William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]


The act of the Territorial Legislature organizing Coffey County, approved February 17, 1857, located the county seat, temporarily, at Le Roy. The same act also provided for the election of three commissioners by the people of the county at a special election, for the purpose of selecting a site at the most practicable point near the center of the county for the permanent location of the county seat. An election for commissioners was held in pursuance of that act September 25, 1857. Concerning this election Judge Enos Strawn makes the following statement: "There were only five candidates at that election---Mr. Wooster, east of Le Roy, Mr. Evans, west of Le Roy, Dr. Cutler (then of Burlington), myself, and the name of the fifth candidate I have forgotten. [F. A. Atherly says that Clark Tritt was the name of the other candidate.] The election came off on the 25th of September, 1857. I received 476 votes, Evans and Wooster received 346 votes each, and Cutler and the other man were a good ways behind. After I found out I was elected I went to Lawrence to see the Burlington Town Company. The company held a meeting and proposed to give Coffey County the park in Burlington (now partly occupied by the school house and court house), forty lots around the park, and finish the bridge across the river then in erection, providing the commissioners would locate the county seat at Burlington. I then saw Evans and Wooster; they agreed to meet me at Ottumwa on the 10th of November, 1857. When I arrived there they had gone home. They left word for me to meet them at Le Roy on the following Monday at 12 o'clock A. M., when we would locate the county seat. John T. Cox and I went to Le Roy on the day appointed, arriving there at 11 o'clock A. M. Evans and Wooster had met there, located the county seat at Le Roy, and gone home. The whole town was drunk. The candidates on the Burlington ticket were Doctor Cutler, myself, and the man whose name I have forgotten; and the Le Roy candidates were Wooster, Evans, and myself. Of course, the Le Roy ticket was elected. Wooster and Evans located the county seat at Le Roy; I had no hand in it. I was sworn in as locating commissioner by Alexander Hamilton, in the timber at Le Roy." Owing to the fact that the territorial authorities were Democratic, in harmony with the politics of the people of Le Roy, it was deemed inexpedient by the Burlington people to contest the election, and therefore nothing was done about it.

By an act of the Territorial Legislature, approved February 12, 1858, the county seat was removed from Le Roy and located, temporarily, at Burlington. The same act also provided for its permanent location by a vote of the people at the next general election (October 4, 1858). From June 5, 1858, until October of that year, the sessions of the board of Supervisors were held at Hampden, where the County Clerk, Silas Fearl, resided, but all of the other county officials resided and held their offices at Le Roy. The first meeting of the Board of Supervisors held at Burlington was on the 5th of October, 1858. On the 5th of June, 1858, it was ordered by the Supervisors, at their meeting at Hampden, that a jail should be erected at Burlington, "the county seat," but on the 26th of the same month this order was revoked. On the 26th of June, 1858, the Supervisors passed an order directing the County Clerk and Register of Deeds to "remove their respective offices as near the center of the county as can be provided for by the Board of Supervisors." The Board of Supervisors at this time consisted of seven members. Each township had three Trustees, and the Chairman of each township was ex officio, a member of the County Board of Supervisors. The seven municipal townships then in existence were Le Roy, Avon, Ottumwa, Pottawatomie, California, Burlington, and Neosho.

At the election for the permanent location of the county seat held October 4, 1858, the result was as follows:

Precincts.  Le Roy.  Burlington.  Hampden.  Nashville.  Neosho City.
Neosho           1           24         0           0             0
Avon             3           11         1           2             0
Burlington       5          149         0           0             0
Le Roy         197            7         0           0             1
               ---          ---         -           -             -
Total          206          191         1           2             1

The foregoing table is taken from the records in the office of the Secretary of State at Topeka. No record of this vote or of any proceedings of the Supervisors in relation to it can be found in the County Clerk's office of Coffey County. For some unexplained cause Le Roy was not officially declared the county-seat, although the county officers continued to hold their offices at that place. On the 7th of March, 1859, Rush Elmore, Judge of the Third Judicial District, arrived at Burlington to hold a session of court for Coffey County. Neither the Clerk nor Sheriff was in attendance, their offices being held at Le Roy. In pursuance of the Judge's order these officials immediately removed to Burlington with their official records and the court was held there. From that time Burlington was officially recognized as the county seat. March 11, 1859, a peremptory mandamus was issued from Judge Elmore's court, commanding S. J. Bacon, County Recorder, to remove his office to Burlington.

At the session of the Territorial Legislature held in January and February 1860, the boundaries of many county lines were changed and new counties formed for the purpose of giving central locations to towns aspiring to be county seats. Many members of that Legislature were elected on the county line issue. The members of the House from the Twenty-second Representative District consisting of the counties of Osage and Coffey, at that session were O. H. Sheldon, of Burlingame, Osage County, and Geo. W. Nelson, of Le Roy, Coffey County. On the 1st of February, 1860, Mr. Nelson introduced House Bill No. 174, an act defining the boundaries of Shawnee, Osage, Neosho, Coffey and Woodson counties. The purpose of this bill was fully explained in the minority report of the committee on county lines and county-seats to whom the bill was referred. The majority report recommended the passage of the bill and was signed by E. Lynde, Chairman, James H. Jones and George W. Nelson. The minority report was signed by H. R. Dutton and Thomas Lindsey, and was as follows:

The undersigned members of the Committee on County and County Lines, respectfully dissent from a report of the majority of the Committee on House Bill No. 174. "An Act defining the boundaries of Shawnee, Osage, Neosho, Coffey and Woodson counties," for the following reasons: First, from a careful consideration of the petition and remonstrances presented upon the subject, we are satisfied that a majority of the people interested are opposed to the proposed change. Second, the bill reduces the size of four important and well organized counties, viz: Jackson, Shawnee, Coffey and Woodson--the latter to the extent that it would be impossible to maintain a county organization, while there is not a single petition from that county asking the proposed change; but, on the other hand, 182 voters out of 200, the whole number in the county, remonstrate against such change. The bill reduces Coffey County from twenty-four to eighteen miles in width, and organizes Neosho County with only fifteen miles in width, subject to settlement, thereby greatly enhancing the expense of supporting these county organizations. Third, we are further satisfied that this whole scheme has for its only object the making of county seats in localities where nothing but this proposed kind of legislation would ever place them, as by the provisions of the bill, three county seats already existing are destroyed and four new ones are established; and, further, that this is but the initiatory step toward carving out the whole territory, for the purpose of building up certain local interests, without regard to the public interests or the public good; and the undersigned respectfully protest against that system of legislation which is continually directed toward some local and in many instances personal interests, to the exclusion of these more important measures which merit and demand our whole time and attention.

The majority report of the committee, recommending the passage of the bill, was rejected by eleven yeas to twenty-one nays. This action on the reports was not had until on the 17th of February, the intervening time between the 1st and the 17th being occupied by the friends and opponents of the bill in laboring with the committee to adopt recommendations favorable to their respective sides. Petitions and remonstrances from the people of every county interested in the bill poured in upon the Legislature.

On the 20th of February Mr. Nelson introduced House Bill No. 411, "An Act to change the boundary between the counties of Coffey and Woodson." This bill proposed to attach six miles from the southern portion of Coffey County to Woodson County and to make Le Roy the temporary county seat; February 23 this bill passed the house by thirty yeas to two nays. The members voting in the affirmative were Messrs. Brown, Brooks, Chandler, Caniff, Cornwell, Cave, Dutton, Elliott, Fitzpatrick, Heath, Jones, Lombard, Lindsey, Murphy, McMath, Martin, Noel, Nelson, Parks, Pierce, Robertson, Reynolds, Steward, Sims, Shively, Sheldon, Scott, Sopris, Whitehead, Wagstaff and Mr. Speaker.

Those voting in the negative were Messrs. Bartlett and Wood.

February 25, in the Territorial Council, James M. Hendry and Chester Thomas submitted a majority report on House Bill No. 411, recommending its indefinite postponement. C. G. Keeler submitted a minority report, recommending its passage without amendment. The majority report was adopted by eight ayes to five nays. The councilmen voting in the affirmative were Messrs. Benton, Hendry, Mathias, Palmer, Stewart, Thomas, Woodward and Mr. President (Updegraff). Those voting in the negative were Messrs. Beebe, Christison, Elder, Keeler and Lambden.

Mr. Nelson then introduced a bill providing for another "permanent location" of the county seat of Coffey County, which passed the House but was defeated in the Senate.

This brief history of the effort to change the boundaries of Coffey County has been given here to show the cause of the many conflicts that occurred in this county on the county seat question. Le Roy and Ottumwa had hopes of so dividing the county as to make both places the centers of new counties that might be established by such division. Subsequent efforts were made to change the county lines, but they were always thwarted by the opposition of Burlington before they assumed any formidable proportions.

In April, 1861, another act for the "permanent location" of the county seat of Coffey County was passed by the State Legislature. The bill was introduced by Dr. G. A. Cutler, of Le Roy, and the act was approved April 30. The first election under the act was held June 11, which resulted as follows:

                            Le Roy.   Burlington.   Hampden.
Hampden                          1             3         41
Nashville                       37             1         31
California                       0            22         34
Ottumwa                          5            17         52
Neosho                          42            24          1
Le Roy                         130             0          0
Burlington                       2           136          0
                               ---           ---        ---
Total                          217           193        159

No town having received a majority of the votes, another election was held November 5, at which Le Roy received 303 votes, Burlington 275 and Hampden 1. No record by precinct is given of this vote. January 7, 1862, the board of County Commissioners met at Le Roy. Neither the County Clerk, I. E. Olney, nor his official records appearing, Dr. J. Jenks was appointed clerk pro tem, who served as such through that session of the board. At the next meeting of the board, April 7, Mr Olney was in attendance and recorded its proceedings. Other county officials, however, refused to recognize Le Roy as the county seat and did not remove their offices thither. Suits were instituted against them compelling the removal of their offices to Le Roy and a suit was also instituted against Ahijah Jones, District Clerk, compelling him to remove his office from Le Roy to Burlington. These were mandamus suits. The petition for the mandamus against Jones was heard by Judge R. M. Ruggles during a session of the court at Le Roy, August 21, 1862. The case was entitled "State of Kansas on the relation of B. L. Kingsbury and F. A. Atherly vs. Ahijah Jones, Clerk of the District Court of Coffey County; petition for mandamus." The petition was granted and a writ of peremptory mandamus was ordered, commanding Mr. Jones to remove his office forthwith to Burlington. The ground upon which this petition was granted was that the County Commissioners, having failed to publish a proclamation for a second election on the county seat, the second election was void. The judge therefore decided that Burlington was still the county seat. In vindication of the commissioners it may be stated that the required proclamation was ordered by them to be published in the Neosho Valley Register at Burlington, and a copy of the proclamation was handed by the County Clerk, in timely season, to the editor, who left the copy on a composing stand while absent at dinner. Upon his return the copy was missing. He immediately notified the County Clerk of the loss and requested another copy, but it was never furnished. Mr. Jones took an appeal to the Supreme Court and was allowed to retain his office at Le Roy upon his filing a bond in the sum of $200. In pursuance of this decision of the judge, at a special session of the Board of County Commissioners, held at Le Roy, August 26, the following order was passed:

It is ordered by the Board that the County Clerk, County Treasurer, Register of Deeds, Sheriff and Probate Judge immediately proceed to occupy the several offices provided by them in the town of Burlington, which is decided to be the county seat of the county of Coffey by the District Court for said county. Said offices to be held in the upper and lower rooms of Kingsbury's building, in said town, and the County Clerk is requested to notify said officers of said order.
I. E. OLNEY, County Clerk.

A. A. Burr, the other commissioner, was present, but did not sign the order.

The next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners was held at Burlington, October 6, 1862. All of the county officers, with the exception of District Clerk, had removed their offices to Burlington. At the January, 1863, term of the Supreme Court of the State, the decision of Judge Ruggles in the mandamus case was affirmed. Ahijah Jones thereupon removed his office to Burlington, February 16, 1873. The District Court, Judge Ruggles presiding, met at Burlington, and that session of the February term was held there.

April 7, 1863, in pursuance of a petition of three-fifths of the voters of the county, another election was ordered to be held on the 19th of May, 1863, for the "permanent location" of the county seat of Coffey County. The election resulted as follows:

Precincts.        Burlington.  Hampden.  Ottumwa.  Spring Creek.
Burlington                83         3         0              0
Ottumwa                    3        22        31              0
Le Roy                     0        94         0              1
Avon                       5        69         0              0
California                17        14        12              0
Pottawatomie               0        14         1              0
Neosho                    26         6         9              0
                         ---       ---        --              -
Total                    134       222        44              1

Hampden having received a majority of all the votes cast, was duly declared the county seat by the County Commissioners, May 23, 1863.

The next election for the "permanent location" of the county seat of Coffey County was held November 7, 1865, in pursuance of a proclamation ordering the same, issued by the County Commissioners October 3. A petition for the election, signed by three-fifths of the voters, had previously been presented to the Board. The result of this election was as follows:

Precincts.          Burlington.  Hampden.  Ottumwa.
Hampden                     18        36         1
Nashville                   10        35         3
Burlington                 122         0         0
California                  19         3        46
Le Roy                       2        94        30
Neosho                      36         4         2
Ottumwa                      6        11        83
Pottawatomie                 6         8         0
                           ---       ---       ---
Total                      219       191       165

No town having received a majority of the votes, another election, to be confined to the two points receiving the highest number of votes at the first election, was ordered by the County Commissioners to be held November 21, 1865. This election resulted as follows:

Precincts.        Burlington.  Hampden.  Ottumwa.
Hampden                   24        30         0
Nashville                 33        32         0
California                40        25         0
Burlington               149         0         0
Pottawatomie              17         4         0
Ottumwa                   33        36         1
Le Roy                     3       142         0
Neosho                    43        20         0
                         ---       ---         -
Total                    342       289         1

November 25, 1865, Burlington was declared the county seat by the Board of Commissioners. January 1, 1866, the Board of County Commissioners met in the upper story of the Hurlbut building, in Burlington. This story was rented one year for county offices for $100.

October 26, 1866, the County Commissioners issued an order for another election for the permanent location of the county seat of Coffey County, to be held December 4, in pursuance to a petition for such an election, signed by three-fifths of the voters. The result of this election was as follows:

Precincts.       Burlington.  Ottumwa.  Hampden.  Blank.
Nashville                21        17         0       0
Hampden                  66         1         2       1
Burlington              158         1         0       0
California               26        45         0       0
Le Roy                    2       153         0       0
Neosho                   29        23         0       0
Ottumwa                  12        90         0       0
Pottawatomie             14         0         0       0
                        ---       ---         -       -
Total                   328       330         2       1

No town having received a majority of the votes, another election was ordered by the County Commissioners, to be held December 18, 1866, which resulted as follows:

Precincts.       Burlington.  Ottumwa.  Blank.
Nashville                28        32       0
Hampden                  80         8       1
Burlington              194         1       0
California               18        61       0
Le Roy                    6       171       0
Neosho                   41        29       0
Ottumwa                  24        94       0
Pottawatomie             25         3       0
                        ---       ---       -
Total                   416       399       1

Burlington was proclaimed the county seat by the County Commissioners on the 22d (sic) of December, 1866.

This was the last election for the "permanent location" of the county seat of Coffey County. The county seat has remained at Burlington since November 25, 1865. The main cause of the many elections on this question was the hope of the people of Le Roy and Ottumwa of dividing the county, as has been previously stated. It was believed by them that by locating the county seat either at Le Roy or Ottumwa, the prospect of so dividing the county as to make both towns centres of new counties, would be strengthened. Again there were other people who assisted in keeping the agitation alive for mercenary motives. A county seat election afforded them opportunities of selling their votes and influence to the highest bidder. At the last election a contract was made between the managers in the interest of Burlington and a Le Roy man, whereby the latter was to receive $50 for every vote cast at Le Roy for Burlington. Six votes for Burlington were clandestinely cast at Le Roy at that time, for which the "party of the second part" received $300. These county seat elections reeked with corruption, and all interested parties and participants were more or less tainted with it.

[TOC] [part 4] [part 2] [Cutler's History]