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Lyon County, Kansas

Lyon County, Kansas was home to well-known author, editor, and journalist, William Allen White. His editorial “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” made him nationally recognized. His Emporia home is now a National Historic Landmark.

Lyon County, originally established as Breckinridge County and one of the original 33 counties of 1855, was established in 1862. The name was changed to Lyon after Union General Nathaniel Lyon who died in battle in 1862, because John Breckinridge supported the Confederacy, serving in the war and as the Confederate Secretary of War. Madison County was once part of what is now Lyon County. In 1861, Madison County ceased to exist and the land was given to Breckinridge and Greenwood Counties. The Wyandot Indians once owned land in Lyon County. The Santa Fe Trail passed through the north part of the county.

In 1858-1859, there was a county seat election in which Americus was deemed the winner. In 1860, Emporia won when another election was held, and the county seat was moved. In the early years mail delivery became a problem in the area. Originally the mail had been dropped off as the Santa Fe Trail passed through, but when the government changed things and the mail ended up going to Columbia in Madison County, this made many unhappy as this would mean proslavery men oversaw their mail. Solutions were attempted, but other problems arose. Mail routes eventually were made to go through Emporia on their way from Council Grove to Fort Scott.

A trail traveling from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Sill in the Indian territory, the Burlingame Trail passed through Lyon County.

In 1856, a free state mob decided to invade a proslavery area. They mob from Topeka robbed and, while shooting at a cabin fatally wounded a Mrs. Carver. After the shooting they moved on to places like Columbia.

Emporia, Manhattan, and Lawrence all wanted the state university when it was being decided where it would go. While they did not become the location for that, they did get the Kansas State Normal School. Established in the 1860’s, the Kansas State Normal School would experience several name changes. In 1923, it was changed to the Kansas State Teachers College. In the 1970’s it was first changed to Emporia Kansas State College and later Emporia State University. 

Emporia was pushed to national recognition, with the popularity of Emporia native, William Allen White. White was a nationally recognized journalist and author and owner of the Emporia Gazette. White, while born in Emporia, grew up in El Dorado in Butler County. He later moved back to Emporia and lived in this Red Rocks House, which is now a National Historic Landmark. White was active in politics and was strongly against populism and the Ku Klux Klan. He ran for governor in the 1920’s and was friends with Theodore Roosevelt. His editorial “What’s the matter with Kansas?” is what spurred him to national recognition.

The Finney Bond Scandal involving the discover of over $1.25 million in forged bonds and warrants in 1933. Before the resolution of the affair, martial law was declared in the statehouse, four criminal convictions were affected, including the three longest sentences in state history, and the scandal reached greater proportions when it was discovered that the Finney’s were involved with William Allen White and Alf Landon.

On April 24, 1867, an earthquake hit Lyon County. It was felt at the Kansas Normal School and caused what has been described as a panic. In 1951 a flood inundated Emporia and much of the county. On June 1974, a tornado devastated parts of Emporia and the county.

A U.S. Navy ship was named U.S. S. Emporia, launched August 30, 1943, and commissioned February 3, 1944. The ship represented the city in Kansas.

In addition to White, there are other interesting figures with connections to Lyon County. White’s son, William Lindsay White, also joined the editorial and publishing business and worked with his father on the Emporia Gazette. Preston Plumb was one of the founders of Emporia and a United States Senator. Dean Edward Smith, the basketball coach of North Carolina University was born in the county. Alvin King who accomplished the task of having the name Armistice Day changed to Veteran’s day is a native to the county. Alfred W. Benson served in the U.S. Senate, Edward Rees was a Congressman, and Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court include Lawrence Bailey, Edwin Cunningham, and Charles Graves.

Lyon County has several properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places. The 1923 Hotel Broadview has placed an interesting role in Emporia’s history. The 1929 Granada Theater was designed by the Boller Brothers, an architectural firm known for its role in the entertainment industry.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 5, 1862
County Seat: Emporia
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas and Flint Hills Uplands
Courthouse: 2002


1855 - Breckinridge County is established on August 25.
1861 - Madison County is split and given to Breckinridge and Greenwood Counties.
1862 - Breckinridge County becomes Lyon County.
1863 - Kansas State Normal School is established. The name is later changed to Kansas State Teacher’s College, Emporia Kansas State College, and Emporia State University.
1868 - William Allen White is born
1944 - William Allen White dies.
1977 - The name of the Emporia Kansas State College is changed to Emporia State University. 

More on Lyon County


Entry: Lyon 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.