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Douglas County, Kansas

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Douglas County map, 1889.

 

 

 

 

 

Located in northeast Kansas, Douglas County was one of the original 33 counties created by the First Territorial Legislature in July, 1855. The county was named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, a United States Senator from Illinois who had supported the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.

Before the area was opened to white settlement on May 15, 1854, the region was held by the Shawnee Indians as part of their reservation under a treaty that had been made in 1825. This treaty allotted the Shawnee some 200,000 acres, most in adjacent Johnson County, but, also embraced much of the land in Eudora Township, in the northeastern part of Douglas County. As soon as the territory was thrown open to settlement, "squatters" ignored the treaty with the Shawnee, arriving from Missouri and other states to secure claims, as the region had been long known as a desirable location.

These; however, were not the first white men in what would become Douglas County. In June, 1842, General John Charles Fremont, on his first exploratory tour to the Rocky Mountains, traveled from Cyprian Chouteaus's trading post on the Kansas River, six miles west of the Missouri line, and encamped near the present location of Lawrence. He described it as follows:

"We encamped in a remarkable beautiful situation on the Kansas bluffs, which commanded a fine view of the river valley, here from four to five miles wide. The central portion was occupied by a broad belt of heavy timber, and nearer the hills prairies were of the richest verdure [vegetation.]"

Lawrence Kansas in 1854The first permanent white settlement in what is now Douglas County was made by Frederick Chouteau in 1827, when he established a trading post, on the south bank of the Kansas River, a little above the what would become the settlement of Lake View. However, he remained only a short time, moving to what would become Shawnee County in 1830. In 1848 the Methodist Episcopal Church established a mission among the Shawnee on the south bank of the Kansas Rive, near the mouth of the Wakarusa, but in 1857 it was abandoned.

Many other California emigrants passing over this route were particularly struck with the beauty of the scenery, and the magnificence of the view in the vicinity of present-day Lawrence - among them Dr. Charles Lawrence Robinson, who afterward became one of Douglas County’s pioneer settlers and most honored citizens. 

 

When the area officially opened for settlement in May, 1854, hundreds of emigrants flocked to the region in efforts to make Kansas either a free or a slave state. The abolitionists primarily settled in Douglas County and soon, Lawrence would become the center of the conflict nicknamed Bleeding Kansas.

 

 

Most of the claims taken by the Missourians were merely staked out, or a few logs cut and piled up crosswise to show occupation, sometimes only a notice was posted. Of these non-resident squatters, nearly all returned to Missouri, but they had organized and agreed to have no interference with their "paper" claims, threatening to shoot any man who attempted to take possession.

But the most systematic movement toward colonization was made by the New England Emigrant Aid Company which directed a party of men from Massachusetts and Vermont to start for Kansas with a view of establishing permanent settlements and working to make Kansas a Free-State. Other companies followed and together they founded the city of Lawrence.

When claims were taken by squatters, it was assumed that they had secured the land for a permanent home and intended to improve them, but as many did not do this the early settlers formed associations to protect themselves against such encroachment upon the land. Before the New England emigrants came to the territory two such organizations had been formed in what would become Douglas County. A call was issued for a meeting to be held on July 8, 1854, at Blue Jacket's store on the Wakarusa River. The Free State men who had already located in the vicinity believed that the meeting was to be of men friendly to making Kansas a Free State and attended in considerable numbers, but upon their arrival, discovered that it was a meeting of squatters to make rules and regulations with regard to their claims. A number of those present were pro-slavery in sentiment and wished to introduce resolutions barring emigrants opposed to the institution of slavery; however, there were too many Free State men present to carry out their plan, and a compromise was effected by which any person had a right to bring property into the state and the question of slavery was to be settled when the territory had a sufficient population to be admitted to statehood. Some of the more bitter pro-slavery men were not satisfied with the turn of affairs and openly declared that they intended to fight the settling of the territory by Free State men, especially the New England Company. This first organization was known as the Wakarusa Association.

 

 

Continued Next Page

 

Douglas County, Kansas Courthouse

The Douglas County Courthouse, built in 1903 is on the National Register of Historic Buildings, Kathy Weiser, March, 2009.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!

 

Territorial Capitol, Lecompton, Kansas

The old Territorial Capitol in Lecompton now serves as a museum, Kathy Weiser,

March, 2009.

This image available for photo prints & commercial downloads HERE!

 

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