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Elk County, Kansas

Elk County, Kansas, had three name changes before taking its present form. When the county was named Howard, there were many disputes over the county seat. Armed citizens were so displeased with the results of the election results that they stole the records. The county is home to a popular waterfall, near the historic Iron Truss Bridge.

Elk County, Kansas, in the southeast part of the state, is in the Osage Cuesta region with rolling hills and Chautauqua Hills with sandstone outcroppings. Established in 1875, it is named after the Elk River, a tributary of the Verdigris River. Elk County was originally part of a larger county, along with Chautauqua County, that had three name changes: Godfrey, Seward, and Howard. Before the land was opened for settlement it belonged to the Osage Indians. Squatters began to move into the county while still a part of Osage lands. In 1856 the Osage convinced the first settler, Richard Graves, to leave. Tensions grew as the number of squatters increased. The Osage finally agreed to cede their lands in an 1870 treaty and move to Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. 

Before Howard County was spilt into Elk and Chautauqua counties, residents had an intense dispute over the county seat that spanned several years. Elk Falls had been selected county seat in 1867 when that county was established. An election was held in 1870 by request of a petition and voters chose to move the county seat to Peru. People were still unhappy and demanded another election. The 1872 election was declared fraudulent. The 1873 election gave voters the option to decide between Elk Falls and Boston. When Elk Falls won, the people of Boston waged war. About 150 armed men entered Elk Falls and loaded county records in their wagons. The militia organized to recover the missing documents. When that failed, the district court ordered the arrest of those responsible. The records were surrendered in exchange for the release of prisoners who were returned to Elk Falls. Discussion began in 1871 to split Howard County. In 1875 Elk and Chautauqua counties were formed to address concerns about size, county seats, and politics.

In Elk County farming and ranching continue to be important industries; the region is also home to a major wind energy project. The natural resources make this an ideal habitat for waterfowl.

Elk County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places include the Romanesque- and Italian Renaissance-style Elk County courthouse, built in 1907; and the wrought iron Elk Falls Pratt Truss Bridge, constructed in 1892.

Interesting figures with connections to Elk County are Tom E. Thompson, editor of the Howard Courant and known over the state as Polk Daniels; Nettie H. Morse, the ninth woman to serve in the Kansas House of Representatives; and Governor Harry Woodring, who served from 1931-1933.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 25, 1875
County Seat: Howard
Kansas Region: Southeast
Physiographic Region: Osage Cuestas and Chautauqua Hills
Courthouse: 1907-1908


1855 - Godfrey County is established, which is mostly Chautauqua and Elk Counties.
1861 - Godfrey County becomes Seward County
1867 - Seward County becomes Howard County
1875 - Howard County becomes Elk and Chautauqua Counties
1879 - Santa Fe railroad arrives in the county

More on Elk County


Entry: Elk 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.