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


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


Prior to 1869, Russell County was without a settler. In July of that year, one A. E. Mathews settled on a claim at the eastern edge of the county about three miles southwest of Wilson. About that time coal had been discovered in that locality, and the object of Mathews settling there was more to engage in coal mining than farming. Be that as it may, he was the first white person to take up a residence within the borders of Russell County.

In November, 1870, C. M. Harshburger (sic), James Dorman, James Haight and Samuel Janes, took claims on East Wolf Creek, and went into camp and passed the winter hunting buffalo and antelope, of which there were plenty. These were followed in the winter of 1870-71, by C. M. Hibbard, A. C., and Charles Birdsall, N. R. Cowan and John Deering, all of whom, excepting Deering, returned to their homes after selecting their claims. In 1869, some section hands, while at work on the railway, had been killed by Indians, and as roving bands of red men would frequently come to the county on hunting expeditions, Deering deemed it advisable to be prepared for all emergencies that might arise, and to make himself as secure as possible against any attack, he surrounded his shanty with a stockade made of logs, pierced at intervals with loopholes.

The Northwestern Colony, of which Benjamin Pratt was president, was organized at Ripon, Wisconsin, in January, 1871. A committee of three was appointed by the organization to visit Kansas with a view of looking up a location for the colony. Benjamin Pratt, O. P. Reed, and H. S. Hollinbeck constituted that committee. They left Ripon on February 21, 1871, and after traveling about a month, during which time they visited a great many localities, they went back and reported to the association at Ripon. Russell County was decided upon by the colony as the place where to locate, and on the 17th of April, 1871, they left Ripon, one passenger coach being provided for their exclusive use, and arrived at Fossil Station, now Russell, in Russell County, on the 19th of the same month. There were about seventy persons in the colony and among them five families. Excepting a small frame depot and a section house, there was not another building in the county, unless it was the dug-out of Mathews already mentioned. Buffalo and antelope were in full possession, immense herds of which could be seen in almost every direction. Having reached their point of destination, the coach assigned them was switched off, and they found themselves in the center of a vast prairie, without a tree or house in sight. Prior to their arrival, the railroad company had furnished three box cars, and these, with the passenger coach, served as houses for the colonists until they had opportunity to provide themselves with suitable buildings.

From the arrival of this colony may be dated the permanent settlement of the county. Soon after their location at Russell, another colony, but much smaller, arrived from Ohio and located at a point ten miles east of Russell, on the Kansas Pacific Railway, where they started a town to which they gave the name of Bunker Hill. Settlers now began to come in and locate in different parts of the county, and among those who came the first year was Jesse Connell, formerly State Senator from Leavenworth, who was the first person to make settlement on Paradise Creek, in the northwestern portion of the county.

About the same time, another small colony from Ohio arrived, and located on claims which they had taken on the line of railroad between Bunker Hill and Russell. This colony only remained a short time, when they abandoned their claims and dispersed, some returning to Ohio, and others going to other parts of Kansas. Early in 1872, a large colony from Pennsylvania came, who settled chiefly in the eastern portion of the county, in the vicinity of Dorrance.

As yet, the county was not organized, but had, until that time been attached to Ellsworth County for judicial and municipal purposes. In 1872, Governor Harvey appointed J. B. Corbett, John Dodge and E. W. Durkey, County Commissioners, J. L. V. Himes, County Clerk, and Stillman Mann, Justice of the Peace. These were the first officers of the county. In the appointment of the Commissioners, Russell was designated the county-seat. The first meeting of the Commissioners was held on August 18, 1872, and the Board organized by electing J. B. Corbett Chairman. About the only business transacted at that meeting was the ordering of a special election, to be held September 9, to complete the organization of the county by electing a full set of county officers. The officers elected at the special election were John Fritts, John Dodge and Benjamin Pratt, Commissioners; E. W. Durkey, County Clerk; John Hemminger, Sheriff; L. Landon, Treasurer; H. J. Cornell, Probate Judge; H. C. Hibbard, Superintendent of Public Instruction; R. G. Kennedy, Register of Deeds; James Selling, Surveyor, and J. W. Vanscoyc, Coroner. The foregoing were the first officers elected in the county, and upon their qualifying the organization of the county was made complete. In canvassing the vote, the Commissioners ascertained that there were more votes cast at Bunker Hill than at Russell, whereupon the former place was declared to be the county-seat, and what little records they had were moved accordingly. This action of the Board considerably enraged the people of Russell, and a spirit of rivalry, not altogether too friendly, sprang up between the two places. The county-seat question became one of constant agitation, the people of Bunker Hill being determined to retain it, if possible, and the people of Russell as fully determined to recover it.

At the general election, held November 5, 1872, the Commissioners elected at the special election in September, were re-elected, but some changes were made in the other officers. The people of Russell never admitted the removal of the county-seat from Russell to Bunker Hill as being legal, and when the time came to canvass the vote of the November election, two of the Commissioners, Fritts and Dodge, met at Bunker Hill, and the third one, Mr. Pratt, with the County Clerk, Durkey, met at Russell. A quorum of the Board were at Bunker Hill, but they had no Clerk, while the other Commissioner at Russell had the Clerk but no quorum.

The returns of the election from the west half of the county were returned to Russell and those of the east half were returned to Bunker Hill. The two Commissioners at Bunker Hill appointed a Clerk and proceeded to canvass the returns as made to them, and the one at Russell, with the assistance of the Clerk, performed the same operation with the returns they had received. The task was not very laborious to either, as the total vote of the county at the November election was only 169. Neither recognized the action of the other, and the matter finally found its way into court, and finally went to the Supreme Court where, after a delay of about two years, it was decided in favor of Russell.

Pending the settlement of the matter in court, the business of the county, for some time, was conducted in a rather peculiar manner. The two Commissioners continued to meet at Bunker Hill, but Mr. Pratt would not meet with them, and county matters were in rather a chaotic state. While matters were in this shape, the district from which Mr. Pratt was elected held a special election and elected A. B. Cornell, Commissioner, but when he went to take his seat on the Board the other two Commissioners would not recognize him, but held that Pratt was the duly elected and qualified Commissioner. Finally, Mr. Pratt resigned, and the Board appointed A. B. Cornell to succeed him and thus order was restored from chaos.

On March 21, 1874, the Commissioners ordered an election to be held on April 23, for the purpose of re-locating the county-seat, and the candidates for the honor were Russell and Bunker Hill.

At that time the County Attorney was one David Adams, who had made himself very active in the interests of Bunker Hill. Russell had no Attorney at that time to look after its interests, and the citizens appointed a committee to go to some of the towns east of them and employ the services of one. The committee went as far east as Lawrence, and upon consulting with some attorneys there, and others at Topeka, the advice they received was to employ Adams. "Yes, but he is employed by the people of Bunker Hill." "Oh, never mind that, you see him, you can easily fix that." With this advice the Committee started for home and who should they meet on the train but Mr. Adams. One of the Committee became engaged in conversation with him, during which the county-seat question came up. The conversation led up to a certain point, when Adams was asked, how much it would take to silence him during the contest. "One hundred town lots in the town of Russell," was the reply. When the Committee returned, a meeting of the town authorities and business men was held, to whom the proposition of Adams was submitted, and after discussing it pro and con it was agreed to give him seventy-five lots, which offer Adams accepted.

Having silenced Adams the people of Russell devised another scheme in order to secure the votes of those residing in the eastern portion of the county, This was to go a few miles east of Bunker Hill and start another town, and cause to be agitated a plan that had been thought of for some time, which contemplated the cutting out of a new county from the counties of Lincoln, Ellsworth, and Russell, of which Wilson, located almost on the boundary line of the two latter counties, should be the county seat. Should this plan succeed, which a great many believed, then the farther the county-seat of Russell could be removed from Wilson the better, and as the former place was ten miles west of Bunker Hill the votes of many of the eastern residents were secured for Russell. The 23d of April came, the election was held as ordered, and the result was that Russell was declared the county-seat, which it has continued to be since that time.

From 1874 until 1877 the population of the county increased steadily, and although they came neither in crowds nor colonies, each year saw new farms opened up and new dwellings going up over the prairie.

In 1877, quite a large colony of Russians settled in the county, locating south of the Smoky Hill River, about twelve miles southwest of Russell. This colony was followed by two others of the same nationality in 1878, many of whom joined the settlement already located while others located upon claims in different portions of the county. That year a great many other settlers came to the county from Eastern and other States and the close of the year found the county in a very prosperous condition. Many of the new settlers engaged in sheep-raising, and the beginning of 1879 found over 10,000 sheep in the county. Some attention was also given to cattle, but stockmen gave the preference to sheep, the raising of which has increased yearly since that time.

There are now, 1883, not less than 30,000 sheep in the county, and as the business has proved to be highly profitable, the number engaging in it is increasing annually. The number owned by individuals runs all the way from 200 to 3,500, the latter being the largest number owned in the county by any one person. Since 1880, the county has, in point of population, been rather retrogressive, but yet it has made considerable advancement in material wealth.

The railroad facilities of the county are confined to one line, the Kansas Pacific, which runs through the center of the county from east to west, nearly midway between the Saline and Smoky Hill rivers. Russell is the principal station on the line, the others being Bunker Hill and Dorrance to the east, and Gorham, which is located almost on the west line of the county.

The first conveyance recorded in the county, that appears on record, was a deed from the Kansas Pacific Railroad Company to the Russell Town Site Company, granting, selling, and conveying for the consideration of one dollar, the east one-half of Section 27, Township 13, Range 14 west of the Sixth Principal Meridian. The instrument was dated September 1, 1871.

The first marriage in the county, as shown by the record in the office of the Probate Judge, was that of J. E. Brown and Miss Mary A. Shultz, which took place November 20, 1873, the officiating clergyman being Rev. J. J. A. T. Dixon. While this is the first marriage that appears on record it was not the first that occurred in the county, as E. W. Durkey and Mrs. Hattie Burt were married in November, 1871, by Stillman Mann, who was the first Justice of the Peace of the county.

Financially, the county is in good condition, its real valuation being $2,5000,000 and its bonded indebtedness only $20,000. It has no floating debt, and there is always money in the treasury to pay all orders upon presentation.


The first school established in Russell County, was a private school in the town of Russell, in July 1871. It was supported by the colonists who located at Russell in April of that year. This school was kept in a small frame building, erected by the colonists for school purposes. It was large enough to accommodate all the pupils there were to attend, because, while the colony numbered about seventy souls, only five families came with it, and only two of these had children of school age. Of this little school Mrs. Annas, wife of Rev. A. H. Annas, was the first teacher. Shortly after this, the colony that had located at Bunker Hill, opened a school, and from this small beginning the school interests of the county have developed until now, 1883, there are sixty-two organized school districts in the county. The report of the County Superintendent, made to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, for the year ending July 31, 1882, shows the school population of the county to have been 2,132. In this number are included all children between the ages of five and twenty-one years. These were divided according to sex into 1,106 males, and 1,026 females. The total number of pupils enrolled was 1,186, of which 626 were males and 560 females. Of these, the average daily attendance at school was 680, the male average being 331, and the female 349. The average salary paid male teachers was $29 per month, and female $23. The number of persons examined during the year was 57, and a corresponding number of certificates were granted, classified as follows :- First Class, 2; Second Class, 31; Third Class, 24. Scarcely any of the school grounds are enclosed, but the schools are, mostly, well supplied with globes, maps and charts, and well seated and furnished. There is nothing that commands more attention than the school interests, and while the schools are generally small, teachers are reasonably well compensated for their labor. Besides the public schools in the county, there are three private schools that have an average attendance of fifty-three pupils. The total school bonded indebtedness of the county is $13,469.87, and the school property is valued at $40,000.

The receipts from all sources, during the year, including the balance on hand July 31, 1881, was $12,946.67, and the expenditures amounted to $11,425.61, leaving a balance in the hands of district treasurers on July 31, 1882, of $1,521.06.

While there are sixty-two organized school districts in the county, there are only fifty-four school buildings, of which twenty-seven are stone, eighteen frame and [nine?] are set as temporary. Some of the latter are log, some sod, and some, part stone and part sod.

There are, virtually, no manufacturing establishments in the county except flouring-mills. Of these there are five, one at Russell, built by Ames, Chisholm & King in 1875. It is quite a large stone mill and is operated by steam-power. The mill is valued at $25,000.

The next mill was erected in the county in 1878, by Edgar Nichols, and is located on the Smoky, about five miles south of Bunker Hill. It is a small water mill, and was put up at a cost of about $6,000.

The Fairport Mills were the next erected, and these were built in 1879, by Knight & Bradshaw. The mills are operated by both steam and water-power. They are located on the Saline River, about twelve miles northwest of Russell. The building is of stone, three stories high, with a basement, and was put up at a cost of about $12,000.

In 1882 Moore & Sons put up a fine stone flouring-mill at Bunker Hill, at a cost of $18,000. It is operated by steam-power. The Farmers' Mill was also built in 1882, by L. D. Smith & Son. It is three stories high, the two lower ones being stone and the upper one frame. This mill is located on the Smoky, about three-fourths of a mile from the mouth of Big Creek, and ten miles southwest of Russell.

The only other manufacturing establishment of any kind in the county, is Hilder's Broom Factory at Russell. It is not very extensive, but gives employment to three or four hands, and besides supplying the Russell market, ships a great many brooms to other portions of the county and adjoining counties.


The first newspaper in the county was established in April 1872, but ante-dating its appearance, a small monthly journal was published and issued by Harbough & Corbett, which was devoted entirely to land business, and was named the Pioneer. That publication, however, is not entitled to any place in the history of the press of the county, as it was an advertising sheet exclusively.

The Western Kansas Plainsman was the first newspaper established in the county, having been started by A. B. Cornell, in April 1872, at Russell, the first issue of the paper appearing on the twenty-fifth of that month. Some months after it was started, the name of the paper was shortened to the Plainsman, and under this name it was published until October 1876, when the paper and office material was sold by Mr. Cornell to Prof. Robinson, who had it removed to Kirwin, in Phillips County. This was a seven column, four page, weekly, and was Republican in politics.

The New Republic.- This was the name of the next paper started in the county, and was established at Bunker Hill in May, 1872, by J. R. Rankin, who run (sic) it a few months when he sold it to B. W. Goodhue, from whom it passed to Harbaugh & Corbett when W. B. Christopher became editor. The county seat having been removed from Bunker Hill to Russell in 1874. Dollison Bros. followed with the New Republic the following year, when the name of the paper was changed to the Record. The paper remained in possession of Dollison Bros. until the latter end of 1881, when it passed into the hands of W. A. Lewis & Co., who, in March, 1882, sold it to W. L. Evans, who is now the sole editor and proprietor, and by whom the paper is at present published. The paper is an eight column folio, Republican in politics, and has a circulation of 600.

Advance.- The paper that made its appearance under this name, was established in March, 1878, by Johnson & Maxwell, who, in October of the same year, finding their venture rather unprofitable, moved the press and material to Saline County.

Advertiser.- The next paper to make its appearance in Russell County, was the one whose name appears as a side caption to this item. It was started in 1879, at Bunker Hill, by J. B. Powers, in whose possession it remained about a year, when it passed into the hands of Rev. J. J. A. T. Dixon, who changed the name of the paper to that of Banner. Under Mr. Dixon's management the paper lived about two years when, in January 1883, it passed out of existence.

Independent.- This paper was started at Russell in the fall of 1879, by W. P. Tomlinson, who, after running it a short time, sold a half interest to W. A. Lewis, and subsequently sold the other half interest to Asa Kinney, the paper then appearing under the editor and proprietorship of Lewis & Kinney, under whose management it was published for several months, when it passed into the hands of E. S. L. Banton. Six months subsequently, the paper was purchased by Dollison Bros., who consolidated it with the Record which they were publishing at that time.

Hawkeye.- This is the last newspaper venture made in the county, and was established in March 1882, by the Hawkeye Printing Company, with A. B. Cornell as editor, whose name still appears as such at the head of its columns. It is a six column quarto, weekly, Greenback in politics, and has a circulation of 450.


In population, the county has advanced rather slowly, some years being quite progressive and others retrogressive. In 1870, the population of the county was 156, and this was confined entirely to a small locality in the neighborhood of the coal banks on the Smoky at the eastern line of the county. The population at that time was composed of men who were brought to the county for the purpose of opening up coal mines, and outside of these there was not a settler in the county at the time the census was taken in 1870. By 1875, the population had increased to 1,212, and by 1878 it had reached 3,239. The years of 1878-79, were remarkable for the immense emigration that came to the county, and the United States census for 1880, shows the population at that time to have been 7,321. Since that time, however, the population of the county has been gradually and constantly decreasing, until 1882, according to the assessors' returns for that year, the population of the county had fallen to 5,950. These are the figures regarding population that appear on the statististical (sic) record for 1882, as found in the office of the County Clerk, although it is maintained by many that the figures are not correct, and that the population is much greater.

Prior to 1872 no attempt had been made at farming in the county. Up to that time the soil remained in its primitive state, not a single furrow having been turned over by the plow. The total area of field crops in 1872 was 601 acres, of which 19 were in wheat, 567 in corn, 2 in barley, 7 in oats, 5 in buckwheat, and one acre is sorghum. This attempt was more of an experiment to test the capabilities of the soil than anything else. The first real attempt at genuine farming was made by Luther Landon, who moved out in the summer of 1871, and located on a claim in the southern part of the county, on what is now known as Landon's Creek, where he erected a stone house, and turned over some prairie, most of which he planted to corn the following year. Others followed in 1873 and 1874, but the grasshoppers in the latter year destroyed the promising prospect. In 1875, the total acreage of field crops was 6,407.54, of which 992.50 were in winter wheat, 310.50 in rye, 584 spring wheat, 1833 corn, and 507.50 in oats. This increase would indicate that the people were not discouraged by the disaster of the preceding year, and the abundance of the crop gave good encouragement for the future. The following year the acreage increased to 6,487 acres. The three following years the crops were extremely good, and the fact was now established that the soil of Russell County, with ordinary rains, could produce large crops of all kinds of cereals. The statistical record for 1882, compiled from the returns of the various assessors, shows the number of acres in farms, at that time, to have been 214,260, valued at $859,014. This valuation would make the acres in improved farms worth only a fraction over $4 per acre; but to more correctly approximate the real value, the valuation above must be multiplied by three, as the assessed valuation is only one-third of the real value, and in many instances not even that much. The farm dwellings erected during the year ending March 1, 1882, were 39, valued at $5,878. The number of acres sown to winter wheat in 1881, was 34,573; rye, 2,623; spring wheat, 1882, 769; corn, 25,441; oats, 3,724; Irish potatoes, 246; sorghum, 1,689; flax, 163; broom corn, 97; millet and hungarian, 2,637; rice corn, 1,208. Grasses in cultivation and under fence: prairie meadow, 8,036; prairie pasture, 25,062, making a total of 107,264 acres, an increase in acreage of field cops in four years of 86,128 acres. These figures would indicate either an increase in the farming population, or great improvement by those already engaged in that industry. If the farming population has increased, then the loss in population that has taken place in the last two years, as shown by the census of 1880, and the assessors' returns for 1882, must have occurred in the towns and villages, and the populations of the latter show this must have been the case. The statistical record further shows that there were out of tame hay in 1881, one thousand two hundred and forty-seven tons, and of prairie hay nine thousand two hundred and sixteen tons. The value of garden products marketed during the year ending March 1, 1882, was $705, and the eggs and poultry sold amounted to $7,911. The cheese reached 133,052 pounds. The county has made some progress in the live stock line, but sheep-raising is commencing to receive more attention than either cattle or swine. The live stock in the county in 1882, was:- Horses, 2,364; mules and asses, 411; milch cows, 2,412; other cattle, 6,638; sheep, 22,708; swine, 5,590. The value of animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter during the year was $50,260. The wool clip for the year was 49,224 pounds. But little progress has been made in horticulture, and for some years no attention whatever was paid to it. The statistical record shows that in 1882, there were only 88 apple trees in bearing, 5 pear trees, 1,822 peach trees, 148 plum trees, and 329 cherry. The number not in bearing was: Apple, 9,858; pear, 378; peach, 17,199; plum, 806, and cherry 2,527. Thus far in the history of the county, attempts at raising the larger kinds of fruit, such as apples, pears, and peaches, have not been very successful, but the smaller fruits have been cultivated with satisfactory success.

Artificial forestry has commanded some little attention, but far from anything like what the timberless prairies demand. The efforts that have been made in this respect are more of an experimental character than anything else, in order to ascertain to what varieties the soil and climate are best adapted. Walnut and ash have been found to do best thus far. Cottonwood grows well for the first four or five years, and after that dies under the ravages of an insect known as "borer." The total number of acres devoted to artificial forestry in the county in 1882, was 338 as follows: Walnut, 64; maple, 4; honey locust, 2; cottonwood, 136; other varieties, 132. Some of the groves set out are doing remarkably well, while others are not encouragingly promising.

There were in the county in 1882, 48,498 rods of fence constructed of material as follows: Board fence, 1,022 rods; rail, 275; stone, 4,061; hedge, 5,165; and wire, 37,975. This amount of fence would enclose 152 square miles, less a fraction, or an area equal to about one-sixth of the entire county. The agricultural implements in the county were valued at $48,679. While these statistics do not show any wonderful advancement in material growth, they are yet far from discouraging; and when it is borne in mind that only eleven years have elapsed since the first settlement was made in the county, the degree of prosperity that has been attained by the settlers give them good grounds on which to found hopes for a prosperous future.

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