Great Band,

Great Bend is the largest city and county seat of Barton County, Kansas. The population was 15,345 at the 2000 census. Great Bend is very close to the geographic center of Kansas. The city is located at the junction of Highways 56 and 28/281, about 90 miles Northwest of Wichita. The name comes from the location of the city along a large bend in the Arkansas River.


Early settlers to the area came in about 1870. Most of the pioneer homes were rough dugouts and sod houses that barely protected their inhabitants from the severe weather often experienced in Kansas. They were fitted with holes in the wall to defend against the Indians. Early settlers killed buffalo to provide food for their family; plus they sent the tanned hides to the east for a cash income. A few settlers tried farming but were unsuccessful because the buffalo tramped down the crops. The first settlement in Great Bend township were made by E. J. Dodge and D. N. Heiser in 1871.

The town was named after the Great Bend of the Arkansas River, a feature noted as early as the first days of the Santa Fe Trail. It was here that a trading post was established and later a small military post, Fort Zarah. After the Civil War the land began to be developed by easterners, and by the early 1870s a town had formed and Great Bend participated for a short time as a cow town, complete with shoot outs, Texas cowboys and saloons.

Following the close of the cow town phase, Great Bend took up its place as a regional trade and service center, a role that grew stronger during the growth of the oil industry and, later, when it served as a major World War II Army Air Corps training base. Since then the community has continued to develop as a medical, legal and technical service center, as well as a regional shopping and entertainment provider.

Fun Facts About Great Bend
(provided by the Great Bend High School Class of 1964)
In 1541 Coronado, and the Spanish Conquistadors, passed through present day Great Bend, Kansas, searching for the fabled 7 Cities of Cibola (Gold). Coronado thus established the white-man tradition of "passing through Great Bend". Coronado never found the 7 Cities of Gold, but he did discover the great bend on the Arkansas River. Indians, of course, already knew about a great bend on the Arkansas River (pronounced "ar-KAN-sas"). All of this happened while the Pilgrims were still in Europe.

In 1806 Zebulon Pike, exploring the Louisiana Purchase, became the first American to pass through present day Great Bend. He wrote about mustangs and buffalo a few miles west of town and called the area the "Great American Desert". Like Coronado, Pike did not stop. Later the Spanish arrested him for trespassing. He should have stopped and established Great Bend.

In 1821 Mexico received independence from Spain (No, it was not on Cinco de Mayo!) This facilitated international trading, so William Becknell "founded" the Santa Fe Trail which passed through present day Great Bend. Becknell did not stop. But he, and his successors, left wagon ruts or "swales" that can still be seen near Great Bend. The Indians, of course, already knew about the trail along the Arkansas River.

For the next half-century, wagons hauled valuable trading supplies up and down the Santa Fe trail--through present day Great Bend. The wagons were usually pulled by mules or oxen. If mules were used, a "mule skinner" would ride one of the mules, and control the mule team with reins. If oxen were used, a "bullwhacker" would walk beside the oxen and control the ox team with a whip.

Sometimes the drivers would shout "Yee" if they wanted to turn right. And they would shout "Haw" if they wanted to turn left. Yee-Haw!

In 1826, legend has it that, Kit Carson amputated Andrew Broadus' arm at Walnut Creek, 2 miles east of present day Great Bend, Ks. And, a few days later, Kit Carson shot his mule near Pawnee Rock, a few miles west of Great Bend.

In 1846 General Stephen Kearny, following the Santa Fe Trail, passed through present day Great Bend with his "Great Army of the West" with 2000 men, 1200 wagons, and dozens of artillery pieces. They didn't stop, because they were on their way to fight the Mexican-American War. When they reached the end of the trail, Santa Fe, Mexico, surrendered without a shot.

July 21,1847, Kit Carson again passed through present day Great Bend. He should have stayed. The next day Kit Carson was attacked by Comanches at Ash Creek, about 20 miles west of Great Bend.

1849. California gold rush increased traffic through present day Great Bend on the Santa Fe Trail.

1853. 500 Cheyennes attacked a wagon train two miles east of present day Great Bend. The score: Paleface, 5 dead. Red skins, 60 dead. The next day, the wagon train was attacked again a few miles on the other side of present day Great Bend (38).

June 24, 1853, in response to Indian attacks, the US Army ordered soldiers from Fort Leavenworth to set up a camp near present day Great Bend. A month later the US Army changed its mind, and ordered the soldiers to leave the camp. That's the Army .

In 1855, Lt. Bryan blazed the Fort Riley/Fort Larned military trail that crossed Walnut Creek 7 miles NW of its mouth on the Arkansas River. Later a branch connected the trail to Fort Zarah. Maj. John Sedgwick improved the trail in 1860. It was important, until 1872 when the railroad reached Great Bend. Kansas Route156 roughly follows this trail / stage coach line. The last 25 miles of the trail from present day Great Bend, to Fort Larned, was actually the old Santa Fe Trail. In the days of the Wild West, prostitutes worked at Boyd's Ranch near Fort Larned.

In 1855, breaking a centuries old tradition, two white men, Bill Allison and Francis Boothe, stopped at present day Great Bend because their mules "gave out". They built the first permanent structure near present day Great Bend, a "last chance" trading post where the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Walnut Creek. (Or "first chance" if you were going in the opposite direction). Their trading post (sometimes called a 'ranch') became very famous. They traded with Indians who soon called Walnut Creek "Tsodalhente-da Pa" which meant "Armless Man's Creek" because Allison had only one arm.

In 1857, a Mexican, traveling along the Santa Fe Trail, passed through present day Great Bend and split Boothe's head with an axe. This is the first recorded murder of a white man by a white man near present day Great Bend. No one knows where Boothe was buried. The murderer did not stay. He should have, because he was later captured near Santa Fe. George Peacock took over the trading post/ranch, and called it Peacock Ranch.

1858. Start of Pikes Peak Gold Rush. More gold seekers passed thru present day Great Bend. (note: the Santa Fe Trail split west of present day Dodge City. The so called 'mountain branch' went through Colorado).

In 1859 a famous Kiowa Indian, Chief Satank, (aka Sitting Bear) was arrested for almost "passing out" while passing through present day Great Bend after drinking "fire-water" at the Peacock Ranch. Satank later escaped. The Indian attack on a nearby wagon train may have been related to the incident.

In 1860 Indian chief Satank asked Peacock to write a letter of introduction (begging paper) saying Satank was a good Indian. Peacock played a trick on Satank and wrote that Satank was a bad Indian. (Satank could not read). When the Chief learned about the trick from Buffalo Bill Mathewson, Satank's tribe attacked Peacock's Ranch outside present day Great Bend. Peacock was killed. Charles Rath took over the adobe ranch, and called it Rath's Ranch. The ranch became a trading post, a stagecoach hotel, a restaurant, a post office, and a saloon.

Also in 1860, Indian Chief Black Kettle passed through present day Great Bend, with his band of Cheyennes, on their way to the Cheyenne Bottoms hunting grounds 5 miles north of Great Bend. It could be argued that the history of the American West would be different if Black Kettle stayed at Cheyenne Bottoms. Instead he moved to Sand Creek, CO, where he miraculously survived the Sand Creek massacre of Nov 29, 1864. The atrocity of the US Army at Sand Creek sent Plains Indians on the warpath, resulting in the death of many whites and Indians.

In 1861 Kiowas perform their sacred Sun Dance near present day Great Bend.

In 1862 a herd of cattle stampeded about 10 miles west of present day Great Bend when a cowboy put his red coat on the horns of a steer. The stampede ended on the other side of present day Great Bend.

In October 1863, Quantrill's raiders, disguised in Union uniforms slaughtered 90 union soldiers at Baxter Springs, Kansas. One of the union troops killed was Maj. Zarah Curtis, and a year later, the US Army named an Indian fort 2 miles east of present day Great Bend, Ks after him: Fort Zarah. Quantrill's raiders included Frank and Jessie James and the Younger brothers who later used some of the guerrilla tactics for bank and train robberies. Quantrill had been provoked by John Brown's massacre of pro-slavery settlers at Pottawotmie Creek, Ks, in 1856.

May 17, 1864, Cheyennes attacked the Rath Ranch 2 miles east of present day Great Bend, Kansas. Fortunately Rath (who was married to a Cheyenne woman named "Making Out Road") had learned from good Cheyennes, that bad Cheyennes were on the war path and had time to make preparations.

In July 1864, because of frequent Indian attacks in the area, Camp Dunlap was established 2 miles east of present day Great Bend, Ks. where the Santa Fe Trail crossed the Walnut River. At first the camp was a series of tents and dugouts on the riverbank close to the Rath Ranch. Work immediately started on a more permanent facility about 100 yards from dugouts and renamed Fort Zarah. In 1866 it was replaced by a second Fort Zarah built about 1/2 mile up river.

July 18, 1864, a train of 21 wagons (which was half a mile long) was attacked by over 100 Kiowa and Arapaho Indians two or three miles east of present day Great Bend, Kansas (other say there were also Apaches, Cheyenne and Comanches). The Indians killed 10 of the 26 men in the wagon train. 2 men were scalped alive, but miraculously survived. The dead were buried near the old trail on the banks of the Walnut River. On April 1, 1973, heavy rains exposed the graves. Arrowheads were found with the bodies. This later became known as "The Great Bend Massacre" -- even though Great Bend would not be founded until another 8 years.

The next day Buffalo Bill's ranch 23 miles east of present day Great Bend was attacked -- probably by the same Indians. Buffalo Bill chased-off the Indians with his 2 pound cannon.

In November of 1864, Indians attacked two soldiers near the present day Great Bend courthouse. The soldiers received several arrow wounds, but managed to reach the safety of Fort Zarah. The next day, more soldiers were sent to the site of the Indian attack. Indians attacked a second time, killed and scalped a soldier. This could be the first killing of a Fort Zarah soldier by an Indian.

April 1865 Wild Bill Hickok rode out of Fort Zarah to tell an approaching wagon train that "Lee's surrendered!" (ending the Civil War).

Aug - Nov 1866. Thousands of Indians including 4500 Cheyennes, 4700 Comanches, 600 Apaches, 2000 Kiowas, 600 Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, Arapahos, and Pawnee Indians camped near Fort Zarah to receive supplies promised by the US Government as part of the Oct 1865 Indian Peace Treaty of the Little Arkansas where Indians gave up hunting rights north of the Arkansas River so that railroads could be built. Black Kettle was there and recalled at atrocities at Sand Creek. He was killed 2 years later at Washita, OK. Buffalo Bill Mathewson was also there and correctly predicted the Indians would go on the warpath in the spring because they had not received all the promised supplies.

In April 1867 Fort Zarah was moved 1/2 mile north-west (upstream), about three-tenths a mile east of the present day Fort Zarah Park. Part of it was near, if not under, present day US 56. There was one large stone building and several smaller structures. Married soldiers lived with their families in tents. Civilians also lived near the fort, and at times created problems, especially if they constructed a saloont. Usually 50-125 men would be stationed at the fort.

In April 1867 Custer, with the 7th Cavalry, passed through Fort Zarah and present day Great Bend. Following the tradition set by Coronado three centuries earlier, he did not stop. He later wished he had.

There are at least two "Buffalo Bills", and both lived near present day Great Bend, Ks....
1. In 1864 Buffalo Bill Mathewson worked at the Cow Creek trading post 25 miles east of present day Great Bend and was attacked by 600 Indians. Three years later Buffalo Bill stopped at Fort Zarah at least once.
2. In 1867-1868 the more famous Buffalo Bill Cody got a job east of present day Great Bend to hunt buffalo to feed workers on the Santa Fe railroad. He was very successful, hence his nickname.

On Sept 9, 1867, Franz (Frank) Huning traveling west on the Santa Fe Trail, asked asked Capt. Ed Byrne of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers at Cow Creek to protect his wagon train. Capt. Byrne refused. Later in the day, "dog soldiers", from the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Kiowa tribes, attacked the wagon train at the present day Ralph Hathaway farm about 20 miles east of present day Great Bend. The Indians killed Franz's son, mother-in-law, and a wagon driver. It is possible that Charlie Bent, the half-breed outlaw son of William Bent, led the renegade Indian band. The event became known as Plum Butte Massacre. Capt. Christy from Fort Zarah recovered the bodies, and found them scalped and mutilated. Mr. Huning became the first person in the American West to complain, "Where's the damn cavalry when you need them?"

Parts of the 10th Cavalry were sometimes stationed at Fort Zarah. Their home base was usually Fort Larned. The 10th Cavalry fought many Indian battles near present day Great Bend. The Indians called the brave soldiers of the 10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers" because they were black and their hair reminded the Indians of Buffalo hair.

In 1867 the US Army accused Charles Rath of selling firewater and weapons to Indians from his trading post near Fort Zarah. They also called him a "desperado". Rath soon left the area .

Oct 1867 Chief Satank and other chiefs sign the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty. Both sides broke the treaty. Satank was captured and killed in 1871 trying to escape.

In 1868 Buffalo Bill Cody visited Fort Zarah. He should have stayed. When he passed through present day Great Bend, on his return to Fort Larned, he was captured by Kiowa Indians. However he escaped by tricking the Indians and later formed the famous Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. (Wonder where he got the idea?)

In 1868 Kit Carson was captured by Kiowa Indians a few miles west of present day Great Bend, Ks. He later escaped. Back in 1848 he married an Cheyenne woman called "Making Out Road". She was called this, not because she frequented lover's lane, but because she was a good scout and can find (make out) faint trails. Making-Out-Road left Kit Carson when her family followed the buffalo somewhere. Later she married Charles Rath and lived at Rath Ranch near present day Great Bend, Ks. Making Out Road (aka Roadmaker) was a modern day "hotty"; at least 5 men married her. Kit Carson, Charles Rath, three Cheyenne warriors (including Roman Nose)

On May 19, 1868, the ranch /trading post / stagecoach hotel /saloon outside present day Great Bend was destroyed by Cheyenne Indians. It was never rebuilt.

On Oct 2, 1868, Fort Zarah was successfully defended against an attack of 150 Kiowas. There was another skirmish on Oct 10, 1868.

On Nov 27, 1868, Black Kettle was killed at the Battle of Washita.

On Oct 6, 1869, Indian hostilities decreased. Ft. Zarah was decommissioned.

In 1869 Wild Bill Hickok, was marshal of Hays, Ks, 50 miles NW of present day Great Bend. He shacked-up with Calamity Jane.

circa 1870. Billy the Kid traveled from Wichita to Colorado. He probably passed through present day Great Bend.

1862. The Homestead Act was passed.

April 1870. The first settlers to file for land ownership in Barton County were John Reinecke and Henry Schultz. Their claim was near present day Heizer, Ks. on the Walnut Creek, about 6 miles northwest of present day Great Bend, Ks.

Jan 23, 1871. The first settler to file for land ownership in Great Bend township was Edward J. Dodge . (Allison, Boothe, Rath, Peacock, et. al. were said to be 'squatters'). Two years later Dodge completed construction of a stone house. Miraculously this house survives and can be seen at the Barton County Historical Museum across the Arkansas River from Great Bend. (note: Barton County has 25 townships -- each one is six miles square).

Around Sept or Oct, 1871, work began on the first building in present day Great Bend, Kansas, a hotel (Southern, later renamed Great Western). The population was eight men and two women. In 1880 Bernard Smyth wrote, "Buffalo were then daily slaughtered in the streets ... and an occasional band of Pawnee or Kaw Indians called to say 'How' and beg for coffee".

Winter of 1871. First murder after founding of Barton County. A Texas cowboy was pistol-whipped and shot to death by Jack Jaminson at Zarah (now a ghost town) 3 miles east of present day Great Bend. Zarah had a hotel, two saloons, a blacksmith shop, a livery stable, a general store, a post offfice, and several homes. Several thousand Texas cattle were wintered there. All of this is gone. The town of Zarah is now a wheat field 3 miles east of Great Bend. The last citizen left Zarah in 1875).

Feb 1872. Another murder in Zarah. 18 year old Tobe Wight shot a cowboy named Perry. The murder escaped and shot two more men, before he was killed by a gunshot in the back .

June 17, 1872, Great Bend incorporated.

July 15, 1872, The AT&SF railroad, following the Santa Fe Trail, came to Great Bend, Ks. Settlers used the stones from Fort Zarah to build Great Bend and the railroad. Very little of the rich history of Fort Zarah can be seen. Ray "Jiggs" Schulz writes that the south "cut down" on the Walnut Crossing is still visible as well as the soldier's dugouts along the bank.

In 1872, 19 year-old D.W. "Doc" Barton drove two thousand Texas Longhorns to the new railhead at Great Bend, Kansas. The herd filled 46 cattle cars. For 3 short years Great Bend was a cow town.

In 1873 Temple Houston, the son of Texas President Sam Houston, joined a cattle drive to Great Bend, Kansas.

July 2, 1873. First shootout in Great Bend. Marshall Gainsford killed a drunken buffalo hunter in self defense.

In 1873, in one day, one settler killed 15 buffalo west of Great Bend.

In 1875, just 3 years after it was founded, Great Bend had 9 saloonkeepers! There was a dance hall at Lakin and Main that employed women of questionable reputation who entertained Texan cowboys. Another saloon/dance hall (Dahm) was at Lakin and Kansas. There is a legend that that part of Lakin was called 'Maggie Street' because Madame Maggie ran a brothel. Other saloons and/or dance halls were the Oasis, Old Southern, Nueces, Foley's, Cutler's and, the Last Chance. Yes, cowboys actually drank at the Last Chance Saloon in early Great Bend Kansas.

Also in 1875 Great Bend passed a law banning Texan cattle, because, as Cutler wrote in 1883, "the class of people that the cattle trade attracted to Great Bend, was that class of thugs and harlots that are a curse and a dread to every community." So Texans drove their cattle to Dodge City 60 miles south west of Great Bend. Dodge City thus becomes world famous partially because of the law passed by Great Bend party-poopers.

April 1876. After Wyatt Earp cleaned-up Wichita, he was 'hired' by Dodge City to do the same. He probably passed through Great Bend on the way to Dodge.

April 1879. Gang violence erupts in Great Bend when youths break windows with slingshots.

April 30, 1885. First lynching in Great Bend. The murderer of a pool hall owner was lynched.

In 1889 the last buffalo was killed in Barton County, Ks. (36).

June 16, 1898. Second lynching in Great Bend. 300 vigilantes lynched the murderer of 15-year-old Miss Myrtle Hofmaster.

In Nov 1915, Great Bend was struck by a tornado. 11 people died. 1000 sheep killed E of town. 1000's of ducks were killed at Cheyenne Bottoms N of town. Parts of Great Bend were found in Nebraska.

In 1930 oil was discovered near Great Bend, Ks. Soon there were 3000 producing wells in Barton County. The population jumped from 5,548 in 1930 to 9,044 in 1940. There was even an oil well in the Great Bend city park. Great Bend prospered into the '60s.

In 1942 the US Army returned to Great Bend to build the Great Bend US Army Air Force Base.

In 1964 Great Bend Class of 1964 graduated. There was never a greater class before, or since. Roger Pommerenke was vice-president. If you have a problem with that, email the webmaster at

In 1973 the Great Bend Argonne Rebel Drum and Bugle Corps won their third national championship.

In 2000 Jack Kilby, Great Bend High School class of 1941, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the microchip.

Great Bend is located at 38°21'58N, 98°46'41W (38.366056, -98.777958). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 27.8 km² (10.7 mi²). 27.5 km² (10.6 mi²) of it is land and 0.3 km² (0.1 mi²) of it (1.02%) is water.

Great Bend is served by one commercial airline at Great Bend Municipal Airport. Due to the flat plains of Kansas, the Great Bend area has the largest population of ground squirrels west of the Mississippi River. The city is located along a large curve in the Arkansas River, and consequently was given the name Great Bend.

As of the census of 2000, there were 15,345 people, 6,371 households, and 4,000 families residing in the city. The population density was 557.4/km² (1,443.7/mi²). There were 7,080 housing units at an average density of 257.2/km² (666.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 89.81% White, 1.62% African American, 0.43% Native American, 0.31% Asian, 0.01% Pacific Islander, 5.77% from other races, and 2.05% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 13.20% of the population.

There were 6,371 households out of which 30.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.1% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.2% were non-families. 32.8% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 3.00.

In the city the population was spread out with 25.7% under the age of 18, 9.4% from 18 to 24, 25.4% from 25 to 44, 20.9% from 45 to 64, and 18.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 92.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,841, and the median income for a family was $38,708. Males had a median income of $29,339 versus $19,647 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,085. About 11.5% of families and 15.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.0% of those under age 18 and 9.7% of those age 65 or over.

Famous persons
Jack Kilby, co-inventor of the integrated circuit and 2000 Nobel Prize laureate in Physics spent his childhood in Great Bend, graduating from Great Bend High School.

Oscar Micheaux, independent African-American movie maker spent his childhood in Great Bend, Kansas.

Skip Yowell graduated from Great Bend High School in 1964 and became an acknowledged outdoorsman who co-founded JanSport Co. in 1967. While at JanSport, Skip helped develop and market innovations like the adjustable back pack frame and the dome tent. Skip is married to his high school sweetheart Winnie Anderson Kingsbury.

Jazz performer Karrin Allyson was born in Great Bend.

Stan Brannan, founder of Mycro-tek, was born and raised in Great Bend.

Argonne Rebels
From 1947 to 1989 Great Bend was the home of the nationally famous Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps. Under the direction of many dedicated individuals including Glenn and Sandra Opie, the corps achieved national fame, most notably, American Legion national championships in 1971, 1972, and 1973. They were also ranked 3rd at the American Legion contest in 1956, and 5th at the Drum Corps International contest in 1972.

World's Third Pizza Hut
Pizza Hut was founded in 1958, in Wichita, Kansas, by brothers Dan and Frank Carney. Before the enterprise took off, their sister Sue married John McLeland of Great Bend, Kansas. The Carney brothers gave John and Sue, their second Pizza Hut franchise (the first franchise was in Topeka).

The McLeland's started the world's third Pizza Hut at 2007 Washington St., Great Bend, Kansas, c. 1960. A few years later it moved to the corner of 10th Street and Washington. The phone number was Gladstone 3-4641. The manager was Ray Kober. High School student Tom Myers was a popular employee.

The available toppings were limited to pepperoni, sausage, hamburger, onions, green pepper and, of course, cheese. If you were 18, you could drink 3.2 beer until midnight.

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