In the geography books of the 17th and 18th centuries, Kansas was labeled the “Great American Desert.” Coronado may have stepped foot on Stafford County soil when he explored northward from Mexico in 1541. (Or he may not have … but we like to think he at least saw us from the top of Pawnee Rock!)
Stafford County was within the area of the Louisiana Purchase made in 1803 from France by Pres. Thomas Jefferson. The following year, Lewis and Clark started on their famed expedition going west across the “desert” plains. Caravans of covered wagons followed in their footsteps and settlements developed around the way stations, trading posts and mission headquarters.
In 1848, the southwest territory became a part of the United States and in 1854 Congress created the territory of Kansas.
A pictorial map of Kansas, published by the Wichita Beacon, indicates Kiowa Indian Chief, Satanta, known as the “Terror of the Santa Fe Trail,” used the Stafford County area as his base of operations.
In 1865, at the close of the Civil War, what would later become Stafford County was part of Marion County, which extended west to Colorado.
According to Family Heritage Album (Family Heritage Society, 1975), Stafford County was first established Feb. 26, 1867, but was “unstable.” The boundary lines of Stafford County were defined by the Legislature of 1870, but the county remained unorganized. The Legislature of 1875, with the intention of obliterating the county from the map, partitioned the territory off to surrounding counties. However, a strip six miles wide and 12 miles long remained as Stafford County.
On April 25, 1879, the Supreme Court declared the Legislature’s act of dividing the county unconstitutional and the county was restored to its original boundaries.
In 1870, there were just two non-native migrants residing in Stafford County.
In May, 1874, W.R. Hoole resided in a dugout in the extreme northwestern part of Stafford County. Also in May, 1874, a caravan of 20 covered wagons led by George C. Ardrey arrived in the western part of Reno County. Four families crossed the line into Stafford County and took up homesteads. This settlement in eastern Stafford County became known as the Ardrey Settlement.
In August, 1874, James Neelands arrived from Canada and started a settlement in Albano Township.
Others who settled in Stafford County in 1874 were James O’Connor, R.M. Blair, Edwin Hadlock, W.Z. Nutting, Mr. and Mrs. J.D. Green as well as the Missouri Settlement in the eastern part of the county including Jim Graves, Sam Clifton and John Groves.
In 1875, 25 ox-drawn wagons brought settlers from West Virginia and Pennsylvania.They were under the leadership of William Bickerton of the Church of Jesus Christ. Their settlement was known as Zion Valley and became the town of St. John.
Other 1875 settlers were E.C. Johnson, William and A.C. Glasscock, and M.P. Chambers.
In 1876, four homesteads taken by E.B. Crawford, Jess Moreland, Jess Vickers and S.R. Estle became the town of Stafford in 1885. The four corners of their homesteads met at what is now Main and Broadway.
Other settlers who arrived in 1876 were John Shotton, S.E. Peacock, J.J. Cox, J.T. Askew, George W. Bousman, Harry Bunting, Edwin R. Durham, Charles A. Brown, Joseph Waddle, George Breckenridge, Milo A. Yoder, J.G. Smiley, and S.W. McComb.
In 1877, D.N. Young lived near what would become the town of Macksville. A group of Danish settlers settled in York Township, in the extreme southeast corner of the county. Also in 1877, Jacob Hahn homesteaded in what would become Seward in the northeast part of the county.
Other 1877 settlers were James W. Harris, H.S. Crawford, J.T. McMillan, Ezra P. Metz, W.M. McMillan, Charles N. Waters, J.L. Spickard, Jay W. McFadden and Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Hohner and sons Will, Fred and George (who settled in Cleveland Township). There was also a Mr. Hitz who settled near what would become Hudson.
Between 1875 and 1880, about 20,000 African-Americans, mostly ex-slaves, migrated to Kansas. These migrants became known as “Exodusters” because their migration resembled the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt in the Hebrew bible. A colony of these Exodusters settled in Ohio Township in 1878.
The first election was held August 18, 1879 and the first elected officials were:
Stafford County Commissioners: G.M. Detwiler, F.R. Baumgartner and J.C. Towsley.
Probate Judge: L.D. Licklider.
Clerk of the Court: Geo. W. Bousman.
County Treasurer: J.B. Smith.
County Attorney: F.M. Morgan.
County Clerk: S.M. Nolder.
Register of Deeds: Frank Gilmore.
Superintendent of Schools: N.L.D. Smith.
Justice of the Peace: William Dixon.
Sheriff: J.W. Miles.
Coroner: W.S. Tyrell.
Surveyor: H.L. Fitch.
THE BATTLE FOR COUNTY SEAT
On July 2, 1879, Gov. John P. St. John proclaimed St. John as the temporary county seat of Stafford County. Also on the ballot of the first election in August, 1879 were candidates for the county seat. The towns on the first ballot were St. John, Stafford, Bedford, Livingston and Center.
In that first election, St. John lacked one vote of having a majority, so a special election was necessary.
On April 5, 1882, that special election was held, but a tornado struck Stafford at 4:00 p.m. that day destroying the ballot box, so there were no returns from that township.
A third election was held April 14, 1882, but there was no majority vote for St. John, Stafford or Bedford.
A final county seat election was held April 18, 1882, with Bedford eliminated. St. John received the majority of votes and became the permanent county seat.