The average width of the timber belts is one and one-quarter miles, and the varieties of the timber are hickory, walnut, ash, oak, sycamore, cottonwood and hackberry. Coal underlies a large portion of the area of the county. The quality is good and the average thickness of the veins is fifteen inches. Lime and sandstone of good quality are found throughout the county, and fine flagging stone is obtained in Rock Creek and Neosho townships.
The Neosho River enters the county from the west, eight miles from the northern boundary and nineteen miles from the southern boundary, and runs southeast, leaving the county and entering Woodson on the south, five miles west of eastern boundary line and nineteen miles from western. The Ozark range of mountains forms in Coffey County, north of the Neosho River, and the streams that rise in this county north of the Ozark range, flow into the Marais des Cygnes River and from thence into the Missouri.
The quality of the soil is black limestone and it is best adapted to the growth of wheat and corn, though everything that can be produced in the soil of the West can be raised here. The uplands and valleys have the same character of soil, but the uplands require more rain than the bottom lands, owing to the inability of the former to retain moisture like the latter. The soil is productive and yields abundantly of every product adapted to this latitude. Fruits of all kind do well.
The county possesses superior advantages for the growth of live stock. Tame grasses grow luxuriantly, corn is always a sure crop and the climate is healthy. The farmers are rapidly accumulating wealth by raising cattle and hogs, and markets for their stock and grain exist in their own county. Superior water powers abound in the Neosho River all along its course through the county, and substantial improvements have been made at Burlington and Le Roy. The manufacturing interests have been only slightly developed in the county as yet. A flouring mill at Burlington and a flouring mill at Le Roy are the only institutions whose motive powers are propelled by water.
Prior to 1854, it is not known that any white man ever lived in the county. The Sac and Fox Indians, whose reservation was north of the county, had a burial ground near the site of the city of Burlington, and an Indian trail from the Sac and Fox agency to the buffalo hunting ground in southwestern Kansas, also ran through the county, crossing the Neosho River at the point where Burlington now stands, and this trail was used for many years after the settlement of the county.
The first white man who is known to have settled in the Neosho Valley was Frederick Troxel, who erected a log house in the woods three-fourths of a mile south of the present town site of Le Roy. Mrs. Troxel was a sister of Gen. John B. Scott, one of the founders of Le Roy. Gen. Scott and Thomas Crabtree were, at this time, Indian traders at the Sac and Fox agency. Mr. Troxel moved immediately into his cabin, upon its completion, with his family. They were the first white people who ever lived in Coffey County.
Ahijah Jones, with his son George, and William R. Saunders and his brother Alban Saunders, all from New York, landed at the present site of Le Roy December 27, 1854. They went down the river and crossed, came up on the south side and crossed again to the northeast side, about three miles above Le Roy, where Jones selected his claim and built a log house. William R. Saunders and his brother both selected land on Long Creek, where they built houses, and then went back for their families, returning to their new homes in February, 1855.
Washington Vickery, who had been down in 1854, brought his family in the spring of 1855, and settled in the river bend, about a mile west of Le Roy. Levi Heddens arrived September 15, 1854, and is said to have been the first white man that ever crossed the Neosho River with a wagon. In March, 1855, Dr. Hamilton Smith settled near the mouth of Eagle Creek. He was a native of Indiana.
April 15, 1855, he settled near what is now Ottumwa. He was an ardent Free-state man, and distinguished himself in the cause. During the summer of 1855, he led a company of Free-state men from this county to the defense of Lawrence, from the attack of Pro-slavery ruffians from Missouri. The company did patrol duty for about six weeks at the fords on several roads south and east of Lawrence, living on the beef from Dutch Henry's herd that had been taken by the company under the command of Capt. John Brown, Sr.
Smith was a member from Coffey County of a convention held in Topeka, September 13, 1855, to take measures to form a State constitution, and he was one of a committee that was appointed by that convention to prepare an address to the citizens of Kansas, calling an election for delegates to a constitutional convention at Topeka. At an election held October 9, 1855, he was elected a delegate to the Topeka constitutional convention and assisted in framing the constitution adopted by that body. He was one of the proprietors of Ottumwa and died at that place in February, 1858.
Thomas Bowen settled on the present town site of Ottumwa about the last of April, 1855. He, with his family, moved from Ottumwa, Iowa, and when the town of Ottumwa was started, it was named in honor of the town from which he came in Iowa. He was an ordained minister of the Missionary Baptist Church. He was elected a member of the Legislature under the Topeka constitution and was a member of that body when it was dispersed by Col. Sumner, of the United States army, by order of Franklin Pierce. He was the first man elected to any legislature from Coffey County. He died near Ottumwa in 1859.
Morgan Dix came to Coffey County in the spring of 1855, from Indiana, striking the Neosho River at Le Roy, and passing up the river by the way of Stubblefield's, he settled near Ottumwa early in the spring of 1855, and lived there until he died in 1874. Hiram Hoover, Judge Strawn and Joe Lebo also settled at or near Ottumwa the same spring; also a Mr. Crall settled on Lebo Creek at the same time. John Bowen (a son of Thomas Bowen, before referred to), and a daughter of Mr. Crall were married in April, 1856, by the Rev. Matt (sic) Fennimore. Andrew Johnson married a daughter of Mr. Bowen about a month before.
The Hampden Colony was organized in Hampden County, Mass., March 1, 1855. The organization was for the purpose of effecting a settlement in Kansas. W. A. Ela was the first secretary. The colony, when it left Massachusetts, consisted of upward of 70 souls. It arrived at Kansas City, April 14, 1855. Its original destination was Lawrence, but upon its arrival at Kansas City it was induced by S. C. Pomeroy to locate in the Neosho valley. Mr. Pomeroy and George L. Gaylord had previously visited the Neosho valley, selected the Hampden town site and also taken claims in the vicinity.
Mr. Pomeroy selected a timber claim on the river, which was afterwards jumped and pre-empted by Wm. Whistler. Mr. Pomeroy employed Ahijah Jones, who then lived near the present town site of Le Roy, to erect a cabin on his (Pomeroy's) claim. When Mr. Jones appeared on the ground, with men and tools to erect the cabin, he found William Whistler and several Sac and Fox Indians erecting a cabin on the same claim. To avoid a difficulty, Mr. Jones threw up the job and withdrew with his force, leaving the field clear to Mr. Whistler, who subsequently pre-empted the claim.
Messrs. Pomeroy and Gaylord, on their return trip to Kansas City from the Neosho valley, stopped at the Sac and Fox agency, where Robert A. Kinzie and John H. Whistler were engaged in trading with the Indians. Learning from Mr. Pomeroy that an Eastern colony would probably locate in the Neosho valley, Messrs. Kinzie, John H. Whistler, and his son, William Whistler, immediately started for that locality, and made claims in the vicinity of the place selected for the town site of Hampden by Messrs. Pomeroy and Gaylord. Mr. Kinzie and John H. Whistler crossed the Neosho River and took claims on each side of the present site of Burlington.
The land between their claims, on which is now the city of Burlington, was reserved by Messrs. Kinzie and Whistler for a town site. William Whistler jumped the Pomeroy claim, as has been previously mentioned. The Hampden colonists purchased teams and supplies at Kansas City and arrived at Hampden on the 26th of April, 1855. The first thing to be done was to select claims. Mr. W. A. Ela, being a practical surveyor, and being also prepared with the proper instruments to do surveying, laid off seventy claims, and on the first of May, 1855, the colonists drew these claims by lot.
The hardships experienced by these pioneers were too severe for a large number, who soon retraced their steps to their old New England homes. Those that remained had to combat the ills that human flesh is subject to in all prairie countries. Conspicuously among their physical ailments was the inevitable ague.
On the 16th of July, 1855, Mrs. J. R. Pierce gave birth to a son, who lived only ten days. The corpse was enclosed in a match box and buried on the town site by Albert Flanders. Mrs. Pierce survived her child only a few days. In November, 1855, T. Y. Proctor was married to Lydia Harrington. W. A. Ela opened a store at Hampden immediately after the settlement of the colony, and also kept a private postoffice for the benefit of the settlers in the Neosho valley. The mails were brought in private conveyances from Kansas City. All of the settlers in the valley, from Humboldt to the Cottonwood River, obtained their mail matter at Mr. Ela's office.
In June of that year Mr. Degenkalb, while asleep on the bare ground in company with Theodore Denecke, was awakened by feeling something crawling over his face. He seized the creeper and jerked it suddenly to the ground. Upon examining the object, it was found to be a monster rattlesnake, which had been killed by the jerk and dash. This circumstance alarmed the colonists and caused them to speculate upon what might result should any be bitten by a rattlesnake in the absence of the usual remedy for such an accident. The result was that whisky afterward constituted a portion of Mr. Ela's stock of goods. It cost twenty-two cents a gallon at Kansas City, and retailed at his store for fifteen cents a pint.
In the summer of 1855 the machinery for a saw mill was sent to the Hampden colony by the Emigrant Aid Company, through the instrumentality of S. C. Pomeroy, its Kansas agent, but owing to the inability to procure water on the town site it was never put in operation. This mill was afterward removed to Burlington. Hardin McMahon came from Indiana to Coffey County in October, 1855, took a claim one mile below Strawn, on the Neosho River, where his family yet resides. He was the first probate judge elected by the people in Coffey County.
Wesley Stubblefield came to Coffey County in the fall of 1854, and in March 1855, took a claim about ten miles northeast of Burlington, on the road to Lawrence, which is still known as the "old Stubblefield place," and was for many years a convenient stopping place for citizens of the county. Mr. Stubblefield died in November, 1872. James A. Grimes came to Coffey County with his family in the fall of 1855, and took a claim about four miles southeast of Burlington, on the Neosho River. Of the family remaining, M. E. Grimes, David Grimes and Lindsay Grimes are still residents of the county.
Enos Strawn and George Vail were elected delegates to the Big Springs convention, that passed resolutions denouncing the bogus statutes, September 5, 1855. At an election held October 9, 1855, Dr. Hamilton Smith was elected a member of the Topeka constitutional convention and assisted in framing the constitution adopted by that body. The first Justice of the Peace in Coffey County was Gen. John B. Scott, who acted under authority of the bogus laws in 1855.
Organization of the County. -- On the 22nd day of July, 1855, the boundary lines of Coffey County were established by an act of the Legislature, and defined as follows: Beginning at the southeast corner of Welles County, thence south twenty-four miles, thence west twenty-four miles, thence north twenty-four miles, thence east twenty-four miles to place of beginning.
The county of Welles, above named, is now Osage. The county was not organized for business until February, 1857. Then it was organized by an act of the Legislature, and the same Legislature by joint ballot, elected John Woolman, Probate Judge; E. C. Amsden, Sheriff; Richard Burr and Samuel Lock, Commissioners. The same Legislature located the county-seat temporarily at Le Roy, and provided for the election, at the next general election of three Commissioners, to locate the county seat permanently. John Evans, John Wooster, and Enos Strawn, were elected such Commissioners, and proceeded to locate the county-seat permanently at Le Roy.
Coffey County was named in honor of Col. A. M. Coffey, a resident of Miami County, but a member of the Territorial Legislature of 1855. He represented the Fourth District, consisting of Franklin, Miami, and Linn counties. While in the Legislature his motto was, "The Union, it must be preserved." He was an agent of the Confederate tribe of Indians, and Colonel of a Confederate regiment in the Indian Territory during the Rebellion. As late as 1878, the Colonel was a resident of southwestern Missouri, his native State being Kentucky, where he was born in 1804.
The first term of Commissioners' Court was held at Le Roy, February, 1857. Alexander Hamilton filed his bond in the sum of $1,000. as County Clerk, and was authorized by the board to draft a plan for a temporary court-house. By authority of the court, Richard Burr procured a set of books for the Probate Judge, and for the Commissioners' Court. At a meeting of the board in April, 1857, Alexander Hamilton was appointed a special agent to borrow $800 for the purpose of putting up county buildings.
On the 20th of April, Mr. Hamilton tendered his resignation as special agent, which was accepted, and no further action was taken in regard to county buildings. The board met and adjourned, from time to time for want of business, until the 18th of August, when they established three election precincts: one each at Le Roy, Burlington, and Ottumwa.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,695 km² (655 mi²). 1,631 km² (630 mi²) of it is land and 64 km² (25 mi²) of it (3.79%) is water.
Coffey County's population was estimated to be 8,683 in the year 2005, a decrease of 196, or -2.2%, over the previous five years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 8,865 people, 3,489 households, and 2,477 families residing in the county. The population density was 5/km² (14/mi²). There were 3,876 housing units at an average density of 2/km² (6/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 96.95% White, 0.25% Black or African American, 0.52% Native American, 0.34% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 0.50% from other races, and 1.43% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.55% of the population.
There were 3,489 households out of which 33.20% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 60.70% were married couples living together, 6.90% had a female householder with no husband present, and 29.00% were non-families. 26.00% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.49 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the county the population was spread out with 26.80% under the age of 18, 6.50% from 18 to 24, 26.40% from 25 to 44, 24.00% from 45 to 64, and 16.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 96.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.50 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $37,839, and the median income for a family was $44,912. Males had a median income of $31,356 versus $20,666 for females. The per capita income for the county was $18,337. About 5.00% of families and 6.60% of the population were below the poverty line, including 5.00% of those under age 18 and 9.80% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Burlington, 2,735 (county seat)
Le Roy, 585
New Strawn, 403