John C. Johnston: Harvey County Founding Father

Our thanks to HCHM volunteer, Damon Penner, for contributing a guest post. Damon is a senior at Wichita State University, and has volunteered at the museum for the past 3 years.  He has also volunteered at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson

John C. Johnston: Harvey County Founding Father

By Damon Penner, HCHM volunteer

Handwriting and Coffee Stained Paperwork

Soldier, teacher, homesteader, and church founder are just a few words that would
describe Mr. John C. Johnston. Johnston, responsible for collecting the Civil War pension
paperwork in the Harvey County Historical Museum’s collection, was a man who made an
impact on the town that became Newton, KS as well as his neighbors. Through archival research,
I have been able to piece together a short biography of the man, whose handwriting and coffee
stained paperwork I have had the honor to assist in preserving for future generations.
Generations which Mr. Johnston never got the opportunity to physically meet.

Swept up in the Wartime Enthusiasm

Johnston, was not a native of Kansas, but an immigrant from the state of Pennsylvania.
Born in Greenville, Pennsylvania (in Indian County) in 1846, Johnston, like many of his fellow
Pennsylvanians, was swept up in the wartime enthusiasm and passions the were brought about
with the American Civil War’s beginning in 1861. Enlisting at a local recruitment office,
Johnston, aged 15, was made a member of Company A of the 61 st Pennsylvania Volunteer
Infantry Regiment (which holds the distinction of losing the most officers of any US Army
regiment during the Civil War). Serving in the famed Army of the Potomac and in many of the
battles in which the army fought such as the Seven Days Battles, Antietam, Fredericksburg,
Chancellorsville (Fredericksburg sector), Gettysburg, and the bloody battles of 1864, Johnston
saw three year’s action, receiving a facial wound from an artillery shell at the Battle of
Spotsylvania Courthouse (the wound left him disfigured and afraid to show the left side of his
face for the rest of his life).

Civilian Life

Returning to civilian life however, proved to be boring. Cold feet eventually brought him to Kansas. Accepting a teaching position in the Greenville, Pennsylvania area and marrying a local woman, Johnston lived the life of a teacher for five years. Seeing that Johnston was bored with teaching, his brothers, William and James, and a cousin convinced him that they should head west to Kansas and establish homesteads, which they had been granted because of their status as Civil War veterans. Reaching Sedgwick County, the four travelers would hire a guide to take them to the Highland township in modern day Harvey County. Against their wishes, however, the land that the guide had taken them to (and they had subsequently claimed) was in Marion County. Although their claims were the only claims in the area, Johnston and his fellow veterans sought to create an entirely new county that would encompass their claims.

A New County

Made possible by some politicking with Wichita and Sedgwick County officials, Harvey
County was established in February 1872. Constituting the Alta, Emma, Garden, Burrton,
Darlington, Halstead, Lake, Lakin, Macon, Newton, Pleasant, Richland, and Sedgwick
townships. Seeing that, although he had made his wish for a new county possible, Johnston had
to conduct a formal annexation of the Walton and Highland townships to the county in 1873.
Needing a county seat for this new county, the cattle town of Newton was chosen as the new seat
for the county. Contrary to popular belief, Johnston and the other founders of Harvey County
chose to name the county not after the founder of the famous Harvey Houses, but rather the
governor of Kansas at the time of the county’s establishment, James M. Harvey.

Serving the Community

Becoming a resident of the recently selected county seat, Johnston, his wife, children, and
the men that traveled to Kansas with him, would leave an impact on their brainchild. One of his
friends would serve as one of the first representatives in the state legislature for Sedgwick
County (although he lived in Harvey County). Another, along with Johnston would serve as
Harvey County’s representatives, while two more would serve as the representatives for Marion
County. Seeking to not only have an impact on the politics of Harvey County, but the religiosity
of the county seat’s populace. Establishing the First Presbyterian Church in Newton, Johnston
would see to it that Newtonians would be able to worship together.

Between all of the activities brought about by his public service, Johnston would help local Civil War veterans and their families to receive the money owed them by the government for their services in the Civil War. Although he was influential in the making of modern Newton, it is this humble act of assisting his former comrades in arms in Harvey County that is the act that I am the most grateful for.


  • Johnston, John C. “Early Days in Kansas” The Newton Journal (Newton, KS), February 29,
  • Johnston, John C. “Reminiscence of Early Kansas Days” The Newton Journal (Newton, KS) July
    15, 1921.*
  • Hawks, Steve A. “61 st Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment” The Civil War in the East,
    2020, accessed on June 28, 2020
  • *Note: Both articles are available for viewing through the Harvey County Historical Museum.

Civil War Inventory at HCHM

Additional Stories from the Johnston Civil War Pension Collection


Stories Waiting to be Told: HCHM Archives



Minor Child of George Beard, alias George Winter: Civil War Pensions

A Man Named Winne: from the HCHM Archives

Stories Waiting to be Told: HCHM Archives


by Kristine Schmucker, HCHM Curator

“During the Civil War I was a member of Co F. 143rd Reg’t Ill Vol Infty. . . I have moved around a great deal since I was discharged from the Army.  It is Impossible for me to find two persons who could testify as to my condition from the time I left the Army down to 1891.” -Henry Guyott, 14 June 1906, Civil War Pension Records, HCHM Archives

Note dictated by Henry Guyott, age 58, on 14 June 1906 regarding his pension.

Note dictated by Henry Guyott, age 58, on 14 June 1906 regarding his pension. J.C. Johnston Civil War Pensions, HCHM Archives.

Henry Guyot was one of 287 men or their widows living in Harvey County that sought help from attorney John C. Johnston to apply for a pension for their service during the Civil War.  The files include information on service in the army, activity and health issues.  Some even give a glimpse into family life after the war.

Born in 1848 in Switzerland, it appears that Henry immigrated to the U.S  with his mother, Emira, brother and several cousins and settled in Illinois.  During the Civil War, he served served several months with the 143rd Illinois Infantry. He was approximately 17 years old.

After the war, Henry noted that he “moved around a great deal.”  The 1870 census records find him in Illinois living with his mother.  Ten years later he is still single, living in Sedgwick County, Kansas with his mother and cousin.

Effie M. Lantis (15) marriage to Henry A. Guyot (34), 20 October 1884. Marriage License Collection, HCHM Archives.

Effie M. Lantis (15) marriage to Henry A. Guyot (34), 20 October 1884. Marriage License Collection, HCHM Archives.

However on October 20, 1884, 34 year old Henry married 15 year old Effie M. Lantis at her parental home in Harvey County, Ks.  The couple made their home near Walton, Kansas and started a family.  Between 1884 and 1908, they had at least nine children.  Henry settled down to farm and raise his family. In 1891, at age 58, Henry applied for a pension for his service during the Civil War.  He may have dictated the above statement to John C. Johnston describing his service and health issues.

Civil War Pensions were offered to Union soldiers or their widows and minor children. The pension records in the collection include information on what the soldier did during the war in addition to medical information in the years following.

For example, Henry Guyot  noted that Dr. J.H. Goddard, a physician in Sedgwick, “often treated me for cataracts, deafness, scurvy (?), diarrhea and rheumatism.”  The files from other men describe injuries received during battle.

To obtain a widow’s pension, the widow had to provide proof of marriage, such as a copy of the record kept by county officials, or by affidavit from the minister or some other person. Applications on behalf of the soldier’s minor children had to supply both proof of the soldier’s marriage and proof of the children’s birth. For those reasons, Civil War pensions are  fascinating, because of the wide array of things people submitted as evidence.

Henry died 23 January 1915, and Effie in 1921. Their son, Ben and daughter Edith continued to live on the family farm until the mid-1960s.


Henry, Effie and three of their children are buried in the Walton Cemetery, rural Harvey County, Ks.

The John C. Johnston Civil War Pension Collection is just one treasure that is part of the Archival Collections at HCHM. Throughout the month of October, we will  feature the Archival holdings at HCHM and the behind the scenes work that happens to make the collections accessible.

Unidentified man in uniform, ca. 1861.

Unidentified man in uniform, ca. 1861. Photo Archives, HCHM.


  • US Census, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910.
  • Marriage License Collection, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks
  • John C. Johnston Civil War Pension Collection, HCHM Archives, Newton, Ks.
  • Kansas Census, Harvey County, 1885, HCHM Archives, Newton Kansas.

All the information related to the Guyot family for this post was discovered in the archives at HCHM.  What stories might you find? For more information on our Archives and the services available


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