In the beginning, Johnson County, Kan., was Shawnee Indian territory, but as statehood loomed on the horizon, the government began relocating the various  tribes in Kansas elsewhere.

In the beginning, Johnson County, Kan., was Shawnee Indian territory, but as statehood loomed on the horizon, the government began relocating the various  tribes in Kansas elsewhere.

In 1857, Dr. John T. Barton, who had been a surgeon to the Shawnee, was looking to locate a new town for the county seat near the geographical center of Johnson County. He gathered a few other men to form a survey party, which also included his interpreter, Dave Doughtery, a Shawnee Indian.

When Barton reached the top of a hill, he spotted the perfect location below that he wanted. His interpreter found the site extremely attractive and exclaimed o-la-the, the Shawnee word for “beautiful.” Dr. Barton liked the Indian word so well that he chose it for the new town’s name as he staked off two quarter sections of land for the town site.

Olathe was not the first city established in Johnson County, but it got off to a pretty good start, as it was located along the Santa Fe Trail and quickly became the largest town around the neighborhood. Olathe was indeed named the county seat in October 1859.

The city’s early days were filled with violence as pro-slavery forces from nearby Missouri often clashed with local abolitionists. These conflicts were known on a large scale as “Bleeding Kansas.” As the 1850s came to a close, and as Kansas entered the Union as a free state in 1861, the violence lessened.

However, a year later, William Quantrill and his Bushwhackers surprised the residents and raided the city on Sept. 7, 1862, killing half a dozen men, robbing numerous businesses and private homes and destroying most of the city. The Bushwhackers launched the raid because the people of Olathe were known for their abolitionism.

Catering to travelers along the Santa Fe, California and Oregon trails was the main source of income for local stores and businesses. The Mahaffie House, a popular resupply point for wagons headed westward, is today a registered historical site maintained by the city of Olathe. Staff members wear period costumes, and stagecoach rides and farm animals make the site a favorite among children. Visitors can participate in Civil War re-enactments, Wild West Days and other activities at Mahaffie.

After the construction of the transcontinental railroad, the Western Trails lost importance, and Olathe faded into obscurity and remained a small, sleepy prairie town.

In the 1950s, the construction of Interstate 35 linked Olathe directly to nearby Kansas City. The result was tremendous residential growth as Olathe became a part of the Kansas City metro area. In the 1980s, Olathe experienced tremendous commercial growth, which also drew more residents and upscale housing developments.

Olathe is home to many companies, including Honeywell, Garmin and Farmers Insurance Group. Although Farmers Insurance is based in Los Angeles California, Olathe has more Farmers employees than any other city in the United States. The Air Route Traffic Control Center in Olathe is one of 20 regional centers that cover United States airspace.

The city is also the hometown of actors Willie Aames, Larry Parks, Charles “Buddy” Rogers, Matthew Creed and Adam Jamal Craig of NCIS Los Angeles. The popular Kansas City radio personality Johnny Dare also lives in Olathe. Professional sports players like the NBA’s Manute Bol, the NFL’s Don Davis, San Diego Chargers football player Darren Sproles, football player Richie Pratt and collegiate football coach Mike Gardner all hail from Olathe.

John Anderson Jr., former governor of Kansas, is from Olathe, as well as Governor John St. John and Governor Mark Parkinson. Even Herbert S. Hadley, a former governor of Missouri, and U.S. Congressman Vince Snowbarger are from Olathe. And the peanut pioneer and botanist, George Washington Carver, even called Olathe home for a period of time.

Reference: “1001 Kansas Place Names” by Sondra Van Meter McCoy and Jan Hults.