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Kansas Heritage: Pawnee County

Aimed at preserving the heritage of central and western Kansas

Pawnee County Map 1899

Map of Pawnee County

Prentis, Noble Lovely. "History of Kansas". Winfield, KS: E. P. Greer, 1899


Dr. Gallatin Brown founded the town of Browns Grove in 1876. Located 23 miles west of Larned, Browns Grove became a prosperous settlement which was the home of the first flour mill built west of Hutchinson in 1879.

The Santa Fe Railroad laid tracks one half mile south of Browns Grove in 1886, so the businesses moved closer to the tracks and railroad officials renamed the town site Burdett in honor of Robert Jones Burdette who was a writer and humorist.

By 1924, Burdett had a good number of businesses including 2 grocery stores, 3 drugstores, a bank and 2 hotels.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


Workmen for the Santa Fe Railroad established a supply station in the late summer of 1872 and named it Camp Criley for Capt. J. D. Criley who was the superintendent overseeing the construction. Members of an Ohio colony arrived at the camp after the workmen had moved on down the line.

An advance team of members of an Ohio colony had been sent to examine prospective properties in Kansas and Nebraska, and they decided on Camp Criley. These men filed on about 30 pieces land in January 1873, and the first settlers from the Ohio colony arrived at the camp site on March 15, 1873. The name of the town was changed to Garfield in honor of their congressman from their district in Ohio, James A. Garfield. Congressman Garfield later became President of the United States.

In the mid-1880's a colony of 65 Swedish families settled in Garfield.

By 1895, the population had grown to 450. 


Captain Henry Booth, a retired Army officer and the postmaster at Fort Larned, formed the Larned Town Company along with some Topeka men in 1871. The Santa Fe Railroad was progressing through the area, and the town company planned to establish a new town six miles east of Fort Larned. In April 1872, the first house was put on the new town site called Larned, and on July 20, the train arrived at Larned for the first time.

To make matters interesting, there was an enterprising town several miles to the east called Petersburg which was named in honor of a Santa Fe Railroad official, T. J. Peters. Dr. Samuel Grant Rodgers had started Petersburg as a Chicago workingman's colony. Both Petersburg and Larned were within the original boundaries of Pawnee County which not yet been organized. Booth decided to press for organization of the county, and after a few unscrupulous tricks to the 40 local electors signatures required to sign a petition, Booth gave a petition to Governor Harvey in October 1872. The governor proclaimed Pawnee County to be officially organized on November 4.

Dr. Rodgers, who had been in Chicago recruiting settlers, returned to Petersburg and found out what Booth was doing in order to get Pawnee County organized. He was angry, and he protested to the Secretary of State that the county was being organized by dishonest means. His protests did not stop the county from being organized.

Booth's influence in Topeka was powerful enough to get the boundaries of Pawnee County changed. In 1872, the legislature took twelve miles off the south which left out Dr. Rodgers' town of Petersburg, and six miles on the north boundary and six miles on the east boundary were added, taking land away from Rush and Stafford Counties, respectively. A petition was presented in 1874 to the legislature asking that Pawnee County have its original boundaries restored, but the legislature returned just 1 township, which contained Garfield, and created a new county out of the rest of the townships. The new county was Edwards, and the town of Petersburg is now known as Kinsley.

When Larned became the official county seat, there was still the legal problem of acquiring a legal title to the town site. On December 2, 1873, the titles were transferred by a judge to the occupants.

The first office building in Larned was built in 1877 by Judge Bright and Henry Booth. In January 1876, Larned became an incorporated town. By 1885, the town had 5 hotels, 3 drug stores, 2 newspapers, 3 hardware stores, and 3 grain elevators among its many businesses.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.


"Panorama of Progress: Pawnee County, 1872-1972". Supplement to The Tiller & Toiler. Larned, KS: The Tiller & Toiler, 1972.

Homesteading in Pawnee County

The Santa Fe Trail, established in 1821 for commerce and trade, followed the Arkansas River in this area of the plains. Military escorts to protect the traders from the Indians were sent to the trail in 1829. After the Mexican War began in 1846, the Santa Fe Trail became the major route for east-west commerce. When the gold rush began, gold seekers disregarded the treaties that had set aside land for the Indians, and they traveled across the tribal lands as they headed west. This angered the Indians to the point that they asked for help from William Bent who was a trader in Colorado. Bent, known for being fair, suggested to the federal government that a strong point be established at Pawnee Rock, and the government decided to begin building one in 1859 at Pawnee Fork, several miles down the river. By year's end there were 52 enlisted men with the thankless job of protecting the traders and travelers at the only military station between Forts Riley and Union.

In February 1860, the camp on Pawnee Fork became known as Camp Alert, and on May 29, 1860, the camp was renamed Fort Larned. Named in honor of the Army paymaster, Col. Benjamin F. Larned, the new fort did not have decent housing until 1867. New buildings made of sandstone were built, including officers' quarters and a bakery.

In July 1872, the Santa Fe Railroad had built its tracks to Pawnee Fork, and the soldiers began guarding the crews working on the railroads.

Governor James Harvey declared the official organization of Pawnee County in November 1872. The new county was named to honor the Pawnee Indians who had lived in the area. Larned City was named the temporary county seat, and as a result of an election on October 17, 1873, it became the official county seat.

In 1874 a group of Mennonite "German Baptists" arrived to begin a new life far from their homes in Europe. They planted the hard red Turkey wheat and stayed in the area despite the grasshopper plague, the drought, and the threat of Indian hostilities.

A colony of 65 Swedish families settled in Garfield in the mid-1880's.

In June of 1878, the headquarters ordered the deactivation of Fort Larned with troops sent to Fort Hays and property sent to Fort Dodge.


"Panorama of Progress: Pawnee County, 1872-1972". Supplement to The Tiller & Toiler. Larned, KS: The Tiller & Toiler, 1972.


The town of Rozel is located on land that was deed by the Santa Fe Railroad on July 19, 1886, to the Arkansas Valley Town and Land Company. The town's name came from Rozella, the daughter of a founder of the Land Company.

The town had 2 grocery stores, a drug store, a lumber yard, a livery stable, a restaurant, and a dry goods store by 1910. The first post office, known as Keysville, was established in 1870. It was changed to Ben Wade in 1880.

Rozel's business district was destroyed by fire on September 24, 1929. It was rebuilt only to be nearly destroyed again, this time by hail and a tornado on May 20, 1949. This storm also damaged or destroyed almost all of the buildings in town.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.