The Commissioners appointed, as mentioned, in the foregoing proclamation, were Thomas L. Morris, John H. Hubbard, and George M. Berry, and the appointee as special County Clerk was William H. Odell. The first meeting of the Commissioners was held at Great Bend, May 23, 1872, and organized by electing T. L. Morris, Chairman. Prior to that time, the county had been but one municipal township, attached to Ellsworth County, but at the first meeting of the Commissioners, the county was divided into three civil townships, Lakin, Great Bend and Buffalo, and each township declared to be a Commissioner District.
As election for county and township officers, and for the permanent location of the county seat, was ordered to be held on the first day of July 1872, and the designated voting places were: For Great Bend Township, at the post office building in Great Bend. For Buffalo Township, at the residence of George M. Berry, on the southwest quarter of Section 32, Township 18 south, Range 14 west. For Lakin Township, at the store of Mr. Burlisson, in Township 19 south, Range 11 west. The election was held on the day appointed and the officers chose were:
County Commissioners, M. W. Halsey, John Cook and L. H. Lusk. County Clerk,. Odell. Register of Deeds, T. L. Morris. Clerk of District Court, J. B. Howard. Treasurer, E. L. Morphy. Probate Judge, D. N. Heizer. County Attorney, J. B. Howard. Superintendent of Schools, A. C. Moses. Surveyor, John Favrow. Sheriff, George W. Moses. Coroner, D. B. Baker.
At the same election, the following Justices of the Peace were elected: For Lakin Township, D. P. Foster and A. W. Strong. For Great Bend Township, E. J. Dodge and James Holland, and for Buffalo Township, T. S. Morton and A. Keller. The total vote cast in the county at that election, was 199 of which, for county seat, Great Bend received 144 votes, Ellinwood 22, and Zarah thirty-three, and Great Bend was declared to be the permanent county seat.
At that time Zarah was quite a little village, and was the first town started in the county. It took its name from Fort Zarah, a military post established by the Government, during the War of the Rebellion, in what is now Barton County, and about three miles east of the present site of Great Bend. The town of Zarah was started by a party from Ellsworth in 1870, and was located about a mile east of the fort. In 1871 the military post of Fort Zarah was abandoned, and the barracks torn down, and the land upon which it was located, embracing 3,6000 acres, was subsequently thrown upon the market and sold.
In 1871, the town of Great Bend was founded, and the Town Company, uniting their interests with those of the railroad company in building up a town, secured for Great Bend all the advantages the latter could give, and Zarah soon disappeared. The election held on July 1, 1872, settled the county seat question, and the Board of Commissioners, chosen at that election met for the first time on the 13th of that month, and organized by electing M. W. Halsey chairman. The board continued in session for several days, and on the 16th of July, 1872, made the following order: "That horses, mules, asses, horned cattle, hogs, sheep, etc., shall not be allowed to run at large in the County of Barton, in the State of Kansas." In August, 1872, dramshop licenses were fixed at $100 per annum.
After the county was organized, a difficulty arose between the authorities of Ellsworth and Barton counties. The latter having been attached to the former for judicial and municipal purposes, the assessors of Ellsworth had assessed the property of Barton and returned their assessment books to Ellsworth County. Between the time the assessment was made and that when Barton County was organized, a number of the citizens of Barton had paid their taxes to the Treasurer of Ellsworth County.
Here was where the disagreement arose, the authorities of the latter county holding that, inasmuch as the assessment was made according to law, and Barton County being attached, by law, to Ellsworth when the assessment was made, the taxes should, by virtue of law, be paid to Ellsworth County, and therefore refused to pay over to Barton County the amount of taxes already collected. This position was disputed by the authorities of Barton County, and for a time it seemed as if the matter would have to be carried to a court for settlement, but, finally, an amicable arrangement was entered into satisfactorily to both counties, and their disagreements were adjusted.
Prior to 1870, Barton County was the home of the buffalo, antelope, elk and deer, and for several years after the county began to be settled, these kings of the plain roamed over the prairies of the county in countless numbers. Buffalo were even killed on the town site of Great Bend long after the first settlers had located there, and antelope were seen by the hundred as late as 1875. As the county became more populous all these disappeared.
While Barton County has settled up somewhat rapidly, the increase in population has been gradual and steady, rather than spasmodic and uncertain. The county has had none of those large settlements in colonies which some counties have had, its immigration coming in families and groups and distributing itself over all of the county. Those who came, came to stay, and generally did stay, and each year brought its quota of new comers. In 1874 and 1875 a good many Russians settled in the county, locating in the vicinity of Dundee, about seven miles west of Great Bend. Many others came but did not remain in the county, but moved into adjoining counties. A settlement of about one hundred families still remains in the county. The real settlement of the county did not commence until 1872, although a few families had located in the county in 1871. Since that time the population has grown to over 10,000, so that the average increase has been about 1,000 a year.
One of the points of interest in the county, and about the only one to which any particular interest attaches, is a rock in the southwest corner of the county, known as "Pawnee Rock." There is also a village of this name in the same locality. It is the rock, however, that is the interesting point. The rock is at the southern terminus of a ridge, or bluff, that extends for several miles in a northeasterly direction north of the Arkansas River. It is, or was, about 100 feet high, but lately several feed of rock have been taken from the top of it. The top is almost perfectly flat, and is about 240 feet in circumference. In former days it was a great landmark for travelers, and many are the names inscribed on its face, and among them that of R. E. Lee, and under it the year 1845. Some of the names it bears are followed by dates much older than that following the name of R. E. Lee. The rock derives its name from the fact that the various tribes of Pawnees, when they desired to hold a general council, would meet on the top of it, and hence the name "Pawnee Rock," and hence also, the name of the town of Pawnee Rock.
Among the first settlers in the county were J. Renake and H. Shultz, with their families, who came to the county in the summer of 1870; W. W. Halsey, Charles Rowdebush, E. D. Dodge, Thomas Stone, Edwin Tyler and several others, came in 1871, and the following year settlers came by the score.
The first school building in the county was erected in Great Bend, in the spring of 1873, bonds for this purpose having been voted in December, 1872. The first church edifice in the county was a Catholic Church, erected in Lakin Township in the fall of 1877, and the next one was a Methodist at Great Bend, erected in the winter of 1877-78. The first post office in the county was established at Zarah in 1871, the first Postmaster being Titus J. Buckbee.
The first marriage in the county was solemnized at Great Bend, in November, 1872, the contracting parties being Jonathan F. Tilton and Miss Addie Easley.
The first county warrant issued in the county, was issued September 2, 1872, to Thomas L. Morris, and the amount it called for was $34.50, which was paid on the 7th day of May, 1873. The first term of court held in the county was in April, 1873, Hon. W. R. Brown being the presiding Judge, and the first case tried was "A. C. Moses vs F. Vancil," the suit having been brought by injunction, the matter in controversy being some land to which both parties laid claim.
The first birth in the county was that of George A. Hansher, born October 2, 1871, and the first death was that of a child of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Sneck, which occurred in January, 1872. The Sneck family lived about two miles from Great Bend, towards Walnut Creek. When the child died Mrs. Sneck was all alone, her husband having been gone for several days on a buffalo hunt, and had not returned. At that time wolves were very plentiful in the county, and the rudely constructed "shanty" in which Mrs. Sneck was left with her child, being isolated and far from any neighbors, was soon surrounded by a pack of these ravenous beasts. They howled around the house, they jumped at the windows, they scraped at the door, but the heroic mother nobly fought them off, to save the dead child from being devoured.
She barricaded the doors and windows, and all night long, while the wolves were howling in their fury without, the mother was keeping guard and vigil over the lifeless body of her child within. After having remained in this terrible condition about twenty-four hours, a man, with a team, happened to pass by, and, learning of her situation, took her and her dead child into his wagon and brought them to Great Bend, where they were taken to the Southern Hotel, at that time about the only house of any kind in town. Next day funeral services were held, and the child interred, and the sermon at that funeral was the first preached in the town of Great Bend. The officiating clergyman was Rev. E. R. Glenn.
The county has made fair progress since it was first organized, and the people are thrifty and industrious. The county is reasonably well supplied with schoolhouses, and has eleven church edifices, with several church societies and organizations that have no buildings, but which hold services in the courtroom and in various schoolhouses. The assessed valuation of the county is $1,537.051.68, which is about one-third the actual value, and the bonded indebtedness of the county is $35,000. For the payment of $10,000 of said indebtedness, an equal amount is now in the hands of the County Treasurer. The floating indebtedness of the county, on the first day of January, 1883, was $17,100, a portion of which has been called in and redeemed since.
The people of the county generally are in reasonably comfortable circumstances, and their houses and surroundings indicate industry and a good degree of prosperity. As to who broke the first prairie for farming is a question of some doubt, but it is conceded that John Reineoke and Henry Shultz turned over the first sod on the banks of Walnut Creek for garden patches. It is also conceded by the old settlers that J. P. Bissell, who located early in 1872, on a claim about two miles north of Great Bend, was the first man in the county to raise any wheat, although a great many settlers had patches of sod corn in 1872.
Among the early settlers was John Lyle, who located on a claim west of Great Bend, in the vicinity of Dundee. One day in 1873, while Lyle was plowing corn, a drove of seventeen buffalo came into the field. Unhitching the horse from the plow, he rode to his house, where he got his needle-gun and started after the buffalo. He strung them out over the prairie and succeeded in killing several of them before they crossed the claim of E. L. Chapman, about two miles north of Lyle's, and before they reach Great Bend he had fifteen of the seventeen buffalo killed.
Early Description of Barton County Resources
Barton County is nearly in the geographical center of the State, being situated exactly midway between the northern and southern boundary lines, and is in the first tier of counties west of a central line drawn from north to south; the east line of the county being a little over 200 miles west of the east line of the State, and a little less than 200 east of the west line. The northern and southern boundary lines of the county are marked by the third and fourth standard parallel lines. Russell County adjoins Barton on the north, on the south is Stafford County, on the east a portion of Rice and Ellsworth counties, and on the west a part of Pawnee and Rush counties. In formation, the county is exactly square, being thirty miles north and south by the same east and west. It contains 576,000 acres, or 900 square miles, and for municipal purposes is divided into twenty civil townships. The local government of the county consists of three commissioners, who hold office for three years, each representing a commissioner district, into three of which the county is apportioned.
The surface of the county in general is undulating prairie, the greater portion of it being apparently quite level, but in some places it is quite high. There is no really bluffy land in the county; none of those sudden breaks in the surface, caused by steep acclivities and sudden declivities, which are usually denominated "bluffs," but a general sameness seems to extend over the entire surface of the county. At various distances from the Arkansas River, on both the north and the south side of the stream, the ground takes a considerable rise, varying from eight to twelve feet, and between these rises, on each side of the river, the land is known as "first bottom land".
This first bottom land varies greatly in width, in some places being a mere strip, while in others it extends to a width of several miles. Several miles north of the river there is an almost unbroken line of rising ground, of an irregular circular formation, which embraces nearly all of Ranges 12 to 13 in Township 18, and which forms a regular basin. The land embraced within this basin is known as the "Cheyenne Bottoms." In the center of this basin is a lake covering about 400 acres. Blood Creek empties into this lake, but yet the lake contains no water, it all disappearing either by evaporation or by sinking into the ground. There are a good many sand knolls in the county, located chiefly south of the river, with a few along Cow Creek.
The streams in the county are not numerous, but those it does contain are nearly all always living. The principal stream is the Arkansas River, which enters the county at the south line about six miles east of the southwest corner, and flows in a northeasterly direction until it reaches the town of Great Bend, when it makes a curve and flows south by east, leaving the county at its east line at a point about two and a half miles north of its point of entrance, forming in its course through the county the arc of a circle.
The next stream in importance is Walnut Creek, which enters the county about the center of the west line, and flows in a southeasterly direction, pursuing a very serpentine course, until it empties into the Arkansas River at a point about four miles east of Great Bend, receiving on its way the waters of the Little Walnut, the latter entering the county at the west line, about seven miles north of the southwest corner, and running almost due east until it joins the waters of Walnut Creek about a mile northeast of Great Bend.
Cow Creek is next in order in point of importance, and has its rise almost at the north line of the county, in Township 16, Range 12, flowing in a southeasterly direction until it leaves the county at the east, in Section 36, Township 18, Range 11 west. This creek is fed by numerous springs. Blood Creek and Deception Creek are not of much importance, a good deal of the time being dry, unless in wet seasons. The course of the former of these creeks is from west to east, and the latter from north to south, both emptying into the dry lake before referred to as being located in the Cheyenne Bottoms.
Formerly there was considerable timber along the creeks, but most of it has been cut down by settlers, until now all that remains is confined to small strips on the margins of some of the creeks. About the time when the first settlement was made in the county, there was quite a body of timber on the Arkansas River, in Township 20, Range 14, known as the "Twelve Mile Belt," in which some of the trees measured twenty-one feet in circumference. Of this body of timber, not a solitary tree remains, and all the trees that can be seen on the Arkansas River now, in Barton County, are confined to a strip of timber in the vicinity of Ellinwood.
Walnut Creek is fringed with timber nearly its whole length, but in width it is very narrow, being confined entirely to the banks of the creek, which gradually ascend from the water to a height of about twenty feet. This is also the case with Blood Creek. There are a few groves of native timber on Cow Creek, but they are not very extensive, the largest one, and in fact the largest amount of timber in the county in one body, being that owned by Mr. Dalzell, on Section 6, Township 18, Range 11, and which contains eighty acres. This native timber consists of several varieties, including hackberry, ash, elm, box elder, cottonwood and walnut.
In the southern portion of the county, good well water can be had almost anywhere at depths varying from eight to twenty feet, but in the northern portion, and especially in the north tier of townships, it is extremely difficult to find, some wells having been sunk to a depth of 220 feet without striking water.
The soil of the county is a rich loam, the southern portion, or that part south of the Arkansas River being mixed to a considerable extent with sand, while all north of the river is a black loam. It varies in depth from three to ten feet, excepting on the sand knolls, and in some portions of the higher ridges where sandstone is found very near the surface.
The sub-soil differs according to locality. South of the Arkansas River it is sand, north of the river it is clay, while in the northern portions of the county, which forms the divide between the Smoky Hill River and the Arkansas, the sub-soil is a kind of shales. The county is well adapted both to stock raising and agricultural pursuits, forty per cent of its area being bottom land, and the residue beautiful upland. All kinds of cereals can be raised with the smallest possible amount of labor, and it is seldom a failure occurs. The southern half of the county is especially well suited to farming purposes, which is attributable to the fact, that, no matter how dry the season, the soil is always more or less moist, which is accounted for by a constant underground irrigation which takes place by the water of the Arkansas River finding its way through the porous sub-soil for several miles on either side.
The smaller kinds of grain, such as wheat, oats, barley and rye, do much better than corn, and are much more certain, for the reason that the smaller grains are, usually, matured before the dry months set in. As showing the adaptability of the county for farming purposes, it may be stated that the wheat crop of 1877, averaged twenty bushels to the acre sown; in 1878, the average was twenty-three bushels, and in 1882, the average was twenty-six bushels to the acre. Corn does not show as well, the average bushels to the acre in 1877, being thirty bushels, and in 1878, only twenty-eight bushels.
For stock raising, the county has superior advantages. The Arkansas River, and other creeks, afford ample facilities and furnish an abundance of good water for drinking purposes, while the limitless supply of rich buffalo grass renders any other kind of feed unnecessary. In some portions of the county, the buffalo grass is being supplanted by blue-stem and south of the Arkansas River it has nearly all disappeared and blue-stem taken its place. Realizing the advantages offered by the county for stock raising, people are becoming quite extensively engaged in that industry. Many attend to both stock raising and farming, have fine farms on the bottom land, while on the upland they have extensive ranges which are rapidly becoming stocked with cattle.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,332 km² (900 mi²), of which 2,315 km² (894 mi²) is land and 17 km² (6 mi²), or 0.72%, is water. The geographic center of Kansas is located in Barton County.
Barton County's population was estimated to be 27,511 in the year 2006, a decrease of 617, or -2.2%, over the previous six years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000, there were 28,205 people, 11,393 households, and 7,530 families residing in the county. The population density was 12/km² (32/mi²). There were 12,888 housing units at an average density of 6/km² (14/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 92.98% White, 1.15% Black or African American, 0.51% Native American, 0.23% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 3.51% from other races, and 1.60% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 8.31% of the population.
There were 11,393 households out of which 31.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 55.10% were married couples living together, 7.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.90% were non-families. 30.20% of all households were made up of individuals and 14.30% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 3.01.
In the county the population was spread out with 26.00% under the age of 18, 9.00% from 18 to 24, 25.10% from 25 to 44, 22.00% from 45 to 64, and 17.90% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39 years. For every 100 females there were 93.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 90.10 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $32,176, and the median income for a family was $39,929. Males had a median income of $28,803 versus $20,428 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,695. About 9.90% of families and 12.90% of the population were below the poverty line, including 17.00% of those under age 18 and 10.90% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Great Bend, 14,851 (county seat)
Pawnee Rock, 341
Unified school districts
Claflin USD 354
Ellinwood USD 355
Great Bend USD 428
Hoisington USD 431
Barton County Community College
Things to See
Cheyenne Bottoms National Wildlife Refuge
Quivira National Wildlife Refuge
Famous Persons From Barton County
Jack Kilby, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and 2000 Nobel Prize laureate in Physics spent his childhood in Great Bend, graduating from Great Bend High School.