History, Tales, and Destinations in the Land of Ahs



Barton County, Kansas

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Barton County, Kansas



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Barton County, Kansas old map

Barton County map, 1899.





Nearly in the geographical center of the state, Barton County was created by a Legislative Act in 1867 and was named in honor of Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross Association. The southern half of the county was once part of Washington County, which was created by a Legislative Act in 1855, while the northern portion was first included as part of the unorganized territory attached to the counties lying east of it.


It is thought that the first white men who saw this part of Kansas were the Spaniards under Coronado. The first American to visit Barton County was Lieutenant Zebulon Montgomery Pike, who led an exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1806. On October 13th of that year, Pike reached the most northerly bend of the Arkansas River, about six miles east of the present-day site of Great Bend, where he encamped for several days. Several years later, the Robert McKnight party, with a train of pack mules, followed the trail along the Arkansas River in 1812, and in 1820, Major Stephen Long's expedition passed along practically the same course. This early route later became the historic Santa Fe Trail.


For the next 50 years wagons hauled valuable trading supplies up and down the Santa Fe Trail -- through present-day Barton County, leaving in their wake, a volume of history. Along this path came such men as Kit Carson and General Stephen Kearny leading his "Great Army of the West" in 1846 to fight the Mexican-American War.  In 1849, thousands blazed the trail in their quest for fortune in the California Gold Rush.

Many of these travelers faced Indian attacks including a Cheyenne raid a few miles near Great Bend in 1853. As a result, soldiers were ordered to briefly establish a camp near present-day Great Bend in June, 1853, but they stayed only about a month.

In 1855, Lieutenant Francis T. Bryan, of the Corps of Topographical Engineers, blazed the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Military Trail that crossed Walnut Creek seven miles northwest of its mouth on the Arkansas River. Later, a branch connected the trail to Fort Zarah. That same year, the first white men -- William Allison and Francis Boothe, built an adobe trading post near present-day Great Bend.


Two years later, Boothe became the first settler to be murdered when a Mexican man, passing along the Santa Fe Trail, split his head with an axe in 1857. The remaining owner, William Allison, prospered as the trail once again boomed in 1858 with the start of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush, as many took the “Mountain Branch” of the trail from Dodge City to Colorado. However, Allison died of heart failure in 1859 and the ranch was then taken over by a man named George Peacock, and the posts’ name changed to Peacock Ranch. But for Peacock, his time would also be short.

In 1859, a local Kiowa Chief named Satank (Sitting Bear) was arrested after almost “passing out” after drinking too much at the Peacock Ranch. Satank escaped and the following year asked Peacock to write a letter of introduction saying that the was a “good Indian.” However, Peacock, instead wrote that Satank was a “bad Indian,” and Satank who couldn’t read English, passed it on. He later learned of Peacock’s deceit and in the fall of 1860, led his warriors to the ranch, where they killed Peacock and five other men and stole all of the livestock.

Charles RathThe trading post was then taken over by a trader and buffalo hunter named Charles Rath and the post became known as Rath’s Ranch. Rath expanded the operations to also include a stagecoach hotel, a restaurant, a post office, and a saloon.

On May 17, 1864, Cheyenne Indians attacked the site, but fortunately Rath, who was married to a Cheyenne woman, had learned of the attack and was able to escape.

Old drawing of Fort ZarahDue to the frequent Indian attacks in the area, Camp Dunlap was established two miles east of present day Great Bend in July, 1864. Situated at the point where the Santa Fe Trail crossed Walnut Creek, it was initially little more than a camp of tents and dugouts near the site of the Rath Ranch Trading Post. However, work soon began on a more permanent facility about 100 yards distant and renamed Fort Zarah. Though the area then had a military presence, the Indian attacks would continue for several years, including numerous attacks on the fort itself.

By 1867, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad was pushing through the county, and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody spent a considerable amount of time in the area hunting buffalo to feed the workers of the railroad. During this time, he was captured by Kiowa Indians but was later able to escape. That same year, Charles Rath was accused by the U.S. Army of selling liquor to the Indians at his trading post. He soon left the area to later make a name for himself in Dodge City.

On May 19, 1868, the trading post, which had long been the only building in the county was destroyed by Cheyenne Indians and was never rebuilt. By the following year, the vast majority of the Indians of the area had been brought “under control” and Fort Zarah closed.




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