The city of Hays was incorporated in 1867, close to the site of Fort Hays. In the early days, Hays was a wild and lawless town, filled with saloons and dance halls. The legendary Wild Bill Hickok served as sheriff for a few months in 1869, but left town the next year after a brawl with some troopers from Fort Hays. Summing up her impression while her husband, George Custer, was encamped near Fort Hays, Elizabeth Custer said, "there was enough desperate history in that little town in one summer to make a whole library of dime novels."
Between August of 1867 and December of 1873 there were over 30 homicides in and around Hays. Hays developed the reputation, which was well deserved, as one of the most violent towns on the Kansas Frontier. The original Boot Hill was located in Hays, not Dodge City as many people believe. In fact, when Dodge City was founded in 1872, the Hays City Boot Hill was well populated. Mrs. Custer noted in her diary in the summer of 1869 there were already 36 graves in the cemetery called "Boot Hill". The Hays Boot Hill is actually the oldest west of the Mississippi.
By the mid 1870's the "end of the tracks" moved on and with it went the teamsters, railroad workers, soldiers and famous characters of the day. Hays City gradually quieted down and began serving as a point of arrival for immigrants, most notably those from the Volga region of Russia. These immigrants were originally from Germany and traveled to Russia because of Catherine the Great. She promised the immigrants freedom of religion, tax exemption, freedom from military duties, and free land. Eventually the Czars began to break these promises made by Catherine the Great, and the Volga-Germans sent a scouting party to the United States. They wanted land suitable for farming similar to their routine in Russia. The first Volga-German settlers arrived in Hays in February of 1876. Several communites were eventually formed, retaining the differences in dialect, food and family that each community had previously formed in Russia.
The Early History of Hays
by William G. Cutler (1883)
Hays City is located on Big Creek, and exactly midway between the east and west boundary lines of the county, and five miles south of the geographical center. The records do not show when or by whom the town site was surveyed and platted, but from the best sources of information obtainable, it was in 1867. Near to where Hays City now stands, but south of the creek a few adventurous individuals had located and had erected a few rudely constructed buildings, and with the expectation that the place would grow to be quite a town; and that it might be known abroad, they gave the place the name of Rome.
The establishment of Fort Hays in the early part of 1867, had considerable to do with the location of Hays City. That same year the Kansas Pacific Railway, in its westward course, had reached the eastern boundary line of the county, and, anticipating its early completion as far as Fort Hays, a party from St. Louis consisting of William E. Webb, W. J. Wells, and one Judge Knight, in the latter part of 1866, proceeded as far westward as Fort Hays, where they selected three sections of land for the purpose of colonization. The land thus selected embraced that on which Hays City now stands.
Having selected the lands deemed necessary for their purpose, the party returned East, and in the following June Mr. Webb again visited Fort Hays. During the interval between his first and second visit, several parties had arrived and established themselves at Rome. Mr. Webb then went to work and selected a tract of land for a town site, which he had surveyed and platted, and to which he gave the name of Hays City. People flocked to the new town by the score, and the railway reaching it shortly afterwards, gave quite an impetus to its growth.
Houses sprung up as if by magic, and in a short time it had grown to such proportions as to totally eclipse the town south of the creek, and Rome disappeared. Few towns ever spring into notoriety in less time than did Hays City, and the notorious characters that flocked there, gave the place anything but an enviable reputation. Not that Hays City was an exception to other frontier towns that sprung into existence as the railway stretched westward, the only difference being in the numerical superiority of the disreputable characters that, for a time, were a curse to the place.
The town was not a year old when it contained over 1,000 population. Where the growth was so rapid, it could not be permanent, and after events proved that the early settlement of the place was nothing more than temporary. For awhile Hays City remained the western terminus of the railway, and while it was such, it was one of the most stirring, as well as one of the deadliest places in the West. Business, for a time, was exceedingly lively, as it became the outfitting station for al all wagon trains following the Smoky Hill route eastward.
Business houses, many of which were only of a temporary character, sprung up like mushrooms, and saloons were opened in great number. At the first meeting of the Board of County Commissioners no less than thirty-seven licenses to sell liquor were granted in two days. For a time it seemed as if all the disreputable characters of both sexes on the frontier were centered in Hays City. Saloons and bagnios flourished, and against the characters that attended these resorts the better element of the community was powerless. The completion of the railway to Sheridan in 1868, while it put a temporary check to the business of Hays, had also its compensatory advantages, as it eliminated from the town those desperate and lewd characters who always desire to live on the line between civilization and barbarism, where they can carry on their nefarious practices undeterred by law and unchecked by restraint.
Crimes and Criminals
The early history of Hays City is one of bloodshed, and the class of desperadoes by which the place was infested, placed but very little value on human life. The town was the scene of many an exploit of J. B. Hickok, alias "Wild Bill," from 1867 to 1869. An erroneous statement has found its way into print, and has been published in books whose authoritative character entitles them to credence that "Wild Bill" was, at one time, Sheriff of Ellis County. The records of the county refute such statement. He was a candidate for Sheriff in 1869, but he was defeated for election by one Peter Lanahan.
Bill's character for daring and recklessness of life, and his established reputation for expertness in getting the "drop" on a fellow, and sureness of aim made him the dread of others equally bad and reckless of life as himself. Believing that such a man was the best person to protect the law-abiding people against the thugs by which the place was infested, the citizens, and the business men especially, employed him as a special marshall. While thus employed, he killed two soldiers, two citizens, and wounded several others, and the only way he answered admonition or brooked interference was with the revolver. After killing the soldiers to evade the military authorities he left the place and was next heard of at Abilene, where he continued his murderous practices.
"Wild Bill," however, was far from the worst character that found his way to Hays City during its early days. One who was known by the name of "Jim Curry" was one of the most depraved specimens that ever visited the western country. He was the embodiment of everything bad and disreputable, the very quintessence of all wickedness, and a living personification of crime in its worst forms, without a single redeeming quality. No person was safe against his attacks: his murderous weapons were aimed at all alike.
It would require pages to recite all his murderous acts, but a few will suffice to show the desperate character of the man during his short stay in Hays City. He killed several colored men, some of whom he threw into a dry well; he killed a man named Brady by cutting his throat, after which he threw him into an empty box car and fastened up the door. Another time he was going up the street, and meeting a quiet, inoffensive youth named Estes, who was about eighteen years of age, told him to throw up his hands. The youth begged that he would not kill him, but the villain, deaf to all such appeals, placed a revolver to the boy's breast and sent a bullet through his heart, stepped over his dead body and walked away.
This cowardly act aroused the citizens, and they then determined to protect themselves, and to deal out summary and condign punishment upon all offenders against life and property. This action on the part of the people had the effect of driving many of the evil-doers from the place, but notwithstanding this, a great deal had to be accomplished before the better class of the citizens could depend upon the law for protection.
While many of the worst characters had decamped and followed the railway to Sheridan, the majority of the bagnios and saloons, with their inmates, remained, and in these took place many a bloody encounter. In the spring of 1872, a row occurred one evening in front of "Old Man" Kelly's saloon on North Main Street. At that time Peter Lanahan was Sheriff of the county, and hearing of what was going on went down to quell the disturbance. Pistols were being freely used and upon the Sheriff undertaking to interfere, one Charles Harris, who at that time, was bar-tender for one Thomas Dunn, commonly known as "Tommy," fired at him, inflicting a mortal wound in the abdomen.
Upon the Sheriff being shot and wounded by Harris, one Em. Bowen, the proprietess of a noted bagnio, ran out with two revolvers which she gave to the Sheriff, whereupon he immediately commenced firing, killing Harris instantly. Mortally wounded as he was, the Sheriff, after killing Harris, went in the saloon of "Old Man" Kelly, where the shooting became general. Another Kelly who kept a saloon in another part of the town was a participant in the melee, and when the Sheriff commenced firing in the saloon, this younger Kelly crept under the table, and while there Lanahan reached over and fired four shots at him, but becoming weak and unsteady from the wound he had received himself, his aim was uncertain and Kelly escaped unhurt.
Lanahan, becoming exhausted, sank to the floor and was carried into the bagnio of Em. Bowen, where some parties undertook to render him the best assistance they could. While there, the younger Kelly, who had escaped from "Old Man" Kelly's, returned with a rifle, and placing himself in front of the bagnio where Lanahan lay dying, commenced firing into the house, wounding a man named May in the knee. The Sheriff was then carried to the court house where he died the following day.
The history of Hays City for the first few years of its existence is one of lawlessness, bloodshed, and feuds, differing only in degree of recklessness. The only object to be accomplished in reciting these tragical enactments in history, is to show the state of society that existed in the frontier towns of Kansas as civilization moved westward, and also to show how those dangerous and terrorizing elements disappeared before the onward march of law and order. But few places in Kansas have such a blood-stained history as Hays City, and in no place had the better element of society so much to contend against.
Not the least of those transactions which so darken the pages of the history of this city, was that which occurred in 1869. That year the government had more military supplies accumulated at the military post than could be stored in the room provided, and a large quantity were piled alongside the track, which were covered with a tarpaulin. To prevent any of the goods from being stolen, two watchmen were employed to watch them, who relieved each other at midnight. The name of one of the watchmen was John Hays.
One night Hays was on duty and about midnight he stepped across the street to Tommy Drumm's saloon to see what time it was, and just as he was about opening the door three colored soldiers came along, one of whom shot Hays dead. These soldiers belonged to the Thirty-eighth Infantry, at that time stationed at Fort Hays, and having come to town that evening, had become slightly intoxicated. While in this condition they undertook to enter a bagnio and were refused admission, whereupon they concluded to raise a row.
They next went to a barber's shop, where they commenced to smash things generally, and caused the colored barber to secrete himself for safety. They next resolved to go out and kill the first man they met, and Hays being the first man they saw they unceremoniously shot and killed him. Next morning the barber related to the Sheriff how the three colored soldiers had acted in his shop and what he had heard them say, whereupon the Sheriff, taking the barber with him to identify the soldiers, went over to the fort and reported to the military authorities there what had happened and said that he was there to arrest the three soldiers who had participated in the murder of Hays. The troops were drawn up in line and the three soldiers were identified by the barber and turned over to the custody of the Sheriff, who took them over the Hays City where a supposed preliminary examination was held which was protracted until evening.
The three colored soldiers were then locked up in a cellar to await a further examination the following morning. That same night they were taken from the cellar by a party of men who took them to the trestle-work that crosses a ravine about four hundred yards west of the depot, where ropes were adjusted to their necks, the other end being fastened to the sleepers, after which they were lifted up and dropped down between the ties where they hung until morning, when the ropes were cut by some section-men and their lifeless bodies were allowed to drop to the bottom of the ravine, from which they were taken to the fort by a party of soldiers where they were buried.
About one-fourth of a mile from Hays City there is a patch of ground known as "Boot Hill," and why it was thus named will sufficiently indicate what kind of place Hays City was during its early days. This particular piece of ground was the burial place for those who died violent deaths, that is, those of the ruffians with which they place was infested who were killed at each other's hands. These parties were buried without ceremony, with their boots on, and from the fact that forty-five of the characters who thus died were thus buried in that particular spot the place received the name of "Boot Hill," and by this name it is still known.
In 1874, an outbreak occurred, consequent upon the murder of John Hays. At that time the fort was garrisoned by the Ninth Regiment of Colored Cavalry, who sought to wreak vengeance upon the citizens for the hanging of the three colored soldiers of the Thirty-eighth Infantry that we have just detailed. One night a party of the Ninth went to town prepared to "clean it out," as they expressed it. The people hearing of this, armed themselves and determined to resist the premeditated "cleaning out" process.
The colored cavalry commenced the ball and the fight became general between them and the citizens. The people were victors, and six of the soldiers were killed and thrown into a dry well. From that time on the better class of citizens were in the ascendancy, and while their determined resistance put an end to all future trouble with the soldiers, it also served as a lesson to the few desperate characters that still remained in the town, who, finding that the people were determined that law and order should rule, sought other fields where they could carry on their nefarious practices with greater assurance of impunity.
Hays City was made the first county seat of the county, which position it has occupied since Ellis County was organized, and which position it still retains. Among the first to establish themselves in business in the place were W. A. Rose, Ryan & Carl, Mr. Walker, Mr. Robbins, and Moses & Bloomfield, all of whom started in 1867. The buildings in which they commenced business were all one-story frame buildings. The first hotel in town was built by Joseph Perry, in September, 1867, which was followed by another in October of the same year, erected by a man named Boggs. The first school taught in town was by a man named Reese, who started a private school in 1869, and the following year a public school was opened, the first teacher of which was one Mrs. Jones.
The first substantial improvement made in town was by James O'Brien, on North Main Street, being the stone building now occupied by John Hobbs as a drug store. In 1873 bonds were issued to build a court house, and a very fine stone building was erected, the basement of which is used for a county jail. It is a good, substantial building, the first floor of which is partitioned off into well-finished county offices, the upper floor being used for a court room. That same year $12,000 in bonds were issued for the erection of a schoolhouse, which was built about two blocks west of the court house.
From the time the railway was pushed westward from Hays City to Sheridan, the growth of the former place was rather backward than forward, and a good many business men and others took down their buildings and moved to the latter point. The Forty-sixth Congress having created a land district in Western Kansas, and designated Hays City as the place where the United States Land Office should be located, it was established there in March, 1875, occupying as an office a frame building on North Fort Street. The following year Henry Krueger erected a very fine two-story stone building on North Fort Street, into which, when completed, the United States Land Office was moved, and was so occupied until the office was moved to Wakeenay (sic) in October, 1879.
The same year in which the land office was built, H. P. Wilson put up a fine two-story stone building on Chestnut Street, which for some time was used for hotel purposes, and known as the Pennsylvania House, and also a one-story building of the same material. In 1877, Henry Krueger erected a large two-story stone building on South Fort Street. It is a double building, the ground floor being fitted up into one large store room, while the upper story is used as a public hall.
Up to 1877 the town was without a church, although there were two or three church societies in the place. In 1877 a Catholic Church was organized by Father Fogarty, of Solomon City, and in that same year a very neat frame chapel was erected, which was the first church edifice in town. The present pastor of the church is Rev. Father Athanase.
On January 13, 1879, the town was visited by a fire which carried away the Gibbs House, which was the hotel built by Joseph Perry in 1867. Besides the hotel, two grocery stores and harness shop were also swept out of existence. Notwithstanding the loss occasioned by this fire, there were better and more substantial improvements made in 1879 than had been made in any year since the town had an existence.
Hall & Son erected a beautiful two-story stone building on South Main Street, which they now occupy as a hardware store. A few lots east of Hall & Son's building, H. P. Wilson put up a one-story stone building, in which he opened a bank, and where he still continues to carry on a banking business. This was the first, and is the only bank in town. That same year an elevator of not very large dimensions was put up alongside the railroad track by Simon Motz. While these improvements of a public character were going on, several very handsome residences were being built. J. B. Millner erected a very fine two-story stone residence on North Fort Street. Beach Brothers put up, about the same time, one of the finest and neatest finished stone residences in Western Kansas; and that of A. S. Hall, on Fourth Avenue, while it is frame, is a very elegant dwelling. The town was further improved that year by the erection of the Presbyterian Church, and this was followed in 1880 by a very neat church which the Lutherans erected.
In 1880, also, a goodly-sized elevator was erected by Henry Krueger, and a still larger one in 1881 by Simon Motz. In the latter year an extensive addition was made to the schoolhouse, and Hays City now has one of the finest school buildings in Western Kansas.
In December, 1881, Hays City was again visited by a fire, which carried away six buildings on South Fort Street, none of them, however, very extensive, but yet the loss occasioned thereby was considerable, as the entire stock of goods in some of the buildings was completely destroyed. Neither in business houses nor in residences has any improvement been made in Hays City since 1879, but on the contrary, the place has lost largely in population since that time. At that time the population of the town was estimated at 1,000; whereas, according to the assessor's returns for 1882, the population of Big Creek Township, in which Hays City is located, and which is twelve miles east and west by twenty-one north and south, contained, all told, a population of 969; and while considerable of this falling off took place in the country, a great portion of it occurred in town.
The location of Hays City is quite beautiful, and the military post of Fort Hays adds not a little to its appearance; and being located almost immediately beyond the corporate limits of the town, makes the city appear much larger than it really is. It is a six-company post, but at present the garrison is composed of but three companies -- two white and one colored. The barracks, officers' quarters and grounds are handsomely planned, and the towering flag-staff, from which floats daily the Star-spangled Banner, all add to the picturesqueness of the place.
A heavy belt of timber, which extends along the banks of Big Creek the entire length of land embraced within the military reservation, separates the fort from the city, and adds to the beauty of the location. Hays City is quite a business point and commands a good trade, and most of its business houses are good, substantial buildings, and are well stocked with goods.
The benevolent fraternities are represented by a Masonic and an Odd Fellows' Lodge, the latter instituted in February 1882, with five charter members. The first officers of the lodge were: B. C. Arnold, N. G.; G. W. Kay, V G; W. L. Fuller, R. S.: C. Swallow, Treas.; S. Motz W., and D. C. Nellis Con. The lodge has now a membership of twenty-three, and the present officers are: W. L. Fuller, N. G.; D. C. Nellis, V. G.; A. K. Shade, R. S.; Cephas Grasse, Treas.; G. B. Snyder, Con.; John Nichols, W.
The business of the place is represented by six general merchandise stores; three hardware stores; three drug stores; three hotels -- all very inferior buildings, being small frame structures; one dry goods store; one harness and saddlery shop; one millinery establishment; two book, notions and stationery stores; two jewelry stores; two bakeries and restaurants; two carriage and wagon-shops; two lumber-yards; two newspapers, and one bank. The palmiest days of Hays City were in its early years; and as the country surrounding it has improved, thus far, unremunerative to those who engaged in agricultural pursuits, there is not much on which to base encouragement for the future, although, situated as it is, it will always be a fair trading point.
The first attempt to establish a newspaper in Ellis County was made in 1867 by Joseph Clarke & Co., who in that year, at Hays City, established and published a paper named the Railway Advance. It was Republican in politics, and was issued tri-weekly; but its existence was very brief, having expired early the following year. The Hays City Times was the next to make its appearance, having been established in 1873 by Allen & Jones; but like the one that preceded it, its existence was very short.
In February, 1874, the Hays City Sentinel was established by W. H. Johnson, but in the following August it passed into the possession of Reed & Motz, who remained at the head of the paper until November of the same year, when the paper, office and material passed into the hands of W. P. Montgomery & Son, by whom the paper was published until February, 1882, when the press and office material were taken by F. C. Montgomery to Cheeney, Washington Territory, where he continues to publish a paper. Upon the removal of the office from Hays City, the unfulfilled contracts between the Sentinel and its patrons were completed by the Star, the latter becoming the official organ of the county.
The Star was established at Hays City in March, 1876, by J. H. Downing, who has been and continues to be sole editor and proprietor since the paper was first issued. When the press and material of the Sentinel were taken to Washington Territory in 1882, its subscription list passed to the Star, the latter changing its name to that of the Star-Sentinel. The paper is still owned and edited by Mr. Downing, and is the official paper of the county. It is an eight-column folio, Republican in politics, and has a circulation of between 700 and 800.
German-American Advocate is the name of a paper, the first number of which was issued at Hays City on October 4, 1882. The paper was started and published by the Advocate Publishing Company, with Nathaniel Robbins as editor, but subsequently it passed into the hands of Charles Miller who is now sole editor and proprietor. The paper is published in both English and German. It is a seven-column folio, independent in politics, and has a circulation of about 450.
Hays is located at 38°52'46N, 99°19'20W (38.879399, -99.322277).According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 19.7 km² (7.6 mi²), all land. Hays is served by two commercial airlines at Hays Regional Airport.
Annually, Hays experiences extremes of heat and cold. Winters tend to be cool with lows in upper teens and highs around 40. But, large deviations from these temperatures are regularly experienced, with temperatures dropping below 0 F a few days in the year. Summertime, in sharp contrast, is hot with highs around, and often exceeding, 90 F, and several days of triple-digit temperatures in July and August. Hays is classified as part of Kansas' semi-arid climate, with the city receiving very little rainfall. Hays average temperatures from weather.com
As of the census of 2000, there were 20,013 people, 8,230 households, and 4,674 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,018.1/km² (2,635.9/mi²). There were 8,772 housing units at an average density of 446.2/km² (1,155.3/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.43% White, 1.09% Asian, 0.79% African American, 0.24% Native American, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 1.43% from other races, and 0.98% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.63% of the population.
Ellis County attracted nearly 1000 Volga German immigrants in the 1870s; for the 2000 census, over 45% of Hays residents identified their ancestry as German.
There were 8,230 households out of which 27.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 45.9% were married couples living together, 8.3% had a female householder with no husband present, and 43.2% were non-families. 32.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.96.
In the city, the population was spread out with 21.5% under the age of 18, 22.2% from 18 to 24, 24.6% from 25 to 44, 18.5% from 45 to 64, and 13.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 94.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 91.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $31,501, and the median income for a family was $45,552. Males had a median income of $30,022 versus $21,793 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,565. About 6.7% of families and 14.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.6% of those under age 18 and 9.6% of those age 65 or over.