JOHN MATTHEWS produced this selection.

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas
was first published in 1883 by A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL.


PART 1: Location | Map and Population | General History | Organization
PART 2: Oberlin
Index: [A-Z]


DECATUR County was created by the act of the legislature of 1873. It is one of the northern tier of counties in the northwestern part of the State; ten counties lie between it and the Missouri River, two between it and Colorado. Its area is 900 square miles. The name of the county was given to it in commemoration of Commodore Stephen Decatur, who was born in Sinnepaxent, Md., and killed in a duel with Commodore James Barron, March 20, 1820, and who was a prominent actor in the war of 1812.

The county is well wooded and well watered. The timber belts range from one quarter to one half mile in width, and the general varieties are ash, box elder, cottonwood, elm and willow. The streams run from the southwest to the northeast. The principal streams are Beaver, Prairie Dog, Tom Cat and Long Branch creeks, and the two large forks of Sappa creek, making a valuable water supply. All of these streams empty into the Republican River, in southern Nebraska. Springs are numerous; the depth of wells is from 20 to 40 feet. The percentage of timber land is two; of prairie, 98 per cent. The land is gently undulating. The soil is of good depth, a rich black loam. There are are (sic) but little evidences of coal, but pure chalk has been found while boring for wells. In building stone there are the best qualities of magnesian limestone, hard and soft, of cream or yellow and of white colors.



(Organized in 1879.)

(a) Bassettville Township . . . . . . . . . .  441
(b) Beaver Township . . . . . . . . . . . . .  349
(c) Grant Township  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  637
(d) Jennings Township . . . . . . . . . . . .  945
(e) Oberlin Township  . . . . . . . . . . .  1,196
(f) Prairie Dog Township  . . . . . . . . . .  612
    Total . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4,180


The first claims known to have been taken by settlers within the limits of what is now Decatur County, were by Col. J. A. Hopkins, in December, 1872, and by D. Coburn, S. M. Porter, John Griffith and Henry M. Playford in January, 1873. Col. Hopkins came to the place where he located in September 1872, but the date of his filing on land was December, 1872; the others mentioned above entered their claims as stated, although they had lived in the county prior to filing. Mrs. H. P. Gandy was the first white woman that settled and lived in the county.

The first post office established in the county was at Oberlin, then called Sappa, J. A. Rodehaver being appointed postmaster in April, 1874. The first school was kept near Oberlin, in the fall and winter of 1875-76, and taught by George Worthington. The first birth was that of a child to Henry Gandy and wife, in 1873; the first marriage that of Calvin Gay and Maggie Robinson in the fall of 1875, and the first death that of A. Austin, on the Sappa, in 1873. In the summer of 1874, R. L. Booth killed Frank Adams for insulting his wife - the first death by violence in the county.

During the month of September, 1878, a band of northern Cheyennes invaded Kansas. Crossing the State line near the southeast corner of Comanche County, about the 14th of the month, they divided into small bands and attacked the camps of stockmen along their route across and into the counties of Barber, Comanche, Clark, Meade, Ford and Foote, killing some and wounding others, and destroying and stealing stock and other property. After crossing the Arkansas River near Cimarron, Foote County, they passed almost due north, doing but little damage until they reached the counties of Sheridan, Decatur and Rawlins, where they committed most foul and brutal atrocities. Besides murdering men and destroying property, nameless outrages were committed on defenseless women and children. In Decatur County alone, eighteen men were slaughtered. The names of the victims are as follows: William Laing, John C. Laing, William Laing, Jr., Freeman Laing, J. G. Smith, Frederick Hamper, E. P. Humphrey, John Humphrey, Moses Abernathy, John C. Hutson, Geo. F. Walters, Macrellus Felt, Ed. Miskelley, Ferdinand Westphaled and son, Mr. Wright, Mr. Lull and Mr. Irwin.

During the raid, on September 30, Mr. H. D. Colvin, living eight miles southwest of Oberlin (on the South Fork of the Sappa) was away from his dwelling some few rods, when he was suddenly surprised by an advance party of the raiding Indians, who drove him to his house. When the main body came up, an attack was made on the house, but the who two hundred or more were driven off by Mr. Colvin and his brave wife, with an old navy six-shooter and an equally antiquated shot gun. Mrs. Colvin fired the first shot at the savages with the shot gun. They left, doing no damage. In March, 1882, Henry Inman made a selection of 2,320 acres of lands in this county, for a part of the additional school lands the State was entitled to receive from the general government.

Nathan Haynes received about the 1st of January, 1882, a patent to the south half of Section 2, Town 2, Range 29. The first ever issued to school land in Decatur County.

The first law suit in Decatur County was in the court of F. Coard, Justice of the Peace of Oberlin Township. The county when organized, was in the fifteenth district, but on March 8, 1881, it was made a part of the new seventeenth district, and Rawlins and Cheyenne Counties were attached to Decatur for judicial purposes. The Legislature of 1883 detached Rawlins and Cheyenne from Decatur, provided for terms of court in Rawlins in the months of May and November, and attached Cheyenne thereto, for judicial purposes.

Judge D. C. Nellis, of Ellis County, of the seventeenth judicial district, held the first term of court, April 5, 1881. Three cases (criminal) appeared on the docket, one was dismissed, one was ordered back to Norton County for trial, to which Decatur had been attached for judicial purposes, and one case of grand larceny, the defendant plead guilty and was sentenced to the State penitentiary for eighteen months.

D. W. Burt and L. G. Parker were admitted to the bar; seven applicants received their naturalization papers. Judge William H. Pratt succeeded Judge Nellis, and he held the terms of court in April and in September, 1882. There were sixteen cases on the docket for the term commencing September 25, 1882, of which four were State cases; three were for divorce.

H. D. Colvin performed the duties of Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1879, organizing school district No. 1, six miles square, with Oberlin in the centre, on August 23. School district officers were elected September 3, and J. B. Hitchcock, was elected director, R. A. Marks, clerk, George Penson, treasurer.

School district No. 2 was organized on the Prairie dog (sic); Thomas Matthews, director; James G. White, clerk; B. Lyons, treasurer.

School district No. 2 (sic) was organized with Shibboleth as a centre; G. W. Shoemaker, director; D. Boughman, clerk; S. P. Carney, treasurer. The school house was located on the northwest corner of the southwest quarter of Section 5, Township 5, Range 28.

A four weeks session of the County normal institute was held commencing July 12, 1880, D. W. Burt, conductor; Sue Kereff and R. C. Lindig, Instructors. The whole number of teachers in attendance was fifteen; the amount received from examination fees, was $26; the amount paid for instruction, $8. An institute is provided for in the year 1883.

Oberlin is the only town in Decatur County which as obtained any importance, and it is yet a mere hamlet, compared to many other county seats of Kansas. It is on the Sappa creek, at nearly the center of the county. Clayton, the next town in point of size to Oberlin is on the line between Decatur and Norton Counties. It now contains two general stores, a drug store, postoffice and hotel.

There are thirteen church organizations in Decatur County. Methodist, seven; Presbyterian, two; Baptist, three; Baptist (Free Will) one. There are fifteen Union an one Baptist Sunday schools. The "Frontier Mill," McKay and Jenkins, proprietors, were erected during the summer of 1882, at Cedar Bluffs, in the northwestern part of the county. The first flour manufactured in the county was ground at these mills on December 18th, 1882, and put in the market at Oberlin, Kansas, at the store of John Morrison.

The Oberlin Herald was issued in June, 1879, by J. C. Humphrey and James N. Counter. Mr. Humphrey went on to the Belleville Telescope and in April, 1881, Mr. Counter became the sole manager, an continued as such until December, 1881, when William D. Street became the proprietor. During the latter part of the management under Mr. Counter, D. P. Havens became local editor. The Herald in 1883, is the only paper in the county. The Oberlin News was started August, 1881. Jacob C. Wilson and others were interested in it. On the 1st of March, 1882, is (sic) was purchased by the Herald and consolidated with it. J. E. Cochran had been its editor.

The Decatur Center Advance started about the first of February, 1880, at Decatur Center. It remained here but a short time, and in March the first number of the Guardian was published by Bogart & Ackerman, at Jackson. About the first of May, Sol. Rees succeeded Mr. Bogart. The paper soon after ceased to exist, and Mr. Rees went to New Mexico.


November 1, 1879, a mass convention of the voters of Decatur County, was held on the south side of Beckwith & McCall's store, at Oberlin; fully 300 voters, with their families, were assembled, and the hall, the usual place of assemblage, was not large enough to accommodate the vast assembly.

Edwin Knowles was chose Chairman, and S. L. Bishop, Secretary, and the object was stated to be to select three men to recommend to Governor St. John for appointment as temporary County commissioners, and one man for temporary County Clerk, of Decatur County.

The persons selected for these positions were as follows: Edward D. Stillson, for County Clerk; Frank Kimball, John B. Hitchcock and George W. Shoemaker, for Commissioners. John Neve was appointed Census taker, and during the month of November, he completed is work, and found the population of Decatur County to be 2,561. Early in December he went to Topeka with the returns, which he delivered to the Governor, and on December 11, Governor St. John issued his proclamation, organizing the county, appointing the above named persons as temporary county officers, and declaring Oberlin the temporary county seat.

On December 15, the officers met and made choice of Frank Kimball as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. Arrangements were made for holding an election for the purpose of choosing county and township officers, and voting on the permanent location of the county seat on the 3d day of February, 1880. The county was divided into seven townships, named Grant, Oberlin, Beaver, Bassettville, Prairie Dog, Jennings and Garfield. The following is the official roster for the county:

County Clerks. -- Edward D. Stillson, N. G. Addleman, H. D. Colvin and E. W. Rathbun. County Commissioners. -- Frank Kimball, John B. Hitchcock, George W. Shoemaker, J. C. Johnson, W. A. Burnett, Henry Clair, F. H. Cornish, S. F. Colby, John Hayward, Van B. Wiggins, A. W. Bariteau, R. W. Finley and Daniel Castor. County Treasurers. -- George Metcalf, J. B. Hitchcock and W. A. Burnett. Register of Deeds. -- George W. Keyes and Frank A. Hunt. Sheriffs. -- W. A. Frasier, C. E. Ayer and J. W. Short. Coroners. -- W. D. Street, W. A. Colvin, John P. Greenwood and J. A. Hughes. Clerks of the District Court. -- W. A. Colvin, D. C. Floyd, C. E. Corporone and George W. Whiting. County Attorneys. -- Ed. M. Bowman, L. G. Parker and J. E. Cochran. Probate Judges. -- Luther Brown and N. W. Strong. Superintendents of Public Instruction. -- D. W. Burt and George F. Hodge. County Surveyors. -- S. L. Bishop, Wm. W. McKay and George W. Boring.

George H. Case, of Jewell County, is the Representative of Decatur County in the Senate. The district was the Thirty-fourth under the Legislative Apportionment Act of 1876; under that of 1881, the counties of Phillips Norton, Decatur, Rawlins and Cheyenne, form the Thirty-eight Senatorial District.

M. A. Conklin was elected member of the House of Representatives at the first election, February 3, 1880; D. B. Stone was elected November 2, 1880; Will D. Street, November 7, 1880. Decatur County is the One Hundred and Twenty-fourth Representative District. Mr. Stone held the first seat in the House from the county, in the session of 1881. He was a member of the Committee on Agriculture, and on the Congressional Apportionment. He declined the chair of Professor of Mathematics of Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio, to which position he was elected in 1882, but he accepted the place of Principal of the High School of Tecumseh, Neb., in August, 1882. Mr. Street was a member of the Committee on Elections and on the State Affairs in the House of 1883.

In November, 1880, there were 500 votes polled in the county; in 1881, 538; in 1882, 513.

The establishment of the county seat permanently at Oberlin, by a majority of 181, at the election held February 3, 1880, has caused efforts to be made looking ultimately to the erection of county buildings.

On February 14th, 1883, the Board rented of R. A. Marks, the Moody and Burnett buildings, for one year at $200 per year. The Legislature of 1883 passed an act to enable the Count Commissioners of Decatur County to fund the county indebtedness authorizing them to issue the bonds of the county in an amount not exceeding $15,000 to be used for the redemption of the outstanding orders, allowed accounts and warrants of said county, and to pay off any judgment against said county. Each bond issued shall not be less than $100 nor more than $500, and shall not be for less than t en nor more than twenty-five years, interest not to exceed seven per cent, payable semi-annually.


In 1880 there were 30 organized school districts in the county; 504 persons of school age; there was an enrollment of 308; an average daily attendance of 179. It had 15 log and sod school houses, valued at $666, furniture at $73.

In 1881, there were 33 organized districts; in 1882, there were 38. The average salary of male teachers per month is $20.41; of female teachers, $18.18. In 1882, there was (sic) 17 school buildings of the aggregate value of $1,700. The school tax levy for 1881 was 9 mills on the dollar; in 1882 it was 11 mills. The amount of money received in 1882 for school purposes was $2,357.77. Semi-annual apportionments of the State School Fund was based on 504 pupils for 1881; on 69 for 1882.

In 1878, the population of the county was estimated at about 1,000, of which there were a few Germans and Swedes, but the settlers were principally from other portions of Kansas, Iowa and Missouri; in 1879, the census-taker reported the population 2,561; the National census of 1880 enumerates 4,180, of which number there was one colored; there were 1,068 males of 21 years of age and over, native born; 175 of foreign birth. The Assessor's returns of population for 1881 was 2,722; of 1882, 3,223. The total valuation of property in the county for 1880 is $156,898.72; for 181, was $159,501.11; for 1882, it was $226,252. Its taxable acres are 32,518, of which 5,243 are under cultivation.

The Decatur County Agricultural, Horticultural and Stock-raising Society was organized in June 1882. The acreage of grains, and different kinds of stock raised are as follows: The number of milch cows in 1881, was 790; in 1882, 937; other cattle in 1881, 1,258; in 1882, 1,882; horses in 1881, 856; in 1882, 1,483; sheep in 1881, 1,603; in 1883, 3,186; swine in 1881, 420; in 1882, 561; the wool clip for 1881 was 1,850 pounds. In 1882, the acreage of winter wheat, was 1116; spring wheat, 641; corn, 12,123; rye, 429; Irish potatoes, 395; oats, 91; buckwheat, 43. Fully one-half of the county is open range; grazing exists for nine months in the year; prairie hay can be had at $2 per ton, as there is a growth of heavy grass along the streams in the wide bottoms.

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