HISTORY OF EARLY LYON COUNTY, KANSAS
(Breckinridge and Madison counties)
Written by Lucina JONES, Regent Emporia Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, May 1933
Breckinridge County was named in honor of John C. BRECKINRIDGE, U.S. Senator of Kentucky. It was bounded with 33 others, by an Act of what is known as the "Bogus Legislature" at its session in 1855. The territory was originally 24 miles square, its south boundary line being one-half mile south of the original south line of Emporia. At a session of the legislature in 1859 a bill was passed, attaching a strip of three miles from the north of Madison County to Breckinridge. In 1861 another 12 miles of Madison County was attached, which resulted in the abolishing of Madison, the southern part being at the same time, given to Greenwood County. In 1863, two miles to the west of Breckinridge as far north as Sections 1 and 2 of Township 18, Range 10 was transferred to Chase County, and the following year the north end of this two-mile strip was attached to Morris County, thus straightening the west boundary line and making the territory twenty two miles wide and thirty nine miles long, as it stands to the present date.
In 1857 the County was divided into municipal townships, five in number, named - Agnes City, Americus, Cottonwood, and Kansas Center. (NOTE: the fifth one is missing in the document, but is most likely Emporia) In 1859, Kansas Center was changed to Waterloo, and Cahola, Fremont and Forest Hill Townships were created. In 1860 Cottonwood was changed to Pike and Forest Hill to Jackson. Cahola was later abolished and after annexing of the fifteen miles of Madison County, Elmendaro and Center Townships were formed.
Owning to the length of the name Breckinridge and the fact that Vice President BRECKINRIDGE's political record was not in accord with the public sentiment of the county settlers, they asked to have the named changed to Lyon in honor of General Nathaniel LYON. This was accomplished at a session of the Legislature in 1862.
The history of Lyon County really began when Napoleon said, "Not only New Orleans will I cede to the United States, it is the whole Colony without reservation." This treaty was concluded April 30, 1803.
The first trail that history records passing over this immediate territory was made by Zebulon M. PIKE, when, on July 16, 1806, he, with an expedition of twenty men, left Bellfontaine with the instructions "to take back to their tribe on the upper waters of the Osage River, some Osages who had been redeemed from captivity among the Potttawatomies, then to push on to the Pawnee Republic on the Upper Republican River on a mission of determining more accurately the boundaries between the United States and the Spanish Territory to the South." They followed the Missouri River in Keel boats and turned into the Osage (a continuation of the Kansas Marais des Cygnes) continuing along this stream until they came to the Osage Villages near the present line of the Kansas and Missouri. Here Lieut. PIKE purchased provisions and horses, mounting his party, he set out to execute the remainder of his mission. We see them entering Lyon County Territory at a point where Four Mile Creek flows into Eagle Creek (Section 34, Township 20, Range 13) keeping to the north of Eagle Creek to the Y-pass over the present site of Olpe to the head of this stream, then, angle a bit to the southwest, touching the head waters of the Verdigris (then called the Vermillion) River; there, history tells us, they turned to the north skirting the hills and on to the "Republic of the Pawnees". Fifteen years later, William. BRECKNELL, Father of the Santa Fe Trail, left Franklin, Missouri, trekked across the country (now the north portion of our county) in a prairie schooner drawn by oxen over an un-chartered, un-plotted trail establishing the link between Missouri and Mexico, thereby opening trade to the southwest which continued for nearly half a century, making an early settlement of this part of Kansas, certain.
The Santa Fe Trail, as it was later called, played a prominent part in the military operations of the southwest in the war with Mexico. Overland mail was started in 1859. This same route saw the dawn of a passenger service. Outfitting stations were developed along the route, Council Grove being the first, west of Independence, Missouri. Early mail coaches carried as many as eleven passengers and a guard. The fare from Independence to Santa Fe, Mexico was $250.00, which included meals of hard tack, bacon and coffee with an occasional antelope steak. Two weeks was required to make the trip. Trade continued to increase to such an extent that statisticians estimated it to be valued at five million dollars during the years of 1855, the first years of Lyon County's settlement. In 1860 goods shipped weighted 16,439,000 lbs. and 9,044 men, 6,147 mules, 27,939 oxen, and 3,033 wagons were employed. Similar trade continued until the opening of the railroads through the country in '70. The starting point of these long freight rains was Independence, Missouri, then later, Westport. Often twenty wagons went in one train, four abreast for protection. The wagons had huge gondola-like beds, eight or nine feet in height at the center, covered with bows and canvas, each carrying from one and a half to three tons of freight and hauled by from four to eight teams of mules or oxen guided by dexterous hands of teamsters. Whips were often twenty feet in length. These caravans were carefully organized with wagon masters, lieutenants, marshals, clerks, commanders of guards and even chaplains. The average mileage per day was bout sixteen miles, traveling according to the water; if the distance from watering places was twenty miles, they continued that far, but if twelve or fifteen, the mileage was lessened. The trail, as it crossed Lyon County was from 100 to 150 feet wide, packed hard from constant usage. Mr. Will WAYMAN told me that this bare strip was valuable as a fire guard from the early sweeping prairie fires; he stated also that when he was a young man he could ride out to a high point almost any day, any hour of the day, and see a wagon of some description trekking westward, so constant was the migration.
We find the trail entered Lyon County in Section 21, Township 15, Range 13, going west and a bit south, crossing Elm Creek at what was called "Hard Bottom Ford". Here a mail station was later located and we now find a marker placed there by the State Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The marker carries the dates, 1822-1872. The trail angles westward at the head of several smaller streams reaching "142 Creek" and crossing at the south line of Section 36, Township 15, Range 11. Just to the west of "142 Creek", another D.A.R. marker is placed and on Section 2, Township 16, Range 10 we find a third marker. From this spot the road goes to the south a little, leaving the country on its way to the then all important trading post, Council Grove. To this Highway 50 N, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution have fixed the name, "National Old Trails Road". They urge every man, woman and child living along this road, to know the history connected with it.
Charles H. WITHINGTON was undoubtedly the first settler on Lyon County soil. He located on the trail at its point of crossing "142 Creek" in June 1854. When one realizes that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed on the 30th day of May 1854, (just a matter of days before Mr. WITHINGTON's locating) one will see that our territory took on its identity at a really early period in Kansas History. Mr. WITHINGTON opened a store on the location mentioned above, the first of its kind in the state away from Indian posts. His place was the headquarters for all the settlers that began coming to the Neosho Valley the following year, says Mr. Jacob STOTLER in an article in the history of Lyon County written for an Atlas published in 1878 by EDWARDS Brothers.
Click on your choice
Continue to Part 2
Return to Early History Main Page
Return to FHGS Home Page
Last updated August 2000