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Chautauqua County, Kansas

Chautauqua County, Kansas, in the southeast part of the state was established as Godfrey County, Kansas Territory, and eventually Seward and Howard, before taking its current name in 1875.

Howard, split to create both Chautauqua and Elk counties, had previously been named Seward and Godfrey. Godfrey was one of the original 33 counties created in 1855.

An 1825 treaty had removed the Great and Little Osage tribes to this land. The Osage people were still the legal occupants when white settlers began arriving in 1868. Through a series of negotiations with the U.S. government, the Osage tribes eventually agreed in 1870 to leave the area and move to lands in Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma.

When Chautauqua was established and organized, disputes arose over whether Sedan or Elk Falls would be named county seat. Elk Falls held the county records, but Sedan was eventually selected. The town had received an offer to fund the courthouse construction in the event it was chosen. The courthouse was completed in Sedan in 1877.

Chautauqua County | US Courthouses Settlers in the area were drawn to the region’s topography, gently rolling plains, rocky ridges, springs, and timbers. A sandstone ledge, near Elk Falls, drops four to six feet and produces a waterfall. Chautauqua Springs was discovered in 1873, and by 1881 the town of Chautauqua had been established on the site. The springs developed a reputation for its medicinal properties, which, according to tests at the time, contained iron, potassium, salts, and magnetic gases. Oil and gas were discovered near Sedan in 1903, which prompted a boom in population.

Emmett Kelly, a circus performer known as “Weary Willie,” was born in Sedan in 1898. The county’s properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places includes the L. C. Adam Mercantile building in Cedar Vale, where a local museum is located, the Bradford Hotel in Sedan, built in response to the discovery of oil and gas in 1904, and a rainbow arch bridge near Elgin.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 25, 1875
Date Organized: June 1, 1875
County Seat: Sedan
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas and Chautauqua Hills
Courthouse: 1917-1918


1855 - Godfrey County is established, made mostly of the current Chautauqua and Elk counties
1861 - Godfrey County becomes Seward County
1867 - Seward County becomes Howard County
1873 - Chautauqua Springs is discovered
1875 - Howard County is split into present-day Chautauqua and Elk counties.
1875 - 1877 - Sedan and Elk Falls vie for designation as county seat; the courthouse is finished in Sedan in 1877
1881 - The town of Chautauqua Springs is established

More on Chautauqua County

Entry: Chautauqua 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.