Abilene – Queen of the Kansas Cowtowns

Alamo Saloon, Abilene, Kansas

Alamo Saloon, Abilene, Kansas, by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

However, Wild Bill did have to do some marshaling when shots were heard near the Alamo Saloon on October 5, 1871. Discovering that it was a man named Phil Coe who had shot at a dog that had tried to bite him, Wild Bill explained to Coe that firearms were not allowed in the city.

But, for whatever reasons, all hell broke loose and Coe sent a bullet Hickok’s way. Bill returned the fire and shot Coe twice in the stomach. Suddenly, Hickok heard footsteps coming up behind him and turning swiftly; he fired again and killed Deputy Mike Williams. Coe died three days later. (See Hickok-Coe Gunfight)

By this time, Abilene had had enough. The city fathers told the Texans there could be no more cattle drives through their town and two months later, dismissed Hickok as city marshal. It was the last big year for Abilene, as more than 40,000 head of cattle were shipped out by rail. New railheads were by then built to Newton, Wichita, and Ellsworth, becoming the favored shipping points. During its four year reign, over 3 million head of cattle were driven up the Chisholm Trail and shipped from Abilene. With the cowboys gone, the town quieted down into a peaceful, law-abiding community.

Old Abilene Town, Kansas

Old Abilene Town, Kansas

Later, Abilene could make another claim to fame when future President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s family moved there from Denison, Texas in 1892. Eisenhower attended both elementary and high school in the city and always called it “home.” When he died, it became his final resting place, along with his wife, Mamie, and one son.

By 1910, Abilene had moved on and boasted a population of 4,118. Its location at the junction of the Union Pacific, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads made it an important shipping point, and large quantities of grain and livestock were annually exported. By this time, the city had also diversified, having a number of manufacturers including flour mills, creameries, foundries, an organ factory, planing mills, cigar, carriage and ice factories, and more.

Today, the City of Abilene is a diversified agricultural community boasting a population of some 6,500 people. It remains the county seat of Dickinson County.

Lebold Mansion, Abilene, Kansas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

Lebold Mansion, Abilene, Kansas by Kathy Weiser-Alexander.

The city provides a number of museums and attractions featuring its rich history including the Eisenhower Center, consisting of a Visitors Center, Presidential Museum, Research Library, and the original Eisenhower family home; the Dickinson County Historical Museum, which features life on the plains during the westward expansion period; the C.W. Parker Carousel, a 1900 National Landmark; American Indian Art Center dedicated to promoting native American artists in the region, and more.

An absolute “must see” in Abilene is the reconstructed “Old Abilene Town.” An authentic replica of the cattle capital as it was during its roaring hey-days, Old Abilene Town is not far from the original townsite. Though most of the buildings have been recreated, several of them, including all of the log structures and the red schoolhouse, are the originals.

They were moved to the site and rebuilt. The Merchant’s Hotel is an almost exact replica of the original hotel of the same name, and the Alamo Saloon is a duplicate of the most famous early day house that kept open around the clock to entertain the cowboys.

The site is open all year, but from May through October, gunfighters can be seen on the main street several times a day on weekends and stagecoach rides are available. Additionally, the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railway provides excursion tours of the Smoky Hill River Valley six days a week from May through October.

Old Abilene Town is located at 200 SE 5th Street in Abilene.

More Information:

City of Abilene
P.O. Box 519
201 NW Second St.
Abilene, Kansas 67410
785-263-2231 or 800-569-5915


Cattle in Abilene, Kansas today

Cattle in Abilene, Kansas today

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated March 2019.

Also See:

Abilene Photo Gallery

Joseph G. McCoy – Kansas Cattle Baron

Kansas Cowtowns – Lawlessness on the Prairie

Thomas “Bear River” Smith – Marshalling Abilene

Wild Bill Hickok & The Dead Man’s Hand

Wild & Woolly Cowtowns

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *