The county is nearly in the form of a rectangle, Kingman cutting out a block-six miles square from the northeast corner. It is thirty-three miles in depth and thirty-six miles from east to west, giving a total area of 1,134 square miles.
The county has ten percent of bottom and ninety percent of upland. Timber occupies but one percent of its surface, the remainder being prairie. The general surface of the eastern half of the county is very level, but the western half, which includes the famous Cedar Mountains, is largely broken and bluffy. Cottonwood, red cedar, elm, hackberry, walnut and a few other varieties of timber are found in small quantities along the principal streams.
The principal streams are Medicine Lodge, Driftwood, Mulberry, Hackberry, and Mule. The tributaries of the Medicine Lodge River are Bear, Cedar and Monument Creeks, flowing north, and Elm and Turkey flowing south. Big and Little Mule Creeks run southeast and empty into the Salt Fork of the Arkansas. In addition to these streams, are numerous springs all over the county, and water can be obtained by wells of from ten to fifty feet in depth.
Considerable quantities of red sandstone exist in the northwestern part of the county, near Sun City. Vast fields of gypsum underlie that part of the county southwest of the Medicine Lodge River, and fire-clay has been discovered near Sun City.
The lands of the county are all embraced in the "thirty mile" and "three mile" strips, formerly owned by the Osages and the Cherokees respectively. These lands were ceded to the Government by the treaty of July 15, 1870, and were then offered for pre-emption but not for home-steading or timber claim entry. They embraced some of the best hunting grounds of the Osages, as the still plainly marked and numerous "buffalo wallows" testify.
The first settler in the county was a man named Griffin, who located on a ranch about one mile from where Sun City now stands, in the winter of 1871-72. This pioneer was killed in the Indian Territory the following summer, and C. H. Douglass is now the leading merchant in the town. In the spring of 1872, E. H. Mosley, Lockwood and Leonard located at Kiowa. Mosley had a small stock of goods which he traded to the Indians. He spent his time hunting buffalo and collecting the hides for market. Lockwood and Leonard attempted farming. July 30, 1872, the Indians, who were opposed to the whites settling in that section, made a raid on the residences of Leonard and Lockwood, and in the fight Mosley was killed, the others saving their lives by remaining in the house inside a stockade. The Indians killed nearly all the stock at this ranch and went off. Eli Smith located at the same place in October, 1872, and the first store was opened by G. Hegwer in the spring of 1873.
In December, 1872, Derrick Updegraff located at Medicine Lodge, and soon after Salmon P. Tuttle brought a drove of cattle to a camp near Updegraff's claim. William Walters, W. E. Hutchinson, with two brothers, Jake Ryan, A. L. Duncan, David Hubbard and John Beebee made settlement at or near Medicine Lodge early in 1873, and Samuel Larsh and a Mr. Wyncoop started a ranch at the mouth of Cedar Creek, three miles northwest of the Updegraff claim. Lake City was established by Reuben Lake April 6, 1873. With the summer of 1873 came general immigration and quite rapid settlement all over the northern part of the county.
The first child born in the county was Ralph Duncan, son of A. L. Duncan, born in the spring of 1873. The first wedding in the county took place in July, 1874, and united Charles Tabor and Miss Moore. S. Miller and Mary Hale were married at Sun City at an early day, but the exact date is unknown.
The following account of the Indian raid of 1874 seems to be the most correct of the many conflicting ones that are given. It is vouched for by E. P. Caruthers, of the Index, who has been in a position to get the facts: It was in the summer of 1874 that the so-called Indian raid occurred-when a band of Indians, led by a number of white men, it is alleged, came to this county and murdered several citizens up the Medicine River. There are different versions of the story. One is that the invaders were Indians who were opposed to the whites settling up the country and destroying their hunting grounds. Another version is that they were white men, in Indian disguise, who were hired by interested parties to drive out the population, that the rascality of the bondswindlers might not be detected or interrupted. Old citizens don't like to say much about that raid, preferring to let the dead past bury its dead-the dead Indians being already buried. The invaders were satisfied with one invasion.
To protect the citizens, stockades were built at this place, up the river twelve miles and at Sun City. The one here ran north and south through the alleys parallel with and next to Main street. Where the Cresset office stands was the northern line, and near Blickhahn's shop was the southern line. It was made of cedar posts set on end in the ground. As a further protection, a company of militia was organized at this place, and one at Sun City, and these were willing to keep off all savages for the pay they received from the State.
For the following account of the great interest of the county-stock raising-we are indebted to E. P. Caruthers, of the Index: "This county was a great grazing district for buffalo, and old settlers tell us that there were twenty times as many buffalo here as there are cattle now. One enthusiastic old settler remarked that he had seen them so thick on the Medicine River that one could walk for miles by only stepping from one buffalo to another. We suppress his name for the sake of his family. But they were thick and died in great numbers. Their bleached bones were as thick in the canons and on the prairies as stumps are in a clearing. Who does not remember the 'Bone Age,' when the bone pilgrims swooped down on this country by the hundreds and hauled the bones away by the thousands of tons? There was no harm in this, but this same crowd was guilty of meanness, for they would burn off the grass on every occasion they had the opportunity, that the white bleached bones might be seen more easily. This was after the 'Cedar Age,' when these same pilgrims came here and stole all the cedar posts out of the country.
"Where the buffalo roamed must be a good place for cattle, thought the old settlers, and they were correct, as has since been demonstrated. The rich grass that remains nutritious the entire year, and the many streams of pure water made the county one to be sought after by stockmen. Many of the early settlers tried agriculture as a pursuit, and generally failed, though a few on the streams did occasionally raise something like crops; but these soon found it true that this was not an agricultural section, and abandoned their experiments.
"The first cattle held in the county was a bunch of through Texas cattle purchased by Solomon Tuttle in the fall of 1872, and wintered across the Medicine River, about where the saw mill now stands. These he drove North and sold the following summer.
"The first graded cattle were driven in from Missouri in the spring of 1873 by William Carl, who held them on the Medicine, twelve miles above this city. Judge Shepler drove a few head in at the same time, with Carl.
"From that time on, the stock business has grown rapidly. From every State, came in men to engage in the business. Texas cattle found a ready sale here, and in fact any animal that wore horns and hoofs. With that enterprise which is always to be found in stockmen, progress and improvement were the watch words. High grade bulls and heifers were brought here from Kentucky and elsewhere, and to-day the range is full of the best graded stock cattle to be found in the West. There are Texans still being driven here, but principally cows, and the stock shipped from here brings the best prices offered for domestic cattle. The range is now generally taken up and much of it fenced. It has on it about as many cattle as can do well, and with no more than is now here all owners must prosper. But should there once grow up a jealousy and greediness among the stockmen a large part of the business must be crippled."
The railway history of the county is embraced in one unhappy experience. On August 27, 1873, a special election was held to decide the question of subscribing $100,000 to the stock of the Nebraska, Kansas & Southwestern Railway, and issuing bonds to the county of a like amount. The measure was carried by a vote of ninety-one to thirty-six, and the county bonds issued. These are now a valid lien against the county, but the railway was never built, and the citizens, having no redress, are out $100,000.
The first record of the County Commissioners bears the date of July 7, 1873-the board then consisting of S. H. Ulmer, L. H. Bowlus and J. C. Kirkpatrick. On September 1, 1873, a contract was made with C. C. Bemis for a court house to cost $25,000 and the Clerk directed to issue warrants for that amount. This court house was never built. September 2, W. E. Hutchinson was appointed immigration agent, and $1,000 in warrants drawn in his favor. October 6, G. W. Crane was appointed advertising agent, and it was directed that $5,000, "or as much of it as might be needed," be paid him. November 7, 1873, the county was divided into three County Commissioners' districts. On February 11, 1874, a special election on the question of issuing bonds to the amount of $40,000, for court house and general purposes took place, and resulted in the defeat of the proposition by a majority of 41. A little later, the Commissioners, acting under a law approved March 7, 1874, issued these bonds.
Barber County has passed through but one county seat contest, that of February 27, 1876. This could hardly be called a contest, as Medicine Lodge received more that (sic) the combined vote of its competitors. The vote stood 103 for Medicine Lodge, 58 for Defiance and 20 for Lake City. This vote settled the question, and the hopelessness of any attempt to remove the seat of justice has kept the matter quiet ever since.
The first obtainable report from this county to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, bears date 1878. The county then had eight schoolhouses, six log and two frame. There were twenty school districts, and a school population of 360. The number of schoolhouses in the county in 1880 is reported at four (evidently a mistake). There were in that year twenty-five school districts, and a school population of 869. In 1882, several districts failed to report, and some inaccuracies resulted. That year showed fourteen schoolhouses, 861 school population, an enrollment of 400, and an average attendance of 325. The total expenses of the year were $2,639.83; the total receipts, $3,122.69.
Law and government
Although the Kansas Constitution was amended in 1986 to allow the sale of alcoholic liquor by the individual drink with the approval of voters, Barber County has remained a prohibition, or "dry", county.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 2,943 km² (1,136 mi²), of which 2,937 km² (1,134 mi²) is land and 5 km² (2 mi²), or 0.18%, is water.
Barber County's population was estimated to be 4,974 in the year 2006, a decrease of 318, or -6.0%, over the previous six years.
As of the U.S. Census in 2000 there were 5,307 people, 2,235 households, and 1,510 families residing in the county. The population density was 2/km² (5/mi²). There were 2,740 housing units at an average density of 1/km² (2/mi²). The racial makeup of the county was 97.06% White, 0.38% Black or African American, 0.58% Native American, 0.09% Asian, 0.89% from other races, and 1.00% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.02% of the population.
There were 2,235 households out of which 28.70% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.70% were married couples living together, 6.50% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 29.90% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.00% 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 2.91.
In the county the population was spread out with 25.00% under the age of 18, 5.80% from 18 to 24, 23.20% from 25 to 44, 24.50% from 45 to 64, and 21.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 43 years. For every 100 females there were 92.40 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.40 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $33,407, and the median income for a family was $40,234. Males had a median income of $29,806 versus $20,046 for females. The per capita income for the county was $16,627. About 7.50% of families and 10.10% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.60% of those under age 18 and 4.90% of those age 65 or over.
Cities and towns
Name and population (2004 estimate):
Medicine Lodge, 2,042 (county seat)
Sun City, 77