County Seat Fight

County Seat Fight

Audio by Kay Melia

County seat status was essential to the economic progress of small western towns. Many counties experienced actual gun fights over where the county seat would be located.  In Sherman County, the argument was between Goodland and Eustis; a town just a mile or so northeast of Goodland. The results of the November election of 1886 were inclusive and Eustis was named the temporary county seat.  In November of 1887, Goodland received the majority of votes, but Eustis refused to count the votes or give up the books even though the chief justice of the State Supreme Court had issued a mandate demanding the count. 

Plans for aggressive action began in Goodland began on Friday the 13th of January, 1888. It was a bitter cold day, 25 degrees below zero as a small group of men gathered to discuss the situation.  The group enlarged as the day progressed; they soon began arming themselves with Winchester rifles and other weapons and then began a march toward Eustis. 

George Bradley, a Eustis citizen visiting in Goodland, realizing what was about to happen jumped into his buggy and sped to Eustis to give warning of the approaching mob; feelings were running high. The mob of men, now estimated to be about 85, marched directly into Eustis to greet armed men stationed at the stairway leading to a room above the bank building where the county record books were kept. 

Eustis mayor L. R. Dayton was to give the signal to the Eustis men to begin firing.  He was the first person the mob met and was immediately seized and informed that he would be shot and the town burned unless the books were surrendered.  Convinced, the mayor led them to the room where the books were kept.  The records were quickly loaded into wagons and taken to Goodland, not a shot had been fired. 

Goodland did in fact remain the county seat, but the removal of records at gun point that Friday the 13th over a hundred years ago, did not bring the struggle to an end.  The continuing inflammatory newspaper accounts were enough to prompt Governor Maring to send major General Adam Dickson and Captain Frank McGrath of the Kansas National Guard to investigate the matter and to call out the militia if necessary. 

By May 10 1888, all of Eustis’s efforts to regain their former position had been exhausted and the Sherman County seat fight came to a permanent conclusion with Goodland the victor. In fact, many arrangements had already been completed which allowed the merchants of Eustis to move to Goodland and by the following week, the relocation of Eustis was well underway.  The ease with which the residents of Eustis reconciled themselves to the move to Goodland further illustrates that the county seat fight was basically economic in nature.  In fact the editor of the Eustis newspaper was soon describing Goodland in the same flowering terms that he had formally reserved for Eustis.