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Kansas Heritage: Ford County

Aimed at preserving the heritage of central and western Kansas

Ford County Map 1899

Ford County map

Prentis, Noble Lovely. "History of Kansas". Winfield, KS: E. P. Greer, 1899.

Amish Village

Two different group of the Amish settled in Ford County during the early 1900's. One group settled in the southeast part near Bucklin and Ford. The other group settled to the south and southwest of Dodge City.

On February 23, 1906, the first Amish families in Ford County arrived to make their home in the area. The community thrived and grew until 1914 or 1915 when their wheat crops failed. Several families moved somewhere else, and when a flu epidemic broke out in 1919 and 1920, more families left to go back east. By 1928, the last remaining families had moved and the Amish community by Dodge City was no longer in existence.

Bellefont

J. A. Cline and George M. Hoover were owners of the land on which Bellefont was platted in 1885. Hoover sold his platted land 3 years later to William H. Moffitt who added another 12 blocks. The railroad did not build a junction there as was anticipated, so the hope of the founders for Bellefont to become a thriving community fell through. There was a general store, a grocery store, and a depot in the early years of the town's existence.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Bucklin

Founded by the Rock Island Railroad on May 10, 1887, as a division point on the rail line, Bucklin was named after a Rock Island civil engineer. The Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska Railroad made its first trip to Bucklin by October 17, 1887, and the town became connected to Dodge City via rail lines in 1888.

In the summer of 1887, Bucklin experienced a boom with 31 buildings standing that housed 2 grocery stores, 2 general merchandise stores, a hardware store, a blacksmith, and a lumber yard, along with other businesses. A hotel and a depot were in business by that fall.

Then a drought began in the 1890's and the enterprising town lost businesses and people. By 1905, there were new businesses in the town once again.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Dodge City

Founded by civilian residents of Fort Dodge to provide supplies for buffalo hunters and the railroad, Dodge City became one of the most famous towns on the frontier. The Santa Fe Railroad had built its tracks to Dodge City by September 5, 1872, and the post office opened later in the month on the 23rd.

Originally set to be called Buffalo City, that name was turned down because there was a Buffalo Station in Kansas. Named for the fort nearby, Dodge City's days as "Queen of the Cowtowns" lasted until 1885 when the cattle trade died down. Merchants moved in with families and the 1880's were a boom period for the area.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Bloom

The Thomas J. Vanderslice family, with 3 boys, bought a section of land in Ford County in the early 1880's and built homes there. The brothers' well they had dug became a stopping point for travelers along the Santa Fe Trail. They called the area Bloomberg, after their Pennsylvania hometown, and it was later shortened to Bloom.

Even before there were rumors of the railroad coming, Bloom became a busy area serving travelers, cowboys, and homesteaders. In 1888, the Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska Railroad crossed the section just a little bit south of the Vanderslices' home. Homes and businesses were moved to be closer to the rail line. There was a hotel, 3 grocery stores, a post office and a school in 1888.

By 1893, the town was longer an active one because of the effects of the drought. Many of the buildings were moved or torn down. Just two families remained in Bloom after 1893: the S. O. Albright family and the Oscar J. Andrews family. There were also some cattlemen in the area. These cattlemen needed a store, so in 1908, Mr. Albright, an original homesteader, opened a store, and two years later the town had other businesses, including a hotel, a drug store and a lumber yard.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Ford

Andrew Russell, who organized the Ford Town Company in 1885, platted the town site on May 15 of that same year. It was named Ford because of it being the site of the only ford on the Arkansas River within the eastern part of the county.

Just to the north of Ford, another town sprung up across the river. It was called Ryansville, after Pat Ryan, an early settler in the area, and was platted in September 1885. There was a rivalry between the two towns and due to some land dealings with the railroad, Ford got the right-of-way from the Rock Island Railroad, which ultimately led to the demise of Ryansville.

The newspaper, two hotels, a drug store and a lumber yard were among the business that moved from Ryansville to Ford. Eventually, the two towns formed the Union Town Company, and 30 blocks were annexed to Ford's existing blocks. The first train came through on November 25, 1887.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Mexican Village

The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad hired laborers from Mexico to work for them in the early 1900's after not having enough labor locally in the Dodge City area. They were offered homes, as well as employment. There were about 10 houses, which would probably have been shacks, and laborers who came later pitched tents or built shacks. Demand increased for more space for the railroad operation, so he village moved east.

At this new site, 3 sections of row houses were built,; some using bridge timbers and the rest using scrap lumber. Eventually the village had a grocery store, a dance hall, a church and a school. It was a very close-knit community which was pretty much isolated from the Dodge City community. Father John Mark Handley was the person responsible for getting a school building for the children built in the village. It was a frame building which was replaced in 1921 by a two room public school. The original school building became the church. The school, known as Coronado School, existed until 1948.

As the railroad changed to diesel from steam power, it forced the people in this village to make way for improvements. The row houses were demolished to make room for a fuel tank during World War II. By the 1950's, the Mexicans had left the area and there was no longer a village. 

Howell

Originally known as Morrison Station, a stop along the railroad tracks where trains could pass each other, Howell was the name of the post office there from June 2, 1886-October 31, 1888. The boom years for this town were in the 1880's and early 1890's as the population reached 150 people. A post office opened again on November 26, 1895, but like its predecessor, closed in April 1897, after operating about 2 years. Later, in 1916, a post office was once again established, but closed several years later after rural mail service began in the county.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Source

Ford County Historical Society. "Dodge City and Ford County, Kansas 1870-1920: Pioneer Histories and Stories." Dodge City, KS, 1996.

Homesteading in Ford County

Before the county was formed, people were traveling on its land for 50 years along the Santa Fe Trail. The trail opened in 1821, and the land that eventually became Ford County has about 100 miles of trail due to several different routes. The Wet and Dry Routes that unite in Eastern Ford County, the Lower Crossing of the Cimarron Cutoff, the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road, and the Middle Cimarron Crossing. as well as the main trail, are what made up the Santa Fe Trail in Ford County.

A petition to form a new county was sent to Governor James M. Harvey on October 14, 1872, and the proclamation was received in April 1873. Governor Thomas A. Osborn signed the proclamation. An election for county officers and the county seat was held on June 8.

Ford County was named in honor of Second Colorado Cavalry officer Colonel James H. Ford who was a commander at Fort Dodge.

Settlers homesteaded most of the land, but some of the land was purchased from 2 different sources. Those sources were the Osage Treaty lands and the Santa Fe Railroad land grant.

Dodge City, the winner of the county seat election, became a major shipping center after the Santa Fe Railroad came there in 1872. It also became a cattle town during the peak years of 1875-1885.

Kingsdown was founded by English settlers and was named after the "Downs" in England. Windthorst, a community founded by German Catholics, was created to support the school and church that had already been built. The Dodge City area was home to a Mexican village founded in the early 1900's to house the workers for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. Lasker was one of the Jewish Agricultural colonies founded in Kansas.

Kingsdown

James A. Fishback, a settler in the area deeded part of his land to the Rock Island Railroad on April 13, 1887, and on May 13, sold another part of his land to the South Ark (Arkansas) Valley Town Company. Settlers from the east came to this area and it was called Kingsdown. The name came from the "downs" in England. Downs are open grasslands, and as one story goes, an English homesteader was heard to say that the prairies reminded him of the King's Down.

The Rock Island Railroad built a roundhouse, a depot and section houses in Kingsdown during 1887-1888. But because of bad economic times, the railroad had left and the land was sold for taxes by 1898. The railroad came back in 1910 after new businesses that had started were doing well and houses were being built. A new depot was built later that year and the railroad stayed until the depot was closed in 1968.

The ethnicity of its settlers is most likely English.

Lasker

A group formed in Russia in the 1870's to train Jewish people to farm land in America, Am Olam, was the founder of Lasker in 1884 or 1885, depending on whose story one goes by. This group saw agriculture as a way to get out from the unrest going on in Russia at the time. The colonies they founded stressed a utopian farming movement with a philosophy of "back to the land". Because of their determination, Lasker was moderately successful.

Michael Helprin was the head of the Montefiero Agricultural Aid Society and an avid supporter of the Am Olamites. He wrote later that Lasker was founded in April of 1885 by 17 emigrants, and their land was about 9 square miles. By the spring of 1887, the population had increased to 200 people.

The other story of Lasker's beginnings states that it was started in 1884. Gabriel Davidson and Edward A. Goodwin published an article titled "The Jewish Covered Wagon" in a 1932 issue of "The Jewish Criterion". They said that the colonists who settled here had originally planned to settle at the Montefiore Colony in Pratt County. However, there was no land available, so they got covered wagons and traveled over the plains of southern Kansas to find a new spot for their colony. Davidson and Goodwin claimed that the new colony site was 40 miles from Ford City. That claim and the 1884 date are disputed by others due to what the land and post offices records show. Those records say that Lasker was actually 6 to 10 miles from Ford City, and that the homestead claims were made in 1885 and 1886.

Davidson and Goodwin also claim that Lasker ceased to exist in 1886 because a land company bought large parcels of land for irrigation purposes in the area from the colonists. Again, this is highly unlikely because the land records show that the land was still in the hands of the colonists.

Accounts written by Michael Helpern and the Ford City newspaper show that Lasker was booming in 1886-1887. It also became the home of colonists who had lived at Montefiero, but moved to Lasker in May 1886.

It really isn't known why Lasker died, but the years of 1888-1891 were extreme weather years, and land records show that many claims were sold during those years. These were claims of both the Jews and the Gentiles. By 1891, there were no Jewish landowners in the area of Lasker.

Sources

Douglas, Donald M. "Forgotten Zions: Jewish Agricultural Colonies in Kansas in the 1880's." Kansas History 16 (Summer 1993): 108-119.

Harris, Lloyd David. "Sod Jerusalems: Jewish Agricultural Communities in Frontier Kansas". Masters Thesis, University of Oklahoma, 1984.  

Spearville

The town site of Spearville was named for Alden Speare, the president of the Santa Fe Land Company. It was platted in March 1873 and is located 16 miles east of Dodge City. By 1885, there was a lively business district consisting of supply stores, grocery stores, a bank and several other services.

Spearville was close to the German community of Windthorst and after a railroad venture to Windthorst failed, the Germans shopped and worked in Spearville.

Asa Soule, a New York millionaire, financed the Soule Canal which was to be an irrigation ditch that would provide water from the Arkansas River to Gray and Edwards Counties, as well as Ford County. Building for the canal began in 1884, and by 1887, as the construction came near Spearville it was starting to be a failure due to other projects upstream and the drought. By 1890, the Eureka Irrigation Canal was no longer a viable way to use the Arkansas River water.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.

Windthorst

In 1872, a group was formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, to look at places that would offer them better opportunities. The group, which consisted of tailors, blacksmiths, and carpenters, as well as other laborers, was called the German Catholic Aurora Homestead Association. They corresponded with a priest from Newton, Kansas, who then worked with a land agent from the Santa Fe railroad to find some land for the association.

The land that was chosen was 10 miles southwest of Offerle, Kansas. The deal was made in 1877 and a town was mapped out with the locations of the school, church and cemetery. There was also a possibility that the railroad would build a branch line from Offerle to the new town, which was called Windthorst. The line was never built, and as a result, the town of Windthorst never materialized with a business district. However, a community was formed around the church, school and parish hall. The first church was built in 1879, and in 1913, the present-day church was built. 

Wright

Wright was founded in 1887 on the Stage Coach Line stop located seven miles northeast of Dodge City. The town was named for the owner of the stockyard on the Santa Fe line, Robert Wright. It did not become the cattle market its founders were hoping for, but eventually had a newspaper, several businesses, and a thriving grain and shipping company.

The ethnicity of its settlers is unknown.