Anderson County, Kansas

Anderson County, Kansas

  • Formed: 1854
  • County Population: 2,400
Colton’s New Sectional Map of the State of Kansas, 1868
Image courtesy of Wichita State University Special Collections

Native American tribes were the first residents in the area known as Anderson County, Kansas. The Osage were moved into Kansas from their native Missouri lands in the 1820s. In 1837, the United States government also moved the Pottawatomie tribe from Indiana to Kansas. The creeks they settled still bear their name. White settlement did not begin until the 1850s. The first non-Native American settlers in the area, Valentine Gerth and Francis Myer, came from Missouri and settled near present day Greeley. Other early settlers included Henry Harmon, Oliver P. Ran, Henderson Rice, J.S. Waitman, W.D. West, and Dr. Rufus Gilpatrick. The county contains abundant sources of fresh water, including the Little Osage River, North and South Pottawatomie River, and the Sac, Ianthe, Kenoma, Elm, Thomas, Cherry, Cedar, Sugar, Deer, and Indian Creeks. The county also provides numerous timber resources such as elm, walnut, and oak. The soil is very fertile and is suitable for growing various fruits, grains, tobacco, hemp, flax, cotton, and castor beans. There are abundant sources of limestone and sandstone for building, as well as natural coal deposits. All of these resources attracted settlers to the area.

In 1856, Anderson County was officially formed as part of the Kansas territory, which was founded in 1854. It was named after Joseph C. Anderson, a speaker pro temp of the Kansas Territorial House of Representatives. David McCammon, James Townsley, and Thomas Totton were appointed to locate the county seat, which they named Shannon.

A prominent early citizen, Dr. G.W. Cooper, came to the area in 1855. He traveled from Ohio with the goal of founding a new town in Kansas. At this time, it was dangerous for Free State men, which Cooper was, to enter the Kansas territory without getting approval from the slave state ruffians that had overrun the county. Cooper obtained this approval, and during his travels met George A. Dunn, a man from Anderson County. Dunn asked Cooper to help them found their county seat, and together with W.A. Garnett, Dunn, R.B. Hall, and Theodore Harris, Cooper helped them found Garnett, a county seat to replace Shannon. W.A. Garnett, the town’s namesake, traveled home to his native Louisville, Kentucky to bring back more people to populate the town.

The early years of Anderson County were dominated with political and sometimes violent debates over Kansas’ admission as a state. Though there were pro-slavery residents in the county, most wanted Kansas to be a free state. However, people from southern states, such as Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina came to Kansas to ensure that it would enter as a slave state. Most of these “border ruffians” came from neighboring Missouri, a slave state. Raids back and forth over the border with Missouri were common. In May of 1856, General Atchison, a senator from Missouri, and a group of Missouri men attacked Lawrence, Kansas in the hope of running all anti-slavery men out of the county. The anti-slavery men also formed groups. John Brown, a radical abolitionist from Ohio, formed the Pottawatomie Company. During the Pottawatomie affair in the late spring of 1856, the Pottawatomie Company killed several residents. In the summer of 1856, Anderson County residents formed the Pottawatomie Guards to protect Anderson County citizens from border raids.

In June of 1856, the pro-slavery border ruffians tired to drive all anti-slavery men from the county. They raided the town of Osawatomie, burning the town but not harming the citizens. By 1857, Kansas was still trying to form a state constitution that was satisfactory to all its citizens, something nearly impossible because of the sharp division between pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers. An election during 1857 allowed residents to vote for the constitution. The election was quickly thrown out, however, because more people voted than lived in the county. Border ruffians’ attempts to sabotage the election failed. During this same year, several townships were established. These were: Walker, Monroe, Jackson, Reeder, Madison, Washington, Geary, Harrison, Clay and Franklin.

In December of 1857, a resident named Captain James Montgomery and a group of Anderson County men went to Bourbon County, Kansas to help defend the state from border ruffians. However, when they went to Bourbon County they left the Anderson County largely unprotected, and border ruffians burned several homes.

In 1859, Kansas finally passed a state constitution that allowed for its entrance into the Union as a Free State. Shortly after their victory, Anderson County residents, as well as other Kansas citizens, were struck with a year long drought in 1860 that destroyed all of the crops. There were no crop surpluses, because residents had been preoccupied with the border raids in the preceding years. Although Kansas received federal aid, Anderson County received little. Many residents were forced to leave to find food elsewhere, and most did not return. The population went from over 2,000 to only around 1,000 before the war. During this time, residents had many conflicts with the Sac and Fox Native American Tribe, who had a reservation in neighboring Franklin County. The tribe often traveled in Anderson County to obtain food. They killed livestock and burned the grazing grasses to move game around on the landscape.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, over three quarters of Anderson County men fought for the Union. On April 15, 1861, Brigadier General James G. Blunt raised the 3rd regiment, Kansas Volunteers. Anderson County men fought in many other regiments. These include: Company E, 2nd Kansas Infantry, Companies A and C, 2nd Kansas Cavalry, Company K, 5th Kansas Cavalry, Company F, 11th Kansas, Company G, 12th Kansas, 2nd Kansas Colored, 11th United State Colored, First Kansas Battery, Second Kansas Battery, Company G, 7th Kansas Cavalry, Company F, 8th Kansas Infantry, Companies D and F, 9th Kansas Cavalry, Companies C, H, and I, 10th Kansas Infantry, Company M, 15th Kansas Infantry, and Companies H and L, 16th Kansas Cavalry.
There were no major battles in the Anderson County Boundaries. After the war, the county began to recover with the help of the railroad. The county seat, Garnett, became a prominent railroad town. Greeley, named for northeast newspaper editor and anti-slavery advocate Horace Greeley, became prominent as well.

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