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Clay County, Kansas

Clay County was named for the county for Henry Clay of Kentucky by the Territorial Legislature. It was organized on August 10, 1866 by J. B. Quimby; William Payne; Moses Yonkings; George D. Seabury; Lorenzo Gates; John G. Haynes; and Joseph P. Ryan. Lorenzo Gates and William Silvers have descendants living in the county. Clay County holds the cities of Clay Center, Clifton (part), Green, Longford, Morganville, Oak Hill, Vining (part) and Wakefield.

Indian outbreaks from 1857 and 1864 forced the early settlers out of the county. The establishment of the English settlement of Wakefield Colony in 1869, brought not only these new people to the county, but their expertise in farming contributed greatly to the agriculture of the area.

Because the Republican River bisects the county from northwest to southwest, bridges were of major importance in the county's history. The first bridge was built near Clay Center in 1875; the second at Vining, 1880; and the remaining bridges were built at Wakefield, Morganville, and Broughton.

The first church was built in Clay Center by a Baptist congregation that was founded in 1868. A few months later in 1868, the Congregational church called Madura was organized under Reverend Todd, who had been in the county since 1858. The first county fair was held on October 7, 1874. The first school was established near Lincoln Creek in 1864.

Clay County has been home to many interesting Kansans such as Governor Henry Allen (1919-1923), who grew up near Clifton. Governor George Docking, Sr., (1957-1961), was born in Clay Center. Governor William H. Avery (1965-1967), was born, raised, and retired in Wakefield. Avery also served as a Congressman from 1955 to 1965.Clay County also has three Kansas Attorneys General: F. B. Dawes (1895-1897); A. S. Goddard (1899-1903); and C. C. Coleman (1903-1907), all of whom practiced law in Clay Center. William D. Vincent served as a Congressman from 1897 to 1899. Don W. Wilson, a native of Clay Center, was appointed Archivist of the United States in 1987. He had also served as Director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.

"Indian John" was a legendary figure still cloaked in mystery. He lived in several different locations in the county, mostly near Fact, and was widely known for herbal medicines that he sold as remedies for many different ailments. It is said that people suffering from different maladies would send for his "cures." The "patients" would send personal items from which "Indian John" would diagnose their illnesses, then send them the correct prescription. His tombstone lists his name as John Deringer with the dates 1832-1924. He was said to be three quarters Sioux Indian.

Uphill Into The Sun, by Trumpp, is a historic novel that uses authentic names and places, primarily in the Wakefield area. Velma Carson of Morganville was a professional writer who used her Clay County background for many of her articles, short stories, and poems.

Clay County has many interesting sites such as Clay County Court House, the Streeter Building and the Comstock Hotel. Also five historic buildings have been relocated near Sportsman Park, Clay Center: They are the Dexter Log Cabin (1863); Cummings Log Cabin (1867); Dexter Store (c. 1866); King School (c.1904); and Uniondale Church, (1876).

For more information see the Clay County website. The Clay County Historical Society has many publications, notebooks, and other files relating to the history of the county.

Entry: Clay 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: October 2015

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