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Doniphan County, Kansas

Doniphan County, an original Kansas county, received an important visitor in 1859. Early in Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign he spent a few days in three counties in Kansas Territory framing his message. This county was less impacted than many during the years of Bleeding Kansas. However, a threat of violence did occur at an election.

Doniphan County, Kansas, established in 1855 as one of the original 33 counties laid out by the territorial legislature, was named after Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan, who fought in the Mexican-American War. The first permanent settlement was eventually established in the county when Reverend Samuel Irwin came to the area on instructions of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. In the 1840s, the mission building was constructed. The Mission closed in 1863, after waning support in 1860. The building was eventually sold in 1868, as an attempt at changing the mission to an Orphan Indian Institute had failed in 1866.

The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, one of two federally recognized Iowa tribes, is located in Richardson County, Nebraska and Brown and Doniphan counties in Kansas. The Iowa reservation spans 1,500 acres.

Doniphan County is the “birthplace” in Kansas of “Squatter sovereignty” with the creation of the Squatter Association of Kansas. The first railroad in Kansas, the Roseport and Palmetto was established in 1860 in Doniphan County. 

Kansans knew Abraham Lincoln before his visit; he had gained prominence in a series of debates against Stephen Douglas while campaigning for a U.S. senate seat from Illinois. Lincoln, who lost the race to Douglas, was a Republican and was here to help his party’s candidates in the upcoming election. During his brief tour he spoke in Doniphan, Atchison, and Leavenworth counties to underscore the message that he believed slavery should not spread into the territory. His talking points became the core of an address he delivered a few months later as his presidential campaign became more public.

While Kansas is known for its volatile climate during its territorial years, Doniphan County did not experience the level of violence more common in other counties. During an election in the Burr Oak Precinct, the entire Free State Party withdrew after a threat of violence at the polls. After the withdrawal, the issue was essentially settled in the area.

A legend states that during the county seat war between Troy and Wathena a cannon was stolen nightly by one town or the other, depending on who had it until eventually it was sunk in the local creek.

Farming continues to be important in the county, which is among the top corn producers.

Doniphan County has many properties listed in the National and State Register of Historic Places. The Doniphan County Courthouse was built in 1906. The Iowa and Sac & Fox Mission was once home and school to American Indian school. Irvin Hall at Highland Community Junior College, formerly Highland University, was built in 1859. It named for Samuel Irvin, a missionary, who was also a founder of the college. This is the oldest higher education building still in use in the state.

Notable figures with connection to Doniphan County are Daniel Woodson, the first secretary of the Kansas Territory and an acting governor multiple times during 1855 and 1856, and Charles E. Whittaker who served on the United States Supreme Court.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: September 18, 1855
County Seat: Troy
Kansas Region: Northeast
Physiographic Region: Glaciated Region
Scenic Byways: Glacial Hills
Courthouse: July 4, 1906


1837 – Samuel M. Irvin arrives on orders from Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions.
1846 – Iowa, Sac, and Fox Presbyterian Mission building is completed.
1854 – The Squatter Association of Kansa is formed.
1855 – Doniphan County is established and organized.
1859 – Abraham Lincoln makes stops in Troy and Doniphan during a brief visit to Kansas Territory
1863 – The Presbyterian Mission is closed
1866 – After being repurposed to an “Orphan Indian Institute,” this too fails.
1881 – The first long distance telephone company in Kansas is established in Doniphan County

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Entry: Doniphan 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: July 2023

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