Transcribed from History of Labette County, Kansas and its Representative Citizens, ed. & comp. by Hon. Nelson Case. Pub. by Biographical Publishing Co., Chicago, Ill. 1901
Return to table of contents | Return to Index
Previous Section | Next Section



At the general election in November, 1866, although we were legally a part of Neosho county, by mutual understanding between the people of what is now Neosho county and those residing in what is now Labette county, the latter took no part in the election of the county officers for Neosho county, but went through the form of holding an election of county officers for Labette county, with the understanding on their part that an act of the Legislature would be secured, legalizing the election and organizing the county with the officers thus elected, recognized by the Legislature as the legal county officers; or in the event such an act could not be secured, then that the officers thus elected would be appointed to the positions to which they were thus respectively elected. It seems to have been agreed that each locality might vote at this election and make their returns, although the place at which the votes were cast had not been established as an election precinct. Votes were received at Montana, Oswego, Chetopa, and possibly at Neola. I have found no one among the old settlers who remembers who it was that composed the board of canvassers at this election, but probably it was made up of parties from two or three of the different localities, mutually agreed upon by all; I judge from all I can learn that the canvass took place, and the result was declared at Oswego. A full ticket was run by both the Democratic and Republican parties. The Republican ticket was elected by a large majority; the officers elected at that time were as follows: Representative in the Legislature, Chas. H. Bent; county commissioners, S. W. Collins, C. H. Talbot and Bergen Van Ness; county clerk, A. T. Dickerman; sheriff, Benjamin A. Rice; clerk district court, Elza Craft; register of deeds, George Bent; county assessor, Jabez Zink; probate judge, David C. Lowe; county treasurer, C. C. Clover; county attorney, J. S. Waters; superintendent of public instruction, J. F. Newlon; coroner, G. W. Kingsbury. No one that I have found questions the correctness of the above list, except as to county attorney and probate judge. According to the remembrance of some of the old settlers there was no one elected county attorney, as at the time there was no one in the county who had been admitted to the bar; probably no one ran for county attorney at this election. And in respect to probate judge, the remembrance of some is that David Stanfield, instead of David C. Lowe, was the party elected. Of course the election had no validity, and all understood that it only amounted to an expression of public opinion as to persons whom the people would like to have for their first officers.

On the certificate of election furnished him, Mr. Bent went to the Legislature in January, 1867, and was admitted to his seat soon after the organization of the House. Little or no opposition was made to the bill introduced by him organizing Labette county, and on February 7, 1867, it was approved by the Governor and became a law. On March 7, 1867, N. P. Elsbree, Bergen Van Ness and Nelson F. Carr each made affidavit before C. H. Talbot, justice of the peace, to the fact of the county having a population of more than 600 inhabitants. Mr. Bent took these affidavits, together with a statement of the fact of the fall election, to Governor Crawford on March 10th, and secured from him on that day a proclamation designating Oswego as the temporary county seat, and the appointment by him of S. W. Collins, C. H. Talbot and Bergen Van Ness as county commissioners, and A. T. Dickerman as county clerk, these being the parties who had been respectively elected to those positions in November preceding. Mr. Bent at once came home, bringing with him the proclamation and the commission of the parties thus appointed.

We have no record of any of the official acts of the officers thus appointed; whatever record was kept of their doings has been either entirely lost or is so misplaced that it cannot be found. I have been unable to find a single word of official record pretending to give the transactions of any officers prior to June 5, 1867. The nearest I can come to making the statement of the organiation[sic] of our county authentic is by giving the following letter from the then county clerk:

"OSWEGO, KANSAS, August 5, 1892.

"Judge Nelson Case-DEAR SIR: In reference to the organization of the county, and the record of the same of which you ask, I will give a brief account. When Mr. Bent came back from Topeka in March, 1867, he brought with him the commissions of the officers who had been appointed to organize the county. Very soon thereafter Mr. Van Ness came down to Oswego and saw Mr. Talbot, and the two talked over what they thought should be done. It was agreed that Mr. Talbot should see Mr. Collins, the other commissioner, and have an election called. The three commissioners did not meet together, and in fact Mr. Van Ness never really qualified. The two other commissioners agreed on fixing voting precincts and calling an election. The four river townships were set off as they now are; the south one was then called Chetopa. The next two tiers of congressional townships were divided into three municipal townships, and named North, Labette and Hackberry. The balance of the county to the west was divided into two parts, and named Timber Hill and Pumpkin Creek. No election was held that spring in either of these two west precincts. The election was called for some time in April; I do not remember the exact date. I posted the notices of this election. The commissioners then met and canvassed the vote and directed me to issue certificates of election to the parties who were declared to be elected.

"I kept a record of the proceedings on foolscap paper, which I turned over to old father Clover, who acted as my deputy after the county was organized. The commissioners first held their meetings in a hewed-log house standing on block 24, belonging to C. H. Talbot. Respectfully,


Persons who search for information respecting the organization of our county, as I have done, will find a number of printed articles, some in newspapers and some in books, and among the latter the standard histories of our State, stating that the organization took place in May, 1867, the date they usually fix being the third Tuesday in May, and I have been unable to find anything giving a prior date. Notwithstanding this, I fix on April 22, 1867, as the time when our first county election was held, and in support of the time thus selected I offer the following: In the first place, to any one who has had any experience in Kansas politics it will not be worth while to argue that a set of men who had been appointed to offices on the 10th of March would wait a whole month or more before qualifying and entering upon the discharge of their duties, unless they were prevented from so doing by some uncontrollable force or necessity. I have never heard that these commissioners were in any way prevented from the exercise of their official duties, and from this fact I conclude that it was not many days after Mr. Bent's return from Topeka until they had qualified and taken some steps to make their official acts known. But there are references in the official records subsequently made which confirm this theory. In the record of the commissioners' proceedings on July 1, 1867, is the following:

"It is hereby ordered that the election for county-seat expenses be postponed until the question of county seat is decided. It is ordered that the election held the 22d day of April for county and township officers, the last amounting to $80.40."

It will be seen that the clerk who made this record has not finished the sentence; but from the statement the inevitable inference is that an election had been held on the 22d of April. And again on November 19, 1867, the following appears in the commissioners' record:

"Ordered, that Austin Dickerman be allowed the sum of thirteen dollars and 25 cents for service as county clerk in posting notices of the April election, 1867."

These are the only official references that I have found of the transactions of any of the county officers, in any way fixing the time when our first county election was held. However, the records show that as early as the middle of May, John N. Watson was exercising the functions of justice of the peace in Richland township; I find no one who claims that he was appointed, nor do I find anything in the office of the Secretary of State indicating that he was; he was evidently elected at the first election, which must have been held previous to the last-mentioned date. From all these considerations, I conclude the election took place on April 22d; thus giving ample time for the meeting of the commissioners after the return of Mr. Bent from Topeka, and thirty days' notice of the time and place of the election. Our record being lost, presuming one to have been kept, we have no official declaration of the result of this election, but we find certain persons exercising official functions, and from reference to them in official records subsequently made, we can arrive at a very nearly, if not an absolutely, correct conclusion as to who were elected; and the officers at that time elected were the following: county commissioners, Nathan Ames, Wm. Shay and David C. Lowe; county clerk, A. T. Dickerman; county assessor, Francis Wall; clerk district court, R. S. Cornish; register of deeds, Elza Craft; treasurer, C. C. Clover; sheriff, Benjamin A. Rice; superintendent of public instruction, John F. Newlon; surveyor, Z. Harris; coroner, George W. Kingsbury. I find nothing indicating that any one was elected county attorney, and am somewhat in doubt as to who was elected probate judge, for the reason the record is silent on that subject; and among the old settlers I find no one who seems to be positive as to who was elected, and some of them have in their memory, somewhat indistinctly, however, different persons. I will here give what I find in the record in reference to the vacancy in the corps of officers: Two of the commissioners elected, viz., D. C. Lowe and Nathan Ames, met at Oswego on June 5th; this seems to have been the first meeting, and on this date we have our first official record, and from it it appears that Wm. Shay failed to qualify as commissioner, whereupon the office was declared vacant, and John G. Rice was appointed to fill the vacancy; thereupon, D. C. Lowe was elected chairman of the board, The next order made declared the office of assessor vacant, because of the removal from the county of the party elected, leaving him unnamed, however, and A. W. Jones was then appointed assessor to fill the vacancy. The next order is as follows:

"It is hereby ordered, that the office of probate judge be declared vacant on his not coming forward and qualifying and giving bond according to law. It is therefore ordered that Bergen Van Ness be appointed probate judge until the next general election in November, or his successor is qualified."

Some of the old settlers think that Van Ness was the party elected, but I think the force of this record is strongly against them. It seems that Mr. Van Ness did not at once qualify upon being appointed as aforesaid, for in the record of the commissioners' proceedings of July 3d is the following:

"Ordered, that Bergen Van Ness be appointed probate judge of Labette county, Kansas, to fill a vacancy of the probate judge owing to his not coming forward and filing his bond in the time required by law."

This language indicates that the person now appointed is the one who had failed to qualify, but evidently this refers to his failure to qualify under his previous appointment, and not his election. I have nothing more definite as to who was elected probate judge in April.

At the first meeting of the board, the county clerk was directed to order blank books and stationery from Luce & Griggs, Davenport, Iowa, "to be sent as per agreement," and I find that the first orders on the county treasury were drawn in their favor, dated September 3, 1867, for the supplies thus ordered; order No. 1 was for $199; orders Nos. 2 and 3 for $24 each. At the same time that this order was made to this Davenport firm, the clerk was directed to make an order for other books and blanks for the assessor, treasurer and commissioners, which order seems to have been sent to Samuel Dodsworth, of Leavenworth. The following appears in the record of the commissioners for January 14, 1868:

"It is hereby ordered that the county clerk make out the proper statement of the proceedings of this for the general meeting commencing the first Monday in January, 1868, according to law, and forward the same for publication to the Humboldt Union."

This is the first order I find designating any official paper or in any way providing for the official publication of the proceedings of the county officers. It was not long after this order was made until the Neosho Valley Eagle was established, and I find that the publisher of that paper was allowed bills for printing. The first paper to be started in the county was the Oswego Register, which appeared in June of this year, and must have at once been given at least a part of the county printing, for, on July 8th, E. R. Trask, the publisher, is allowed an account of $4 for county printing.


The Osage Ceded Lands were first brought into market by virtue of the joint resolution of April 10, 1869. Owing to the ruling of the Secretary of the Interior on the claims made by the railroad companies, only a part of the lands was disposed of under this law. After the Supreme Court of the United States declared the railroad companies claims void Congress passed another act, which was approved August 11, 1876, under which the remainder of the Osage Ceded Lands was purchased. The Cherokee strip, on the south side of the county, was sold to the settlers under the act of Congress approved May 11, 1872.


The experience of those who first came to this county is probably not very dissimilar to that which has attended early settlers in nearly every county. Some of them had sufficient means to make themselves as comfortable as they well could be, with the distance they were from market, though many of them were in very plain circumstances, and under very much more favorable conditions would have found it hard to make their families comfortable. As it was, there was necessarily a great amount of suffering. Provisions had to be hauled from so great a distance that the price continued very high all the time for several years, flour was frequently $15 a hundred, corn $3 a bushel, meal $6 a hundred, bacon 25 cents a pound, and other things in the line of living in proportion. Teams which were used for hauling provisions were poorly fed and consequently generally poor, and in going to Missouri a load of provisions but a small load could he hauled. Frequently the streams were up so that for days they could not be crossed, which would necessitate the consumption of a large part of what had been procured before they reached their homes. Sometimes boats loaded with vegetables would be shipped down the Neosho from points up the stream where they were raised. In the fall of 1866 there was much sickness among the settlers, so much that there were scarcely enough well ones to wait on the sick. All of these things and many more contributed to make the lot of the early settler a hard one. In 1867 a sufficient amount of crops was raised to make quite a help in providing the new country with the necessaries of life, but it was not until 1868 that anything like a sufficient amount was raised to supply the demands, and even then very much had to be shipped in.


In September, 1866, A. W. Richardson died, and in December following, his son John Richardson was appointed administrator of his estate by the Probate Court of Neosho county. In February, 1867, he held a public sale of the effects of the estate. Francis Wall was auctioneer. The property was sold on time, and brought a good price, and every dollar of the purchase price was collected by the administrator. This was the first estate administered upon within the present limits of the county.


In this, as in very many other matters, there are several who claim the honor of being first; but the first marriage of which I have any information is that of J. E. Bryan and Penina Lisle, the ceremony of which was performed at Chetopa, September 4, 1860, by Rev. Mr. Rader. Of course there is no record of this, there being at the time no civil organization in the county, and no license procured. There were several parties married at quite an early date after the commencment of the settlement of the county, in 1865. It is possible that some marriage ceremony may have been performed prior to that of which I shall now speak; but 1 am quite sure that this is the first marriage in the county of which there is any official record. The marriage record in the Probate Court of Neosho county has the following:

"State of Kansas, County of Neosho.


"This is to certify that Mr. Wm. Wilcox and Miss Sarah Jane Marlow were married by me on the 5th day of August, 1866.


"Recorded October 2, 1866.
"J. L. FLETCHER, Clerk."


The subject of county-seat in this county commences with the following proclamation by the Governor:

"TOPEKA, March 10, 1867.

"Whereas, in due form of law it has been made to appear that the county of Labette, State of Kansas, contains the required number of inhabitants to entitle the people of said county to a county organization:

"Now, therefore, I, Samuel J. Crawford, Governor of Kansas, by virtue of authority in me vested by law, and having commissioned special county officers, do hereby locate the county seat of Labette county, State of Kansas, at the town of Oswego in said county.

"In testimony whereof, I have hereunto subscribed my hand, and caused to be affixed the official seal, of State.

"Done at Topeka, this 10th day of March, A. D., 1867.

"[Seal]     S. J. CRAWFORD."

At the first county election, held on April 22, 1867, in addition to the choice of county officers the electors voted upon the location of the county-seat, with the following result: Oswego received 156 votes, Montana 140 votes, and Neola 84 votes. On October 4, 1867, the commissioners "Ordered that an election on the permanent location of the county-seat of Labette county, Kansas, be held on the 5th day of November, A. D. 1867." The canvass of this vote shows that Oswego received 158 votes, Neola 144 votes, and Montana 95 votes. On November 21, 1867, on a petition, containing 251 names, for a county-seat election, it was ordered that such election be held on the 30th day of December, 1867. The vote was canvassed January 2, 1868, with the following result: Oswego, 204 votes; Neola, 122 votes; Montana, 109 votes; and the Geographical Center, 6 votes. The poll-books for Hackberry township and Iuka precinct in Neosho township were thrown out at this election, for incompleteness of return. Another election was held, on January 7, 1868, which was canvassed on January 10, 1868, and the result declared to be as follows: Oswego, 211 votes; Neola, 122 votes; whereupon it was declared that "Oswego having received a majority of all the votes cast at said election for county-seat, it is hereby declared to be the county-seat of Labette, in the State of Kansas."

The next county-seat move seems to have been on April 12, 1869, when J. S. Waters presented a petition for a county-seat election, the consideration of which was had on the 13th and again on the 14th of the same month, on which last day it was rejected.

On January 5, 1871, D. G. Brown presented a petition, purporting to be signed by 1,494 citizens, asking for an election on the permanent location of the county-seat of Labette county. David Kelso appeared before the board and asked that it defer action on the petition for ten days or two weeks, to give time for an examination of said petition and to make a showing that it was not such a one as was required by law in order that an election may be ordered. The board gave two hours for making such a showing; whereupon several affidavits were filed, but after all objections the board made its order that an election be held on February 15, 1871, for permanent location of the county-seat.

On February 18, 1871, the vote was canvassed, and the result declared to be as follows: Wwhole number of votes cast, 3,715; of which Chetopa received 877, Oswego 1,011, Labette 1,588, Geographical Center 237, Center 1, Montana 1. The poll-books from Parsons precinct were not received, for the reason that no such voting precinct had then been established. The votes thus rejected were 51 for Oswego, 3 for Labette, and 2 for Geographical Center.

It was then ordered that a second election be held, on February 28th, to determine as between Oswego and Labette which should be the county seat. In the meantime the friends; of Chetopa commenced suit against the commissioners and obtained an injunction restraining them from canvassing the returns cast at the election on February 28th. On March 4th the commissioners met and heard extended arguments in favor of and against their proceeding with a canvass of the votes. As a record of a deliberative body, the report of the action of the board at this time, as found in its journal, is somewhat amusing. They finally determined "that they had no right under the injunction, to canvass the vote, and that they would not canvass or proclaim any result, but would repair to the county clerk's office and there examine the packages purporting to. contain returns, and filed in said office, and ascertain if said packages so filed contained pollbooks in fact of the election held on February 28th, 1871, for the location of the county-seat."

About the time the commissioners had completed the inspection of the packages and ascertained the result of the votes, the deputy sheriff came into the room with an order for their arrest on contempt of court. On hearing had before the district judge they were discharged as not having intended any contempt by the unofficial canvass, and ascertaining the result of the vote cast loin the 28th of February. Although not officially announced, the result of that vote as shown by the returns, and as given out and published at the time, was found to be as follows: Total vote 21509, Labette 1,308, Oswego, 1,201.

At the election held February 15th, the vote of Liberty township, which included the town of Labette, was 952, all but three of which were cast for Labette, while at the election held but thirteen days later the vote of this township had dwindled down to 372. At the first election the vote of Oswego township and city was 672, and at the second election it was 687. At the first election Iuka precinct cast 305 votes, all for Labette; while at the second election she was content with a poll of 58 votes, all of which were for Labette.

During this 1871 contest over the county-seat, parties attempted to make capital for themselves, or for some other cause, on the strength of their promise as to what would he done for or against certain localities in the countyseat vote. D. C. Hutchinson and W. M. Rogers, claiming to represent the settlers' association, went to Chetopa and got $500 donated to the settlers' organization, with the promise, as was generally understood, that the settlers would in turn give Chetopa their support for the county-seat; and soon thereafter the North township council tendered a vote of thanks to Chetopa for her generous contribution. It is not improbable that like attempts were made to secure funds from other points on similar promises.

During this canvass also other attempts were made to influence the voting, which, if intended in good faith, were perhaps less objectionable. To induce the location of the county-seat at Labette, the town company offered to pay the expenses of the election, and set aside a block of ground to be donated to the county on which to erect county buildings. In January, 1868, a somewhat similar proposition had been made by Oswego, she proposing to pay expenses of election and to furnish a court-house building free for two years if she were chosen county-seat. A public meeting was held at Mound Valley, at which it was voted to offer to pay $5,000 into the county treasury provided the county-seat were located at that point and remained there for five years, and in addition to donate a block of ground 400 feet square and the use of a town hall until the county could do better; and further offered to donate grounds for an agricultural fair.

It would be hard to give even a faint idea of the bitterness of feeling engendered, and of the amount of corruption practiced at this time. Persons who were considered good and honest citizens seemed to have no scruples in encouraging and assisting illegal and fraudulent voting, in tampering with ballot-boxes, and fixing up returns to suit the emergency, so as to give the place for which they were working a majority.

On July 9, 1874, a petition containing 2,193 names was presented to the board of county commissioners, asking that an order be made for an election for the purpose of voting on the relocation of the county-seat. A large number of business men and attorneys from Parsons appeared and argued in favor of granting the petition, and a like representation from Oswego appeared and argued against the petition. The matter was under consideration a large part of the time from the 9th to the 17th of July, during which time nearly every phase of the law relative to county-seat elections was discussed, and many important questions were passed upon by the board. Among these may be mentioned: who are competent petitioners; from what rolls the number of electors in the county are to be determined; the right of a party who has signed a petition to withdraw his name therefrom; the right to add names after the petition has been presented. The board finally determined that the number of electers in the county as shown by the taxrolls was 3,564. From the 2,193 names on the petition, 174 were stricken off for various reasons; some because appearing there twice, some because put there by other parties without authority, some because they were not legal electors, and some because they requested their names to be stricken therefrom. After these names were stricken from the petition, there were left thereon 2,019. There not being three-fifths of the total number of electors, the board on July 17th unanimously voted not to order an election.

On January 14, 1880, the commissioners invited Chetopa, Oswego and Parsons cities and Mount Pleasant and Mound Valley townships to submit propositions as to what they would do toward furnishing a building, of a kind designated in the order, for court-house and offices, and in case of removal of county-seat, a jail, and the payment of the costs of removal; such propositions to be submitted to the electors of the county at a special election to be called for that purpose.

On January 15, 1880, A. M. Fellows presented to the board a petition said to contain about 2,700 names, asking an election to be called for relocating the county-seat. Consideration of this was had on the following day, and being found insufficient, was denied, and leave given to withdraw the same. On January 27, 1880, Angell Matthewson presented a petition for an election to relocate the county-seat, and attorneys for petitioners objected to anyone being heard to argue against granting the petition, on the ground that it was an ex parte matter in which no one but the petitioners were known to the board. The objection was overruled, and the board decided to hear parties, for and against the petition. After consideration of the petition from day to day up to February 7, 1880, the board on that day found that the petition contained 2,495 names, only 1,168 of which were the names of legal electers, and that as the number of names on the assessment-rolls was 3,374, it would require a petition containing the names of 2,024 electors to entitle them to an order for a county-seat election. It was thereupon ordered that the prayer of the petitioners be denied.

This controversy over the application for an election in 1880 was somewhat mixed up with the matter of building a new court-house. In both matters the representatives of Parsons attempted to institute legal proceedings in the name of the State. An injunction was applied for to restrain the building of the court-house, and a mandamus was asked to compel the commissioners to count parties as petitioners for an election although their names did not appear on the assessment-rolls. Application was made to the Attorney General to allow the suits to be conducted in the name of the State. The request was granted on condition of certain preliminary steps being first taken. This course was not taken, and the cases in the name of the State were dismissed. A mandamus proceeding by W. G. Adkins, one of the petitioners, was instituted to compel the board to count him, and others similarly situated, as legal petitioners, but the Supreme Court held that he was not authorized to maintain the suit.

The last public effort that was made to obtain a county-seat election was in 1889. During a large part of that summer petitions were in circulation in nearly every neighborhood in the county, asking that an election be called. One of the peculiar features of this effort was the form of petition which was adopted. It was really a contract whereby each party who signed it agreed with every other one who signed it, not to ask to have his name stricken off. This petition, however, has never yet been presented to the board.