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Leavenworth County, Kansas

Leavenworth County, Kansas, has been an important part of Kansas history, including an early fort that predates Fort Leavenworth’s establishment in 1855, a place noted in the Lewis and Clark journals during their Corps of Discovery, to its involvement in the Bleeding Kansas and the Civil War.

The first European settlement in the area was Fort de Cavagnial, built in 1744. Named for its founder, François-Pierre Rigaud, Baron de Cavagnial, French governor of Louisiana, the fort served as a trade center between the French traders and soldiers and Kansa and other native peoples.

Leavenworth County, established in 1855, was named for Colonel Henry Leavenworth. Leavenworth established Cantonment Leavenworth, which was later renamed Fort Leavenworth. A building that is part of Fort Leavenworth was the first capital of Kansas.

Fort Leavenworth was established to protect those on the Santa Fe Trail from the dangers of Indian attacks, but has held many important purposes over its history, such as a supply base, Headquarters of the Upper Missouri Indian Agency, and operations base during the Mexican War. It was important during the Civil War and Confederate Sterling Price even targeted it during at 1864 raid. A federal military prison and later a Federal Penitentiary in 1895, have all been a part of the county’s history.

The Delaware Trust Lands were a part of the Leavenworth County and in the early years, many claimed land in the county. This led to many “squatters” wanting their land, but not having legal right to it in the capacity they claimed it. Despite knowing they were in the wrong, they still fought for their claims. The issue was eventually settled. Part of Wyandotte County used to be in Leavenworth County. Between old borders and current borders, Kickapoo, Delaware, Muncie, and Wyandot lands have all been a part of Leavenworth County.

Kansas’ territorial years were the source of much fighting and violence as the issue of slavery in the state was fought out, giving it the term “Bleeding Kansas.” Leavenworth County was not shielded from the confrontation. In the city of Leavenworth it was clear proslavery individuals controlled the town and freestaters were not welcomed. The political issue was very much alive and strong. Proslavery individuals did not want freestaters traveling between Leavenworth and Lawrence, and armed men even worked to keep freestaters from arriving along the river. Due measures taken by the governor and mayor of Leavenworth, it became a bit calmer in October 1856. This did not mean the issue was settled and acts still were committed. General James H. Lane, who was an important figure to Kansas’s Free State cause, died in the county in 1866. Unwell health, which included insanity, caused him to commit suicide.

The issue of the county seat took three elections for it to be established at Leavenworth. Kickapoo one the first, Delaware the second, and Kickapoo the third, although it was a fraudulent election and that led to Leavenworth gaining the title. Leavenworth is a city of industry such as those of manufacturing, coal, and furniture production. Several railroads came through the town, helping them prosper.

Grasshoppers included some in the 1860s, but they invaded once again in 1874 and caused much damage.

Leavenworth County CourthouseLeavenworth County properties listed in the National and State Registers include the Abernathy Furniture Company Factory, an important Leavenworth business. James Abernathy started his Leavenworth furniture business career in 1856, and eventually grew his business into a successful furniture manufacturing company. The David J. Brewer House was the house of Brewer who held many public offices from president of Leavenworth Board of Education all the way up to serving on the Kansas Supreme Court, U.S. Eighth Circuit, and the U. S. Supreme Court. The Hollywood Theater, designed by Robert Boller, was built in the 1930’s. The Leavenworth County Courthouse was built in 1911-1913, after the previous one was destroyed in a fire. The Fred Harvey House, one of the Chain restaurants started by Fred Harvey who he himself was from Leavenworth, was built around 1875. The county contains two National Historic Landmarks. Fort Leavenworth and the Western Branch National Home for Disabled Volunteer Solders, which is now the Department of Veteran Affairs, Dwight D. Eisenhower Medical Center. It was founded in the 1880s.

There are interesting individuals with connections to Leavenworth County. Colonel D. R. Anthony, editor of the Leavenworth Conservative newspaper, founded in 1861, was an influential editor, politician and spokesman for the state of Kansas. There are individuals who served as governors, United States Senators, Congressman, and Justices of the Kansas and U.S. Supreme Courts from the county.

For more information see the Leavenworth County website.The Leavenworth County Historical Society has a large archives, manuscripts collections, and other primary and secondary source materials available for research.

Entry: Leavenworth County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: July 2019

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.