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Greenwood County, Kansas

Greenwood County, Kansas, was concerned about the violence from Confederates and attacks from local tribes when it established Fort Montgomery during the Civil War in 1861. Named for free-state leader, James Montgomery, the fort escaped attacked. It was later used as offices for the Eureka Herald.

Greenwood County, in the southeast part of the state, is in the Osage Cuesta region featuring gently rolling plains and tallgrass prairie. Organized in 1862, this was one of the original 33 counties established by the legislature in 1855. It is named for Arkansas congressman and commissioner of Indian affairs, Alfred B. Greenwood. In 1861 Greenwood gained more land from the former Madison County.

This area was once belonged to the Osage and the New York Indians. The Osage lands were eventually ceded through an 1870 treaty and the Osage people were relocated to a reservation in present-day Oklahoma.

A group of white proslavery settlers from Mississippi arrived in 1856. The county saw rapid growth in 1858 and eventually antislavery supporters outnumbered proslavery residents. A drought in 1860 tested those trying to farm the land. Those who survived enjoyed a more bountiful harvest the following year. Farming and ranching expanded through the county, and the cattle industry prospered.

Home guards at Fort Montgomery protected local citizens during the Civil War, kept peace with the Osage Indians, and oversaw occasional isolated violence. Two suspected horse thieves were murdered in 1865, and citizen Robert Clark was murdered by G.W. Petty in 1866. Petty had been a proslavery supporter during the war, but he was considered more of a vigilante.

The Kansas City, Emporia & Southern Railway began construction in 1879, followed by the St. Louis, Fort Scott & Wichita Railway. Wildcatters found oil in July 1916 and soon surpassed oil production in other counties. The economic base expanded as investors like Jean Paul Getty became interested in oil and boomtowns emerged. The boom eventually ended when oil prices dropped but production continued. 

Eureka Downs in Eureka, built a horserace track in 1872 and earned the nickname “Racing Capital of Kansas.” Relocated in 1902, the track featured Thoroughbred and harness racing. In 1962 a straight section was added for Quarter Horse races. U.S. 54, built nearby in the 1920s, provided an east-west traffic way from businesses and tourists between Chicago and El Paso.

The Toronto Lake was created in Woodson and Greenwood counties as part of flood control along the Verdigris River. Construction began in 1954; the lake was completed in 1960. The lake also helps improve water quality, a source of water supply, and recreational uses.

Greenwood County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include Eureka Carnegie Library, one of many established with assistance from the Carnegie Corporation; Indian Spring Petroglyph Site (14GR320), among 30 listed sites in Kansas with Native American petroglyphs and pictographs; and Westside Service Station and Riverside Motel, a unique Ozark Giraffe-style building that was important to mid-20th century roadside travel along K-54 in Eureka.

Notable figures connected with Greenwood County include Kate Addison, who was president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association. In 1896 she testified before a judiciary committee of the U. S. House of Representatives, and published the Kansas Suffrage Monthly magazine. William Martindale settled in the county in 1857. The first county treasurer, he later became clerk of the district court, and served in both the Kansas House of Representatives and the Kansas Senate. He moved to Emporia in 1886. There he was involved in a bank failure and he attempted to repay all the bank's outstanding notes and debts to depositors. Edwin Tucker was credited with naming the community when he called out "Eureka" after first seeing the town site. He was a school teacher, merchant, banker; served as a regent for the Emporia State Normal School and Washburn University; and served in the Kansas House of Representatives and Kansas Senate. William M. Brown, who became known as William McBrown, established a trading post near Twin Falls. In 1870 he bought 1,700 acres, which became his ranch. By 1909 he owned 3,500 acres. Fred Jackson served as U.S. congressman from the county from 1911 to 1913. Stanley Vestal, an American writer, poet, and historian, was born near Severy. He is known for his books on the Old West. Bob Whittaker, an optimist who represented the Fifth District in the U.S. House of Representatives, was born in Eureka.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: March 14, 1862
County Seat: Eureka
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas and Flint Hills Uplands
State Park: Fall River State Park
Courthouse: April 20, 1957


1855 - Greenwood County is established on August 25.
1861 - Madison County is distributed between Breckinridge (Lyon) and Greenwood Counties.
1862 - Greenwood County is organized.
1879 - Railroad construction reaches the county
1916 - Oil is discovered in Greenwood County and boom begins.

More on Greenwood County


Entry: Greenwood 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.