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Labette County, Kansas

Labette County, Kansas was home to mass murders the Bender family who had settled in the Cherryvale area, and established a store and inn. They killed many a traveler that stopped to stay. Even though there were many stories and reports of their whereabouts, it is unknown what happened to them after their 1873 escape.

Labette County, Kansas, established in 1867, is named after the creek of the same name. There are few different explanations or versions for how the creek got its name. One leads back to French fur trappers, and one leads back to a French-Canadian named Pierre Labette. There are even different versions of how his name is spelled. The county had originally been a part of Dorn County, which ceased to exist in 1861, and the name was changed to Neosho. Labette County was established out of Neosho County.

Labette county was once home to the Osage Indians’ Reservation. John Matthews settled in the future county and established a trading post in the 1840s. He was a confederate, and prior to his death in 1861, he participated in raids on free state settlements.

Chetopa was burned by Fort Scott troops following Quantrill’s raid on Baxter Springs.

In 1873, settlers near Cherryvale found a gruesome discovery. Travelers had been going missing and suspicions began to arise, especially after the disappearance of a man named Loncher and his daughter and Dr. William York. The surrounding area began to be searched, and it was discovered that the property of the Bender family was abandoned. Upon inspection, several bodies were discovered. The Bender family, John Bender Sr., Ma Bender, Kate Bender, and John Bender Jr., had settled in the Labette County area, near the Montgomery County line, along the Osage Mission Independence Trail and as travelers stopped at their story and inn they would rob and murder them.  

They would sometimes even murder people that had nothing of value. The victims were hit with a hammer as they sat near a canvas. The Bender murders were a family effort and the family disappeared when suspicions arose. Despite many theories and rumors, what happened to them is unknown.

In 1908 the Kansas Supreme Court ruled in civil rights case Williams v. The Board of Education of Parsons. Segregation arrangements meant danger for William’s children as they had to cross railroad tracks. The court agreed William’s circumstances were due some help, but segregation was by no means ended.

Labette County possesses properties on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. The Carnegie Library in Parsons was built in 1908-1909. The Edwards House, built in 1874, was home to the Oswego College for Young Ladies from 1885-1920. The Works Progress Administration and Kansas Emergency Relief Committee built picnic shelters and swimming areas in the 1930’s as park of the New Deal Programs.

There are several notable figures with connections to Labette County. Bishop Waldon Perks, a lawyer-politician came to Labette County in 1869. He was a probate judge the day following his arrival in the county and served all but 30 days of the remainder of his life out of public service. He died while U.S. Senator in 1891 having served since 1883. Clyde M. Reed, Sr., served as Governor of Kansas and as a U.S. Senator. Governor Payne Ratner, Congressmen Perkins and Myron George, and William Atkins who served as a Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court in 1904 are a few more.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 26, 1867
Date Organized: 1867
County Seat: Oswego
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Cherokee Lowlands and Osage Cuestas
Courthouse: 1949


1855 - Dorn County is established
1861 - Dorn County ceases to exist.
1867 - Labette County is organized and established
1873 - The Bender Family victims are found.
1885 - 1920-The Oswego College for Young Ladies is in operation. 

More on Labette County


Entry: Labette 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.