Early History of Doniphan County
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Doniphan County, one of the 33 original counties formed by the first territorial legislature and one of the first counties to be organized, is located in the extreme northeastern part of the state. It is small in area, but important historically. The Missouri river forms its northern, eastern and a part of its southern boundary making 90 miles of river front, Atchison county on the south and Brown on the west form its complete boundaries. The white man's era in Doniphan county began with Bourgmont, the French explorer and embassador to the Indians.
The earliest settlement was effected in 1837, under the auspices of the American Board of Foreign Missions, which sent out Rev. S. M. Irvin and wife as pioneer missionaries. Six months later Rev. William Hamilton joined them. The Iowa and Sac mission was established and the two men wrote and printed a number of text books to be used by the Indians. The first mission school was taught by Rev. William Hamilton, Rev. S. M. Irvin, Miss Walton and Miss Fullerton. Lumber was brought all the way from Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1845 to construct a mission building.
The California road ran through Doniphan county and was used as early as 1847 by emigrants to the Pacific coast, but occasional emigrants passed through the county before that time, as is attested by the fact that Mrs. Comstock, the wife of an emigrant, died on the Oregon trail near the mission in 1842. This was the first death in the county. The first birth was Elliott Irvin, son of the missionary, in 1837. The first marriage in the county and probably the first in the state occurred on July 3, 1845, between Silas Fierce and Mary Shook. The ceremony was performed by Rev. William Hamilton. The first emigrant train of any consequence came through the county in 1842. It was led by Peter Burnett and was made up of 25 wagons. This was the beginning of the north branch of the California and Oregon trail.
"Squatter Sovereignty" had its birth in Doniphan county in 1854 immediately after the treaty in that year with the Kickapoos. The first meeting of "The Squatter Association of Kansas" was held at the home of J. R. Whitehead on June 24 of that year. A. M. Mitchell of St. Joseph, Mo., was chairman; J. R. Whitehead, secretary; and the executive committee consisted of John H. Whitehead, H. Smallwood, J. B. O'Toole, J. W. Smith, Sr., Sam Montgomery, B. Harding, J. W. Smith, Jr., J. J. Keaton, T. W. Waterson, C. B. Whithead, Anderson Cox and Joseph Sicliff.
Vigilance committees to guard the rights of settlers and claim owners against loss of their property by claim jumpers were appointed and the members paid 50 cents for each service. The county was organized in 1855 and named after Alexander W. Doniphan (q. v.), an ardent partisan in the slavery agitation. It was surveyed by John Calhoun, who in 1854 was appointed surveyor-general of the twin territories of Kansas and Nebraska.
The first officer in the county was James R. Whitehead, who was commissioned constable of the district in 1854 after the state had been districted, and Doniphan, Wolf Creek and Burr Oak were named as voting precincts. The first commissioners were Joel P. Blair, Alexander Dunning and E. V. B. Rodgers. They held their first meeting on Sept. 18, 1855, and elected Mr. Whitehead county clerk, ex-officio clerk of the probate court, and register of deeds. The commissioners appointed by the legislature to locate a county seat staked off the site of Troy in October of that year.
In the state election held in March, the polling places were controlled by armed Missourians. About fifteen minutes before the polls opened in the morning Maj. Fee, a free-state candidate, announced from the stump that the ticket of his faction would be withdrawn and the pro-slavery men would he allowed a clear field. Notwithstanding this armed men guarded the polls until they were closed.
Daniel Woodson, who had been acting governor, was the first receiver of the land office at Doniphan and later at Kickapoo, holding this position from 1857 to 1861. The Pony Express from St. Joseph to the Pacific coast went through Doniphan county, the route leading by the sites of the present towns of Wathena, Troy, Bendena, Denton and Purcell.
The drouth of 1860 caused great suffering in Doniphan county as well as other parts of the state and they received relief to the extent of 138,750 pounds of provisions. Doniphan being a border county suffered considerable annoyance and damage to life and property from the raids of the border ruffians, in 1860 guards were kept on duty in all the little cities at night. The women took an important part with the men in protecting their homes, and many are the instances of courage on the part of young girls and women in times of distress and danger. In one instance a girl in men's clothes was shot by the guard.
After the Civil war was over and the border troubles settled, the people began improvements again. Three miles of track had been laid in 1860 near Wathena by the St. Joseph & Grand Island Railway company. After the close of the war a new company was organized, and Doniphan county voted bonds for the construction of the road. Travel up to this time had been carried on by boat on the rivers and by stage and freight wagon west of St. Joseph, Mo. This first road entered the county at Elwood, passed through Wathena and Troy, leaving about midway on the western line.
The next road to be built was the Atchison & Nebraska, for which the county voted $200,000 in bonds and gave in individual subscriptions $10,000. This road was built as far as White Cloud in 1871. The St. Joseph & Elwood bridge was built the same year. In 1872 a railroad was built from Wathena to Doniphan via Palmero by George H. Hall, John L. Motter, O. B. Craig, William Craig and George W. Barr. It was finally acquired by the St. Joseph & Western company and the rails were taken up and used on that line.
At present Doniphan county has three lines of railroad, the Chicago, Burlington & Ouincy, extending from southeast to northwest, passing through Troy; the St. Joseph & Grand Island enters from St. Joseph at Elwood and crosses directly west; the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific enters in the southwest, runs northeast to Troy and east to St. Joseph.
The surface of the county is rolling except for the bluffs along the Missouri river. There are a number of smaller streams among which Wolf river is the most important. It enters from the west flows in a northeasterly direction through Leona and Severance and empties into the Missouri. Clear creek and Mission creek also empty into the Missouri.
The geological formations of Doniphan county are very interesting. Many relics of prehistoric ages have been taken from the bluffs and banks of streams. A few years ago a large tooth weighing 5 pounds was unearthed. Mounds in which the prehistoric races were accustomed to bury their dead existed in considerable numbers in the early days of the white man's occupation. Limestone is found in considerable quantities, also sandstone of a good quality and potter's clay. Coal is found to some extent but not in commercial quantities.
The area is 379 square miles or 242,560 acres, of which 177,297 acres are under cultivation. The principal products are wheat, corn, oats and fruits. The county is one of the foremost in horticulture, having about 350,000 bearing fruit trees. In 1910 the total income from farm products was $2,705,712, of which corn was worth $1,034,982; wheat, $119,247; and oats, $193,790. The assessed valuation of property was $24,909,152, and the population was 14,422, which makes the wealth of the county average nearly $1,700 per capita.
The educational advantages cannot be surpassed anywhere. There are 68 organized school districts with a school population of 4,553. The Highland University, which was the outgrowth of the early missions of 1837, is the oldest chartered educational institution in the state. There are Roman Catholic and Lutheran schools at Wathena. The first school for white children was estatblished[sic] near Highland in 1858. John F. Sparks was the first teacher. The school house, which was built of logs, was on the site of the building now belonging to district 56. In 1867 an unsuccessful attempt was made by the Methodist church to found a boarding school at Burr Oak.
Law and government
Doniphan County is served by a Board of County Commissioners composed of one elected official from each of three districts. The commissioners serve four-year terms with the 2nd and 3rd district elections following two years after the 1st district election. The Board is responsible for setting the county's policies, procedures, and budgets as well as overseeing functions of their respective Road and Bridge Shops. The Board also acts as the Board of County Canvassers and canvass votes cast at each election. The county has adopted comprehensive county planning and zoning codes. The cities are governed by mayors and city councils. Government services are paid for through a sales tax, property tax, and ad valorem tax mill levy.
Although the Kansas Constitution was amended in 1986 to allow the sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink with the approval of voters, Doniphan County has remained a prohibition, or "dry", county.
Doniphan County is located in the northeastern corner of the state—it is bordered by Nebraska to the north and Missouri to the east. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,028 km² (397 mi²), of which 1,016 km² (392 mi²) is land and 13 km² (5 mi²), or 1.23%, is water.
The Missouri River defines the border in the north and east. Eight barge lines travel the river, and a Port Authority is located across the river in Saint Joseph, Missouri. The river provides much of the water for the eastern part of the county. Interior cities, such as Troy and Highland, receive their water from underground wells. The Wolf River flows through western portions of the county and north into the Missouri River.
The only major highway serving the county is U.S. Highway 36, an east/west route traveling through St. Joseph. Troy, Elwood, and Wathena lie along this route. Kansas state highways K-7, K-20, K-120, K-137, and K-238 serve other areas of the county. K-7 has been designated a scenic byway.
Doniphan County's population was estimated to be 7,865 in the year 2006, a decrease of 383, or -4.6%, over the previous six years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 8,249 people, 3,173 households, and 2,183 families residing in the county. The population density was 8/km² (21/mi²). There were 3,489 housing units at an average density of 3/km² (9/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 94.85% White, 2.00% Black or African American, 1.21% Native American, 0.25% Asian, 0.40% from other races, and 1.29% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.16% of the population.
There were 3,173 households out of which 32.60% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 56.40% were married couples living together, 8.70% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.20% were non-families. 27.60% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.20% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 3.03.
In the county the population was spread out with 25.30% under the age of 18, 11.80% from 18 to 24, 24.70% from 25 to 44, 22.00% from 45 to 64, and 16.20% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 98.60 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.20 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $32,537, and the median income for a family was $39,357. Males had a median income of $28,096 versus $19,721 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,849. About 9.00% of families and 11.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.30% of those under age 18 and 12.50% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Troy, 1,024 (county seat)
White Cloud, 238
Unified school districts
Wathena USD 406
Highland USD 425
Troy USD 429
Midway USD 433
Elwood USD 486
Colleges and universities
Highland Community College -
This was the first college established in the state when the Highland University charter was granted by the Territorial Legislature in 1858. Over time the college lost its affiliation with the Presbyterian Church and changed its name several times before becoming a regional rural community college.
Points of interest
Native American Heritage Museum -
Originally a Presbyterian Mission built in 1845 to educate Iowa and Missouri Sac and Fox children, the museum was rehabilitated to showcase the arts and history of the emigrant tribes in northeastern Kansas.
Nelson Rodgers House, in Troy -
Built in 1856, this one-and-a-half story center-gable house constructed of hand-hewn timbers is the first and oldest remaining house in Troy.
Four-state Lookout, in White Cloud -
This viewing platform provides a panoramic view of the Missouri River valley, including Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and (possibly) Iowa.
Townsite of Old Doniphan -
On July 4, 1804 the Lewis and Clark Expedition camped near an uninhabited Kanza Indian village on Independence Creek. The former town of Doniphan was established in the vicinity of the campsite.