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


[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]


The first Territorial Legislature met in July, 1855, and during its session Jefferson County was organized and county officers appointed. The limits of the county were the same as now, except that the Kansas River formed its entire southern boundary.

The first county officers, appointed in 1855, were: N. B. Hopewell, O. B. Tebbs, and Henry Owens, County Court. This court was substantially the same as a board of county commissioners. Franklin Finch was appointed Probate Judge; W. F. Dyer, Treasurer; G. M. Dyer, Sheriff; Marion Christison, Register of Deeds; William Sprague, Assessor; Garrett Cozine, Surveyor; James A. Chapman, Coroner. Osawkie was designated as the county seat.

At a meeting of the County Court held at Osawkie, January 21, 1856, the county was divided into three townships. All that portion east of the line between Ranges 18 and 19, was called Slough Creek: all west of the above-named line, and south of Town 8, was called Osawkie; and the remainder of the county was called Grasshopper Falls. A Justice of the Peace and a Constable wee appointed for each of these townships.

At the March Meeting of the County Court the first license in the county was granted to Jefferson Riddle, granting him the privilege of maintaining a ferry across the Grasshopper at Osawkie, for which he paid the sum of $10 per year. The same meeting was the time of considering the building of a court house at Osawkie, and a tax of sixteen and two-third mills on the collar was voted for the purpose. W. H. Tebbs was appointed Superintendent of Public Buildings, and was ordered at once to let the contract for the building of a court house.

The first lawsuit in the county was in March, 1856, at Osawkie, before David R. Sprague, a Justice of the Peace. The case was a complaint on the part of the Territory of Kansas against Joseph Britton, charged with stealing a yoke of oxen and a bee-hive from Henry Evans. As this was the first lawsuit in the county a great deal of interest was manifested, and a large crowd of spectators were present. The Justice was impressed with he dignity of his position, and summoned a large number of witnesses, enough, though many of them knew nothing of the case, to frighten the poor prisoner half out of his wits. The examination of witnesses was a long and tedious one, and at the close the Justice made an entry in his docket in his own peculiar orthography, of which the following is an exact copy:*

"Territory Against ] Justi's Dockett
Josef Britton ]

Josef Britton was tride for grand larseny and I acquit him of the bea hive but bound him over on the count of the Oxen under bound of five hundred dollars to appeare on the furst day of the Surcut cort and I swore the witnesses to appeare on the furst day of the turm and not to depart till regerly discharged."

* This letter was afterward published in "Editor's Drawer" of Harper Magazine.

At the meeting of the County Court in April, 1856, Jefferson Township was organized from the northern part of Slough Creek Township, and officers appointed. At the same meeting a liquor license was fixed at $25 per year, and as soon as it was entered on the records, William F. and George M. Dyer made application for, and received, a license to sell whiskey and other beverages, which they had been selling ever since at their location at Osawkie. At this meeting the first road in the county was located from Osawkie, east, toward Alexandria, on Stranger Creek, in Leavenworth County. William Meredith, William Stagg, and Adam Christison were appointed Road Viewers. The Territorial road, located as above, was designed to open communities with Kansas City. To survey and lay out this road in Jefferson County, James, Thomas, and Jesse Noble was appointed Commissioners, and J. T. Green and William Trapp were appointed chain-carriers. For their services the parties above named received compensation as follows in county warrants: James Nobel, $40.50; Thomas Noble, $16; Jesse Noble, $16; and J. T. Green and William Trapp $6 each. The road did the county little or no good and disappeared long ago, except in places where it forms a public highway for short distances.

At their meeting in May, 1856, the County Court organized Kentucky Township and appointed town officers.

Under the old Territorial law the Sheriff was Tax Collector. The first taxes collected were by George M. Dyer, who had been appointed Sheriff on the first organization of the county. His first report was in September, 1856 and was as follows:

County tax for 1855..................... $17.80
Special tax for 1855....................   3.10
County tax for 1856.....................  46.89
Special tax for 1856....................   7.52
Tax collected on liquor shops........... 222.50

Total tax collected...................  $297.81
Sheriff's commission..................     9.72

Balance in County Treasury............  $288.09

At the above date fifteen dram shops in the county were paying a tax.

The first orders for money, or county warrants, were issued for services in laying out the Territorial road in 1856, and as follows: J. T. Green, $24; Thomas H. Noble, $25; and William Trapp, $4.50. None of the above warrants have yet been cancelled. The next warrant was issued to N. B. Hopewell, and was not cancelled until August, 1864.

Early in 1858 the Legislature passed a bill allowing Jefferson County to vote for a relocation of the county seat. The election was held a short time afterward, and though there is no public record of the result, A. G. Patrick has preserved the figures. There were five places voted for, and the election resulted as follows: Oskaloosa, 177 votes; Grasshopper Falls, 173 votes; Osawkie, 94 votes; Hickory Point, 50 votes and Fairfield 10 votes. The above named Hickory Point was not the historic place o the military freight road, but was situated a short distance southwest on the northeast corner of Section 6, Town 9, Range 19, and was laid off as a town. The old point was in town history known as Hardtville, having been laid off as a town by Charles Hardt. Fairfield had been laid off as a town on the south one-half of the northeast one-fourth of Section 1., Town 9, Range 18. At the election, Oskaloosa having received four votes more that either of the other places, the county records and offices were removed to that town.

Early in 1859 the Legislature passed a law requiring that the point selected as the county-seat should have a majority of votes over all the others' and that should a choice not them be made, another election would be held thirty days after, between the two places receiving the largest number of votes at the first election. Therefore, another election was held soon after, and with the following result: Oskaloosa, 294 votes; Grasshopper Falls, 271 votes; Osawkie, 103 votes' Defiance 3 votes and Hickory Point, 170 votes.

Neither place receiving a majority of all the votes cast, another election was held between Oskaloosa and Grasshopper falls. The former town was was victorious by a small majority.

Early in 1858, the Legislature passed a law requiring that township officers should be elected in April, and that instead of having a Board of County Commissioners, the township Trustees should form a Board of Supervisors for the county. According, an election of Trustees was held in April, of that year. The County Board, organized at Osawkie, in June, and was made up as follows: Jesse Newell, Oskaloosa; R. J. Duncan, Rock Creek; S. S. Ellis, Grasshopper Falls; Alexander Bayne, Kentucky; J. C. Manee, Jefferson and A. W. McCauslin, Osawkie. The last named was chosen chairman and Jno. W. Day clerk. At this first meeting the name of Slough Creek Township was changed to Oskaloosa.

By an act of the Legislature, early in 1860, the County Board of Supervisors was abolished, and the board of three County Commissioners substituted in its place. The first election was held in March, and Nelson Chapman, George Barrett, and W. C. Butts were elected Commissioners, and Jesse Ball, County Assessor. The new board organized April 2, and W. C. Butts was elected chairman.

After Kansas was admitted as a State, in 1861, the first members of the Legislature elected from Jefferson County were Paul E. Havens, Azel W. Spaulding and J. M. Huber. At that time Jefferson County formed a part of the district. The first Legislature redistricted the State, making Jefferson County a single senatorial district, and divided it into three representative districts, known as the 19th, 20th and 21st. The 19th comprised Jefferson, Oskaloosa and Union townships; the 20th, Grasshopper Falls and Rock Creek Townships, and the 21st the remainder of the county. These districts remained unchanged until 1871, when the Legislature changed their numbers to 16th, 17th and 18th.

At the first election of county officers, after the admission of the State, in 1861, M. R. Dutton was elected Clerk; S. C. Gephart, Register of Deeds; N. W. Taylor, Sheriff; S. S. Cooper, Treasurer; Jno. W. Day, Judge, and Newell Colby, Superintendent of Schools N. Chapman, J. P. Barnes and Allen Griffin were elected Commissioners.

Early in the year 1864, the Legislature passed an act authorizing Jefferson County to vote on a re-location of the county-seat. Therefore, that spring an election was held which resulted as follow: Oskaloosa, 402 votes; Grasshopper Falls, 269 votes; Osawkie, 198 votes. Neither place having received a majority of all the votes cast, another election was held the following November, which gave Oskaloosa 579 votes and Grasshopper Falls 335 votes. This result ended the county-seat contest in Jefferson County and Oskaloosa has ever since been the capital of the county, with no prospects of its removal.

On the night of December 27, 1865, the county safe was robbed The Treasurer, S. C. Gephart, had just made his settlement with the county, and had but little money on hand, but this was all taken. It was never know positively who committed the robbery, but several parties were suspected of having been implicated, and were warned to leave the country, which they did. Some time afterward, while some of the outhouses on the property that had been occupied by W. L. Deming and Peter Dittman, two of the men driven away, were being pulled down, some of the money was found. This was the only clue to the robbers.

A courthouse was begun in 1867 and completed about two years afterward.

During the years 1871 and 1872, bridge bonds for a large amount were voted and bridge building and other public improvements were carried on to a much greater extent that at any other period in the history of the county, either before or since.

County Treasury Defalcation.--In July, 1873, when the County Treasurer, Robert Riddle, made his settlement with the County Commissioners, his cash account was found deficient to the sum of about $27,000. He was unable to explain the deficiency, and claimed to know nothing of what had become of the money, but admitted his careless methods of doing business. The most of the county money was deposited with the Valley Bank, at Grasshopper Falls. At the request of the Commissioners, Mr. Riddle resigned at once. A few days after he was arrested, and on July 25 was examined before Justice Wm. Clark, and bound over in the sum of $5,000.

The treasury troubles gave rise to several law-suits. The County Commissioners began suit against Riddle's bondsmen. The bondsmen began suit against Riddle, and Riddle began suit against the Valley Bank. Riddle was tried for embezzlement in May, 1874. All the amounts were stricken out, except $6,000, and on which charge he was tried and acquitted, the jury taking the grounds that the loss was through carelessness in his deposits and keeping his books, rather than any criminality. In December, 1874, the County Commissioner comprised with Riddle's bondsmen for $12,000, and this put an end to the troubles.

Early Schools. -- The first public school districts were organized in 1859. At the fall election of 1858, J. H. Bennett had been elected Superintendent of Schools, but did not qualify for the office, as there were no schools. In January, 1859, he received a number of applications for the formation of school districts. He therefore appeared before the County Board of Supervisors, applied for, and received the appointment of County Superintendent of Schools.

To Jesse B. Taylor, who lived at Hart's Grove, is the credit due for the movements made toward the organization of the first school district in the county. He had but one child, a girl four years of age, but he was public-spirited, and an advocate of public schools The district was known as the Rothchild District, an a petition was presented to J. H. Bennett, who organized the district with the boundaries as requested. Below is an exact copy of the petition.


We, the undersigned citizens of Rothchilds District, do pray the Honorable County School Commissioners of Jefferson County and Territory of Kansas, to grant a school district as follows Commence at the N. E. Corner of the N. E. qr. of Sec. No. 5, of Township No. 8, of Range No. 19, thence West on the Township line to the North West corner of the N. E. qr. of Section No. two of Township No. 8, of Range No. 18, thence South on the line to the South West corner of the S. E. qr. of Section No. 4, of Township No. 8, of Range No. 18, hence East of the S. E. corner of the S. W. qr. of Section 17, of Township No. 8, of Range No. 19, thence to the place of beginning.
            J. B. Taylor,       B. Freeze,
            Jno. W. Welch,      E. P. Hart,
            Hiram Webb,         M. Schiffbauer,
            Josephus Goble,     Mary A. Goddard,
            D. Webb,            Mrs. Rhoda Akers.
            M. N. Hart.
The above district was duly organized on February 21, 1859, and was recorded as District No. 1, or Rothchilds District. The first school meeting was held at the house of M. N. Hart, March 9, 1859. M. N. Hart was elected director, J. B. Taylor, treasurer, and Hiram Webb, clerk. A small log cabin was secured, and three months' term of school was taught that year, beginning in May. Seventeen pupils were enrolled. Miss Esther A. Webb was the teacher, and her salary was ten dollars per month. She received the first teacher's certificate ever granted in the county, taught the first school, and received the first public school money ever paid out. She was married February 29, 1879, to James D. Bullock.

The second district in the county was also in Jefferson Township, and was known as the Hull District. The petition was dated February 21, 1859, and was filed March 1st, on which day the district was organized by the county superintendent. The district comprised sections 1, 2, 3, 10,11, 12, 13, 14, and 15, of Town 8, Range 19, of the Delaware trust lands.

At the school meeting on March 21 at the residence of Frank Lillie, Lewis Bradshaw was elected director, Thomas A. Marshall, treasurers, and Jess Ball, clerk. They filed their acceptance the next day, and at one let a contract for the building of the schoolhouse which was completed about the same time as was the log cabin in District No. 1, but having some trouble with the contractors, relative to payment, the house was soon burned down. The fire was doubtless incendiary. The house was located on the center of SEction 11, on land donated by Thomas Marshall and Frank Lillie. A term of school was taught during the summer by D. L. Griffin, who received $37 per month. There were sixty-six pupils in attendance.

During the year, District No. 2 received $233.31 from the township, as a teachers' fund. A schoolhouse was built at a cost of $480

During the year 1859, J. H. Bennett organized nine school districts in the county. At that time the superintendent of schools had entire control of all public school money. The full amount paid to Mr. Bennett for his services during the year was $113.40, which was paid in county script, which he sold to John Beland for forty cents on the dollar. In the year 1860 there was eighteen schools in the county. There were 447 children of school age. and 185 pupils enrolled in the schools. The amount of money raised to build schoolhouses was $456.34. The amount of public school money for that year was $787.50.


Since the year 1875 there have been no grasshopper visitations, no drouth, or any causes to prevent a large average crop yield. The main resources of the county are agricultural, and the farmers are generally in a prosperous condition, and fine orchards, good fences, and neat and convenient house and other buildings ornament their farms.

Railroads intersect all parts of the county, so that no farm is more than seven miles from some railroad town. There is not large city in the county, but numerous towns, affording good markets, are located at short distance from each other, along all the lines of railroad.

The population of the county is nearly sixteen thousand, and by far the great majority of these are farmers.

Of the 435,000 acres of land in the county, 240,000 are under cultivation, of which 45,000 acres are devoted to wheat, 70,000 to corn, 9,000 to oats, 11,000 to flax, and 3,000 to meadow. The live stock numbers 7,000 hours, 1,000 mules, 30, 000 cattle, 4,000 sheep and 30,000 hogs. The total value of farm property, according to a low assessment, is $1,772-993..97.

The public interests of the county are ably managed, and with very few exceptions have been so ever since its organization. The county does not owe a dollar, and its internal improvements are well kept up. Wood bridges span the streams in all parts of the county, while within the past four years many iron bridges have been erected. More than forty of these now span the large streams, the roads are generally kept in good condition, and travel in any direction is very easy.

County Officers.--The county officers for 1882 are as follows: Benjamin Bowlby, O. W. Glynn, and J. P. Barnes, County Commissioners; J. R. Best, Clerk, Levi Wilhelm, Treasurer; George Davis, Sheriff; J. P. Wilson, District Court Clerk; G. A. Huron, Probate Judge; W. C. Fowler, Register of Deeds; H. B. Schaffer, County Attorney; T. S. Oliver, Superintendent of Schools; J. H. Jones County Surveyor, and J. F. Bliss, Coroner.

County Buildings.--The court house is a fine two story brick building, 50x70 feet in size, and is situated in the center of the public square, which is finely ornamented by a grove of tall maple trees, so thickly set as to shade all over the square, and make one of the finest of parks. The public square is on the most elevated ground in the city of Oskaloosa, and around it is build a wall of finely cut stone, inside of which it is filled even with its top with earth, and all sown to orchard grass.

The history of the building of the court house is as follows: On April 3, 1867, the county commissioners ordered that a court house should be erected forthwith. On June 3, of the same year, a contract was entered into with Graham & Swain, to build the house accordingly to specifications, for $22,875. Work as commenced the same year, and in due time as completed, but the entire cost, with some extra work, was $28,257.04. On the first floor are the county offices, all of which are supplied with fire and burglar proof vaults. The second story is the court room.

The county poor house was built some time after the completion of the court house, and though not very large, is sufficient for the needs of the county, there being but very few paupers within its limits.

The county jail is a substantial stone building, and situated on the public square. It contains steel cages capable of holding eight persons in the cells, and an equal number in the corridor, besides a large space in the outer court.

Schools.--The first public school districts were formed in 1859, and those of that year were nine in number. These had increased in number until the beginning of the year 1865, when there were twenty organized districts, though but few of them had schoolhouses other than log cabins, poorly furnished. Until the close of the war it was difficult to procure good teachers, and up to that time the public schools advanced but slowly. Late in the year 1865 there began to be more attention given to the schools, and to the importance of securing good teachers. The greater number of the old districts had to be reorganized, and during the next four years about fifty more were added to the number, and the grade of teachers had been brought up to a high standard, so that in point of ability they would compare favorably with those of the present time. The old log schoolhouses, with benches for seats, began about this time to give place to neat, attractive, and well furnished schoolhouses.

Until the present date the schools have continued to improve. There are now ninety-one school districts in the county, each district having sufficient territory to keep up a school from six to nine months during the year, without a very heavy school tax. The greater number of them have large, commodious houses, furnished with the most improved seats and other appurtenances, with suitable apparatus to assist the teacher. The average wages paid to teachers is $35 per month.

Churches.--Church organizations of the various denominations exist in every community in the county. In every township are church edifices, and in those communities where there are none the schoolhouses are used for religious services. The people are moral and religious in sentiment, and may be said to be, in general, church-goers. The greater number of those not members of any society are regular attendants on divine service, and all religious enterprises are liberally supported by the citizens of the county.

In almost every community is a Sunday school, with good attendance by both old and young.

The Jefferson County Agricultural and Mechanical Association was organized in October, 1861. The first officers were as follows; President, Allen Griffin; Vice-President, Nelson Chapman; Secretary, Paul E. Havens; Treasurer, L. B. Conwell; Directors, Levi Wilhelm, Joseph Evans, David McKelvey, J. M. Huber, G. L. Osborne, J. F. Bliss, and A. J. Kleinhans. The first fair was held on October 15 and 16, 1862 and there was a very good exhibit. The association has ever since been kept up, and the eighteenth annual fair has now been held. There have been three years when it was thought best not to make an exhibit.

The Valley Falls District Fair Association was organized and the first fair held in the fall of 1879. The object of this society is to afford a convenient point for the exhibition of agricultural and mechanical products from the territory naturally tributary to Valley Falls. The fourth annual fair has been held, each of which has been a success in every particular.

The Mount Union Co-operative Fair Association was organized in 1881, and the first fair held that year. It is a society organized by the farmers of Norton Township. Its object is to make an exhibit of farm products and live stock, for which no money premiums are offered, but the grades are designated simply by the badges awarded. The second annual fair has been held. No entrance fee is charged either to exhibitors or spectators. Thus far the fairs have proven very successful. The first officers of the association were: Wm. Vanata, president, and H. C. Magers, secretary.

[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]