(On this date, October 4, 2016, the Osborne County Hall of Fame is pleased to present to the world for the first time anywhere the first member of the OCHF Class of 2016.)
A community leader in his home county for decades, Samuel Eugene Chatfield then became one of the first homesteaders of Osborne County, Kansas. There he was soon called upon to help organize and establish the first county government. 145 years later his contributions to the county’s founding are being rewarded with an induction into the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
Samuel was the tenth of eleventh children born to Joseph and Polly (Payne) Chatfield. He was born May 7, 1818, in Waterbury, New Haven County, Connecticut. There young Samuel grew up well versed in hard work, having learned the trades of the barber and carpentry, as well as studying to be a medical doctor, though he never earned his medical degree.
On October 20, 1838 Samuel married Amanda Merriman, with whom he had a son, Joseph, in 1850. Amanda died from childbirth. Later that year Samuel moved to Bronson in Branch County, Michigan. In the nearby town of St. Joseph, Berrien County, Michigan, he married his second wife, Charlotte Lindley, on July 4, 1851. They would be the parents of four children: Samuel Jr.; Julia; John; and William. Nearly twenty years later Samuel made the decision to leave in search of a home for the family. He moved to Kansas in the latter half of 1870, settling on a 153-acre homestead in northern Osborne County. His family remained behind when he set out west, and it would be nearly fifteen years before two of his children came west to join him. His wife Charlotte stayed in Michigan and obtained a divorce.
When Samuel settled on a homestead in the northeast quarter of Section 6, Township 6 South, Range 12 West, he was one of the first one hundred settlers in Osborne County. At this time the county had not yet politically organized – the boundaries having been surveyed and defined just three years prior – and therefore was legally attached to neighboring Mitchell County as “Manning Township”. But as more and more settlers poured into the newly-settled region over the next year they soon desired their own government, and on June 2, 1871 a great meeting was held at (1996 Osborne County Hall of Famer) Calvin Reasoner’s general store in the town of Arlington. At this meeting the first set of preferred county officials was agreed upon and forwarded to the governor for approval, along with a petition to officially organize Osborne County.
Over the previous year Samuel’s skills as a carpenter, frontier doctor, and natural leader had shown him to be a notable asset to the region, and also being the first and only professional barber in the county did not hurt. His stock among his fellow men was such that at the Arlington meeting he was chosen to be one of the first county commissioners, along with (1996 Osborne County Hall of Famer) Frank Stafford and Charles Cunningham. This appointment was confirmed by the Governor of Kansas in September 1871, who designated the three as “special commissioners” to govern the county until the first official county commissioners could be elected in the November 1871 general election and take their places in January 1872. Samuel was designated chairman of the board of special commissioners.
One of the first duties of the special commissioners was to divide the county into townships that in turn would be grouped into three commissioner districts. Samuel designated the township that included his homestead Bethany Township, and the township to its east he named Ross Township. These two townships comprised the First Commissioner District. In 1872 the western portion of Bethany Township organized itself into a new township, Lawrence, so designated by Samuel and included in the First District.
At the time there was a prolonged fight being waged to determine which town would be declared the permanent county seat. To bolster their claim the town government of Osborne City offered the special commissioners their choice of any block within the city limits, to be given to the county upon which to build the county courthouse and other buildings. On November 22, 1871, commissioner board chairman Samuel Chatfield selected the square on West Penn Street (today’s Main Street) still being used for the county’s purposes.
Also at the time of the Arlington meeting a local government was being organized on Samuel Chatfield’s own farm. The Bethany Post Office was established just to the south of his farm on June 2, 1871, and the southeast portion of his farm became part of the community of Bethany, also established at this time. In 1872 Samuel stepped down as a special commissioner. He proved up his homestead claim and continued to work as a barber and carpenter, even taking on building construction as a line of work.
“The Cawker City Sentinel says that Cawker City has voted bonds for $5,000 to build a school house. On Saturday last the contract was let to Mr. Samuel Chatfield, of the town of Bethany, contractor and builder. The house is to be of magnesian limestone, put up in the most substantial manner, and provided with the latest improved school furniture. Work is to commence immediately, and the house will be completed by the first of August.” – Atchison Daily Champion newspaper, 19 March 1872, Page 5.
Over the next few years Samuel opened a wagon shop in Bethany and frequently visited his family in New York. In 1879 the Union Pacific Railroad built a line through the area that bypassed Bethany on the north. To secure a railroad depot at that site Samuel Chatfield and Philander Judson laid out the new townsite of Portis, which included the eastern half of Chatfield’s land and the western half of Judson’s farm. The plat of the new town was finalized and dated October 11, 1879.
Samuel Chatfield continued to prosper, even being named Bethany Township Justice of the Peace on August 16, 1883. In the 1880 federal census he was listed as being married to a Miriam (also called Marion) Chatfield and living in Portis, Kansas. In March 1887 Miriam obtained a divorce from Samuel, who certainly did not let the grass grow under his shoes; that same year Samuel was back in Bronson, Michigan, where on July 3rd he married Mrs. Margret (Masters) Johnson, joined the Baptist Church, and largely settled down. While there he could not quite escape the public eye, though for a rather unusual reason:
“Samuel Chatfield, of Bronson, Michigan, has in his possession one of the first copper coins ever made in the United States. On one side are thirteen links representing the thirteen States of the Union; the words, ‘United States’, and on a small ring, ‘We are one.’ On the other side are the words ‘Engio,’ ‘1777,’ a ‘rising sun,’ and ‘Mind your own business.’” – Democrat and Chronicle newspaper, Rochester, New York, October 3, 1888, Page 5.
In July 1903 Samuel, now a widow, moved back to Portis and lived his remaining years with his daughter Julia and her family.
MEET AFTER 38 YEARS PASS BY.
“Three old timers of Osborne County who had not met in 38 years accidently ran up against each other in front of Garrett’s store at Portis last week. On May 9, 1871 Robert Addams, father of George Addams of this city, was lying sick at his homestead. He had been ill about three weeks and needed a shave very badly. His son George, then a boy of 12, was with him, and during the day (which was a Sunday) Z. T. Walrond and Sam Chatfield, pioneer settlers of the county, dropped in. Chatfield was a barber and had his tools with him, so the three got the elder Adams up and shaved him.
“Robert Addams died in 1875, and his son George and Chatfield and Walrond never happened to be together again until 38 years afterwards, at Portis last week. Chatfield moved to Wisconsin and only lately removed back to Portis. Walrond moved to Oklahoma and is now commissioner of Indian affairs at Muskogee. He is here now to visit his sister, Mrs. Hutcherson, of Portis. Another curious feature of the meeting of three old friends was the fact that it occurred on Mr. Chatfield’s 90th birthday. Chatfield was the first doctor and first barber in Osborne County. He named the three townships of Ross, Bethany, and Lawrence, the first being named for Senator Edmund G. Ross. These three townships then comprised the first commissioner district. Mrs. Lindley, a sister of Mr. Chatfield, had charge of the first post office in the county. It was at the old town of Bethany, now called Portis. The meeting of these three old settlers was entirely by accident and was much enjoyed by each of them. The conversation naturally took a retrospective turn and each vividly recalled their last meeting at the bedside of Robert Addams 38 years ago.” – Portis Independent, May 16, 1908, Page One.
Samuel Eugene Chatfield passed away at his daughter’s home in Portis on October 25, 1910, aged 92 years, 4 months and 18 days. His final resting place is still a mystery, though it is thought that he lies in an unmarked grave in the Garrett Cemetery in Smith County, Kansas.
SOURCES: Steve Richardson, Cawker City, Kansas; https://ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/74598306/person/42451916375/facts; U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records; The Essentials of the of the Early History of Osborne County, Kansas, unpublished manuscript, compiled by Von Rothenberger (2011); Cawker City Historical Society, Cawker City, Kansas; Atchison Daily Champion, March 19, 1872; Downs Times, August 5, 1880; Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, October 3, 1888; Osborne County News, July 3, 1903 & November 3, 1910; Osborne County Farmer, July 19, 1906; Portis Independent, May 16, 1908.