Ottawa County, named for the Ottawa tribe of Indians, is located on the west side of the 6th principal meridian and is the third county from the Nebraska line. It is bounded on the north by Cloud county; on the east by Clay; on the south by Saline, and on the west by Lincoln and Mitchell. The extent of the county was described by the legislature of 1860 as including townships 9, 10, 11 and 12 south and ranges 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 west. The legislature at that time named as commissioners R. C. Whitney, Henry Martin and a Mr. Branch. The county was formally organized in 1866 in response to a petition from the citizens.
The first settlers in this district to make improvements were William Still, George Darling and a Frenchman named LaPere, who built cabins near the mouth of Coal creek (then Meyer's) and cultivated a garden in the year 1885. They were a part of the Reader colony which settled at Solomon City and at the junction of the Solomon and Smoky Hill rivers. In June, 1855, the Solomon valley was prospected as a locality for the settlement of a large colony from Ohio, but was not selected for the reason that it was considered unsafe, being beyond the frontier. LaPere, one of the first three settlers, was probably killed by the Indians. William Frost located near the mouth of Coal creek in 1858. A number of other men staked out claims but did not settle until the next year. The first to establish homes for families were S. M. Wright and E. W. Branch, near the present site of Minneapolis, in 1859. Others who came in that year were Jacob Humburger, H. R. Little, and Josiah Hocker. The drouth of 1860 checked immigration and the breaking out of the war the next year gave rise to numerous Indian raids which occurred at intervals from the fall of 1861 until about 1868. The settlers were driven out, but returned, and in 1864 banded themselves together for protection. A garrison was built on the Solomon river which was called Fort Solomon. Several log cabins were built within the enclosure and the settlers lived there during the summers of 1864 and 1865. The famous little gun known as "Jim Lane's Pocket Piece" was donated to the garrison by Maj.-Gen. S. R. Curtis.
After the war, the county was rapidly settled by discharged soldiers. In 1866 Seymour Ayres prepared the papers for the organization of the county, and Gov. Crawford appointed the following officers: J. H. Ingersoll, county clerk; Amasa May, Henry Dresher and A. J. Willis, commissioners. Ayersburg was named as the county seat. At the first election, held in Nov., 1866, the following officers were elected: G. R. Ingersoll, A. H. Boss and Silas Seaman, commissioners; H. S. Wooden, county clerk; George Culver, treasurer; D. Pierce, sheriff, and J. H. Ingersoll, county attorney. Minneapolis and Lindsey were in the race for county seat, the former being the winner. Two other county seat elections were held, one in 1870 and one in 1872, both giving Minneapolis a majority. For many years the county was without a building and rented quarters in Minneapolis.
Until the year 1868 the various Indian raids had resulted in the death of but one Ottawa county man, Peter Miller. In that year, however, two disastrous raids occurred. The first was in August, when much property was destroyed, but fortunately no one killed, though a number saved themselves only by great coolness and good judgment. In October a raid was made which resulted in the death of 4 men, Peter Kerns, an old gentleman by the name of Smith, Alexander Smith and John Andrews. Mr. Virtue and Mr. Morgan were wounded, and the wife of the latter carried away into captivity, from which she was rescued the following spring. The last raid occurred in June, 1869, when an attack was made on Summerville, where the Indians were repulsed by Ben Markley and a son of Capt. Pierce, on whose house the attack was made. At the same time the Smithville postoffice was burned and two young men Mr. Dyer and John Weir were killed.
Among the disasters, the first was the drouth of 1860, in which the settlers received relief to the extent of 10,810 pounds of provisions. The grasshopper raid in 1874, which devastated the whole state, killed all the vegetation in the county, and the people were again obliged to ask aid. A cyclone on Salt creek in May, 1879, resulted in the loss of 6 lives, the killed being Katie Krone, Mrs. Vosh, Anna Vosh, Mr. McCalmot, Jacob Garber, of Center county, Pa., and a party whose name is not known. A number of persons were seriously injured and the property loss was over $15,000. On the night of June 10, 1879, another cyclone, following the course of the Solomon river, wrought havoc through the center of the county. No lives were lost, but the property damage amounted to $26,000. On June 9, 1881, a third cyclone occurred in the southern part of the county, moving east from the Saline river. Six homes were destroyed and 3 people, Mr. and Mrs. L. F. Frothingham and George Combs, were killed. Many others were injured but recovered.
The first school in the county was taught at Concord in 1864 by Miss Charlotte Ingersoll. The first marriage occurred at old Fort Solomon in 1865 between D. W. Bruce and Matilda Jones. The first death was that of Mrs. E. W. Branch. The first birth was a son of Mr. and Mrs. S. M. Wright in 1859. The first sermon was preached at the house of Mrs. Boss at Fort Solomon, in 1865. The first justices of the peace were Seymour Ayres and John Knight. Two postoffices were established in 1864, one at Bennington with S. Z. Boss as postmaster, and the other at Ayresburg with J. C. Boblett as postmaster. The latter, with Israel Markley, built the first mill in the county at Elkhorn, and the first store in the county was opened by Col. John Kerwin at Fort Solomon in 1866.
The first railroad was the Solomon Valley branch of the Kansas Pacific. It was built to Minneapolis in 1877 and extended to the limits of the county two years later. Bonds to the extent of $100,000 were issued to aid in the building. This road, which is now the Union Pacific, enters the southeast corner and follows the Solomon valley northwest into Cloud county. Another line of the Union Pacific runs through the southwest corner of the county, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe crosses the central portion east and west.
Ottawa county is divided into 20 townships, viz: Bennington, Blaine, Buckeye, Center, Chapman, Concord, Culver, Durham, Fountain, Garfield, Grant, Henry, Lincoln, Logan, Morton, Ottawa, Richland, Sheridan, Sherman and Stanton.
The surface in general is undulating prairie with rough lands along the divides and slopes leading down to the bottom lands, which constitute about one-fourth of the total area of the county. Limestone, red sandstone, ocher, gypsum and potter's clay are plentiful. One of the geological curiosities of the state, known as the "City of Rocks," is located a short distance southwest of Minneapolis on the opposite side of the Solomon Valley. At one time it consisted of several hundred round and oval shaped rocks, varying in size from 2 to 15 feet in diameter. The material is a white flinty sandstone in thin layers or scales. A number of theories have been advanced to explain the formation.
The principal stream is the Solomon river entering the county in the northwest part and flowing in a southeasterly direction. Into it empty Pipe and Coal creeks from the east and Salt creek from the west. The Saline river crosses the southwest corner. The area is 720 square miles or 640,800 acres, of which 350,397 acres are under cultivation. The value of the farm products in 1910 was $4,423,784, of which wheat amounted to $862,082; corn, $1,192,308, and oats to $235,765.53. The value of animals sold for slaughter was $1,443,246. The total assessed valuation of property was $27,124,816. The population of the county was 11,811, making the average wealth per capita over $2,300.
(Source: Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history…, 1912, edited by Frank W. Blackmar)