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Parent Category: Kansas State History Articles
Category: Kansas Local History

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Pierceville Township

In 1872, the town was farther out in the Wilderness than any other frontier town in Southwestern Kansas.  In a word, it was the only place of civilization west of Dodge City and south of the Union Pacific Railroad and for many miles into Colorado.  Pierceville when founded was the only town in Finney County to maintain its original name and location.  All the other towns in the county at the time had to either change their name, or move to a different location for one reason or another.

"The noted firm of Barton Brothers introduced the cattle industry into the western third of Kansas. They left southern Texas; their ranch was located eighty miles north of San Antonio and twenty miles west of Austin, in February 1872, with 3,000 head of long-horn cattle and headed for the Arkansas River in Western Kansas. However, there were many tribes of hostile Indians and gangs of Mexican desperadoes between them and their destination. Forced to abandon their original plan of crossing the Indian Territory, the Barton Brothers followed the western or Pecos trail, whose course was up the Pecos river valley in New Mexico and on north to Colorado. Striking the Arkansas River at Pueblo, they followed its course down to the present town of Garden City, and camped beneath a big, old cottonwood tree. Santa Fe Trail travelers had half burned this tree's giant trunk and almost stripped of branches to furnish their camp fires with fuel, but it furnished a marker for their camp site that the cowboys had seen many miles out on the range. They remained at this location until fall, when they established ranch headquarters for the winter in dugouts built in the bank of the Arkansas River at Pierceville. From that time on their cattle range was south of the river, between Pierceville and Cimarron, and south to the Red river of Texas. The personnel of the Barton Brothers company in charge of cattle at this time was  D.W. (Doc) Barton, Al Barton, D. Eubank, and Tom Connell. Twelve drovers and cowboys assisted them. 

Mr. Barton gradually bred his herds up until he had a good grade, and his cattle business prospered until the blizzard of 1886. At that time, he lost eleven thousand head of grade cattle and eight hundred that were registered. Mr. Barton still lives at Ingalls, Kansas, and is eighty years of age, but he appears to be many years younger. For many years he has been engaged in wheat ranching." (1)

The Santa Fe railroad officials chose the Barton Bros. Ranch Headquarters as a railroad town site.  The new town site was named in honor of Charles W. and Carlos Pierce, members of the original Atchison, Topeka railroad company survey team.  Upon completion of the survey, gangs of construction men laid the tracks and the work train moved on down the tracks.  Pierceville had a commissariat with ex-governor Stubbs in charge, which fed 500 workmen and housed them in box cars.  Hunters, hired by the railroad, who supplied the workmen with meat from the herds of buffalo and antelope that ranged the plains, also had their quarters there.

A pump, windmill and water tank were built along the tracks to service the Santa Fe engines. About the time of the completion of the railroad through Pierceville, the first settler put in a store.  This settler was Thomas O'Lauphlin (1844-1922); (in many other sources His last name is spelled as "O'Loughlin).This is the man who set up a dugout Store in Pierceville Kansas near the ATSF railroad.  He had everything that hunters, cowboys, section crews and adventurers could want in their travels.  He traded in provisions for buffalo meat; and in turn traded it to wholesalers for provisions, clothing and ammunition. 

The Post office was est. on June 10, 1873, with George B. Clossen as postmaster.  There were several dugouts in town, most of which had been built to shelter the soldiers who had been stationed there.  

At this time, Pierceville was on its way to out rival Dodge City as the Cowboy Capital because the first trail herds came by this way.  But this would not happen because of the burning of Pierceville by Cheyenne Indians in 1874.  The Indians had set fire to the town, including the O'Lauohlin's store on July 4, 1874.  He, his family and others who were in town at the time had fled. The Indians came on July 4, 1874. (2)

For the next four years, the town was abandoned and was only used by roving bands of Indians, or cowboys as a campground. It would not be until 1878 that a house was built by John M. Snow and store was built by Mr. Vermillion. The post office was re-established on July 24 of that same year, with Richard E. Welch as postmaster.  

The Following year (1879) many claims were taken around Pierceville and many business enterprises sprang up in town. Wm. Harvey ran a general store in the Vermillion building: R.W. Sholes owned a general store; Wm. C. Newlin opened a real estate office, and John Brown was a Blacksmith. "Prominent among the original '79ers were Wm. Harvey, M.R. Logue, N.J. Collins and George Wallace.

N.J. Collins built the "Summit", a 12 room, 3 story home north of town. This home had a full story basement made out of native rock.  Mr. Collins had hoped to become a wealthy wheat rancher, but this was never to be.  Due to the lack of rain, his 100 acres of crop was ruined. He soon left Pierceville and moved to Dodge City, where he became a Pastor for the rest of his life.  His abandoned home became the focus of legends of being haunted. During the boom of '86, the house was used as apartments for a time, but when the boom went bust, the house was abandoned. Over the ensuing years, the house would finally topple down and the rubble was used to build other buildings in town.  Today, there are modern homes where the "Summit" resided. These homes are located across US-50, which separates North Pierceville from the rest of the town.

Mr. George Wallace and his family came to Pierceville in 1879.  Mr. Wallace was hired by the Santa Fe to oversee the coal chutes and operate the horse driven water pump that filled the water tank that serviced the Santa Fe engines. There was no railroad station agent at Pierceville at this time, so the rail crew's telegraph operator would get instructions by attaching their telegraph equipment to a wire.

The Ferry at Pierceville was operated from 1879 to about the fall of 1886 by the Barton Brothers. This ferry service enabled people living south of the Arkansas River to do business in town. The following is from Leola Howard Blanchard’s Conquest of the Southwest, pp. 198-199: “They could haul a load of four tons and made trips whenever teams and wagons appeared on the opposite bank and hailed the ferry. They used a saddle horse to pull away from the bank, by tying a rope to the saddle horn. Once out in the current, a sail was hoisted and it didn’t take much paddling to get the boat across. The fall of ‘86 they started across with five tons of coal, there was a strong wind blowing, and in spite of its big load the boat was carried along at a rapid rate. The sail was dropped as usual when within thirty feet of the bank, but the boat refused to stop, and shot clear over the bank, wrecking it beyond repair." (3)

Pierceville addressed the problem of bridging the Arkansas River on April 26, 1886 when the Township voted for a bridge bond. The vote was 307 in favor and 143 opposed. W. H. Hobson of St. Joseph Mo., was awarded the contract to construct the bridge.  On August 11, 1886, the town celebrated their first bridge. Source: Conquest of Southwest Kansas by Leola Howard Blanchard: Published by The Wichita Eagle Press copyright 1931. Republished 1989 Finney County Historical Society, Garden City Kansas. p. 173 A county Bridge now serves the crossing of the Arkansas River which is Dry most of the year. 

The town was platted in 1886; many of the plots were sold or given to people to induce them to build up the town. With this incentive, the population grew to 400.  On May 14, 1886, the first edition of the town’s first and only newspaper, The Pierceville Courier, was published by its editor, H.B. Brown.  The last edition was on August 26, 1887. M. R. Logue was the acting postmaster: G.L. Ensign, surveyor; G.W. Wright, real estate; David A. Armstrong, painter; Orr & Stapelton, lumber; J.R. Drillinger, restaurant and rooms; John Clark was section foreman, and his wife operated a hotel; J.A. Hurd was in the harness business; Cory& Newman, hardware; Don Proseaux, doctor and druggist; Mr. Grub carpenter; D. McDonnel, blacksmith; A.S. Van Patton, who came from New York, was a rancher and operated the Laclede hotel.

On August 28, 1888, an election was held to vote on the purchase of 10 acres of land on the northeast corner of sect.13, T 25 R. 31, to be used for a cemetery.

Mr. A.H. Warner became the towns Justice of Peace and postmaster.  He had married Jennie Logue in 1886, and operated a mercantile business beforehand.  When the drought caused many of the town’s inhabitants to pull up stakes and leave the area, this couple stayed on and became wealthy through the cattle trade, the store and the post office salary.  Mr. Warner was also active in the banking business in Garden City. By 1930, the population had dwindled to 166.

In 1923, the grade school, on the south end of town was a built as a two room brick affair with a large basement auditorium. It was expanded around 1950.  In 1919, the Pierceville High school was approved and was finally built in 1929 and was demolished in 1986 due to vandalism. Today, a community Park resides where the High School once stood. The High school Gym was built in 1940, and still stands, and is used for county, state and Federal elections. In 1965, Pierceville joined Garden City School District.  In 1967, the Pierceville High School was officially closed. In 1971, the elementary school was closed and the students in Pierceville went to the Pierceville-Plymell consolidated learning center. (The elementary school was the home of the Kanz radio Station in the late 1970's and early 1980's, but the station soon moved to Garden City Kansas.  The school is now abandoned and boarded up.  There was supposedly a Santa Fe Trail historical marker located here, but it has disappeared.) 

Other businesses (1931), Mr. Williamson, C.O. Webb and Ned Norris had garages and machine shops in Pierceville. The Knox Mercantile Company had a General Store. George R. Hedges had a grocery business and Fred Borger had an up to date Blacksmith shop.

Footnotes:

1. Western Kansas History on the Finney County Kansas eGovernment Website URL: http://www.finneycounty.org/weskan/ (Text taken from "Conquest of Southwest Kansas" by Leola Howard Blanchard, 1931, 1989) More in-depth: http://www.kancoll.org/khq/1937/37_1_annualmtg.htm

2. http://www.rootsweb.com/~txrobert/bios.html

3.This is from the article Ferries in Kansas, Part IX by George A. Root, May 1936 Kansas Historical Quarterly Web site: http://www.kshs.org/publicat/khq/1936/36_2_root.htm

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