|KANSAS COLLECTION BOOKS|
|PART 1:||Location, Topography, Soil, Etc. | Map and Population | General History|
|PART 2:||County Organization and Officers | Wakeeney|
|PART 3:||Biographical Sketches|
LOCATION, TOPOGRAPHY, SOIL, ETC.
TREGO County is in the western part of Kansas, and is included in what was once known as the Great American Desert. It is located in the fourth tier of counties from the west line of the State, and in the third tier from the north line, and is about 315 miles west from Kansas City, or the eastern boundary line of the State. The county being thirty miles square, contains 570,000 acres or 900 square miles. It is bounded on the north by Graham County, on the south by Ness, on the east by Ellis, and on the west by Gove County. Its location is about midway between Kansas City and Denver; the second standard parallel, south, forming its northern boundary line, and the third standard parallel its southern line.
The surface of the county, in general, is rolling prairie, but in the northern tier of townships, through which the Saline River runs, it is quite broken and bluffy, and this irregularity in the surface extends about four miles south of the river. Along the Smoky Hill River, in the south center of the county, it is also quite bluffy and broken, a chain of bluffs, known as Cedar Bluff, extending for a distance of about ten miles along the course of the stream. With these exceptions there is no other portion of the county that may be termed bluffy, although there is a good deal of high prairie land within the limits of the county; but by far the greater portion of the county is undulating prairie.
The principal streams of the county are the Saline River, which runs from west to east, parallel with and almost along the northern boundary line of the county; the Smoky Hill, which runs in the same direction through the county, about six miles north of its southern boundary line, and Big Creek, that runs parallel with and between the Saline and Smoky. The two latter have a number of tributaries, some of which are fed by springs, but the major portion of them are dry the greater part of the year except in wet seasons. The county is, virtually, destitute of timber, the supply being confined to an occasional tree along the Saline and some of its tributaries. Some fifteen years ago some of the creeks, especially those in the northwest portion of the county were reasonably well-timbered, but the most of it was cut down to supply contracts with the government, and what was left soon disappeared upon the arrival of settlers, until now there is scarcely a tree to be found in the county. Excellent well-water can be found in almost any portion of the county at depths ranging from fifteen to forty feet.
The soil of Trego County is of the choicest kind, and no better can be found anywhere. The streams being without valleys, the county has none of that land denominated "bottom land," which constitute the choicest lands of many of the counties farther east. While the land of the county is all "upland," the soil is rich and deep, and, with sufficient moisture, is capable of yielding immense crops, all kinds of cereals growing in great abundance in seasons when there is a fair amount of rainfall. It cannot be called an agricultural county, however, and so extremely uncertain are the seasons that but little effort is made at farming. Several years experience by skillful farmers has confirmed a belief that long existed, that Trego County, like the large majority of counties in Western Kansas, is not adapted to anything like a successful following of agricultural pursuits. The value of the county, however, to stock-men, cannot be over-estimated. Even in the driest seasons, there is usually an abundance of water in the creeks and streams for cattle, and when these sources are insufficient, which does not often occur, an ample supply of good well-water can be obtained with little labor. There is very little prairie, or blue-stem grass in the county, but there is an abundance of rich buffalo grass, which is very nutritious, and which neither rain nor drouth can destroy, as cattle eat it as readily when it is dry as when it is green. Stock men do not think of feeding their cattle during the winter, as they find feed enough in the buffalo grass to bring them out in fair condition in the spring. The kinds of stock that are most remunerative, are cattle and sheep, as they require but little of any kind of feed the year round, but that which the soil, in its primitive state produces. No attention is paid to the raising of hogs for profit, for the reason that hogs require corn, and Trego County is exceedingly unreliable for the successful cultivation of this cereal. When it is said that Trego County is unsurpassed as a stock county, all is said that can be, truthfully, touching its adaptability and natural advantages.
Shallow veins of coal have been reported to exist in Collyer and Ogallah townships, the former embracing the western portion of the county and the latter the eastern. No developments have yet been made, however, by which such reports can be stated as facts. A deposit has been found in Trego County, the like of which has never been developed in any other portion of the country. This is a chalk bed, discovered by George Pinkham on his claim, near WaKeeney in 1877. These chalk beds are wide in extent and of great depth, and very pure in character. Upon the discovery of this valuable deposit, Mr. Pinkham visited many of the leading cities of the East to ascertain the best methods of manufacturing whiting, and, returning to Trego County, immediately commenced the erection of whiting works, investing $5,000 in buildings and machinery. The whiting works constitute the only manufacturing establishment of any kind in the county, there being not even a flouring-mill beside. Steps are being taken to considerably enlarge the whiting works, and to put in more extensive machinery and a more powerful crushing or grinding mill. Mr. Pinkham is meeting with considerable success in his undertaking, and although the works are yet in their infancy, he manufactured and shipped in 1882, 150,000 pounds of whiting. Considering all the uses chalk can be put to, and the many articles of which, in their manufacture, it forms a constituent and indispensable part, the chalk beds of Trego County may, in time, be a source of great wealth to the shire.
Of good building material the county has an abundance, both in common and magnesian limestone. Nearly the whole of the entire county is sub-soiled with limestone, and in the ravines, and along the bluffs of the streams and creeks it crops out through the surface. It is of various colors, brown, white and yellow, and also differs greatly as to hardness. In some places it is so soft that it can be easily sawed into bricks of any dimension, and is excellent for building purposes, as it hardens by exposure; while in other places it is found to be so hard that the mallet and chisel are necessary to give it shape. This latter quality is used, and is very excellent, for caps and sills. Beds have also been found of a material known as native lime. This material is easily dug with pick and shovel, and makes good mortar for building and plastering without being burned, its adhesive qualities being equal to those of first-class cement. It has been used in the erection of the depot at Wakeeney, also in the large Keeney Block, and, in fact, in almost every stone building in the county.
POPULATION BY FEDERAL CENSUS.
1880. ================================================= Collyer, Downer and Wakeeney Townships* 1,852 Glencoe Township 200 Ogallah Township 483 ----- 2,535 ================================================= *Townships not separately returned.
The person to whom is conceded the credit of being the first settler in Trego County, is B. O. Richards, who located at a place named Coyote, near the present site of Collyer, in the extreme west of the county. At that time Richards was a railway employee and kept a boarding house, but subsequently took a claim and tried farming, but failing at this he went into stock-raising, in which business he is now engaged.
Richards, however, was not the first man in the county to attempt farming, the credit for this belonging to J. R. Snyder, who moved into the county in 1877, and who was the first man in the county to turn over the virgin sod for the purpose of trying to raise a crop. The settlers in the county who had preceded the Chicago Colony in 1877, were J. C. Henry, Harlow Orton, Earl Spaulding, J. K. Snyder, D. O. Adams, George Brown, George McCaslin, George Pinkham and Peleg Richards. When Mr. Warren went to the county in the fall of 1877, for the purpose of establishing a colony and founding a city, there went with him W. S. Harrison, George Barrell, F. O. Ellsworth, Thomas Peck and C. W. F. Street, all of whom located upon claims in different parts of the county. The following year witnessed the rush, and the Government Land Office was besieged by large crowds daily who wished to center claims.
The settlers of 1878 were mostly from in and around Chicago, and among them were P. W. Miller, James Duckworth, James McGuire, J. M. Davis, S. C. Robb, David Fouts, T. A. Shorthill, S. Shorthill, John Lempke, J. F. Allen, George Dobson, George Baker, John Weckler, B. C. Gaisford, C. H. Gibbs, W. C. Olson, W. H. Fuson, W. T. Hunter, Harmon Pence, J. R. Kershaw, B. W. S. Huffaker, and about fifty or seventy-five others, all of whom took claims upon which they located. The rush of people to Trego County in 1878, although wonderfully great, was nothing in comparison with that of 1879. People flocked in by the hundreds, and for a time it seemed that there would not be an acre of land in the county but that would be taken. The records of the Government Land office at Wakeeney, for that year, show that nearly all the available land in the county was either pre-empted or homesteaded. The influx of people was so great that by the middle, of 1879, the population of the county was estimated at 3,500.
The crop of 1879, however, was a total failure, and this experience caused a great many to think that the county was not adapted to agricultural pursuits, and a great many left, but others, believing that the failure of 1879 was only exceptional, remained, determined to test the productive qualities of the county still further. The year 1880, however, proved more disastrous to the crops than the one preceding it, and the faith of many was utterly destroyed. In that year the number of acres sown to wheat was 5,428, and the total product was only 16,284 bushels, being an average of only three bushels to the acre. The average yield of rye was five bushels to the acre. Corn was no better, there being 5,924 acres planted, which yielded only 71,088 bushels, or twelve bushels to the acre. This was very far from affording any encouragement, and people began to leave the county as rapidly as they had come.
The year 1881 was very little better, and the exodus continued and is still going on until now, according to the best information obtainable, there are not more than 1,500 or 1,600 people in the county.
Like most other western counties the people of Trego have had a little Indian experience. In September, 1878, a tribe of Cheyennes moving northward, characterized their movements in usual Indian fashion by killing men, outraging and murdering women and stealing cattle. People from the country flocked into WaKeeney, and all was excitement and confusion. Arms and munitions were sent out from Topeka, and a company of eighty men was organized, of which John M. Keeney was Captain, W. H. Fuson First Lieutenant, and C. W. Mulford Second Lieutenant. The company was named the Trego County Home Guards, and was ready to defend WaKeeney against any attack the Indians might make. The Cheyennes, in their northward march, kept to the west of Trego County, crossing the railway track about twenty-five miles west of Wakeeney, at a place named Buffalo Park, in Gove County, in the vicinity of which several persons were murdered, the Indians killing in all fifty-two men, women and children.
One of the pleasant incidents in the history of the county was the grand Fourth of July celebration held at Wakeeney in 1879. The year preceding had been one of excellent crops, the wheat yield being fully thirty bushels to the acre, while corn went as high as seventy-five bushels. People were enthusiastic over the county and filled with hope as to its future, and they could think of no better way of giving vent to their exuberance of spirit than to hold a grand Fourth of July celebration. It was a gorgeous affair, and nothing was left undone to make it a success. A large pavilion was erected on the north side of the depot, the wide platform being utilized as part of the floor. People attended from all quarters, north, south, east, and west, and the number present was estimated at 4,000. Not less than 400 people from Topeka participated in the festivities. The dinner was of the picnic order, and of the best. Ice cream and lemonade were plentifully distributed, and a barrel of ice water, with drinking cups attached, was placed at every street corner. Two brass bands discoursed music, and appropriate speeches were made by some of the best speakers in the State, the orator of the day being His Excellency, Governor St. John. The Fourth of July, 1879, will long be remembered by the old settlers of the county.
After Trego County was organized the Sheriff of the county, J. F. Allen, and also the county authorities, had considerable trouble caused by the failure of the legislature to attach the unorganized territory west of Trego to any organized county for judicial purposes. In what is now Wichita County, a murder was committed by one John Conway. He was arrested by some citizens of the place and handed over to the Sheriff of Trego County. He could not be tried in Trego County, because the murder was committed outside of the judicial district of which Trego formed a part. He could not be tried in Wichita County, because it was unorganized territory and unattached to any organized county. After keeping the prisoner in custody for some time the matter was submitted to the State authorities, when it had no jurisdiction over offenses committed in unattached, unorganized territory, and in consequence of this decision three murderers and several horse-thieves were permitted to go scot-free, after having been arrested and in custody. The legislature of 1881 remedied this evil by attaching all unorganized territory to counties already organized, and the unorganized counties of Gove, St. John, and Wallace, all lying west of Trego, on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railway, became attached to Trego County for judicial and revenue purposes.
On the 15th of March, 1882, a row occurred at a place known as "Gopher," in Trego County, which ended tragically, and which created a good deal of excitement. The parties engaged were two brothers, named Pitman, a man named Thomas B. Wooton, another named James McCullom, and one named John Evarts. Wooton and McCullom had been in the employ of the railway company, but had been discharged, and were notified to leave the country. It is not altogether clear as to how the row commenced, but certain it is that John Pitman was killed, his brother Thomas badly wounded, and John Evarts wounded in the face. McCullom and Wooton fled, and a reward of $500 was offered by the State for their arrest and conviction. Joseph Lucas, who was then Deputy Sheriff, in the absence of Mr. Allen, the Sheriff, who was off on other duty, went with a warrant and arrested Wm. Wooton, a brother of Thomas Wooton, and also the wife of the latter. After he had taken this party into custody word was sent to the Sheriff of Trego County that Thomas Wooton, one of the murderers, had been arrested and was then in custody at Lakin, in Kearney County, the other, McCullom, having been killed in a fight with the Sheriff of Ford County, by whom Wooton had been arrested.
Mr. Lucas started to Kearney County after Wooton, whom he found to be suffering from quite a severe wound in the shoulder, received in the fight with the Sheriff when McCullom was killed. Mr. Lucas brought Wooton back to Wakeeney, and, waiving an examination, was ordered to be taken to Ellis County jail. The first train East was due at 3:30 in the morning, and that night while Mr. Lucas was sitting in the Union House with his three prisoners, all of whom were hand-cuffed, awaiting the arrival of the train, he happened to fall into a light sleep, and while in that condition he received a blow over the head which knocked him from his chair. Gathering himself up he saw several masked men in the office of the hotel with whom he entered into a general fight. They fought through the office and out on to the porch, keeping it up back through the hall and into the parlor, from which they emerged into the dining room where tables were over-turned, dishes broken, and the stove upset, and where Mr. Lucas received a blow on the head which knocked him senseless. While the fight was going on a rope was thrown around Wooton's neck, and he was dragged out and taken to an empty box-car, on which the masked party had arrived from the West. From this point the fate of Wooton is in doubt, some contending that he was lynched, while others say, that while in the box-car, he seized the revolver of one of his captors and immediately commenced firing, killing two of the party and wounding some of the others, after which he jumped from the car, with the rope still around his neck, and made his escape.
In the fall of 1882, word was sent to Sheriff Allen, at Wakeeney, that a party had started northward from Camp Supply, in the Indian Territory, with about twenty stolen horses, and for him to look out for them. Some time after this, one evening just about dark, two men rode into Wakeeney leading twenty-one head of horses, and as soon as Mr. Allen saw them he was satisfied they were the parties he had been on the lookout for, for some time. Not having a warrant he did not arrest them that night, and the following morning, bright and early, they were on their way northward with the horses. Procuring a warrant at the earliest possible moment, the Sheriff hired a livery team and, taking a man with him to drive, started in pursuit.
The thieves having "hobbles" the horses, that is, fastened their forelegs together, their progress was rather slow, and before they had got out of Trego County the Sheriff had overtaken them. While yet a little ways from them, the Sheriff, in order to save the team he was driving from being shot, got out, and, taking his Winchester rifle in his hand started after them on foot. When within about fifty yards of them he called to them to "throw up," to which they responded by wheeling around and opening fire upon him from two rifles. He returned the fire and unhorsed one of them, who went by the name of Jones, the first shot killing his horse. Upon Jones being unhorsed he ran and placed himself behind a slight elevation int he ground from which he kept up his fire. A shot from the Sheriff's rifle took effect on Jones' cheek, whereupon he "threw up" and surrendered, but the second thief, who was none other than the notorious Dick Edwards, upon seeing Jones surrender wheeled his horse and galloped off.
The Sheriff fired after as he ran, the bullet taking effect in the neck of the horse that Edwards was riding. While the skirmish was going on the "hobbled" horses had gone on about three-fourths of a mile, and Edwards, seeing that his only chance for escape was to secure another horse, put spurs to his wounded and fast sinking animal, and merely succeeded in reaching the drove when the horse he had ridden dropped dead. It required but a moment to cut the rope by which one of the horses was hobbled, and to changed saddles, inasmuch as he had unbuckled the saddle as he rode, and succeeded in capturing all of the stolen horses, excepting two that were killed, and the one upon which Edwards escaped. He also secured Jones, one of the thieves, who was put in the Ford County jail to await his trial, which was fixed to take place in March, 1883.
The first marriage in the county that appears of record was that of George W. Houseman and Anna M. Gladwell, which occurred September 19, 1879. This couple had been previously married, however, but the ceremony had been performed by a notary public, and as the law does not recognize such marriages as valid, they had to be re-married.
Trego County is a beautiful looking county, but until some climatic changes occur by which the soil can retain moisture, it will be next to worthless for agricultural pursuits, but for cattle and sheep-raising its place is in the foremost rank.