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Pawnee, Kansas
The plats of northern Jefferson Township, Geary County, Kansas, showing Fort Riley and Pawnee across the Kansas River. 1909.
The plats of northern Jefferson Township, Geary County, Kansas, showing Fort Riley and Pawnee across the Kansas River. 1909.
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Coordinates: 39°5′6″N 96°45′42″W / 39.08500°N 96.76167°W / 39.08500; -96.76167Coordinates: 39°5′6″N 96°45′42″W / 39.08500°N 96.76167°W / 39.08500; -96.76167
Country United States
State Kansas
County Geary
Named for Pawnee people
1,053 ft (321 m)
 • Total 0
Time zone UTC-6 (CST)
 • Summer (DST) UTC-5 (CDT)
Area code 785
GNIS ID 482209

Pawnee is a ghost town in Geary County, Kansas, United States, which briefly served as the first official capital of the Kansas Territory in 1855. Pawnee was the territorial capital for exactly five days – the legislature met there from July 2 to July 6 – before legislators voted to move the capital to Shawnee Mission, which is located in present-day Fairway. It may be the shortest-lived capital of any U.S. state or territory (Colorado City also served as the capital of the newly established Colorado Territory for five days in 1862 but was not federally recognized).


One week of glory

Pawnee was located on the far western frontier of Kansas Territory, between the new settlement of Manhattan, Kansas, and the U.S. Army post at Fort Riley. Pawnee was first laid out in 1854. The site was selected as capital by recently-commissioned first Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder after his delayed arrival from Pennsylvania. Governor Reeder had an economic interest in selecting Pawnee, since he was a new landowner in the settlement and had built a house there.

The Territorial Legislature first met in Pawnee on July 2, 1855 composed mostly of pro-slavery delegates fraudulently elected by Missouri residents overrunning the polling places and threatening legitimate voters. Many were unhappy that Reeder had put the capital over 100 miles from the Missouri border, feeling that the location favored the Free-State advocates in Kansas Territory, some of whom were arriving quickly from New England with assistance by the Emigrant Aid Company. So, one of the first actions the legislators took was a vote to move the capital to Shawnee Mission, on the Missouri border. Governor Reeder vetoed the bill moving the capital, but the Territorial Legislature overrode the veto, and the legislators last met at Pawnee on the sixth, just four days after their session began. Their next session was in Shawnee on July 16.

The destruction of Pawnee

Soon after Pawnee lost its designation as capital, Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War (and future President of the Confederate States of America), surveyed the Free-State settlement. U.S. President Franklin Pierce ordered the town destroyed and its land reincorporated into the adjacent Fort Riley. Most of the buildings were demolished by the army subsequent to this order. Only the old capitol building was spared at the location; it is now a museum on Fort Riley property and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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