History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs


Lyon County, Kansas

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Lyon County, Kansas


Towns & Places



Extinct Towns

Agnes City - One Time County Seat

Columbia - A Ghost Town Story


More Lyon County


Santa Fe Trail Through Lyon County

Charles H. Withington - First Settler



Lyon County, Kansas Map, 1899

Lyon County map, 1899.




Situated in east central Kansas, the county was initially created as Breckenridge County by the first Kansas Territorial Legislature in 1855, it was named for John C. Breckenridge, who was elected Vice-President of the United States the next year. When first created, it was attached to Madison County for all civil and judicial purposes, and Columbia was designated as the county seat, but no county business was transacted. By an act of February 17, 1857, the county was fully organized and detached from Madison County, with the temporary county seat located at Waterloo. In the fall of 1858, Americus was voted by the people to become the county seat.


One of the first settlers in the area Charles H. Withington, who located in the extreme northern part of the county on the Santa Fe Trail, a short distance south of present-day Allen, Kansas in 1846. In 1854, he opened a store, which was the first in the county and the only one in the region outside of Indian posts. His store also served as a hotel and supply station. Withington was influential in the settlement of the county and prominent in all public affairs. In April, 1855 Oliver Phillips located on 142 Mile Creek. In 1859, he was elected to the legislature, was a delegate to the Osawatomie Convention, and held a number of county offices. Others who came around the same time were Chris Ward, J. S. Pigman, Charles Johnson, James Pheanis, David Vangundy, John Rosenquist, Joseph Moon, Reverend Thomas J. Addis (at that time, the only free-state man), and many more, who, with very few exceptions, settled along the creeks in the northern half of the county.


One of the first settlements in the county was established in 1856, first called Florence, before changing to Neosho City, then Italia and finally to Neosho Rapids. The next year Emporia and Americus were laid out and 1858, the settlements of Hartford, Waterloo, Fremont, and Forest Hill.


As more new settlers continued to make their homes in the county, and by 1857 the problem of getting their mail became a large concern. Previous to this time the mail for the area settlements had been thrown off the Santa Fe Trail wagons at Withington's Store and was distributed by a horseman at private expense. When the government began delivering the mail by way of Westport, Missouri and Council Grove to an established a post office at Columbia. This caused a great deal of dissatisfaction, as the settlers did not wish to trust the pro-slavery men who handled it.

Finally they secured a box at Lawrence, where all mail was sent, and then brought in by private conveyance to the hotel at Emporia. John Fowler, the postmaster at Columbia in the fall of 1857, resigned and the office was moved to Emporia, where W. H. Fick became postmaster. In August, hack lines were established to Topeka and to Lawrence. A great deal of the mail was lost, there being about three bushels of mail belonging to Emporia lying at Osawatomie in January, 1858. The next year, regular mail routes were established from Council Grove to Fort Scott by way of Emporia, and from Lawrence to Emporia.


At about the same time, freighters were active on the Burlingame Road, a government trail from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sill, Indian Territory. The trail headed southwest from Emporia to Wichita and beyond, with freighters hauling merchandise, lumber, food stuffs, and most importantly - whiskey. Along the frontier trail, these men sometimes spied gruesome sights including one occasion when they were greeted by a group of eight men hanging to a oak tree -- allegedly horse thieves. Another was a settler, lying dead, having been killed by a freighter who had been angered when hit by a neck-yoke.


The first newspaper was the Kanzas News (later the Emporia News), founded in 1857. The first sawmill was built by G. D. Humphreys on the Cottonwood River the same year and the first school in the county was established in 1858.



Freighter, photo by W.D. Harper.

This image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.


Emporia, Kansas between 1861-65In February, 1860, the residents voted to move the county seat to Emporia, where it remains today. At that time, there were about 3,500 residents in the county, but that year, the area suffered a severe drought and many moved eastward. Some relief was provided to those who stayed, but the county would continue to suffer an economic downturn the next year with the breaking out of the Civil War.


The first military company to leave for the war was the "Emporia Guards" in May, 1861, numbering about 50 men. In August. A. J. Mitchell raised a company of artillery numbering 47 men and later, L. T. Heritage recruited a more soldiers, which became Company B of the Eighth Regiment.


With the Civil War in full gear, the county name was changed in February, 1862, as the former Vice President Breckenridge had become a secessionist and a high ranking officer in the Confederate Army. The patriotic anti-slavery legislature changed the name of the county to Lyon, in honor of Nathaniel Lyon, the Union general who had lost his life in the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri the previous August.


In the fall of 1862, in response to President Lincoln's call for more troops, 150 Lyon County men immediately offered their services. They were recruited by Preston B. Plumb and formed a company in the Eleventh Regiment. Soon afterward they were engaged in a battle at Prairie Grove, Arkansas, where several were killed.



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