The rival towns of Leoti and Coronado were within plain sight of each other, being but three miles apart. Leoti was platted as a government town site in July, 1885 and was proved up June 10, 1886. The post office was first called Bonasa, the department at Washington having refused to permit it to be called Leoti, since there was another post office in the state by the name of Leota. A half dozen different names had been suggested by the inhabitants of the new town, and each turned down by the department. At last Milton Brown, the secreaty of the town company, happened to see a picture of a bird called "Bonasa" and desribed as a species of the prairie grouse. This seem to him not an inappropriate name for the newly fledged town, and after some conference on the subject he sent the name to the Post Office Department, where it was promptly accepted. The town carried this name but a short time for on January 18, 1887, through the efforts of Congressman S. R. Peters, the original name of Leoti was restored.
R. E. Jenness was the president of the Leoti town company and nearly half of the members of the association were Garden City men. A newspaper was among the town's first achievements, the Wichita County Standard being issued November 19, 1885 by C. S. Triplett. At this time there were but five shanties on the town site, and the nearest post office was twenty-five miles away.
Coronado was incorporated in October, 1885 with John W. Knapp as president of the town company and W. D. Brainered secretary. It is said that in February, 1886, the town had but four houses, but that by July 15 of that year, it could boast of a newspaper, the Wichita County Herald, issued by James Barrett, and after his deth by James B. Rodgers. The first house in the town was the Hotel Vendome, built by the town company and completed in February 1886. The village grew rapidly and by March 1887 there were over one hundred business houses and residences.
A bitter strife between the two towns is indicated by the tone of the newspapers during the years 1885, 1886 and 1887. The editors indulged in some of the most abusive and picturesque invective, couched in the vernacular of the West, ever spread on print paper in kansas. Each town charged the other with lies, forgery, fraud, trickery, bulldozing and intimidation and finally with murder. From the files of these and Topeka papers we have gathered some of the facts relative to the organization of the county of Wichita and the county seat war.
The county was created by the legislature of 1873 and named by the late Col. M. M. Murdock, of Wichita, Kan., who was a member of the state senate at the time; organization, however, was not attempted for some years.
In the spring of 1886 Leoti raised money to send its representative to Topeka with a memorial for the organization of the county and about July 15, Governor Martin appointed W. D. Brainerd, of Coronado, census taker for the county. Both Leoti and coronado asked to be allowed to send an agent with him on the census tour, that their respective interests might be protected, but permission was refused them. The Coronado paper said: "As a public official Mr. Brainerd intends to do his work impartially but as a citizen of Coronado he is for this town first, last and all the time."
The work of the organization was not coming on as rapidly as was desired. The Leoti Standard of October 21, 1886, thus states the cause of the delay: "Coronado has raised the question of jurisdiction and secured a ruling from the court that Wichita was not attached to Finney county for judicial purposes and under that ruling they secured an injunction to prohibit the probate judge of Finney county from issuing deeds to the citizens of Leoti for their lots. Under that decision the county commissioners of Finney county refused to grant the petition for organization of Leoti as a city of the third class. Under that decision the sheriff of Finney county has failed to issue his proclamation calling an election in Wichita county as a municipal township attached to Finney, thus depriving nearly 1000 voters of their right of franchise."
On November 8, 1886 a delegation from Leoti headed by C. W. Garland arrived in Topeka in search of Mr. Brainerd whom they charged with connivane with Coronado in delaying the organization of the county, "because they were unable to get enough signers to their memoiral to make Coronado the county seat." November 12 Mr. Brainerd reported to the governor a population of 1095 householders in the county, 817 voters, and $510,572 in taxable property in excess of exemptions.
During the last week in November representatives from both towns presented memorials to the governor, who agreed to appoint a special disinterested commissioner to canvass the county for votes on the county seat. The town securing the most votes was to have not only the temporary county seat, but two county commissioners as well. The Leoti memorial contained 500 names, while that of Coronado had 1700. Governor Martin appointed T. B. Gerow as special commissioner and he began his work December 7, 1886. He was accompanied by a man from Leoti and a man from Coronado and completed the poll December 22. The result was 451 votes for Leoti and 285 for Coronado a total of 736 votes cast and the census taker had listed 817 votes. Of this special canvass the Coronado Herald, December 23, 1886 says: "No doubt Leoti has a majority of the votes polled. Four townshites north and northeast were intimidated from voting by the presence of 72 teams loaded with rifles, shotguns and imported bulldozes from Wallace, Greeley and Hamilton counties, 242 in number, put there by Leoti agents." The Leoti Standard retaliated by charging that Coronado men said they would win if it cost them $50 per vote, that they had imported Kendall men and men from other counties and had employed a United States Marshal without authority to guard the polls. The Standard also claimed that the polls at Coronado were covered by men stationed in stairways and second story windows, armed with Winchesters and that in addition to these they had 300 armed men to use in case of an emergency.
The Scott City Herald of about the same date had the following to say: "Leoti was the scene of a genuine cowboy raid. Anticipating trouble over the county seat war, Leoti had sent to Wallace after a band of fifteen or twenty cowboys, armed to the teeth, to assist in protecting their rights. Not being needed for protection, they proceeded to shoot up the town. The post office was riddled with bullets every business building fired into, men were compelled to dance at the point of cocked revolvers, including the county clerk and one man was shot through the foot.
Another lively episode of the time was the horsewhipping of a Coronado editor by a Leoti man who rode defiantly out of the town at full speed, shooting his revolver into the air and scattering the women and children on the main street.
The poll having been completed, Wichita county was duly organized by the governor's proclamation dated December 24, 1886 and Leoti was named as temporary county seat. R. E. Jenness, S. W. McCall, and W. D. Brainerd were appointed county commissioenrs and Lilburn Moore county clerk. These officers divided the county into townships, appointed voting places, and set the day, February 8, 1887 for the election of county and township officers and the choice of a permanent county seat. On February 4, 1887 there was approved by the governor a legislative "Act to provide for the registration of electors at elections for the location of county seats." This act was not published until February 5 and R. E. Jenness, chairman of the temporary board of county commissions, telegraphed to the attorney general for instructions. These instructions were to hold the election for officers on the date decided upon but to postpone the county seat question, not voting on it until March 10. In a decision rendered March 3, 1887 at the request of the governor, the attorney-general again made the statement that under the new act the county seat question must go over until March 10. The legislature recognized the election of the representative from the county, Charles S. Triplett, editor of the Leoti Standard and made no movement to unseat him.
Nearly all of Leoti voted at this election (February 8), but over 400 Coronado boomers refused to vote, claiming that the election would be illegal and that it should be postponed until March 10, proceeding to handbill the county to that effect. Leoti claimed that the act postponing the election was unconstitutional and that Leoti had been legally chosen county seat.
The crisis in the war came on Sunday, February27, each town charging the other with starting it. The following account is taken from a report of the affair made to the governor by Commissioner Jenness, Sheriff John H. Edwards and County Treasurer S. E. Gandy:
"About ten a.m. Sunday a messenger was sent from Coronado (to Leoti), inviting Charles Coulter and others to go over and have a good time. About one p.m. Mr. Coulter, Frank Jenness, William Raines, Albert Borrey, George Watkins, A. Johnson and Emmet Deming went over to Coronado in one rig. They met a few of the boys at the drug store of Doctor Wright, and after a half hour visit got in their wagon to return, when Coronado men began an abusive tirade. Coulter and Williams got out of the wagon and the fight began. Several volleys of shots were fired into the Leoti boys, illing Charles Coulter and William Raines and mortally wounding George Watkins, who died later. The other four men were sitting in the wagon unarmed, but none of them escaped without four or five severe wounds from large Winchester balls. They all fell out of the wagon at the first volley except Albert Boorey who with Frank Jenness escaped to Leoti with the runaway team. The scheme was concoted by the Coronado gang stationed on the streets and in their houses, a large part of the shots coming from second story windows.
We ask your excellency to take action in the matter that will prevent further bloodshed and protect us at the election March 10."
Coronado claimed that the Leoti men came over with a case of beer and that the visitors were partially masked. On arrival they announced that they had come to round up the town and immediately started in to make everybody drink, compelling an eastern man to dance to the spatter of the bullets and beginning the fight by knocking down two men. It was also claimed that the Leoti men fired from the wagon thus forcing the Coronado men to fire in self defense.
The Leoti side of the story as told at the time was that Charles Coulter, who was running a drug store at Leoti had borrowed a case of beer from Doctor Wright, the Coronado druggist. For, notwithstanding the desperate condition of the county seat affairs there was a strong feeling of neighborliness and goodwill between the citizens of the contending towns, and beer borrowing was but one of the evidences of that feeling. Doctor Wright had not received the consignment he had expected on Saturday and his stock of this beverage was running a little shy. He sent word to this effect to Coulter asking a return of the loan. Coulter with the utmost good nature, arranged to keep his credit good, and asked some of the boys to go over for the ride, which invitation was accepted. Deming was a good musician and quite a favorite among the young people, and took his guitar along to give the Coronado folks some music. After an hour or so of social intercourse the boys got into their spring wagon and started back home. At this juncture, "Red" Loomis came up and began abusing them, calling them names and using expressions which some of the Leoti boys would not stand for. Then the trouble began and Loomis got the licking he richly deserved.
The Leotians again loaded up and started for home. As they turned the corner by the bank building they were greeted with the volley of bullets from the second story windows which resulted so disastrously. The team was hit by several bullets and the bed of the spring wagon was perforated in many places. Boorey was so full of bullet holes that his escape was considered a miracle. Jenness was badly hurt but seemed to be the most lucky one of the bunch. Johnson received one bullet in the head which they physicians were unable to locate. After suffering agony for weeks, during which his death was daily expected, he began slowly to recover. One day while on the street the bullet dropped into his mouth after which his improvement was rapid. Deming was hit in the leg and in spite of heroic efforts to save the injured member it was found necessary to amputate it just below the thigh.
Adjutant Genral A. B. Campbell was notified at once of the situation and Col. J. H. Ricksecker, lieutenant colonel of the Second Kansas militia, was instructed to bring the Larned and Sterling companies to Garden City and station them there ready for marching orders. General Campbell and Colonel Ricksecker arrived at Leoti about four o'clock Monday morning, after an all-night ride from Lakin the nearest railroad station. Leoti was closely guarded to prevent suprise from the enemy and a large rifle pit was dug near the town well at the center of the town. Pickets were also placed around Coronado to prevent the escape of any of the citizens before the authorities could get action.
Immediately after breakfast the officers drove over to coronado, accompanied by the sheriff to review the situation. General Campbell soon quieted the objections to arrest on the part of the Coronado citizens by telling them that the law must be allowed to take its course; that he had two companies of militia under arms, ready to march at a moment's notice, and that unless they would quietly sumit to the civil authorities he would have his soldiers on the ground in twenty-four hours and give the town a little touch of military discipline. They finally consented to submit to arrest if they could be guaranteed full protection. This was readily agreed to by both the officers and the representatives of Leoti. The sheriff then proceeded to arrest fourteen citizens implicated in the murder of the Leoti men and swore in deputies from both towns to act as guards. When the party returned to Leoti with the prisoners there was not the slightest demonstration it having been previously arranged that people should keep out of the streets as much as possible. The sheriff placed his prisoners in the upper room of the town hall, there being no jail. All waived examination until the June term of the district court. Four of the prisoners were taken to Garden City and the rest to Dodge City.
Other arrests followed making twenty in all. They were all prominent business men, including a banker and the president of the town company and each swore that he had nothing to do with the shooting. In June the prisoners were all released, eight being admitted to bail at $3000 each and the others discharged for lack of evidence. On Saturday night, December 12, 1887 one other Corondao man was arrested and lodged in the Leoti jail. Early Sunday morning, a mob of masked Leoti men demanded the prisoner to lynch him. Being refused, they opened fire on the sheriff and his deputies who returned shot for shot, which scattered the mob and left a bloody trail behind it. The trials of all these defendants came up on a change of venue at Great Bend in February, 1888. The trial of the man who was so nearly lynched was most bitterly contested. The jury acquitted him and the other cases were dismissed for want of jurisdiction.
A one time resident of Coronado now says that his townspeople heard of the threat of the Leoti men to round up their town but paid little heed until the men arrived in their midst one day soon after dinner. While they were amusing themelves by making a sick druggist and his nurse dance to the crack of the six shooters and other like tricks, the cooler heads of Coronado were gathering in near by places armed for the protection of the town. He maintains that the Leoti men were the first to knock down and shoot and that three Coronado men were shot and two knocked on the head before the volley was fired which killed the two leaders from Leoti. He also says that it was with great difficulty that another fight was averted during the negotiations for the removal of the dead and wounded.
Although as a result of the election of March 10, 1887 the commissioners declared Leoti to be the permanent county seat, the Coronado paper fought to the last ditch. Its issue of March 10 had the first page printed in red ink and gaudy with a spread eagle and a crowing cock. It claimed to have won the victory because Leoti had shoved in 500 illegal votes, and also stated that the light vote at Coronado was caused by the presence of Leoti's armed forces entrenched in rifle pits around the polls. Indeed, both towns were fortified by earthworks and rifle pits.
Until September 1888, Coronado continued the fight to set aside the county seat election of March 10, 1887. Meantime Farmer City came to the front as a sort of compromise and two county commissioners assumed the right to remove some of the records of Leoti to Farmer City, basing their actions on an alleged election in that year, 1888 for the location of a permanent county seat.
The fight ended abruptly and tamelly by the town of Leoti offering free lots to all Coronado citizens desring to move to the county seat. This offer was generally acepted and during the fall and winter of 1888-89 all of the Coronado town-site buildings were moved to Leoti. The strife was so quickly forgiven and forgotten that the president of the Coronado town company John W. Knapp was elected a member of the Leoti city council the following spring. But Leoti never became more than a country town, dwindling to a population of 151 in 1900. The Santa Fe deserted it, selling for a few hundred dollars its one story depot to the county for a courthouse. The town now (1912) has a population of 288 and one railroad, the Missouri Pacific.
The last house at Coronado as just outside the city limits, on land which reverted to the state. This house belonged to an old couple who lived on their farm. A sharp lawyer took the land as a homestead and tried to bluff the aged people out of the building. Ten farmers came one day with teams and moving apparatus set the lawyer's family out and moved the four room cottage to the farm of the rightful owners. The lawyer sued the farmers for $10,000 each. The jury was out but ten minutes returning a verdict of damages for the plaintiff to the amount of 57 cents.
A few years later the editor of the Leoti Standard went over to the forsaken town site, pulled up the old town pump and carried it to Leoti. So now there remains not even a place to get a drink of water in this dead town, where strong drink once made men so reckless of human life.
Besides what it cost in blood and suffering and useless litigation the Wichita county seat war cost the state according to the report of the adjutant general, just $668.08.
Source: Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 12, by Kansas State Historical Society, 1912, pages 441 - 447)