Haskell County, Kansas

Dudley C. Haskell was an active state legislator from Lawerence at the time when Kansas was expanding from the east to its far borders.  As settlers moved west new counties were being formed and developed.  Formal county organizations originated within the State Capitol and names were bestowed by the legislature.  One source for christening these counties was to name them for the state senate or house members.  Although he had left the Legislature nine years earlier, Dudley C. Haskell undoubtedly received this honor posthumously when the southern part of what is now Finney County carved off to become the new Haskell County in 1887.  

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An excerpt from...

"100 Years Beneath the Plow"

A Historical Anthology of Haskell County

From the top of the McCoy Grain Company in Sublette, Kansas, 154 feet above the ground, why can see a great portion of the political unit known as Haskell County, Kansas.  There is nothing on the horizon to block the view; the entire region is strikingly characterized by the absences of native trees and by the level nature of the county.  "the most level county in Kansas." claims the Chamber of Commerce at Sublette, and this allegation is confirmed by William E. Winter, regional engineer with the Kansas State Highway Department.  Viewing the panorama in early June, when the wheat is headed out one gets the sensation of being at sea because the wind blowing the wheat resembles the tossing waves. 

Haskell County, Kansas

The concept held by the majority of the people concerning this area has been derived over the years primarily from three sources, all three have been given an adverse picture of the real situation.  Haskell is part of the great American desert as described by Lewis and Clark and subsequent explorers.  This term got into geography books and make such an imprint upon the minds of young Americans that has lasted over 100 years.  The Santa Fe Trail crossed Haskell County, but this too resulted in adverse publicity to the region because here is the middle leg of the dreaded La Jornada Del Muerta or Journey of Death, across the Cimmaron Desert.  In the middle of the 1930's Haskell was in the middle of the know famous Dust Bowl.  From these three sources is derived the general concept of the land west of Dodge City, Kansas.  On the other hand this is part of the fertile short grass country of southwest Kansas.  It furnishes a way of life markedly different that of other parts of the state and exhibits cultural differences that are quite apparent.  The people are exceptionally homogenous in character.  The portion of those foreign born is almost negligible.  The people are better educated than those of the state as a whole.

he altitude and dry climate makes the area healthy and stimulating place in which to live.  It is part of a region which has many aspects of newness and vigor, for it is closer to the frontier than many other regions in the state.  The term "short grass" is derived from the fact that originally the country was covered by a solid mat of close curled buffalo and grama grass which grew to the exclusion  of any other vegetation.  The topography is ideal for farming, the soil is rich and deep, and the frost-free period is sufficiently long for most crops.  These are all the elements for successful farming except one. - water.

Haskell County is primarily an agricultural community having no important industries except those dependent more or less pun farming.  The history of Haskell County is therefore the story of the struggle of people against climate; the story of settlers from a humid region shoe entire knowledge of farming was derived from practices under humid conditions.  These people came west, settled and started farming by these methods brought with them from the humid east.  After many failures and heart-breaks, due to cycles of wet and dry years, they began to make adjustments.  This study is concerned with these adjustments.

- F.M.D. McLain  A History of Haskell County

An old atlas of 125 years ago would reveal that what is now Haskell County was located in the Great American Desert.  This territory was first divided into Sequoyah and Garfield Counties.  In 1873 Arapahoe County was created.  By an act of the Legislature of 1883 Kearney, Grant, Sequoyah and Arapahoe Counties became Finney County.  In 1886 they were again reshuffled and old Sequoyah became Finney.  That which was formerly Arapahoe was finally sliced off the southern part of Finney to become Haskell County.  In 1893 Garfield County was made part of Finney County.

The county was fairly well settles before it officially became a county.  In the early 1800s the trend of settlement  seemed to be toward southwest Kansas, and the rich level acres of Haskell County no doubt appeared inviting to many who had been cooped up on the small hillside farms of the midwest.  The people came from all walks of life, bent on gaining bit of public domain by filing a claim on 160 acres with the agreement to live on it for five years.  Tree claims were also available through establishing groves of trees, and these claims dotted the county.

In the early years the only towns of any size in the county were Santa Fe in the exact center and Ivanhoe, located 6 miles north.  Lockport was a small village situated on the Gray County line.  Many communities attempted to establish their own towns, going so far as to set up post offices, although the towns failed to materialize.

March 31, 1887, Governor John A. Martin appointed Charles A. Stauber to take a census and make an appraisement of the property in the county.  Stauber filed his report with the govenor on June 27 showing 2841 in habitants with a valuation of taxable property at $850,119.  Upon receipt of his information the governor issued his proclamation July 12, 1887, declaring the county organized, purusant to an act of the prvious legislature creating the county and describing its metes and bounds, resulting in a county square in shape that was 24 miles by 24 miles and containing 368,640 acres.  Santa Fe was named temproary county seat.  A census was taken and 2,841 people werew counted within the newly formed county, 586 of them being voters.

Governor Martin appointed J.E. Marlow, C.H. Hunnington and Joe Comes commissioners of the county; Lowery G. Gilmore, county clerk, and J.B. Shumaker, sheriff.  These officers met in a room in the offices of O'Brien and Manuel and took the oath of office.  County business began in the room in Santa Fe rented for $20 per month, furnished with a table and six office chairs purchased by the county.  The Haskell County Review (later to become The Haskell County Monitor) was designated the official county newspaper.

Originally Haskell County was divided into nine townships: Example, Lockport, Boone, Ivanhoe< Haskell, loco, Arapahoe, Dudley and Review.  Soon after, these were combined into the three present townships: Dudley, Haskell and Lockport, each eight miles wide and 24 miles long.

The records of each tract of land in Haskell County, regardless of size, begin with a patent from the United States Government signed by the president or his agent and, thereafter, each transaction is recorded.  Because Haskell was once a part of Finney County, early land transactions are difficult to trace.  It must be remembered that the county was actually created before it became an official county.  Very early files show that the first transcripts from Finney County recording Haskell County land was dated August 10, 1885, from Ivanhoe town to Theodore Haering.  This deed was filed August 11, 1886, and was followed by a deed covering Lot 1, Block 26, Town of Ivanhoe, filed May 17, 1887. Consideration was $100.

After Haskell County became and official body, filing was begun in the new county under direction of the first register of deeds, L.A. Crull.  The first deeds were conveyances of town lots, the earliest being to Steven E. Cave for lots in Citizens Addition to Ivanhoe filed October 21, 1887, and one from Ivanhoe Town Company to F.B. Gifford covering Lot 7, Block 17, Ivanhoe, dated October 22, 1887, consideration $175.

The first deed between individuals covering town lots was filed November 9, 1887, conveying Lots 21 and 22, Block 51, Town of Santa Fe.  Grantor was John H. Allen et al and Grantee was A. McGinley, consideration $90.  December 14, 1887, shows a deed recorded from WIlliam M. Johnson to School District #23 covering Block 19, Highland Addition to the Town of Santa Fe, the party of the second part agreeing to build a $4,000 schoolhouse on said land by September 1, 1888, otherwise the contract would be void.  Consideration $500.  (No record of building.)  The earliest deed recorded on land other than town lots was filed December 20, 1887 from Kiowa Investment Corporation, Greensburg Kansas, to Cyrus E. Trees, of Manilla Rush County, Indiana, conveying the northwest quarter of Section 30-28-31 for a price of $1,200.

From then on the register of deeds was kept busy as the once unbroken sod became surveyed quarter-sections, town plats, city lots and new additions.  Settlers were buying and Haskell County was booming.  Most of central Kansas was already taken, and in the mid- 1880s the settlers pushed west.  The Santa Fe Trail Newspaper (June 11, 1886) described Santa Fe as ". . . fully twenty miles form the sand hills and surrounded by beautiful rolling prairies that only need to be 'tickled with a hoe' and planted to bring forth sustenance sufficient to provide for a city of thousands of inhabitants. . . "

Perhaps enticed by such a glowing accounts, new settlers and townspeople continued to come and Haskell County grew.  At the height of the boom it is estimated there was a family living on about every half section.  Some came with the intentions of becoming successful ranchers, raising longhorns that were rangy and tough.  But, with the influx of settlers and the breaking of sod, it soon became apparent that the range would be spoiled.  Adding to the rancher's problems were the discouraging prices and the long drive to market.

If Haskell County enjoyed a boom in the 1880s, it was suffering an even larger bust in the 1890s when the young county was barely three years old and the discouraged settlers began to drift away, plummeting the county's population.

Regrowth came slowly.  Probably the greatest devastation setting Haskell County back was the lack of a railroad in its early years, only to have it become a reality six miles south of the county seat, tolling the death knell for Santa Fe.  For whatever reasons, two factions differed in supporting the locations of a new city and there was a split to two sites on the railroad, Sublette and Satanta.  And so, in time, all of the first little towns and would-be towns were erased from the county.  With them went old landmarks so familiar to early pioneers; the stage depots of Ivanhoe, Santa Fe and Loco; the schools, post offices, livery barns and hotels, wherever located.  Only the cemeteries of Santa Fe, Ivanhoe and Colusa remain.

The 1920s found agricultural fortunes improving with bumper crops being harvested, but prices for the crops were falling drastically.

Haskell County, along with the entire nation, found itself thrust into the Depression of the 1930s.  Perhaps the farmers could have survived one disaster, but concurrent with the Depression was the severe drought that found the county in the heart of the Dust Bowl and conditions gradually became worse and worse.  Once again an exodus began and, as the population shifted mostly to the far West and Northwest, abandoned farmsteads could be found in  abundance in Haskell County, many of them never to be reclaimed or rebuilt.

Historically wars have proven to be an economic boom to a nation, and the upheaval of World War II resulted in recovery for the country.  Haskell County would never again be the same.  Although the young men went to war and the home folks struggled with shortages and rationing, the county began to get back on its feet.  Just as the drought accompanied the Depression, the end of the drought accompanied the war and conditions continued to improve.

In 1945 ambitious young men returned from the war, some to study agriculture or other subjects in college under the G.I. Bill, many to come back to the farm for practical experience and education.  New technology in all areas was being explored.  A tremendous boost was given when the Hugoton Gas Field expanded and Haskell County at last had an industry other than agriculture.  No longer did our cities depend entirely on farmers and ranchers.  Our population increases with the appearance of gas wells over much of the county accompanied by the many people who drilled, produced and sold gas and oil that the early settlers never dreaded was beneath the sod.  And, what would they have thought of the supply of underground water brought to the surface during the next three decades?  Haskell County finally lived up to its promise of "The Garden of the West" to become one of the top-producing irrigated counties in the state, bringing people into the county to drill and service wells, sell equipment and work in the fields.  Still more workers were needed in the many feedlots our county gained through irrigation and the resulting abundant feed grains produced.

Does history repeat itself?  Haskell County has existed despite boom and bust throughout its first 100 years, and in the 1980's the county once again finds itself in a recession brought about by surplus crops, low prices, declining irrigation water troubles, rising irrigation engine fuel costs and depressed oil prices.  But, Haskell Countians have shown that they are hardy, tenacious, optimistic people and, just as the faithful fought to hang on during the Depression and through other disasters, they or their descendants will remain, forever looking forward to the future. - Ruby Rutledge