The mighty buffalo once roamed wild and free across the Kansas prairies and caught the imagination of our grandfathers. Several communities that sprang up in those early days following statehood decided to honor those majestic beasts by naming their towns after them. I suppose that was all well and good back in those days, however, when the post office came into being, having more than one Buffalo, Kansas, would create all kinds of problems.
The first town that officially got the honor of being called Buffalo was the Wilson County burg of Buffalo on today’s Highway 75, just west of Chanute. In another case however, the post office turned down a petition in Rush County for another small town called Buffalo near the town of La Cross. The earlier Wilson County town had beat them to the punch. So they switched to the more accurate zoological name for the American buffalo and named their town Bison, Kansas.
Dodge City was first called Buffalo City because of an estimated 25 million buffalo in the surrounding neighborhood. The post office suggested the town be named Dodge City. The town site was adjacent to Fort Dodge Military Reservation. Col. Richard I. Dodge was the fort commander at the time (1872) and the fort had been named for his uncle, Col. Henry I. Dodge.
Dodge City went on to become the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Between 1875 and 1885, cattlemen drove thousands of longhorns up from Texas and New Mexico. Business flourished while Dodge City became the most notorious of all cattle towns. Its notoriety lasted the longest of any of the famous cow towns on the frontier.
Speaking of cow towns, in 1871, the year in which Leavenworth’s successful businessman, Alexander Caldwell, became a U.S. senator from Kansas, a border town along the Chisholm Trail was named for him. For a few years, Caldwell flourished as a cow town and was known from the Rio Grande to Dodge City as the “Border Queen.” But it has since fizzled out.
We have come a long way since the days of cowboys and the buffalo. Our grandparents traveled the plains on horseback or road the stagecoach. We now fly over the prairies in airliners or scoot across in automobiles on highways.
In the 1880s, D.R. Green ran one of the fastest, most efficient stage lines in Kansas. In fact, the spectacular speed of his stagecoaches won him the nickname Cannonball. He was a striking figure, big, bronzed and flamboyantly dressed. He carried rolls of cash. His route west of Wichita to Greensburg was called the Cannonball Highway. Today, U.S. Highway 54 pretty much follows the same route.
Cowley County may have the only Kansas town named for a horse – Dexter, a great trotter owned by Robert Bonner of New York. He paid $35,000 for him. Bonner and his horse were traveling through the area at the time the town was being organized. During his racing career, Dexter ran 50 races, winning 48, for a total of $67,100. Dexter died in 1888 at the age of 30. Artists Currier and Ives immortalized Dexter in one of their famous paintings.
Email Ted W. Stillwell send at Ted@blueandgrey.com or call him at 816-896-3592.