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Stevens County, Kansas

Stevens County’s early years as an organized county were intense and sometimes dangerous as Hugoton and Woodsdale both wished to be the county seat. Confrontations and murders occurred as tensions ran high.

Stevens County, Kansas, organized in 1886, was named after politician Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania. Stevens County was once part of the land that was the old Washington County, Peketon County, and later an enlarged Marion County. Comanche Indians once inhabited the county. A route of the Santa Fe Trail came through the county.

Stevens County had a period of several years where tensions were incredibly high over the issue of the county seat. The rivals were Hugoton, which had been designated the temporary county seat, and Woodsdale. Many incidents including arrests, kidnapping charges and murder occurred. Sam Wood and I.C. Price were of Woodsdale and Sam Robinson was of Hugoton. During the late 1880s and even into the early 1890s, there were many confrontations between the towns. At one time Wood and Price were taken, charged, and convicted of crimes. Woodsdale men tried to come to their rescue, and while they failed at their original mission they brought on kidnapping charged on the Hugoton individuals. These men were not convicted. Robinson was accused of a crime involving railroad bonds, but when an arrested was attempted the incident turned potentially dangerous as shots occurred. For a time, Robinson went to the neutral lands or “No Man’s Land,” which is present day Oklahoma for camping and other recreational activities with family and friends. Another important figure, Short, went after him, but Robinson escaped. Hugoton men join him and confrontation occurs between Robison and his men and those of Short. Fortunately, no one was harmed.

Stevens County Kansas Woodsdale leader, Sheriff Cross, and his men were killed in the Haymeadow Massacre by Robison and his men. One of Cross’s men did survive, although he was injured, by playing dead. Robinson fled the county and was never tried for the murders. The other men were eventually tried by a Federal Court in Texas, but the conviction was appealed and not upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court due to the fact that the court didn’t have jurisdiction where the murders were committed.

Sam Wood was killed in 1891 while in Hugoton. His murderer, James Brennan, was arrested but never able to be tried because of the inability of the county to provide a fair trial. Hugoton had become the permanent county seat in 1887 and the issue soon died out after Wood’s death.

During the years of the cattle industry, cattle may have come through the county on their way to Dodge City. Ranching was established there by the Beaty brothers.

Natural gas had been discovered in neighboring Seward County in the early 1920s. It was not considered of value then, however. In 1927, gas was discovered in Stevens County and the industry took off. The Hugoton and Panoma fields are partially in Stevens County. The natural gas of the Hugoton field is high in helium. The gas is sent nationwide, and is a very important natural resource from Kansas.

During the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s south western Kansas, including Stevens County, was hit hard. This included the unfortunate occurrence of dust storms.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 20, 1873
Date Organized: August 3, 1886
County Seat: Hugoton
Kansas Region: Southwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains
Courthouse: September 16, 1952


1873 - Stevens County is established.
1886 - Stevens County is organized.
1880 - 1890-County seat war rages on during the late 1880s and early 1890s.
1927 - Discovery of natural gas in the county 

More on Stevens County

Entry: Stevens 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.