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Ottawa County, Kansas

Long before Ottawa County was formed, this area was home to Plains Indian tribes. Here they lived, grew crops, and hunted. The lands became more crowded as settlement to the east pushed other tribes westward. Tensions increased as this area opened to white settlement. Some of these encounters were deadly.

More than 200 spherical boulders, geologic formations from the inland sea, are today known as Rock City. Some are nearly 30 feet in diameter. These cannonball concretions, cemented of sandstone and lime deposits in sea channels, and were strong enough to resist erosion.

Ottawa County, named for the Indian tribe of the same name, was organized in 1866. Early settlers arrived in May 1855, in this area considered beyond the frontier amid hunting grounds of the native peoples. William Still, George Darling, and Le Pere built a cabin and planted a garden. Members of the Sioux were camped along the Smoky Hill River, Le Pere attempted contact with the party in June and was probably killed as a result.

In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, numerous soldiers moved to the area to homestead. Soldiers could deduct time served toward the five-year requirement to homestead and claim 160 acres of land providing they made improvements. As the county population increased with this influx, the first saw mill was soon established to provide building materials and flour mills processed wheat. Farming has continued to be an important industry in the county.

Ayersburg was an early county seat for the county. County seat elections were held in 1866, 1870, and 1872. In the end Minneapolis was victorious and remains the county seat today.

The grasshopper invasion in 1874 caused a loss of crops in the region. Several tornadoes brought destruction to the area as well including ones in 1879 and 1881.

Lucy Browne Johnston, a resident of Minneapolis, was an active supporter of temperance and women’s rights. As president of the Kansas Equal Suffrage Association she successfully led a hard-fought campaign that earned women the right to vote in Kansas in 1912.

During World War II a U.S. Navy ship was named U. S. S. Ottawa, and commissioned February 8, 1945. The ship represented this county in Kansas as well as Ottawa counties in three other states.

Ottawa County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include petroglyphs among the Kansas Rock Art sites in the state.

Individuals of note with connections to Ottawa County include George Washington Carver, the noted scientist. He attended school in Minneapolis for seven years before moving west to Ness County where he homesteaded in 1886. William Agnew Johnston, who lived in Minneapolis, was elected to the state legislature, and served as attorney general and chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court. Robin R. Rees was a U.S. congressman from the county. Grace Bedell Billings as a young girl corresponded with then presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln and encouraged him to grow a beard. After she married she and her husband settled in Delphos.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 27, 1860
Date Organized: June 25, 1866
County Seat: Minneapolis
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills and Flint Hills Uplands
Courthouse: 1956


1860 - Ottawa County is established.
1866 - Ottawa County is organized.
1864 - Indian troubles arise.
1868 - Trouble with Indians appears again. 

More on Ottawa County


Entry: Ottawa 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.