In 1868, seven years after Kansas became a state, Hodgeman County was created by an act of legislature. However the county was not formally organized until 1879. It was named in honor of Captain Amos Hodgman, Seventh Cavalry officer. The discrepancy in the spelling of the name is due to a typographical error that was never corrected.
The first land claim was made by John O'Loughlin, a former soldier who hailed from Fort Hays. He established a toll bridge over the Pawnee in the northeastern part of the county, and began selling supplies to freighters running a route from Fort Hays and Ellsworth to Fort Dodge. O'Loughlin sold out to George Duncan and the spot became known as the Duncan Crossing. A monument, dedicated with considerable ceremony in 1929, marks this site.
As a somewhat belated result of the Homestead Act of 1862 home seekers began streaming into Hodgeman County in the seventies, and by 1879 the county claimed a population of fifteen hundred. Most of this number were located in the eastern half of the county but by 1876 several families had settled around Kidderville. An interest in organizing as a political unit was aroused and, as usual in Kansas history, there were strong differences of opinion as to the proper location for the seat of government. It was a time of many county seat fights in western Kansas and the voters of Hodgeman County joyfully took up the cudgels for their favorite town and wielded them with verve and enthusiasm. Competing towns were Marena and Fordham (later Orwell) in the east, Hodgeman Center (where the temporary county seat was located) and an upstart of a little town named Buckner. The election was as held on November 4, 1879 with the stated purpose of filling the county offices and, most important, of designating the county seat. Three tickets entered tile race: Republican, Peoples, and Bull Head. The connotation of the latter name is somewhat obscure. For some reason the acting county commissioners, who had been appointed by Governor St. John, refused to count the votes and declare elections. A considerable hassle ensued until pressure finally forced a count. Buckner won the battle for the county seat by a majority of forty-four over all other votes cast, and was duly declared permanent seat of government. The Republican ticket got a good majority in the vote for county offices but, once again, the obstinate commissioners refused to issue certificates of election. It was not until a court decision, in an action brought by A. B. Jetmore and T. S. Haun, ordered a recount of votes and a declaration of election that the commissioners finally acted. At last the county was ready to do business as a fully organized political unit. It is not certain why the name of Jetmore was given to the former town of Buckner. The Hauns filed their plat of Jetmore under that name on March 25, 1882. The name of the post office had already been changed. A record of commissioners' proceedings of the period shows a bill for $200 presented by Mr. Jetmore for services in the court action above recorded. Perhaps the name was given in recognition of services rendered but uncompensated. After all who would not consider it worth two hundred dollars to have a town named for him?
The finally certified first county officers were: Samuel Townsend, state representative; Geo. Curtis, sheriff; E. M. Prindle, county clerk; O. A. Dickinson, clerk of the district court; James Whiteside, Jr., registrar of deeds; W. A. Frush, treasurer; E. R. Fulton, county attorney; G. A. Curtis, superintendent of schools; and C. R. Roughton, Captain Lewis Stroud, and Bowlus, commissioners. A frame house leased from Elizabeth Haun was the first court house; in 1881 the county offices were moved into the east upstairs room of a house owned by T. S. Haun on lot 21, block 1 of the original town of Jetmore. The room next door was the office of the Buckner Independent, official county newspaper. This house still stands. Each county officer had a desk and a chair. It is difficult to see how they could have all been accommodated in that small room. From 1882 until 1887 the county offices were housed in the small frame building which had been moved in from Hodgeman Center, where it had been used for the same purpose when the provisional county offices were located there. Legend has it that the building was moved on skids to Jetmore, drawn by thirteen yoke of oxen. Could it really have required that many ox-power to transport the tiny structure which stands today under the shadow of the city water tower? Though they do tell us that the little building had a second story at that time. This building was never owned by the county but was rented for its use. Later another building was also leased at ten dollars per month. The presumption is they needed more room!
On March 9, 1886, a bond election for $20,000 to build a courthouse and jail was defeated; but three weeks later another election, this time for $10,000 for tile same purpose, carried by forty-nine votes. The lowest bid offered for its construction was for $12,270. The Hauns had given forty-eight lots to the county to be sold and the purchase price used to build a courthouse; now Mr. Haun donated a further substantial sum together with stone in the quarry, for its erection. Both Benjamin Blair and Noah Hardy provided lots from their additions to quell the courthouse fund. And so the stone courthouse was built - one of the finest in western Kansas, we are told. It stood in the center of the present courthouse square on land set aside for that purpose by Mr. and Mrs. Haun in the original plat of the town. An appropriate monument in their honor marks the site. When the building was torn down in 1929 to be replaced by the present structure the stone was preserved and has been put to many uses. The present home of Walter Smith, built by Thompsie Haun, was of the stone, as was that of John Sinclair.
In the early eighties two ranges were added to Hodgeman County on the west giving it a length of forty-eight miles and a new town called Hodgeman Center sprang up six miles west of Jetmore at the point which had become the geographical center of the county. This ambitious city attempted to steal the county seat, although bonds had already been voted for the courthouse at Jetmore, but was unsuccessful and the town soon languished and died. Other towns that had their brief day during this early period were Kidderville, Pawnee Valley, Fordham (Orwell), Hodgeman, Arthur, Purdyville, Cowboy, Keroma, Wittrup, Milroy, Laurel, Holbrook, Hallet, and Marena. Hanston now occupies the latter site. Ravanna was in Hodgeman County during the period of its enlargement, but the legislature of 1887 changed the boundary lines back to where they now exist and placed that town outside its limits. A Handbook of Hodgeman County, published in 1887, speaks glowingly of a "string of bright towns, Jetmore, Ravanna, Marena, Haunston (sic) etc., and purports to present "a brief outline of their commerce, schools, social order, railway prospects etc. – a valley land as fair as cashmere and as fertile as the lowlands of the Nile." For many years the names of these towns have lived on in school district designations but consolidation of schools is rapidly obliterating even that small recognition.
But all was not going well in Hodgeman County. In 1881 the financial situation was very bad. The county treasury was empty, destitute people were clamoring for help. A canvass revealed that a majority of the two thousand residents of the county were in dire need. Crops had been a failure because of drought and prairie fires; taxes were unpaid. The county was unable to help because of its empty treasury. Scrip and county orders were discounted at thirty-five to seventy cents on the dollar. The county was finally able to scrape up five hundred dollars to buy goods for distribution to the very poor. Help finally came in the form of a car of flour, meat and beans delivered to Spearville to supply the needs of the surrounding counties. But no application was honored unless sworn to and endorsed by the county commissioners. Time was short; it was virtually impossible to comply with the red tape; news was slow reaching the people. So very few from Hodgeman County were able to take advantage of the free food. No record is given of the number who left with empty hands to return to the east. And the casualties were high among the little towns that had started out so hopefully in the better years.
Prosperity returned in the later eighties. It was a time of expansion and growth in Jetmore. The large stone buildings on Main Street were erected in 1886 and 1887; the town was incorporated in '87 the courthouse and stone schoolhouse were completed during these years. An academy was in operation from 1886 to 1889; the railroad began operating in 1887; the first bridge was built across the Buckner in the same year. Before that time the creek was crossed by fording it at a point east of where the bridge was placed. A flour mill was erected in 1888; such ambitious ventures as a cheese factory, a cigar factory and a brick works were attempted without success. A real estate advertisement of the period boasts of three hotels, two banks, three restaurants, four general stores, three drugstores, three lumber yards, three blacksmith shops, one carriage shop, one implement store, three millinery shops, two hardware stores, three grocery stores, one clothing store, one boot and shoe store, two feed stores, three weekly newspapers, five real estate agencies, several livery barns and harness shops, barber shops, and furniture stores. One wonders where all of them were housed. Everybody was making money and spending it. Newcomers were so many that the town could scarcely accommodate them. These were the boom years. People were sure that the hard times were gone and prosperity would continue.
But disaster struck again. 1890 was a drought year and it was followed by a general depression. People went away faster than they had come in. Banks failed. Debtors could not so much as pay the interest on their debts. Mortgages were foreclosed; people lost everything they had. Many houses and business buildings in town were vacant. Some people tore down their buildings and shipped the lumber out. Others sold their holdings for as little as twenty-five to fifty dollars, and the buyers moved them to the country. The few head of livestock left in the county grazed over mortgage company and non-resident lands without charge. Civil War veterans, pensioners, and railroad employees were the only ones who had any money. People had nothing with which to pay their taxes. Schoolteachers had to wait for their salaries, or sell their orders at a discount. There was no government program, no social welfare, and no aid for dependent children. County help was as looked upon as a charity and only the desperate asked for it. In 1891 the Legislature appropriated funds to purchase seed grain for farmers who had lost their crops in the 1890 drought. For a long weary period life was an almost hopeless struggle. Again the wagons moved eastward, and the little towns withered and died. Only the hardiest stuck out the bitter years. But when it was over those who remained had been molded into a solid and hardy citizenry, able to face with fortitude whatever life might bring them.
By 1897 Hodgeman County was once more beginning to show signs of prosperity. Crop failures and hard times were not ended, of course, but never again was as the county so utterly prostrated. Not even the dust storms of the thirties were so completely devastating in their impact. In 1904 the first telephone service was instituted in the county. Some of the first lines were strung along the wire fences, but this proved unsatisfactory. By 1912 automobiles had come into quite general use. In 1911 the first High School was opened in Jetmore the entire county forming the High School district. In 1914 the city of Jetmore installed electric light and water systems, and the windmills that had characterized the town came down. In 1926 the rural high school at Hanston was built, serving the eastern third of the county. A brick elementary school took the place of the old stone building in Jetmore in 1923 to be itself replaced in 1961 at a different location by a new and modern building at a cost of $295,000. The new courthouse was dedicated in 1930, and in 1951 a $350,000 high school rose beside the old building. Hanston built a modern grade school about 1952, and added a gymnasium to their high school building. Gas came to the county in 1950; and the entire county is serviced by R. E. A.
The twentieth century in Hodgeman County has not been a time of uninterrupted tranquillity. Two world wars and one of the greatest depressions in history topped by a period of prolonged drought, mark the debit side of the ledger, while unprecedented yields of wheat and feed grains and generous cattle prices at other periods add very much to the credit side. Hodgeman County furnished her share of young men to the armed services and bore her share of the casualties. The dust storm years were hard to take, both because of their unpleasantness and because of their effect upon the economy. It tool a long time to smooth down the hummocks in the fields caused by the piles of dirt and thistles, to dig out the fences, implements and building from the huge drifts of dust, to replace the trees that were lost to the drought. It took a long time for the buffalo grass to return to the pastures, and to rebuild the depleted herds. Government programs took care of the needy through work or outright grants, so there was not the physical suffering of the earlier periods of privation, and very few people who had any investment in the county sought greener pastures elsewhere. Debts piled up along with the dirt and presented as big a problem; the delinquent tax lists were long. Long hours of back breaking labor and a large investment in cash were required to return the land to production. Fortunately the dirty thirties were followed by a period of greater than usual rainfall and consequent good crops. The war brought a great demand for farm products and good prices. The experience of the dust storms taught the farmers valuable lessons in control of erosion and conservation of rainfall. Farming methods have seen much improvement and the farmers of the county are determined not to repeat the mistakes that contributed to the ordeal of the thirties.
Hodgeman County has made a good record in production of wheat, milo, and livestock. During the last decade oil was discovered and considerable development has taken place. It is felt that the county has great potentialities in that field. In recent years a growing business in private feed yards has developed into a flourishing and expanding industry, with several large establishments in the county. Irrigation has contributed to production of feed sorghums, which supply the necessary grain and roughage. The skyline at Jetmore has been lifted by soaring grain elevators, and both Jetmore and Hanston boast good business houses and new and modern homes. Farms are larger and are well equipped with power machinery. Several new rural homes have been built. While the extravagant claims of the early promoters have not been fulfilled Hodgeman County has advanced in resources, educational and business opportunities, and the production of able men and women, to the point where it holds up its head with confidence and pride among the counties of Kansas.
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