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


During the first two years the county officers held their offices in such temporary quarters as could be secured, and the court was first held in the second story of the Buntain building, then standing on the southwest corner of block 25, and now standing on the northwest corner of block 11; and thereafter it was held in the second story of the Fleming building, on lot 17 in block 31, now occupied by O. E. Woods as a lumber-yard office.

court houses
In the summer and fall of 1868 the citizens of Oswego by private contribution erected a one-story frame building 24 by 36 feet, 12 feet high, on lot 20 in block 39, in which to hold church, school and public lectures. This building was ready for occupancy in the fall of 1868, and in it was taught the public school that winter. The Oswego Town Company, having repaid the money to those who had contributed for the erection of this building, took it off their hands, and on February 15, 1869, in consideration of $1 to them paid by the county commissioners, conveyed said lots with said building thereon to the county commissioners for the benefit of Labette county, and on the same day the town company entered into a contract with the county commissioners for the erection of a stone building 12 feet square and 12 feet high, and to cost not less than $1,000, and to donate the same to the county for a jail; the county commissioners agreeing to accept and use the same for that purpose. Thereupon the town company employed J. H. Sawin to erect such a building, and it was built on the west end of lot 1, block 18, and was ready for occupancy in July of that year. The building above described, donated to the county by the town company, was at first used only for a court-house, the county offices still remaining scattered over town in temporary quarters rented for that purpose. The first term of court held in this building was in October, 1869.

On January 8, 1870, the commissioners, having taken the opinion of the county attorney, and being advised by him that they were fully authorized so to do, decided to put up an addition to the court-house, to be used for offices by the county officers. They thereupon entered into a contract with Rev. Joseph A. Cox for the erection of such an addition, to be about 24 by 30 feet, for the sum of $900; and they appointed Elisha Hammer agent of the county to superintend the erection of such an addition, and upon its completion to accept it and deliver to the contractor the county orders in payment for the same. On the completion of this addition, it was divided into four offices, in which most of the county officers were able to find quarters. Soon thereafter, however, the clerk of the district court and sheriff removed their offices to the main room used for a court-house.

1st county jail

2nd & 4th county jails
and court house
The building referred to, erected for a county jail, for the number of prisoners who frequently had to be placed therein, was found to be unfit for the purpose, and occasionally, before the new jail was built, prisoners had to be taken to some neighboring county, usually Bourbon, for safe-keeping. No other building was provided by the county until 1879. In April, 1879, the commissioners contracted with Samuel Fellows for the erection of a large stone building in the rear of the court-house, for which they agreed to pay him $698.56. The building was completed in May, and in it the commissioners placed three iron cells, for which they paid $750 and freight. While this building was quite an improvement on the first, it was still insufficient both in size and construction for a county jail. Over and over again did the judge of the district court and the grand jury, as well as the public press, declare this building to be a totally unfit place in which to confine prisoners. Four and sometimes six prisoners would be confined in one of these small cells. Dampness and lack of ventilation and, almost of necessity, with such a number as it contained, a large degree of filthiness, characterized this building, and made its maintenance a blot on our good name. However, it was not until 1890 that better accommodations were provided. In 1890 the city of Oswego proposed to the county to erect on the court-house premises a substantial two-story brick building, the use of which the county was to have free so long as she desired to, occupy it as a county jail, and during the summer such building was erected. In 1891 the old cells and three additional new iron ones, for which the county paid $1,800, were placed in this building.

On July 10, 1880, the commissioners conveyed the first stone building used as a jail to the city of Oswego for use as a calaboose.

On December 4, 1879, H. C. Hall and C. O. Perkins offered to rent from the county the court-house site for ninety-nine years, and to erect thereon a brick or stone building of sufficient size and accommodation for county purposes, which they would lease to the county for a term of years at a reasonable rent. Whereupon the board accepted their proposition, and agreed if they would erect the building described, which was substantially the one subsequently constructed, they would rent it for ten years, and pay therefor as rental $900 for the first year and $600 per annum thereafter. On January 14, 1880, the board rescinded its action taken on December 4, 1879, and revoked the contract; but on January 17th, on the executing of a bond by certain citizens, which was approved by the board, conditioned that they would pay the rent on the proposed building to be erected by Messrs. Hall and Perkins, the board ratified and confirmed its order made on December 4, 1879; whereupon the proposed building was erected, and on May 23, 1880, being fully completed, was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. In 1883 the county commissioners caused brick vaults to be constructed for the offices of the register of deeds and the clerk of the district court.

The shade trees which add so much to the appearance of the property were set out in 1881.


The record of the proceedings of the commissioners at their first meeting, on June 5, 1867, contains this order:

"It is further ordered, that the county officers shall hold their offices at home until a place is provided by said board of commissioners."

However, temporary offices were soon thereafter provided in Oswego for most of the officers. On January 14, 1868, 1 find among the proceedings of the board the following order:

"County clerk is hereby ordered to give notice to the various county officers of this county when and where county offices have been provided, when the same shall have been so provided."

On November 12, 1870, is the following order:

"County offices having been provided with furniture, ordered, that county officers keep office in court-house from November 20, 11870."

The first order which I find referring to the furniture for county offices is on January 14, 1868, when the commissioners adopted the following:

"Whereas, the county offices of this county are destitute of furniture: and whereas, such furniture is absolutely necessary for the transaction of business in said offices, therefore, it is hereby ordered that the county clerk be and is hereby authorized to procure for said offices the following articles of furniture: Twelve office chairs, two tables 3 by 6 feet, one coal stove of large size, one book case; said furniture to be purchased or procured on the most advantageous terms to the county, and paid for out of the county treasury with any money not otherwise appropriated."

On July 7, 1868, the commissioners allowed bill, to Hanford & Pierson in the sum of $19 for one half-dozen office chairs. This seems to have been the first bill of furniture bought by the county. On the same clay the commissioners made the following order:

"It appearing to the board that it is necessary, in order to preserve the books, records and papers belonging to the county, that they should be placed in a safe, and there being no safe in the possession of the county authorities, therefore, be it ordered by the board, that the county clerk enter into contract with R. W. Wright or some other person for the use of a safe for one year upon the following terms: The county will pay five per centum on the cost of the safe, and the county to have the use of one-half of the safe, with the privilege of going to the safe at pleasure. The safe to stand in R. W. Wright's business house, if rented of him; if rented of any other person it is to be placed in county rooms or some building convenient thereto."

On January 8, 1869, it is "Ordered by the board, that the county clerk and treasurer be and are hereby authorized to purchase a safe from G. R. Tileston, of Chetopa, if in their opinion it will answer the purpose of the county, at a price not to exceed $245;" and on April 12th following the bill of R. G. Tileston in the sum of $245 for a safe was allowed, and the further bill of H. C. Bridgman in the sum of $16 for services in going to Chetopa and purchasing the safe was also allowed. On July 29, 1870, the commissioners made a contract with Beard & Bro., of St. Louis, for two safes, one with burglar-proof box for county treasurer and one large fire-proof safe for county clerk, for which they agreed to pay $1,000.

These items are given for the purpose of showing how gradually the commissioners furnished offices and provided safeguards for the county property. Small bills of office furniture were procured from time to time as the necessities of the case seemed to require, but at no time has there been any lavish expenditure of money in furniture or other accommodations for the county offices.


Prior to the summer of 1866 there was really no civil protection for the settlers residing in what is now Labette county, it being then a part of Neosho county. They had in theory civil officers, but they were so far away, and the organization of Neosho county was at the time so crude and imperfect, that little reliance could be placed by the settlers in this part of the county receiving any aid from the officers up there.

In June, George Bennett, of Montana, was appointed justice of the peace, and in September, C. H. Talbott, of Oswego, was likewise appointed. But even after their appointment, the arm of the law could hardly be said to have sufficient strength to vigorously deal with lawbreakers. This lack of civil law, almost of necessity, forced the settlers into an organization of their own for the purpose of protecting their rights and rendering redress to those who complained of having suffered grievances. Several of these organizations were formed early in 1866, and in them a sort of judicial air was maintained and the forms of law partially observed, and to the end that the real party at fault might be discovered, and only those who were guilty should suffer. One of these organizations, known as the Soldiers' Club, was organized at Oswego in the spring of 1866; W. C. Watkins was president; D. M. Clover vice-president, and Maj. Victor secretary. It met in Clover's cabin by the river. Another of these organizations was formed by the settlers on Hackberry and Labette creeks; another one existed at Oswego, and still another on the Neosho, in the northern portion of the county. Each of these had more or less business in the way of settling disturbances among the settlers, and on one or two occasions resort was had to measures which to some would seem severe.

Francis Wall, of Fairview township, had a yoke of oxen stolen. Investigation revealed the fact that James Moss, a settler on Hackberry, had been peddling meat about the time that Mr. Wall's oxen were missing. The local court became satisfied that Mr. Moss and some of his neighbors were the parties guilty of stealing Mr. Wall's oxen, and concluded that the best thing to do was to have them leave the county, and then to appropriate and sell their claims and apply the proceeds toward reimbursing Mr. Wall for his oxen, and the balance to be used for contingent court expenses. A committee visited the parties at their homes and informed them of the judgment of the court, to which they took several exceptions; but the order was imperative, and by the help of some of the members of the court the goods of these parties were placed in their wagons and they were told that the best thing for them to do was not to be seen there any more. It was not long after this until a deputy sheriff from Neosho county came down for the arrest of some dozen members of the court who were engaged in this act of depopulation. The parties were taken in charge by the deputy sheriff and his posse, but before they had reached the line that now divides Neosho and Labette counties, the Neosho county party were induced to believe that it would be as well for them not to further insist on taking their prisoners with them. A proper return was made out on the warrant relieving the officers from responsibility, and the parties returned to their homes.

A large part of the business of these courts was in settling disputes between settlers in reference to their claims. Very few men were found who would insist upon a course of conduct which had been condemned by one of these courts, and usually their judgments were as well obeyed as are those of the courts that have since been established by law.


Labette county was a part of the territory constituting the Seventh Judicial District of the State of Kansas until the 1870 session of the Legislature created the Eleventh judicial District, since which time until 1901 Labette county was comprised in that district. On February 22, 1901, a law went into effect, detaching Montgomery and Labette counties from the Eleventh judicial District and forming them into the Fourteenth Judicial District. Cherokee county, alone, now forms the Eleventh Judicial District. The judges of the court have been William Spriggs, of Garnett; John R. Goodin, of Humboldt; William C. Webb, of Fort Scott; Henry G. Webb, of Oswego; Bishop W. Perkins, of Oswego; George Chandler, of Independence; John N. Ritter, of Columbus; Jerry D. McCue, of Independence; and A. H. Skidmore, of Columbus.

On June 5th, 1867, the board of county commissioners "Ordered that the District Court will organize in Labette county, Kansas, at as early a day as practicable; W. Spriggs, judge, will be notified by the county clerk to fix the day and month." And thereafter, on August 19, 1867, the board made the following request:

"To the Hon. Mr. Spriggs, Judge of the Seventh Judicial District: We, the undersigned Commissioners of Labette county, do hereby request that you order a grand jury for the October term of the District Court for Labette county, State of Kansas."

The first term of the court held in the county convened on Monday, October 7th, 1867, and continued until the 11th, when it finally adjourned. In compliance with the request of the county commissioners, a grand jury had been ordered and drawn, and the first thing done upon the opening of court was to call the list of the grand jury. The following persons responded: H. W. Latham, D. B. Shultz, James F. Molesworth, David Stanfield, Joseph McCormick, J. S. Lee, Dempsey Elliott, W. C. Watkins, and W. D. Birum. Upon the direction of the court, the sheriff filled in the panel with the following: Z. Harris, J. M. Dodson, Wm. H. Reed, E. W. King, Enos Reed, and J. Huntley. These 15 were duly sworn and charged. Joseph McCormick was appointed foreman, and Charles E. Simmons, deputy sheriff, was assigned to them as their bailiff.

The next action taken by the court was the appointment of W. J. Parkinson as county attorney. The following attorneys seem to have been admitted to practice in other courts, and to have been recognized as attorneys at this, viz.: J. D. McCue, W. P. Bishop, W. J. Parkinson, and W. A. Johnson. Committees were appointed to examine applicants, and after what what was supposed to have been an examination and the applicants having satisfactorily shown their qualifications therefor, the following were duly admitted to practice: N. L. Hibbard, J. S. Waters, Charles H. Bent, J. F. Newton, W. C. Watkins, and C. C. Clover.

As far as appears from the records, no case, either criminal or civil, was tried at this term of court. Some preliminary matters in the shape of demurrers, motions to make record more complete, etc., were presented to and decided by the court. A jury was impaneled in one case, but plaintiff finding it necessary to amend petition, the case was continued without trial.

The first indictment found by the grand jury was against Samuel Gregory, who was charged with assault and battery with intent to kill, Willoughby Doudna, with a whip-stock; and by another indictment he was charged with attempting to kill James M. Dodson with a revolver. From the fact that at a subsequent term of the court Mr. Gregory, with consent of the county attorney, pleaded guilty to an assault and battery alone, and was released from the charge with intent to kill, upon which plea he was fined $10 by the court, it may fairly be inferred that the offense was not considered very aggravated.

The first motion that seems to have been made in court was by J. D. McCue, to require the justice to send up a complete transcript in case No. 1, James P. May vs. John Staginaff, which was an appeal from Justice Logan's court.

This was the only term of court in this county presided over by Judge Spriggs. Before the convening of the next term, in April, 1868, the Hon. John R. Goodwin had succeeded Judge Spriggs on the bench.