Norton County is bounded on the North by the State of Nebraska, on the east by Phillips county, on the south by Graham county, and on the west by Decatur county.
The boundaries were defined as follows: Commencing where the east line of Range 21 West, intersects the 40th Degree of North Latitude, thence south to the first standard parallel, thence west to the east line of Range 26 West, thence north to the 40th degree of North Latitude, thence east to the place of beginning.
In 1859 the Kansas Territorial Legislature gave this territory now comprising Norton County, the name of Oro, and it was known by that name until 1867, when the legislature defined the boundaries of the county and at the suggestion of Preston B. Plumb, who was at that time speaker of the house of representatives, the name was changed to Norton in memory of Captain Orlaff [Orloff] Norton of the 15th Kansas Calvary. Captain Norton was killed by the guerillas at Cane Hill, Arkansaw, in 1865.
Norton County is thirty miles square and contains nine hundred square miles. The north fork of the Solomon runs through the southern part, the Sappa through the northern part, and the Prairie Dog through the central part.
In February, 1872, N. H. Billings came to Norton County from Cloud County, and he at once commenced to make preparation to start a town and organize the county. Billings was a man fairly well educated, he has some knowledge of law, a great deal of egotism, and to some extent was cunning. About the 10th of June the same year, Billings left saying that he was going back to Cloud County and that he would return by the 4th of July. Without the knowledge of anyone he went to Topeka, where he presented the following petition:
State of Kansas, Norton County, ss.
We the undersigned householders of the county aforesaid, and legal electors of the State aforesaid, do hereby inform your honor that Norton County, in the State of Kansas, contains at least six hundred actual residents to the best of our knowledge and belief, and we do recommend as a suitable person to take the census of said county with a view to organization, Mr. D. C. Coleman, and we do hereby pray that said county be organized, and that S. W Reed, J. W. Beeber and J. C. McGavren be appointed commissioners, D. C. Coleman, clerk; and that the county seat be located at Billingsville.
The following names were signed to the petition: Thomas Brown, D. C. Coleman, C. Clumer, James Ward, Solomon Marsh, James W. Vance, Fred E. Vance, Smith L. Coal, George W. Cole, John Kelly his (x) mark, W. M. Jones, S. M. Mills, Seh Thomas, Paul Jones, Fred Smith, M. R. Jones, N. R. Wood, J. W. Brown, C. Cook, N. Man, Thos. Smallwood, Marander Beeber, J. A. Gishwiller, Felix Wood, G. S. West, L. M. West, M. M. West, Bruce Emmert, Geo. Lamb, Canni Hooker, S. R. Rool, I. Anderson, S. T. Rool, Peter Cockburn, N. Hitchcock, N. Cox, D. A. Sounders, F. Dir, Jacob Dir, J. G. Gum, Henery Sommick, Thos. Smith.
Before me a notary public in and for Cloud County, State of Kansas, personally came Peter Cockburn, N. Hitchcock and C. Cook, who being duly sworn says that the above are the genuine names of the householders and legal electors of Norton County, State of Kansas, and that these affiants verily believe that there are six hundred inhabitants in the said County as stated in the above memorial.
Sworn and subscribed to this 14th day of June, 1872.
(Seal) N. H. Billings,
Although there were forty two names signed to the petition, it contained only eight names of actual residents, and these names were signed to it without their knowledge. The governor refused to act upon it. Billings however was not discouraged and without leaving Topeka he prepared the following petition which he presented to Gov. Harvey on July 2, 1872:
To His Honor, Jas. M. Harvey,
Governor of Kansas:
We, the undersigned, residents and householders of Norton County, and legal electors of the state of Kansas, do solemnly swear that Norton County and the State of Kansas contains at least six hundred inhabitants, and at least twenty of said inhabitants are free holders to the best of our knowledge and belief.
H. H. Johnson, his (x) mark
Subscribed and sworn to this 3rd day of July, 1872, before me.
N. H. Billings,
In and for Cloud County, Kansas.
Immediately after this another petition was presented to Gov. Harvey which read as follows:
To His Honor, James M. Harvey,
Governor of Kansas:
We the undersigned inhabitants of Norton County, and legal electors of the State of Kansas, believing that the above named county contains at least six hundred inhabitants and that at least twenty of said inhabitants are free holders, and we do hereby petition your honor to organize said county by appointing Shelby D. Reed, V. S. Beeber and R. S. Vance, County Commissioners, and David C. Coleman, County Clerk, and that Richard M. Johnson be appointed to take the census of said county, and that the county seat be located at Billingsville.
The following names were signed to this petition:
R. K. Turner, R. Thompson, H. Huntington, G. J. Jones, Norman Rhe, Samuel Penney, Samuel Vineg, U. S. Sumner, A. H. Mapleton, Peter Davis, H. H. Short, Amon Short, Jacob Short, L. Stanford, J. S. Peterson, L. S. Peterson, R. E. Kemple, S. Davenport, G. W. French, J. Pratt, Ottis Cutter, James Jones, A. A. Bally, J. J. Jemmison, C. C. Hay, Quimby Pell, W. Pell, S. Shurtz, Arent Bailey, John Jarren, Joseph Jarren, Dennis Taylor, D. D. Reynolds, J. Russell, W. G. Willis, A. A. Letsen, I. L. Davis, S. A. Davis, James Hart.
Before me a Notary Public in and for Cloud County, Kansas, personally came the undersigned and says that they are inhabitants and householders of Norton County and legal electors of the State of Kansas, and that the above are genuine signatures of householders and inhabitants of Norton County and legal electors of the State of Kansas.
H. H. Johnson his (x) mark
Sworn to this 3rd day of July, 1872
N. H. Billings,
This petition did not contain a single name of anyone who had ever lived in Norton County, and Billings must of gotten the names in and about Topeka.
Gov. Harvey on the 5th of July appointed Richard M. Johnson to take the census. Johnson was a fictitious character. D. C. Coleman took the census and rendered his report under the name Johnson. At that time there were not to exceed seventy-five people in the county and not over ten were legal residents. Coleman's method was this: He would go to the settlers and ask them the names of friends and acquaintances back east and put these on the roll as actual residents of the county. Under the alias of Richard M. Johnson, Coleman made up a list of six hundred and thirty residents of the county and out of this list there were only fifty of these who ever saw Norton County. The census report was sworn to before N. H. Billings of Cloud County, and on the 22nd day of August, 1872, Gov. Jas. M. Harvey issued the following proclamation organizing the county:
Whereas it appears from the records in the office of the Secretary of State that a census of Norton County has been taken and properly certified according to law showing a population of over six hundred inhabitants, citizens of the United States. And, whereas, more than forty inhabitants, free holders of Norton County have petitioned for the appointment of three county commissioners and one special county clerk and name a place as the temporary county seat of said county. Now therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as governor of the State of Kansas, I, James M. Harvey, have appointed and commissioned the special county commissioners and clerk asked for in that petition, and do hereby declare Billingsville the temporary county seat of Norton County. In testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed my name and caused to be affixed the great seal of the State of Kansas. Done at Topeka this 22nd day of August, A. D. 1872.
Signed by James M.
By the Governor,
W. H. Smallwood,
Secretary of State.
On the same day the governor issued four other proclamations each one separately appointing James W. Vance, Shelby D. Reed and James Hall as special County Commissioners and David C. Coleman as special county clerk. With the organization thus completed Billings was in a position to go ahead with his schemes without any interference.
The county commissioners met for the first time at Norton although Billingsville had been designated as the county seat. Some time before the settlers had set aside 640 acres as a townsite and by unanimous consent that town was called Norton. Billings had established a town south-east of where the fair grounds are now and although there was only a sod house there he called it Billingsville in honor of himself and expected to have it made the county seat with the backing of the governor's proclamation, but when he saw how opposed the settlers were, he disclaimed any knowledge of the affair and said that the governor had called Norton Billingsville without his knowledge or consent, and as no one has seen the petition asking for the organization of the county, no one could deny it.
The commissioners named J. W. Vance as chairman, and proceeded to divide the county into three municipal townships. The commissioner districts were laid out. The named the north township Almena and designated it as a voting precinct election to be held in the most convenient place. This was called district No. 1. Center township was included in one voting precinct, election to be held in Norton, this was called commissioner district No. 1. The name was suggested as it includes the central part of the county. The southern part of the county was named Solomon township and designated as commissioner district No. 3. It was so named because the Solomon River runs through it. It was divided into two voting precincts, the east half called Solomon precinct, and the western half called Twin Mound precinct, because the twin mounds southwest of Lenora were in it. The commissioners named an election for the purpose of electing county officers and locating a county seat. This election was held on the 24th of September, 1872. The election in Almena township was held in Chas. Lough's dugout and 19 votes were polled. The election in Center township was held in Henry Olliver's dugout and 20 votes were polled; making a total of 41 votes.
For county seat Norton received 38 votes and was declared the permanent county seat. N. H. Billings was elected to the office of county attorney and that of county superintendent.
Billings was afterwards elected to the State legislature. The only bill he succeeded in getting through was one conferring the right of majority on his wife's sister and this he did to legalize the vote on school bonds, as she had voted for them and was under age. The bill was passed but it did not legalize her previous vote. Billings soon lost confidence of the people and after opening a law office at Norton and Leota he left and nothing is now known about him.
During the time that Billings was a member of the legislature, a bill was introduced and carried, to change the name of Norton County to Billings, and as a joke and to make the egotistic Billings feel his importance still more, this was done. The next session of the legislature C. C. Vance was elected and he succeeded in getting the name changed again to the original one of Norton. There is no photograph of Billings that can be found and when the photograph of the House of Representatives for the Historical Society, Billings was absent and some member put a buffalo head in his chair and this photo remained that way until some one scratched the buffalo off and substituted the following: "N. H. Billings absent without leave from Feb. 3rd, 1873."
In 1873 the town of Weston was started and among the prime movers in organizing the town and in the county seat fight was Newton Cope, M. A. Morrison, Dr. Green, Nora Weaver and others. When the residents asked to have a postoffice established the postoffice department refused to call the town Weston, so it was changed to Leota - named after a daughter of M. A. Morrison. The fight waxed hot and heavy for some time between Leota and Norton, W. B. Rogers and the Norton Townsite Company. Each of these wished the county seat on their land. The first election that was held gave Norton the county seat, but Leota men declared this illegal and another election was declared. If ever a town showed its civic pride Leota did then. Both towns were about the same size. Norton had a frame house and Leota had none, so Newton Cope traded for the one at Norton and the Leota boys put it on rollers and hauled it to Leota. Someone with a bright idea suggested that Leota needed a newspaper, so some of the Leota boys went to southern Kansas and brought back Nat Baker who started the first newspaper in Norton County in 1875. It was called the Western Locomotive and the motto was, "we'll keep up steam or bust." Norton decided that a newspaper would make them the favorite in the county seat fight, so they bought Baker, and he moved his press and office in the middle of the night and deserted. From that time on Baker was on the side that offered the most money.
The election was held and Leota won by ten votes. That night at Leota was one of the wildest in the history of the county and the celebration that took place cannot be compared to any in these modern times. But while Leota was celebrating Norton was busy. The election had been called on a certain day of the week, on a certain date of the month, and a mistake was made, and the election was held according to the date of the month, but the day it fell on was a different one than was designated in the election notices. John R. Hamilton rode a mule in to Beloit and Judge Holt issued an injunction forbidding the county officers from the moving the books. He did not arrive home for several days, and when he did and displayed the injunction what a rejoicing Norton had. Leota never recuperated, and gave up to Norton.
About this time W. B. Rogers and the Norton Townsite Co., were having their famous fight and no history of Norton would be complete unless W. B. Rogers was mentioned. He was born in 1834 in Cass County, Indiana, coming to Norton in 1873. He first settled near Almena, but later in the same year moved to Norton and started a hotel where the Rock Island depot now stands. Richard Felton had settled on forty acres, including the land where the hotel stood, and he told Rogers if he would buy the log house that he rented as a hotel he would give him a relinquishment on the land. Rogers paid him $45 and proved up on the claim and afterward proved up on forty acres adjoining. This eighty acres is now bounded by the Prairie Dog on the south, the Burlington R. R. on the north, State Street on the east, and included nearly all of the western part of Norton. The Norton Town Co., composed of eighteen members at this time, had a town named Norton all plotted and laid out on forty acres east of where State Street now is. Mr. Rogers laid out another town west of State Street, and placed his plat on record as the town of Norton. This caused a long court fight, but Mr. Rogers, although he had never been admitted to the bar, was noted as an attorney, fought his own case and having found irregularities in the Town Association records, won, and forced the association to reorganize and file their plat as an addition to the town of Norton. It was because of this fight that the block between State Street and Norton Avenue is so short. The Town Company tried to shut out what is now State Street, and when they were unable to do this because it was a state road, they placed nearly all of the outhouses, chicken coops, and dumped all of their rubbish on State street to discourage people from settling on Roger's land.
Mr. Rogers served as postmaster from 1876 until 1878, and was assistant postmaster from that time until 1880. During his term as postmaster settlers came from Slab City, which is now Jennings, and as far as forty miles around, to Norton for their mail as this was the only county organized in the west. He at one time was Deputy United State Marshall and had jurisdiction from Phillips county to the Colorado line. He is the father of five children and a member of the masons, being the oldest in the Norton Lodge. He still lives at Norton.
Norton County News, Historical Number 1870 - 1916, pages 2 - 3
©2005 Ardie Grimes. Transcribed from Norton County News Historical Number 1870 - 1916, re-organized and re-formatted for ease of use. These pages are dedicated to free access to records, documents and photos of historical and genealogical value. Documents contained herein may be copied for personal, non-commercial use as long as this statement remains on all copied material. These records, documents and photos may not be reproduced, published or re-published for any reason, in any format, including electronic (web pages or CD's) and print, without prior written consent of the contributors or copyright holders.
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