Most likely the first white man to set foot on Ashland soil and pass through Clark County was also the first white explorer in Kansas. The expedition of Francisco Coronado traversed what became the southwest United States searching for the riches of the legendary city of Quivira located somewhere in the central plains region. Most historians show his route following Indian trails to a crossing on the Arkansas River east of present day Dodge City, Kansas. As Coronado searched for the riches of Quivira he left the earliest descriptions of the “beast of the plains”, the buffalo, which were found in incredible numbers. The existence of the Plains Indian tribes depended on these great animals which provided for their every need.
As the American Civil War came to an end in 1865 the attention of the nation was drawn to the “Great American Desert”. Many war veterans took advantage of the Homestead Act passed in 1862 which made it possible to easily acquire 160 acres of land. The Plains Indian tribes slowed the settlement of the plains. The U.S. Army sent troops to protect the white settlers and keep the Indians on lands which the government assigned them. The buffalo were a solution to the Indian problem, without the buffalo the Indian could be more easily controlled on reservations. Robert Wright of Dodge City reported that he overheard a conversation between General Sheridan and Major Henry Inman who were estimating the number of buffalo in a 50 mile wide strip between Ft. Dodge and Camp Supply.
Their first estimate was ten billion. They figured again and said one billion. Finally, they decided that 100 million was a number which might be believed, though they thought the larger numbers were more accurate. A soldier on the trail in 1868 reported that after making camp on Bear Creek, they saw millions of buffalo the next day. A Dodge City buffalo hunter, George Reighard, reportedly killed 2000 buffalo on the spot where Ashland is located today and then went to Sand Creek and killed 3000 more. The last buffalo had been exterminated from Clark County by 1875.
The eradication of the buffalo coincided with the arrival of cattlemen in the area which began about 1874. By 1877 at least four cattle ranches had laid claim to segments of the open range. The Western Cattle Trail was begun in 1872 when the railroad entered Dodge City and extended nearly three miles on either side of the Ft. Dodge-Camp Supply Trail. Its use continued until about 1885.
On February 3, 1870, the U.S. Army placed soldiers half way on the military trail between Ft. Dodge, KS and Camp Supply in Indian Territory due to the threat of Indian attacks on supply wagons. Bear Creek Mail Station, a sod house constructed on the east side of the creek, was the first habitation in what became Ashland. It was called “Soldiers Graves” after an attack on May 30th when an angry group of Kiowa braves attacked the Mail Station and killed two soldiers. The U.S. Army determined that more protection was needed and two redoubts, one to the north and the other to the south, were built in 1871 and Bear Creek Mail Station was abandoned by the military.
However, as traffic along the Ft. Dodge-Camp Supply trail increased the sod house became a “road ranch”. It was a place where cowboys could pick up their mail, freighters could stay for the night, and meals were served. It was first called “Jack’s Ranch” because it was owned by John Glenn. The Widow Brown and her two daughters ran the ranch until it was purchased by Charles Roby.
It was with Charles Roby that members of the Ashland Town Company met in September, 1884 and for $700 secured a clear title to the town site of Ashland. Its location was superior but another town, two miles to the northwest, had organized in June and had a newspaper and post office, both essential to any community. To avoid conflict a deal was offered to the residents of Clark City who quickly moved businesses and residences to Ashland. Ashland had received its name because Ashland, Kentucky, was the hometown of Capt. J.B. Nipp, the father-in-law of I.K. Berry, a member of the town company.
The building of houses started in November 1884 with city lots selling for $500 each but was delayed because winter set in early. The structures from Clark City had been moved by mid-January 1885 and by spring Ashland had a population of 2042 of which 877 were home owners. The town boasted a new two story hotel, four restaurants, the post office and grocery, a dry goods and clothing store, a lumberyard and hardware store, a livery and feed store, a stable and corrals, a drug store and doctor, and the newspaper, once the Clark City Clipper renamed the Clark County Clipper.
Beginning in November 1887 the face of Main Street changed as new brick buildings replaced the earlier wooden structures. The oldest of the three storied buildings located at the corner of Main and 8th Street proclaims Ashland National Bank above its entry. The others extended along the block to the north. Two of the buildings, the “Smith Block” and the “Woodbury Block” burned in the “Big Fire” of March 1, 1933.
In the June 1885 election Ashland received 1577 votes from a total of 2066 votes cast to determine the location of the seat of government of Clark County. In July the Ashland Town Company demonstrated its confidence in the growing community by donating a city block for the construction of a courthouse and jail. The cost of building the brick courthouse was $30,000. Red sandstone rock used in the window and door sills and in the steps of the new building was quarried from canyons north of town near the home of Lot Ravenscraft. The courthouse was remodeled in 1932 and the top tower was removed. The old Clark County Courthouse was replaced with a new one in 1951.
At the July meeting the town founders also voted to reserve another city block for a school building. The bell from the original Ashland school is displayed in front of the Ashland Elementary School which was constructed in 1937 as a project of the Public Works Administration (PWA). A separate high school located in the southwest part of the city was built in 1917 and used until 1963 when a new home for the Ashland Bluejays was built north of Highway 160.
Additionally, the Town Company set aside land on which the Methodist and Presbyterian churches could build. However, the earliest church to organize was the Catholic Church which met that same month in the home of the newly elected Clark County sheriff, Michael Sughrue. Along with these churches Ashland today has congregations at the Baptist, Church of God, First Christian and Lighthouse Assembly of God churches.
Many early communities succumbed to the trials of the frontier experience which explains the jubilation of Ashland when the Chicago, Kansas and Western Railway Company (C.K. & W.), a part of the Mulvane branch of the Santa Fe, brought its first railway cars to Ashland in September 1887. It provided a modern transportation system for the growing community and held promise of future growth as it became a junction point between the Englewood branch and the Cash City and Meade branch of the railway line. The railroad brought needed supplies to Ashland and served for many years as the place from which grain and cattle were shipped to market. Agriculture has always been the economic center of the community.
Much more of the history of Ashland is worth knowing. Fortunately, an abundance of Ashland’s history has been saved. The Clark County Historical Society was created in July 1939 to conserve the memories of the earliest pioneers and printed 5 volumes of Notes on Early Clark County, Kansas. The Pioneer-Krier Museum was built in 1968 as a result of the Historical Societies dedication to historical preservation. The Ashland centennial celebration resulted in the publication of Ashland: The Story of Its First 100 years, 1884-1984. History is lived every day. Ashland has a lifestyle worth sharing and a history worth knowing.
Ashland is located at 37°11'12N, 99°46'9W (37.186803, -99.769259).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.4 km² (1.7 mi²), all land.
As of the census of 2000, there were 975 people, 423 households, and 274 families residing in the city. The population density was 224.1/km² (579.2/mi²). There were 472 housing units at an average density of 108.5/km² (280.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 93.74% White, 0.10% African American, 1.23% Native American, 0.10% Asian, 3.49% from other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.62% of the population.
There were 423 households out of which 27.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 54.6% were married couples living together, 7.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.0% were non-families. 33.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 18.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.26 and the average family size was 2.86.
In the city the population was spread out with 25.2% under the age of 18, 4.4% from 18 to 24, 22.6% from 25 to 44, 24.8% from 45 to 64, and 23.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 44 years. For every 100 females there were 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $32,721, and the median income for a family was $40,682. Males had a median income of $25,000 versus $20,313 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,183. About 9.5% of families and 11.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 19.3% of those under age 18 and 7.9% of those age 65 or over.