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Harper County, Kansas

Harper County was originally organized fraudulently. When it was finally organized legally, intense disputes over the county seat began with a fraudulent election. Votes cast in the county of approximately 800 legal voters numbered nearly 3,000.

Harper County, Kansas, in the south central part of the state, is in the Gypsum Hills region where flat topped mesas and red iron rich soil creates dramatic vistas. The county was organized legally in 1878, was named for Sargent Marion Harper who served in the Second Kansas Cavalry, and died in 1863. Prior to its establishment the land was split between the Osage Nation and a strip of land designated to but not occupied by the Cherokee Nation. A treaty in 1868 established reservation lands for the Osage Nation in Oklahoma. In 1867 Harper County was part of the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County.

The county was fraudulently organized in 1873, when three men falsified records by using names from the Cincinnati directory to create names for fictional citizens of the county. Even the county seat, Bluff City, did not exist. An investigation in 1874 showed the county’s population at zero. The county was reorganized in 1878. The following year an election was held for county seat and nearly 3,000 votes were cast; the contenders were Anthony and Harper. There were only around 800 legal voters in the county, which began a legal dispute. Supreme Court Justice Brewer agreed that too many ballots had been cast. The votes were eventually counted and Anthony was the winner. Despite the fraudulent nature of the elections Anthony became the permanent location of the county seat. This issue was not resolved until 1907 when voters approved the building of a courthouse in Anthony, which was completed the following year. 

In the mid to late 1870s residents found economic benefit from gathering and selling buffalo bones. As attempts were made to exterminate the buffalo herds between 1872 and 1878, the prairies became scattered with bones. Residents hauled them to markets in Wichita, which resold them to refineries in the East. Agriculture has been a major industry for generations.

Excitement overtook the region for the Cherokee Strip Land Run. More than 115,000 people raced from the Kansas border on September 16, 1893, to claim one of the 42,000 parcels of land. Earlier that year Congress had approved the transfer of land from the Cherokee Nation, negotiated a payment price, and prepared to open the strip for settlement. Town populations along the border fell at first as citizens rushed to claim lands in Oklahoma. Many experienced a slow but steady recovery in the years following the land run.

The first oil well began producing in 1949 and gas was discovered in commercial quantities in 1950. For many years salt and ash were mined. Hydraulic fracturing has been used for oil extraction in more recent years.

Harper County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places include the Anthony Public Carnegie Library, among those established with help of the Carnegie Corporation, and the Harper County Courthouse.

Nyle H. Miller, a native of Anthony, was the secretary of the Kansas Historical Society for nearly 30 years. The author of many books and articles on Kansas history, he was a leader in the field of state and local history. Dennis Moore, a U.S. Congressman who served the third district from 1999 to 2011, was born in Anthony.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 26, 1867
Date Organized: August 26, 1878
County Seat: Anthony
Kansas Region: South Central
Physiographic Region: Red Hills, High Plains, and Wellington-McPherson Lowlands
Scenic Byways: Gypsum Hills
Courthouse: January 29, 1908


1867 - Harper County is established
1873 - Harper County is fraudulently organized.
1878 - Harper County is reorganized legally.
1879 - The dispute over the county seat begins with a clearly fraudulent election.
1907 - Courthouse construction is approved in Anthony by voters and built the following year. This officially solves the issue of the county seat.

More on Harper County


Entry: Harper 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.