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Wilson County, Kansas

Wilson County, Kansas, is home to a famous oil well—Norman No. 1, the first commercially-successful well in the Mid-Continent Oil Field. The county struggled for many years to determine its county seat, eventually seeking involvement from the Kansas Supreme Court before Fredonia became the final choice. This was a place of refuge for thousands of native peoples seeking asylum from the Confederate army.

Established in 1855 as one of the original counties, Wilson County was named for Colonel Heiro T. Wilson, considered the founder of Fort Scot, who operated a mercantile business and post sutler before and during the Civil War. The county was once part of the Osage Indian reservation lands. Settlers began arriving in 1857, years before the county was organized in 1864.

Refusing to support the Confederate army, people from the Creek, Seminole, Delaware, and Cherokee tribes in Indian Territory turned to President Abraham Lincoln for asylum. The government responded directing them to Fort Row in Wilson County. Thousands of people followed Opothleyahola, a Muscogee Creek leader, on the dangerous journey, called the Trail of Blood on Ice, to the north. They were forced to fight three battles against Confederate soldiers, and they faced disease and bitter cold. Around 10,000 people finally arrived at Fort Row, overwhelming supplies and accommodations. They were eventually moved to other outposts and by spring the fort was abandoned.

Wilson County | US CourthousesThe first county seat election was held in 1867, with Twin Mounds (present-day Fredonia), Kalida (as known as Clifton), and Tonsa, and Centerville, receiving votes. Results were unclear and commissioners called for more elections, which resulted in questions of fraud and more elections over the span of years. People of Fredonia challenged the elections in a legal case that was sent to the Kansas Supreme Court, which they lost. After another election Fredonia legally claimed the title at the ballot box. Fredonia’s city hall was destroyed by an explosion that is believed to have been caused by the hot water tank in 1963.

The oil industry has been a part of the county’s history. Norman Number One Well, a National Historic Landmark, was drilled for the first time in the early 1890s. It was active for more than two decades, resulting in the definition of the Mid-Continent Oil Field, which spans three states, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The county’s other properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Brown Hotel in Neodesha, Brush Creek Bridge in Coyville, and the Gold Dust Hotel in Fredonia.

Individuals of note from Wilson County include Governors Ben S. Paulen and Harry H Woodring, both born in the county, and Thomas Hudson and Snyder Kirkpatrick both U.S. congressmen from the county.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: September 24, 1864
County Seat: Fredonia
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas and Chautauqua Hills
Courthouse: 1965


1855 - Wilson County is established.
1864 - Wilson County is organized.
1867 - First of the many elections spanning years over the county seat take place. 

More on Wilson County


Entry: Wilson 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.