Early in 1870, Harvey County, Kansas did not exist. Indian tribes roamed through the area and at least 2 very small Indian settlements existed. Although a few hearty souls had begun to carve out small, basic home camps in this part of the prairie, the land was really only home to the wild animals who enjoyed her natural provision.
For many years the town of Emporia was considered the western edge of civilization, and then just barely so. In 1870 the outlook was favorable to the establishment of new towns on the Kansas prairies, it proving inevitable that the settlers from the East would continue to arrive as the Native American tribes were subdued.
Abilene, Kansas was barely a village when the Kansas (Union) Pacific Railway built a spur in 1867 to serve as a shipping point for Texas cattle coming up along the Chisholm Trail to the markets in the East. Between 1867 and 1870, Abilene was a fully active “Cow Town.” It was here that Marshal Tom Smith was murdered in November 1870 after having survived two documented assassination attempts. Marshal Smith was replaced by Wild Bill Hickok in April of 1871.
Small settlements were beginning to develop further south from Abilene. Wichita and Sedgwick City were two of these locations where only a small handful of citizens could be found in 1870. It was during this time that the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (AT&SF) determined to intercept the Texas cattle trade further south, cutting off the Kansas Pacific competition, as they pushed their line to the west into Colorado. The exact location for their new railroad town had yet to be determined.
At that time, there was some activity in our area from south to north along the Abilene (Chisholm) trail, but here was an area which could not be distinguished from any other; it was simply more prairie to travel through on the way to Abilene. This intersection with the Chisholm trail and the planned route of the Santa Fe was surveyed by Judge R.W.P. Muse, an AT & SF agent from Ohio, and David L. Lakin, AT&SF Land Commissioner, on August 28, 1870. Of this day, Judge Muse wrote, “After traveling over thirty miles, we had seen no human habitation or sign of civilization, our way being through high prairie grass, often standing above the height of our wagon wheels and bed…. After reaching the cattle trail, we were beset by swarms of buffalo gnats and mosquitoes, so ravenous that Mr. Lakin declared that they bit his head through his hat” (1882 Harvey County Atlas Introduction by Judge R.W.P. Muse). 1
The Santa Fe established land companies to promote settlement along the railroad and, of course, to sell their lands for good profits along the way. Judge Muse moved to Newton in 1871 in order to build the town and sell the land in both town and country, and this being his primary objective he was inclined to paint a more glowing editorial portrait of the area than did others who were here.
In 1871, the area which would later become Harvey County in 1873 was part of a larger area organized in 1867 as Sedgwick County. According to one cowboy of the time, “Newton, Kansas, had an experience in the cattle trade, which, although of short duration, left finger-prints on its early history that will never be obliterated.” Circle-Dot: A True Story of Cowboy Life by M.H. Donoho (1907). Page 175.
NEWTON – Twenty-eight homesteads were taken near Newton, Sedgwick county, one day last week. The Kansas Weekly Commonwealth, Topeka, Kansas. Thursday, March 23, 1871. Page 2.
TOPEKA – The contracts for the grading and masonry of thirty miles of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad from Florence to Newton were let last Friday. The work was sub-divided and a dozen or more parties took contracts. The work is to be completely by the 15th of May. The Kansas State Record, Topeka, Kansas. Wednesday, March 29, 1871. Page 3.
TOPEKA – Newton is said to be the point where the railroad will terminate, and where a great railroading and speculative town will be built up. The Republican Daily Journal, Lawrence, Kansas. Friday, April 7, 1871. Page 2.