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Neosho County, Kansas

Neosho County, Kansas, was once the land of the Osage Indians. Manual labor schools were established for both Osage boys and girls at Osage Mission, now called St. Paul, Kansas. Disputes between settlers and railroads led all the way to the United States Supreme Court, and county seat disputes lead to the Kansas Supreme Court.

Neosho County, originally named Dorn and one of the original 1855 counties, was established in 1861. It is named after the Neosho River which was named by the Osage, which inhabited the area long before Kansas became a territory. The county is named for the river, an Osage word of where the first syllable translates to “water.” There are different explanations for the exact meaning and translation of the word, but the establishment of the connection to “water” is consistent.

In the early 1820’s Osage wished and requested schools. Attempts were made but were not successful. In 1847, two manual labor schools, one for boys and one for girls, started by the Jesuits and the Loretto sisters, was established at Osage Mission, now called St. Paul.

During the Civil War, the Osages suffered from guerilla attacks that destroyed their property and even stole their animals. The Osages supported the Union cause, although some members were the exception and were on the side of the Confederacy. 

The Osage ceded land in the Canville Treaty in 1865. After this was completed more land was available for settlement and a dispute between settlers and railroads arose regarding land titles. This dispute continued for a few years, even getting Congress involved. Eventually, around 1870, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the matter in favor of the settlers.

The county had been organized in 1864, and at the time of 1867 the county seat was located in the “geographical center” of the county. A year later, in 1868, elections were held. The main contenders were Osage Mission against Erie in which the latter was the winner. A recount was held however, and the results were the opposite. Records and tax rolls were taken and they disappeared never to be found. The dispute was eventually settled by the Kansas Supreme Court in 1874 and Erie became the county seat.

Oil and natural gas were discovered beginning in 1885, and additional discoveries were made in 1897 and 1898.

Neosho County has several properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places. Osage Mission infirmary, built in the 1870’s, which was part St. Francis Institute, started by the Jesuits. Nearby was St. Ann’s Academy, started by the Loretto sisters. It was in their possession until the 1890’s at which time it was given to Passionists. The building was moved in 1912. The Chanute Public Library is a Carnegie library from around 1906, was part of the work Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation did to establish public libraries.

There are some interesting figures with connections to Neosho County. Osa Helen (Leighty) Johnson, born and raised in Chanute, and her husband Martin Johnson were famous wild animal photographers and writers. She published her bestselling autobiography, I Married Adventure, in 1920. Hugo T. Wedell served as a Congressman. M.J. Salter was Lieutenant Governor for two terms in the 1870’s.

Quick Facts

Date Established: June 3, 1861
Date Organized: November 2, 1864
County Seat: Erie
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas
Courthouse: 1962


1847 - Manual schools for both Osage boys and girls are established in Osage Mission, now St. Paul.
1855 - Dorn County is established on August 25.
1861 - The name of Dorn County is changed and it would become the counties of Neosho and Labette.
1864 - Neosho County is organized.
1865 - Canville Indian Treaty
1870 - U.S. Supreme Court rules in a case in a land title rights dispute of settlers and railroads.
1874 - The Kansas Supreme Court places the county seat at Erie. 

More on Neosho County


Entry: Neosho 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.