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Allen County, Kansas

Allen County courthouseIn Allen County, Kansas, both free-state and proslavery individuals lived in relative peace during Kansas Territory. Amid the Civil War, however, the old county seat of Humboldt was attacked and citizens were left without a defense. Through the first 20 years county residents overcame numerous droughts and grasshopper invasions. Major General Frederick Funston, honored for his leadership during the Spanish American War, grew up in the county. 

Located in the southeast, Allen County, Kansas, is in the Osage Cuesta region featuring gently rolling plains. One of 33 original counties established in 1855, it was named after William Allen, who was an Ohio senator and governor.

Years before Kansas was a territory, the U.S. moved native peoples from different tribes in the East to a permanent Indian frontier. The New York and Osage Indians were assigned reservation lands in this area.

Established at the beginning of the Bleeding Kansas era, Allen County displayed a slightly different political atmosphere compared to others during the territorial days. The proslavery and free-state settlers who lived in the county did not exhibit violence toward each other. Yet, the county’s early years were far from uneventful. B.W. Cowden and H.D. Parsons are considered among the earliest setters in the county having arrived in 1855. After leaving the area for a short time, they arrived home to find that Missourians had taken over their settlement. Parsons called upon the assistance of Little Bear, chief of the Osage, who was on friendly terms, and they drove the invaders back to Missouri. Among other settlers that year was a group of vegetarians, who settled near Humboldt. After an outbreak of sickness, many of them left, making the colony obsolete.

Proslavery men founded the town of Cofachique, and it became the county seat for the next two years. In 1858, Humboldt became the new county seat until the year 1865, when it was replaced by Iola.

In 1860 drought struck the area, followed later that year by the first of several grasshopper invasions over the next 15 years to hit the area. While the drought caused the damage to be low in 1860, when the eggs hatched in 1861, damage was more extensive. Grasshoppers would hit again in 1866-1867 and the worst invasion would occur in 1874-1875. Crops were largely destroyed in 1875, but the corn crop had a good year because farmers had time to replant when the insects left in June of the year.

While the years of territorial Kansas remained largely uneventful for Allen County, the Civil War years saw more instability.  The sacking of Humboldt took placed in September 1861 when Missouri guerillas, along with some Cherokee and Osage Indians, joined forces and attacked the town of Humboldt. The lack of men in the town at the time made it defenseless against the attackers. When word reached Dr. George A. Miller, who had been absent during the attack, he gathered together an infantry. A company was organized and the guerillas were pursued. The leader of the guerillas, Captain Matthews, died in the confrontation that took place. After days of the cavalry being sent out to scout the area in prevention of another attack, they went back home.  Then one day in October, Humboldt was once again attacked. Buildings were burned, but the women and children were allowed to save their valuables. Women deceived the attackers into believing armed help was on the way, causing them to leave quicker. While much property was destroyed and animals stolen, only one farmer was killed as he attempted to save his mules. The area received a military post after the violence in Humboldt.

The Humboldt city band was formed in 1866 by Richard Redfield, a Civil War veteran. He was a music teacher and operated a music and sewing machine store. With only a population of 200, the city raised $500 to purchase instruments. The town built a bandstand in the public square in 1867, which was replaced in time to celebrate the community’s 50th anniversary in 1908. Built by John Nessell the octagonal bandstand is still at the center of the community and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Other Allen County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Allen County Jail. Major General Frederick Funston from Iola received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his role in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. His boyhood home is operated as a museum. Prairie Spirit Trail State Park runs through Allen County. Other people from the county include Randy Stuart, radio, film, and television actress; Johnny Adams, jockey; and Dean Hargrove, television producer, writer, and director.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
County Seat: Iola
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas
Courthouse: January 11, 1959


1855 - County is established on August 25 from lands assigned to the New York and Osage Indians, settlers arrive
1856 - County is organized on May 7
1855-1857 - County seat is Cofachique, a town established by proslavery settlers
1858 - County seat becomes Humboldt
1861- Sacking of Humboldt and burning of Humboldt occur during Civil War
1865 - County seat becomes Iola
1870 - First railroad in the county is established by the Missouri, Kansas, and Texas Railway
1874 - 1875 Grasshoppers invade county and cause damage beyond previous invasions

More on Allen County


Entry: Allen 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: January 2010

Date Modified: July 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.