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Hamilton County, Kansas

Hamilton County, located on the Santa Fe Trail, was home Fort Aubry, a short-lived outpost that protected the commerce route. When disputes over the county seat brought accusations of fraud, the Kansas Supreme Court helped settle the matter.

Hamilton County, Kansas, in the southwest portion of the state, is in the sandy plains of the Arkansas River Lowlands. Organized in 1886, the county was named for Alexander Hamilton, one of the nation’s founding fathers and the first U.S. secretary of the treasury. Long before the county was established in 1873, the land was home to the Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa Indians where bison were plentiful. Zebulon Pike crossed the area on his 1806 expedition. and Stephen Long on his 1820 expedition, traveled through Hamilton County. Hamilton County was once part of the land that was the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County.

Wagon trains passed through Plains Indian territory as they carried goods along the Santa Fe Trail. To help protect merchants from attack, Fort Aubry was established in 1865. In early 1866 there were 130 soldiers assigned to the post, which was closed that April. Following its military use, the fort served as a station for the overland express and later as a ranch.

Hamilton County, Kansas courthouse - Kansas Memory - Kansas Historical  SocietyThe Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad reached westward to Hamilton County in the early 1870s and eventually added stops at Syracuse, Kendall, and Coolidge, which was a division point where two lines met. When the railroad moved the connections to Syracuse and records to La Junta, Colorado, in 1890, Coolidge struggled, and its Harvey House moved.

The county seat election was held in 1886 and Syracuse was chosen. Soon Kendall residents raised accusations of election fraud and filed a petition asking the Kansas Supreme Court to remove the alleged county officers. The court ordered another vote and Syracuse won again. Acting officials in Kendall, the temporary seat, refused to turn over the records. The Kansas Supreme Court finally ruled Syracuse as the rightful seat in 1888.

The Kansas legislature gave women the vote in city elections on February 13, 1887. That cleared the way for voters to elect an all-woman city council in Syracuse on April 5, 1887, the first in the nation. N. E. Wheeler was elected mayor; Caroline Johnson Barber, Mrs. W. A. Swartwood, Mrs. S. P. Nott, Mrs. Charles Coe, and Mrs. G. C. Riggles were elected members of the council; and J. D. Woodruff was elected police judge.

The county is an agricultural one, but the cattle industry is also important with their proximity of 50 miles from the “world’s largest beef packing plant.”

During the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, dust storms were common in Kansas and western Kansas. Wind erosion was a problem during this time, and Hamilton County, along with a broad area, experienced this problem severely.

Hamilton County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include Fort Aubry and the Northrop Theater. Notable figures with connections to the county include Easton C. Bray, the first to practice the technique of summer fallow farming, who became known as the “wheat king of Kansas.” He was a director of the state highway department and campaign manager for Alfred Landon’s presidential campaign in 1936.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 20, 1873
Date Organized: January 29, 1886
County Seat: Syracuse
Kansas Region: Southwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains and Arkansas River Lowlands
Courthouse: 1937


1806 - Zebulon Pike travels through on his expedition.
1820 - Stephen Long travels through on his expedition
1865 - Fort Aubry is established. It closes the next year.
1871 - 1872 - Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad reaches Hamilton County.
1873 - Hamilton County is established on March 20.
1886 - Hamilton County is organized.
1930 - Dust Bowl impacts the region, including Hamilton County.

More on Hamilton County


Entry: Hamilton 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.