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Coffey County, Kansas

Coffey County, Kansas, was among the original 33 counties established by the territorial legislature. The county was created from reservation lands of the Sac and Fox Indians. Communities in the county initially disagreed over which town would be named county seat.

The Sac and Fox Indians of Mississippi were removed from Iowa to Kansas by 1846. Their reservation included portions of Franklin, Lyons, and Osage counties. Settlers moving to the area wanted more lands and the Sac and Fox reservation was reduced through a treaty in 1859. An Indian agency was established in Le Roy to provide supplies and the tribal burial grounds were reported to be near present-day Burlington. The Sac and Fox Indians were removed to Indian Territory in 1869. Several members of the tribe believed they had been misled by the treaty.

Chief Mokohoko returned to the area with 100 followers where they continued to stay until 1886. Coffey County, Kansas, in the southeast part of the state, is in the Osage Cuesta region featuring gently rolling plains. It was named after Colonel A. M. Coffey, a member of the 1855 territorial legislature who lived in Miami County. When Lawrence was attacked by proslavery Missourians in 1855, a group of early settlers from the town of Ottumwa answered calls for help. Coffey County was officially organized in February 1857 with Le Roy the original county seat. Early in 1858 the territorial legislature named Burlington the county seat awaiting official determination at the next general election later that year. The election did not end the debate. Several more elections were held and the decision was not settled until late 1866, when the county seat was set permanently at Burlington, where it still is today. 

The county provided support during the Civil War; men responded in 1861 after the war began and joined Union regiments. The First Indian regiment was organized in Le Roy in 1862. There were 66 officers; the 1,800 enlisted men were Creek and Seminole Indians and African Americans. The three regiments of Indian Home Guards fought mostly in Indian Territory and Arkansas to support the Union’s war effort in the West.

The Neosho River flooded many times before the U.S. Congress authorized the Flood Control Act of 1950. Before construction could begin, flooding 1951 reached downtown Burlington and Strawn where floodwaters reached 30 feet. John Redmond Reservoir was built in 1959 and the town of Strawn was moved and renamed New Strawn. Construction continued, and the dam was finally completed in 1964. During the flood of 1993 waters reached the gates requiring release of water to the spillway. The lake when full covers approximately 9,400 acres of land, and offers biking, boating, camping, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.

Coffey County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places includes the Burlington Carnegie Free Library. It was one of the libraries started by the help of Andrew Carnegie and the Carnegie Corporation, who are well-known for helping to establish public libraries.

Notable people with connections to Coffey County include Burton L. Kingsbury, an early judge and county historian; Roy S. Pierson, a local attorney noted for his statewide fishing parties; Governor John W. Leedy; Congressman Harrison Kelley; Olive Ann Mellor Beech, co-founder of Beechcraft; and John Redmond, editor of the Burlington Republican for whom the lake was named.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: February 17, 1857
County Seat: Burlington
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas
Courthouse: 1963-1964


1855 - Coffey County is established
1857 - Coffey County is organized
1861 - Residents answer call to volunteer to support the Union
1862 - Indian Home Guard formed
1866 - Burlington becomes county seat after years of elections
1950 - John Redmond Reservoir is built

More on Coffey County

Entry: Coffey 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.