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Great Bend City

Great Bend City Hall is located at 1209 Williams Street, Great Bend, KS 67530; phone: 620-793-4111.

Great Bend as described in 1939 [1]

Great Bend, named from its position on the sweeping curve made by the Arkansas River as it loops through central Kansas, is a shipping, wheat, and oil center. Settled in 1871, two years after the abandonment of old Fort Zarah, the town grew rapidly after the railroad reached it in 1872. The first building on the townsite, the Southern Hotel, was erected by the town company. Tom Stone, the landlord, was a burly man with huge "handle-bar" mustaches. He loved to wear vermilion-colored shirts and an old military sash from which protruded the handles of two big revolvers. In spite of his terrifying appearance Stone was a pleasant fellow and a popular host.

In 1874-1875 Great Bend was a railhead on the Chisholm Cattle Trail and its crowded, boisterous saloons and dance halls gave it a reputation as a "hot spot" among cowmen and freighters. With the cattle trade came the usual entourage of gamblers, gunmen, and other undesirable characters.

Although Great Bend merchants enjoyed a brisk business during the cow-town era, many of the townspeople lived in terror of the rough element and welcomed the passage of a State law in 1876 which established a deadline for Texas cattle thirty miles west of the town.

One of Great Bend's first city marshals, H. B. "Ham" Bell, now (1938) a resident of Dodge City, came to Great Bend from Maryland in 1875. The Kansas Pacific brought him to Ellsworth but there was no railroad or stageline operating between that town and Great Bend; so he asked a local liveryman what he would charge to drive him to his destination.

"It'll cost you a dollar a mile and it's forty-five miles," replied the driver. When Bell protested, the man pointed to a large lake along the western horizon and explained that the route was extremely hazardous because it passed through the shallow waters of this lake. The driver demanded payment in advance and Bell reluctantly produced the $45. "The lake, however, proved to be a mirage," Bell relates, "and I learned too late that I was figuratively as well as literally being 'taken for a ride.' My driver refused to make a settlement and seemed to regard the chicanery as a legitimate trick to play on an unsuspecting tenderfoot."

For many years the town's chief industry was flour milling, but its streets and hotel lobbies are crowded now (1938) with men in khaki shirts, boots, and stained riding breeches, all talking the jargon of the oil fields. With oil wells to the north, south, and east, a boom spirit has gripped the town. Great stacks of heavy timbers for rigging, of fabricated steel for derricks, of tubing, casing, and pipe are piled high in supply yards. During 1937 many new business establishments were opened and hundreds of new houses were built here. In spite of all this bustle and feverish growth the town has retained a neat and orderly appearance.

The Barton County Courthouse, a four-story structure of Bedford limestone, stands in the center of the city in a landscaped square, which also contains the Moses Memorial Bandshell, donated in 1926 by descendants of Clayton L. Moses, Great Bend pioneer, and a bronze statue of a Union soldier, erected as a G. A. R. memorial in 1915.

  1. Federal Writers' Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Kansas, Kansas: A Guide to the Sunflower State, Kansas State Department of Education, The Viking Press, New York, 1939.
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