The Early History of Elk County
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Elk County comprises the north half of what was formerly Howard County. Howard County was made up of lands acquired from the Great and Little Osage Indians by the United States Government by a treaty made with the Indians in the fall of 1867, while in grand council on the Verdegris River, in what is now Montgomery County, and the county was so named in honor of O. O. Howard, of the United States Army.
The county of Elk is situated in the southeastern part of the State of Kansas. and is bounded by Chautauqua County on the south, Montgomery and Wilson Counties on the east, Greenwood County on the north, and Butler and Cowley Counties on the west. The county is thirty-one miles long by twenty-one wide, and contains 661 square miles.
The surface of the county is chiefly high, broken prairie, particularly back from the streams, and in the western part of the county they are of increased elevation, rising into what are known as the "Flint Ridges," while toward the northern and interior parts the surface becomes more level and even.
The county is abundantly watered by numerous streams of pure, clear water. Chief among these are the Elk River, flowing from northwest to southeast, and its tributaries, Rock, Paw Paw, Hitchin, Painterhood and Wild Cat Creeks, Big Caney Creek in the southwest, and Fall River and its main tributary, Indian Creek, in the northeast part of the county.
Along the streams are found beautiful valleys, varying in width from a quarter to two miles. The soil upon these bottoms is exceedingly fertile and capable of enormous production, while on the uplands the soil is much lighter, and in vast portions of the county is unproductive of agricultural products. These portions, although rocky and light of soil, produce abundant grasses, and are well adapted for grazing and stock-growing, being supplied with abundance of clear running water.
The timber is scarce in the county, and is confined to narrow belts fringing the streams. Along the larger streams, considerable black walnut timber is found, while other varieties, such as oak, hickory, cottonwood, box elder, maple, mulberry, hackberry, etc.. are found in limited quantities.
The first settler to enter upon the land included within the confines of what is now Elk County, was Richard Graves, who came in 1856, and was twice driven out by the Indians. The country at this time was new and almost a wilderness, overrun by wild animals and roving bands of Indians, and, in consequence, settlements were few and unconnected.
The land at this time belonged to the Osage Indians, upon which legal settlement could not be made. There was, however, a strip of land extending along the northern part of the county, six miles wide, known as the "ceded strip," upon which legal settlement could be made. It was consequently along the streams included within this belt where the earliest settlements were made. But it was not long to be confined to this narrow limit. Bold, adventurous men there were, who became attracted by the beautiful and fertile valleys of the Elk River and its tributary streams, and at the risk of their lives among the Indians, upon whose rights they were intruding, and with expectations of being driven off by United States troops, they determined to make an effort to settle upon these desirable lands. Only a few at first made the attempt, and, in consequence, their presence was not distasteful to the authorities or alarming to the Indians. Others now began to come in, until in 1870 the number of "squatters" had become quite considerable. Among those who were leaders of the vanguard, and who came to stay, were J. C. Pinney, James Shipley, R. M. Humphrey, Elison Neat, H. G. Miller, J. B. Roberts and others.
Much difficulty took place among claimants at this time, on account of the land not being surveyed. Parties who came in and staked off their claims according to a survey made by private parties, often found themselves entirely cut off when the Government survey was made, and the land upon which they squatted liable to be taken by other parties.
This, as will readily be seen, was occasioned by locating claims according to imperfect lines, and a man thinking himself possessor of a fine body of land, sometimes came out with only a narrow strip, or none at all, just as it happened, and there were others watching for this unfortunate occurrence, ready to make filing upon the unoccupied territory. This gave rise to severe "claim fights," which in some instances ended in the loss of the life of either one of the parties in the contest. Many of these difficulties, however, among the settlers, were compromised and amicably settled.
The first child born in the county was Sarah F. Shipley, December 8, 1866. The first marriage was D. M. Spurgeon to Sarah Knox; the first church organization was that made by the Missionary Baptists in Liberty Township in 1866. The first newspaper printed in Howard County belonged to Adrian Reynolds, who began the publication of the Howard County Ledger in the spring of 1871. The building of the first church house in the county was begun in the spring of 1871 at the town of Longton.
A rather amusing anecdote is told of a physician of rather extended linear proportions, who practiced in the county at an early day, and who ranged mostly along the Painterhood Creek, and lived in a shanty devoid of "roof, window or floor." The Doctor had provided a supply of hounds, and was given to the chase, of which he was excessively fond, and, when making a professional call, always went accompanied by his dogs. In case a 'jack rabbit was scared up on the way, the hounds would give chase, and the Doctor all of a sudden forgetting the agonies of the suffering patient and following in the pursuit, would pull up at his destined point after the patient had recovered or passed in his checks. It is supposed that the Doctor was instrumental in saving many a life by assisting the dogs in running down jack rabbits.
An accident of a serious nature took place at Elk Falls, in this county, on the 18th of April, 1873, resulting in the loss of four lives. A party of six, composed of Misses M. J. Benson, Ida Hutchinson, Luella Oswald, Maggie Evans and Messrs. Henry Oswald and Richard Durr, had gone on a boat ride, and in the attempt of some of the party to change seats the boat careened, and the ladies becoming frightened rose to their feet, causing the boat to capsize, and all were drowned except Henry Oswald and Maggie Evans.
Many of the citizens of the county will remember the suicide of John Batayree, a citizen of Wild Cat Township, a farmer and a man about fifty-five years of age, which occurred in November, 1876. On the morning of the fatal day, he gave a letter to one of his little boys, telling him to carry it up to Thomas Wood, as he was going to shoot himself. The little fellow took the letter and hurried oft, and, on his way up heard twice the report of a gun, with which his father had shot himself. The little boy reaching Wood's house reported what his father had said, and Wood hurried to the residence of the unfortunate victim, whom he found dead, the ball having passed through the forehead, just between the eyes and came out on the top of his head. The cause for this dreadful act on the part of Batayree was the treachery of his wife, who left him about a week prior to the suicide, she having been estranged partly from her own depravity and the attentions of a young man in the neighborhood with whom she had been criminally intimate.
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.
County Organizations, Etc.
In the spring of 1870, a petition was presented to the Governor of the State, asking for the organization of the county. which was granted. A special Commission, composed of P. C. Topping and Morris Humphrey, was appointed to divide the county into townships and precincts, and to call an election for the choosing of the proper officers. The Commission sat at the town of Elk Falls, on the 7th of April, 1870, C. S. King being chosen as Clerk of the Board. Notice was duly given for the holding of an election, on the 10th day of May, for the election of county officers (sic).
The election was held, at which the total vote cast was 333, and Isaac Howe, Lewis Clayton and Frederick Kantz were elected Commissioners: M. Smith, Probate Judge; C. P. Douglas, Treasurer; J. C. Pinney, Sheriff; J. T. Corum, Register of Deeds; R. S. Catlin, County Superintendent; H. McClure, Surveyor; J. W. Kerr, Coroner; L. Garrett, District Clerk, and N. B. Gardner, County Attorney.
Soon after the erection of Elk County, in June, 1875, its organization was perfected by the calling of an election, at which the citizens of the county elected Thomas Wright, John Hughes and G. W. McKey, Commissioners; Thomas Hawkings, County Clerk; W. W. Jones, Treasurer; J. W. Riley, Sheriff; Frank Osborne, Register of Deeds; A. P. Searcy, Probate Judge; S. B. Oberlander, County Attorney, and J. N. Young, County Superintendent.
It is told of Searcy, Probate Judge, that during his term of office he was accustomed to carrying the papers in his hat, and that he was prepared at all times, day or night, and at whatever place he might be found, either in shanty or dusty highway, to "splice" parties in the holy bonds of matrimony
The county has twice suffered financially from the villainies of defaulting Treasurers, and once from a defaulting Sheriff. About March, 1874, E. D. Custer, then County Treasurer, assisted by his brother, M. G. Miller, and James Pringle, were charged with having stolen the tax rolls of the previous year, for the purpose of assisting them in the purloining of the public moneys. A warrant was issued for their arrest, which was made, the parties securing release upon giving sufficient bail. many of the people in the county were unwilling to believe Custer guilty of the charge, having reposed the highest confidence in his honesty, and not until his failure to appear for trial, having made good his escape from the clutches of the law, were they willing to be convinced of his perfidy.
Hitherto the county was not supplied with buildings in which the offices were kept, these being promiscuously distributed in such places as vacant rooms could he found. This state of stairs was kept up until the year 1878, when the citizens of Howard City erected a building for a court house, which they gratuitously donated to the county in an unfinished state, having previously pledged themselves to do this as one of the conditions upon which the town was selected as the seat of government for the county. This building, a two-story stone, is occupied by the various county offices and District Court room, in which that tribunal sits twice a year in regular term, in the months of June and December. No jail house has yet been provided, the county making use of those in adjoining counties for the incarceration of her prisoners
Agricultural Society.-- The organization of the Howard County Agricultural Society took place at the village of Longton, July 6, 1872. A temporary organization was effected by electing Charles King, Chairman, and A. Reynolds, Secretary. The regular organization was perfected by electing J. W. Riley (sic) President; D. W. Counsil, Vice President; F. A. Dodd, Treasurer; and C. S. King, Secretary. Fairs have since been held at various times and places in the county.
The division of the county also ruptured all county organizations that were in existence at that time. The new counties, partly from the want of the necessary material and means, were slow to institute any organization of this sort. Not until the year 1878 did Elk County possess an agricultural association, and even then it existed merely, yet lacking the requisites to make it profitable as a county organization. The association has held two fairs in the county, and is under the official management of P. H. Baughman, President; William Merrill, Vice President; Joseph Doleyns, Secretary; H. K. Barackman, Treasurer; S. C. Hanna, Superintendent; J. M. White, Marshall.
A large fair ground is provided by the county adjoining the city of Howard, and which is being suitably furnished with apartments and buildings as the exigency of cases require, and the expenditure of means will permit.
Eli Titus was elected Sheriff of Howard County in 1872, three days before the election, over Pat Nulty's saloon in Boston.
E. S. Cummings was elected Representative in 1872, the night before the election was held at Canola, and H. H. Wells was elected County Superintendent a week before the regular election was held. Hon. James N. Young was elected Representative in 1874 between 12 o'clock P. M. and 2 A. M., the morning of the election, in the Messenger Building, by the light of a tallow candle.
Howard Township cast her vote in favor of Boston for the county seat about three months prior to the election, and Boston cast her vote for Howard City in the last county seat contest more than a year previous to the time the vote was taken upon the question.
Schools and the Press
The matter of the education of the youth received early and liberal attention by the settlers of Old Howard County. No sooner were there a sufficient number of children within easy distance of each other than there were means provided for their instruction. Districts thus became organized as the necessities required, so that as early as October, 1872, there were 118 organized districts in the county, 113 schools, and 1,069 pupils enrolled.
The division of the county in 1875 severed also the schools, and in 1879 Elk County alone numbered seventy-four organized school districts with an enrollment of 2,181, requiring the employment of eighty- eight teachers.
For the year 1882, the report of the County Superintendent shows the following:
The number of children in the county of school age, 4,150. Of these 2,025 are males, and 2,125 are females. There are seventy-five schoolhouses in the county, and four districts that have no schoolhouse. Three graded schools in the county, these being at Longton, Grenola and Howard City. There were eighty-two certificates issued during the last school year.
The endeavor of the citizens of the county to add to the efficiency of the schools is zealous and unremitting. Greater care is now being taken, year after year, to have none but competent teachers employed, and incompetent men are now excluded from the office of County Superintendent; the aim being to elect only such as are properly qualified for the discharge of this, the most important of official positions. The standard for the qualification of teachers is being gradually promoted, County Institutes being held annually for the drill and preparation of teachers in the latest and most improved methods of school work.
In the spring of 1871, Adrian Reynolds brought the first printing press into Howard County and began the publication of the Howard County Ledger. In the summer of the same year, C. L. Goodrich established the Elk Falls Examiner, and continued its publication about one year. In the spring of 1872, the Messenger made its entry in Howard City, under the management of Turner & Kelley. It lived about a year and a half, when it was sold to A. B. Hicks and taken to Boston, where It became the Howard County Messenger and Weekly News, edited by C. H. Lewis, of Cedar Vale. R. S. Turner edited and published the Divisionist during the campaign of 1871.
Joseph Mount began the issue of the Record at Peru in the spring of 1872, at which place he continued until the summer of 1874 and then moved to Sedan, publishing the Wide Awake, Illustrated; and it is said the "illustrations were like to have killed the editor." In the summer of I873, Ward & Pyle commenced the publication of the Elk Falls Journal, whose days were short of number, for in about six months he sold out to Turner & Kelley, who ran it until July, 1875, and then went to Sedan and merged it in the Chautaugua Journal.
In the fall of 1874, A. B. Steinbarger brought his paper, called the Courant, from Elk City to Longton, remaining in that place about a year. He again migrated, taking up quarters at Howard City, and put forth the Beacon, still retaining his paper at Longton, but soon afterward bringing that also to Howard. In 1877, the Courant became united with the Elk County Ledger, edited by A. Reynolds, and took the name of Courant-Ledger, and later in 1879, the name was changed to that of Courant alone, and in October 1881, was sold to the Courant Company, composed of Asa Thompson and Sons.
There are five live newspapers published in the county, a more detailed account of which appears in the history of the towns in which they are published.
The rapidity with which the settlement of the county was made may be seen by a comparison of its population at varied intervals. In 1870, the population of Howard County was 2,794, and at the time the division was made it had increased to 13,632. In 1876, after Elk County was created, it had a population of 7,082, while in 1882 it numbers over 12,000.
The total acreage of Elk County is 416,640. Of this, there was in cultivation in 1876, 46,318, acres and in 1882, there were 68,942. The total value of all the property in the county in 1876 was $1,051,054, while in 1882 it was $1,368,978. The number of acres cultivated to wheat in 1875 was 6,182; rye, 138; corn, 21,295; barley, 75; oats, 1,065; buckwheat, 12; potatoes, 425; cotton, 10; flax, 131; tobacco, 10; broom corn, 29; timothy and clover, 163; millet, 758. The number of acres cultivated to these productions in 1882 were as follows Wheat, 3,349; rye, 21; corn 44,212; oats, 1,007; potatoes, 681; cotton, 2; flax, 1,304; tobacco, 6; broom corn, 140; millet, 9,700, timothy and clover, 127.
A statistical comparison of the number of live stock for each of these periods shows also the ratio of increase. In 1876, there were in the county 2,832 horses, 354 mules, 9,885 cattle, 4,382 sheep, 2,092 hogs. In 1882, the number of them was as follows: Horses, 4,034; mules, 563; cattle, 21,352; sheep, 26,264; hogs, 11,929. From these figures it will at once be seen that the ratio of increase in live stock has been extremely large while that of agricultural products has been comparatively limited, showing that this is naturally a stock-growing section rather than agricultural.
The following shows the number of fruit trees cultivated and bearing in 1882: apple trees, 30,544; pear, 529; peach, 176,393; plum, 3,567; cherry, 7,811. The number of fruit trees not bearing is: apple, 58,943; peach, 73,258; plum, 4,880 (sic) cherry, 10,988.
But little manufacturing is now carried on in the county, and this is confined to mills for the manufacture of flour. Of these, there are seven in the county, located as follows: Longton, Oak Valley, Grenola, Union Center, Western Park, Elk Falls and Moline.
Elk County, as may be expected in a place in which development began so recently, has but few railroads. The Kansas City, Lawrence & Southern Kansas Railroad was projected and built through the county in the fall of 1879, and passes through the county east and west near the south line. A branch of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (sic) Road was constructed southward from the main branch of that road, with which it makes a junction at Emporia, passing through Greenwood County, and terminating at Howard City. These roads, however, afford sufficient conveniences for transportation to and from the county. There are, however, other prospective lines to be run through the county, and which will give it all advantages for transportation.
Law and government
Although the Kansas Constitution was amended in 1986 to allow the sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink with the approval of voters, Elk County has remained a prohibition, or "dry", county.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,684 km² (650 mi²), of which 1,676 km² (647 mi²) is land and 8 km² (3 mi²), or 0.47%, is water.
Elk County's population was estimated to be 3,077 in the year 2006, a decrease of 150, or -4.6%, over the previous six years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 3,261 people, 1,412 households, and 923 families residing in the county. The population density was 2/km² (5/mi²). There were 1,860 housing units at an average density of 1/km² (3/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 95.06% White, 0.21% Black or African American, 0.95% Native American, 0.18% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 1.20% from other races, and 2.33% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.18% of the population.
There were 1,412 households out of which 24.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.00% were married couples living together, 6.10% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.60% were non-families. 32.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.25 and the average family size was 2.84.
In the county the population was spread out with 22.50% under the age of 18, 5.80% from 18 to 24, 20.00% from 25 to 44, 26.50% from 45 to 64, and 25.30% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 46 years. For every 100 females there were 91.50 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.70 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $27,267, and the median income for a family was $34,148. Males had a median income of $28,580 versus $16,219 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,066. About 9.20% of families and 13.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.80% of those under age 18 and 15.00% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Howard, 774 (county seat)
Elk Falls, 107
Unified school districts
West Elk USD 282
Elk Valley USD 283