Butler County’s Eighty Years  ~  1855-1935

by Jessie Perry Stratford

A History of Butler County Biographical Sketches and Portraits with Foreword by Rolla A. Clymer

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Elmer Ashenfelter, who was distinguished among his mates for having taught eleven months of school in one year, had the happy faculty of pouring oil on troubled waters whenever discussions became heated. He was a great student, read much and practiced law.

Among those who were enrolled that summer: Addie Lobdell, Georgiana Black, Lulu Burroughs of Leon; the Snodgrass girls, from Gordon; the Guyer girls, Sadie Schmucker, Esther Wentworth Niebel, Nellie Hawley, Lucy Miller, Anna Council, Ada Smith and sister; Cora Battin; Ida Brown Nelson; Nora Brown Brumback, Hayward Webb and Austin Brumback, who afterwards were elected county superintendents; S. G. Pottle, Warren Baker, George Hawley, Jeff and W. H. Ehlers, Frank Elder and B. R. Leydig.

J. M. Satterthwaite: The inter of 1876-77 was quite cold. Ice on the Walnut was thick except upon the riffles. H. T. Holcomb and his brother Walter were going to school in El Dorado. The boys took it into their heads to skate down the Walnut one moonlight night, but soon found that they were skating east, west and sometimes north, by the winding of the Walnut, and making poor headway toward the southwest. They took off their skates and footed it down the trail, nearly 30 miles to their home. Walking was no better in those days than it is now, but the walkers were a great deal better.

SEVENTY-THREE YEARS IN EL DORADO TOWNSHIP

Burford Jeakins has lived in El Dorado Township since his birth, February 16, 1862, an din all that time has spent but three weeks outside of Butler County. That was when he made the run on horseback to the Oklahoma “strip” forty-two years ago, and staked a lot in Perry. Two weeks later he sold the lot and returned home. He has lived longer in the township than has any other man. For twelve years he was a member of the El Dorado council. Mr. Jeakins remembers when his father subscribed $13 to the sum El Doradoans were volunteering to induce the late Thomas Benton Murdock to found the Walnut Valley Times, and from that date, 1870, to this time, Mr. Jeakins has read every copy of The Times that was ever published.

Mr. Jeakins as a boy knew Dr. Allen White, father of William Allen White. “He was heavy set, wore a goatee and was a Democrat and a Yankee,” said Mr. Jeakins. “I always think of Bill White as a freckled-face kid wearing knee pants, standing on a box at school to work problems, because, usually, they were long division and had to be started at the top of the blackboard. I recall the day my father drove a team of oxen to the Emporia mill to have some corn ground. He came home and said a town was to be started just north of us and called El Dorado. We were all excited about it.

“Buffalo were on the divide between our home and Towanda and when storms came they went to the river banks to eat with the cattle. My father cut down hackberry trees so the buffalo could eat the branches.”

Mr. Jeakins helped lay the track for the Santa Fe Railway line through El Dorado. He was working on the track one day when a man on horseback rose along shouting”Garfield is shot!”

Mr. Jeakins recalls that on his boyhood trips to El Dorado he saw many firearms glistening in the sun and there were always three or four saloons in town. He and the few other young persons in the neighborhood drove fifteen miles to literary societies many bitterly cold nights.

“I’ve gone to dozens of old-fashioned dances,” Mr. Jeakins said. “I never missed one in fact, but I have never danced a set in my life. Favorite tunes were “Old Dan Tucker”, and “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” and if a fiddle string broke, the fiddler kept on playing.”

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LOST TOWNS

This list of lost or forgotten towns dates back to 1857, and includes many towns, postoffices, settlements and trading posts that have existed in Butler County:

Arizona or Orizonia, 1857 near present site of Augusta; town site laid out by a party of prospectors. Aral, Pleasant Township; Amador, Clifford Township; Ayr, Plum Grove Township; Britton, Southern Rock Creek Township; Buffalo Town Company; not located by sections, incorporated February 12, 1858, for the purpose of laying out towns in Butler County.

Bryant, Logan Township, was located on the Whitewater. A saw mill was located there at one time, operated by Dan Elder. Caribou, Murdock Township; Cave Springs, Spring Township; Clear Ford, southern part of Rock Creek Township; Chelsea Town Company, February 11, 1858, formed by J. C. Lambdin, P. G. D. Morton, L. M. Pratt and G. T. Donaldson. Cleveland Town Company, all non-residents; no town located.

Cornhill, north boundary Augusta Townshp; Crittenden, founded in 1861, abandoned in 1865; Dixon, near DeGraff; Edgecomb, discontinued in 1882, in Murdock Township. El Dorado Town Company, in Hunter County at that time, afterward Irving County, incorporated February 6, 1858, by J. Cracklin, Sam Stewart, David Uphen and others, located west of the Conner farm.

Freedom, Bloomington Township; Fontanelle, 1854, near Augusta; this town site infringed on the Arizona territory; a number of town lots were sold to eastern parties. Glen, location lost; Holden, Plum Grove Township; Indianola, Benton Township, Kossuth, chartered 1858, by J. Cracklin and others, who were non-residents; Lawrence, location lost; Nellans, Fairmount Township; New Excelsior, Glencoe Township; New Milwaukee, founded 1870, abandoned 1880, Minnesk, location lost.

Oil City, El Dorado Township, first prospect for oil in Butler County; Ora, location lost, Overton, location lost; Providence, Richland Township; Pendell, Benton Township; Pine Grove, Rock Creek Township; Plum Grove, near Potwin, Quiot, on Little Walnut on the Peter Johnson farm; Redden, Fairmount Township; Smithfield, Lincoln Township; Sycamore Springs, Sycamore Township; Sunnyside, Logan Township; Tolle, vacated in 1901, Union Township; Walnut, Walnut Township; Webster City, established in 1873, Bloomington Township; Whitewater City, located in 1858; name changed to Ovo in 1882, extreme north of Clifford Township. Pontiac, in Prospect Township, 1882 by Frank Cour and N. B. Snyder; White Station, in Spring Township; Bodarc, in Bloomington Township; Ramsey, Santa Fe siding, three miles north of El Dorado.

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BUTLER COUNTY TODAY

Pioneers tilled and toiled, their sons and daughters persevered, until today Butler County – with its area of 1,440 square miles the largest county in Kansas – has had its agricultural and industrial resources increasingly developed so that this county’s nearly 32,000 residents find a busy and comfortable livelihood here. Though Butler County has thousands of acres in fertile farms and verdant pastures, the county is not predominantly agricultural, for the oil fields developed here in 1915 and the years following have made Butler County one of the leading regions of petroleum production and refining.

The population of Butler County was recorded as 31,640 on the tax assessors’ rolls for the year 1934. Ten towns of the county have populations totaling about half the total figure for the county, so the residents are almost equally divided between town and farm homes.

Indicating the extent of agricultural lands in the county, the number of farms as recorded by the State Board of Agriculture in 1932 was 2,657. The value of all agricultural products – including livestock – of the county for 1932, the latest year for which complete figures are now available, was $3,420,000.

In 1934, the value of oil field equipment and oil produced in this county reached the sum of $9,015,747, according to the assessors’ reports. This was a clear gain of one million dollars from the previous year’s figure, because of improvement in the price of oil and new production found in the main El Dorado field, at Potwin, at Haverhill, at Douglass and elsewhere in the county.

But statistics alone can never tell the story of Butler County as it is today. The oil boom of 1915 and thereafter brought to this county new people, new industries, and new wealth. Building upon the already firm business structure of the farming communities, the many new industries resulting from oil production gave great impetus to general business throughout the county. New stores and homes were built in every town of the county. Highways were improved. Church and school buildings were enlarged, or in many cases new and modern buildings erected. Today Butler County can proudly show its homes, its churches and schools, its business buildings, its highways and all its other facilities which mark the progressive community.

TRANSPORTATION FACILITIES

Lines of four important railroads serve this county – the Missouri Pacific, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, the Rock Island, and the St. Louis and San Francisco. Main-track railroad lines in the county total more than 200 miles. The railroads carry heavy shipments of oil and refined products, of cattle at the beginning and end of each grazing season, and of farm products at harvest time. The railways give prompt connections for passengers and mail service to all parts of Kansas and the United States, so Butler County – even though it is the biggest county and “away out west in Kansas” – has the world at its door by way of the railroads and the automobile highways.

Transcontinental highways cross the county in each direction. These highways are paved or otherwise surfaced so that safe travel over them is possible in all kinds of weather. Of the 150 miles of state-maintained highway in the county, 97 miles are surfaced. Two hundred and seventy miles of county-maintained highways, of which 166 miles are surfaced, and 2,250 miles of township road of which 271 miles are surfaced, complete the intricate system of highways throughout the county. More than 10,000 motor vehicles have been licensed in Butler County in 1934.

The Southern Kansas Stage Lines Company, one of the largest bus transportation companies in this part of the United States, has many of its main-line buses routed through El Dorado and other towns of this county.

REFINERIES AND NATURAL RESOURCES

Four oil refineries in Butler County – the El Dorado Refinery and Skelly Refinery at El Dorado, White Eagle Refinery at Augusta and Vickers Refinery at Potwin, produce gasoline, lubricating oil and by-products that are nationally advertised and sold at stations throughout the country. These plants represent large invest-

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ments of capital, provide work for hundreds of men and attest the faith of the refining companies in the oil fields of Butler County for many years to come. A dozen different companies have pipelines traversing Butler County, bringing the oil to the refineries and carrying gas or gasoline to purchasing centers as far away as Chicago.

The assess valuation of all the public utilities in Butler County was $14,802,108 for the year 1934. Thirty-five different public utilities have invested such a total sum in their properties in Butler County to give residents the transportation and communication facilities requisite to a busy territory such as Butler is today.

The assessed valuation of all tangible and intangible property listed by the tax assessors in Butler County for the year 1934 was more than 55 million dollars, not so much as in several years before because of the reduced property valuations but still sufficiently high to indicate emphatically the great wealth of Butler County’s farm products, oil fields, business institutions and manufacturing enterprises.

The natural resources of the county are not confined to any particular section, but rather are well distributed over Butler’s entire expanse. The topography of the county, however, is a changing picture as one proceeds from westward to eastward across this largest county of the state. Fertile farm land, in the valley of the Whitewater River, comprises most of the western portion of the county, and the land is flat or gently rolling in that part of the county. In the central portion, through the valley of the Walnut River and its tributaries, the soil likewise is fertile and the terrain level, well suited to growing corn, wheat, oats or the forage crops. Corn is, throughout the county, the commonest crop, occupying nearly half-again as much acreage as wheat. In 1932 Butler County produced nearly two million bushels of corn.

In the eastern half of the county, however, the land becomes more steeply rolling, and finally the Flint Hills – recently re-named the Blue Stem Pastures – stretch across the horizon with their slopes covered by thick grass – the bluestem – best nourishment anywhere for grazing cattle. Cattle owners every spring ship their stock from the far-away ranges of Texas to be fattened for market on the grass of the eastern Butler County pastures, which extend also into neighboring counties on the east, south and north. Butler County in 1932 had nearly 116,000 head of livestock, valued in the aggregate at $2,670,000.

Oil is found in almost every part of the county. It is literally true that the traveler in Butler County seldom finds himself out of sight of oil derricks on some horizon, and a trip across the county will lead him through a dozen different fields. Since the discovery of oil west of El Dorado in 1915, the major oil companies as well as independent prospectors constantly have been testing out and developing other promising regions in the county. New pools – none so large yet as the original El Dorado and Augusta fields, but valuable discoveries, nevertheless – are found every year. With the discovery of the acid method of treating wells producing from limestone strata, many of the producers in the oldest fields of the county have been revived into highly profitable wells, so the future of the Butler County oil fields may bring forth as much “black gold” as has the past.

Numerous manufacturing plants have been established in the county, most of these having headquarters at El Dorado. Construction companies, oil well supply firms, wholesale grocery distributing firms and many other concerns occupy buildings in El Dorado’s business section, and several other towns of the county have such important institutions, likewise. The Whitewater Flour Mills Company with its huge elevator and mill located at Whitewater, is one of the best-known mills in Kansas, and sells several special brands of flour to consumers in every state in the southern part of the United States. At Augusta, the Spencer Manufacturing Company makes trailers and similar transportation equipment that finds a market all over the country. Grain elevators, stock yards and the other adjuncts of a farming territory are located at nearly all the smaller towns of the county.

Butler County livestock is known to be of championship qualifications at livestock expositions everywhere, because of the accomplishments of Robt. H. Hazlett, whose herd of Hereford cattle is commonly acknowledged as the finest anywhere in the entire United States. Mr. Hazlett’s ranch – Hazford Place – is located northeast of El Dorado.

J. C. Robison’s Whitewater Falls Stock Farm, near Towanda, also is widely known as the home of prize-winning registered Percheron horses.

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POLITICS – CITIZENS COSMOPOLITAN

In politics Butler County usually gives the Republican candidates for state offices a considerable majority, but the county and local offices are decided mostly on individual merit irrespective of party. The county takes its elections seriously and most of the citizens exercise their right to vote. Affairs of the county are administered by a board of county commissioners, elected from their respective districts of the county.

Two daily newspapers – The El Dorado Times and The Augusta Gazette – as well as the weekly newspapers published there and in other towns of the county are well known over the state, and are well received in their own home county with the news of Butler County today and every day. The newspapers of Butler County have a way of getting along together as friends, and always join in promoting any project undertaken for the welfare of the whole county.

Butler County’s citizens are cosmopolitan in their interests. They travel far, they fill important places in the largest cities of the state and nation – but few of them ever forget their “old home towns” and many of them come back for a visit now and then. Butler County at present may number among its one-time residents no less than fifty persons who occupy positions which make them known throughout the country in their particular kinds of endeavor.

Butler County today can go down in history as the biggest county in Kansas, one of the wealthiest counties, ranking tenth in the state in point of population, with its 32,000 citizens who are mostly prosperous, mostly well behaved, and mostly content to reside in their particular patch in the county of Butler in the state of Kansas.

AGRICULTURE AND ORCHARDS

The Kansas State Board of Agriculture states that the soil of Butler County is partly Western Residual, partly Bluestem. In other words, the Western Residual is the type having a wide adaption to general farm crops with particular emphasis on hard winter wheat, alfalfa, the sorghums, sweet clover and corn; Bluestem is more commonly known to Butler County as the “Flint Hills.”

The important history of the county from an agronomical standpoint cannot be said to extend back much more than fifty-eight years. In that time changes in methods, in crops and in results have been tremendous. The early crops were chiefly corn and wheat, the latter being produced especially in the western and northwestern part of the county. The open range and prairie hay were the chief forage in early times. Sorghum was soon introduced and proved its value as a forage crop. But it was neither a soil restorer nor a grain crop, and it remained for alfalfa and kafir to supply these needs.

In 1932 Butler County had 2,657 farms spread over 283, 767 acres, and producing field crops valued at $1,418,929.12. If to this figure is added the various other farm products, such as livestock, poultry, wool clip, dairy products, honey and beeswax, the total amounts to $3,419,816,77. Butler County ranks twenty-ninth in total acreage in the state, and eleventh in the aggregate value of production.

Of the 105 counties in Kansas, Butler ranks eight in the number of farms and in the total value of farm products.

Among the crops raised in Butler can be named winter wheat, corn, oats, rye and barley; Irish and Sweet potatoes; cow peas and soy beans used for grain and hay; flax; broomcorn; millet; popcorn; sorghum for syrup, seed and hay; milo; kafir and feterita for grain, forage and hay; sudan grass, alfalfa for seed and hay; sweet clover; a little timothy, red clover and other tame grasses; and prairie hay.

                       

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