Bend - Booming on the Santa Fe Trail
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Situated in central Kansas,
Great Bend is the county seat of Barton County.
The area had long been called home to the
Plains Indians before explorers began
to come to the region, beginning with Francisco Vasquez de
Coronado in 1541. It
really began to see people in numbers when the
Santa Fe Trail
was developed which passed right through what would later become Great Bend,
leaving in its wake a long trail of history including Indian skirmishes, tales
of frontier characters, rowdy
days, and more.
Though Barton County
got its start in 1867, it would be several years before its population
reached the level that it would be officially organized. Prior to
that, the county was attached to Ellsworth County for judicial and
The first settlers came to the area in
about 1870, living in rough dugouts and sod houses, fitted with holes
in the wall to defend themselves against the
Early settlers killed
buffalo and other game to provide food, tanned hides which were
sold to easterners, and a few tried farming but were unsuccessful
because the buffalo tramped down the crops.
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By 1871, the area had grown to enough people that a petition was
presented to the governor asking that the county be organized. In the
same year, Great Bend was laid out by the Great Bend Town Company in
anticipation of county organization and the coming of the
Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The town was named after the
“great bend” of the
a prominent feature noted by early
Santa Fe Trail pioneers.
The first recorded settlers in Great Bend Township were Edward J.
Dodge, who made a homestead entry on January 23, 1871, and D. N.
Heizer, in May of the same year. Some of the other settlers of that
year were John Cook, W. H. Odell, Thomas Morris, George Moses and
The Great Bend Town Company erected the first building, called the Southern
Hotel in the fall of 1871 on what would become the northwest corner of the
public square. The next building was built by Edwin Tyler, a little south of
the Southern Hotel on the west side of the square, part of which was used as
a dwelling, and the other part as a the first store in the fledgling city.
For months, they would be the only buildings in the new “town.” However, that
began to change in the spring of 1872, when a man named James Holland built
another store on the north side of the square. Holland; however, soon went
east to purchase goods and was never heard from again. He was thought to have
been murdered for his money.
In May, a man named A.S. Allen constructed a
drug store on the west side of the square, quickly followed by a grocery and
provision store by Ed Markworth, a hardware store by E.L. Morphy, and another
grocery store by John Cook. Another hotel was also built called the Typer
House, on the east side of the square and Great Bend was officially
incorporated on June 17, 1872. When the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad made its first appearance on July
15, 1872, the town attracted even more settlers. The first publication in the
county was also established that year – the Arkansas Valley, primarily
a publication of the railroad, but its life was short.
Early in 1873, Great Bend held its first election and A.A. Hurd was elected as
its first Mayor. Officers and Commissioners were also elected and by popular
vote, Great Bend was named the the county seat, winning out over Ellinwood and
in Great Bend.
That same year, the Barton County Progress was the next
publication to make its appearance in the county but it also lasted only a few
months. Until that time, there were no public schools in the county, and the
people also voted bonds for that purpose and a very fine two-story frame
schoolhouse was erected, one block west of the public square. That same year, a
two-story stone and brick courthouse was built in the center of the public
square. The first stone and brick business was also built the same year on the
north side of the square. This was the only substantial improvement made until
1876, although several frame businesses and dwelling were erected.
years 1873 through 1875 were interesting years, as it was during this time that
the city became a cattle shipping center, and yet another of the many rowdy Kansas
The cattle trade would usually begin about the first of June and continue until
the middle of October.
A natural consequence of this trade, was lively times
for the merchants while it lasted, and for the more orderly and peaceable
members of the community, a constant dread. However, the advantages in trade
were more than counterbalanced by the disadvantages to society. Like many other
rowdy cowtowns, Great Bend had a number of shoot-outs during this time, the
first of which occurred on July 2, 1873, when Marshall Gainsford killed a drunken
hunter in self defense.
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