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Pottawatomie County, Kansas

Pottawatomie County was once home to the Potawatomi reservation. The tribe was moved to the county in 1848 from Miami County. Overland trails such as the Oregon-California Trail, a military road, and the Pike’s Peak Trail, passed through the county.

Pottawatomie County, established in 1857, is named for the Potawatomi Indians and reflects an alternate spelling. The county was once part of Riley County and Calhoun County, which no longer exists. When the Potawatomi were forced to leave their homes in the Great Lakes Region they were brought to what is now Miami County, Kansas, in 1838. During that two-month journey on foot, called the Potawatomi Trail of Death, 42 people died, half of those were children. In 1848 the tribe’s reservation was moved to what is now Pottawatomie County where Jesuits established a mission that later became Saint Mary’s College. The Oregon Trail, a military road, and the Pike’s Peak Trail ran through Pottawatomie County.

Louisville had won an 1861 election for the county seat and was moved there from St. George. This issue was far from resolved, however because in 1882, the county seat was moved to Westmorland. The issue of the county seat was not a simple one, and has been described as an issue causing “friction.” Legal action was taken in 1882 over accusations of fraud. In the 1960s the issue of demolishing the 1884 courthouse was presented. This issue was not easily resolved and even involved a court case. It was decided to make the repairs not destroy the building. At one point a newspaper editorial had even suggested moving the courthouse to Wamego. Wamego had been Westmoreland’s contender in the 1882 election.

The building of Tuttle Creek Reservoir in the 1950s was important to the county. The building of the Jeffrey Energy Center, commencing in 1974, has increased the valuation of the county from less than 50 million dollars to quarter billion dollars. Farming continues to be important in the county, which is among the top sorghum producers. 

 Wamego is home to the OZ Museum and hosts Oztoberfest in October to celebrate The Wonderful Wizard of Oz stories and movies created from the books of L. Frank Baum. The movie, Firecracker, was a 2005 thriller shot in the county and directed and written by Pottawatomie County native Steve Balderson, which recounts a real life murder that occurred in Wamego in the 1950s.

Pottawatomie County properties listed in the National Registers of Historic Places include the Pottawatomie Courthouse, built in 1884; the Old Dutch Mill, built by a Dutch immigrant in 1879; the Pottawatomie Fair Pavilion, built in 1921; and the Potawatomi Indian Pay Station in St. Marys. The Pay Station was used by government agents to pay the Potawatomis their annuities, and this building has also been known as St. Marys Indian Mission’s “oldest surviving building,” and Pottawatomie County’s “oldest building.”

Individuals of note with connections to Pottawatomie County include Jess Willard, heavyweight boxing champion of the world (1915-1919), who was raised at Emmett and operated a livery stable there. He was known as the "Pottawatomie Giant." Walter Chrysler was born in Wamego while his father was employed as a machinist for the railroad. Wiley Taylor, originally of Louisville, and Frank Bushey, of Wheaton, were early big-league ball players. Ernie Quigley, St. Marys, was a noted sports official both in college and major league baseball in the 1940s and 1950s. Robert Kaul, who practiced law in Wamego, served as a district judge and a Kansas Supreme Court Justice in the 1960s and 1970s. Delmas C. "Buzz" Hill, of Wamego served as a federal judge. Richard Rogers, born and raised in Wamego, has held the position of federal judge.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 20, 1857
County Seat: Westmoreland
Kansas Region: North Central
Physiographic Region: Glaciated Region and Flint Hills Uplands
Scenic Byways: Native Stone
Courthouse: August 24, 1884


1848 - Potawatomi tribe moves to what is now Pottawatomie County
1857 - Pottawatomie County is established from Riley and Calhoun counties
1882 - Westmoreland becomes the county seat
1950 - Building of the Tuttle Creek Reservoir 

More on Pottawatomie County


Entry: Pottawatomie 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.