Leavenworth City, Kansas Territory

Who founded Leavenworth? Who named it? Who were the earliest settlers? What were their motives and the conditions they met?

Fortunately, these questions have definite answers given by a participant in the stirring events. H. Miles Moore in his “History of Leavenworth City and County” relates the story in simple, straightforward language. Much additional material is available from other sources.

On that memorable day of June 13, 1854, a group of 32 men met in Weston, Mo., then the largest town on the river, for the purpose of drawing up articles of incorporation to be used in the establishment of a settlement three miles south of Fort Leavenworth in the new territory organized by the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30.

This was the original Town Company and its officers were as follows: president, General G. W. Gist; secretary, H. Miles Moore; treasurer, Joseph Evans; trustees, Amos Rees, L. D. Bird, and Major E. A. Ogden.

The townsite was to comprise the land from Three Mile Creek on the south to the reservation on the north and a far west as was needed to make up 320 acres. This tract was to be the “City Proper.” Each member of the company was to have five shares with 15 retained for public use.

The land had already been surveyed by men under General Gist, who “made their way with fiery Missouri steeds as best they could through dense undergrowth and across ravines.” George Keller was awarded the contract to clear the site, a job that took three months, 80 men, and a payment of $4500.

Several stockholders favored the name “Douglas,” but Moore convinced them that Fort Leavenworth had received much attention, and that the same designation would attract settlers and promote the sale of lots. So Leavenworth City it became and remained until 1871 when “City” was dropped.

East and west streets were, on the suggestion of Major Ogden, named for Indian tribes. North and south ones, after Front and Main, were numbered. Those laid out later on the south side of town received their names from trees.

The urgent problem was that of securing a legal title to the site, which was occupied by the Delaware tribe on what was called “Trust Lands.” By terms of the Kickapoo Treaty, buyers were permitted to pre-empt their holdings for $1.25 and acre, while “ours” were to be appraised and sold to the highest bidder, the situation thus affording, in Moore’s opinion, an excellent chance for cheating the Indians and making undue trouble for settlers.

Incited by men from the rival towns of Atchison and Kickapoo, also founded in the summer of 1854, the Delawares complained to the government about squatters here, and the latter were ordered to leave. The story is long and complicated, but the Indians were finally persuaded that the white men were acting in good faith. Legal titles for buyers could not be obtained, however, until 1858.

In the meantime, the first public sale of lots was held on October 9 and 10, 1854, at Fort Leavenworth. Great preparation had been made to advertise the occasion and bidders came from afar. The highest price paid was $350, and that was for the site on Main Street occupied for many years by the Catlin-Knox Shoe Company. Total receipts amounted to $12,600.

As to the motives of the Town Company, there were several. The impetus was given when Senator D. R. Atchison, leader of the pro-slavery faction, sent his long awaited word to eager fellow Missourians: “Go over and take the good land; it is yours.”

It would certainly be erroneous to conclude that all of the original 32 were animated by a desire to spread slavery. Some undoubtedly were because they had been taught to believe the system was right; others merely wished to acquire good property; a few were definitely opposed to the idea of extension. Moore tells us that the Town Company had a strong religious element in its organization, three stockholders being ministers and most of the others laymen of similar turn of mind.




Leavenworth was incorporated by an act of the legislature in the summer of 1855, and an election was fixed for September 3, at which time Mayor Thomas Slocum and six councilmen were elected.

In this manner was Leavenworth City born into a world of trouble and opportunity.

The Story of Leavenworth, Part 5

The two Kansas Weeky Herald ‘s talked about above are shown below.

Planters Hotel on the right. Photograph published 1921.