Bourbon County, Kansas
- Formed: 1867
- County Population 1860: 6,102
- Civil War Engagements
-Marmaton Massacre, October 22, 1864
Image courtesy of Wichita State University Special Collections
The United States Military formed a military base in the Bourbon County area, named Fort Scott, in 1842. The Fort’s purpose was to manage the Native American Reservations just west of the County. Colonel Hiero T. Wilson, a Kentucky Native, was in charge of Fort Scott, and was therefore the first non-Native American settler in the area. Settlement to non-military citizens opened in 1855.
The settlers were attracted to the abundant fresh water from the Osage River, Marmaton River, Mill Creek, Pawnee Creek, and Drywood Creek. The area also contains large limestone deposits, suitable for building stone. The soil was fertile, sustaining growth of corn, potatoes, and other grains. Settlers raised pigs, dairy cows, and chickens. They hunted wild game and gathered wild berries and honey. These ample natural resources and the close proximity of Fort Scott encouraged settlers to remain the region.
Bourbon County was formed under a fraudulent legislature in the late 1850s, but was not officially formed with a legitimate law until 1874. The first county seat of Bourbon County was Fort Scott. However, when Marmaton was formed in 1858, it quickly became the county seat in 1859. Residents felt that the county records would be safer away from a military base. Though border problems began later in Bourbon County than other Kansas counties, residents suffered from “border ruffians,” or residents of other states crossing into Kansas to make sure it entered the union as a slave state, from 1856 until the beginning of the war. In the spring of 1856, ruffians under G.W. Jones threatened any anti-slavery men they could find. Most of these men were so intimidated that they ended up fleeing the county. Some of these residents began to return in 1857, including the “free-state” county leaders J.C. Burnett, Samuel Stevenson, and Josiah Stewart. When residents were called to vote on the Lecompton Constitution, the prospective state constitution, the results were thrown out because more people voted for it than were eligible to vote. In 1858, Kansas finally voted on a constitution that would allow it to enter the Union as a free state. In December of this same year, Bourbon County residents petitioned the Governor, Samuel Medary, to send troops to protect them from the border raids. Governor Medary, who had no troops to send, advised residents to form their own militia units.
In 1860, Bourbon County and much of Kansas suffered a terrible drought that killed most the crops, leaving many residents hungry and forced to move to other areas to find food. This left the population rather sparse when the Civil War broke out in 1861. Most residents supported the Union, and several companies were raised in Bourbon County at the onset of the war. These included two companies from Marmaton, under Captains W.C. Blair and Captain A. McDonald, two companies from the Drywood Township under captains Henry Coffman and E.J. Benny, one company from the Lightning Creek Township under Captain John T. Mcwhirt, and two companies from Fort Scott, which combined were called the “Frontier Guard.” On July 5, 1861, the Battle of Carthage took place in Jasper County Missouri. Because it was so close by, Nathaniel Lyon authorized four home guard companies under Captains W.T. Campbell, W.C. Ransom, Z. Gower, and Lewis R. Jewell for the protection of Bourbon County. These companies later combined to form the 6th Kansas Cavalry, organized in September of 1861.
Bourbon County men fought in several other military regiments during the Civil War. These included: Companies A, B, C, D, E, and F of the 24th regiment, Kansas State Militia, under Captains John F. White, W.C. Dennison, J.B. Skeen, J.C. Hickley, H.T. Coffman, and J.C. Ury respectively. Lieutenant Colonel George P. Eaves formed several companies under his name. These included: Companies A, B, C, D, E, F, and G, under captains D.D. Roberts, Dyer Smith, John J. Stewart, S.B. Mahurin, B.F. Gumm, Isaac Morris, and W.A. Shannon, respectively.
In September, 1861, the Battle of Drywood took place. General Sterling Price wanted to stop the Jayhawker border raids into Missouri and attack Fort Scott. Union troops from Fort Scott under Major James H. Lane met Price’s troops in Vernon County, Missouri on Drywood Creek. Union troops were largely outnumbered, and they quickly retreated back to Fort Scott. Price moved on to Lexington. After the Confederate troops left, Lane led many raids across the border into Missouri, burning Osceola, Missouri later that month. Realizing that no town was safe from attack and that a military base was actually rather well fortified, residents chose to move their county seat back to Fort Scott in May, 1863.
On October 20-22, 1864 there were several minor engagements in Lexington, Little Blue and Big Blue between Union troops and General Sterling Price’s troops from Missouri. All of these skirmishes resulted in a Union Victory, and Price’s troops headed back into Missouri. The Marmaton Massacre occurred on October 22, 1864. Confederate Guerrillas under the command of Allen Matthews and Major Courcey from Missouri attacked Bourbon County residents, catching home guard units by surprise because they did not use any of the main roads. The guerrillas burned many stores and houses, injuring and murdering many residents. After their attack, the confederate men quickly fled toward Cherokee and Osage Territory further west. However, when they arrived the Osage tribe feared an invasion, and said that the group of Confederates would be arrested if they did not turn back. Refusing to turn back into the Union Army chasing them, Matthews and Courcey and their men began a battle with the Osage in which every Confederate man died. Shortly after the Marmaton Massacre, the Battle of Mine Creek occurred in Linn County on October 25, 1864. This battle again resulted in a Union Victory, driving General Price’s troops out of Kansas for good.
After the war, Bourbon County contained approximately 1,000 immigrants from other states, who had fled to escape intense fighting in Arkansas and Missouri. Bourbon County was officially organized on April 14, 1874. It was named after Bourbon County, Kentucky, where settlers Samuel A. Williams and William Barbee were from.
- T.F. Robley, History of Bourbon County, Kansas to the close of 1865 (Fort Scott, KS, 1894). Accessed through: