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Brown County, Kansas

Brown County, Kansas, established in the northeast during Kansas Territory, has experienced arguments over the spelling of its name, struggled for and against temperance, and was the first to receive rural electrification in the 1930s.

In 1832 the Kickapoo tribe in the Great Lakes region agreed to cede lands and move to Kansas near the Missouri River. Through numerous treaties the Iowa tribe from northern Iowa and southern Minnesota was assigned a reservation near the Great Nemaha River in 1836 in northeast Kansas and southeastern Nebraska. An 1837 treaty removed the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri into Kansas. These people inhabited the lands when Brown County, Kansas, was established as one of the original 33 counties by the legislature in 1855. Although named after Albert Gallatin. Brown, a Mississippi senator, a dispute arose because the original spelling was “Browne.” In the 1870s the spelling was set as “Brown” after dispute about whether it was named for Albert Brown, or, O. H. Browne, a Douglas County resident and Kansas Territory legislator. 

The county seat was first named as Claytonville, where a county courthouse was built, then moved to Carson, and finally established in Hiawatha in 1858. A courthouse was built in Hiawatha, which was replaced in the late 1870s, and again in 1925.

Early in the county’s history a “settlers’ protective association” was formed to protect settlers who had legitimate claims. Settlers in Kansas Territory were struggling to determine whether the state would be free or slave. Since Brown County was close to the Missouri border instances of border ruffians and voter fraud from Missourians were a concern. As statehood began and the nation faced the Civil War, residents from Brown County joined the Union army.

Over time the reservation lands of the Iowa and Kickapoo were reduced. Treaties in 1862 and 1863 with the U.S. government transferred large tracts of land to the Union Pacific Railway, much of it in Brown County. Railroad service finally came to Brown County in 1871. Later that decade the first telephone service in the county was begun in Highland.

In 1866 small invaders entered Brown County. While grasshoppers destroyed much of the crops, farmers were relieved that not all the corn was destroyed. The following spring saw more grasshoppers, but they left early enough so settlers could replant. The word invasion was in 1874 when grasshoppers returned. Destruction was so extensive the pests even delayed freight trains. Farming continues to be important to the county, which is among the state’s leading soybean and winter wheat producers.

During 1875 Hiawatha denied licenses for businesses that served alcohol. The Hiawatha Club formed to promote “social enjoyment.” The mayor and the marshal failed to close it down. Increased tensions led to threats and the marshal took control of the Hiawatha Club and it ceased operation. The issue of businesses serving alcohol ended for a time in the town.

Hiawatha established a public library in 1882. The city received a grant of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie to build a new library. Hiawatha was one of U.S. 1,689 cities to add a Carnegie Library. The library moved to the new Morrill Public Library in April 1907.

Power from cities and towns did not extend to rural areas, so farmers had to rely on kerosene, wood, or coal for power. The Rural Electrification Administration was created in 1935 to provide loans for electricity to farms. Brown County was the first recipient in the state when the Brown-Atchison Electric Cooperative turned on the power on April 1, 1938.

The Kickapoo Tribe of Indians, one of three federally recognized Kickapoo tribes, has a reservation in Brown County that covers 19,200 acres. The Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska, one of two federally recognized Iowa tribes, is located in Richardson County, Nebraska and Brown and Doniphan counties in Kansas. The Iowa reservation spans 1,500 acres. The Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska is headquartered in Reserve, Kansas. The tribe’s reservation in Richardson County, Nebraska, and Brown County, Kansas, spans 15,129 acres.

Brown County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and Register of Historic Kansas Places include the Davis Memorial in Hiawatha’s Mount Hope Cemetery, which consists of 10 marble and one granite statue. The memorial was built in the 1930s by John M. Davis to honor his late wife, Sarah. Other listed properties are the Iowa Tribe Community Building near White Cloud, Kansas, a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which has served a variety of needs since its dedication in 1941; and the Hiawatha Courthouse Square Historic District, which comprises 61 buildings.

People of the county include Governor Edmund N. Morrill; Kansas Supreme Court Justice Samuel Kingman; General Bernard W. Rogers, Chief of Staff of the Army and Supreme Commander of NATO, and Daphyne Smith Cauble, educator and community activist.

Quick Facts

Date Established: August 25, 1855
Date Organized: February 14, 1857
County Seat: Hiawatha
Kansas Region: Northeast
Physiographic Region: Glaciated Region
Courthouse: June 15, 1925


1832 - Kickapoo tribe from Great Lakes area, is assigned a reservation in Kansas near Missouri River
1836 - Iowa tribe, originally from northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, is assigned a reservation and moved to the area
1855 - County is established on August 25
1858 - County seat is moved to Hiawatha
1870 - Spelling of county is disputed, determined as “Brown” over “Browne”
1879 - Courthouse built to replace 1858 original
1925 - Courthouse built to replace 1879 version
1938 - Brown County becomes first county in state with rural electricity

More on Brown County


Entry: Brown 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: August 2023

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