THE WICHITA LAND OFFICE.
ITS EARLY HISTORY—ITS OFFICERS, CLERKS AND ATTORNEYS.
By JUDGE JAMES L. DYER.
The local land office of the United States at Wichita, Kan., embraced all the tract of land bounded on the north
by the fourth standard parallel south, on the east by guide meridian east of the sixth principal meridian, on the
west by the boundary line between Colorado and Kansas, on the south by the south boundary line of the state of
The lands in this boundary were of three classes: First, a narrow strip of land known as the Cherokee Strip, varying
from three and one half miles on the east to one-half mile in width on the west, situated at the extreme south
of the state.
Second — A fifty-mile strip known as the Osage Trust and Diminished Reserve lands, lying directly north of the
Cherokee Strip and extending from the east boundary of said land district to the 100° west longitude; and
Third — The remainder of said land district was unoffered lands subject to pre-emption settlement. Homestead and
timber culture acts under the laws governing the public lands of the United States.
The lands in the Cherokee Strip were subject to sale to actual settlers, without regard to time the settler occupied
said land, in quantities in compact form not exceeding 160 acres to one actual settler at $1.25 per acre.
The Osage Trust and Diminished Reserve lands were subject to sale to actual settlers for the sum of $1.25 per acre
in tracts not exceeding 160 acres in compact form under the act of July 1, 1870.
The land office at Wichita was known as the Arkansas Land District, and was first located at Augusta, Kan., but
as immigration pushed west, the settlers driving before them the buffalo and coyote, it became necessary for the
accommodation of the large body of people to change the location, and hence in March, 1872, the land office was
removed from Augusta to Wichita, and from that time it took the name of the Wichita Land Office of the United States,
retaining the same boundary until 1874, when it was subdivided and other land offices established west of range
ten west of the 6° principal meridian.
On May 9, 1872, congress passed an act (see 2283 R. S.) requiring that the Osage Trust and Diminished Reserve lands
in the state of Kansas, excepting the sixteenth and thirty-sixth sections in each township, be subject to disposal
for cash only to actual settlers in quantities not exceeding 160 acres in compact form, in accordance with the
general principles of the pre-emption laws under the direction of the commissioner of the General Land Office,
but that settlers must make proof of settlement, occupancy and cultivation within one year from date of settlement.
The moneys derived from the sale of these lands were to be held in trust for the Osage nation after deducting the
actual expenses of sale of said lands The Osage Indians realized from the sale of these lands in the Wichita district
The officers of a local land office consist of a registrar and receiver, appointed by the President, holding their
offices for four years but subject to removel at the wish of the President.
The registrar receives all applications and jointly with the receiver passes upon the legality of all applications
and all proofs presented to the local office, and determines the rights of adverse claimants to the same tract
of land. In case of disagreement between registrar and receiver the case is referred to the honorable commissioner
of the General Land Office.
The receiver in addition to the foregoing duties must receive all moneys paid to the local office and must deposit
the same in some United States depository under direction of the Secretary of the Treasury.
The first registrar of the Wichita land district was A. C. Aiken, who was appointed while the office was at Augusta,
and the first receiver was W. A. Shannon. Both came to Wichita with the office in March, 1872. Mr. Aken was succeeded
as registrar by W. T. Jenkins, and Mr. Shannon was succeeded as receiver by J. C. Redfield, formerly of Humboldt,
Kan., now dead.
The offices of registrar and receiver in those days grew high up on the political tree, and the one having the
longest and strongest pole got the persimmon. Although appointed for four years, yet if the officers happened to
be for the wrong man for congress or for the United States senate his resignation was soon demanded and a favorite
was selected to succeed him, in accordance with the old Jacksonian policy, "To the victor belongs the spoils."
And thus Mr. Jenkins, registrar, was not permitted to hold out his full term, but in 1875 had to give way to the
Hon. H. L. Taylor. J. C. Redfield was permitted to hold his full four years' term, having so trimmed his sails,
politically, and having been such an efficient officer that no one was able to oust him from his office.
H. L. Taylor was forced to give way before the expiration of his term of office to the Hon. Richard L. Walker in
1879. Colonel Taylor was lieutenant colonel of the Sixty eighth Illinois Infantry and was provost marshal at Alexandria,
Va., where the regiment was encamped in the summer of 1862. He remained in Wichita and held other offices of trust
and died an honored citizen in the summer of 1906 at the age of seventy two.
J. C. Redfield lived in Wichita after retiring from the office of receiver and was manager of the G. G. Smith
dry goods store at this place. He was also county commissioner for several years. He died in 1904 at the age of
seventy four years. All who knew Mr. Redfield loved him for his sterling worth.
Mr. Redfield was succeeded in December, 1876, by James L. Dyer as receiver, who held the position of receiver of
this office until November, 1885.
Richard L. Walker, who succeeded H. L. Taylor as registrar, was prior to that time sheriff of Cowly county, Kansas,
and held the office of registrar one fully term, and was reappointed for a second term. Then he had to fall by
the wayside on account of Cleveland's election. He was captain of Company A, Nineteenth Ohio Infantry, and had
a splendid record as a soldier. He removed from here and afterwards was United States marshal for the district
of Kansas. He was a jolly good fellow and counted a great politician, but has been gathered to his fathers many
years ago in the prime of his vigorous life and manhood.
James L. Dyer, who came here in April, 1872, is at present judge of the city court of Wichita.
Walker was succeeded as registrar by the Hon. Frank Dale, who held the office as long as the pie tasted good, but
when it got too poor he resigned, moved to Guthrie, Okla., where he made money at the practice of the law, and
was afterwards honored by President Cleveland and made chief justice of the territory of Oklahoma. He is now a
private citizen, enjoying the luxuries of a well-earned fortune at Guthrie, Okla., and a leading lawyer of the
J. G. McCoy succeeded Mr. Dale as registrar and held the office until it was abolished and absorbed by the offices
at Topeka and Fort Dodge.
Samuel Gilbert succeeded James L. Dyer as receiver in November, 1885, and performed the duties of the office as
long as there was any pay. Then he quit and now lives in California. J. G. McCoy is now a resident of Wichita and
enjoys the many friends in his declining years of an active life.
Connected with the local office were clerks and attorneys, some of whom will long be remembered in this community.
W. B. Mead came here a clerk of the office from Augusta and was clerk for a long time afterward. He lived to a
ripe old age. C. A. Walker came with Mr. Redfield from Humboldt and was clerk during the whole of Mr. Redfield's
term. He was a very proficient clerk and afterwards was cashier of the Wichita National Bank until it suspended
business. He now lives in Kansas City, Mo. Robert E. Guthrie held the position of clerk longer than any other person
during the existence of the office at this place. He was one of the most efficient clerks that ever held a position
in the United States Land Office. He has been clerk in several United States land offices since that time, and
is now a clerk in the treasury department at Washington, D. C. Avery Ainsworth was a genial and efficient clerk,
but went to Lamed, Kan., and was clerk in the United States Land Office at that place for many years. Harry St.
John, son of ex-Governor John P. St. John, was clerk for many years. He died several years ago in Oklahoma. J.
Clifford Bentley was a most efficient clerk for two years. He is now practicing law in Kingman, Kan. John M. Lean
was also a clerk for several years. His whereabouts is now -unknown to us. J. P. Horton was a very efficient clerk
for two years. He went from here to Anthony, Kan., and died a few years ago. He was an old bachelor.
D. B. Emmert, formerly receiver at Humboldt, Kan., served as clerk under Mr. Walker, registrar. Dr. E. B. Allen,
the first mayor of Wichita, was clerk under W. T. Jenkins.
Hon. J. F. Lanck was one of the very best land office attorneys in the country. He practiced before the Wichita
office during its whole existence. He was at one time chancellor in Tennessee, after the war. He was a Union soldier.
He died a few years ago. 0. D. Kirk and W. W. Thomas were two excellent attorneys and practiced before the office
many years. Thomas was afterwards probate judge of Sedgwick county. He now lives in California. O. D. Kirk is now
probate judge of Sedgwick county, Kan., and an honored citizen of Wichita.
But few connected with the land office at an early day now live, and their names are almost forgotten by the public
at large. And the fact that there was once a United States land office at Wichita is almost a dream Once it was
the busiest place in the whole district, and thousands came to Wichita from the vast territory it embraced, coming
with teams and remaining here for days at a time, and when one did a great business in those days it was said of
him, "He does a land office business."
There were many other features connected with the land office which would interest early settlers, but the foregoing
is a mere biographical sketch of its officers, clerks and attorneys and of the vast business transacted here.
Note. — Judge James L. Dyer was for many years receiver of the United States Land Office at Wichita. No man living
is so competent to write its history as Judge Dyer. The location of the Government Land Office at Wichita gave
the town its first impetus as a trading point.—Editor.