This county in northwestern Kansas had been home to buffalo-hunting Native Americans and was named for General William Tecumseh Sherman of Civil War fame by the Kansas legislature in 1873. Cattle and sheep ranches were established in the early 1880’s on land available for little or no cost.
A few towns had already been founded in 1885 and early 1886 as settlers made their way to the area, including a fair number of foreign immigrants from Sweden, Germany and Austria: Eustis, Sherman Center, Voltaire, Itasca and Gandy. On September 20, 1886 the county was officially organized and Eustis was named the temporary county seat. Other towns established in 1887 and 1888 were Goodland, Ruleton and Kanorado (near the Colorado state line, thus the hybrid name). Here is a brief history of those which quickly became ghost towns.
In the spring of 1885, P.S. Eustis and O.R Phillips organized the Lincoln Land Company and laid out the town. P.S., as an agent of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad, had the distinction of having the town named in his honor. In July of 1886 a post office was opened.
After being named the temporary county seat in September, an election was held on November 8 to allow voters to decide which town, Sherman Center or Eustis, would be the permanent county seat. Eustis won and construction began on a courthouse. The following spring another election was held and Eustis came out victorious.
For reasons unclear, another election was called for in August of 1887 by a county committee to once and for all determine the county seat. Representatives of Voltaire and Sherman Center and someone named B. Taylor who owned land in the central part of the county made their pitches before the committee. Eustis declined to make a presentation. At the next meeting of the county committee, representatives of newly-established Goodland made a well-received presentation.
Of the almost fifteen hundred votes cast in the fall election, Goodland won 872 of those votes. The official vote tallies could not be completed, however, after injunctions were filed which prevented county commissioners from canvassing the vote. Therefore, between November 1887 and January 1888 the county seat issue remained unsettled with court battles and more commission meetings.
On January 13, 1888 the matter began to reach a boiling point when a group from Goodland marched to Eustis intending to seize the county records. A war of words ensued in newspapers throughout the county. The rivalry heated up to the extent that Governor John Martin sent the Kansas National Guard to monitor the situation. However, by early May, Eustis had withdrawn its objections after Goodland had hired a posse of sorts which captured one of the county commissioners and forced him to allow the county records to be removed – no shots fired, end of dispute.
Not long afterwards, the citizens of Eustis began to move to the new county seat, eventually leading to the town’s demise. For the same reasons, the town of Sherman Center also faded away.
The town of Gandy had been founded in June of 1885, named after Dr. J.L. Gandy of Humboldt, Nebraska. Its post office was established in September and the first county newspaper, “The New Tecumseh” published its first issue on November 11, 1885. The first school in the county was also established in Gandy.
Gandy seemed to be taking root with these county “firsts”, but by early 1886 had begun to decline. In March the newspaper moved to Itasca and later that fall the post office was moved to Sherman Center, established in May of 1886. Itasca would eventually suffer the same fate as Sherman Center and Gandy. Like a row of dominoes, these fledgling communities continued to fall.
This town was founded by a group from Rawlins County, Kansas on June 15, 1885 and named for French philosopher Voltaire. By the summer of 1886 the town reached its peak with just over one hundred and forty residents and forty-five buildings and homes. As was the case in countless “county wars”, Voltaire began to decline after an unsuccessful bid to become the seat of government for Sherman County.
Voltaire had been established on government land, and therefore was required to maintain a certain population level until the land could be officially turned over to the town. With winter on its way following the election defeat, few residents wanted to remain in Voltaire, but the town’s founders hired a man and his family to remain there to hold the town until spring when more settlers would arrive and improvements could be made.
Those who left returned to Rawlins County (Atwood) for the winter, one which proved to be an especially harsh and deadly one. Instead of returning, residents decided to remain in Atwood and Voltaire began to decline. In 1889 the post office was closed and the town vacated by the Kansas legislature.
Today the towns of Goodland (still the county seat) and Kanorado remain; Ruleton is a small unincorporated community.
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.