Today, Elk Falls is still a beautiful small town in Elk County, Kansas. Although much reduced from its former size, Elk Falls is still a great place to visit. The people of the town enjoy poking fun at themselves due to their "ghost town" status, and conduct thousands of tourists each year on Outhouse Tours and other unlikely attractions.
The Early History of Elk Falls
by Willam G. Cutler (1883)
Elk Falls is situated in the Southern part of Elk County, on the line of the Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas Railroad, and about thirty miles west of the city of Independence. The town is favorably located near the fork of Wild Cat Creek with Elk River, and in consequence enjoys the advantages of a large amount of surrounding valley land. The greater portion of the country surrounding, however, is rough and broken, much of it being useless for agriculture.
The town derived its name from the presence of a waterfall in Elk River close by, and which is formed by the falling of the water over a projecting ledge of rock ten feet high and about one hundred feet wide.
The first settler to locate upon the town site was R. H. Nichols, who took the claim in February, 1870. Soon after the settlement of the land was made, the enterprise of establishing a town site upon it was conceived, and a town site company composed of R. H. Nichols, G. F. Graham, E. A. Hall, James Edwinson, C. Goodrich, M. V. French and H. H. Hess, was formed for this purpose. Accordingly, in the early part of the year 1870, the site was fixed upon Nichols' land, and L. J. Johnston was employed to lay it off into town lots. The first house marking the place was the claim-house built by Nichols - a small box house, ten by twelve feet.
Following this was the erection of a small house built by R. H. Nichols, which he occupied as a loan and real estate office. The next improvement was the erection of a frame storeroom by A. F. Gitchell and son, Charles Gitchell, in which they opened a store consisting of general merchandise. The building was soon afterward, in 1878, converted into a livery barn by Mitchell, for which purpose it is now used.
Following this was the establishment of a general store in a log house which stood in the place where the post office is now located, by Hall & Edmiston. About the same time Dr. I. A. Walter opened a drug store; S. M. Jones started a blacksmith shop, which he continued to operate about two years, at which time he disposed of the same to A. Leisure. Attracted by the prospects of a new and rising town, numerous improvements were soon made, until at present the town contains about five hundred inhabitants and several business houses of substantial proportions.
The post office was first established at Elk Falls in 1870, and J. Edmiston was Postmaster. Although a post office was established at the place, there was as yet no provision made for the transportation of the mails, and which accordingly was done by private individuals. The office was kept in the storeroom of Hall & Edmiston, where it remained about two years, until the expiration of Edmiston's term of office. R. N. Hall was appointed as Edmiston's successor in the post office, and it was then kept in Hall's drug store. At the end of two years from his appointment, Hall was succeeded as Postmaster by John Heckerman, and the office, after changing hands, was taken to Heckerman's grocery store. After Heckerman came the appointment of C. Truby, and the office located at the corner of Seventh and Osage streets, at which place it has remained. Following the lapse of a three years' term of office by C. Truby, was the commission of Mrs. Susan Truby, who has ever since continued to hold the appointment.
The first school was taught in the village of Elk Falls in the summer of 1870, by Miss Dora Simmons, the school being kept in her father's residence, and numbered an attendance of twenty-five pupils. During the year following, a school building was erected for the accommodation of the school - a small one-story frame house, comprising but a single apartment. The school at present enumerates about two hundred and twenty pupils and is conducted by J. N. Richardson.
County Seat Troubles and Division of the County
At the time of the organization of Howard County, the county seat was located at Elk Falls by appointment of the Governor. The question of its relocation was agitated by parties at other points whose anxiety was not so much for the good that might result, but the chances of their being the ones favored with its relocation.
In the fall of 1870, a petition was presented to the County Commissioners asking for an election to be called for the relocation of the county seat, and which was granted. The election was held, resulting in the removal of the county seat from Elk Falls to Peru. Much dissatisfaction existed over this change, partly because it was somewhat out of the way for some parts of the county, and mostly because it was not established at those places from which the grumblings were heard. So great became the disaffection, that it was deemed advisable to hold another election for a second relocation.
Accordingly an election was held in September, 1872; the places voted for were Longton, Peru, Elk Falls, Boston, Howard City and the geographical center of the county. On the 14th of September, the County Commissioners met at Peru to canvass the vote, and upon opening the returns from Boston, Elk Falls and Peru, they met such unmistakable evidences of fraud that they refused to canvass (sic) the vote at all, and declared no election. But the matter was by no means destined to rest here. It was again agitated and re-agitated by perhaps what might be termed "would-be politicians," who at this time found no other "political provender" to feed upon.
An election was held on the 11th of November, 1873 for the purpose of determining whether Elk Falls or Boston should be the county seat. resulting in favor of Elk Falls by a majority of two hundred and thirty-two votes. Although it was legally determined that a majority of the votes had been cast for Elk Falls as the county seat, yet the friends of Boston thought it ought not so to be, and were by no means to be thus robbed of what they deemed their just and legally acquired spoil. The attempt of the Bostonians to redress their injuries in the matter gave rise to what is known as the "Boston war."
The county officers had taken up their quarters at Elk Falls, where they were fixed by injunction. But the brave men of Boston fearing neither law, legal process nor man, became bold in the assertion of their rights and the maintenance of justice between man and man, a resort to physical force was deemed necessary for this, and on the 19th of January, 1874, a posse comprising twenty-four wagons and 150 armed Boston men entered the town of Elk Falls and amid the consternation, threats and tears of the inhabitants of the town, began loading the records and county property upon their wagons, and after gathering all together started for Boston.
Attempts to rescue the stolen property were hastily made. Appeals for aid in this behalf were addressed to the Governor of the State, the Legislature and the Adjutant General. Three companies of militia were organized in the county to recover possession of the records, and apprehend the possessors, but all to no purpose. The county seat was gone, and for some time enjoyed a migratory existence having been trailed on the wagons through the flint hills, and part of the time in Cowley County. The time for the convening of the District Court had now arrived. Hon. W. P. Campbell, then Judge of the district. was on hand; but the books and records were gone and the action of justice was defeated. The Judge, however, at once set about to recover possession of them and began by placing under arrest several of the parties who had been engaged in the removal for contempt of court. This began to put a more serious aspect upon things, and the plotters began to weaken.
The release of those under arrest was promised provided an unconditional surrender of the records and other county property was made, and which was speedily done. Thus practically terminated the warfare over county seat removals without bloodshed, it being allowed to remain at Elk Falls until the division of the county in 1875.
The question of the division of the county began to be agitated with considerable force by persons in various parts of the county. Sundry reasons were assigned for this; one reason and the chief one was, that the county as it now stood was too large, being forty-two miles long and thirty-one wide; but another reason that might be given, and with persistence, too, was, that there were towns which thought they ought to be county seats, and political aspirants for all of whom there were not enough places, and consequently a division of the county would enhance their chances in a double ratio.
This matter, however, was brought before the people of the county as early as 1871, when R. H. Nichols was elected Representative by the anti-division element, and again, in 1872, E. S. Cummings was elected to the same office on the same platform. During all this time, those favoring a division were actively at work, and the idea began to grow more popular until in 1878, when James N. Young, standing upon the division issue, was elected as State Representative. Young's efforts in the Legislature to secure a division were unsuccessful, and it remained for Edward Jaquins, who was elected his successor in the following year, to accomplish the work.
Jaquins introduced House Bill No. 54, for the division of Howard County, and the erection of the counties of Elk and Chautauqua. The bill passed in March, 1875, and took effect on June 1 of that year. An equal division was made by running a line east and west through the county, the part lying north of the line being called Elk County and the part south of the line Chautauqua County.
Elk Falls is located at 37°22'19N, 96°11'24W (37.371950, -96.190115). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.3 km² (0.9 mi²), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 112 people, 51 households, and 32 families residing in the city. The population density was 49.7/km² (128.5/mi²). There were 74 housing units at an average density of 32.8/km² (84.9/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 92.86% White, 0.89% Native American, 0.89% Asian, 0.89% from other races, and 4.46% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.57% of the population.
There were 51 households out of which 23.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.8% were married couples living together, 2.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.3% were non-families. 27.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 11.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.20 and the average family size was 2.70.
In the city the population was spread out with 19.6% under the age of 18, 4.5% from 18 to 24, 18.8% from 25 to 44, 37.5% from 45 to 64, and 19.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 48 years. For every 100 females there were 107.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 104.5 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $20,893, and the median income for a family was $32,500. Males had a median income of $29,375 versus $20,250 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,817. There were 6.7% of families and 2.9% of the population living below the poverty line, including no under eighteens and none of those over 64.