Elk County, Kansas



Elk County was established in 1875 by a state legislative act that divided Howard County into Elk and Chautauqua counties. It is located in the southeastern part of Kansas, and is bounded by Chautauqua County on the south, Montgomery and Wilson Counties on the east, Greenwood County on the north, and Butler and Cowley Counties on the west. It is thirty-one miles long by twenty-one wide, and contains six hundred and sixty-one square miles. Basically, it comprises the northern half of what was formerly Howard County. Howard County was made up of lands acquired from the Great and Little Osage Indians by the United States Government as the result of a treaty signed in the fall of 1867.

In common with the surrounding territory, the lands that now make up Elk County were settled before they were legally open to white occupation. The first white man to locate within the limits of the county was Richard Graves in 1856. He was twice driven out by the Indians, and finally abandoned his claim. A strip of land, six miles wide along the eastern border, which was legally open to settlement, formed the attraction which drew the earliest settlers. Once there, however, many of the more adventurous risked their lives to settle on the rich lands in the river bottoms that still belonged to the Indians.

The first church organization was made by the Missionary Baptists in Liberty Township in 1866. The first church building to be erected was in Longton in 1871. The first marriage was between D. M. Spurgeon and Sarah Knox, and the first birth was that of Sarah F. Shipley in December 1866. The first railroad to reach Elk County was what is now the east and west line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe in 1879. Another line of the same system later entered the county from the north, and ran directly south and connected with the first line at Moline. A third line ran southeast from Longton into Montgomery County. Only the main east-west line remains.

The photo at right is of the Longton Santa Fe Depot ca. 1900.

Photo contributed by Michelle Dunlap.

The first newspaper was the Howard County Ledger (Elk County was not yet in existence). It was first published in Longton in 1871 by Adrian Reynolds, but he moved it to Elk Falls in 1874. The Courant replaced it the same year, but it remained only one year. The Longton Times, owned and edited by F.C. Flory, began publication in Longton in 1881, and was in operation well into the 1900s.

Longton was the first major settlement in what would be Elk County. A post office was established there in the fall of 1870, and J. W. Kerr – the first doctor in the area – was granted the commission of Postmaster. The post office was set up in the building which the doctor had erected for a drug store. The structure was small, and was made of hewed timbers and clapboards. Historical accounts of the time say that the good doctor did not seem to take his postal duties very seriously. It is said that when it was time to distribute the incoming mail it was his practice to open the mail bag, pour the contents into a small depression in the dirt floor of his store room, and then tell those present to "find your own mail."

The first school was taught in Longton by Miss Eleanor Smith starting in March 1870. Classes were held in a local residence, and at first numbered only a few pupils. But by March 15, 1872, a report made by Henry C. Parker, Miss Smith’s successor, shows the enrollment had increased to sixty-two, with an average daily attendance of thirty-eight. A regular school building was erected in the fall of 1871, and – like the drug store – was a crude wooden structure made of hewed logs and split clapboards, also with a dirt floor. In addition it was used as a church, and the school yard served as a temporary camping place for newcomers to the area.

John W. Freeman, one of my paternal great-grandfathers, was born December 11, 1831 in Culpeper County, Virginia. In 1842 he moved with his family to Edgar County, Illinois. It was there, on August 12, 1849, that he married Sarah Ann Houston Patrick. She was a widow with a young daughter (name unknown). Sarah was born about 1820 in Kentucky, the daughter of Joseph Houston and Delilah Weldon. John and Sarah had seven children. They were:

1.         Levi A. Freeman, b. 1850, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1922, Longton, Elk Co., KS

2.         Thomas Freeman, b. 1852, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1876, Edgar Co., IL

3.         Michael T. Freeman, b. 1853, in Edgar Co., IL

4.         William A. Freeman, b. 1856, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1880

5.         Vachel Robert Freeman, b. 1858, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1934, Longton, Elk Co., KS

6.         Robert V. Freeman, b. about 1859 in Edgar Co., IL

7.         Charles A. Freeman, b. 1863, Edgar Co., IL; d. 1936, Ottawa, Franklin Co., KS

  Sarah Ann Houston died in 1867. John W. Freeman then married (2) Sarah Ellen Foncannon in December 1867. Sarah was the daughter of William Foncannon and Phebe Goodin, and was born February 20, 1848 in Indiana. John and Sarah had four daughters:

  1. Indiana May Freeman, b. May 4, 1868, Girard, Crawford Co., KS; d. December 3, 1918,   Eagle City, Blaine Co., OK
  2. Minnie Olive Freeman, b. December 14, 1870, Girard, Crawford Co., KS; d. November 9, 1960, Severy, Greenwood Co., KS
  3. Cora Sarah Freeman, b. June    7, 1872, Kansas; d. April19, 1957, Wichita, Sedgwick Co., KS
  4. Mamie V. Freeman, b. July 23, 1882, Kansas

At some point in early 1868 John and Sarah moved to Fort Scott in Bourbon County, Kansas. It is believed that all of Sarah’s stepchildren moved with them, including Levi, who would have been about eighteen at the time. Sarah was herself only about nineteen. She had seven stepchildren to care for—one only a year or so younger than herself—and her first child was on the way. It must have been a tremendous responsibility and burden for her.

The family did not stay in Fort Scott long. Indiana May Freeman was born in Girard, Crawford County, Kansas on May 4, 1868, but they were not there for the 1870 census. At the present time we do not know where they were between the latter part of 1868 and early 1873 when John W. Freeman moved his family, now with three daughters, to Longton in Elk County. Cora Freeman was born in June 1872, but we do not know her birthplace.

The 1880 census for Jasper County, Missouri lists our Freeman family as living on East Eighth Street in Carthage. Mamie Freeman was born in 1882, presumably in Carthage. The family moved to Carroll County, Arkansas in the mid-1880s.

The following is an excerpt from The Grass is Always Greener Down The Road Apiece, by Helen Erwin Campbell:

My oldest brother Clifford remembered the stories Grandma told about Jessie and Frank James. Grandma’s father was a friend to the outlaw brothers and often offered them a safe haven when they were running from the law. She recalled a time when she was a small girl when the James boys rode in one evening and tied their horses to the wagon in the corral. The horses were given hay to feed on, and a bale of hay was placed behind each mount, with the saddles placed on the bales.

Grandma played around the bales and was told sternly by her father, “Don’t play with the saddles!” She continued to play near them, and her father finally told her, “Don’t even touch those saddles.”

Frank and Jessie had the saddles laid out just right so that if they had to leave in a hurry they could throw the saddles on their horses, pull up the belly cinch straps, and be gone in just a few seconds.

The James boys had supper with the Freeman family that night, and Jessie told a story about riding down to the river, with the law in hot pursuit. There was a high bank, about as high as a house. He jumped his horse into the river and he and the horse swam to the other side. When he got out of range of the law officer’s guns he claimed he turned and thumbed his nose at the posse as they stood watching him on the high bank on the opposite side of the river."

On December 16, 1886 Michael R. “Mike” Erwin, my grandfather, married Minnie Olive Freeman in Berryville, Carroll County, Arkansas. It was, in fact, a double wedding. Michael’s next oldest brother, William Coleman “Cole” Erwin, married Indiana May “India” Freeman during the same ceremony. Both young ladies were daughters of John Freeman and Sarah Ellen Foncannon.   

James Nathaniel Hayworth, my maternal great-grandfather, was born October 17, 1826 in Newton, Miami County, Ohio. He moved with his parents to Cass County, Indiana in 1845, and later lived for a time in Grant County. In about 1848 the family moved to Pulaski County, Indiana. He was living near Star City in Pulaski County when he married Susannah D. Miller on January 24, 1850. She was the daughter of Captain John Miller.

James and Susannah Hayworth lived first on a one hundred and twenty-acre homestead in Harrison Township in Pulaski County. After seventeen years they moved to Jasper County, Indiana where they bought a two hundred and fifty-acre farm near Hanging Grove. In 1880 James and Susannah moved again, this time to Elk County, Kansas, where they lived the rest of their lives. Susannah died November 4, 1894, and James Hayworth died January 24, 1901 while living with his son Charles. Both are buried in the Longton Cemetery.

As early as 1850 James Hayworth augmented his farming income by trading in furs. It was his practice to drive through the countryside in his horse-drawn light wagon buying furs. Periodically he went by rail to Detroit, where the main market was, to sell them to wholesale dealers. Alpha, my mother’s sister, recalled in a letter to Bonnie Speer that he did this even after he moved to Kansas.

James and Susannah had eleven children. Charles Ellis Hayworth, their ninth child, was my grandfather.

Charles Ellis Hayworth was born March 1, 1866 in Francisville, Jasper Co., Indiana and died April 12, 1941 in Fargo, Oklahoma. On November 13, 1885, he applied for a license to marry Melissa E. Stowe, age fifteen, also of Longton, and on November 15 they were married. According to the marriage certificate Melissa was born in Chilhowee, Missouri to Joseph and Belinda Hilda Stowe. The ceremony was reported in the November 20 issue of the Longton Times:

“Married, by the Reverend C.L. McKesson at his residence, on Sunday evening November 15, 1885, Mr. Charles E. Hayworth to Miss Melissa Stowe, both of Longton. The contracting parties are both well known in Longton, and have the best wishes of all who know them.”

A photo of Charles and Melissa on their wedding day

Charles and Melissa had four children: 

  1. Cora Ruth Hayworth, b. February 12. 1986, Longton, Elk Co., KS; d. February 15, 1886

  2. Alpha Mae Hayworth, b. September 24, 1888, Longton, Elk Co., KS; d. January 6, 1966, Fargo, Ellis Co., OK

  3. Hazel Dell Hayworth, b. November 27, 1889, Longton, Elk Co., KS; d. February 16, 1976, Neodesha, Wilson Co., KS

  4. Charles Raymond Hayworth, b. September 12, 1892, Longton, Elk Co., KS; d. September 5, 1918, as a Pvt. in France in WWI. Buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

 The Cherokee StripCharles Ellis Hayworth made the run into the Cherokee Strip on September 16, 1893 and staked a claim near the little town of Cleveland. My Aunt Alpha recalled those early days:

“The very first I can remember was when we arrived at Cleveland, Oklahoma. My mother and us three children were helped out of a covered wagon and went into a long store. It was a general store, hardware, post office combined. My next remembrance was when we were living in a little board house on the claim…” “…Dad had made the run and had staked his claim near there (Cleveland). I was too little to remember if the house was built before we got there. It was rough, the walls were thin, and it was cold.”

An Indian later challenged the validity of Charles’ claim. He apparently proved that he had gotten there first because Charles eventually gave it up. He then moved his family into Cleveland where he operated a saloon.

In 1897 Charles Ellis Hayworth was convicted of selling whiskey to an Indian and was sentenced to three years in jail. In the meantime his wife Melissa became ill, and members of her family came from Elk County and took her and the children back to Longton, where her widowed mother took them in. Family friends and neighbors in Longton collected signatures on a petition for a hardship release for Charles. After serving about one year jail in Oklahoma Charles was released with a full pardon. He returned to Longton and he moved his family into a rented house. Melissa was bedridden, so “Aunt Sat,” his sister, (so nicknamed because she was lame and “sat a lot”), kept house for Charles.

Melissa Hayworth died April 5, 1899 of tuberculosis, or consumption as it was called then. My Aunt Alpha recalled that, “…Mother died in the spring,” and many years later described the funeral in a letter to granddaughter Bonnie Speer:

"I was eleven years old so I remember her death and the day of the burial. I remember my sister Hazel brought her a hand full of early wood lilies a few days before, but it was so cold and stormy on the day of the funeral. I don’t think any of her folks were there excepting her mother who was a widow and lived in Longton. I don’t remember any, if there were. I met some of her brothers once but I don’t know where they lived and still don’t. After Mother’s death, Grandmother left Longton and was living with a son in Missouri until her death.”

Many members of the Hayworth and the Stillwell families (Tom Stillwell was married to Charles’ sister Ellen) were musically inclined. They played together at family gatherings and at local dances as well as other social gatherings. Charles Hayworth, my grandfather, had his own band for a time. In the early 1920s Charles operated a theater in Longton where early silent films were shown. It was also available for local dances, traveling stage shows and “musical revues.”

The February 10, 1922 issue of The Longton News carried the following story on page one:


The new theater opened last Thursday night by giving a big dance. It has a floor especially built for dancing.

This Theatre is one of the finest in this part of the state. Mr. Chas. Haworth is the builder, and Charley Troxell drew the plans and superintended the construction.

This week, an expert painter is here designing and painting curtain scenery. If you come to the show Saturday night, Feb. 11th, you may get a peep-in at the new curtain; but we are sure you will see Charley Chaplin in 'The Kid.'

A new picture machine has been installed and you will be greeted with some fine screen work, if you are present Saturday night.

This theatre has a large seating capacity, with both first floor and balcony. A large dome gives a large space for clear view of the stage, which is well equipped with fine scenery.

This theatre is one that most any troop can put on most any play with credit. Longton is fortunate in having a theatre such as has been built by Chas. Haworth; one that we can invite people from anywhere to visit."

In a letter to younger sister Helen Erwin Campbell, dated October 15, 1986, Flossie Erwin Austin recalled visiting the theater with older sister Goldie during the summer of 1923.

 Yes, I remember Grandpa Hayworth’s picture show in Longtonthe seats could be pushed against the wall—leaving a dance floor in the middle. I remember being there one night in particular when he was having a dance—it seems only Goldie and I went with Grandpa Hayworth. I had to be in grade school—too young to dance—Goldie more of a young lady. Two or three young men asked her to dance, but she just shook her head. We just sat in seats along the wall and watched.”

Mary Erwin Plog recalled the theater also:

“When Clifford showed us the theater still standing in Longton (about 1985) I recalled being there to see a silent movie once, and to hear Grandpa and other musicians playing in front of the screen before the show began. There were about four players besides Grandpa. I remember there were ordinary chairs for the audience, all placed on the same level.”

In 1898 Mike and Minnie Erwin—as noted in a previous article—moved by covered wagon from Carroll County, Arkansas to Elk County, Kansas where two of Minnie’s older brothers lived.

Mike Erwin and his sons were teamsters, when teamsters drove horses instead of trucks. They farmed in Elk County in the early 1900s, but often took time out to follow the oil booms in Oklahoma and Kansas as professional teamsters. When they traveled from one oil field to another they did so together in a convoy of horse or mule-drawn wagons. They lived in “oil field shacks,” which were primitive forerunners of the mobile home. These early mobile living quarters were normally about eight feet wide and twenty feet long, mounted on skids. When it was time to move the units were winched up on to oilfield wagons (a wagon chassis without a bed). The “shacks” and cargo wagons carrying other goods and possessions, as well as the various family members, made up the wagon train.

Most of my brothers and sisters, as well as my Erwin first-cousins, were born in locations near where the Erwin men were working in the various oil fields. By the late 1920s and early 1930s, however, horses in the oil fields were rare. Gas-driven trucks and other mechanized machinery had taken over, and the Erwin brothers gradually went their separate ways.


Upper: The Erwin family on the farm - Tom, Dale & Odes left to right. Grandpa Mike Erwin second from right. The man in the suit may be Charles E. Hayworth.

Center: Moving day in the oilfields.

Lower: The Erwin family unloading oilfield timbers.

By the late 1920s all of the Hayworth and Erwin family members had either passed on or moved to greener pastures outside of Elk County. Charles E. Hayworth spent his last years with daughter Alpha Hayworth Stoner near Fargo, Oklahoma. Mike and Minnie Erwin settled down in Severy, Kansas, which is about thirty miles north of Longton, and just a couple of miles inside Greenwood County. Joy, their youngest child and only daughter, was a teen-ager and still living with her parents. Jim Erwin was also still at home, but he married Ida Protzman, a local girl, in December 1930. They lived there until about 1940.

During the early 1930s Odes, my father, was a blacksmith and sometimes-farmer in Virgil, Greenwood County. We moved to California in 1936, but returned to Wilson County in 1948. Dale Erwin and his family may have lived in Severy for a time, but they were living in Emporia in Lyon County by the mid-1930s.

Tom and May Erwin lived first in Augusta, but by 1930 they were living in Severy.

The family is mentioned several times in the Severite, a weekly newspaper published in Severy at the time. Tom was a blacksmith, but also operated a gas station, garage and an ice house there until about the time WW2 started.

Little is known about Bill Erwin after he married and left the nest. He was considered the “black sheep” of the family, and was apparently severely afflicted with the Erwin “itchy-foot” syndrome. After horses were generally replaced by tractors Bill became a heavy-equipment operator. He had the reputation for always looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow. If he heard of some new project or employment opportunity he would quit whatever job he had and head for the anticipated-greener pastures, leaving his family to fend for themselves.

Michael R. “Jack” Erwin  married Inez Auer of Augusta in 1924, and went his own way, working in commercial construction. He retired in Florida, but was living with his daughter and son-in-law in Lee’s Summit, Missouri when he died in 1997.

I never got to know Grandpa and Grandma Erwin very well, or any of my uncles for that matter, and I never met my Aunt Joy. Dad moved us to California in 1936 when I was three, and then back to Kansas when I was fifteen. From the summer of 1948 until March of 1950, when I enlisted in the Marines, I don’t think I saw my grandparents more than three or four times. It was my loss.

I recall only one visit to Longton as a teenager. It was in early 1949, shortly after we had gotten settled on the eighty-acre farm just outside of Neodesha in Wilson County. Mom wanted to put flowers on the graves of her mother and grandparents in the Longton cemetery. At Dad’s typical driving speed of thirty-five miles per hour, Longton was about a two-hour drive from our farm.

In 1949, only four years after the end of WW2, Longton—though in decline—was still an active farm town. This was before Walmart, Costco or even McDonald’s, but there was a hardware store, a farm machinery dealer, a “dry goods” store, a pool hall and several eating establishments. There was a doctor and a dentist, and movies were shown on Friday and Saturday nights in the old Hayworth theater building. The residents of Longton and the surrounding area could purchase all of their necessities locally. Oh, they had to go to Independence to buy a new Ford or Chevy pickup, and perhaps to Wichita for major medical procedures, but life was still good in Longton.

By the mid-1950s it was clear that Longton would go the way of most small farm-oriented towns. Oil production was not a factor in and around Longton, and there was no industry there. The railroad line was still active, but passenger service had ceased during the war, and it did not resume after Japan surrendered. The young men of Elk County who went away to fight in WW2 had been exposed to a larger world than they had previously known. Many returning veterans were not content to go back to the farm life of their parents or to the small town atmosphere of Longton. Some would go to colleges and universities and become professional people, while others found employment in plants and factories making the consumer goods that a war-weary population craved.

Over the next few years a growing percentage of the students graduating from the local high school went away to colleges and universities, and most did not return. Others were attracted by employment opportunities in larger cities. This, plus the fact that one person—with the new and advanced farm machinery that was becoming available—could do the work of several in prewar years, would ultimately spell the  death of Longton.

I visited Longton last in 2004. It was sad to see the abandoned and boarded-up buildings, and the cracked and crumbling sidewalks and streets. Most of the once-proud family homes that remained were now rundown, with cracked windows and peeling paint. Grandpa Hayworth’s theater building was still there, but it’s sandstone walls were roofless. The only business that had any apparent activity was the mini mart/gas station. Going…Going...                                                     »»»