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Shawnee County, Kansas

Shawnee County, which contains the cities of  Auburn, Willard (part), Rossville, Silver Lake, and Topeka, was named for the Shawnee Indians. Frederick Chouteau was one of the first traders in the area; but the city was founded by Cyrus K. Holliday; F. W. Giles; Daniel Horne; George Davis; Enoch Chase; J. B. Chase; M. C. Dickey; Charles Robinson; and L. G. Cleveland. The county was one of the original 33 created by the Territorial Legislature, but the organization of October 10, 1855, was declared not official, and the county was officially reorganized in 1858.

The campaign for the location of the state capital involved not only Topeka but also some 45 contestants, all of which received some votes. Topeka won a clear majority and became the capital in 1861. June of 1966 Topeka suffered the highest property damage loss in history when a tornado hit the town, moving completely through from the southwest to the northeast. Because Topeka is the state capital, many other significant events have occurred and are recorded in several Kansas and Shawnee County histories.

Topeka's First Methodist Church, established on March 21, 1855, was the first in the county. The first county fair was held in Topeka in 1869. The first school in Topeka was held in 1856, but the first district, numbered 23, was organized in Topeka in 1862.

As the county is home of the state capital, many interesting figures throughout its history have either made their homes here or spent time in the county. Two unique individuals are Abram Burnett, and the Reverend Charles Sheldon. Burnett, a Pottawatomie Indian chief was educated in the east and acted as interpreter during the tribe's removal to Kansas. He married a German girl and lived on the new reservation near the large mound on the southwest side of Topeka that bears his name. The Reverend Charles Sheldon, well-known minister, edited the Topeka Daily Capital one week in March, 1900, as "Jesus Christ would have done it." He was known throughout the world for his book, In His Steps, published in 1897. Other elected or appointed officials include: Governor Arthur Capper (1915-1919) who also served in the U. S. Senate (1919-1949); U. S. Senators John Martin (1893-1895), Charles Curtis (1907-1913, 1915-1929), and William A. Peffer (1891-1897); Congressmen Thomas Ryan (1877-1889), John Otis (1891-1893), Charles Curtis (1893-1907), William R. Roy (1971-1975), and Jim Slattery (1983- ); Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Price (1966-1971) who also served as Justice (1948-1966), and Justices of the Kansas Supreme Court Jacob Safford (1865-1871), John Marshall (1915-1931), Harry K. Allen (1937-1943), Schuyler W. Jackson (1958-1964), David Prager (1971- ), and Kay McFarland (1977- ).

Several local legends are told relating to Abram Burnett. One is that he is buried on the mound named for him but no one can find his grave; another is that a tornado (which held true until 1966) would never hit Topeka as it would not come over Burnett's Mound; and lastly, Burnett was known as the largest, or fattest, man in the state. It was told that he would come to Topeka, get drunk, and local people would load him into a wagon by rolling him up on planks, then turn the wagon loose as the horses knew the way home.

More than 30 structures or sites in the county are on either the National or State registers. A complete list is available from the Historic Preservation Office of the Kansas Historical Society.

For more information about the history of shawnee County:

For more information see the  website.The Kansas Historical Society's State Archives & Library in Topeka has the research collection in the state. Included are archives, manuscripts, maps, photographs, publications, newspapers, and sources of every type including state and local government records. The Topeka Room of the Topeka Public Library has sources relating to the history of the capital city.

Topeka Timeline

December 4, 1854 – Topeka is established

October 23, 1855 – Topeka Constitutional Convention is held at Constitution Hall

November 6, 1855 – At the Topeka Constitutional Convention, Topeka was selected as temporary capital of the territory

February 14, 1857 – Topeka is incorporated

October 4, 1858 – Voters choose Topeka to become county seat of Shawnee County against Tecumseh, Auburn (Brownsville), and Burlingame

July 29, 1859 – Topeka is designated to be the capital of Kansas under the Wyandotte Constitution

March 26, 1861 – The first state legislature after statehood met in Topeka: the senate met in the Ritchie Block, near 6th and Kansas avenues; the house met in the Gale block.

October 17, 1866 – the corner stone of the Kansas State Capitol was laid.

December 25, 1869 – rooms in the east wing of the Kansas State Capitol were first occupied.

March 24, 1903 – the Kansas State Capitol was turned over to the state, being declared completed, although a few remaining pieces need to be finished.

Entry: Shawnee 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: November 2017

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