USD 508
CAROLYN WARD, instructor

produced this selection.

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas
was first published in 1883 by A. T. Andreas, Chicago, IL.


PART 1: Location and Natural Features | Map and Population | Early Settlement | County Roster and County Seat | Railroads | School and Other Statistics
PART 2: Fredonia
PART 3: Biographical Sketches
PART 4: Neodesha
PART 5: New Albany
PART 6: Coyville | Altoona | Other Towns
INDEX: [A-G] | [H-O] | [P-Z]


WILSON County takes its name from Col. Hiero T. Wilson, a resident of Fort Scott since 1843, and a man of prominence in the early days of he [sic] Territory. Of the pre-territorial existence of this part of the State but little record exists, and the places mentioned in the record of early travels are generally too vaguely described to admit of identification. In the journal of Capt. Z. M. Pike, of Pike's Peak fame, who passed up the Verdigris on his exploring tour from St. Louis to the headwaters of the Arkansas, appear some interesting passages, which have been already quoted in John S. Gilmore's admirable history of this county. The stream is here spoken of as the "Verdigrise," a name derived from the greenish blue clay found in its bed, and used as a pigment by the Osages. Lieutenant J. B. Wilkinson, who descended the Arkansas River in 1806, speaks of passing the mouth of the "Verdigris," being about one hundred yards wide. No explorations followed the course of Fall River and it remained unknown or unmentioned until Territorial times.

The county, although one of the thirty odd counties laid out by the "bogus" legislature of 1855, was entirely within the reserve of the Osage Indians and not subject to white occupation. It was however invaded by white settlers at a very early day, Henry H. Opdyke, G. J. Caven and William M. Caven arriving at a point near Coyville on April 28, 1857, and at once proceeding to build log cabins. For three years after this time the white pioneers pushed in here and there in the northern part of the county, and a few had come as far down as where Altoona now stands. There were probably more than 100 whites located in the county in 1860, although the census of that year give [sic] only 27. So matters stood when the war of 1861-65 broke out, and further settlement being very dangerous, was practically abandoned.

As laid out by the "bogus" legislature, Wilson was in the southernmost tier, and comprised all that is now Montgomery County. It was twenty-four miles square. Later in its session, this legislature attached Wilson County to Allen, and made Cofachique the permanent county seat. Upon the election of the free State legislature a new set of lines was given all the counties in the third tier, and they were shortened up an aggregate of twenty-six miles. All this territory was given to Wilson, which thus became fifty miles long north and south. In the final re-adjustment of lines by the legislature of 1867, this county was cut down to its present dimensions and Montgomery made of the southern portion. It is now bounded on the north by Woodson; east by Neosho; south by Montgomery and west by Elk and Greenwood counties.

The county has twenty per cent of bottom land, and eighty per cent of upland; forest occupies eight per cent, and prairie ninety-two per cent. The average width of the bottoms along the principal streams, Verdigris and Fall River, is one mile. The general surface of the county is undulating, but in many places along the river it is bluffy and broken and at various points huge isolated mounds, natural watch towers, heave up from the smooth bosom of the fertile levels like solitary rough topped seas among the lesser waves. Along the streams are the timber belts varying in width from half a mile to a mile and one-half, and embracing oak, hickory, walnut, hackberry, elm, soft maple, pecan, sycamore, ash, cherry, basswood and some cedar.

The water supply of the county is one of the finest in the State. From near the northwest corner of the county run two considerable streams, Fall River and Verdigris, joining their growing waters near the southeast corner of the county. Tributary to these are Cedar, Chetopa and Buffalo creeks, all running southwest into the Verdigris, and many small streams named locally or not at all. In the southwest portion of the county is Duck Creek, running southwest out of the county. Numerous springs also percolate the soil in every part of the county, and water can be reached by wells varying in depth from twelve to thirty feet.

Like almost all counties in this section, Wilson has an underlying stratum of coal of good quality. This crops out on the surface in the eastern townships showing a thickness of from six inches to three feet. It is used to a considerable extent for fuel and mechanical purposes.

Both lime and sandstone are found in great abundance and of excellent quality for building purposes. Fire clay is found along the river beds.



              POPULATION (Federal Census.)
                                               |  1870.| 1880.
    Cedar Township............................ |   539 |   809
    Center Township, including Fredonia City.. |   855 | 1,760
    Chetopa Township.......................... |   580 |   793
    Clifton Township.......................... |   918 |   977
    Colfax Township........................... |  .... |   735
(a) Duck Creek Township....................... |  .... |   577
(b) Fall River Township....................... |   896 | 1,398
(c) Guliford Township......................... |   604 |   549
(d) Neodesha Township, including Neodesha City | 1,145 | 1,972
(e) Newark Township........................... |  .... |   824
    Pleasant Valley Township ................. |   470 |   848
(f) Prairie Township.......................... |  .... |   423
(g) Talleyrand Township....................... |  .... |   676
(h) Verdigris Township........................ |   687 | 1,434
                                                 6,694 |13,775
    Fredonia City............................. |  .... |   923
    Neodesha City............................. |  .... |   924
(a) In 1871, from part of Talleyrand
(b) In 1873, part to Prairie.
(c) In 1873, part to Prairie.
(d) In 1870, part to Newark.
(e) In 1870, from part of Neodesha.
(f) In 1873, from parts of Fall River, Guliford and Verdigris.
(g) In 1873, part to Duck Creek.
(h) In 1873, part to Prairie.


In the first year of the war, the rebels twice sacked Humboldt, in Allen County, just northeast of the Wilson County settlements, and on the second raid burned the town. No attack was made on the settlers near Coyville, but it was thought best to be ready for defence [sic], and a company was formed with eighty mounted men in line, under Capt. John R. Row and Lieutenants W. W. Brazel and Lewis Thompson. That fall, fortifications were built at a point about three miles south of the town, on land now owned by John Shaffer. This was named Fort Row, in honor of the captain of the force. It consisted of three block houses, 16x24 feet, made of heavy logs, and enclosed with pickets six feet high. An embankment was thrown up on all sides, and the company went into winter quarters. The following spring the fort was deserted and most of the militia enlisted in the Ninth Kansas Volunteers. Vestiges of the old fort still remain.

Nothing of special moment in the way of settlement occurred during 1863 or the early part of 1864. In August of the latter year, Daniel C. Finn, a man destined to become quite noted in the early history of the county, arrived from New York. An organized county was imperatively necessary to the success of Finn's plans, and he at once began to agitate the subject, claiming that the white population of the county was sufficient to warrant organization. There was no taxable property in the county at that time, as it all belonged to the Osage Reserve, and it would be hard to find any reason, beyond Finn's ambition, for effecting an organization at that time. An election was held, however, at the house of John Shaffer, on the Verdigris, near the site of Fort Row, and Finn was sent as a delegate to the Republican State Convention at Topeka. It will be remembered that there were two Republican State Conventions in 1864, the first being for James H. Lane, and the second, known as the Republican Union State Convention, for Governor Carney. Finn belonged to this latter party, and doubtless used all means to secure additional support for Carney by effecting the organization of Wilson County.

Finn's maneuvers were successful, and on September 24, 1864, a petition bearing the signatures of thirty settlers, and headed by the name of Daniel C. Finn, was presented to Gov. Thomas Carney and granted. Appointments were made of the various county officers, but, as will be seen by the county roster, many failed to qualify. The administration of several offices was distasteful, and much confusion ensued. Syracuse, a mythical place supposed to be near the centre of the county, was designated as the temporary county seat, and George M. Cottingham, W. M. Asher and William Brown appointed County Commissioners.

Following the initiation of the county officers came an attempt on the part of Finn and a town company numbering seventeen, among whose names appears that of Gov. Thomas Carney (by D. C. Finn), to lay out the town of Syracuse. A log cabin was erected on the chosen spot, at the base of West Mound, about half a mile west of the present county seat, and street and block lines were run by a surveyor. At this juncture (April, 1865), Finn was notified by the agent of the Osages on whose land Syracuse was to be built, to refrain from further work, and Syracuse was forever abandoned. In November, 1864, the first election was held in the county. This was a Presidential year, and the 600, whom Finn declared lived in the county might have reasonably been expected to turn out in force. But only one polling place was opened, and but twenty-six votes cast. Of these Abraham Lincoln received twenty-one, and George B. McClellan five. The straight Republican State ticket had nineteen votes, and the Anti Lane Union Republican, seven. All votes cast were for Daniel C. Finn as member of the lower house, and Col. C. P. Twiss, of Allen County for State Senator.


The early organization of the county was, as has already been said, considerably lacking in form. Many of those who held offices were appointed to fill vacancies caused by the failure of those elected to qualify, and in many instances the County Commissioners failed to make a return, showing who were elected. The list of those who have held county offices up to the present time is as follows: County Clerks, Henry Pearman (appointed) 1864; G. D. Bunch, 1865; J. M. Buzzard, 1866-67; W. H. Morgan (appointed); Joseph Robins, 1868-69; J. L. Russell, 1870-71; J. C. G. Smith, 1872-73; G. E. Butin, 1874-75-76-77; G. McFadden, 1878-79; J. C. Tuttle, 1880-83. County Treasurers during the same time were, J. M. Buzzard (appointed) 1865; Oscar Coy, 1866-67; G. W. Hatler, 1868-69; William McBrown, 1870-71; Alexander Hunt, 1872-75; Henry Brown, 1876-77; H. A. Jenner, 1878-82; T. C. Singleton, 1882-84. Registers of Deeds were: George Coombes (appointed) 1866; James Stallings, 1867-71; John S. Gilmore, 1872-73; O. H. Sheffer, 1874-75; William Cowgill, 1876-79; Thomas Blakeslee, 1880-83; Probate Judges: John Shaffer (appointed) 1865-66; Cary A. Mullenix, 1867-68; Melvin Mikel, 1869-72; William Stivers, 1873-83. Sheriffs: Robert Craig (appointed) 1864; Thomas C. Craig, 1865-67; Jasper Davis, 1868-69; B. W. Ladd, 1870-73; A. E. Smith, 1874-77; Thomas McIntosh, 1878-80; G. W. Schlegel (appointed) 1880; Samuel Baughman, 1881-83. Superintendents of Public Instruction: M. G. Williams (appointed) 1866; John Shaffer, 1867-68; T. B. Woodard, 1869-70; S. W. Burke (appointed during preceding term) 1871-72; William B. Shirley, 1873-76; Zenas Park, 1877-78; J. L. Shinn, 1879-80; J. H. Vliet, 1881-82. The first State Senator elected was Charles P. Twiss, of Allen County, who served in the Legislature of 1865-66. He was followed by non-residents of the county, until the election of W. A. Peffer in 1875-76. S. S. Benedict, elected in 1877, is now Senator of this county.

Members of the Lower House have been: Daniel C. Finn, 1865; Henry Pearmain, 1866; J. W. Jewett, 1867; P. Fay, 1868; W. F. Travis, 1869; T. J. Hudson, 1870; A. McCartney, 1871; S. S. Benedict, 1872; J. Z. Sexton, 1873; John A. Beam, 1874; S. S. Benedict, 1875-76; John S. Gilmore and T. B. Woodard, 1877-78-79-80; J. C. Sexton and T. F. C. Dodd, 1881-82.

There is no record of the first meeting of the County Commissioners. It is supposed, from all that can be gathered, that it took place about January, 1867. At a meeting held at that time (January, 1867) it was moved by L. F. Davis, Chairman of the Board "that Coy's store be made the temporary county seat." This motion was carried unanimously and shut out R. S. Futhey, who had been compelling the Commissioners to meet at Colfax, a town he had started just below Coy's. This action seems to have brought the county seat question to public attention, and on March 2, 1867, a petition, bearing 113 signatures, was presented, for an election to permanently locate the seat of justice. In accordance with this petition, the third Saturday of April was set for election day. The candidates were Twin Mounds (Fredonia), Kalida, also known as Clifton, a paper town on the northwest quarter of Section 16, Township 28, Range 15, and Tonsa on Section 6, Township 29, Range 16. The canvass of the vote showed 112 votes for Kalida, 10 for Tonsa, 77 for Twin Mounds, and two for Centerville. The Commissioners, however, decided that the vote of Buffalo Township, 43 for Kalida, was intended for Centerville and ordered a new election to take place April 30. At this election, Twin Mounds received 112 and Clifton, or Kalida, 111. The county seat was thus located at Twin Mounds.

A third county seat election was ordered for May 25, 1869, and resulted in giving Fredonia 202 votes, Coyville 183, Guilford 117 and Verdi, a new town on the Verdigris, between Altoona and Neodesha, 75. No town having received a sufficient vote another election between Coyville and Fredonia was ordered. This took place on June 8, 1869, and resulted in a victory for Fredonia by a vote of 302 to 241. The county seat question then lay dormant for two years, but in 1871, the growth of Neodesha and Altoona set it again afloat. Besides these towns there was a place known as the Geographical Center, located as near the center of the county as possible, but not settled save in the event of its selection of the county seat. The ballot was taken on May 6, and gave Fredonia 954, Neodesha 597, Altoona 414 and the Center 404. This gave no choice and a second election took place on May 23. This resulted in giving Fredonia 1164 and Neodesha 938. A fraud was, however, detected in the books of the Center Township and 545 votes cast for Fredonia were thrown out by Judge Goodin. This gave the county seat to Neodesha. The Fredonians did not give the matter up and carried it to the Supreme Court, where it was finally decided against them. In the interim, another county seat election was ordered for January 13, 1873. Neodesha not voting for herself but for the Center, the vote resulted: Fredonia 635, Center 769 and Altoona 393. Another ballot to decide between the Fredonia and the Center resulted in the election of the former by a vote of 749 to 722. This finally settled the matter and adverse decision of the Supreme Court was no longer of importance. Neodesha fought the matter and induced the Register of the Deeds to move there with his records, but he soon returned to Fredonia which has ever since been the county seat.


The earliest efforts to supply railway facilities to the county were made in Center and Cedar townships. The Fort Scott, New Chicago & Fredonia Railway, to run through the places named, asked support in the form of the bonds of the township through which it ran. Cedar proposed issuing $35,000 in bonds, and Center Township, which was to have the western terminus of the road, $50,000. A vote was taken on June 3, 1871, in Cedar, which resulted in a vote of 119 for the bonds, to the thirty-four against, and in Center of "a majority of 479." The vote in the latter township is not recorded save as quoted above. The road was never built.

Humboldt & Fredonia. -- The agitation for a road from Humboldt, Allen County, to Fredonia, culminated in an election, held April 2, 1872. The bonds asked were voted, but no steps were ever taken toward building the road.

Missouri & Kansas Southern. -- Neodesha Township voted on February 10, 1872, by a ballot of 356 to 57, to give $60,000 of the bonds of the township to the Missouri & Kansas Southern Railway. This was accompanied by the provision that the road should be completed within one year, and should be the first railway to enter Neodesha from the east. The road was never built.

Memphis & Northwestern. -- This railway is remembered with very little gratitude by those who suffered pecuniarily by it, but deserves the credit of being the first to make any real attempt to fulfil its contract. The road was to run from Thayer on the L. L. & G. Railway through the second tier of townships. Bonds were asked of Center, Cedar and Chetopa townships, and the matter meeting favorable consideration, an election was ordered in Chetopa and Cedar on March 6, 1872, and in Center on April 2. The vote showed: Chetopa, 91 for, 50 against; Cedar 131 for, 39 against. In Center the vote is not recorded, save that there was a large majority for the bonds. This vote gave $20,000 of Chetopa bonds on condition that the road be completed through the county in one year, and to Memphis, Tenn., in three and one-half years. These bonds were never paid. Cedar also gave $20,000. Center Township gave $50,000, and the city of Fredonia $20,000. Half of these latter bonds were issued and are now being paid. The road bed was constructed to Fredonia, but later abandoned, and nothing further ever done by this company.

In the summer of 1877, the St. Louis & Kansas Central Railway proposed to build a line through the county, and made overtures for the subscription to their second mortgage bonds of the bonds of the different townships through which the railway was to run. On August 23, a petition for a special election in Center, Cedar and Chetopa townships was presented. The specifications of the proposal submitted to be voted upon were briefly, that the road starting from near or at Osage Mission, in Neosho County, should run through the townships mentioned, and also that at some time within two years the road should be built east to some point on the Missouri State line. The townships were to give respectively: Center, $20,000; Cedar, $3,000 per mile, and Chetopa $12,000. A canvass of the vote being taken, it was found the bonds had carried in Center by a vote of 125 to 62, and in Cedar by 80 to 57, but has been lost in Chetopa by 62 to 50. Some of the leaders in the latter township secured a second election in 1878, the amount of bonds specified in the proposition being reduced to $10,000, but the measure again failed by a vote of 77 to 70. The road was never constructed.

St. Louis & San Fransisco. -- The county had suffered quite heavily in pocket and temper in its efforts to secure railway facilities, and when in the spring of 1879, the St. Louis, Witchita & Western Railway asked the subscription of bonds, on condition that a road be built through the county, a warm opposition was elicited. The election took place on May 13, and resulted in a vote for the bonds of 1,672 and against them of 1,006. The amount of the bonds was $100,000. Work was at once begun and the road built through the county the same year, reaching Fredonia on November 24, 1879, and New Albany about a week later.

In the spring of 1882 the Kansas Railway company caused condemnation proceedings to take effect on the old grade built from Girard to Fredonia by the Memphis & Northwestern Railway in 1874. Bonds amounting to $62,000 were voted the new road by the townships of Center, Cedar and Chetopa, through which it runs. Work was at once begun, and the old grade repaired; and by March, 1883, it may be expected that trains will be running into Fredonia. The route of the line as specified is from the State line in Crawford County, through Crawford, Neosho, Wilson and Elk to a point where Clark County touches the Indian Territory. The officers of the road are: S. C. Clark, Chicago, president; H. B. Harding, Fredonia, vice-president; T. F. C. Dodd, Altoona, secretary and treasurer.


Schools were established at a very early day in this county, many of them antedating the evacuation of the lands by the Osage Indians. The statement that education is fully keeping pace with the increase of population means little save when accompanied by figures which show its truth. How true it is may be seen by a glance at the following facts. The number of school districts in 1879 was ninety-seven, in 1880, it was ninety-eight, and in 1882, 100. The enrollment of pupils was for the three years respectively 3,986, 4,023 and 4,494. The average attendance for the same time was 2,203, 2,448 and 2,454. There were 104 teachers in 1879, 135 in 1880 and 109 in 1882. The total expenditures for all purposes in 1879 was $22,210.62, in 1880 $23,589.77, in 1882 $25,707.45.

The various forms of manufacture are but lightly represented in the county, only those processes which serve to reduce the native products to marketable shape being in use. Briefly enumerated they are as follows: The water-power grist mill of Brown & Orr at Altoona, valued at $5,000; steam saw mill of Z. A. Benell, Altoona, value $1,000; Fredonia Milling Company's mill on Fall River near Fredonia, value $7,000; water-power grist mill of Robert Morney, New Albany, valued at $5,000; a similar mill of same value at Guilford owned by C. A. Sprague; $5,000 water power grist mill of R. McGahey at Dun (Tallyrand station); $2,000 steam saw mill of Sellers & Hixenbaugh at Dun; $1,200 steam saw mill of W. Brockway at Neodesha; $8,000 steam flouring mill of Hobert & Keys and $4,000 water power flouring mill of H. B. Hobert at Neodesha; $5,000 steam flouring mill (Verdigris Valley mill) at Coyville; $2,000 feed mill operated by wind power located at Neodesha.

The following table shows the acreage devoted to various crops. A perusal of the parallel lines will show not only the increase of cultivation in the county but also what are the favorite or most profitable crops. Minor crops are omitted, as also grasses:

    CROPS.    | 1872. | 1874. | 1876.   | 1878. | 1880.   | 1882.
Winter wheat .| 5,702 |13,025 |20,126   |20,358 |20,704   | 6,019
Rye ..........|   390 | 1,004 |   812   |   181 |   196   |   255
Spring wheat .|   118 |    56 |   111   |     2 |         |
Corn .........|19,258 |26,464 |50,949   |49,898 |51,678   |69,736
Barley .......|   144 |    28 |    21   |    29 |         |
Oats .........| 4,359 | 5,675 | 6,221   | 6,735 | 5,699   | 3,187
Buckwheat ....|    87 |   113 |    80   |    59 |   110   |
Irish potatoes|   430 |   807 | 1,036   |   755 |   675   |
Sweet potatoes|    17 |    82 |    39.73|    75 |    44.03|
Sorghum ......|   192 |   405 |   365.25|   507 |   461.30|
Castor beans .|     4 |   546 |   627.75|   696 | 1,939   | 2,579
Broom corn ...|       |    54 |   218.72|   454 |   768   |

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