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 and Natural Features | Map and Population | Early History
PART 2: County Organization and County Seat Contest | Schools, the Press, Etc. | Statistics of Growth | Iuka
PART 3: Biographical Sketches


Pratt County is located in the second tier of counties from the south line of the State, and is in the first tier of counties west of a central line drawn through the State from north to south. Iuka, the county seat, is 180 miles east of the west line of the state, and 220 miles west of the east line. The county is bounded on the north by Stafford Country, on the south by Barber, on the east by Kingman and Reno, and on the west by Edwards and Comanche Counties. It is twenty-four miles north and south by thirty east and west, containing 460, 800 acres, or 720 square miles. For local government purposes, the county is divided into three commissioner districts and four municipal townships.

The greater portion of the county is a beautiful rolling prairie, many portions of it being, apparently, quite level. This description of the surface, however, does not apply to the northern portion of the county, as the north tier of Congressional townships is quite rough and broken, except a tract in the extreme northwest which is excellent farming land. This rough strip in the north is a succession of sand knolls, some much higher and larger than others, but all huge piles of shifting sand. This strip of sand hills or broken land does not extend into the county further south than about four miles. At the west side of the county, north of the center, there is a strip of sand hills about five miles wide and eight miles long, that is exceedingly rough. This cluster of hills is part of a chain that extends westward in Edwards County. With these exceptions, the surface of the county, except in the vicinity of the Ninnescah, is one grand, undulating prairie, without either a hill, bluff or knoll. It may be said that the county is destitute of timber, although in the southwest corner there is a little cluster of trees around the head of Turkey Creek.

There are few streams in the county, the only creek of any note being the Ninnescah, which has its rise about nine miles east of the west line of the county, and a little south of a central line drawn from east to west. Its course is almost due east, and being fed by springs, its water is pure and clear. It is a stream about forty feet wide, and, no matter what the character of the season, it never goes dry. The Chikaskia, an important stream that flows through Kingman and Sumner counties, has its rise in the southeast corner of Pratt county, about six miles north of the south line of the county, where it forms two branches, which are about six miles apart and called forks. Elm Creek, a tributary of Medicine Lodge Creek, also takes its rise a little north of the south line of Pratt County, and these creeks and branches constitute all the water-courses in the county. The purest of well water can be obtained without much difficulty, at depths ranging from thirty to eighty feet. In the northern portion of the county, wells have to be sunk about thirty feet; in the central portion, from forty to fifty feet; and in the southern portion, form seventy to eighty. Water is always found, however, and when found is of the purest kind and inexhaustible.

Excepting a strip in the northern portion of the county about four miles wide, and another in the western portion, both of which have been referred to in the topographical description, the soil of the county is of a dark mulatto loam, slightly mixed with sand. It differs in depth from four to eight feet and is very productive. In general, the subsoil is a sandy loam of a yellowish color, and in some places gypsum is found at a depth of from eight to ten feet. A peculiarity of this gypsum is, that it pulverizes readily, and, by mixing it with water , makes excellent mortar for plastering purposes. All kinds of cereals can be raised on the soil without difficulty, and in no country can crops be successfully cultivated with as little labor. As an evidence of the productiveness of the soil, it may be stated that in 1882 wheat that did not yield thirty-five bushels to the acre was an exception, and in most cases forty bushels was the average yield, and in one case ten acres yielded 528 bushels, or fifty-two and four- fifths bushels to the acre. Seventy bushels of oats to the acre were harvested, and corn, though the season was unfavorable, yielded as high as fifty-five bushels. Nearly all kinds of roots are of easy cultivation, and fruit grows finely. Efforts to cultivate small fruit, such as berries, grapes, etc., have thus far proved failures. Trees grow rapidly, and under the timber culture act, immense quantities are being planted. The soil of Pratt County is well adapted for agriculture pursuits, and farming judging from past years, can be successfully and profitably followed as business. While it is an excellent agricultural county, it has also superior advantages for stock-raising. True, its streams are few, but good well water is easily obtained, and one well, with the use of a wind mill, is capable of watering 500 head of cattle, and this system of providing cattle with water is preferred by stockmen to the streams and creeks.



Organized in 1879       1880
Haynesville twp          532
Iuka twp               1,039
Ludwick twp               81
Naron twp                155
Spring Vale twp           83
Total                 1, 890


Pratt County was first organized in 1873, and with that transaction commences the narrative history of the county. The organization that took place then has become familiarly known as the "fraudulent organization." It was accomplished by a party from Hutchinson who traveled through the country with a tent, going from county to county organizing them as they went. Pratt was one of the counties thus organized. At that time there was not a bona fide settler in the county and the organization could only be accomplished by false returns and representations to the Governor. These men even went so far as to issue bonds and elect a nonentity to the Legislature, but the Representative thus chosen never took his seat, and the bonds issued were never sold. The organization thus effected, being procured by fraud, was never recognized, and the county remained unorganized territory until 1879.

The first actual settler in the county was A. J. Johnson, who located in the southwestern corner of the county, in the vicinity of Springvale, in the fall of 1873. Johnson was the first man in the county to break sod and raise a crop. J. W. Black and A. Kelly were the next to settle in the county, and they also located in the southwest corner of the county. I. M. Powell was the next to locate in the county, he also going to the southwest corner in September, 1875. The first male child born in the county was born to Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Black, in September, 1875, and being the first born in the county was named Pratt. The first female child born in the county was born to Mr. and Mrs. I. M. Powell, in 1875, and was named Laura.

In the early part of 1874, a man known as "Skunk Johnson," who followed trapping and hunting for a living, selected a spot near the head of the Ninnescah Creek, where he prepared himself a dugout, which became and is still known as Skunk Johnson's cave. It is one of the curiosities or interesting points in the county. The cave is very artistically made. It is cut in the side of one of the bluffs that mark the course of the creek. The entrance is a small hole, but the interior is divided into tow compartments--one used for a kitchen and the other for a sleeping apartment. The walls of the cave are a kind of hard clay or soapstone, capable of being chiseled into any form. In the kitchen a very artistic fire-place was made, from which a spiral chimney was cut, terminating in a small orifice at the surface of the hill. Over the fire-place a neat mantel-piece was cut, and in one corner a hole was sunk in which he kept his water-pail.

Johnson was a character, and became noted far and near. In 1874, bands of Indians went prowling over the country, and woe betide the white man they met in their path. In one of their expeditions they came across Johnson, who was out on a hunt, and chased him to his cave. There were about twenty of the Indians, but Johnson's aim was sure and his rifle deadly, and every savage that came within its range was sure to bite the dust. After he had killed several of them, they were extremely cautious about getting in front of the entrance to the cave. They tried to smoke him out from above, but the smoke escaped through the entrance, and when they tried to smoke him out at the entrance, he would ascend the spiral chimney and open the orifice above. For fifteen days he was thus besieged, until finally the Indians, finding themselves outwitted, and after losing several of their number, moved away. While thus besieged, it so happened that Johnson had a number of skunks in his cave which he was compelled to eat, and from this he derived the name of "Skunk Johnson." Buffalo becoming scarce, Johnson abandoned his cave and moved West, but it served a grand and noble purpose, for it became a retreat for freighters who accidentally got caught in a storm or benighted. "Skunk Johnson's" cave became as well known to ranchmen and freighters in Southwestern Kansas as Niagara Falls are to tourists, and as many as fifteen men have been known to find shelter in it for three days at a time during a storm. The cave is a curiosity in itself, and a person can interest himself considerably by reading the inscriptions on the walls.

Although the settlers in the county in 1876 were exceedingly few, and confined, chiefly, to the southwest corner of the county, yet they did not get along altogether peaceably. A. Kelly, who came to the county with J. W. Black early in 1874, boarded with the latter's family and owed him about $75.00 for board. Kelly was making preparations to move on to his own claim, and had built thereon a little house. When the house was finished, Black took possession of it for the board money owed by Kelly. The latter ordered Black to surrender and quit the premises, when Black told him he could have possession when he paid his board bill, whereupon Kelly drew his revolver and shot Black, killing him instantly, and Kelly immediately fled the county.

Few, if any, settlers came to the county in 1876, but 1877 brought a great many. Early in the spring of that year, several new-comers located in the northeast corner of the county, two men named Haynes being among the first. During the summer of that year, quite a large settlement came from Iowa and moved to what was then the center of the county, where they took claims and located the town of Iuka. With the colony came Robert Anderson, J. W. Ellis, Rev A. Axline, Eugene Ellis, Charles Dunn, Dr. Greenleaf, Fred Frazee, A. W. Ellis, John Stephens, Dr. Hughes, R. T. Peak, Mrs. Spruill, J. W. Byerly, O. L. Peak, Miss Annie Risley, Clyde McCann, and Charles Abbott, who were followed that same year by large numbers of people from Davis, Appanoose and Van Buren Counties, Iowa. This, virtually, was the commencement of the real settlement of the county. Over 100 families settled in the county in 1877, most of whom came from Iowa, but this was no comparison to the settlement that took place the following year.

In 1878, settlers pushed into the county from all sections, and the officials in the United States Land Office were kept busy entering up pre-emption claims. The abundant crops of that year added greatly to the immigration, and during the fall of 1878 and spring of 1879, new settlers located in the county by the hundred. The years 1879 and 1880 were propitious for crops, and a good many of the new settlers left the county. In 1881, the county about held its own, but the following year the tide of emigrations set in again and a great many new-comers located in the county. The county is yet without any railway facilities, and, there being no stone in the county that can be used for building purposes, building material is only obtained by much difficulty, lumber having to be hauled from sixty to eighty miles. This makes it very difficult to build houses, and poor people make themselves either sod houses or dug-outs, of which there are a great many in the county. The people of the county, generally, are progressive, industrious, frugal and hospitable, and all that is required to make Pratt County a prosperous agricultural county is railroad facilities.

[TOC] [part 2] [part 1] [Cutler's History]