Towns & Places:
Dodge City – County Seat
Fort Dodge – Unincorporated
Kingsdown – Unincorporated Ghost Town
Spearville – Unincorporated
Willrose Gardens – Unincorporated
Wright – Unincorporated
Ford County, Kansas, located in the southwestern part of the state, was created by a Legislative Act of 1867, which provided for the division into counties of all the unorganized parts of the state. It was named in honor of Colonel James H. Ford of the Second Colorado Cavalry, who was in charge of the construction of Fort Dodge after the Civil War. However, the region had been traveled through frequently by pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail.
One of the first parties to travel westward through this portion of Kansas with a pack train was the McKnight Expedition in 1812, which followed the Arkansas River. A few years later, Major Stephen H. Long’s Expedition passed up the Arkansas Valley, and by 1825 this route became known as the Santa Fe Trail. One of the earliest military posts in Kansas, Fort Atkinson, was located in Ford County. Fort Dodge, established in 1864, was on the north bank of the Arkansas River, about five miles southeast of Dodge City. The old military reservation is now the State Soldiers’ Home site.
During the California Gold Rush in 1849, thousands of gold seekers passed through the area along the Santa Fe Trail, but few settled there. One of the first permanent settlers was Andrew J. Anthony, who settled on a ranch about 20 miles west of present-day Dodge City, in 1867. He kept a few cattle and a general store for a year, then moved to Fort Dodge and engaged in the sutler business until 1874. Herman J. Fringer came to Fort Dodge in 1867 as a quartermaster’s clerk. Later he opened one of the pioneer drug stores and served as Justice of the Peace before the county was organized. H.L. Sitler came to the county in 1868 and was one of the pioneer freighters before the railroad was built.
In August 1872, buffalo hunters and businessmen in various branches of industry were attracted to Ford County, and Dodge City was established upon the completion of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad the following month. Before the buffalo were wiped out, their hides were extensively shipped from Dodge City. Later, Dodge City would develop into a rough and tumble cowtown.
As the frontier moved further west, Ford County became populated with industrious farmers and ranchers, who established permanent homes. On April 5, 1873, Governor Thomas A. Osborn issued a proclamation providing for the organization of Ford County. He appointed Charles Rath, J. G. McDonald, and Daniel Wolf as special commissioners and Herman J. Fringer as a special clerk. The commissioners soon met at Dodge City and elected Charles Rath chairman. An election for county officers was ordered for June 5, 1873, when the commissioners and officers were elected.
By 1874, Dodge City had developed into the primary shipping point for the Texas cattle trade; the cowboys from the Plains driving in large quantities for shipment. These many cowboys, along with railroad workers, gamblers, gunfighters, and “ladies of the night,” soon earned Dodge City a reputation as a wicked little town.
One of the earliest newspapers in the county was the Dodge City Messenger, established in February 1874, but the paper was suspended in 1875.
Until 1875 rented buildings were used for courthouse purposes and county offices, but during the summer of 1876, a fine brick courthouse was completed at the cost of $8,000, and all the county offices and records were moved to it.
On May 20, 1876, the Dodge City Times made its appearance, and over the decades, Ford County sported several other newspapers. The Ford County Globe was established at Dodge City in December 1877 and exists today.
With the Indians effectively “lodged” on reservations, there was no longer a need for a military presence, and Fort Dodge was closed in 1882. By 1886, the cattle drives had also stopped, and the county settled down into a more peaceful existence.
By the turn of the century, Ford County sported almost 5,500 people and would see tremendous growth during the next decade as its population doubled to more than 11,000 residents. By this time, Dodge City had become a transportation hub in the area, with some 90 miles of railroad tracks situated within the county. Along with its mainstay of farming and ranching, the county also held good sandstone, limestone, and gypsum was quarried and sold. Area industry and services also expanded to include several flour mills, machine shops, ice plants, and more.
During the 1930s, Ford County, like many others in Kansas, was caught in the midst of the dust bowl days, especially on “Black Sunday,” when a massive front moved across the Great Plains on April 15, 1935. Though many hardy residents stayed, living on hope and taking the advice of the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, a great many others gave up and left the area, reducing the county population.
But, Ford County recovered and diversified its interests and businesses over the next 50 years. Today, the county supports a population of about 34,000 people. Its rich history lives on in its historical landmarks and museums, including the Boothill Museum in Dodge City.
Ford County Kansas
100 Gunsmoke Street
Dodge City, Kansas 67801