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Settlement of Southwest Kansas

Those pioneer men of Western Kansas who came and who remained in spite of drouths and discouragement, really enjoyed that life as they first found it here. But it was hard on the women, the majority of whom had been reared in homes of comfort and culture in the east. They tried to be optimistic and worked out their part nobly, but they suffered loneliness and privations. Mrs. B. L. Stotts came with her husband to Garden City in 1881, and has since learned to love the country, but she almost shrinks from any mention of those first years. She says:

"I never took any credit to myself for being a pioneer, having gone to Colorado in 1870, when the Indians were still making periodical raids on the settlers. There was some spice in that life, but being a pioneer in Western Kansas was different. The spring and summer we came here, 1881, was very dry. For nine consecutive months there was not a single drop of rain. There were no trees. Some cottonwood cuttings had been set out along the streets of Garden City, but as yet furnished no shade, and the soap weeds, the largest thing here, furnished very little.

"Each day the sun arose in a blaze of glory, each succeeding day more dazzling than the one before. We kept our eyes turned heavenward looking for clouds, not being so presumptious as to expect rain, but merely seeking a dimmer for the intense sunlight. We saw in the mirage limpid lakes of sparkling water, buildings which might have been churches and theaters, and beautiful groves of stately trees, but it all kept just out of reach and the blazing sun shone on. The certainty that it would be on the job again in the morning took away the pleasure of its setting.

"We drank water from driven wells not more than eight or ten feet deep, and rank with alkali. We suffered for ice, though in case of sickness we were sometimes able to get it from the passenger trains.

"The awful monotony was killing. There was nothing to do, nothing to see and no where to go, and should we have attempted to go anywhere we would only have become lost, for there were only a few dim trails leading to the claims of a few settlers, so we women crept about from house to house. There was no use to hurry; we had all the time there was. Our conversation each day was a repetition of that of the day before and always concerned the awfulness of living in such a desert, where the wind and the sun had full sweep.

"Frequently on wash day, a line of clothes would be seen sailing through the air. On one of those occasions after a woman had rescued and washed her clothes for the second time, she was heard to repeat language similar no doubt to some she had heard her husband use. It was a time to try women's souls. I never heard the men complain, and as a sect, I was sure they did not require much to satisfy them. I am sure the children were sensible of their hardships. One day my little son came into the house, threw himself on the floor in the abandonment of grief, and howled out, `Mamma, will we always have to live here?' and when in my desperation I told him that I thought we would, he, with a more desperate howl, cried out, `and will we have to die here, too?'

"We old timers smile now when we meet, and it's a knowing smile the newer population does not understand, for we are rich in experience."

The following sketch was written by C. A. Loucks of Lakin, Kansas:

"Probably no woman in the history of the pioneers of Western Kansas has contributed more to the welfare and happiness of humanity during that period than Amy M. Loucks. She was born in Pennsylvania in 1843. She received a high school and academic education. Through association with a brother who was a physician, she became interested in the science of medicine and surgery.

"In 1866 she married William P. Loucks, and in 1879 they moved to Lakin. At that time Kearny county was unorganized territory, as was most of the western part of the state. It was entirely a cow country, there being no substantial settlement. There was no school, churches or other organized society. The nearest doctor was at Dodge City, seventy-five miles away. Lakin was on the Santa Fe railroad and consisted of a depot, an eating house, the house in which the agent lived, a store operated by John O'Laughlin, who supplied cattle ranches, buffalo hunters, and the travelers on the Santa Fe trail, and the town had a saloon.

"Mrs. Loucks ability and helpfulness made her a friend to all who were in distress. She treated their injuries, nursed them to health, or said a prayer at their death. To show her resourcefulness and ability, we may relate a few instances: A man had been scalped by the Indians and left on the prairie for dead. He was found and brought to Lakin. The scalp had not been entirely removed, but was pulled down over his eyes. She replaced the scalp, stitched it with a fiddle string and a common needle, and nursed him back to health, communicated with his relatives in the east and sent him to them. Although the poor fellow lived for many years, he never regained his sanity.

"A posse summoned her to treat a badly wounded prisoner. With a small vial of carbolic acid as an antiseptic, a knitting needle as a probe, and a pair of common pincers, she removed the bullet and saved the man's life.

"At another time, with a razor as a lance and her embroidery scissors, she removed three fingers from the crushed hand of a railroad brakeman.

"In those days the railroad ran immigrant trains. One day the conductor telegraphed Mrs. Loucks to meet the train on its arrival at Lakin. She found a woman who was about to become a mother, and before she could be removed to a private place, it was necessary for Mrs. Loucks to perform the act of mid-wifery on the freight truck on the depot platform.

"A railroad wreck occurred near Lakin in which several employees were killed, and many passengers were injured. Mrs. Loucks administered first aid to a score or more, awaiting the arrival of a special train from Dodge City carrying their railroad surgeon. In appreciation of this act, H. R. Nickerson, the Division Superintendent, and later president of the company, gave her a pass, which courtesy was extended as long as he was connected with the railroad.

"Not only did she minister to the afflicted, but she was always doing those things which promote the general welfare and happiness of the country. In 1879 she organized and taught the first school in Kearny county. This was a subscription school and there were but 17 pupils enrolled, including her two sons. She was instrumental in organizing the first church in Lakin."

The only schools in Southwest Kansas in those early years were financed by private subscriptions. As for text books, they were odds and ends from as many states as there were families represented. Garden City became an organized district the fall of 1880, and was the first to employ a teacher with a certificate. No other districts were organized until 1884.

Churches and Sunday schools were few and far between and were held in private homes or barns, until later years when school houses were built and used for that purpose. Garden City, Sherlock, Pierceville, and all points along the railroad had men who were able to preach and conduct religious services. These were attended by all classes and by a much larger per cent of the people than today, when there are many fine churches.

Services in Garden City were first held in the Landis and Hollinger building, which was built in 1879, or the Red Lion Livery stable. The Rev. H. S. Booth was conducting a service on Sunday in the Red Lion Livery stable when a bunch of drunken cowboys came in and sat down by the stove. They began to feel good as they got warmed up and tried to break up the meeting. B. L. Stotts was sitting pretty close to them and he raised up and asked them politely to keep quiet. But the cowboys took it for a joke and opened up, louder than ever. Mr. Stotts then got up and walked to the front. He asked the minister to let him have the floor for a minute, and he proceeded to address the cowboys.

"Now, if you fellows want to remain in here you are welcome, but if you stay, you will have to behave like men."

He was answered by a drunken twitter. Mr. Stotts then picked up a chair and placed it by the side of Rev. Booth, and he continued.

"The first fellow who makes any disturbance will have to be carried out that door.

The drunken laugh was smothered for Mr. Stotts had calmly sat down by the side of the preacher, and across his knees lay a big six shooter. His fame as a crack shot had never been doubted by anyone. Thus he sat through the service, and the audience remained deadly quiet, if not appreciative.

The early settlers were left entirely on their own re sources for amusements. The literary was perhaps the first organization and the programs consisted entirely of "home talent", but they were very interesting and heartily enjoyed. Picnics and dances were common, and holidays were all observed. The first Fourth of July celebration in this region was held at Garden City in 1879. People came in wagons and on horseback for many miles, and they were all surprised that there were so many people really living in the country.

The following was the order of the program.
  • National salute at daylight, 38 guns.
  • Military parade led by the band at 10 o'clock. Then the program continued at the new Finnup building, which Frederick Finnup donated for the occasion.
  • Vocal music; Prayer.
  • Declaration of Independence, read by C. J. Jones.
  • Music by the band, and the speeches.
  • Thirteen colonies represented by thirteen little girls.
  • Basket Dinner.
  • Music by the band, responses, and music, Star Spangled Banner.
  • Then followed contests, sack races, horse races, etc.
  • A dance was held at night with twenty couples present.
  • Captain Fulton was chief marshal of the day. The personnel of the band was: Levi Wilkinson, Eb cornet; Frank Wood, 1st; N. F. Weeks, 2nd; Amos Baim, tenor; R. N. Hall, baritone; L. C. Reed, tuba; J. N. Collins, tenor drum; Chas. Weeks, bass.

The Kansas "breezes" and the hot winds succeeded in driving many out of the country in a rage of disgust. Andrew Rinehart, a carpenter who had come from Indiana, declared with appropriate expletives that more than once he had put a weather board in place against the side of a house, and the wind had held it there while he nailed it in position.

The elements seemed to be favoring again the cattle industry and the cattlemen viewed with satisfaction this clearing of the range. The free range law was still in effect and there were cattle and cowboys every where, and the few remaining settlers found it difficult to homestead on the open range. George W. Finnup recalls conditions of the winter of 1880-81:

"That winter was just one snow storm after another. Antelope were thick in those days and drifted in to the edge of town; and cattle drifted down here from the Smoky Hill river, and other localities in northwestern Kansas and western Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming. Many cattle companies had representatives at Garden City to look after their cattle. After a severe storm there would be some nice weather for several days and the boys would say, `Well, we'd better get out and look after the cattle.'

"They would first go east and west up and down the river and haul sand over the ice so that the cattle could cross without danger of injury from falling. They would then gather them up and cross them to the south side of the river. This was necessary in order to protect the interests of both cattlemen and settlers. There was no one living south of the Arkansas river, and the cattle could drift and graze wherever they pleased, but north of the river was a scattering of settlers, all up and down the valley. These had small crops and a few cattle of their own. They had little feed and very little fencing, and they showed no mercy for those strange, storm-driven cattle from northern ranges that would swoop down and destroy and devour all their feed in a night's time. Naturally they were driving them day and night, chasing them with dogs, shooting at them, and of course they always had plenty of fresh beef on hand.

"It was also necessary to keep the range cattle on the south side of the river on account of the Santa Fe railroad tracks. They would get on the tracks and bunch up in the cuts, and the trains would plow through them and kill many every few days. The Santa Fe paid out thousands of dollars for cattle killed in this way during the winter of 1880-8 1, and in order to protect themselves in the future, they fenced their right of way. They fenced the road bed that spring on each side from Dodge City to La Junta, Colorado, a distance of 200 miles, using heavy round cedar posts, eight feet apart, and four galvanized wires.

"After the cattle were crossed to the south side of the river they would travel day and night, up and down, and you could hear them bawling by the thousands. In a few days another storm would come and every head would be gone, drifting on south with the blizzard, but a fresh bunch would come down from the north to again torment the settlers, and the whole crossing process had to be repeated. Thousands died that winter from starvation, as many had been brought up late from Texas and were pretty thin, and they were not used to such a severe climate. Many of the cattle companies went broke that winter.

"The men who were here looking after the cattle were often the managers of the cattle company and were above the average cowboy. Some remained here and married girls they met; among several others were John E. Biggs and Ed L. Wirt. While they were waiting to cross the herds to the south side of the river so they could drift with the storm and get away from the railroad and settlers, the cowboys would pass their time by playing pool or billiards during the day, and at night it would be cards, if there wasn't a dance in town. These dances occurred frequently and they would generally have Chalk Beeson and others to play, from Dodge City.

"That spring dozens of cow outfits came through Garden City and on to the Canadian river of Texas, where they gathered up what was left of their herds. Along in May they brought them back to the Arkansas river, where they camped, in a big round up. For days they were busy cutting them out, and separating them so the different outfits could take their cattle to their own range."

There was never any very serious fueds between the cattle rangers and the homesteaders in Western Kansas. Perhaps the cowboys tried to discourage settlement on their ranges, but they were not desperate about it, and they were always very respectful toward the pioneer women. Mrs. L. E. Thomas, who lived on the range, remarked recently of the cowboys: "Many a time I served meals to cowboys. Did they sit back and let me do all the work? No, they rolled up their sleeves, washed, and then went to work like good fellows. They were always gentlemen as we found them."

After the long drouth period ending in 1882 climatic conditions improved so that immense crops favored the farmers all during 1883-84-85. C. M. Johnston came to this county the spring of 1882, and he recalls the climatic conditions of that year:

"Never having been in a semi-dry climate, I could not get accustomed to the dryness. There was scarcely anything here but distance, and that was only half clad in short grama and buffalo grass. However, when fall set in, it was followed by rains aplenty and there was abundant moisture all during the year of 1883. The summer months of that year I used to ride up on the flats carrying a good-sized basket, returning with it filled with mushrooms, some as large as saucers. That year along the railroad right-of-way the horse weeds, cockle burrs, etc., grew to immense proportions, requiring constant attention of section hands to clear the track for vision. Draws and fertile spots were miniature forests. We tenderfeet were at a loss to figure how, if the country was put under the plow, the crops would be. I have only seen a few seasons like it since."

The word that Western Kansas would produce a big yield of grain and vegetables traveled swiftly. Homesteaders came by thousands, and in a short time there was a shanty on every claim, and speculators began arriving from every state in the Union.

This was all fine for the country and the settlers, but it was a blow to the cattle rangers. Many of the ranchmen had by this time fenced large areas of the government land. The following article appeared in a Dodge City newspaper in the spring of 1885:

"It cannot be denied that the present season thus far has been favorable to the growth of agricultural products. Ranchmen must survey the situation squarely in the face and make preparations to meet it. The days of free range in Kansas are numbered among the things of the past. Ranchmen must hereafter own their grazing lands. All of the government land in Kansas will soon be occupied by settlers or owned in fee simple by individuals. The stock industry will in the future, as in the past, be the main reliance of our people for support. Its character, however, must change. The herds must be in less number and the cattle of a better grade and shelter must be provided during winter months and stock feed should be raised here."

On July 2, 1885, the land commissioners made decision that persons must remove all wire and posts from the government land.

An article which appeared in a Garden City newspaper in the spring of `85 gives a little idea of the intensity of feeling which existed between the settlers and cattlemen:

"Many newcomers are building and plowing on the south side of the river who are hoping that Major Falls will be persuaded not to bring his 20,000 head of cattle here to be branded this summer, but keep them on the Cimarron range. The stock will annoy the settlers and destroy their crops, so that they will soon become discouraged and leave. . . . It is said that stockmen are setting the prairie on fire so we will have a dry season, and the `cussed granger' will be a thousand miles away.

By the spring of 1885 the settlers were coming in so fast as to break up and destroy the range and make it impossible to manage large herds. Boom towns sprang up all over the old range, and boasted of populations they have never had since. John H. Whitson says, "The spring we moved in, 1885, the big cattle ranches were almost gone and the settlers had a song which they sang glee fully:

"It was the tenth of May, God bless the day, When the X Y cowboys went away. "There was no good feeling between the cowboys and the newcomers. And the cowboys of the big X Y ranch, getting intoxicated in Garden City, would race their horses past the sod houses or humble homes of the settlers, emit blood-curdling yells, and fire off their revolvers in order to scare the women and children and intimidate the settlers into leaving."

The last blow to the free-range cattle industry was the blizzards of 1886, which destroyed thousands of head of livestock and financially ruined many of the biggest cattle dealers. It seemed as though the elements and the law had joined forces which brought about a complete victory for the homesteader, for the herd law became operative in Finney county and others of this region June 24, 1886. The effect of this law was to prevent the running at large of all cattle, horses, sheep and other domestic animals. This law is still in effect.

The day of open range and that wild life has passed, but not yet has the last of those old-time cowboys ridden his bronc into the "sunset". A few of the men who made that history are still living and they recount with startling clearness, tales of round-ups, Indians, and the chuck wagon comforts of range life. They picture vividly the terrible blizzards; and at last the tragic fate of their herds, which they found piled in cuts and ravines and frozen to death in deep snow, during the blizzard of 1886.

Note: Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, which can be ordered through the Finney County Historical Museum.

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