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


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


The proclamation of the Governor, organizing the County of Trego was issued June 21, 1879, prior to which time it had been attached to Ellis County for judicial and revenue purposes. The following is a copy of the proclamation:

"PROCLAMATION Organizing the county of Trego and locating the temporary county-seat.
WHEREAS: A memorial signed by two hundred and fifty house-holders residents of Trego County, Kansas, and legal electors of the State, whose signatures have been duly attested by the affidavits of three householders thereof, showing that said county had 1,500 inhabitants, and praying for the organization of the same; said affidavits setting forth that they had reason to, and did, believe said memorial to be true, and,
WHEREAS: It appears from actual enumeration by census returns duly made and certified according to law, by an officer regularly appointed, commissioned, and qualified, that there are 1,500 bona fide inhabitants in said county of Trego. Now, therefore, know ye: - That I, John P. St. John, Governor of the State of Kansas, by authority of law vested in me, have appointed and commissioned T. W. Miller, H. C. Bryant, and W. H. Fuson, County Commissioners, and George Pinkham as County Clerk for said county of Trego and do hereby designate and declare the town of Wakeeney to be the temporary count-seat.
In testimony whereof I have hereunto subscribed by name and affixed the great seal of the State.
Done at the city of Topeka the twenty-first day of June, 1879.
JOHN P. ST. JOHN, Governor."

By virtue of this proclamation, a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners was held at the office of Morse & Hays, on June 26, 1879. The board organized by electing T. W. Miller Chairman. At that meeting the county was divided into three townships, namely, Ogallah, embracing all the eastern portion of the county; Collyer, the western portion, and Wakeeney the central. Each of the townships thus created was made a Commissioner District.

The ordering of an election for county and township officers, to be held on the 26th day of July, 1879, completed the business transacted by the board at its first meeting. At the election thus ordered, the first held in the county, the following named persons were elected to the respective offices: - County Commissioners, Enos Glick, D. Barclay and J. C. Brown; County Clerk, George Pinkham; Treasurer, John Weckel; Probate Judge, W. H. Fuson; Register of Deeds, A. H. Deppe; Sheriff, J. F. Allen; Coroner, J. W. Scott; County Attorney, J. C. Phillips; Clerk of District Court, A. B. Poler, Superintendent of Public Instruction, J. K. Wilson; Surveyor, T. K. Peck; Justices of the Peace, Wakeeney Township, B. C. Rich and C. C. Yetter; Collyer Township, J. L. McGarvey and W. H. Burnham; Ogallah Township, E. L. Drake. For county-seat Wakeeney had fifty-one votes and Ogallah thirteen, and Wakeeney was declared the permanent county-seat.

The first Representative to represent the count in the Legislature was J. F. Keeney, who was elected at the November election in 1880.

The following is a list of the county officials of 1883: J. W. Welsh, C. C. Ridgeway, A. W. Purinton, Commissioners; George Pinkham, County Clerk; A. W. Blair, District Clerk; W. H. Fuson, Probate Judge; George T. Stones, Treasurer; J. F. Allen, Sheriff; A. M. Allen, Register of Deeds; John Nelson, County Attorney; O. W. Barnes, Superintendent of Public Instruction; C. J. Ferris, Surveyor; Joshua Groft, Coroner.


The school history of the county will serve as an indicator as to how the county has retrograded in point of population within the past two or three years. In 1881, the school population of the county, between the ages of five and twenty-one years, was 825, being 448 males and 377 females. In 1882, the total was 719, being 402 males and 317 females, showing a decrease in one year of 106. The total number of pupils enrolled in 1880, in the public schools of the county, was 404, and in 1882 the number was 188, being a falling off in enrollment of 216. The average daily attendance at the public schools in 1881, was 274; in 1882 it was 78, the difference between the two years being 196. There are in the county twenty-two organized school districts, and the number of teachers employed during 1882, at different times, was twenty-seven, the male teachers being eight, and the female nineteen. The average salary per month paid to male teachers was $27.37, being less by $3.13 than in 1881. The average salary per month paid to female teachers in 1882, was $23.61, being an increase of $3.61 over the salary paid in 1881. There are only eight school buildings in the county, containing, in all, nine rooms. The number of districts sustaining public schools for three months during the school year ending July 31, 1882, was twenty, and the number of districts failing to sustain a three months' school, was two. The county has no school indebtedness, and the estimated value of school property in the county is $1,300. The number of mills on the dollar levied on the taxable property of the county for school purposes was 11.25. The balance in the hands of the District Treasurer on August 1, 1881, was $159.95; the amount received from district taxes, was $3,978.27; from State apportionment, $470.72, and from all other sources $1,148.59, making a total of $6,057.53. The amount paid for teachers' wages during the year ending July 31, 1882, was $3,045.27; for rents, fuel, repairs, etc., $863.76; for buildings and furniture, $927,27; for all other purposes, $139,79, making a total of $4,976.29, leaving a balance in the hands of the District Treasurer on August 1, 1882, of $1,081.24. The first school taught in the county was a private school which was opened in 1879 by a man known as Rev. W. S. Woodruff, whose stay in Wakeeney, owing to circumstances rather suspicious, was exceedingly short. The building he erected for a school was a two-story frame, which was afterward purchased by the district and is the one now used for school purposes.

The years 1878-79 witnessed a great influx of people to Trego County. The immense crops of wheat that were raised in some of the western counties in the former year, led many to believe that the aridness of Western Kansas was more imaginary than real, and the beautiful appearance of the surface as it stretched out wide and green, had a tendency to strengthen this belief. Laboring under this impression, hundreds of people seeking homes in the West took claims in Trego County and located there. The starting of the town of Wakeeney in 1878 attracted a great many people there, and the population of few counties in the West increased with greater rapidity than that of Trego County. By 1880, the population of the county was estimated at between 3,000 and 4,000, the town of Wakeeney alone claimed about one-third of the whole. Those who had located in the county expecting to follow farming, soon discovered that they had made a mistake, and for the last two or three years the exodus from the county has been as great as the influx was in 1878-79. Very many took claims, upon discovering the inadaptability of the soil for farming purposes, did not remain to perfect their title to the lands on which they had located, but emigrated to other and more favorable localities. Many others who have battled since 1878-79 against the disadvantages of climate and failure of crops, are only waiting to perfect their titles to their claims, when they can leave them without any risk of their being "jumped." Others again who came to farm, and who had means, have gone into the stock business and are doing well; but the settlers who came with little means, and whose chief dependence was upon their own labor and that of their teams have been obliged to leave. This falling away in the country population had its effects upon Wakeeney, as without a farming community to support it, the town could not prosper, there being no other industry upon which it could rely, and hence hundreds of people who went to Wakeeney, with the intention of permanently locating there, and who had built houses for themselves, were, obliged by circumstances, to relinquish their homes and seek elsewhere; and at present the entire population of Trego County is very little more, if any, than that of Wakeeney four years ago, not exceeding, according to the best information obtainable, more than 1,500.

The growth of the county in material wealth has not been very great, and some of the most valuable improvements are rendered worthless by non-use. The statistics furnished by the township assessors for the year ending March 1, 1882, show that the number of acres included in farms in the county, was 63,180. The number of farm dwellings erected during year was twenty-one, valued at $4,993, being an average of $237 each, which would indicate the buildings were of rather inferior order. In 1880, the number of acres sown to winter wheat was 5,428, but in 1881 the average was only 1,770, showing a falling off in one year of 3,658 acres. In 1880 the acreage of rye was 128 acres, and in 1881 it was 191, and increase of 63 acres. The number of acres planted to corn in 1880 was 5,924, and in 1881 the number was 3,986, a decrease in one year of 1,938 acres. A corresponding decrease also occurred in all other field crops, the total acreage in 1880 being 16,047, whereas in 1881 it was only 10,287, a decrease of 5,760 acres, which was still further decreased in 1882. The value of garden products marketed in the county in 1881, was $303; and the value of eggs and poultry sold was $1,076. The amount of cheese made in the county during the year was 435 pounds, and of butter the amount was 30,872 pounds. At the commencement of 1882, the live stock in the county was: Horses, 518; mules and asses, 123; milch(sic) cows, 869; other cattle, 2,389; sheep, 20,421, and swine 380. These figures show that raising hogs is not considered profitable, and that the attention of stock-men is given to cattle and sheep. The value of animals slaughtered or sold for slaughter in 1881 was $3,173; and the amount of wool clipped was 33,945 pounds. There is not a single fruit tree in the county reported in bearing, and the number not in bearing are: Apple, 2,929; pear, 161; peach, 15,481; plum, 1,012; and cherry, 150. It is a mooted question, negatively answered by some, and affirmatively by others, whether fruit trees or trees of any kind, can be successfully cultivated in the county, which can only be solved conclusively by time. It would seem that the faith of the people in the success of arboriculture is not exceedingly strong, as the number of acres reported in the count, devoted to artificial forestry is only 30, of which 3 are walnut, 13 honey locust, 11 cottonwood, and 3 of other varieties. There is but little fencing in the county, the total being 1,298 rods, divided as follows - Board fence, 40 rods; stone, 64; hedge, 40; and wire, 1,154. The value of agricultural implements in the county is set down at $8,196.


Wakeeney, the county-seat of Trego County, is located on Section 9, Township 12 south, Range 23 west of the Sixth Principal Meridian. The town was founded by James F. Keeney and Albert E. Warren, of Chicago, who purchased two entire townships of land from the Kansas Pacific Railway Company. The town site was surveyed and platted in March, 1878, by Peck and Ellsworth, and on the 3rd day of April, 1878, the town plat was filed for record.

Prior to the founding of Wakeeney, there was a station on the line of railway, about one mile west of the new town site, named Trego, but when Wakeeney was surveyed and platted, the depot at Trego was moved to Wakeeney. The town derived its name from its founders, the first two letters of Warren's name having been taken for the first syllable of the name of the town - Wa -- to which was added the full name of the other founder, Keeney, and by a combination of the two, the word Wakeeney is derived, which is frequently written Wa-Keeney. When Warren and Keeney made their purchase of the tract of land on which Wakeeney is located, in the fall of 1877, there were but very few settlers in the county, not more than a dozen permanent settlers in all. John Henry was found located on the claim about a mile west of Wakeeney, George Pinkham about a mile and a half northwest, Arthur Pratt and family were also located on a claim, the other settlers being Harlow Orton, Earl Spaulding, J. K. Snyder, Do. O. Adams, George Brown, George McCaslin and Peleg Richards. These constituted about all the settlers in Trego County, when Warren and Keeney arrived in the fall of 1877. Having selected and purchased the lands they desired, and made arrangements for locating the town, Warren and Keeney returned to Chicago and did not return to Trego County until the following spring.

Before the survey of the town site was completed, people began flocking to Wakeeney by the score, the majority of them going from Chicago. The first house built on the town site was put up by Peck & Ellsworth, late in 1877, and was used as a real estate office. At that time these gentlemen lived in a "dug out" at Trego Station. The first business house in the town was erected by C. P. Keeney at the foot of Franklin Street, and is the two-story frame now occupied as a general merchandising store by Thomas Caddick. About the time that building was erected, Warren & Keeney put up the Commercial House, directly across the street from Caddick's store. This is a frame building, and was the first hotel built in the town. Never did people flock to a place as they did to Wakeeney. Merchants by the score, professional men by the dozen, mechanics and tradesmen by the hundred, and speculators by the horde, all rushed to Wakeeney as though it was a new Eldorado. About one hundred carpenters were kept busy night and day, and yet houses could not go up fast enough to accommodate the people. Buildings would be occupied long before they were finished, and although they sprung up as if by magic, "more houses" was still the cry. The immense crops of that year added to the rush, and during the fall of 1878 and spring of 1879, Wakeeney was literally jammed with people.

In 1879, Warren & Keeney entered into an arrangement with the railway company to build a depot, by which the company was to pay them so much if they finished it in one year, and so much if not finished within a longer period. The railroad company gave Warren & Keeney notes, and they in turn sold the mechanics, that worked on the building, town lots, for the payment of which half their pay was deducted until the lots were paid for. The building is constructed of a kind of chalk limestone, and is the neatest finished depot on the entire line of road. It is 40 x 80 feet, and is built for beauty as well as usefulness, with wide platforms on either side, and verandas, which are supported by four large columns, the whole surmounted by a beautifully finished and ornamental cupola.

The year 1879 saw no check to the rush of people to Wakeeney, and the place grew with astonishing rapidity. Improvements were made as fast as workmen could make them. The Oakes House was built in that year by D. Barclay. It is a very fine building, 30 x 100 feet, with a large ell on the north end. It is built of sawed stone and finished in good style, but has been closed up for some time, owing to want of patronage. The Grand Central Hotel was also built in 1879 by B. W. S. Huffaker. It is a two-story building, half stone and half wood, and is still used for hotel purposes. A third hotel built in 1879 was the Union House, put up by W. C. Olson. It is a two-story frame building, of fair dimensions, and is still occupied as a hotel. A fourth one was the Trego House, but this is no longer used as a hotel.

Throughout this year all these hotels were constantly crowded to overflowing, and landlords were put to their wits' end to furnish accommodations for all the guests that arrived. Aside from the hotels built in 1879, many good, substantial improvements were made. Lawrence & Hall put up a very fine two-story building on the east side of Franklin Street. There was no neater building in Western Kansas, and was finished off in very elegant style, having large plate-glass windows in front, and the whole building fitted up, apparently, regardless of expense. The first floor was used as a store by Mr. Thorpe, and the upper floor was fitted up for, and used as, the United States Land Office.

About three o'clock on the morning of February 3, 1880, an alarm of fire was raised, and people rushed from their houses to see the cause thereof. The fire were first discovered issuing from the basement of Thorpe's new building, and might have been readily extinguished before it spread to the building above, but when the bystanders attempted to enter, Thorpe told them there were several kegs of powder in the basement, which caused those who came to help, to give the place a wide berth, and let the fire take its course. No attempt was made to save anything, and the building, with all its contents, including all the books and records in the Government Land Office, with ten other framed buildings, were all totally destroyed. The loss occasioned by the fire was estimated at $40,000, and though everybody, during the progress of the fire was expecting to hear a loud explosion, none occurred, so that the powder, if any there was, must have possessed the extraordinary quality of being non-combustible. The following summer Verbeck & Blair, whose store had been swept away by the fire of February, erected a very fine two-story stone building on the site of the one that had been destroyed, and which they now occupy as a general store. A grand improvement was made to the town that year in the erection of the Opera Block by J. F. Keeney. It is an improvement that would be a credit to any town. The building has an east front of 100 feet, and a south front of 80 feet. It is two stories high, with a basement, the walls of the latter coming up about two feet above the surface of the ground. The walls of the building are constructed of chalk limestone, sawed into blocks of uniform dimension, while the steps, caps and sills are made from hard limestone, all the material having been taken from quarries adjacent to town. The lower story is divided into four storerooms, and the upper story was intended for an Opera Hall and offices.


The crop failures of the years 1879 and 1880 having convince people generally that Trego County was altogether unreliable and unsuited for agricultural pursuits, people began to leave about as rapidly as they had come, and the zenith of the glory of Wakeeney was reached. Family after family moved away, and business men packed up their goods and sought more remunerative fields. Mr. Keeney felt the blow, and his handsome block was left uncompleted, and stands unfinished at the present time. One of the store rooms in the building is finished, and is used for the Government Land Office, and some offices are fixed up temporarily and are rented by the county, and used for county offices. No attempt has been made to finish any other part of the building, and while its external appearance is worthy of admiration, inside it plainly tells of the decline of Wakeeney.

Since 1880 the town has been going down, and all that remains of its once flourishing business are four general merchandising stores, and one furniture store to which business is added that of boots and shoes. The town outgrew itself in its infancy, and soon reached that stage which was soon followed by a rapid decline.

There are three church organizations in the town, Presbyterian, Congregational and Methodist. There are no regular church buildings in the place, but the Presbyterians purchased in 1879 the old Trego depot, which they converted into a church. The other societies hold service in part of the Keeney Block.

Wakeeney Lodge No. 148, A., F. & A. M., was organized under dispensation June 2, 1881, and was chartered February 15, 1882. It was instituted with twenty charter members, the first officers being B. J. F. Hanna, W. M.; S. J. Osborn, S. W.: F. H. Conger, J. W.; W. B. Kritchfield, Secretary, and W. T. Hunter, Treasurer. The lodge has now a membership of twenty-seven, the present officers being S. J. Osborn, W. M.; F. H. Conger, S. W.; W. H. Fuson, J. W.; A. B. Jones, Secretary, and W. T. Hunter, Treasurer.

The United States Land Office for the district embracing the counties of Ellis, Rush, Trego, Ness, Gove, St. John, Wallace, Scott, Wichita and Greeley, and part of Lane, Rooks, Graham, Sheridan, Thomas and Sherman, is located at Wakeeney, having been removed from Hays City there October 20, 1879. The business men of Wakeeney are Lawrence & Hall, Baldwin, Morgan & Dann, Verbeck & Blair, and Thomas Caddick, these names representing four general merchandising stores, and Joseph Lucas, who deals in furniture, and boots and shoes. F. Ellsworth is a grain and coal dealer, and this list embraces all the business of Wakeeney.

The Press - The first newspaper established in Trego County, and the only one now published within its borders, was the Wakeeney World. The paper was first issued March 8, 1879, under the sole editor and proprietorship of W. S. Tilton, by whom the paper still continues to be published. It started as a six column paper, but in August 1879 it was enlarged to seven columns, and was further enlarged to eight columns in October 1881. It is folio in form, Republican in politics, and has a circulation of 400.

The Leader was started in September 1879, by H. P. Stultz. It was a six column, folio, and Republican in politics. It only lived a little over a year, having expired in December 1880. The paper was revived in May 1881, by A. J. R. Smith, but only lived a few months, expiring again in August 1881.

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