiowa Investment Corporation, Greensburg, Kansas, to Cyrus E. Trees, of Manilla, Rush County, Indiana, conveying the northwest quarter of Section 30-28-31 for a price of $1,200.
From then on the register of deeds was kept busy as the once unbroken sod became surveyed quarter-sections, town plats, city lots and new additions. Settlers were buying and Haskell County was booming. Most of central Kansas was already taken, and in the mid-1880s the settlers pushed west. The Santa Fe Trail newspaper (June 11, 1886) described Santa Fe as " . . . fully twenty miles from the sand hills and surrounded by beautiful rolling prairies that only need to be tickled with a hoe and planted to bring forth sustenance sufficient to provide for a city of thousands of inhabitants . . ."
Perhaps enticed by such glowing accounts, new settlers and townspeople continued to come and Haskell County grew. At the height of the boom it is estimated there was a family living on about every half section. Some came with the intention of becoming successful ranchers, raising longhorns that were rangy and tough. But, with the influx of settlers and the breaking of sod, it soon became apparent that the range would be spoiled. Adding to the ranchers problems were the discouraging prices and the long drive to market.
If Haskell County enjoyed a boom in the 1880s, it was suffering an even larger bust in the 1890s when the young county was barely three years old and the discouraged settlers began to drift away, plummeting the countys population.
Regrowth came slowly. Probably the greatest devastation setting Haskell County was the lack of a railroad in its early years, only to have it become a reality six miles south of the county seat, tolling the death knell for Santa Fe. For whatever reasons, two factions differed in supporting the location of a new city and there was a split to two sites on the railroad, Sublette and Satanta. And so, in time, all of the first little towns and would-be towns were erased from the county. With them went old landmarks so familiar to the early pioneers; the stage depots of Ivanhoe, Santa Fe and Loco; the schools, post offices, livery barns and hotels, wherever located. Only the cemeteries of Santa Fe, Ivanhoe and Colusa remain.
The 1920s found agricultural fortunes improving with bumper crops being harvested, but prices for the crops were falling drastically.
Haskell County, along with the entire nation, found itself thrust into the depression of the 1930s. Perhaps the farmers could have survived one disaster, but concurrent with the Depression was the severe drought that found the county in the heart of the Dust Bowl and conditions gradually became worse and worse. Once again an exodus began and, as the population shifted mostly to the far West and Northwest, abandoned farmsteads could be found in abundance in Haskell County, many of them never to be reclaimed or rebuilt.
Historically wars have proven to be an economic boom to a nation, and the upheaval of World War II resulted in a recovery for the country. Haskell County would never again be the same. Although the young men went to war and the home folks struggled with shortages and rationing, the county began to get back on its feet. Just as the drought accompanied the Depression, the end of the drought accompanied the war, and conditions continued to improve.
In 1945 ambitious young men returned from the war, some to study agriculture or other subjects in college under the G. I. Bill, many to come back to the farm for practical experience and education. New technology in all areas was being explored. A tremendous boost was given the area when the Hugoton Gas Field expanded and Haskell County at last had an industry other than agriculture. No longer did our cities depend entirely on farmers and ranchers. Our population increases with the appearance of gas wells overmuch of the county accompanied by the many people who drilled, produced and sold gas and oil that the early settlers never dreamed was beneath the sod. And, what would they have thought of the supply of underground water brought to the surface during the next three decades? Haskell County finally lived up to its promise of the "The Garden of the West" to become one of the top-producing irrigated counties in the state, bringing people into the county to drill and service the wells, sell equipment and work in the fields. Still more workers were needed in the many feedlots our county gained through irrigation and the resulting abundant feed grains produced.
Does history repeat itself? Haskell County has existed despite boom and bust throughout its first 100 years, and in the 1980s the county once again finds itself in a recession brought about by surplus crops, low prices, declining irrigation water table, rising irrigation engine fuel costs and depressed oil prices. But, Haskell Countians have shown that they are hardy, tenacious, optimistic people and, just as the faithful fought to hang on during the Depression and through other disasters, they or their descendants will remain, forever looking forward to the future. Ruby Rutledge
The Haskell County Historical Society was established in 1981. There are a limited number of books available from the society. If you are interested in a copy, please contact the Haskell County Historical Society. Mailing Address:
Haskell County Historical Society
P. O. Box 101
Sublette, KS 67877
Phone number: (316)-675-8344