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Shawnee County is situated in the third tier of counties west of the Missouri River and contains 357,120 acres of land. The face of the county is such as is general in the eastern part of Kansas, where water courses thread the territory. It is rolling prairie, nearly 150 feet above the bed of the water courses, with hills or mounds rising 100 feet above the land level. The most notable elevations are in the western range of townships. Burnett's Mound, the highest point in the county, is situated some four miles southwest of Topeka, in Mission Township. The land is described in the government and county surveys as "bottom land, 31 per cent; upland, 69 per cent; forest 8 per cent; prairie, 92 per cent." The timber, natural growth, is confined to the bottoms of Kansas River, and the numerous creeks and streams tributary to it. It consists of elm, cottonwood, black walnut, oak, sycamore, box elder, hickory and ash.


The Kansas River flows through the county in a southeasterly course, being bordered on its north bank by the towns of Rossville, Silver Lake and Soldier, and on its south bank by the towns of Dover, Mission, Topeka and Tecumseh. The Wakarusa River, which, flowing east and northeast, empties into the Kansas River in the northeastern part of Douglas County, has its sources in the town of Auburn, and waters the southern sections of Auburn, Williamsport and Monmouth - the tributary creeks flowing into it on either side forming the drainage and water system of the three towns above named. The towns lying on the borders of the Kansas River, north and south, are watered by the tributary creeks running into that river. Among these is Cross Creek, running through the town of Rossville; Soldier Creek, the largest stream on the north side, which enters the county in the northwestern part of the town of Silver Lake, runs southeast through that town, Menoken, and the southern sections of Soldier, emptying into the Kansas nearly opposite the city of Topeka. Indian Creek is also a northern tributary, entering Kansas River one and one-half miles below the mouth of Soldier Creek. South of the Kansas the principal tributary streams are Mission Creek and Shunganunga Creek, the former watering the town of Dover, and the latter the towns of Mission and Topeka, the whole river system covering the county as with a network. There are no lakes or ponds in the county.

The soil is a rich dark loam, varying from fifteen feet in some parts of the bottoms, to a uniform surface covering the upland prairie from one to three feet. There is no better soil for small grains and cereals of temperate latitudes. The underlying formation is limestone, well fitted for building purposes, easily quarried, and, when burned, yielding lime of fair quality. Beds of clay, from which good bricks are manufactured, are well distributed. Coal is found in detached and non-continuous beds, some fifteen or twenty feet below the surface, and is mined in a small way for local purposes in Topeka, Soldier and Menoken.


Concerning the origin of the names in this county, it is generally understood that Shawnee County receives its name from that well known tribe of Indians. Topeka is a Kaw word, meaning "wild potato"; Wakarusa, "river of big weeds"; Shunganunga, "the race course"; Menoken, "a fine growth"; Half-Day Creek, named after a Pottawatomie chief; Mission Creek, so called because of the old Kaw mission on its banks; Blacksmith Creek, from the Kaw blacksmith shop; Soldier Creek, because its banks were a favorite camping ground for soldiers passing from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley.




The actual settlement of the county by white men dates from the time of the territorial organization in 1854. Prior to that time the title to the land was vested in the Indians occupying it, and their half-breed descendants. Aside from these and a few settlers along the route of the Leavenworth military road, and the California emigrant road, the only white residents in the county were the missionaries, teachers and government employees among the tribes of Indians inhabiting the country.


Probably the first white man that actually settled among the Indians of Shawnee County was Frederick Choteau, who in the year 1830 started a trading post on the west bank of Mission Creek, then American Chief Creek, and about two miles south of the Kansas river. To this place the Kaws removed one of their villages on account of the establishment of the post. During the same year Rev. William Johnson, brother of Rev. Thomas Johnson, of the Shawnee Mission, commenced his missionary labors among the Kaws, residing at their village for the two subsequent years. In 1835, the southern portion of the government farm was established in the valley of Mission Creek, a portion of which was plowed the same summer, by Major Daniel Boone, a grandson of the famous Kentucky pioneer, probably the first plowing within the limits of the county.


Mission buildings were erected during the summer of 1835, on the north part of the farm, northwest quarter of Section 33, into which Mr. Johnson and family moved, and resided continuously there for seven years. This settlement, consisting of Mr. Choteau's establishment, the mission, under charge of Mr. Johnson and wife, the government blacksmith, and farmer, and a few other employees, is the first of which there is any record within Shawnee County. Mission and Blacksmith creeks received their names from the old mission and blacksmith shop situated near their banks. (See Indian History, Missions).


The Papan brothers - Joseph, Ahcan, Louis, and Euberie - were Canadians, whose father emigrated from Montreal and settled in St. Louis in the latter part of the eighteenth century. Three of the brothers - Joseph, Ahcan, and Louis - married, respectively, Josette, Julie, and Victoire Gonvil - half breeds, their father, Louis Gonvil, a French trader, their mother a Kaw. These three girls, by the terms of the treaty made with their tribe in 1825, were each entitled to a section of land on the north bank of the Kansas River, their special reservations covering the present site of North Topeka and running west up the river. In the spring of 1840, Joseph and Ahcan, with their wives, moved from Missouri onto one of these reservations, and were joined the following year by Louis and wife. In 1842 the Messrs. Papan established the first ferry across the Kansas River, long known as Papan's Ferry. It was just above the island onto which the Topeka City reservoir is built, the southern landing being on the present farm of Mrs. Anthony Ward. The ferry was started to accommodate the travel between Fort Leavenworth and New Mexico, but afterwards became a favorite crossing for the California and Oregon traders and emigrants.


In 1848 Louis Catalon and James McFerson moved to the Papan neighborhood, and in 1850 Fred Swice and George L. Young became settlers in what is now Soldier Township.

When the Pottawatomies were removed from the Osage to the Kansas River, the missionaries who had been employed among them, followed them to the new location. The limits of their reservation were not very definitely fixed at first, and the Catholic mission of Father J. B. Hocken was located too far south, intrenching upon the Shawnee reservation, on the site of the present township of Auburn. The mission was established in the fall of 1847. About twenty log cabins were built and occupied by the Indians during the following winter, and deserted by them in the spring, when they removed further north to their own reservation. These buildings served as homes for the Shawnees for several years, a part of them and 800 acres of land being purchased of them by John W. Brown, the first white settler in Auburn. Mr. Brown, a native of Belmont County, Ohio, came to the Shawnee Methodist Mission, near Westport, in 1849. He was then a young man of twenty years, by trade a blacksmith, in which capacity he was employed by the government at the Shawnee Mission, and afterwards at the Pottawatomie trading post at Uniontown. In July, 1854, he removed from Uniontown to the deserted mission station, and, as above stated, purchased land and cabins of the Shawnees, the portion upon which he settled, and where he yet resides (1882) being the northeast quarter of Section 26, Town 13, Range 14. The following month - August 11, 1854 - Mr. Brown was joined by a party of settlers from Missouri, attracted to the place by the representation of its sole settler as to its beauty and desirability for a location. On the 12th of August, the following claims were made: E. Carriger, northeast quarter of Section 31, Town 13, Range 15; W. F. Johnson, south half of Section 14, Town 13, Range 15; M. A. Reed, southwest quarter of Section 31, Town 13, Range 15; J. J. Webb, northwest quarter of Section 25, Town 13, Range 15; B. B. Jones, northeast quarter of Section 25, Town 13, Range 15; Eli Snyder, southeast quarter of Section 30, Town 13, Range 15; and L. T. Cook, Section 27, Town 13, Range 14. This party lived for some time in the cabins lately occupied by the Shawnees, the little settlement being named Brownville in honor of the pioneer settler.


In the fall of 1847, Jonas Lykins removed from Osawatomie, and located in what is now Mission Township. He built a cabin, and in the following spring commenced to improve his farm. During 1848, the Baptist Missionary Society erected a log mission building on Section 32, and in the following year completed one of stone, in size 40x80 feet, near the former. They were both built under the superintendence of Dr. Johnston Lykins. Rev. Robert Simerwell, with his daughter Sarah (afterward Mrs. Baxter), and Mrs. Elizabeth McCoy, moved to this mission in 1848, and organized and taught an Indian school. Aside from those immediately connected with the mission, there were but few white settlers at this point. Among the superintendents were Mr. Saunders, Mr.


Alexander, Rev. John Jackson, and Rev. John Jones. Mrs. J. C. Miller was at one time a teacher in the school, and Dr. D. L. Croysdale was Government physician. The mission closed about 1859. The mission farm consisted of 320 acres, a part of which, with improvements, was reserved for the benefit of the Baptist Board of Missions, in the treaty of 1861 with the Pottawatomies. Mr. Sidney W. Smith established his ferry across the Kansas, the southern landing being near the Baptist Mission, in 1852. The ferry was run for eight years. Mr. Smith moved to Uniontown in 1848, and into Mission Township in March, 1852, locating on the southeast quarter of Section 30, Town 11, Range 15. The landing of the ferry on the south bank was on the same section.


Original Source from Shawnee County History published online by the Kansas Historical Society.

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