Beyond a Little Strife – A New County Was Created

by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

Late in August of 1870, Judge R.W.P Muse left from Topeka, Ks and traveled west and south with several others. He later described some the journey through the vast prairie.  On August 28, the group followed the Chisholm Trail

 “down on the west side of Sand Creek as far as the mouth of  the creek, where we found Dr. T.S. Floyd, with whom we staid all night. . . . After traveling over thirty miles, we had seen no human habitation or sign of civilization, our way being through high prairie grass, often  standing above the height of our wagon wheels . . . When we first visited the county, large herds of buffalo were found in the western portion . . . especially where Burrton now stands, and between the two Arkansas Rivers.”

The town of Sedgwick already “did fair business” in 1870 according the Judge Muse in History of Harvey County, 1871-1881.  He also noted that “some enterprising and hardy pioneers . . . located in parts of the county as early as 1869.”  

E. Griffin & Son, Selz Shoes, Elmon & John Griffin's Store, Sedgwick, Ks, ca. 1890.

E. Griffin & Son, Selz Shoes, Elmon & John Griffin’s Store, Sedgwick, Ks, ca. 1890.

With the arrival of the cattle trade and the railroad in the summer of 1871, the city of Newton grew rapidly and gained a reputation as wild and lawless. Muse, however, saw opportunity in the rough town and decided to stay.

After the shockingly violent summer of 1871 Muse reported that in the fall of 1871,

“the best citizens of the city and county . . . desired law and order to take the place of the disorder and moral confusion.  They began to consult for their own protection and the public good and resolved to organize . . . to establish a city and county government.”

Forming a New County

The way to a new county was not without difficulty as ten of the townships were part of Sedgwick County and the others part of Marion and McPherson Counties. Several meetings took place at the law office of C.S. Bowman in Newton to devise a way to create a new county.  The final push for a new county came after the Republican County Convention in Wichita. Seven delegates from Newton attended to nominate a county ticket for Sedgwick County.  Much their dismay, the Newton delegation was cut to three, and

after considerable debate and bad temper, all the Newton delegates, headed by the writer, [Muse] withdrew from the convention. . . The strife resulted in the nomination of two tickets, and most of the regular ticket was defeated.  This added to the feeling for a new county.” 

A meeting to establish a new county was held on December 13, 1871 in the office of Muse & Spivy, in Newton.  The group was able to get the support of Capt. David Payne, the representative in the Kansas legislature.  Several worked on completing the necessary paperwork including C.S. Bowman and Dr. Gaston Boyd. The new county would consist of sixteen townships, ten from Sedgwick, three from McPherson, and three from Marion.

Office of Judge RWP Muse and Capt. Spivey, Newton 1872.  Spivey is sitting at the desk, Judge Muse is behind the counter and the man in front of the counter is identified as Capt. Bunker.  Fourth man is undientified.

Office of Judge RWP Muse and Capt. Spivey, Newton 1872. Spivey is sitting at the desk, Judge Muse is behind the counter and the man in front of the counter is identified as Capt. Bunker. Fourth man is undientified.

Harvey County organized by Act of Kansas legislature on 29  February 1872. The new county was named in honor of James M. Harvey, who was the governor of Kansas at the time.


A County Seat

Newton was designated as the county seat, but not without controversy.  A vote was held on May 20, 1872 for county officers and county seat. and there were some irregularities.

Judge Muse reported the following:

“The poll books of Sedgwick township showing up on their face an excessive and fraudulent vote, equal to more than double the amount of inhabitants in said township at the taking of the census about the 1st of April 1872, and the poll books of Newton township showing a large and excessive vote. . . The census of Sedgwick township taken and filed just before the election, showed that there were not to exceed one hundred and twenty-five legal voters residing in the township, yet the poll books showed that at the election over seven hundred votes had been cast. . . .It was reported that the names upon the Sedgwick poll books were copied from the Cincinnati Directory, and a colored bootblack who was plying his vocation there on election day, is reported to have . . . voted fourteen times.”

Muse concluded; “At any rate, beyond a little strife in court, no harm resulted and Newton was declared the county seat of Harvey County.”

The  Johnson Building located at the corner of Main and Broadway in Newton was designated as the location of the county offices.  The offices soon moved to a 526 Main.  Two years later, in 1875, the county offices were moved to the second floor of the Hamill Building at 513 Main.

Masonic Building, 700 N. main, Newton, ca. 1880

Masonic Building, 700 N. main, Newton, ca. 1880

In 1880, the county offices were located in the Masonic Building at 700 N. Main.

In his concluding remarks on the history of the county, Muse noted that Harvey County  was

“filled with enterprising people, who take great pride in the thrift and prosperity of their respective towns, and whose public spirit ensures the steady growth of these cities, . . . and renders their success certain.”

*****All quotes are from “History of Harvey County: 1871-1881 by Judge RWP Muse, 1882.


  • “Death of Judge Muse” Newton Kansan 26 November 1896, p.1.
  • Muse, Judge R.W.P., History of Harvey County: 1871-1881. Newton, Ks: Harvey County Historical Museum & Archives, 2013. Originally published in Edward’s Harvey County Atlas, 1882.
  • Bowman, Mrs. C.S. “Organization of Harvey County” typewritten document dated 7 October 1907, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Mayer, Henry. “Early Days — Newton and Vicinity” typewritten document dated 29 February 1908, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • HCHM Photo Archives, Newton, Ks

A County and A Governor: James M. Harvey

Roger Wilson served as director at HCHM until his retirement in June 2006.  During that time, he wrote several articles for the Newton Kansan and other publications on topics of interest to Harvey County.  Wilson passed away  April 5, 2007 in Topeka, Ks.

Roger Wilson

Roger Wilson

Originally published in the Newton Kansan, November 29, 2005

No, it wasn’t Paul or Fred. It was Jim. Or more properly James. The man for whom Harvey County was named was James Madison Harvey, fifth governor of Kansas.

The story of how the county came to be named after the Governor is interesting. Opposition to the creation of the new county developed in the Kansas State Senate in 1872. The act organizing the county had passed the House of Representatives without a dissenting vote. But in the Senate, the measure passed by only one vote. Opponents to the bill wanted to reconsider the vote but the Harvey County backers suggested they all go to lunch and take up the reconsideration afterward. The opponents went to lunch. The backers took the just-passed bill and went straight to the governor’s office to get him to sign it. They promised to name the county after him if he did. And he did!

Okay, that’s the interesting part of the story. But, just as interesting is the man.

James Madison Harvey was born in Monroe County Virginia on September 21, 1833, to Thomas and Margaret Harvey. The Harvey family moved to Indiana, then Iowa and then to Illinois. It was in the latter state that James received his education.  It was said that he was a superior student with a nearly photographic memory. He learned the profession of surveying. He married Charlotte Richardson Cutter of Adams County, Illinois in 1854 and the family moved to Riley County, Kansas. He practiced his surveying profession until the outbreak of the Civil War. He enlisted as a soldier in the Union army and ultimately was promoted to captain and commanded the Fourth and Tenth regiments of the Kansas Volunteer infantry. He mustered out of the service in 1864 and returned to Riley County and his farm and family.


Gov. James M. Harvey (1833-1894) Served as Kansas' 5th Governor Jan. 11, 1869 - Jan. 13, 1873

Gov. James M. Harvey (1833-1894) Served as Kansas’ 5th Governor Jan. 11, 1869 – Jan. 13, 1873

Harvey then entered politics, being elected from Riley County to the Kansas House of  Representatives in 1865 and reelected in 1866. He then was elected to the state senate in 1867 and served about half his term before running for governor. He won his first term as governor in 1860 and was reelected to that office in 1870. In those days, gubernatorial terms were two years.
Following his time at the statehouse, Harvey returned to his Riley County farm and his surveying practice. But, in 1874, Alexander Caldwell resigned from the U.S. Senate and the state legislature elected Harvey to fill out his unexpired term. Again in those days, U.S. Senators were elected by state legislatures. He did not seek election to a full term in the U.S. Senate but chose to return again to the farm. He then spent several years surveying for the government in New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah. In the early 1880s, Harvey developed Bright’s Disease, known today as nephritis, a kidney disease. As a result, the family moved back to Virginia in 1884 seeking a milder climate, but returned to Riley County in 1890. James Madison Harvey died of kidney failure on Sunday, April 15, 1894. He was 61 years old.

During his four years as governor. Kansas saw an increase in road construction, the formation of the state board of agriculture, the creation of the position of the state librarian, formation of several counties and cities, including Sedgwick, Newton, Halstead and Burrton. The Union Pacific Railroad completed its construction across Kansas to Denver and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was nearing the final miles of is construction across the state. State historians agree; Harvey’s administration was one of great accomplishment.

For more on Gov. James M. Harvey visit: