SANTA FE - Even the Santa Fe Railroad bypassed Santa Fe.

It's a story that is typical of most dead towns on the Kansas plains - a town died when it was skirted by the railroad or failed to secure the county seat.

Santa Fe died both deaths.

Yet, the Haskell County ghost town's story is largely different than most of the more than 5,000 Kansas communities that have disappeared from the map.

Santa Fe had a vibrant pulse for more than 30 years as the Haskell County seat. Santa Fe and five other now nonexistent towns were the only cities in Haskell County on the 1895 Kansas map.

There was no Sublette. No Satanta. Santa Fe, it seemed, would live on for centuries.

However, only cattle in a feedlot populate the town site today. The courthouse is gone, along with the businesses, the houses and the people.

Bloodless fight

Before Kansas became a state, the only traffic in western Kansas was Native Americans, soldiers and those traveling the Santa Fe Trail.

However, after the Civil War, with the passage of the Homestead Act, residents of the east began migrating west for free land.

Developers founded Santa Fe in 1886, just a few miles south of the old merchant trail in what was still Finney County. Haskell County was created in July 1887, according to the Kansas State Historical Society.

Santa Fe was in the center of the newly formed county and named the temporary county seat. The town eventually beat out nearby Ivanhoe for the official honors.

At its peak, Santa Fe was a booming community with 1,800 people, according to a 1960s article by Jack Fraley in the Dodge City Daily Globe. It had a school, two churches, two lumberyards, a restaurant and two grocery stores. It also had a flourmill, the Rutledge Hotel, the Santa Fe Bank and five newspapers during its existence.

But crop failures of the 1890s and early 1900s caused settlers to move way. Remaining residents, however, clung to the hope of securing a railroad.

The Santa Fe Railroad expressed interest in building a line through Santa Fe. However, in 1911 or 1912, railroad crews laid the tracks seven miles to the south of the county seat.

A map in the April 1912 edition of The Hutchinson News showed the railroad's proposed path through southwest Kansas. A story in March 1912 said the railroad planned to name new towns along its line Satanta, after the Kiowa Indian chief, and Sublette, after a Haskell County pioneer.

Missing the railroad, along with the new towns that sprung up because of it, would be Santa Fe's "crowning blow," Fraley wrote.

Santa Fe residents weren't about to give up. A January 1913 article in The News states that Satanta joined forces with Santa Fe in an effort to keep the county seat from moving to Sublette.

According to the story, there wasn't much left of Santa Fe at the time, except for the courthouse and "an old frame structure, the rest of the town being gradually broken up and moved away."

Santa Fe townsfolk still lobbied for another railroad line to go through, The News reported. That route, however, never materialized.

A county seat election was to be held Feb. 25, 1913. It would be the first election where women were legal voters. Still, the fight continued with a special election May 16, 1919.

"In the special election held yesterday, Santa Fe lost its fight to continue as the smallest county seat in Kansas," The News reported. At the time, Santa Fe had 75 people.

The matter went to the Kansas Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Sublette in December 1920.

Dugouts and rattlesnakes

Aavon Powers, Hutchinson, who is in her 80s, said her mother, Bessie Pace Mendenhall, was 10 years old in 1909 when she took the train with her parents to western Kansas. They were going to homestead near Santa Fe.

The Pace family lived in a sod house not far from the town site.

"They had a roof made of dirt," Powers said. "They had people come through with the freight and covered wagons and that kind of stuff. They put them up for the night when they would stop there."

Eventually, her grandfather moved in with his brother in a two-story house in Santa Fe.

"She and my uncle, her oldest brother William, would kill rattlesnakes," she said. "She had a quart bottle of rattlesnake rattles she gleaned over the years."

Powers said her parents married in 1919. Her grandparents eventually divorced and her grandfather moved back to Louisville, Kentucky.

There still is a cemetery, Powers' brother, Elborn Mendenhall, of Topeka, said. The town site is a feedlot.

"It's an interesting little town, but there are a lot of interesting little towns that are gone," Mendenhall said.

As for Santa Fe, "It sort of blew away," he said.