Garfield County, Kansas – Lost in County Seat War

Garfield County, Kansas by L.H. Everts & Co., 1887.

Garfield County, Kansas by L.H. Everts & Co., 1887.

Garfield County, Kansas, located in the southwest portion of the state, was created on March 5, 1887, and named in honor of James A. Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, who was fatally wounded by an assassin four months after taking office. The county no longer exists today.

The county was formed as residents moved westward, many taking advantage of the government’s Homestead Act. Before Garfield County was created, most of the area was in Buffalo County, which was never organized. The rest came from six congressional townships from Finney County and six from Hodgeman County.

At the time, the United States was in the waning years of the Indian Wars, and white settlers made their way from the east to areas that Native Americans had vacated. Most settlers engaged in farming.

Once a county reached 600 occupants, Kansas Law declared that the county should be organized. When a county seat was chosen, it would receive government funds to build new buildings, create jobs, and guarantee the town’s prosperity.

In July 1887, Garfield County was organized. Trouble began when a committee appointed to select the county seat chose the exact center of the county and laid out the town of Eminence. This act met with opposition from the older settlement of Ravanna, which supposed it would be selected. To settle the dispute, an election was called.

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson

Before the county seat election, the communities of Ravanna and Eminence became bitter rivals. Since the voting was to be done in Ravanna, Eminence supporters hired the famous lawman Bat Masterson, and 20 deputies were hired to come from Dodge City and keep the peace during the first election in 1887. It was a good idea, for the two factions appeared at the polls well-organized and well-armed for any trouble. Only the ominous presence of the gunmen kept the opposing parties from flying at each other’s throats and ending the election in a bloody gun battle.

When the votes were counted, Eminence received 432 and Ravanna 467. Victorious Ravanna went wild, a barrel of whiskey was opened in a convenient barn, and all able-bodied citizens spent the night in riotous celebration.

However, an immediate problem came to light, and accusations of ballot stuffing came from both sides. The town of Eminence then filed a lawsuit, alleging the ballot box had been stuffed.

In the interim, Ravanna was established as the county seat. Immediately, things began to boom. In 1889, an ambitious new courthouse, costing $10,000, began to be built. The three-story building was constructed of stone from area quarries. It was topped by a domed cupola that could be seen for miles. Across town, a two-story schoolhouse of white stone was also constructed.

Garfield County, courthouse in Ravanna, Kansas, about 1900.

Garfield County courthouse in Ravanna, Kansas, about 1900.

In the meantime, the county seat lawsuit moved through the court systems to the Kansas Supreme Court, which transferred the county seat to Eminence on December 11, 1888. Eminence residents demanded the immediate removal of the county offices. However, when they attempted to remove documents from the treasurer’s office, Ravanna citizens blocked them, and a safe was severely damaged in the confrontation.

On August 3, the Attorney-General notified Adjutant General John Roberts to visit Eminence. Upon his arrival, he persuaded the citizens to do nothing further until the court met in September, when the matter might be peacefully adjusted. However, the wait dragged on, and things stayed bitter between the two towns.

In 1892, proceedings were instituted against the county to test the validity of its organization. As it embraced only 432 square miles, the Kansas Supreme Court dissolved Garfield County because the county lines had been drawn too small. This resulted in the land being annexed by Finney County in March 1893. Afterward, both Eminence and Ravanna began to decline.

Making matters worse, drought soon consumed the area, killing crops and causing wells to dry, and many cattle died. However, not all residents packed up and moved away from Eminence and Ravanna. As recently as the 1930s, there were children attending school in Ravanna.

In 1937, three buildings were still standing. Over the years, however, the towns became too expensive to maintain, and the residents left.

Now, all that remains of both towns are a few low brick walls, the crumbling remains of the schoolhouse, and the Eminence and Ravanna Cemeteries.

Ravanna, Kansas School Ruins, 1999.

Ravanna, Kansas School Ruins, 1999.

©Kathy Alexander/Legends of Kansas, September 2023.

Also See:

Every Place in Kansas

Finney County, Kansas

Extinct Towns of Finney County

Kansas Counties


Blackmar, Frank W.; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Vol I; Standard Publishing Company, Chicago, IL 1912.
Finney County by the Kansas Historical Society, 1950
Finney County Visitors Bureau
Kansas Gen Web
Kansas State Historical Society