By BOB MAXWELL
Special to The Hays Daily News
If one is to fully appreciate the birth of Hays City ("City" was dropped as a part of the title in 1885), that person must be aware of Rome, a ghost town that died a-borning.
One of Rome's co-founders was a 21-year-old scout and hunter named W.F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Cody planned on making his fortune by selling lots in Rome; his enthusiasm prompted him to send back east for his young wife and baby girl. The founding of Rome was stimulated by the Union Pacific's Eastern Division's employment of about 1,200 men in the construction crews that were surveying, grading and laying track during the summer of 1867.
William Rose, a railroad contractor, invited Bill Cody to be his partner. Rose had "squatter's rights" to the quarter section on which the town was to be located. In midsummer, about 1,200 workers on the railroad made Rome a center for their recreation and the contractors a base for hiring new workers.
The stage line established a station at the Perry Hotel (a two-story frame building put up by Joe Perry); and Rome seemed to be on its way. But trouble came from Rome.
Dr. William Webb appeared and asked for a partnership in the Rome township; Cody and Rose rejected Webb's request. It turned out that Webb had the authority to locate townships for the railroad. Spurned by Cody and Rose, Webb and Phinney Moore organized the Big Creek Land Co. and laid out a township 1 mile east of Rome. Moreover, because of the danger of floods, it was decided that the grade and bridge at Rome be raised 31βΡ2 feet higher than originally planned; thus, Rome became, in effect, a "walled city," surrounded on the south by the high railroad grade and on the other three sides by Big Creek.
Cody and his family moved into the Gibson House at Hays City before Rome disappeared. Cody got a job killing 12 buffalo a day for fresh meat for the railroad construction gangs; for this service he was paid $500 per month, which was, doubtless, a more exciting activity and also a more reliable source of income than selling corner lots in booming Rome.
Thus, Hays was born.
The story of the settling of Hays begins with the westward push of what in now the Union Pacific Railroad. The original charter for the railroad was granted by the Kansas Legislature in 1855 to the Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad.
By April, 29, 1867, the track had reached Salina. Soon after this, the real troubles began.
Of the 206,000 Indians in the United States in the 1860s, nearly one-third occupied the territory along the route of the Kansas Pacific Railroad between the Missouri and the Colorado rivers. They recognized the railroad as an invasion of their lands by civilization, and they naturally fought against it with all the ferocity they could muster. They banded together in an effort to turn back the advancing tide of white men, and by 1868 no fewer than 15,000 warriors were in the field, harassing settlers, stage drivers and teamsters.
One of a line of military forts protecting the railroad construction camps and settlers, a fort was established on Big Creek in 1865, 14 miles southeast of where Hays is now. The post, known as Fort Fletcher and renamed Fort Hays in November 1866, had quarters for several companies of troops.
It was located on the low-lying land along the margin of the creek and was destroyed by a flood in the spring of 1867, a flood in which several soldiers lost their lives.
The post was then abandoned and immediately re-established on its present site by Gen. Pope. The flag was first raised officially over the newly relocated fort on July 4, 1867.
The post had been christened Fort Hays in honor of Gen. Alexander Hays of the 63rd Pennsylvania Volunteers, who was killed in the Civil War Battle of the Wilderness. The new Fort Hays was located on the high grounds across the creek from Hays on a 7,600 acre site reserved by the U.S. government. It was maintained until 1889 with regiments of both white and colored troops, a colonel in command, a row of officers' quarters, a stone block house and guard house, barracks, barns and all the necessary buildings.
During these years, there were many good times for Hays residents with the band playing, the morning and evening guns sounding daily for 20 years, and the socializing between the townspeople and the officers at the fort.
There were also tough times, and the fort was one of the causes for old Hays being known as a tough town and a wild and woolly Western place with its rowdiness and lawlessness.
The first three sheriffs of the county met with violent deaths: Tom Gannon, J.V. Macintosh and Isaac Thayer.
In those early days, the only law was that of the gun. Apparently, the one quickest on the trigger won the argument. "Wild Bill" Hickok, an individual typical of this period, was a two-gun man who had been an Indian scout, was hired by a group of businessmen to act as special marshal of Hays and to help rid the town of outlaws. Although never appointed sheriff, Hickok did, indeed, make life miserable for thugs, gamblers and their ilke. He helped to populate Boot Hill.
The original Boot Hill of Kansas was located eight blocks north of the present post office, five or six blocks north of where the old saloons were located, facing the depot on what was then North Main Street.
No historical vignette regarding Hays would be complete without calling attention to just a few of the most colorful and interesting individuals who helped to settle and to influence this flower of the prairies:
* Tommy Drum: It was said that Drum was the only saloon keeper in Hays who did not drink. Drum came to Hays in 1867. His saloon became one of the most popular in the West. General Sheridan, Col. Geroge Armstrong Custer, Buffallo Bill and Wild Bill made their headquarters there. The first church services in Hays were in his saloon in 1873. The bar was covered with a cloth, the minister had a large and attentive congregation and Drum superintended the taking of the offering, which was liberal.
* Martin Allen was a farmer, a botonist and a representative in the Kansas Legislature from Ellis County, He first came to Hays in 1872 and was one of the first to engage in agriculture in this area.
* Jack Downing, editor and proprietor of the Star-Sentinal, came to Hays from Illinois in 1876, established the Ellis County Star and ran it until 1882.
* Michael Haffemeier, a manufacturer of carriages, wagons and farm implements and the owner of a general/repair shop, located in Hays in 1871, married Miss Kate Ryan and settled in Hays.
* A.S. Hall, owner of the firm of Hall and Son, was a dealer in a general line of hardware, stoves, tinware and farm implements. He was one of the grandfathers of Frank Motz, who was later to be the owner, editor and publisher of The Hays Daily News.
* Frank Haveman came to Hays in 1873. He established the Haveman Lumber Co., which, in addition to lumber, sold household furniture and coffins.
* Hill P. Wilson came to Hays in 1867 and was post trader at the fort until 1878. He married Miss Mary Montgomery in 1880. He was owner of the Bank of Hays City, which opened for business Jan. 1, 1880, the first and only bank in town at that time. His mother, Mrs. Mary Wilson, was one of the founders of the Hays Presbyterian Church.
* H.D. Shaffer, a Pennsylvania native, served in the Civil War, was taken prisoner and confined in Libby prison: after a three-month stint in Libby, he was released due to a grievous wound he had received in battle at Lynchburg. He married Miss Addie Ritz. They moved to Hays in 1877, where they raised merino sheep and four children, Harry, Joseph, Ida and Frank.
* I.M. Yost also located in Hays in 1877. He built a flour mill in 1878 with a producing capacity of 100 barrels in 24 hours; moreover, he introduced the gradual reduction system and manufactured the finest grades of flour.
* Simon Motz, the father of Frank Motz, arrived in Hays in 1867 and engaged in the mercantile business for a number of years. In 1881, he began practice of law and devoted much time and energy to the real estate business.
A number of family-owned business have been operational for many years and have added a great deal to the fine city we know today. Just to name a few will bring back a multitude of memories to those who have lived a good share of their lives here: the A.A. Wiesner family, the Phillips family -- both in hardware and ranching -- the Schwaller family, the Harkness store, which later became the first drug store in Hays, the W.J. Madden family, Dr. J.H. Middlekauff, John Schlyer, George Grass, the Kraus family, Johnson, Unrein, Wellbrock, Hall, Engel, Bemis: some of the farmers and ranchers who tamed the prairie soil, and added their influence to the city of Hays.
Each, and many others unnamed made their own contributions to the community that was fast becoming a thriving a jewel on the plains.
Bob Maxwell taught at Fort Hays State University, was Ellis County Sheriff, and has researched the history of Hays and Ellis County.