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Decatur County, Kansas

Decatur County, Kansas, was once the hunting grounds of Plains Indians. After white settlers arrived to claim lands, conflicts arose when these different cultures and lifestyles clashed. One such conflict occurred during the Plains Indian Wars in 1878.

Decatur County, Kansas, organized in 1879, was named for Commodore Stephen Decatur, who fought in the Tripolitanian Wars (1801-1805) and the War of 1812. He was killed during a dual in 1820.

The Northern Cheyenne resisted government efforts to move them to reservation lands in Indian Territory. In one attempt 937 Northern Cheyenne men, women, and children were persuaded to move south where they suffered from lack of food and medicine. In September 1878 they fled the reservation to return north to their home in Montana. On their path traveling northward they lived off the land. They stole food, cattle, and horses; destroyed property; and killed settlers as they passed through Sheridan, Decatur, and Rawlins counties. These losses had a devastating effect on the settlers. Many of the Northern Cheyenne surrendered in Nebraska. A few members reached Montana and surrendered to military authorities. After the government’s decision to return the group to Indian Territory, members made an escape attempt resulting in the death of 60 to 70 men, women, and children. 

Decatur County sodhouse, 1880s

Decatur County properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Register of Historic Kansas Places include the Bank of Oberlin and Norcatur City Hall. In 1886 the Bank of Oberlin was created where the county seat was located. Following a national economic crisis in 1893, the bank closed a year later. Norcatur City Hall was built in the 1930s as a project of the Works Progress Administration.

Sol Reese, a scout for the army at Fort Wallace, farmer, and fur trapper, was the subject of the book Border and the Buffalo.

Quick Facts

Date Established: March 20, 1873
Date Organized: December 15, 1879
County Seat: Oberlin
Kansas Region: Northwest
Physiographic Region: High Plains
Courthouse: 1926-1927


1873 - Decatur County is established on March 20
1878 - Cheyennes invade the county and cause destruction
1879 - County is organized on December 15
1936 - 1937 - Works Progress Administration project Norcatur City Hall is built

More on Decatur County

Entry: Decatur County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.