The First Cowtown in Kansas
In and around 1868 there became a great demand for beef in the northern cities. Texas cattlemen and stock raisers, collecting large herds of cattle on the southern planes, used Baxter Springs as a way point for the journey to the northern markets. Knowing the benefits of continual cattle flow through the town, an active Stockyards and Drovers Association was organized for the purpose of buying and selling cattle. Corrals were constructed for approximately 20,000 head of cattle with ample grazing lands and fresh water.
Texas cattle trade stimulated the economy and Baxter Springs grew rapidly. The city voted bonds to various organizations to enlarge city limits and acquired an immense debt in the process. In 1873, a bond of $4,000 for street improvements, made the indebtedness greater than the entire assessed valuation of all property. Soon after a railroad moved into Texas making it unnecessary to drive the cattle to Kansas.
Since Baxter Springs was no longer a booming cattle town, most of the population left, leaving the immense debt to the few stable citizens left. In 1878 a suit was filed for the collection of the debt, when the Mayor and council members were ordered to court to explain why they had not paid, the entire staff resigned leaving no officer whatsoever. The town remained that way for more than a year and a half forcing the high court to develop a plan compromise settlement, which enabled the remaining townsfolk to carry the bond through and the debt was finally paid.
Early visitors to Southeastern Kansas were often impressed with it's beauty. The river that flows through this section of land was fed by many springs and was remarkably clear. As early as 1838 the river was known as Spring River. In 1867 a cable-ferry boat was instituted and operated into the early 1880's when the first bridge was built over the river. As the city grew, so did the activities around the river. The local citizens gathered for all manner of reasons, from the Fourth of July celebrations, to the Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunions. In the latter part of the nineteenth century a three story frame structure with two turbine water wheels, and a grinding capacity of 50 barrels of flour a day was built and known as the Baxter Springs Flouring Mill. It was the only manufacturing plant in town. Today the river is used mainly for fishing and camping. This October will mark the fourth bridge that has been erected on that site.
Baxter Springs is located at 37°1'23N, 94°44'5W (37.023062, -94.734762). The city is situated along the western bank of the Spring River at the edge of the Ozarks. It is at the junction of U.S. Route 69 Alternate and U.S. Route 166, and U.S. Route 400 bypasses the city to the northeast. The center of town is less than two miles from the Kansas-Oklahoma state border though the incorporated area of the city extends to the border. It is also about 13 miles west-southwest of Joplin, Missouri.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.2 square miles (8.3 km²), of which 3.1 sq. mi. (8.1 km²) is land and 0.1 sq. mi. (0.2 km²), or 2.48%, is water.
Baxter Springs's population was estimated to be 4,246 in the year 2005, a decrease of 337, or -7.4%, over the previous five years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 4,602 people, 1,860 households, and 1,246 families residing in the city. The population density was 567.7/km² (1,469.1/mi²). There were 2,106 housing units at an average density of 259.8/km² (672.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 88.03% White, 0.98% Black or African American, 5.04% Native American or Alaska Native, 0.20% Asian, 0.17% Pacific Islander, 0.48% from other races, and 5.11% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.30% of the population.
There were 1,860 households out of which 32.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.6% were married couples living together, 10.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.0% were non-families. 29.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.44 and the average family size was 3.02.
In the city the population was spread out with 26.5% under the age of 18, 9.2% from 18 to 24, 26.7% from 25 to 44, 20.8% from 45 to 64, and 16.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females there were 89.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $28,876, and the median income for a family was $33,933. Males had a median income of $27,005 versus $19,038 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,789. About 9.3% of families and 10.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 13.5% of those under age 18 and 12.4% of those age 65 or over.