C. L. Brown was one of the first to file on land in old Buffalo county, coming there in May, 1878. He says the settlers worked fast in those days. Two men, Mason and Coulson, who had also come there in the spring of `78, and himself, were driving to Larned that fall after supplies, when they met some men with wagons. After a brief conversation they found the men were headed toward Buffalo county.
When the Brown party returned home after a few days, they discovered that the men they had met on the road, under the leadership of John Bull, had settled in their neighborhood. They had already located claims, and more than that, they had staked out a townsite, and intended to make it a county seat. They were also out circulating a petition to get a post office, although it was hard to find any bona fide inhabitants.
John Bull was born in Quebec, Canada, in 1847. He came to Buffalo county, Kansas, November 16, 1878, and filed on the northwest quarter of Sec. 3, T. 22, R. 28. His first shelter was a half dugout of one room built of rock which he quarried from the Pawnee creek, and in this he put a stock of merchandise. The place was first called Mason in honor of Seamon Mason, and was the second attempt to locate a county seat in Buffalo county. A post office was established January 9, 1879, and Samuel Wood was appointed postmaster. Mr. Bull's efforts to get a water supply at this point proved unavailing, and he took another claim near a spring three miles west. This he also released a little later. In 1880 he pre-empted the southwest quarter of the same section which was the scene of his activities for several years. At this time, February 15, 1880, the name of the post office was changed to Cowland, to moderate the term "Bull town".
Cowland was advertised as a beautiful village on the Pawnee, and the Hotel Golding sheltered many weary travellers, early speculators and cattle men. That region was divided up into cattle ranges, and the name "Cowland" seemed a very appropriate one and corresponded with the character of the country and its industry. It was the address given by a number of noted cattlemen.
As the seasons became more favorable, the county began to be settled up numerously by men who wanted to farm and objections were made to the name Cowland. A town meeting was called with the idea of changing the name. James Cross suggested the name of his native town in Ohio, Ravenna, and by vote, it was selected, but in making out the official papers, the government spelled it Ravanna. This occurred September 25, 1885.
Mr. Bull became the "Merchant Prince" of Garfield county, and continued to sell goods at Ravanna for eleven years under the name of John Bull and Co. His wife was the "Company". At one time Mr. Bull was the proprietor of the leading store, the blacksmith shop, the harness shop and the butcher shop. Later other stores were added to the town. A building for church purposes was erected, the first preacher being Elder Booth of the M.E. denomination. Mr. Bull was the first pastor of the Christian church, while the first school-teacher in the town was Miss Agnes Sinclair, whom Mr. Bull hired to teach the neighborhood private school.
During the time that Ravanna was the county seat the town soon reached a population of 700. The Ravanna Chieftain was established April 22, 1896, with M. L. Hart editor. He was a town booster and extolled its beauty. He talked railroads, advocated a Hook and Ladder Fire Company and a telephone line to Cimarron. Alexander and Rody became editors of the Chieftain in
the fall of `87, and were active in the county seat fight. They devoted considerable space to berating the poor Eminence fools who seemed to think there were some slight irregularities in the election recently held.
Ferris and Enos were editors and publishers of the "Kansas Sod House", which was published in Ravanna in 1887; it was later edited by Thomas & Co. The Essex Sunbeam was moved to Ravanna and was called "The Enquirer" and was published there for a year. The Ravanna Record appeared July 15, 1887, with Enos and Davis editors. They at once proceeded to show the futility of trying to disorganize the county on such a small technicality as being a few acres short of requirement. They printed some pictures showing Friedman and McCoy, Eminence butcher and hotel men, grinding cats and dogs to make hash.
In 1886 the advertisers were as follows: Bennett & Weaver, contractors; Gorden, blacksmith; Chalfont, undertaker; Murphy, physician and druggist; O.W. Crow, dentist; W.B. Jones, dentist; Johnson & Alleman, contractors; John Maehl, carpenter; John Bull, merchandise and windmills; G.L. Ensign, merchandise; W.D. Herman, real estate and law; Harper's Livery Barn; G.W. Parker, auctioneer; Golden, groceries; Goldford & Swartzman, merchandise; W.E. Collins, stage driver to Garden City; A.R. Wise, pianos and organs; Bank of Ravanna, J.F. Crocker, cashier; and Wm. Speck's Hotel was completed the summer of `86.
July the Fourth of 1886 was a big day. People came in on horseback and in farm wagons for miles to celebrate. The biggest attraction was Lee Price who did some fancy tight-rope walking. The rope was stretched from the tops of two story buildings, across Main Street.
A $I0,000 court house was built at Ravanna in 1889 after bonds had been voted by the county. It was built of rock from the Pawnee quarries, two stories high and a large basement. Bonds were also voted to build a two story school building of native white rock.
In a few years it became evident that the region was, after all, better adapted for raising cattle than grain. In order to build up the industry Mr. Bull conceived the idea of establishing a cheese factory. This inspired the settlers to engage in the dairy business. His cheese products won prizes at state fairs and were shipped to many cities. This industry was a big thing for the early settlers of Garfield county. Mr. Bull left Ravanna about 1890 and became widely known as a minister of the gospel. He died at his home in Cimarron, Kansas, in 1930.
Ravanna lost the county seat in 1889. Following that was a series of bad seasons, and most of the settlers left the county which was disorganized in 1893, and the town was abandoned. All that remains of Ravanna is the school house, some farm buildings, and the crumbling ruins of the court house. There is not even a post office to make it an official point on the map.
Note: Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, which can be ordered through the Finney County Historical Museum.