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Phillips County, Kansas

This area that is now Phillips County, Kansas, has long been home to generations of people who came before. More recently this area was the hunting grounds of Plains Indians who lived in here when settlers began arriving from the east. The Phillipsburg rodeo has long been a popular way for the region to celebrate the Old West.

Roscoe Wilmeth was the Kansas Historical Society’s first state archeologist. He investigated the Merklein Site in Phillips County in 1957 to learn more about early peoples in this region. During that investigation an ancient stone knife point was found. Carved from Smoky Hill jasper, it would have been attached to a handle.

Around 1865 Colonel John S. Kirwan of the Tennessee volunteer cavalry established a fort along the north fork of the Solomon River to protect individuals traveling west on the California Trail. It was eventually abandoned. The town of Kirwin, with slightly different spelling, was later named for this fort.

Phillips County, established by the Kansas Legislature in 1867 and organized in 1872, was named for freestater William Phillips of Leavenworth who was killed amid the violence of Bleeding Kansas.

A “stockade” type fortification was established around 1870 by settlers in preparation in case there was an Indian attack. There was some “Indian scares” in 1871 and 1872, but no attack came. Only those who had “mistreated” the Indians were bothered. In 1878 the last threat came from the west. A large number of setters came into the county, particularly Kirwin, to seek refuge. It was reported that Decatur and Rawlins Counties were being attacked. Phillips County went on alert, but U.S. troops intervened and kept the Cheyenne back before reaching Kirwin.

Phillipsburg, 1940s Over the years where Indian threats were activity in the region, some “hostile” Indians would pass through but the settlers’ preparation kept them from attacking. Although there were other tribes, some of the Indian tribes in the region were Cheyenne, Omaha, and Pawnee. In 1867, The Battle of Prairie Dog Creek took place where troops fought against Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians, resulting in a victory for the troops.

The Grasshopper Invasion of 1874 hit the county rather hard. It destroyed crops and temporarily harmed the rate of immigration to the area.

Phillipsburg held its first large rodeo in September 1929 and attracted more than 4,000 people. They built fencing from scrap lumber, railroad ties, and hog wire. A ring of parked cars was used to form the arena and the audience sat on 2-by-12 inch boards. By 1932 the event was so popular it drew 20,000. A new grandstand was added in 1953 using materials from the construction of the Republican City, Nebraska, dam. This rodeo continues to be a popular annual event and is held in August every year

Phillips County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places includes Agra Lake and Park, a New Deal Era project in the 1930s. The Civil Conservation Corps and the Kansas Emergency Relief Committee were involved with this effort.

Individual of note with connections to Phillips County include Cornelius James VanAllen who arrived in Kirwin in 1869, built the first land office in 1874, taught school until 1878, and was the first county superintendent. Fred C. Albright was an early homesteader, buffalo hunter, and involved with the Plains Indian Wars. McDill “Huck” Boyd, newspaper editor, and state Republican party leader, was the favorite son of the county until his death in 1987.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 2, 1867
Date Organized: July 26, 1872
County Seat: Phillipsburg
Kansas Region: Northwest
Physiographic Region: Smoky Hills and High Plains
Courthouse: 1912-1913


1867 - Phillips County is established on February 26.
1871 - 1872- “Indian scares” occur in these years.
1872 - Phillips County is organized.
1874 - Grasshopper invasion temporarily harm immigration to the area.
1912 - Current courthouse is built
1929 - Phillipsburg holds first rodeo September 19-21  

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Entry: Phillips 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.