The Bogus Legislature appointed all the first county officers. The legislators hoped by doing so to continue the development of Kansas as a pro-slavery territory, but they made a huge political mistake. They gave free-state activists an issue. Settlers reared in the Jacksonian tradition of local self- government could have been expected to rebel at the loss of their right to elect those officials closest to their daily lives.

Nicole Etcheson argues that "loss of self-government was what most Kansas settlers feared" and that "only the cry of self-government could unite the free-state factions into a cohesive party." Many settlers had no strong feelings about black slavery, so anti-slavery advocates had to find another rallying point to attract a wider following. Etcheson quotes Charles Robinson, who wrote that "the invasion of their own civil and political rights" became the issue, and the Topeka constitution its forum. [Etcheson, Bleeding Kansas, 75] In its "Call to the Legal Voters of Kansas Territory" in September 1855, the Topeka Movement addressed this wider group:

"...Whereas, The Territorial Government as now constituted for Kansas has proved a failure -- Squatter Sovereignty under its workings a miserable delusion, in proof of which it is only necessary to refer to our past history, and our present deplorable condition.... the right of suffrage taken from us -- debarred from the privilege of a voice in the election of the most insignificant officers..." [Connelly, Topeka Movement, 133]

On August 31, 1855 appointments of county officers were made in a joint session of the House and the Council. Members Blair, A.S. Johnson, Williams and Banks were among the county commissioners appointed and most of the other appointees were identified with the pro-slavery faction. [KHC 3: 284,285] There were a number of contested votes, including that between members Blair and Forman for Doniphan County Probate Judge and a three-man race for Sheriff of Douglas County won by the infamous Samuel F. Jones, the Westport postmaster. [House Journal, 321ff]

The first counties were established in three acts of the Legislature. [Gill, Establishment of Counties, 450ff] The first statute set the boundaries of thirty-three counties. As surveys had just begun, boundary definition was by distances only, starting where the main channel of the Kansas River crossed the Missouri line. The counties established were:

Johnson, Lykins, Linn, Bourbon, McGee, Douglas, Franklin, Anderson, Allen, Dorn, Shawnee, Weller, Coffey, Woodson, Wilson, Richardson, Breckenridge, Madison, Greenwood, Godfroy, Davis, Wise, Butler, Hunter, Doniphan, Atchison, Leavenworth, Brown, Jefferson, Nemaha, Calhoun, Marshall and Riley.

In many of these counties the population was not large enough to justify organization, so a system of attaching thinly inhabited counties to those able to maintain an organization was adopted, the counties to be later organized when they had requisite population. The counties organized at the time of establishment were:

Allen, Anderson, Atchison, Bourbon, Doniphan, Douglas, Davis, Jefferson, Johnson, Leavenworth, Lykins, Linn, Madison, Marshall, Nemaha, Riley and Shawnee.

For civil and military purposes:

Weller and Richardson were attached to Shawnee; Butler, Wise and Breckenridge to Madison; Coffey to Anderson; McGee to Bourbon; Greenwood, Hunter, Dorn, Wilson, Woodson and Godfroy to Allen; Brown to Doniphan; and Davis to Riley.

The second statute created two new counties in western Kansas:

  1. Marion county -- a tract 100 miles long and eighteen wide west of Hunter, Butler and the south half of Wise.
  2. Washington county -- all that part of territory west of Marion and east of a line drawn north from the northeast corner of New Mexico. Both counties were attached to Allen County for administration.

The third statute covered an area now in eastern Colorado, creating:

Arapahoe County -- all that part of the territory west of a line running north from the northeast corner of New Mexico [Statutes of 1855, 205- 218]

The symbolism of naming counties for legislators and their pro-slavery heroes did not go unnoticed by the free-state side and many of the county names were later changed, Lykins to Miami, McGee to Crawford, etc. During the session, Richard Rees of the Council offered a resolution that "the Council will not agree to name any county after any member or officer of this Legislative Assembly." His resolution failed, with five votes for (Rees, Barbee, Chapman, McDonald and Forman) and eight against (Coffey, Donaldson, Eastin, Grover, Lykins, Strickler, Richardson and Thomas Johnson.) The losers got part of their wish -- no counties were named for them. [Council Journal, 164]

Charles Clark