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Homesteading In Rooks County

Rooks County map
Prentis, Noble Lovely. "History of Kansas". Winfield, KS: E. P. Greer, 1899.

 There were many reasons for the people emigrating from Europe to the new continent of North America and the new country of the United States in the late 1700's and the 1800's. The chief reasons were to escape religious persecution and the compulsory military conscription for all young men regardless of their religious beliefs. Other reasons were the destitute poverty in their homeland; to escape debtor's prison; to escape felony offenses; new opportunities for siblings, other than first-born sons, known as remittance men with money from their families in their native country; and new opportunities for the adventurous in a new land.

There were many reasons for the movement of people from the thirteen original colonies of the United States to the undeveloped regions of the Great Plains and Kansas. These reasons were: poverty at home with new opportunity for free land and a fresh start; overcrowding for those who liked to be more isolated from the heavily populated areas; those fleeing the law for various offenses; the adventure into the wide open spaces of the undeveloped country; for health reasons going to a drier climate; and the exploiters with money taking over the abandoned homesteads or foreclosing on bad debts.

The outflow of settlers from Rooks County was occurring at the same time as the inflow of new homesteaders coming into the area. The people of that era were a restless lot. Many were destitute and looking for a new start. Many could not stand the hardships involved and returned to the east. Others stayed a while and then moved farther west searching for a paradise.

The biggest majority of settlers in Rooks County came from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Iowa and Missouri. Many immigrant families had lived for many years, or many generations, in America before they settled in Rooks County.

The alien immigrants were mainly from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France, Sweden, and the smaller northern European countries.

Many of the German and Swedish family names were anglicized when they reached America.

After the Civil War, when Rooks County was settled, the Confederate soldiers were not eligible to homestead as they had borne arms against the United States.

The earliest settlement was along Paradise Creek in southern Rooks County with John C. Smith homesteading five miles east of present Codell in 1868, the first homestead of record in the county; Bow Creek, a tributary of the North Solomon River above Kirwin, where the U.S. Land Office was located after 1875; Medicine Creek, a tributary of the South Solomon River, along the east edge of the county; with the first claim taken in 1871, and up the South Solomon river valley to Stockton, founded in 1872, progressing westward as the valley land was claimed.

These settlers came from the east to take advantage of the free land and open range for livestock herding operations in 1871 and 1872. They were from no particular area or heritage; the earliest settlers got the best claims.

In 1877, several men called the "Pennsylvania Colony" settled and founded Cresson, near present Palco.

In 1877 or 1878, a group of French Canadian settlers came to Logan Township around Zurich. It became known as the "French Settlement".

In 1878, the George F. Slason colony took everything from Plainville to the present West Plainville schoolhouse in one day. The next day others took everything west to Zurich. The third day they took everything from Zurich to the west county line.

In 1885, Francis St. Peter settled near present Damar. Almost immediately, other French Canadian Catholics followed. It became known as the "Acadia of the West".

There were many settlers from Czechoslovakia that settled in the Zurich area, the Greenfield and Twin Mound areas, and in Ash Rock Township in the northeast corner of the county. French settlers in the Damar and Palco areas; German settlers in the Natoma area, one mile into Osborne County, and southeastern Rooks County.

Quakers settled in the Mt. Ayr and Round Mound areas of Osborne County and in the Laton and Chalk Mound areas of eastern Rooks County to north of Codell, in 1877 to 1880.

The Negro settlement of Nicodemus was one mile west of Rooks County in Graham County; it was founded in 1877. Graham County was formally organized on April 1, 1880.

Rooks County - sod house

Rooks County - Chalk Mound Church

Gail McComb
March 25, 2002  

Rooks County Historical Society
921 South Cedar
Stockton, KS 67669
(785) 425-7217


More on Rooks County -

In 1867, the Kansas Legislature defined the boundaries of Rooks County with twenty-three (23) townships. The county was named for a private, John C. Rooks, of the 11th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, who died from a wound suffered during the savage December 7, 1862, Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Rooks County is the only county in Kansas named for a private.

The first settlers in Rooks County were ten persons engaged in the stock business named James, Thomas, John and Francis NcNulty (originally from Massachusetts), Tunis Bulis, John Wells, John Powell, Seal Northup and Capt. J Owens. They arrived in January, 1871, and all took the first claims made in the County, in what afterwards became Stockton Township. They came from Washington County, Kansas and with the exception of James McNulty and Capt. Owens, all became permanent residents.

Soon after these settlers followed John Shorthill who resided on a claim in Lowell Township. Mrs. Robert E. Martin, who came with her husband and family in the fall of 1871, was the first woman who settled in Rooks County. She also resided in Lowell Township. Following these early settlers soon came Thomas Boylan, Henry Purdy, S.C. Smith, M.M. Stewart, G.W. Patterson, Henry Hill, George Steele, John Russell, Lyman Randall, John Lawson, W.H. Barnes, George W. Beebe, the Dibbles, Parks and others.

The first house erected in Stockton Township, and Rooks County, was erected in February, 1871, by the McNulty Brothers, two and one half miles south of town on the south side of the South Solomon. The first marriage occurred in Lowell Township, January 1, 1873. William E. Newton was married to Mary M. Young, by B.M. Cooper, a Justice of the Peace.

The first child born in the county was Myrtle Maud, daughter of Thomas McNulty, born Christmas night, 1871, on Elm Creek, three miles east and south of Stockton. The first death in the county was Erastas Foster, two miles from Stockton, in the spring of 1878. He was buried in the Stockton graveyard.

Books on the history of Rooks County

  • Pioneers of Western Kansas by Myrtle D. Fesler 
  • Palco Centennial Book - September 1988
  • St. Ann's Church Book - 2000
  • Damar History Book - 1988
  • Lest We Forget by Leo Oliva 
  • Bird, Kansas by Tony Parker
  • Pioneer Naturalist of the Plains by David M. Bartholomew
  • Stockton Heritage in Wood, Stone and Brick: The Town and its Historic Structures by Leo Oliva 
  • Plainville Centennial Book - 1988
  • Woodston: The Story of a Kansas Country Town by Leo Oliva 
  • Plainville: Its Early Beginnings by Margaret Houser  


Information from Roger Hrabe, Rooks County Economic Development Director


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