Butler County, the largest in area in Kansas, is located in the southeastern part of the state, in the second tier of counties north of Oklahoma, and fifth west from Missouri. It is one of the original thirty-three counties created by the first territorial legislature, and was named in honor of Senator Butler of South Carolina. The boundaries as described in the creative act were as follows: "Beginning at the southeast corner of Wise county; thence south 30 miles; thence west 30 miles; thence north 30 miles; thence east 30 miles to the place of beginning."
This gave the county an area of 900 square mils, but changes have been made in the boundaries at different times, so that today the county is bounded on the north by Marion and Chase counties; on the east by Greenwood and Elk; on the south by Cowley; and on the west by Sedgwick and Harvey, and has an area of 1,428 square miles, being larger than the state of Rhode Island.
It is a prairie county but has considerable land of a slightly rolling character. The surface in the western part is principally "bottom" land and rolling prairie. The eastern part is in many places broken and rough. The river and creek bottoms comprise about one-fifth of the area and are from a mile to two miles in width. The timber belts along the streams range from a quarter of a mile to a mile in width, the principal varieties being oak, walnut, hickory, mulberry, sycamore, elm and hackberry. The principal streams are the Whitewater, in the northwest part of the county, which joins the Walnut at Augusta. These two streams have a number of tributaries, the most important of the Whitewater being Henry, Wentworth, Bakers, Rock and Meadow creeks; those of the Walnut the Cole, Durechon, Satchels, Bemis, Bird, Turkey, Four Mile, Little Walnut, Eight Mile and Muddy creeks.
Limestone is abundant and extensive quarries have been developed, from which large quantities of stone are shipped to nearby cities. Gypsum has been found in small quantities in the western part of the county. Coal is found in thin layers in some places but has never been mined extensively.
There is a little waste land, as the soil is rich and deep, adapted to the growth of almost every variety of grain and fruit. Kafir-corn, oats, corn and winter wheat are the leading crops, and Butler ranks first in acreage and value of sorghum, forage, grain, Kafir-corn, alfalfa, and prairie hay. Live stock raising has been an important industry from the early days and the county leads in the number and value of animals slaughtered or sold for that purpose. There are in the county, over 250,000 fruit trees of bearing age.
It is probable that the first settlements in Butler county were made about 1854, by men who located along the streams and established cattle ranches and trading posts. But the first authentic records of settlement do not date back of May, 1857, when William Hildebrand located in what is now Eldorado township. In June of the same year, Samuel Stewart of Lawrence organized a colony to settle in the county. They followed the old California trail to the point where it crossed the Walnut river, where they arrived on June 15, 1857. The Osage trail also crossed at this point. Within a short time a town site was surveyed, and here, on the banks of the Walnut, the "land of gold" was found and named Eldorado. Among the members of this pioneer colony were William Bemis, Henry Marten, Jacob Carey, H. Bemis, William Crimble, and some ten other families. A man named Schaffer took a claim on the west bank of the Walnut and built a cabin just north of the site of the present town of Eldorado. His claim extended across the west branch but was not entered until 1868. In 1858 and 1859, it was estimated that there were about fifty actual settlers in Butler county, prominent among them being Judge Lambdin, Archibald Ellis, Judge Harrison, P. P. Johnson, George Donaldson, J. D. Connor and James Gordy. Cutler in his History of Kansas says, "At the election under the Lecompton constitution, Dec. 21, 1857, there is no record of any returns from Butler county, but in Oct., 1857, Madison and Butler counties polled 69 free-state and 7 Democratic votes. On Aug. 2, 1858, an election was held at the old Eldorado town site, on the Lecompton constitution, and the entire vote (21) polled, was cast against that infamous platform."
During the war few new settlers came. In 1861, a company for home defense was raised among the settlers northeast of Eldorado, and placed under command of P. G. D. Morton, but its only service consisted of capturing a wagon train of supplies on the way to the Indian Territory in violation of a military order. In the winter of 1861, the company built and occupied a fort about two miles northeast of Eldorado, but in the spring it was disbanded and most of the members joined the army at Fort Leavenworth.
In 1867 two brothers named Moorehead moved into a cabin which had been built by a man named Schaffer, and opened the first store on a small scale, though Schaffer had kept supplies when he lived there. This is believed to be the first store on the site of the present city of Eldorado, which is located over two miles above the old town. The same year E. L. Lower built a house and opened a regular store. In March, 1868, B. F. Gordy entered 160 acres of land upon which all that part of Eldorado south of Central avenue now stands and the town site was laid out early in the spring. A. G. Davis, William Vann and two men named Chandler and Atwood settled in Towanda township in July, 1868; D. L. McCabe, in Rock Creek township, about the same time; Philip Carns in July, 1869, took up land in Rosalia township, and Holland Ferguson in Fairmount township.
The first religious services in the county were held at the Lambdin home. A Presbyterian society was organized at Eldorado and a building commenced in 1872, but was not completed until 1877. The first record of a district school is found in Chelsea township. It was taught by Sarah Satchel. The second was in Eldorado township in 1861, the funds for it being raised by subscription among the settlers. The first marriage was that of Jacob E. Chase and Augusta Stewart in Eldorado township in Jan., 1859. The first birth of a white child was I. Johnson in Towanda township. The first newspaper in the county was the Walnut Valley Times, the first issue of which bears the date of March 4, 1870, with Mnrdock and Danforth as editors and publishers. On June 1, of that year the partnership was dissolved and T. B. Murdock became the sole owner, and continued to issue the paper until 1881 when he sold it to Alvah Sheldon. One of the early banking houses was conducted by Neal Wilkie and S. L. Shotwell, and the Bank of Eldorado was opened for business on April 5, 1880, by Edward C. Ellett and N. F. Frazier. A year later the Butler county bank was opened under a charter from the state. The Eldorado mills, one of the earliest manufacturing concerns, was built in 1870, by Wheeler and Burdett, on the east bank of the Walnut, and the Walnut Valley mills were erected in 1882.
Lawrence was the nearest established postoffice when the first settlers located in Butler county. All mail addressed to box 400 at Lawrence was taken by a hack to Emporia, whence it was sent down by anybody who was passing. But a regular distributing station was established at Chelsea in 1858, with C. S. Lambdin as postmaster, at Eldorado in 1860, with D. L. McCabe as postmaster, and in 1863, mail was also brought from Cottonwood Falls.
In every new country during the period of settlement there is a time when lawless characters will drift into the community. In the late '60s and early '70s, Butler county was no exception to this rule. It was believed a band was operating around Douglas and a vigilance committee was formed. In Nov., 1870, four men were shot as murderers and horse thieves, the first lynching in the county.
Early in its history, the people of Butler county took a deep interest in agriculture. The Butler County Horticultural and Agricultural Society was organized in March, 1872, and has become one of the flourishing institutions of the county. It assisted materially in introducing new and hardy species of fruit trees that would stand the Kansas climate, and it is due largely to this society that Butler county has such fine orchards.
The first railroad proposed across Butler county was the Kansas Nebraska railroad, which asked for a subscription of $150,000. This proposition was carried when put to the vote of the people, but the panic of 1873 came on, and the building of the road was abandoned. In May, 1872, the proposition to subscribe for $150,000 worth of the bonds of the Fort Scott, Humboldt & Western railroad, was voted down, as was the next proposition of the same sort, on July 13 of the same year. In April, 1876, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe company proposed building a branch line from Cedar Point down the valley of the Walnut to Eldorado, and asked the county for a cash bonus of $3,000 a mile. The question was discussed, and in Feb., 1877, bonds aggregating $99,500 were voted to the Eldorado & Walnut Valley railroad. Work was immediately started and the road was finished as far as Eldorado on July 31, 1877. Several other roads were proposed but never built, and no further railroad building occurred until 1879, when the St. Louis, Fort Scott & Wichita company began building a line east and west across the county, though bonds were not voted by the county in its behalf until 1880.
At the present time four railroad companies operate lines in Butler county. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe enters on the northern boundary and runs south through Eldorado to Augusta, where a branch runs southwest to Caldwell, the main line continuing into Oklahoma; a line of the Missouri Pacific crosses the county from east to west through Eldorado, with a branch from that city to McPherson; the St. Louis & San Francisco crosses the county south of Eldorado, with a branch from Beaumont to Winfield; and the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific crosses the northwest corner of the county.
Butler county was organized by an act of Feb. 11, 1859, and on April 30, of that year, the board of county supervisors met at the home of George T. Donaldson. The board consisted of P. G. Barrett, chairman, G. T. Donaldson and I. S. White. They decided that the annual meeting should be held in Chelsea Hall, but other meetings were to be held at their residences, except the probate clerk, who was to hold office at J. C. Lambdin's until further notice. On June 13, 1859, the second meeting of the board was held and P. G. D. Morton was appointed county auditor. The first county treasurer was C. S. Lambdin, appointed Sept. 19, 1859; J. C. Lambdin was the first probate judge; a man named Emmil the first clerk of the district court, and John R. Lambdin was the first register of deeds. There is no record that there was a sheriff until 1863, when J. T. Goodall was elected, but Dr. Lewellen was acting in that capacity in 1859. In 1864, M. Vaught was appointed superintendent of schools. G. T. Donaldson was elected to the state legislature in 1863, when the county consisted of but one district.
The first election for the location of the county seat was held on May 21, 1864, and the old town of Eldorado was chosen, but there were no buildings suitable for county offices and the board decided not to move there until such provision was made. The question again came up in Aug., 1867, and a third election was held on May 10, 1870, when Chelsea received 256 and Eldorado 2,524. In April, 1871, a contest between Eldorado and Augusta occurred with the following result: Augusta 712 votes, Eldorado 743, and the question of a county seat location was, at last settled. For some time most of the officers held their offices at their homes and Dunlevy's building was used for some public purposes. In July, 1870, an effort was made to issue $25,000 worth of bonds for the erection of county buildings but the proposition was voted down. On July 19, 1870, the land now occupied by the court-house was deeded to the county by C. C. and Henry Martin for the consideration of $1.00, and a contract for a court-house was let to I. W. Branson for $3,750. The building was completed in April, 1871, and used until 1875, when extensive additions were made at a cost of $8,000, which with the erection of a jail, brought the total up to $15,000. These improvements were completed in March, 1876.
In 1908, Butler county was divided into the following townships: Augusta, Benton, Bloomington, Bruno, Chelsea, Clay, Clifford, Douglas, Eldorado, Fairmount, Fairview, Glencoe, Hickory, Lincoln, Little Walnut, Logan, Milton, Murdock, Pleasant, Plum Grove, Prospect, Richland, Rock Creek, Rosalia, Spring, Sycamore, Towanda, Union and Walnut.
In 1910 the population, according to the U. S. census report, was 23,059. The value of field crops in that year was 3,103,888, and of all farm products $6,843,341. Corn led the list with a value of $923,498; hay, including alfalfa, stood second with a value of $815,246; other leading crops were Kafir corn, $764,256; oats, $322,583; Irish potatoes, $89,694. The value of animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter was $3,289,163; of poultry and eggs, $247,369, and of dairy products, $199,635.Pages 261-265 from volume I 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 May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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