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Kansas Place Names from Long Ago - February 2, 2018

Statue of Confederate General John C. Breckinridge ouside the old courthouse in Lexington, Kentucky. Breckinridge served as U.S. vice president before the Civil War and, at one time, had a county in Kansas named after him. (Photo by Reuters)

Q: For seven years, this Kansas county was named after a Kentucky congressman who also served as vice president of the United States. But when he came out in favor of the southern rebellion and the Confederacy, the freedom-loving people of Kansas changed the county's name. What's the current name of what used to be called Breckinridge County, Kansas?      

A: Lyon County

From 1855 until 1862, Lyon County, Kansas, was named Breckinridge County. It was named after John C. Breckinridge, a Kentucky congressman who also served as vice president of the United States and as a U.S. Senator. But Breckinridge was kicked out of the Senate after he came out in favor of the southern rebellion. As a result, Breckinridge County, Kansas, became Lyon County, named after General Nathanial Lyon, first Union general to be killed in the American Civil War. As for Breckinridge, he served as a general in the Confederate Army and briefly as the southern Secretary of War. Though still revered in Kentucky, Breckinridge became viewed as a traitor by many in the North. Despite differences in spelling, there are still towns in Missouri, Minnesota and Texas named after him.  Breckenridge, Colorado is also named in his honor. However, the Colorado town deliberately changed the spelling of its name when its namesake joined the Confederacy.

Fun factoid: Retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, drill instructor and actor R. Lee Ermey was born in Emporia (the county seat of Lyon County) on March 24, 1944. Ermey is perhaps best known for his movie roles in Full Metal Jacket, Mississippi Burning and the plastic army men leader "Sarge" in the Toy Story films. He also appears regularly as a host on several programs for the History Channel and the Military History Channel.

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