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


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


The territory now comprising Labette County formerly formed a part of the territory known as the Osage ceded lands. A portion of this territory was laid off, including the counties of Neosho and Labette, and was called Dorn County, in honor of A. J. Dorn, who acted as Indian Agent for the Osages and other tribes from 1857 to 1867. But the patriotic Legislature of 1865 did not favor the name Dorn, by reason of political affiliations, and changed it to that of Neosho. The treaty, through which the United States Government suoght [sic] to obtain these lands from the Osages, had been pending for several years, but owing to the inauguration of the civil war, and the alliance of some of the tribe with the Confederate cause, its consummation was delayed. The treaty was made by the Government agents and he [sic] Indians at a trading post which stood near the town of Erie, September 25, 1865. It was then sent to Washington to be ratified by Congress and the President, and the bill authorizing the settlement of the newly acquired district, after undergoing amendment favoring the donation of a large tract to the railroads under proposal of building, was, with the treaty, ratified and signed by President Johnson.

The territory having thus come into the possession of the Government and opened to settlement, was soon overrun with settlers and emigrants. As a natural result of the situation, the north part of the county was first to be settled up, in which lay the controlling political influence. When settlements became established in the southern part, they began to agitate the division of the county, which now embraced an area inconveniently large. Among those in this section a political organization was effected, and in the fall of 1866 a full corps of county officers was elected; but not being in conformity to the laws, was pronounced invalid. At this election, C. H. Bent was chosen representative, who, when the session of the Legislature convened, went to the capital to take his seat, but his credentials were not recognized until the passage of the division act by that Legislature. Thus was the division of Neosho County effected, and the county of Labette created.

February 7, 1867, an act was passed by the Legislature and approved by the Governor, organizing Labette County, and defining its boundaries. It was to include the territory extending from the sixth standard parallel on the north, to the boundary of the State on the south, and from the Cherokee Neutral Lands on the east to the Osage Reserve on the west.

February 26, 1867, another act made these boundaries even more definite, by declaring that the western boundary of the Cherokee Neutral Lands should be identical with the eastern boundary of Labette County.

The next and thus far the latest legislation upon the subject, was an act apapproved [sic] March 3, 1868, and which took effect October 31, 1868, as follows:

The county of Labette is bounded as follows: Commencing at a point on the sixth standard parallel where the west line of the Cherokee Neutral Lands crosses said sixth standard parallel, etc., as in Section 2, of the act approved February 7, 1867, already quoted, with the following proviso:

That the same shall be the boundaries of Labette County, unless the same shall be changed by the provisions of Section 12, of this bill; and in the event of said provisions taking effect, the boundaries shall conform to the provisions of said Section 12.*

*For the provisions of Section 12, see history of Cherokee County.

It will be seen that Section 12, without its proviso, establishes the section line commencing at the southwest corner of Section 14, Township 31, Range 21, as the west line of Cherokee County. This section line is one mile and ninety rods west of the west line of the Cherokee Neutral Lands, which, without the proviso of Section 12, is the east line of Labette County. And, as the provisions of Section 12 never went into effect, there having never been any election held to determine whether this strip extending from the sixth standard parallel southward to the Neosho River, and one mile and ninety rods in width, the two sections of the statute conflict with each other in such a way as to place the strip in both counties. So far some of the settlers living thereon pay taxes in Labette County, some in Cherokee.

The area of Labette County, approximates 650 square miles, or 416,000 acres.

The county was named after Labette Creek, the largest stream except the Neosho River within its limits. According to tradition the creek obtained its name from the following incident: In the year 1845 some French trappers pitched their camp near a crossing of this creek a few miles above its confluence with the Neosho River. A meal was prepared and the Frenchmen had sat down to partake of it when a deer came in sight. A general chase ensued and the deer was killed. During the absence of the trappers from camp, in pursuit of the deer, a pole-cat came along and made himself so disagreeable that they returned but to depart at once. One of them, who knew the cause of the difficulty, exclaimed as he turned away: "Oh! La Bete! La Bete!" Oh! The beast! The beast! Afterwards the name took the form La Bette, and it is frequently so written in the county records. Generally, however, it is written Labette.

The exact date when the first white man made anything like a permanent settlement in what is now Labette County, is not fully determined. some give it that John Mathews, who established a trading post where Oswego now is in 1840, was the first, and who certainly was the first of whom anything is now known, continuing here as he did until other settlements were made.

Not far from where Oswego now stands, were found the remains of an old stone chimney in ruins; overgrown auger holes in trees and bits of tobacco, pipes, etc., were found, and at another place timeber had been cleared away and the ground showed marks of having been once cultivated; trees bearing marks of having been cut with an axe, the scars having long since been overgrown, gave positive evidence that white men had been here and formed some sort of a settlement prior to that made by Mathews. Farther than such traces, no information is found concerning the character of these settlers, nor what became of them.

As early as 1853, Dr. George Lilse, formerly a prominent physician of Belmont, Ohio, obtained leave from A. J. Dorn, Indian Agent, to settle in the southeast part of the county, where he carried on a trading business and kept a sort of gun shop. Prior to this, however, James Childers had established a trading post near the same place.

Besides those named, this settlement numbered several others, among whom were G. Hanson, William Doudna, George Walker, Larkin McGee, McMurphy, ths [sic] Rogers and Blythe families, etc. In the early part of 1858, J. P. Barnaby, a preacher belonging to the Southern Methodist Church, established a circuit including this settlement and embracing a scope of country of about 150 miles around. In October of that year Rev. J. E. Ryan succeeded to the circuit. These parties, with a number of half breeds and Cherokee Indians along the Neosho, made up the bulk of the settlement that had been made within the territory afterward included within the limits of Labette County, up to the beginning of the Rebellion. At an early stage of the war, Mathews allied himself to the cause of the Confederacy, organized a body of Confederate troops, some of whom killed Union men and brutally treated the inhabitants; burned the town of Humboldt leaving only the Masonic lodge standing.

Several futile attempts were made to capture the band, which was finally pursued by a body of United States troops under Colonel Blunt, overtaken near Chetopa, and Mathews shot and killed, and his houses at Oswego burned. Some writers charge Mathews with being a heartless and brutal man, but this is denied by others, who say that Mathews was by no means a brutal character, but that his son John was a desperado, whose many deeds of crime and murder were often unjnstly [sic] imputed to his father. Mathews had an Indian wife and was probably unjustly charged with being surrounded by a pack of Indians, half-breeds, and ruffian whites, he being their leader and exponent.

These acts of disorder and invasion almost annihilated the settlement, some being killed, while others sought more congenial places. It is stated by good authority, that from 1860 to 1865 there were only two white men living within the limits of the county, during any part of this period, so effectually did the disorder produced by the Rebellion destroy the embryo settlements. These were S. M. Collins and A. T. Dickerman, who settled near where Erie was afterward located, and who, in July, 1865, by permit of White Hair, chief of the Osages, removed to a point on Labette Creek about four miles south of the present site of Oswego.

During the fall of 1865, after peace was declared and order restored, the return of refugee settlers began to be made, while others, returning from the wars, finding their places filled or their fortunes destroyed by reason of the conflict, turned to the West with the hope of becoming established in its opening fields and regaining what in the defense of their country, they had lost of time and money. The settlers who came during this time settled along the Neosho valley, extending to the line of the Indian Territory, among whom were: J. C. Rexford, A. P. Elsbee, C. C. Clover, D. M. Clover, Bergen Van Ness, C. E. Simmons, B. F. Simmons, John Modesitt, Norris Harrar, Cal. Watkins, William White and sons, Grant Reaves and others.

The news of the treaty of September 25, 1865, being made with the Osage Indians, and the prospect of the land being soon opened to settlement, was the main stimulus in bringing in settlers, who soon flocked in by the hundreds. After the treaty had been duly signed, and while it was pending before Congress and awaiting ratification by the President, the settlers were in the most anxious suspense. The Indians had gone West upon their annual hunting expedition and most of the whites had come in in their absence and laid claim to their lands.

Realizing their want of authority, the settlers were very much alarmed lest the treaty should not be fully completed and the return of the Indians find them trespassers, insomuch that the inquiry, "Is the treaty ratified yet?" or "When do you thing the Osages will return?" became common among settlers. The imperfect and limited means of obtaining information, since postoffices were distant and but few papers found their way thither, added to the necessity of one neighbor seeking his information from another who, perchance, might be in possession of it.

True to the fears of the settlers, the Indians returning found their little farms occupied by the whites, without authority, the treaty not having been ratified nor the Indians paid for their lands according to the stipulations of the treaty. The heavy immigration during the spring of 1866, largely increased the number of settlers, and the Osages were dissatisfied with this unwarranted occupation of their lands. They accordingly demanded of their agent, Maj. Snow, that the intruders be removed, which the settlers were fearful would be done sooner or later. A military order was published commanding all settlers without special permit to at once remove from the territory. This move on the part of the agent, created considerable consternation among the settlers and checked immigration.

In May, 1866, about 300 of the settlers assembled in a convention near the mouth of Hickory Creek to determine what was best to be done. It was the voice of the convention to appoint a deputy, whose duty it was to negotiate terms with Agent Snow and the Osages, by which the settlers might be permitted to remain and cultivate their claims. The deputy, whom they had appointed, at once entered upon the discharge of his duty, and upon approaching the lordly official, was treated with humiliating contempt. The agent would listen to nothing, but domineeringly asserted that the settlers must remove or they would be expelled and roughly handled. But his humble petitioner gave him to understand there were many brave men among the alleged wrong-doers, who were not to be frightened by threats. Snow at length became less austere, and an arrangement was finally perfected by which the Osages were willing to allow the settlers to remain by their paying $1 per year, until the treaty was ratified, for the occupancy of a claim, which met the approval of all parties concerned.

The winter of 1866 will long be remembered by the early settlers, as a season of hardship suffering and dismay. The winter was cold and bleak, with much rainfall, so that the streams were swollen full bank most of the time, which, without ferry or bridges, became impassable by teams, and thus travel and communication were almost entirely cut off, and the settlers literally hemmed in. The dwellings were but rude huts, insufficient to keep out the penetrating winds or the rain, and in consequence there was much sickness. Provisions were often scant, by reason of having to be procured from Missouri, having to be transported from fifty to a hundred miles by team, and being of the coarsest character, consisting chiefly of corn meal and rusty bacon. At one time, the settlers were almost destitute of provisions. Copious rains had prevailed, and the streams were boisterous and impassable. As soon as the water had run down, so that the creeks and rivers could be safely forded, teams were dispatched to Missouri to procure provisions. During their absence the rains again set in and the streams again filled, and when the teams reached the Neosho, in return, they found it impossible to cross. Numbers had gathered on the opposite side of the river, anxious to have some means devised by which they might obtain rations. Finally a sort of raft was improvised and launched on the perilous stream, upon which the provisions were transported and dealt out in measure to the famishing men, women and children. Added to this, the feed for stock gave out and nearly all the cattle and horses died, either from disease or starvation. Spring came, the weather had become settled, but many whose stock had died during the winter were without teams to cultivate their lands, nor had they means to procure others. In all, it was a time which required brave men and stout-hearted women to endure.

The treaty with the Osages was ratified during the summer of 1866, and the Indians being paid for their lands were removed, and the territory thrown open to settlement. The stayed tide of immigration broke loose and spread its ebbing waters over the face of the country. The spring of 1867 found the valleys of the Neosho and all the important creeks and streams dotted with squatter shanties and resounding with the busy hum of civilized industry.

For some time bands of Indians roamed over the country on hunting expeditions, stealing and demanding rents from the settlers, which they frequently extorted from the timid, and terrifying women and children by their presence and intruding manners; but they were perfectly harmless to life and person.

In February, 1866, the settlers living on Labette and Hackberry creeks, realizing the strength of unity and uniform action, organized what was called the Labette and Hackberry Mutual Protection Society, for the purpose of protecting its members in their persons, claims and other property. G. W. Kingsbury was made president and A. T. Dickerman secretary. A similar and more extensive organization was soon afterward formed among the settlers along the Neosho, and which soon absorbed the former. In May, the Labette County Vigilance Committee of 1866 was formed, and its decisive and determined action and speedy retributive justice became a terror to law breakers. In no instance, however, did the punishment meted out extend to any very serious length. It remained for after years to present to the world a deed of brutality and bloodshed unparalleled, perhaps, in the annals of criminality. In February 1871, a family of Hollanders, named Bender settled on a claim in the west part of the county, about thirteen miles west of Parsons, the residence standing near the wagon road leading from Osage Mission to Independence. The family consisted of John Bender, aged sixty, his wife, aged about fifty-five, Kate, aged twenty-three, and a young man, a son, of about the same age, the relation of the latter being uncertain, since the young woman passed sometimes as the wife of the young man and again as his sister.

The house was a small frame, 16x24 feet, and divided into two apartments by a cloth partition, the front room being used as a storeroom in which they kept a small stock of goods. It was the custom of travelers on this road to stop at the place for meals, whom they brutally murdered, either for their money or to satisfy a blood-thirsty desire, since some of those murdered were known to be penniless. For some time they had been carrying on their work of human butchery before the discovery was made. Dead bodies had been found floating in the river, the cause of their death being unknown; but afterward it was supposed to be the work of the Benders.

In May, 1873, Silas Tale was passing the place, and, attracted by its look of desertion, and the starving condition of the animals about, reported the matter to L. F Dick, Township Trustee, who, in company with a many named York, began to investigate the place. York's brother had disappeared while endeavoring to discover what had become of a man named Longoer and a little girl, who had started on their way back to Iowa by team and wagon from Independence. The team with which they started was fonud [sic] wandering upon the prairie, but the individuals had never been heard from. Upon examination the place was found as reported by Tale, the house being in order apparently as if occupied, but with no signs of any person about. As they entered the house they were met with a strong stench as that of decayed human flesh. The smell appeared to come from beneath the floor, and on endeavoring to pry up the floor a trap door was found in the center of the back room, over which stood a table. Beneath this door a hole about six feet deep was made in the ground, in which was found clotted blood. The lot back of the house, which was always kept freshly stirred was examined and graves found. Upon exhuming the bodies, which had been buried in all manner of shapes - some of their heads downward and feet almost protruding through the ground etc. - the body of Dr. William York, of Independence, was found; also that of the man Longoer and the little girl, besides those of four others, all of whom were identified.

The Benders, fearing detection, had fled the place some time in April, 1873. Attempts to discover the fiends were at once made. Several arrests were made of parties thought to be accomplices, but no revelation could be extorted. Tde [sic] escape of the parties was so complete that no trace of them was discovered for years after, although the impression has been that they met their just doom at the hands of their pursuers soon after their flight. The impression was confirmed into conviction in December, 1882, by an article published in the St. Louis Republican, the information being given by Capt. J. C. Reevs, who was living at Independence, Kan., at the time the tragedy occurred. The statement in substance was as follows:

The Benders kept an inn on a lonely road leading from Parsons to Cherryvale. The house stood in a wide open prairie, in the western part of Labette County, about six miles from Cherryvale.

It was usual for travelers to stop at the place for meals, and often took lodging over night. It was so arranged in the house, that when a traveler was seated at the table, a thin curtain hung loosely behind him, through which might be seen the position of his head. When anyone, whom the Benders supposed had money or valuables upon their person, stopped for a meal, they were given a seat at the table in form of this curtain, and while dispatching the meal, they were struck a blow upon the head with an axe or hammer in the hands of some one behind the curtain. The victim was either killed outright by the blow, or badly stunned, in which case he would be treated to additional blows until life was extinct. After this, his pockets were rifled of their contents, and the body was dropped through the trap door in the floor, into the pit beneath, and from here it was taken, under cover of night, and buried in a rude grave in the lot behind the house. For some time they had carried on their bloody work without detection. The disappearance of Dr. York, a citizen of Independence, and the search that was made to ascertain what had become of him, led to their discovery.

Dr. York had gone to Fort Scott, Kan., to sell a house and lot in that place. The sale was negotiated, but no money was paid, and York, having completed his business, started back to Independence. His wife was very ill at the time, and his return was expected the same night. Failing to put in an appearance, his brother, Col. York, aware of the critical condition of the doctor's wife, went in search of him. Reaching Parsons, Col. York found that his brother had been seen at that place; that he had purchased some cigars, and had left for Independence. Col. York returned to Independence, got Sheriff Stone, and the two went to the Bender place. A conversation was had with John Bender, which gave them little satisfaction, but was such as to arouse their suspicions. They rode back to Independence, secured a party of men, who on the next morning repaired to Bender's house for the purpose of making some investigations. Arriving at the place, they found it deserted by the occupants. The premises were then searched, and in the rear of the house the ground showed to have been freshly stirred. Upon removal of the loose earth, the body of Dr. York was found. Further search discovered the bodies of several other victims. The fresh trail of a wagon could be seen leading from the house across the prairie in a northerly direction. Hon. William Wright and S. S. Peterson, Deputy United States Marshal, two of the search party, followed this trail. It led them to Thayer, a town about twelve miles to the north. It led them to Thayer, a town about twelve miles to the north. Here they found the team and wagon which the Benders had abandoned, to take the train north of the L., L. & G. railroad. A dispatch was at once sent to the conductor of the train upon which they left making inquiry in regard to them. In reply, the conductor informed them that the party had left the train at Chanute, or New Chicago. A dispatch was directed to the agent at the latter place, who, in return, reported that he had sold the Benders tickets to Chetopa, a town on the southern part of Labette County, about two miles from the Indian Territory. Wright and Peterson returned to the Bender residence, where they found Col. York and Sheriff Stone. Informing them of their discoveries, the four men hastily started for Chetopa with a relay of fresh horses. Arriving at Oswego, they again changed horses, and started for Chetopa, distant only nine miles. Arriving at the town, they learned that the Benders had taken a team and wagon that had been waiting for them, and had gone in a southwesterly direction to Grand River, a distance of about thirty miles in the Territory. They also learned that the runaways were only about three hours' travel ahead of them. The pursuit was again hotly pressed and the fugitives were overtaken at a point about four miles from Grand River. They were immediately halted, and being confronted with imputation of their beastly crimes, the entire party was shot and killed. A hole was made in which the four bodies were buried. Thus, unceremoniously, was just and retributive punishment meted out to the Benders for their many dastardly crimes.

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