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Kansas Memory Blog

Confederate Memorialization in the Free State

Posted by Megan Rohleder on Sep 10, 2020

By: Ethan Anderson, Government Records Archivist

As communities across the country grapple with the legacy of the Civil War and the memorialization of Confederate leaders, we decided to research that legacy here in Kansas. Currently, there are no monuments, memorials, or other public symbols of the Confederacy in the state.[1] Until recently, however, this was not the case. For nearly 40 years, the City of Wichita included the Confederate flag in the Bicentennial Flag Pavilion in Veterans Memorial Park. The flag was removed in 2015 following the murder of nine African Americans at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church.[2]

The memorialization of Confederate leaders and sympathizers is nevertheless widespread in Kansas. Of the state’s 105 counties, approximately eighteen are named after slaveowners, prominent Southerners, or Southern sympathizers: Anderson, Atchison, Brown, Butler, Clay, Doniphan, Douglas, Grant, Greenwood, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Linn, Marion, Marshall, Washington, and Wilson.[3] Ten now-defunct Kansas counties were also named for slaveowners or prominent Southerners: Breckenridge, Calhoun, Davis, Dorn, Hunter, Lykins, Madison, McGee, Richardson, and Wise. This latter group includes President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, Confederate Secretary of State Robert M. T. Hunter, Confederate Secretary of War and Major General John C. Breckinridge, and Virginia Governor and later Confederate Brigadier General Henry Wise.[4]


How did this memorialization occur, especially considering Kansas’s reputation as a free state?

Twelve of the eighteen counties, as well as all ten defunct counties, were named by the First Territorial Legislature in 1855. This so-called “Bogus Legislature” was created after thousands of Missourians illegally voted in the 1854 election, skewing the results in favor of those who supported slavery. Not surprisingly, these pro-slavery men decided to name newly formed counties after prominent Southerners. Two of the most vociferous backers of slavery to receive namesake counties were Mississippi Senator Albert Brown and Missouri Senator David Atchison. Brown’s desire to spread slavery didn’t stop with Kansas. He argued for extending slavery to Central America as well, stating, “I would spread the blessings of slavery, like the religion of our Divine Master, to the uttermost ends of the earth.”[5] David Atchison played a prominent role in efforts to make Kansas a slave state. In 1856, he led an attack on Lawrence, in which he called on his companions “never to slacken or stop until every spark of free-state, free-speech, free-n******, or free in any shape is quenched out of Kansaz [sic]!”


In the years after 1855, as free state forces gained control of the territorial and then state legislature, they “inaugurated the work of effacing the names of traitors from the map of Kansas.” By the end of the Civil War in 1865, the number of counties bearing the names of prominent Southerners had been whittled down to 17. Davis County, named after Jefferson Davis, was the last to be renamed. In 1889, the Kansas legislature passed House Bill 678, changing Davis County to Geary County in honor of John W. Geary, Union Major General and third Governor of Kansas Territory. Most Kansans approved of this change. The Sabetha Herald called the move “a triumph of justice” and the Holton Recorder declared it “a shame that the stigma was not removed years ago.” However, some local residents were not as fond of the name change. In 1890, they unsuccessfully lobbied to have the name changed back to Davis, this time in honor of Judge David Davis of Illinois.[6]

Although 18 Kansas counties continue to be named after slaveowners, prominent Southerners, or Southern sympathizers, they are outnumbered by the approximately 37 counties named after Union officers and soldiers, many of whom died in combat during the Civil War. These include Stafford County, named for Captain Lewis Stafford of the 1st Kansas Infantry, Russell County, named for Captain Avra Russell of the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, and Trego County, named after Captain Edgar Trego of the 8th Kansas Volunteer Infantry. 


[1] “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 1, 2019, https://www.splcenter.org/20190201/whose-heritage-public-symbols-confederacy (accessed August 4, 2020).

[2] In 2016, the City of Wichita replaced the Confederate flag with the Reconciliation Memorial, an obelisk honoring all Union and Confederate veterans of “the War Between the States.” As of June 2020, there had been no official action to remove the marker. The Southern Poverty Law Center does not currently include the obelisk in its list of public symbols of the Confederacy. Nadya Faulx, “As Confederate Monuments Come Down Across U.S., Wichita Memorial Comes into Question,” KMUW, June 25, 2020, https://www.kmuw.org/post/confederate-monuments-come-down-across-us-wichita-memorial-comes-question (accessed August 4, 2020).

[3] Perhaps no other man worked harder to defeat the institution of slavery and protect the rights of African Americans than Ulysses S. Grant. Grant did however, briefly own a slave prior to the Civil War and is therefore included in this list. Nick Sacco, “The Mystery of William Jones, an Enslaved man Owned by Ulysses S. Grant,” Journal of the Civil War Era, December 7, 2018, https://www.journalofthecivilwarera.org/2018/12/the-mystery-of-william-jones-an-enslaved-man-owned-by-ulysses-s-grant/ (accessed June 26, 2020).

[4] Earl Van Dorn was a major general in the Confederate States Army. It is unclear whether now defunct Dorn County was named after him or Andrew Jackson Dorn, who served as a colonel in the CSA. Most likely, Calhoun County was named for slave-owning Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. It may also have been named for the first Surveyor General of Kansas John Calhoun.

[5] Tony Horwitz, Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2011), 38.

[6] Sol Miller, Kansas Chief (Troy), February 28, 1889, 2; “Geary County,” Kansas City Daily Gazette, February 28, 1889, 2; Flora P. Hogbin, Sabetha Herald, March 7, 1889, 4; M. M. Beck, Holton Recorder, March 7, 1889; 1; “Good Suggestions,” Junction City Tribune, January 9, 1890, 3.

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