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


[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]


Dickinson county has no pre-Territorial history, as the first settlement that took place within its borders, of which there is any authenticated account, took place on Chapman Creek in 1855, and was made by a family named Lenon. The following of this family was of a rather doubtful character, it being supposed that horse stealing was their chief business. How far these suppositions were correct has never been definitely known, but certain it is that in 1858, so strong was the suspicion against them, that they were driven out of the county. The next settler in the county was T. F. Hersey, who came in the fall of 1856, and located on a claim on Mud Creek, adjacent to where the city of Abilene now stands, and the following spring his family followed him and moved into the log cabin he had prepared for them. Dickinson county, like most all other counties in Kansas away from the bank of the Missouri River, suffered under that erroneous impression that it was a country unfit for human habitation, and as a consequence, settlers came in very slowly. At the time the county was organized, in 1857, there was not over a half dozen families in the county. The county was named after Daniel S. Dickinson, of New York, who, while United States Senator from that State, introduced in the Senate, in 1847, resolutions respecting Territorial government which embodied the doctrine of popular sovereignty. Prior to its organization, and for a long time subsequent thereto, it was attached to Davis County for judicial and municipal purposes, and occupied the position of a municipal township. In 1857, C. W. Staatz settled on Lyon Creek, being the first settler on this creek in Dickinson County. In 1858 quite a number of new-comers arrived, and settled in different portions of the county, on the various streams. Among these were A. J. Markley, who settled on Turkey Creek; William Lamb, who located at what is now Detroit, on the Smoky; A. Packard, on the Smoky, a little southeast of Detroit; John Irwin, the Pritchard brothers, G. W. Freeman, on Chapman Creek; J. F. And C. F. Staatz, William Brusson, on Lyon Creek, and E. W. Bradfield on Mud Creek. At that time no one thought of settling on the upland prairie, every new arrival seeking the bottom lands in the valleys of the creeks and streams, for the double purpose of securing better land and being close to timber. Green Lamb, John Nash, James Long, William Mullhagen, Dr. Gerot, Henry Long, John Long, Nicholas White, H. M. Rulison, and a few others were among the 1857-58 settlers. At that time, and prior thereto, and for some time subsequent, the wide valley of the Smoky and the extensive level plains of the prairie formed the choice hunting grounds of the various Indian tribes located tot he north, south, east and west of what is now Dickinson County. From the south came the Kaws, whose chief village was at Council Grove, in Morris County; from the north and west came the Sioux, Pawnees and Cheyennes, and from the east came the Delawares and Pottawatomies. The country abounded in deer, elk, buffalo, antelope and all other kinds of wild game, and even for years after white settlement commenced, these kings of the prairie roamed the plains of Dickinson County in countless numbers. The early settlers, being located far apart, seldom saw any human being but the red man as he roamed the prairie with knife and rifle in quest of game, and the only sound that disturbed the silence was the crack of his gun. Even as late as 1860, the region of the Smoky was a favorite retreat for the Indians. Thus it was that in the fall of that year, Capt. Sturgis, of the United States Dragoons, then stationed at Fort Larned, after a futile attempt in pursuit of the Sioux, to punish them for some heinous depredations committed by them, after having been out- maneuvered by the Indians for weeks, he, supposing they had gone south, finally found them on the Smoky, where he attacked them, destroyed their camp, killed quite a number, and captured a good many more. The first prairie broke in the county for farming purposes was on the Lenon claim on Chapman Creek in 1857, and the next was by T. F. Hersey, close to where Abilene now stands. The year 1859 witnessed quite a good many new arrivals, many of whom took claims and settled in the county, whilst others, afraid to wrestle with the inconveniences and discomforts of frontier life, after viewing the beautiful valleys and wide prairies, turned their faces eastward and started back. Among those that remained was James Bell, who took a claim in the Smoky Hill valley, about a mile from the present town of Abilene, and upon which he continues to reside. The other settlers who came that year located in different portions of the county, some in one place and some in another, just as they were guided by fancy or judgment. To settle in Dickinson County at that early date was no small undertaking, but one surrounded with dangers and difficulties. In the first place, tribes of savage Indians were almost continually roaming over the country, and although they professed to be friendly, there was no telling at what moment, under some real or supposed injury, or the wild whim or caprice of some treacherous chief, an indiscriminate slaughter of the whites might commence. Experience had shown that when the savage thought there was anything to be gained by treachery, there was no dependence to be placed on him. Again, the necessaries of life were only to be had at great risk and inconvenience. In the days of 1857-58-59, there was scarcely a horse in the county, oxen being used almost entirely for farm work and travel. Statistics show that even in 1860 there were only twenty-three horses in the whole county. The early settlers found no difficulty in raising grain, the great trouble arose in finding a market for it and a mill to grind it. Kansas City and Leavenworth were the nearest points where they could have their grists ground or do their trading, but these were distant 160 to 170 miles, and to make the trip there and back with an ox team required about a month. These trips were not often made, probably once or twice a year, but when the 'old man' went to market or mill, the whole family had to go, because the country being so sparsely settled, and settlers being so far apart, and Indians so plenty, it was not deemed safe to leave the family behind.

Under Territorial Law, a company that platted and laid out into town lots forty acres was entitled to 160 acres, and this accounts for the multiplicity of towns laid out in all new counties in territorial times. One of the requirements of the law was actual occupancy. This law was widely taken advantage of by parties who did not wish to comply with the pre-emption law. Hence, as early as 1857, shortly after the organization of the county, a party consisting of Nicholas White, H. M. Rulison, and Dr. Gerot, formed themselves into a town company and located what was known as the town of Newport. The place chosen for the town site was Section 3, Town 13, Range 3, about a mile east of where Detroit now stands. Forty acres of the section were laid off into town lots, and a log cabin was erected on each quarter section, besides a store, eighteen by twenty, built of hewn logs. The object of putting a log cabin on each quarter was to secure the entire section, but whether they succeeded in their object the record saith naught, although it is presumable from the evidence that they failed, from the fact that the company disbanded the following year and abandoned the site. Newport, however, became the first county seat of the county. The first officers appointed for the county were appointed by Governor Denver in 1858, who, at that time, was Governor of the Territory, and were as follows: Commissioners, William Lamb, James Long, and William Mullhagen; County Clerk, Dr. Gerot; Treasurer, John Lamb; Sheriff, Henry Long; and Register of Deeds, John Long. It was by this first board of County Commissioners that Newport was declared the county seat. Up to this time, and for some time subsequent, Dickinson was attached to Davis County for judicial and municipal purposes, and not until 1859 was there a voting precinct in the entire county, the nearest voting place being Kansas Falls, on the west line of Davis County. Unfortunately for this history, the records of the proceedings of the County Commissioners during Territorial times were destroyed in the great fire by which Abilene was visited in January, 1882. In 1859, however, a voting precinct was established at Newport, at which twenty votes were cast at the election held in November of that year. This closes the Territorial period, and early in the following year, 1860, Kansas became one of the States in the Union. The population of Dickinson County at that time was 378, and this included every man, woman, and child in the county. The first regular election held in the county was in the fall of 1860, after Kansas had been admitted as a State. The Smoky Hill River running almost through the center of the county from west to east, divides the county into nearly two equal parts; one north and the other south. To accommodate the voters on both sides of the river the County Commissioners established two voting precincts, one on the north side of the river at Newport, and one on the south side at A. J. Markey's, on Turkey Creek, or, as it was then called, Union City. At this election the following were the county officers chosen: Commissioners, E. W. Bradfield, William Mullhagen, and G. W. Danks; Assessor, J. F. Stantz; Treasurer, J. C. Abbott; County Clerk, T. F. Hersey; Register of Deeds, R. H. Hunt; Surveyor, Green Lamb; Probate Judge, Gotlieb Gugler. Scarcely had these officers qualified for their respective offices when the county seat question began to be agitated. At this juncture, one C. H. Thompson, who, in the spring of 1860, had moved into the county from Leavenworth, and located on a tract of land east of the farm of T. F. Hersey, conceived the idea of laying out a town, which idea he immediately carried out by having a portion of his land surveyed and laid off into town lots. The naming of this town in prospective was given to Mrs. Hersey, who named it Abilene. After the town was laid out and named, a few rude log cabins were speedily constructed, and Abilene entered the lists as a contestant for the county seat. The other contesting places were: Union City, Smoky Hill (now Detroit) and Newport. The voters were not many, but the contest was none the less lively for all that. Union City was on the south side of the river, and the other contesting places north of it. Newport had the advantage of whatever prestige was to be gained from being then the county seat. The settlers on the south side of the river were much less in number than those on the north side, but they had the advantage of being united, as there was only one place south of the river that aspired to the honor of becoming the county seat, and on this place they concentrated their voting strength. The chances of Union City were very encouraging, as the people on the north side of the river were divided between Abilene, Smoky Hill and Newport. Thompson and Hersey saw that unless a union could be made with the supporters of some of the other points, the county seat would not only be lost to Abilene, but to the north side of the river, and all their energies were bent to prevent this if possible. How it was accomplished is yet a mystery, but certain it is that they succeeded in getting the settlers on Chapman Creek to withdraw their support from Newport in favor of Abilene, and by this move they secured the victory. The election on the county seat question took place in the spring of 1861, and the canvass of the votes showed Abilene to be the choice. Besides the places mentioned as contesting for the county seat, there were towns, in name only, scattered all over the county. There was a piece of ground to which was given the name of London Falls. Then there was the town of Centreville, another named Arapahoe; the name of another town was given to a place about three-fourths of a mile west of Mud Creek; then a party from New York located and named a town adjoining, Sand Spring. Bruce City was the name given to a place at the mouth of the Solomon River, and White Cloud was located about a mile east of the present site of Solomon City. As if there were still a scarcity of towns, John Erwin located a town on his farm, and about the same time some one else located a town in the southeastern portion of the county, to which he gave the sweet sounding name of Aroma. How densely all these towns were peopled may be ascertained from the fact that in the 851 square miles embraced in Dickinson County, there were at that time but 378 souls, all told. The effects of the extreme drouth of 1860, by which Kansas was visited, were felt in Dickinson County as well as in all other portions of the State, not only in the destruction of crops, but in putting a stop to immigration. From 1860 until after the war closed, the new comers that settled in the county were very few, nor did they come in any great numbers for several years afterwards. A few would come at interval, and if suitable locations could be found in some of the stream valleys, they would settle, but if not they would go elsewhere. All this time there was not a single settler on the prairie, and not until 1867 did any one venture to open up a prairie farm. The first to so venture were John Reeves and Edmund Kelly, who located in Newbern Township in 1867, and went to work turning over the virgin sod. It is questionable if the opening up of these farms by Reeves and Kelly did not do more for the advancement and development of Dickinson County than any other thing that could have happened. Prior to that time it was the universal belief that the uplands of the prairie were altogether useless for farming, and were fit only for grazing purposes. This delusion was soon dispelled and when it was found that as good farms could be made on the upland prairies as on the bottom lands in the valleys, the new comers increased, and at this date, 1882, some of the finest farms in the count are prairie farms. In the years of the early settlement of the county, several attempts had been made to raise fall wheat, but without success. This failure was not caused by any defect in the soil, but to other and quite natural causes. Fires had swept over the surface of the soil for a great many years before settlement, during which the soil nearest to the surface had undergone a process of baking, as it were. When the sod was turned over it would soon lose what little humidity it possessed and become perfectly dry. In those days grain was sown broadcast, and before it could take root, strong winds would come and blow, not only the seed out of the ground, but a good deal of the soil with it, consequently there would be no crop, and hence the sowing of fall wheat was discontinued. The attempt was not renewed until the fall of 1866, when it was undertaken by the Hodge brothers, who made a success of it, and since that time but very little spring wheat has been raised in the county, fall wheat having supplanted it. The year 1869 was rather a disastrous one for Dickinson County, owing to the floods that occurred in June of that year. Mud Creek and Chapman Creek overflowed their banks, and the entire country north of the Smoky Hill was submerged. Abilene was under water - cellars were flooded, and in most of the houses water stood two and three feet deep. People had to leave their homes, and as many as three hundred people were quartered in the "Drovers' Cottage", kept by Mr. Gore, for several days, and even there the water was a foot deep on the ground floor. What crops were in the ground were completely washed out, and twelve persons were drowned by the flood. The year 1870 is chiefly remarkable for the number of new settlers that located in the county that year, and also for the county seat contest between Detroit and Abilene, in which the latter was successful. In February of that year, a party from Ohio who had come to Kansas to select a location for a colony, were so well pleased with Dickinson County that they concluded to look no farther. Lands were selected for the colonists, and on the 5th day of April following, the Buckeye Colony arrived in Abilene, where they remained until houses for their accommodation were built on the lands that had been selected for the colony. These lands are located in Township 12, Range 2 east, which is now one of the civil townships of the county, and is known as Buckeye Township. The colonists numbered about 200 in all, and among them were: M. P. Jolley, J. T. Stevenson, W. R. Moore, Lot Deming. J. T. Simmons, John Hummell, J. R. Wilson, W. S. Lafferty, A. K. Ruse, Stephen Winsler, George Purvess, Joseph Kennedy, others. Mr. V. P. Wilson was the organizer of this Buckeye colony. In September if that same year a County Agricultural Society was organized, but after an existence of a few years, the property of the society passed into the hands of others, and now fairs are held under the auspices of a stock company. In that month, also, quite an accession was made to the population, by the arrival of Joseph Wilson and twenty others, who emigrated from Bureau County, Ills., and settled in Dickinson County. The first fair held in the county, was, on October 18, 1870, on the arm of James Bell, near Abilene. The year 1871 was one of large immigration into the county. As early as March, a colony of about forty persons arrived from Michigan, and settled in what is now Hope, but what was then part of Ridge Township. Among the colonists were, N. Thurstin, A. Hanquenet, D. Chartier, M. Chase, Mr. Robinson and others. In the spring of that same year, Rev. W. B. Christopher, of Illinois, with a colony of about fifty persons, located in the county, and selected Cheever, one of the northern townships, as their place of settlement. In March, 1872, quite a colony arrived in the county from Tennessee, under the leadership of W. E. A. Meek and A. L. Evans. The members of this colony numbered about sixty, and their place of location was in Ridge and Hope Townships, in the southern portion of the county. About this time, also, quite a number of settlers arrived form Adams County, Pa., who selected Cheever Township as their place of settlement. The number of new settlers coming to the county kept increasing each year until 1879, when one of the most complete and perfectly organized colonies that ever entered a new country, arrived in Dickinson County. In point of numbers and equipment it far exceeded anything that had preceded it. All told, they numbered nearly three hundred persons. The leaders of the movement had been traveling through Kansas for some time seeking a location, and finally decided upon Dickinson County. When they had selected the lands for the colony, they immediately went to work and had a large frame building erected in Abilene, 28x80 feet, for the accommodation of the colonists upon their arrival, until suitable buildings could be erected upon their lands. On Friday, March 28, 1879, the first company arrived in Abilene, which consisted of thirty persons from Frederick County, Md., and on Saturday morning, upwards of two hundred arrived from Lancaster, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon and Franklin counties, Pa., and these were followed later by others. In religion they are what is known as "River Brethren", and in order not to be deprived of their privilege of worship, they brought with them a minister, Rev. Benj. Gish, and a bishop, Rev. Jesse Engle, so that from the time they started, there was a perfect church organization in the colony. The colony divided on its arrival in the county, some settling north of the Smoky, and some south, in the vicinity of Belle Springs. They brought with them fifteen car loads of freight, and in notion their departure from Pennsylvania, the Marietta Times said that they took with them not less than $500,000 in money. In November, 1871, the cattle trade business was closed up in Abilene, and moved to counties farther West. From the commencement of the business to its close, it had been a source of a good deal of trouble to many of the farming community. Companies were formed to oppose the driving of Texas cattle through the county, which often led to serious disturbances between the cattle men and farmers, the latter being sometimes fought off and sometimes bought off. From that time forward the county advanced rapidly, each year adding hundreds to its population, and thousands of dollars to its material wealth; and now the position occupied by Dickinson County as an agricultural and stock county, is in the first rank.

[TOC] [part 3] [part 1] [Cutler's History]