Anderson county was named for Joseph C. Anderson, a member of the first territorial legislature, which erected and organized the county in 1855. It is located in the southeastern part of the state in the second tier of counties west of Missouri, about 50 miles south of the Kansas River and 70 miles north of the southern boundary of the state. It is 24 miles square and has an area of 576 square miles. On the north it is bounded by Franklin county, on the east of Linn, on the south by Allen and on the west by Coffey.
When the first white settlers came to what is now Anderson county in the spring of 1854 they found some of the fields which the Indians had cultivated. They were Valentine Gerth and Francis Meyer, who came from Missouri and settled on the Pottawatomie near the present site of Greeley. These men were without families but planted and cultivated the old Indian fields the first summer. Henry Harmon came with his family and settled near the junction of the branches of the Pottawatomie. During the summer and fall more settlers came, among whom were Henderson Rice, W. D. West, Thomas Totton, Anderson Cassel, J. S. Waitman and Dr. Rufus Gilpatrick. In the winter of 1854-55 quite a number of Germans came to the county and settled along the south branch of the Pottawatomie above Greeley, where they built several cabins and selected valuable timber claims. In the spring of 1855 they returned to St. Louis and on account of the territorial troubles never came hack. Their claims were soon taken up by other settlers.
When Gov. Reeder, on Nov. 8, 1854, issued a proclamation ordering an election for the 29th, the region now embraced in Anderson county was made a part of the Fifth district. The election was ordered to he held at the house of Henry Sherman near the place called Dutch Henry's crossing on the Pottawatomie. At the election for members of the first territorial legislature, A. M. Coffey and David Lykins were elected to the council and Allen Wilkerson and H. W. Yonger representatives. Of the resident voters, about 50 in number and practically all free state men, only a few voted, but the Missourians came over and cast about 200 pro slavery votes. At the election for a delegate to Congress in Oct., 1855, George Wilson was the only person voting in the district. Samuel Mack, one of the judges, refused to vote regarding the election as a farce, most of the voters being residents of Missouri who came over on horseback and in wagons, well supplied with whiskey and guns. Because of the outrages committed upon the free state settlers, a military organization, made up of Franklin and Anderson county men and called the Pottawatomie Rifles, was formed in the fall of 1855. Among the members were Dr. Rufus Gilpatrick, M. Kilbourn, W. Ayers, H. H. Williams, August Bondi, Samuel Mack, James Townsley and Jacob Benjamin from Anderson county.
The legislature having defined the bounds of the county, then provided for its organization and the election of county officers. In joint session the legislature elected George Wilson probate judge and commissioned him on Aug. 27, 1855, for a term of two years. He was the first commissioned officer and immediately after qualifying set out for the county. On Sept. 10, he arrived at Henry Sherman's house, where he remained until the 15th, when he went to the house of Francis Meyer near the present site of the town of Greeley. Judge Wilson had designated Meyer's house as the temporary seat of justice and notified William R. True and John C. Clark, who had been appointed county commissioners and A. V. Cummings, who had been appointed sheriff, to meet him there on the 15th to complete the county organization. But all three refused to accept the appointment, although Judge Wilson attempted several times to make them qualify. Cummings was a resident of Bourbon county. Wilson at last appealed to the governor for assistance to organize the county and Acting Gov. Shannon commissioned Francis Meyer and F. P. Brown commissioners and Henderson Rice sheriff, but Brown and Rice would not accept the commissions. The probate judge and Francis Meyer organized the county on Jan. 7, 1856. Five days later the second session of the probate judge and commissioners' court was held at Meyer's house and David McCammon was appointed sheriff. He gave bond and qualified on Jan. 18, on which date the court held its third session and J. S. Waitman was appointed commissioner. This was the first time that a full board of commissioners had existed. At this time C. H. Price was appointed justice of the peace for the county and commissioned by Judge Wilson. Price qualified on March 5, 1856, and the same day was appointed treasurer of the county. On Feb. 4, 1856, Thomas Totton was appointed clerk of the county, and on March 9 a petition for the location of a road from Henry Sherman's house to Cofachique, the county seat of Allen county, was considered. David McCammon, James Townsley and Samuel Mack were appointed commissioners to open the road, which was to be 70 feet wide. This was the first road in the county.
On Feb. 18, 1856, a petition was presented to the commissioners, signed by A. McConnell and fifteen others, requesting a permanent location of the county seat, and David McCammon, James Townsley and Thomas Totton were appointed to select the site, provided it should be located within three miles of the geographical center of the county. The commissioners selected a place and called it Shannon, where the county business was transacted until April 5, 1859. The first term of the district court was held on the fourth Monday in April, 1856; Sterling Cato, one of the territorial judges presiding. It convened at the house of Francis Meyer and was in session an entire week but the records of the proceedings have disappeared.
At the election of delegates to the Topeka constitutional convention, 49 votes were polled at the Pottawatomie precinct, by free state voters and at the election for the adoption or rejection 14 persons from Anderson county voted.
During the summer and fall of 1856 Anderson county was overrun by bands of lawless pro slavery men, known as "Border Ruffians." The officers of Anderson county had been chosen because of their loyalty to the slave power, and when the difficulties culminated in 1856 they took an active part with the pro-slavery men. The free state men refused to countenance such conduct on the part of the officers and late in the spring Francis Meyer, John S. Waitman, David McCammon and George Wilson having been concerned in several pro-slavery atrocities, were forced to flee from the county. There was continued trouble along Pottawatomie creek until the government ordered United States troops to the neighborhood. They camped for several weeks a short distance from the present site of Greeley, but were commanded by pro slavery officers and really afforded little protection to the free state settlers. The Pottawatomie Rifles drilled at the farm of W. L. Frankenburger and participated in many of the expeditions of 1856-1857. During the fall of 1856 pro slavery invasions became so frequent that it was unsafe for the settlers to remain at home over night with their families, and for several months they would collect at Frankenburger's claim an the Pottawatomie, the women and children taking shelter in the cabin, while the men remained on guard. Anderson county men, commanded by Dr. Rufus Gilpatrick, took part in the battle of Osawatomie under John Brown. When Gov. Woodson declared the territory in a state of insurrection and rebellion and called out the militia, several settlers left Anderson county never to return.
About this time a party of some 200 hundred Missourians camped on Middle creek, at Battle Mound, waiting for reinforcements preparatory to a general movement against the free-state settlements along the Pottawatomie, and many outrages were committed in Anderson, Linn and Franklin counties. Among these was the capture of George Partridge, Aug. 27, 1856, and on the same day the burning of the houses of Kilbourne and Cochrane near Greeley. Dr. Gilpatrick, while making calls, discovered the pro slavery camp and at once gave warning. The Pottawatomie Rifles, under command of Dr. Gilpatrick, made an attack early in the morning of Aug. 28, which was a complete surprise, the pro-slavery men retreating in great confusion to Missouri. Another detachment of pro slavery men robbed Zach Schutte and attempted other atrocities, but upon hearing of the capture of the camp also hastily fled into Missouri.
The survey of the public lands in Anderson county began in the fall of 1855 and closed in the spring of '86. Some of the first settlers who came to the county were of the class who made a living speculating in government land claims. They selected the finest timber and valley lands along the streams, and after actually settling, would stake out other claims under ficticious names, and then offer to sell the ficticious claims to new arrivals. The buyer of such claims would often go back East after his family and upon his return find his cabin occupied, the claim having been sold a second time by the speculator. These claims caused much trouble in the United States land office, and in Nov., 1858, a free-state squatters' court was organized in Anderson, Linn and Bourbon counties for the adjustment of land claims. Dr. Rufus Gilpatrick was elected judge. The decisions of the court were generally satisfactory to the settlers, and enforced by Maj. Abbott and a minister named Stewart, known as the fighting preacher. Several town sites were laid out, but with two exceptions the towns failed to become important. Garnett and Greeley were both surveyed in 1856 and became flourishing communities. In Dec., 1856, a party of 80 men was formed in Lawrence for the purpose of settling in Anderson county. A town site was selected in the northern part of what is now Washington township, and the town named Hyatt. The founders proposed making it the county seat. A sawmill was built in the spring of 1857. In the fall a grist mill was added, and B. F. Allen opened a store. A post office and school were established but the county seat dream was not realized. Soon after the county seat was permanently located at Garnett Hyatt was abandoned.
The first mail route in Anderson county was established on Jan. 11, 1858, to run from Leavenworth to Humboldt in Allen county via Hyatt. The route was marked and service began in March. There was a road from Carlyle and one from Fairview to Hyatt. Zach Squires was the first mail carrier and expressman. At first the post was weekly but soon changed to a tri-weekly service. In the spring of 1859, the route was changed to run through Garnett, where a postoffice was established. In the fall of 1859 the county board received petitions for the opening of five roads, and the old maps show that they all centered at Hyatt and none at Garnett or Shannon.
On Nov. 30, 1857, the county commissioners entered into a contract for the construction of a court-house and jail at Shannon. Dr. Preston Bowen was to build it for $1,000, but at the election held Jan. 26, 1858, it was shown that a majority of the people were opposed to the erection of the buildings. The commissioners therefore resigned. On Feb. 12, 1858, the county organization was changed by an act of the legislature from a board of commissioners to a board of supervisors, and on June 14, the new board contracted with Dr. Bowen for a court-house and jail at Shannon at his own expense, to be completed within a year. The jail was completed and work begun on the court-house, when, in the spring of 1859, the seat of justice for the county was located at Garnett by an act of the legislature and the first meeting of the board of supervisors at Garnett was held on April 5, of that year.
In March, 1859, an election was held on the proposition of a state constitutional convention and of the 185 votes cast in Anderson county only 7 were against holding the convention. On the first Tuesday in June, 1859, an election was held for a delegate to the convention. Dr. James G. Mount and W. F. M. Arny were the candidates from the Anderson county district. Blount was elected and sat in the Wyandotte convention.
Education was one of the first considerations of the early settlers. The first school district laid out was near Scipio in Putnam township, and the first superintendent of public instruction was John R. Slentz, who was appointed by the governor near the close of 1858.
The outbreak of the Civil war caused great excitement in Anderson county. At the call for volunteers an entire company enlisted in one day, and Anderson county was represented in nearly every Kansas regiment, about three-fourths of the able-bodied men entering the Union army. In 1861 the population of the county was little over 1,000.
A considerable number of the early settlers of Anderson county were Catholics, and the St. Boniface Catholic church in Putnam township was the first church building erected. It was built in 1858, and in 1871, while under the charge of Father Albert Heinemann, the parish erected a college building about 6 miles north of Garnett and called it Mount Carmel. The first Protestant church was built by the United Brethren in Garnett in 1859. The first county building erected in Garnett was the jail, which was built in 1864. Four years later the court-house was erected on Oak street. In 1891 the legislature passed an act providing for the erection of a courthouse on the county square, the cost not to exceed $40,000.
A county fair was held in Anderson county as early as 1863, but the county fair association was not organized until Nov. 15, 1873. It was capitalized for $5,000. The first newspaper in the county was the Garnett Pathfinder, established by I. F. Olney in Jan., 1865. It was the only publication until 1868, when W. H. Johnson started the Garnett Courant.
The general surface of Anderson county is undulating, divided into bottom land, timber and rolling upland. The creek bottoms average about 2 miles in width, and belts of timber along the streams average three-fourths of a mile. The main water course of the county is the Pottawatomie river, which rises in the central part of the county and flows northeastward, its north and south branches uniting near the northeast corner of the county. The Little Osage river, Indian and Deer creeks flow through the southern portion. Lime and sandstone are plentiful, while red ocher is found in Reeder township. Coal has been found in several places and there are natural gas wells near Greeley. The trees native to this section are walnut, cottonwood, oak, hickory, hackberry, elm, sycamore, and hard and soft maples. Corn, wheat, oats and Kafir corn are the leading agricultural products. Live stock raising is a productive industry, and there are more than 100,000 bearing fruit trees in the county. There are 130.25 miles of main track railroad within the limits of the county. The Missouri Pacific has three lines; one crossing the county diagonally from the northwest to southeast passing through Garnett; a second enters the county in the northeast and crosses the west border near the center, and the third line crosses the southern part almost directly east and west. The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe runs north and south near the center, and a branch diverging from Colony in the southwest, crosses the southwest corner. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas crosses the southeast corner.
The county is divided into the following townships: Indian creek, Jackson, Lincoln, Lone Elm, Monroe, Ozark, Putnam, Reeder, Rich, Union, Walker, Washington, Welda and Westphalia. Garnett, the county seat, is the largest town and railroad center. Other important towns and villages are Colony, Greeley, Harris, Kincaid, Lone Elm, Selma and Welda.
The U. S. census of 1910 reported the population of Anderson county at 13,829. The total value of farm products for that year was, according to the report of the state board of agriculture, $1,437,654.37. Corn led with 1,355,223 bushels, valued at $691,163.73. Next to this was the hay crop, valued at $394,779, and oats stood third in the list with 362,907 bushels, valued at $134,275.59. The wheat crop amounted to 38,187 bushels, valued at $35,339.05. Flax and Kafir corn were also important crops. (Kansas Cylopedia, Volume I, edited by Frank W. Blackmar, pages 70-75)