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


[TOC] [part 5] [part 3] [Cutler's History]


Shawnee was one of the original counties, established by the first Territorial Legislature. The boundaries, as then defined, were erroneous, but were established after the Territorial survey had been made. February 20, 1857, they were thus defined: Beginning at the southwest corner of Douglas County, thence west with the section lines to the corner of Sections 14, 15, 22 and 23, Town 15 south, Range 13 east; thence north with the section line to the middle of the channel of the Kansas River; thence down said river, by the middle of the main channel thereof, to the northwest corner of Douglas County; thence south with the west boundary of Douglas County, to the place of beginning. The entire county, as thus described, was south of the Kansas River, and embraced the northern part of Weller, now Osage County. Weller County entire, with Richardson (now Wabaunsee) County on the west, were attached to Shawnee for civil and military purposes.

The first subdivision of Shawnee County into municipal townships was made by order of the County Board, at their first session, September 14, 1855. All the territory north of the Wakarusa River, was formed into Tecumseh Township, all south of the same into Yocum Township. Topeka Township was organized, February 23, 1857, and, in the following autumn, the county was again subdivided into the townships of Tecumseh, Topeka, Brownsville, Burlingame and Wakarusa, each township to constitute an election precinct. By act of the Territorial Legislature, February 23, 1860, the limits of the county were changed as follows: The six government townships lying south of the township line between Towns 13 and 14, were detached, and became part of Osage County, and, by the same act, there was detached from Jackson County and added to Shawnee County all the territory previously belonging to Jackson, and lying south of the second standard parallel. This tract extended the boundaries of Shawnee County north of the Kansas River, and made Topeka the most central and convenient point for the permanent county-seat of the reconstructed county. The addition north of the Kansas River, embraced a fraction more than congressional townships. This change in the county boundaries necessitated a reconstruction of the municipal townships, and, by action of the County Board, March 17, 1860, the county was divided into three towns: Tecumseh, comprising all the eastern portion of the county lying south of the river; Topeka, the territory north of the Kansas, and the northwestern portion, lying south of the river; and Auburn, comprising the southwestern part of the county. These towns were subdivided April 20, Monmouth being set off from Tecumseh on the south; Williamsport, from Auburn, on the east; and the new territory north of the river erected into the town of Soldier. Dover was detached from Topeka, on the west, October 1, 1860. By act of the State Legislature, approved February 28, 1868, the northern boundary of the county was extended north, so as to include within its limits "the whole of Towns 10, from Range 13 east to Range 16 east (inclusive), except Sections 1, 12, 13, 24, 25 and 36, in the last named township." Sections 1, 12, 13, 24, 25 and 36, in Town 10, Range 12 east, were also added. This added four congressional townships on the north, and completed the territorial area as it now is. Silver Lake was, by act of the County Commissioners, March 16, 1868, set off from Soldier Township. Rossville was set off from Silver Lake, on the west, January, 1871. Menoken, the last township erected, was set off from Silver Lake, on the east, July 18, 1879. The present subdivisions are: Lying north of the river - Rossville, Silver Lake, Menoken, and Soldier; lying south - Dover, Mission, Topeka, Topeka City, Tecumseh, Auburn, Williamsport, and Monmouth.

As at present constituted, the county is virtually in the form of a square of twenty-four miles, the only variation being in the tract lying north of the Kansas River, which lies five miles further west than that lying south, thus deflecting both the east and west lines, north of the river, to the westward, that distance. The north and south lines are parallel, twenty-four miles in length, and the same distance apart, running due east and west. It is bounded on the north by Jackson County; east by Jefferson and Douglas counties; south by Osage County, and west by Wabaunesee and Pottawatomie counties.


Under Territorial Rule.-- As previously stated, at the first session of the Territorial Legislature, held in 1855, the limits of Shawnee County were defined, and the town of Tecumseh was designated as the county seat. A Probate Court was established, also a County Board of Commissioners, of which the Probate Judge was to be chairman. By joint ballot the Legislature elected the following county officers: Probate Judge, William O. Yeager; County Commissioners, William O. Yeager, Chairman, Edward Hoagland and William Yocum; Sheriff, George W. Berry (declined to qualify, and John Horner appointed September 24, by the County Commissioners).

The County of Shawnee was fully organized early in September, 1855, the following additional officers having been appointed: County Clerk, Hon. John Martin; Treasurer, Thomas N. Stinson.

The first formal meeting of the Commissioners was on the 17th of September, 1855, the principal business before the Board being the providing of ways and means for the erection of county buildings at Tecumseh. It was contracted that the Tecumseh Town Association should erect the court house, said association donating a site for the same, besides other town lots to the county. The cost of the building was to be defrayed by territorial and county tax. During this session of the Commissioners, the counties which had been united for civil and military purposes, Shawnee, Weller and Richardson, were divided into two voting precincts as follows: Tecumseh Precinct and Precinct "110."

On the 10th of October, 1855, John Martin was commissioned by Governor Shannon County Clerk and Register of Deeds for Shawnee County. On the 15th, John Horner was appointed Assessor, and during the remainder of the year and through 1856, all the surplus energy of the county officials was expended in the effort to raise the requisite revenue for carrying on the business of the county, including the funds for the payment of the balance due on the county buildings at Tecumseh.

The Free-state men, not believing in the doctrine of taxation without representation, were passive or active opponents of the tax gatherer, and the duties of that official became so onerous and disagreeable that it was with difficulty any person could be found willing to accept or retain the office. Mr. Horner was followed in rapid succession by Edward J. Newsom, Gerard C. t'Hooft, Anderson Imes, John C. Sims, William P. Fain, and Edward L. Yates - the latter being appointed in the early part of 1857. During the same period the office of Sheriff was held by George W. Berry, John Horner, Benjamin D. Castleman, and James B. Whitaker.

On the 21st of April, 1856, the following town corporations were notifed to file maps or plats of their respective towns, preparatory to an assessment of town property for taxation: Tescumeh, Topeka, Big Springs, Washington, "110," Brownsville, Paris, Council City, and Glendale. The notification found the Free-state towns refractory, and the county officials were unable to increase the funds in the treasury to any great amount.

Free-State Rule.-- The first convention of the Free-state party in the county was held at Brownsville, September 17, 1857. Judge P. C. Schuyler was chosen president of the meeting, C. Clemans and H. Harvey, vice presidents; F. W. Giles and O. H. Sheldon, secretaries. The following nominations were made: For Member of Council, Cyrus K. Holliday, Topeka; Representative, James A. Delong, Brownsville; Judge of Probate, Philip C. Schuyler, Burlingame; Sheriff, Jehiel Tyler, Tecumseh; Treasurer, A. Polley, Burlingame; Recorder, F. W. Giles, Topeka; Surveyor, Joel Huntoon, Topeka; County Commissioners, Harvey W. Curtis and Hiram Shields.

Justices of the Peace were nominated at a subsequent meeting as follows: Joseph C. Miller, J. N. Frazier and P. T. Hupp.

A full Opposition ticket, both for county officers and members of the Territorial Legislature, was nominated at Tecumseh. The result of the election was an overwhelming victory for the Free-state ticket, and the end of Pro-slavery rule in the county. The vote by precincts was reported as follows: Topeka, Free-state 335, Pro-slavery 57; Tecumseh, Free-state 153, Pro-slavery 57; Wakarusa, Free-state 91, Pro-slavery 5; Burlingame, Free-state 110, Pro-slavery, none; Brownsville, Free-state 88, Pro-slavery, none. Free-state majority 711.

The Free-state nominees were all triumphantly elected, and it was then found that under the territorial laws, as then existing, several of the offices were non-elective - the sheriff, surveyor, recorder and justices being appointed by the County Board. To meet this exigency the new board at its first business meeting, January 18, 1858, appointed Mr. Giles Clerk of the Board of Commissioners, ex-officio Clerk of the Probate Court, and Recorder for Shawnee County. Mr. Huntoon was made Civil Engineer, and Mr. Tyler received a commission as Sheriff from acting Governor Stanton, November 30, 1857.

P. C. Schuyler, who was elected Probate Judge, declined to serve, and Edward Hoagland, Esq., after being appointed to the same office, commissioned by the acting governor and again elected by the Board of Commissioners, qualified on the 26th of February, 1858, thereby also becoming Chairman of the Board.

Messrs. Miller and Frazier, who were elected Justices of the Peace, declined to serve, the Territorial Legislature not having repealed the offensive enactments of the first Legislature. Mr. D. H. Horne, who was elected Constable, also refused to serve.

The Board of County Commissioners, as finally qualified, were: Edward Hoagland, President; Harvey W. Curtis and Hiram Shields.

The new board upon entering upon its work had a task before it even more difficult than to begin anew. Under the former rule, no bridges had been built; no school system had been inaugurated; no revenue collected; - what had been done was to levy taxes which could not be collected, and to build a court house at Tecumseh, whereby a heavy debt was incurred, which the tax-payers refused to recognize as binding on the county. Thus the incoming board found the county matters in the worst plight possible - in debt, disorganized, everything to do, and neither money nor credit wherewith to do it. They could not even build a bridge over Deer Creek, except by an ingenious financial device which should postpone the payment to a more propitious period. The estimated cost of said bridge was nine hundred dollars, and the proposal for bids for its construction provided the mode of payment as follows: "The whole sum payable in county bonds, redeemable proportionately at the rate of twenty per cent per annum, and bearing interest at ten per cent. The said proportion of twenty per cent and interest to be receivable in payment of county taxes." At a meeting, February 23, 1858, the poverty of the county was confessed by the Sheriff, he reporting to the Board that there was no jail or other provision for the safe keeping or care of persons in his charge, and no provisions for paying the board of several at that time in his keeping. Thereupon the fathers of the dead-broke county gave relief to the overburdened Sheriff, thus: "It is ordered by the Board that the Sheriff is hereby authorized to issue certificates of advance payment of any taxes for the county that may be hereafter assessed and collectable, and apply the funds thus obtained by him to defraying the expenses of boarding and guarding such prisoners, and that such certificates shall be received in payment of any county taxes hereafter assessed." What further progress the Board might have made in administration of county affairs, was cut short by a change in the form of government.

February 12, 1858, an act was passed by the first Free-state Territorial Legislature providing for the organization of Municipal Townships, with a Board of Township Commissioners; the chairman of the several town boards in each county constituting the County Board of Commissioners. Under the town system, then established, the first Board of Shawnee County consisted of the following named gentlemen: Topeka Township - Jeremiah Murphy; Tecumseh - Eli Hopkins; Wakarusa - P. T. Hupp; Brownsville - A. H. Hale; Burlingame - George Bratton. The first meeting of the new Board of County Commissioners was held at the house of Eli Hopkins, then and now living in Tecumseh, a few miles east of the village, September 4, 1858. Jeremiah Murphy was elected chairman of the "Supervisor's Court," as it was termed. No important transactions are recorded.

The desperate state of the county's finances came up for special consideration at the meeting held October 13, 1858. Although the Free-state party and bona fide residents were now fully represented in the Board, the old debts, incurred under bogus rule, still obstructed the collection of taxes, as the majority of taxpayers would pay nothing so long as there was a chance of its being applied on these outstanding claims. It will be remembered that the greater part of the debt had been incurred in the erection of a court house at Tecumseh, and as the designation of that place, as the county seat, had been made arbitrarily by the Territorial Legislature, the residents outside of that town demurred against the tax for the erection of county buildings, until such time as they should, by their own vote, decide where they should be erected. Accordingly they ignored, not only the bogus legislature, but the bogus county seat it established, and all the debts incurred under the county government then set up.

At this meeting it was ordered: "That the clerk make investigation of the records and papers in his office relating to the indebtedness of the county and manage the same in such concise and convenient manner as should enable the Board at its next meeting to consider and take action upon the same without hindrance or delay." The clerk therefore, in connection with the chairman of the Board, Jeremiah Murphy, under direction of the Board, made, on January 4, 1859, at a meeting held at Auburn, *an elaborate report, with resolutions, which was adopted by the Board, and published. As a history of the early financial management, and the final disposition made of the debts, the report is given, nearly entire:

* Under the act of the Free-state Territorial Legislature, the meetings might be held at such place in the county as the Commissioners should determine, until a permanent county seat was established. Meetings were held at Topeka, Auburn, etc.

To the Citizens of Shawnee:

WHEREAS, conflicting statements are in circulation in regard to the financial affairs of our said county, and consequent anxiety and mistrust, We, the undersigned County Board of Supervisors, have deemed advisable and do hereby submit for general information a detailed statement of all claims against the County of Shawnee, so far as they are enabled to discover the same from the public records, together with the occasion thereof.

It appears from files in the Clerk's office, that articles of agreement were drawn up between the Probate Judge and County Commissioners of Shawnee County and the Tecumseh Town Association, bearing date September 17, 1855, whereby the said Town Association contracted to "convey to the said Probate Judge and County Commissioners, or their successors, the plat of ground in said Tecumseh, known as 'Court Square,' and also lots no. 26 and 27, on the public square; and also for the construction of the brick-work, mason-work, digging, foundation, and everything appertaining to that branch of the building and erection of a Court House for said county, on the terms following, to-wit: After the rate of $12 per 1,000 on the brick measurement when completed, and the usual mason's price, say at Westport, for stone-work; the said Town Association to be paid for the same in the manner following, viz:

"One-fifth to be assessed and tax levied and collected under the first term prescribed by law, viz: Commencing in February next (1856)."

"Two-fifths in like manner in 1857, and the remaining two-fifths in like manner in 1858 - with ten per cent on whole sum remaining unpaid, commencing from completion of said work; county debentures or bonds to be delivered to said company in relative proportions, payable as above specified."

These articles were never fully executed, the same not having been signed by the said Probate Judge and County Commissioners, nor by any one else on behalf of the county.

It appears that bonds of the county have been issued to said association as follows, to-wit:

July 20, 1857...................................  $   500.00
August 15, 1857.................................    2,725.00
May 22, 1858....................................      708.05
                                                  $ 3,933.05

These bonds bear interest at the rate of
 10 per cent per annum, and thereon has accrued
 an aggregate interest, at this date of ........      495.64
                                                  $ 4,428.69
In addition to this there is presented a claim,
 by the said association, for lightning conductors,
 put up during the summer of 1858 ..............       37.50

Showing a total of obligations to the said Town
 Association on account of the "court house,"
 at this date, of ............................... $ 4,446.19

It further appears that Duke N. Hunter, Superintendent of Public Buildings in Shawnee County, in accordance with Kansas Statutes, passed A. D. 1855, entered into articles of agreement with one Luther M. Carter of Westport, Missouri, whereby the said Carter agreed "to furnish all necessary materials and labor, and in all respects finish the 'Court-House' in the town of Tecumseh, so far as said building may require; brick-work, lathing and plastering, and painting, excepted." And said Carter was to receive therefor the bonds of the County of Shawnee, to the amount of $3,213, payable, "one-third in one year from 1st of February, 1856; one-third in two years from 1st of February, 1856; and one-third in three years from 1st of February, 1856; and bearing interest, at and after, at the rate of 10 per cent per annum from the date of said bonds. One-third of said bonds to be executed and issued to said Carter, or his assigns, on the execution of securities on his part to the contract; one-third when the roof is on, completed; and the remaining one-third when the job is completed by said Carter."

It appears of record that the bonds of the county have been issued to Luther M. Carter, as follows:

On the 18th of August, 1856....................  $1,071.00
On the 15th of December, 1856..................     771.00
Making of bonds issued to him..................  $1,842.00

And leaving an amount yet due him, according to
  the terms of the contract, upon completion of
  his job, of..................................  $1,371.00

The accumulated interest upon the $1,842 of
  bonds already issued is, at this date........     439.33
Making total indebtedness to Mr. Carter, as
  per books, on this date, of..................  $3,652.33

On the 16th day of March, 1858, Mr. Carter presented before the Board of County Commissioners bonds against the county in the sum of $2,913, and demanded further bonds, in payment of interest then due upon this sum, as computed by him, of $565.13, and thus showing an indebtedness to him on that date, as claimed, of $3,478.13.

How he came in possession of so large an amount of the bonds of the county does not appear, but assuming that a larger amount has been issued to him than from the books appears, and that, his claim actually amounted, on the 16th of March last, as he claimed, to the sum of $3,478.13; then, the aggregate indebtedness to him at this date would be, interest added, $3,750.

It further appears that county bonds were issued to E. G. Goforth, on the ---- day of ----, 1857, for painting done on the said building, in the sum of $200, but whether these bonds bear interest is not known to us.

In addition to the foregoing, there has been paid, as per treasurer's report, for lumber used in and around the court-house, the sum of $91.30, and showing an aggregate expenditure on account of the same, amounting, at this date, to the sum of $8,556.49, as follows, to-wit:

Bonds issued to Tecumseh Town Association......  $4,466.19
Bonds issued to L. M. Carter, as claimed by him   3,750.00
Bonds issued to E. G. Goforth, and interest....     249.00
Orders paid per Treasurer's report.............      91.30
        Total..................................  $8,556.49

The committee further reported orders outstanding, amounting to $745.55, which added to the court-house account ($8,556.49), and a large amount of script issued to jurors by the District and Probate courts, made the claims against the county about $11,000. The report concludes as follows:

The so-called Legislature of Kansas Territory, sitting at Shawnee Manual Labor School, in 1855, defined boundaries for Shawnee County, elected for us county officers, and prescribed ways in which they might proceed to the erection of county buildings at an unlimited expense, thus characteristically withholding from the people any expressions of their choice in the location of their county seat and making them liable to onerous taxes for the erection of county buildings, in place and in character, such as were entirely repugnant to their wishes. We will remark in relation to the expenditures on account of the "Court House," that they were made in the most reckless disregard of the wishes of the county; and, in relation to the claims on account of the courts, during the years 1855, '56 and '57, that they were without the pale of any law of the people of Kansas; neither receiving the regards nor the respect of any but the few who sought to impose them upon an unwilling and insulted people. We therefore have considered that popular opinion, as well as our own feelings and duties, demand of us, on behalf of Shawnee County, an utter renunciation of any indebtedness of our county for any purpose whatever, accruing from any cause whatever, prior to October, 1857. And therefore we, the Board of Supervisors of Shawnee County, Kansas Territory, do hereby

Resolved, That we will consider no claim against our said county, grant no allowance or order, and make no appropriation for the payment of any claims accruing prior to the first Monday in October, 1857. Fully repudiating and renouncing any and all liabilities of our said county by reason of any contract, agreement, bargain, allowance or proceeding; either through any person or persons having claimed authority thereto or otherwise, under any pretense whatsoever.


F. W. Giles, Clerk
Brownsville, K. T., January 4, 1859.

From the subsequent records it does not appear that any of the above claims were ever paid or recognized as valid by Shawnee County. The repudiation was complete - not of an honest claim, but of an illegal debt incurred by illegal means, through irresponsible agents.

At a meeting of the Board held June 21, 1859, Loring Farnsworth was appointed County Treasurer, and R. M. Fish, Superintendent of Common Schools. John P. Greer was appointed County Attorney at the session of May 2, 1859.

The canvass of votes "for" or "against" the Wyandotte Constitution, was made by the County Board, October 18, 1859, and was: "For" 555; "Against," 50. At the same election, the county voted: "For the Homestead act," 516; against it, 53.

[TOC] [part 5] [part 3] [Cutler's History]