Located in what is now known as Geary County, the
old townsite of Pawnee was the first official capitol of the Kansas
Territory in 1855.
Located in a beautiful valley, just east of
the Pawnee Town Association was organized in November, 1854, and,
immediately after its formation, the town of Pawnee was
laid out. The president of the town association was also the commander of Fort
Colonel James Montgomery, and the chief
promoter of the enterprise. William A. Hammond, the medical director for the fort, was the
secretary of the association and numerous other parties connected with the army
conspicuous part in the management of the affairs of the county, which was then
known as Davis County. Other military names including General Nathanial Lyon,
Major Edmond A. Ogden, and several others were stockholders in the Pawnee Town Association.
One of the great objectives of the people in those
days was to discover the head of navigation of the
because no one doubted but that the river was navigable as far west as the
confluence of the
Smoky Hill Rivers. The Pawnee Town Association,
thinking they had discovered the desired spot, began work on their town site in
December, 1854. If this was to be the head of navigation, beyond which boats
could not go, and where steamers would load and unload, it was necessary that a
levee should be built, and with commendable energy, the Association went to work
and expended a great deal of time and money in its construction.
A little trouble arose over the land claimed for the
town site, as a number of settlers had already located there. Colonel James
however, with a squad of men drove the settlers off in January, 1855.
Governor Andrew Reeder,
who was the first governor of the Territory, notified the Association that if
they would have the necessary buildings completed, he would convene the first
legislature at Pawnee. On March 6, 1855, was held the first public meeting in
Pawnee and among those who addressed the meeting was General Nathaniel Lyon. The
meeting passed strong resolutions in favor of a Free State.
When it became known that the legislature would be convened at
Pawnee, many people began to move to Pawnee, which at that time, had but two
houses on the town site. Within no time; however, construction of several hotels
were begun for the
accommodation of the members of the legislature and visitors, and a large
warehouse, several retail businesses and more dwellings were erected. Men were
also busy erecting a stone building designed for occupancy by the legislature.
There is abundant evidence that the town was
established with the knowledge and consent of the national authorities at
Washington, but when
Governor Andrew Reeder took shares in the town company and in May,
1855, issued his proclamation for the legislature to meet there, the pro-slavery
supporters were incensed. The Territorial Legislature at the time was mostly comprised of pro-slavery supporters from
Missouri who felt that placing the
capital 150 miles from the
Missouri border gave an advantage to the
advocates in Kansas
Territory. The proclamation stood; however, as Governor Reeder
had an economic interest in Pawnee, owning stock in the town company, land, and
had recently built himself a grand log house there.
The pro-slavery advocates took their complaints to
Jefferson Davis, who was then the Secretary of War. Davis then ordered a
military survey of
in hopes that the new town of Pawnee would be found to be within the limits of
the military reservation and could be eliminated. However, the new survey again reported One Mile Creek as the eastern boundary of the
reserve. A map of this survey was prepared and sent to the department, with red
lines showing where the boundaries excluded the new settlement of Pawnee. The
Secretary of War, seeing the town still excluded, took a pen, drew a red line
around it, and wrote on it, "Accepted with the red lines." He then took it to
the president, secured his signature and then issued orders for the removal of
the inhabitants from that part of the reserve.
In the meantime, the territorial legislature was scheduled to convene for the
first time on July 2-6, 1855. During
this meeting, an unwelcome visitor had made
its appearance at Fort Riley
-- Asiatic cholera. At that time, in addition to the garrison, quite a large
number of mechanics and other workmen were employed at the Fort, among whom the
cholera made terrible ravages, carrying off for several days as many as
one-eighth of the population. Before the disease had run its course, as many as
175 would die. The epidemic spread
beyond the Fort, and reached Pawnee, where eight persons died from its attacks.
The first case in Pawnee occurred on July 4th, with the legislature in full
Alarmed by the epidemic and already upset about the location of the capitol, the
politicians quickly passed a bill for an adjournment of the session to the
Shawnee Mission in Johnson County.
Reeder vetoed the bill, but the legislature overrode his veto. Before they
departed; however, the legislature divided the eastern half of the state into
counties, many of which were named for pro-slavery advocates, including Davis
County, in which Pawnee was situated.
Years later, it and all the other counties so named would be changed. The
legislators departed Pawnee on July 6th. The territorial government reconvened
in Shawnee on July 16, 1855. Pawnee's status as the capitol of Kansas had lasted exactly five days. It is believed to be the shortest-lived
capitol of any U.S. state or territory.
Meanwhile, Davis' order to claim the Pawnee townsite within the boundaries of
Fort Riley was issued. In September, 1855 Major Cook, with about 1,000 troops
arrived at Fort Riley from
charged with the duty of removing the settlers. Cook and his troops quickly
began to inform the inhabitants that they must move their personal items or the
troops would be compelled to do it for them. Some of the people left peaceably,
but others refused to vacate and their houses were torn down by the troops.
Before it was said and done, only the old capitol building was spared on the old
the rest of Pawnee was demolished, the former capitol building served a variety
of uses, including housing, warehouse, and a carpenter shop. In the 1920's
several civilian organizations, including the Kansas State Historical Society,
the Union Pacific Railroad and the Kansas legislature took over responsibility for the building and repaired
it. It became a history museum in 1928. Today, the museum displays exhibits on
Kansas Territory and the history of the old townsite of Pawnee. It is
located on the Fort Riley Military Reservation, an active U.S. Army base. Entry
to the base requires signing in and photo identification.
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.