County Seat Fight

Goodland Defeats Eustis for Sherman County Supremacy

by Tony Parker
Sherman County Star

The county was populated by pioneers, people that came to start a new life in a new place.   They were not adventurers or traders, but people who wanted to take roots and start families.  Then came merchants, doctors, lawyers.  Small villages were founded and each struggled to become a center of trade as well as the county seat, and by the fall of 1886 there were four rival communities: Voltaire, Itasca, Eustis and Sherman Center.   However there were secret powers at work and another town looming on the horizon.

A few of the towns were prosperous.  Voltaire was started on June 15 by a party from Atwood along the South Beaver.  Itasca was started by a Thomas P. Leonard in 1885 on a town site that would lie about one mile south of the railroad crossing on the southwest corner of Goodland.

Eustis was started in April of 1886, and was not welcome in the area by the surrounding towns as promoted by a party from Colby.  This was the biggest so far with over 24 residences just six months after construction, and was the place of new businesses such as a restaurant, a hardware store, and a drug store.

The final Sherman County town site was surveyed in May of 1886 near the geographical center of the county and so named Sherman Center.  It was a place of legislators and criticism similar to that of Eustis, but prospered and grew.

The governor received a request to organize 400 Sherman County households on June 5, 1886.  Many people had arrived in the small towns which were all in contention for the county seat.

Problems existed in the infant county.  Cattleman had undisputed possession of the range lands where huge herds of cattle roamed at will, and the homesteader with a few cattle and little feed was helpless.  Much controversy was stirred up between the cattlemen and the homesteaders of Sherman County.

On Monday, July 12, 1886, a secret meeting was held to organize a group of men who were to protect themselves from the range cattle running at large, and they were named the "Homesteaders Union Association" or H.U.A.  With a series of oaths and vows, the organization would be the most loyal and powerful in the county.  They held meetings in the grand lodge, and decided to stay together and support a ticket of H.U.A. candidates in the fall election as well as a town of their choice for county seat.   The organization continued to grow and include farmers, ranchers, and even business men.

Early in 1887, a stranger by the name of Clark appeared at an office in Sherman Center with a proposition for one of the leading businessmen.  He desired to make a new town between Sherman Center and Eustis which he believed could secure the county seat with help from some men of Fort Wallace.  They planned to name the town Goodland because of the fertile lands in Sherman County.

Contests for county seat at the Grand Lodge of the H.U.A. began on August 27 with propositions from all parties concerning what would be given to the county from each town.   Goodland produced a charter from the state signed by the secretary of state saying the town company was responsible for $100,000.  Their propositions was a courthouse for $8,000, a good jail of two cells, 40 acres of fenced land, a floral hall and a well dug with mill and pump used at the fairgrounds, schoolhouse and other public buildings.

Sherman Center was the next best offer with a $5,000 courthouse and 40 acres of land adjoining the town site.

Eustis proposed a $3,000 courthouse and 40 acres of land. 

Voltaire put in the smallest proposition

A vote was taken with Goodland receiving 66 to 15 for Eustis.  Construction at Goodland began.

Eustis people were jealous as building in Goodland was ambitious and many merchants were moving their building to the new town.

Eustis was still building themselves trying to repossess the respect that Goodland had won over in the county.

The fall election to determine the official, legal county seat was approaching as Sherman Center began to coincide with Goodland.

The regular election was held in Sherman County on November 8, 1887, and it was a victory for Goodland with all of their candidates elected except for one.

However, when canvassing the returns, county commissioners of Eustis found that the towns of Eustis and Voltaire had only one name on each ballot opposed to three for those in Goodland.  The returns were sent into the State Department.

November 22 was the date of the county seat election, and the turnout was large.   By midnight, Goodland was declared the winner with 872 of the 1495 votes cast.   Eustis received 611, and Voltaire received 12.

Before Goodland was declared the winner, a Eustis judge prepared a statement saying that the election was run unfairly with lack of notice, and organization.  Although the election was over, the county commissioners of Eustis intended to remain in office until a legal decision was made regarding the November 8 election.

The State Department decided that the votes were already set and nothing could be done.   The officers that had been elected went to Eustis to demand their elected position, but to no satisfaction.

A series of legal issues with the Supreme Court of the State of Kansas in Topeka and numerous court proceedings followed.  This series of arguments and petitions continued as Eustis refused to give up its title until January 13, 1888.

On a bitterly cold Friday, with the temperature 25 degrees below zero, approximately 85 members of the H.U.A. marched from Goodland to Eustis to forcibly take the county records.

The group proceeded to the Sherman County Bank, a brick building where the records were kept.  The H.U.A. members were armed with Winchesters and turpentine balls.   Since Wednesday of that week, ten Eustis men were stationed with rifles on the second story of Allen's Hall opposite the bank building.  The Eustis major who was to give the signal for the Eustis men to begin firing was immediately seized and threatened for his life if one shot was fired from Allen's Hall.  Turpentine balls would be used to burn the town down if any H.U.A. life was threatened.

The major led the men to the records which were loaded in wagons and rushed back to Goodland.  Not a shot was fired, but the struggle was not yet over.  The governor of the Kansas National Guard sent two members to investigate the situation and decide if the militia was necessary.  H.U.A. members guarded the records of Goodland as Eustis struggled to regain them legally.  Much controversy would accompany the matter for several months.

The fight for the Sherman County seat came to a conclusion by May of 1888.  Eustis had exhausted its efforts, and Goodland was the victor.  Residents and merchants of Eustis moved their buildings to Goodland with ease.

The fight was over and Goodland would prosper and grow as the railroad moved in, and eventually interstate and other highways.