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Butler County, Kansas

Butler County, Kansas, can claim connections with several well-known journalists: editor William Allen White; editor Rolla Clymer, and editorial cartoonist Mort Walker. Butler is the largest county by area in the state, at 1,428 square miles. At one point Butler County was the leading producer of oil in the state. The Bluestem pasture region is the largest parcel of native grasslands in North America.

Butler County, Kansas, in the south central part of the state, is part of the Flint Hills, known for the underlying bed of flinty limestone, and the vast Bluestem prairies. Since the rocky soil made for difficult plowing, these lands were not tilled but used for cattle grazing. Now this distinct region has the densest coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America. These lands belonged to the Osage Indians. Among the original counties established in 1855, Butler County was named for proslavery supporter and South Carolina Senator Andrew Pickens Butler. This was part of both Otoe and Hunter counties, which no longer exist. The “old California” trail connected Indian Territory and Arkansas, passed through Butler County, and intersected with the Santa Fe Trail. It was used during the California Gold Rush years. A cattle trail also crossed the county and connected with other routes.

The county was organized in 1859 and Chelsea was designated as county seat. Voters selected El Dorado to be the new county seat five years later. Elections were again held in 1867 and 1870, but El Dorado held onto its status. Augusta challenged El Dorado in the 1870s, but an election was never held.  

El Dorado has sustained a couple of tornados; one struck in 1871 and damaged a number of houses and buildings, one in 1958 killed 13 people. The year 1874 was bad for the settlers of Butler County. A summer drought led to an attack of locusts, or grasshoppers, which caused much damage to the crops and surroundings.

Agriculture has long been a big to the county history and industry. In 1911 the first Kaffir Corn Carnival was held to celebrate the variety of sorghum farmers were raising. Festivities included a parade and queen competition. The county-wide event drew a large number of people and was held in 1911, 1912, 1914, and 1915; and again in the 1920s for several years.

Erasmus Haworth, director of the Kansas Geological Survey, made history when he mapped sites near El Dorado in 1912. Previously science was not often used to guide the selection of drilling sites. Around the same time Henry Doherty, founder of Cities Services Petroleum in Oklahoma, hired a geologist from Oklahoma who identified seven sites near Augusta. All seven sites proved successful. Then Cities Service began drilling at the El Dorado sites. Within six weeks and at a depth of 2,407 feet, they found the “pioneer gusher,” Stapleton No. 1, which became the largest oil field in Kansas. These efforts helped establish the role of scientists in the oil and gas industry. A group of men formed a company they called Trapshooter Oil and began drilling in a town called Midian, near Towanda, in 1917. They hit a gusher and began producing 400 barrels a day. Their next two wells produced up to five times that amount. For many years Butler County was the state’s leading oil producer before the wells went dry.

Butler County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include the El Dorado Historic District, the Butler County Courthouse built 1907-1908, and the El Dorado Carnegie Library, built with support from the Carnegie foundation.

Figures associated with Butler County include William Allen White, editor of the Emporia Gazette, who was a native of El Dorado. Robert Hazlett, the first major breeder of Hereford cattle, ranched here. Rolla A. Clymer, editor of the El Dorado Times, was a well-known editor. Emily Morgan, born in El Dorado, was a nurse who became known as the “angel of the Yukon” for her role in Alaska during the diphtheria epidemic in 1925. Addison “Mort” Walker, the cartoonist who created “Beetle Bailey,” was born in El Dorado. John Brinkley, radio broadcaster, gubernatorial candidate, and doctor known for his work with goat glands, started a second hospital in Rosalia, Butler County.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: February 11, 1859
County Seat: El Dorado
Kansas Region: South Central
Physiographic Region: Flint Hills (Osage Cuestas and Wellington McPherson Lowlands - small part)
State Park: El Dorado State Park
Courthouse: December 3, 1908


1855 - Butler County is established
1859 - Butler County is organized
1874 - Grasshopper invasion causes large amount of destruction
1911 - First Kafir Corn Carnival
1915 - Oil drilling begins

More on Butler County


Entry: Butler County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.