FORD COUNTY AS WE KNOW IT TODAY WAS NOT ORGANIZED IN a day. An inkling of the many changes that finally determine the boundaries of Ford is noted in an item from the Special Traveler's Section, Dodge City Daily Globe, 1959. "February 27, 1883, Ford County now consists of old Ford, southeast two thirds of Gray, the east half of Medal and all of Clark, is sixty three miles long, forty-eight wide and is larger than the state of Rhode Island and Delaware together." Dipping back farther into the annals of early day history, finding the facts essentially belonging in the creation of Ford, brings to light a colorful past well worth telling in the story of Ford County.
When Eastern United States was settled, the few brave pioneers always to be found in any settlement, followed the stream, which led them as far eventually as the Mississippi River, western boundary of the United States in 1783. But few indeed were the men who ventured across the river to the plains beyond that were owned by Spain and stretched westward farther than the eye could see. If they crossed, these hardy souls followed the trails laid out by animals, especially the larger ones, buffalo coyote, and the deer.
An animal picked its way along the easy grades, showing preference for soil surfaces that were not too difficult to tread. They chose streams more easily crossed than others and left their trails close beside them. They chose locations where grass was plentiful and timber was at hand to shelter them in time of storm. This cleared path, with water and grass at hand, was ideal, for wild game would furnish man with fresh meat for his larder.
Trapper and trader, sometimes afoot, often times leading pack-mule, widened the trail with his passing. He welcomed the water, the grass, the timber, and the game especially, provided him with food, clothing, utensils, weapons, and shelter of sorts. Later when beasts of burden were used to transport heavy loads, they too followed these same trails. Small wonder the highways of yesteryear were designated as trails.
The deepest ruts lay in loose soil where oxen's hooves and wide-rimmed tires had pulverized and stirred the earth until it rose in clouds of dust above the wagon-trains to be carried onward until it settled to earth again in some far distant land. At the end of a day's travel, camp was made and these campsites in turn became well marked along the trail.
Although the Indian first inhabited the plains country, this history will not exploit his travels, excepting as he came in contact with the white men. The New Practical Reference Library, Volume III, says the Kansas plains were first visited by Spaniards under Coronado about 1541 and was not again explored until the eighteenth century when Frenchmen passed through it.
The Kansas plains came into possession of the United States in 1803 as part of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1805, Lewis and Clark had ascended the Missouri River on the trip that made them famous, furnishing the most important claim the United States had to Oregon and the most accurate news of this western land along the Yellowstone to the people in the east. He was followed by another famous explorer, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike, who explored the headwaters of the Mississippi in 1805. The following year, 1806, he set out to explore the Arkansas and the Southwest.
Lieutenant Pike's instructions were to ascend the Missouri River, visit the various Indian tribes in Kansas country, go west to the frontier of New Mexico, then south toward the source of the Red River which he was to descend to the Mississippi, and thence to St. Louis, the starting point. He visited the Osage Indians in eastern Kansas, then the Pawnees along the Solomon River in Kansas. He found a Spanish flag floating over the tent of the chief and demanded that it be lowered and the American flag hoisted in its place. While Pike waited anxiously, the Indians made speeches. Finally an old chief arose and hauled down the Spanish flag, laying it at Pike's feet. The chief accepted the American flag, unfurling it above the chief's tent. So far as is known the Stars and Stripes, for the first time, floated over Kansas territory.
From there Lieutenant Pike moved down to the Arkansas River and followed it into what is now known as Colorado. It was as he pushed onward that he sighted the peak in the Rocky Mountains which bears his name, Pike's Peak. By this
time it was winter and Pike and his men suffered from cold and hunger. They were taken prisoners by the Spanish, who fed them and conducted them in a round-about way through Texas, setting them at liberty on the Louisiana border. From there, he reached St. Louis.
The published information he brought back, stimulated interest in the far West, notwithstanding that in his journal, he wrote this discouraging notation, "From these immense prairies, may rise one great advantage to the United States, viz., the restriction of our population to certain limits, and thereby a continuation of the union. Our citizens being so prone to rambling and extending themselves on the frontiers, will, through necessity, be constrained to limit their extent on the west to the borders of the Missouri and the Mississippi, while they leave the prairies, incapable of cultivation, to the wandering aborigines of the country." Another explorer, Major Long, who came in 1819 and 1820, reported that most of the country was unfit for cultivation, and therefore uninhabitable by an agricultural people. He even went so far as to say the country bore a "resemblance to the deserts of Siberia."
Then Washington Irving stated his opinion of the country, "It could well be the Great American Desert. It spreads forth into undulating and treeless plains and desolate sandy wastes, wearisome to the eye from their extent and monotony. It is a land where no man permanently abides, for at certain seasons of the year there is no food for the hunter or his steed."
So for many a year, all the plains country, including the area that later became Kansas Territory, was classified and named on the maps in the early day geographies as the Great American Desert. The author recalls that the geographies of her early school days listed a great space on the maps as the Great American Desert. Kansas was certainly more than a pathway to the West at that time. By 1805, Kansas was included in Missouri Territory but was cut off in 1821 when Missouri became a state. Again Kansas and Colorado, without a name, stretched westward to the Rocky Mountains. But in 1827, the government was sufficiently interested in the country to establish Fort Leavenworth. Thus matters stood until 1854.
In that year organization of Kansas Territory was precipa-
tated by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill. Several attempts were made to form constitutions and elect legislators. During this time a lively struggle ensued between two factions, one favoring slavery, the other opposed, to gain control of the new territory.
Immigrants in sympathy with the southern cause came in from Missouri and eastern anti-slavery societies sent out avowed northern men to keep Kansas a free state. After the "sacking of Lawrence" John Brown made his famous raid at Pottawatamie Creek in 1856. The raid set off the guerrilla warfare in which nearly two hundred lives were lost and much property destroyed. `Bloody Kansas,' they now called the beleaguered land.
By this time a greater number of free-state men were on the soil. A constitution was adopted in 1859, prohibiting slavery. It was finally ratified and Kansas was admitted to the Union, January 29, 1861.
While all this was taking place, there was great activity among the settlers. Trading posts sprang up at former camp-sites. The government established forts-Fort Mann, Fort Atkinson, Fort Riley and Fort Lamed, and it leased Bent's new Fort in 1859, renaming it Fort Wise. Accessibility to the trails was to determine the growth of a straggling one street town. Settlements either expanded into the cities of today or sank into oblivion, to be classified later as "ghost" towns.
The drought that began in June, 1859, and lasted until November, 1860, a period of sixteen months when not enough rain fell to wet the earth to a depth of more than two inches, slowed the development of Kansas Territory and revived again stories of The Great American Desert.
The Grasshopper Invasion of 1874, left ruin in its wake and conditions were much like those of the 1859-1860 era. This time, however, the people of Kansas did not have to ask for help from the east as in those other years. The grasshopper plague was prolonged into the following year. When the eggs which had been deposited in the ground hatched, the young grasshoppers ate the spring crop. There was time to plant another crop, which the settlers did, and the fall crops were abundant. Again the tales of the Great American Desert found their way east. Prosperous years followed and new towns sprang up. Men who had been on the point of leaving, now changed their minds.
New counties were organized and, all in all, the picture of the future seemed brighter. Gradually, the old stories of the Great American Desert were forgotten even before Kansas was counted among the states; Ford County among the counties. The name "Kansas" is taken from the Kaw or Kanza Indians and means, "People of the South Wind." William Allen White once wrote about those winds: "The restless sighing winds of Kansas tell a thousand tales that are undreamed of by winds of other skies."
Ford County, organized in April, 1873, was named in honor of Col. James H. Ford of the 2nd Colorado Cavalry and Brevet Brigadier General United States Volunteers. But before it reached the status it has now, it went through a period of entire changes in its boundaries, giving and taking land.
As the dates of creation of counties are more definite than those of organization, they are used as the time from which the counties are represented. Oftentimes a county was marked on paper but had no other substance; created before it was organized. This was the case with Ford County and its parent counties never reached the stage of organization.
The second act of 1855 (Laws of 1855) created two new counties: Marion, out of a tract of land one hundred miles long and eighteen wide, west of Hunter, Butler, and the south half of Wise counties; and Washington, including all of the territory west of Marion County and east of a line drawn north from the northeast corner of New Mexico. Both counties were attached to Allen.
An act was passed February 20 (Laws of 1857) correcting the boundaries of all counties established in 1855, excepting Marion, Washington, and Arrapaho, which lay west of Washington County and the unnamed northern part of Kansas Territory again nameless, a total blank space on the maps of that day.
In 1860, eight new counties were created. Among them Marion, south of Dickinson County, and Peketon, including all the unorganized territory south of township 16 and between the sixth principal meridian and New Mexico, (General Laws of 1860), the latter being of prime importance to Ford County history.
The Kansas State Historical Society reports that they have the letter from S. N. Woods, Brig. Gen. by John F. Dodds on
May 10, 1864, from Kiowa, Peketon County, Kan., probably somewhere in the vicinity of Forts Larned and Zarah. KSHS C Vol. 8. The first of the letter tells of fearing the Kiowas and Comanches and stating that a few Indians from other tribes were about ready to make another bloody raid in Texas. Quote from the letter:
Last week a runner came down with word that the Platte Indians, or Platte Cheyenne and the whites were fighting on Beaver-Black Kettle and Lean Bear were here with bands numbering some 100 lodges. They immediately pulled up and struck out for the seat of war. The Cheyennes are much dissatisfied as to the manner in which their `presents' or goods the Government gives them, are withheld, and I would not be surprised if trains suffer on the roads any time. George Bent, who is with the Cheyennes, told me a few weeks since that the Sioux came amongst the Cheyennes last summer and agreed to come over and rob on the road, but were prevented by his father. Chas. Rath is some 130 miles S.W. trading with the Comanches; he left here April 23rd, and will probably be hack in 8 or 10 days. His brother `Chris' left on the 12th of March with 2 wagons, one white man and one contraband to trade with Cheyennes upon Smoky, about 175 miles distant. He wrote home by an Indian about a month since, which is the last tidings we received from him. The Indians say he will be here in four days. May 11, 1864. Chas. Rath has just got in from the Comanches, and reports all quiet in the Indian boundary."
Again, Peketon County is mentioned in Case 455 in which Charles Rath asks for pay for horses and mules stolen by the Cheyennes from his ranch on Walnut Creek; also by his witnesses, Louis Booth and John Dodge. All give the address of Rath Ranch and state in their depositions as Charles Rath did, "That his Trading Post is situated on Walnut Creek, at the Great Bend of the Arkansas River at the distance of about one mile from it, in the County of Peketon, and State of Kansas." Later, when this Indian Depredation case had dragged on, and I. D. C. Atkins, Commissioner filed further evidence, the address is stated as above, also in this wise: "Walnut Creek, Peketon County, Kansas."
The Kansas State Historical Society also has two other letters
from this mysterious county of Peketon, which existed only on paper. But this time the county isn't mentioned, the heading stating, "Walnut Creek Plains, Kansas, July 28th 63" and the date of the other is September 8, 1863. Both letters are from Charles Rath to S. N. Wood. It is strange that he did not mention the county for he had at one time been its constable.
Ford County was embraced in Peketon County which came into being in 1860, before there was even a state of Kansas. Peketon County included perhaps the western two-thirds of Kansas Territory and extended on into Colorado. At this late date no one knows how the name "Peketon" was chosen nor why. All is supposition but surmises have been made and the consensus of opinion is that "Peketon" is of Indian origin.
S. N. Wood wrote to Ed Downer, January 15, 1878, saying that Peketon County was so named at the request of A. Beach and his son, Dr. A. J. Beach, surgeon of the Ninth Kansas Cavalry; both he and his son wrote to Governor Modally suggesting the name. Possibly one or the other of these men was the live correspondent who kept various papers in eastern Kansas acquainted with the happenings going on, in and around "Beach Valley" located on Cow Creek four miles west and a mile south of Lyons, and A. Beach was one of the first commissioners of Peketon County. Mr. Wood thought Peketon might be the name of an Indian chief.
John Maloy, in the Council Grove "Cosmos" of June 4, 1886, stated that Peketon was a word coined by judge A. I. Baker from the Sac language, meaning flat or low land. Another supposition is that the word was derived from Pekitanoui, the name Marquette gave to the Missouri River, or Pekatonica, a branch of Rock River. An election was held at Beach Valley, November 6, 1860, although Peketon County was not organized and the state of Kansas was not yet admitted as a state. Beach Valley is identified as the crossing of the old Santa Fe Trail over Cow Creek, four miles west and a mile south of Lyons. It appeared there were anyway twelve persons who got together to form the county and to hold the election, perhaps feeling the need of county organization for the enforcement of law. However, it seems not to have been evoked much for as late as the summer of 1864, the officials at Fort Lamed filled out legal papers for settlers.
To substantiate the above statement and the way the county
was referred to several quotes are given from reports given at Fort Lamed, on Indian Depredation Case No. 1167, dated May 31, 1864, and Case No. 455, December 4, 1886, really one and the same case. When the information about the Indian Depredation was first given at Fort Lamed, the document reported, "-That his (Charles Rath) Trading Post is situated on Walnut Creek, at the Great Bend of the Arkansas River, at the distance of about one mile from it, in the County of Peketon, and State of Kansas-" Lewis Booth, a witness, is listed as being "at the Trading Post of Charles Rath on Walnut Creek, at the Big Bend Peketon County Kansas,--"; John Dodge, another witness, "-a resident of Peketon County, Kansas-" D. C. Atkins, Commissioner, writes into his statement, "He (Charles Rath) further states that Booth one of his witnesses is dead-that the claimant's testimony originally filed was sworn to before the U. S. Post Adjutant, there being no civil officer within 100 miles of the Post." These were included in the reports to the Department of the Interior, office of Indian Affairs, Washington.
Going back to the election at Beach Valley, November 6, 1860, records prove there were twelve voters. Since there were eleven elected officers, all named, the identity of the twelfth is established for his name appears among those of the three judges and one clerk. Thus he is named as William Mathewson, the trader who had a post at that point and was the original "Buffalo Bill." He was a judge of the election and the only one of that group not to be elected to some office. All of the elected officers received the full dozen votes, excepting two who received eleven votes, perhaps because these candidates did not vote for themselves. The newly elected officers were:
For Legislature: S. N. Wood
Mathewson, and R. Odell, judges, with Wm. J. Mason signing in the capacity of clerk.
A. J. Beach is believed to be the "man named Beach" who is said to have run a trading post at Beach Valley, along with one operated by William, "Buffalo Bill" Mathewson. S. N. Wood is mentioned as a name in two ways, but possibly not referring to the same man - connected with the Raymond school bond swindle and as Brig. Gen. S. N. Wood of Fort Lamed. A man, Harry L. Bickford, was elected Railroad Commissioner in 1873. Robert Odell, who helped Samuel Lappin escape jail and was well paid for it, was not wanted back in the county again and may have been a colored man.
Charles Rath, constable, was owner of the old Peacock Ranch, having taken it over and the trading post as well right after Peacock's demise. It was now called Rath's Ranch and was also the stage stop-over, the passengers and driver staying overnight before starting the dangerous trip through Indian infested country to the west. Later Charles Rath was one of three men who set up the Charles Rath Mercantile Company general store in Dodge City.
The name W. D. Wheeler, calls for some guessing that he may have been "a man named Wheeler," who was said to have built the old Stone Corral at the Little Arkansas River crossing. He may have operated a toll bridge for there was one at the Stone Corral, maybe at Cow Creek crossing, and at Walnut Creek crossing. Charles Rath was one of the incorporated members of the Walnut Creek toll bridge. Even with the bits of information collected about the voters, not too much is known. About some of them, no records were found. Perhaps a few may have been employed at trading posts. Others may have been counted as residents merely by being on the ground on election day.
So Peketon County lay as created until, as recorded in the Laws of 1865, Marion County was enlarged to include Peketon County. An act, recorded in the Laws of 1867, provided for the division of all unorganized portions of the state east of range line 26 West; the counties to be organized when they should have the required population. One of these counties was Ford.
Ford County was created from Marion County, which was then confined to one tier of townships on the south, taken from
Butler County. But this still was not our present Ford County for in the Laws of 1873, its boundary was changed.
The north line of Ford was pushed six miles north to the north line of Township 25, the south line six miles south to the north line of Township 30, and its west line six miles west to the east line of Range 27. After this Ford County was organized.
While time passed by the boundaries of Ford County remained unchanged. Then in 1887, the area of Ford County was reduced but it again took the boundary of 1873 and is as we know it today.
1. History of the United States, Bassett; The New Practical Reference Library, Vol. III; History of Kansas, Prentis; A History of Kansas, Arnold. Reference: "The Establishment of Counties in Kansas, 1855-1903", KSHS; The Establishment of Counties in Kansas, 1855-1903, with 16 Maps, reprinted from Vol. 8 of KSHS Collections. -a college thesis by Helen Gertrude Hill; The Early Story of Rice County, Horace Jones.