William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas


[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]


The town of Abilene was laid out in 1860 by and on land belonging to C. H. Thompson. The town is situated about two miles north of the Smoky Hill River, and is located on Sections 16 and 21, Township 13, Range 3 east. As originally laid out, the town embraced only forty acres, and in the spring of the following year, 1861, it was made, by the vote of the people, the county seat, which it is now, and has continued to be since that time. Among the first to locate in this new town was - Jones, commonly known as "Old Man Jones", who erected a log house which he turned into a store where, with many other things that were sold, was whisky. This was the first place in shape of a store that was opened in town. One by one, settlers kept dropping in and log houses commenced to be quite numerous. Shortly after Jones had opened his store, Dr. Moon built a more pretentious one, which was known for many years as the Frontier Store. The growth of the town was rather slow until after the advent of the Kansas Pacific Railway in 1866. From that time on its growth became quite rapid, and the erection of log houses ceased, giving way to neatly constructed frame buildings. About this time Joseph G. McCoy, the pioneer western cattle shipper, arrived in Abilene. Mr. McCoy was a gentleman of large means and wide experience, and he conceived the idea of making Abilene the shipping point for Texan cattle. Satisfactory arrangements having been made with the officials of the Kansas Pacific road, circulars were printed and distributed all over Texas, setting forth the advantages and benefits drovers would derive from driving their herds to Abilene. Not satisfied with this means of disseminating information in regard to the town, agents were sent down to talk up its advantages and desirability as a shipping point for cattle. Then the papers in the Northern and Eastern States were brought into requisition to acquaint buyers of the immense herds of cattle that would be at Abilene, for sale, at a certain time. All this gave the place a wide notoriety, and a great many people flocked to Abilene. Anticipating a rich harvest from the drovers, cattle-men, and cow-boys a class of people located in town, whose society could be well dispensed within any community. No sooner was Abilene established as a cattle point, than the town was surrounded by a crowd of cutthroats, black legs, thugs, gamblers, and prostitutes. This class put up houses, fitted up gambling dens, opened up saloons, and had everything in readiness to carry on their nefarious practices, when the cattle trade commenced. Up to that time there was no regular hotel in town, and in order to accommodate the drovers and cattle-men it was necessary one should be built. To supply this demand, Mr. McCoy erected quite a pretentious hotel, for those days, to which he gave the name of the "Drovers' Cottage". This was in 1867, but now that he had the hotel, a difficulty arose in finding some one to run it. Mr. McCoy went to St. Louis to look up a landlord, and there he encountered Mr. and Mrs. Gore, with whom arrangements were made to take charge of the "Drovers' Cottage", and in less than a week from the time Mr. McCoy left Abilene, Mr. and Mrs. Gore were established in the "Cottage" as proprietors. The following year they purchased the property of Mr. McCoy, which they have continued to own ever since, and although the "Colonel", Mr. Gore, has experienced many vicissitudes since that time, he still acts the part of the genial Boniface. His experience with cattle men and coy-boys, properly written, would make quite a volume. Abilene was now fairly established as a cattle point, and became known as a cowboy town. Whilst the cattle trade made Abilene quite a business point, it did not add anything to the morals of the place, and many men who had embarked in business would not bring their families to locate where bad men, vile women, and gross immorality, prevailed to such a large extent. From 1867 until 1872, Abilene was an out-and-out cowboy town. The cow-boy is a character of frontier life, and a very bad character at that. Away from all humanizing influences of civilization, and many of them fugitives from justice, when they strike a town and become half or three-fourths drunk, they give full license to all their base and evil passions. They have no regard for law, morals, or virtue, defying the first, deriding the second, and outraging the third. Roaming the wide prairies, mounted on a wiry mustang, with a huge pair of Mexican spurs on the heels of his boots, a great broad-brimmed white hat on his head, two or three revolvers strapped round his waist, and a bowie knife stuck in his belt, he follows his herds until the time comes to ship, when he starts with the cattle for the trading point. Usually, the cowboy is reckless, bold and daring, having neither respect for man, fear of God, nor dread of hell. When two or three hundred such characters congregate in a town it seems as if pandemonium was let loose. These, with those other male and female cancers, who make their living by gambling, killing, stealing and prostitution, are what the cattle trade brought to Abilene. This, however, was only a mixture of the bitter with the sweet, because the impetus that the cattle trade gave to business, set Abilene far ahead of competitive points. The original town of Abilene was located on the north half of the northwest quarter of Section 21, Township 13, Range 2, east; but after it became established as a trading point for cattle, the town gave such promise of growth, that Thompson and McCoy's Addition was added in 1868, comprising the south half of the southwest quarter of Section 16, Township 13, Range 2, east; followed in 1869 by Southwick and Augustine's Addition; then Rice and Bonebrake's Addition; next Rice and Austin's Addition; next Fisher's Addition; next Kuney and Hodge's Addition, in 1870, and this put an end to the additions for several years. Excepting the "Drovers Cottage", already mentioned, there were no framed buildings erected in town until 1868, when G. B. Seely built a frame store, with rooms above for a dwelling. After this, stores and residences went up quite lively, notwithstanding the regular visits of the cowboys. In 1869 the town was incorporated as a city of the third- class, of which the first Mayor was Joseph G. McCoy. In 1870, a brick and stone court house was built at the corner of Broadway and Second street, and this was the first building in town of any other material than wood. That summer, James B. Hickok, known throughout the West as "Wild Bill", came to Abilene. The following year he was appointed Marshal of the city. He was a bold, bad man, and had no respect whatever for human life. He could draw a revolver in less time, and fire with surer aim than any other man in the West. Nor did he stand long upon the order of drawing. He was a terror to the cowboys, he having caused several of them to bite the dust on short notice, and thought no more of killing a man than he would a dog. He was afterward killed himself by a cowboy, in Deadwood. In 1872, Lebold & Augustine built the Mercantile Block, a handsome row of brick storerooms, with offices above. In that year the cattle trade was moved to a point farther west, and Abilene was rid of the cowboys. Nor was the getting rid of these the most important feature, in a moral point of view, connected with the removal of the cattle trade; because with it went all the gamblers, cutthroats, blacklegs, and prostitutes, with which the place had been infested since the cattle trade had been established at Abilene. People now breathed a purer atmosphere, and they could walk the streets without fear of insult or molestation. Men who had been in business now sent for their families, and a better class of citizens came and located in town. Up to that time there was but one church in town, a frame building erected by the Baptists in the year 1868. The first permanent bank in town was that of Augustine & Lebold, established in 1873. What is now the Merchants' Hotel was built in 1870 by Kerney & Guthie. It is a goodly sized frame building, and when first opened it was known as the Winnesheik House. In 1875 T. C. Henry built the Henry House. This is the only brick hotel in town and is a very fine building. The ground floor is divided into five compartments. In the center is the hotel office; in the east end is a large dining room and kitchen, and in the west end is a telegraph office, ticket office, and goodly sized waiting room for passengers. The building is three stories high, and the upper floors are all used for hotel purposes. In 1876 the Presbyterians erected a very fine stone church, but in 1881 it was so damaged by a wind storm as to necessitate the erection of a new building, which is now in course of completion, and when completed will be a magnificent brick edifice. In 1874 the Catholics built a brick church, as also did the Lutherans in 1878. The first regular schoolhouse in town was of stone and was erected in 1877, and the first teacher was W. T. Wiley. In 1878 the Kirby Bank was established, and in 1879 the Methodists built a very handsome brick church. So rapidly had the town grown and so bright were its future prospects that C. H. Lebold enlarged the limits of the city by adding an addition in 1876. Two years later another addition was added known as Lebold's Addition, and in that same year the city limits underwent further enlargement by having added Lebold & Fisher's Addition; and in the following year, 1879, the boundary lines were further extended by taking in Bonebrake & Bidwell's Addition; so that the original town site of eighty acres, as located in 1860, had grown to such an extent by 1880 as to include nearly a section and a half of land, or 960 acres. In 1875 the town was greatly improved by the Johntz Brothers, who had located in Abilene in 1869, erecting a handsome brick block with four rooms on the ground floor and rooms for offices above. This was followed in 1876 by T. C. Henry putting up an elegant brick building, being that in which the Kirby Bank is now located. In 1879 Northcraft & Parent added a very nearly finished brick block to the improvement of the town. In order to keep pace with the times Berry Brothers in 1880 put up a very fine brick building, having a double storeroom below, which they occupy for their business, the upper floor being used for county offices and a court room. In that year, also a handsomely finished two-story stone building was erected by the First National Bank. The erection of the Opera block by Mr. Bonebrake, gave Abilene a building that would be a credit to a much larger place. It may be said that this great improvement was made in 1879, although it was not completely finished until early in 1880. It is a brick building, having a frontage of 120 feet on Second street, by eighty-five feet deep, and is three stories high. The ground floor is divided into four store rooms; on the second floor is the opera hall, with a seating capacity for 1,000 persons, and two or three rooms used for different purposes; the third story is used as a storeroom, and therein is placed a tank of 100 barrels capacity, which supplies the boilers with water, and which can also be used in case of fire. The brick block in which J. B. Case now carries on business was erected by Mr. McCurdy in 1881. It is what is called a double building, two stories high, all of which is occupied by Mr. Case. While these substantial improvements were being made, many of less note also took place. Between 1870 and 1880 three frame elevators were built, not, however, on a very extensive scale. One was built by Johntz Bros., one by Gordon & Giles, and one by a combination of farmers, which was named the Grange Elevator. Besides these, quite a number of one-story frame stores were built, but the most important improvement prior to 1880, outside of those already mentioned, was the erection of the City Mills, erected in 1879 by Peter Marx. While all these great improvements were going on in the business portion of the city, many very handsome dwellings were being erected in the resident portion. The resident portion of the city is fully up to, if not in advance of, the business portion. Some of as handsome residences as are to be found in all central Kansas, are in Abilene, and the surroundings of all display a taste for neatness and cleanliness.

January, 1882, will be a month long remembered in Abilene. About 1 o'clock on the morning of the 17th of that month the court house, situated at the corner of Second street and Broadway, was discovered to be on fire. Broadway runs north from the railway track, and was, at that time, the principal business street in the city, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" rang out in the stillness of the night, and soon the bells of the city spread the alarm, and in a short time people from all quarters of the town were hastening to the scene of conflagration. It was but a short time after the alarm was given, when the flames burst forth from the windows of the court house and soon reached the roof. All efforts to extinguish it were unavailing, and a good, stiff wind blowing from the southwest soon carried the flames to the adjoining wooden buildings on the north of the court house. In a short time the fire was beyond control, and, leaping across the street, the wooden buildings on the east of Broadway were soon in a blaze. Two entire blocks, which constituted the chief business portion of the city, were entirely consumed, with nearly all their contents. The loss occasioned by the fire amounted to $100,000. Nearly all the county records were burned up, excepting those of the Register of Deeds, whose office was in another building. All the court records, those of the Probate Judge and County Clerk, Treasurer, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, with many others were all consumed. The loss occasioned by the fire was severe, but the people went to work bravely, cleared away the rubbish, and before the summer had closed beautiful brick business blocks stood where, before the fire, had been northing but wooden buildings. A $30,000 court house is now, November, 1882, nearly completed. It is a magnificent brick building, and stands in the center of a plot of ground nearly opposite the depot, or Henry House. Among the improvements of 1882 is a large and magnificently constructed $25,000 brick schoolhouse, which stands at the head of Broadway, and which contains twelve class rooms. Besides this, there is a very fine schoolhouse on the south side of the railway track, which may be termed a primary, or preparatory department, as there is no class there above the Second Reader. Another of the 1882 improvements is the mammoth flouring mill just finished, and about to be started, by the Johntz & Rice Mill Company. This mill is to be known as the Dickinson County Mills. The main building is 40 x 60 feet, with an L 16 x 24 feet, and all sixty-five feet high. The mill is located on the west side of the town and will be operated by steam power. The engine is of 125 horse power. The mill is fitted up with all the latest improved machinery, and has thirteen run of buhrs. The water works, Holly system, is not the least of the improvements that have been made during the year. Church improvement has not been neglected, and the Episcopalians have just completed a very neat and comfortable frame edifice in which to worship. Abilene is located in one of the finest valleys of the State, that of the Smoky Hill, and is well situated for both the Eastern and Western markets. It is about 165 miles by rail from Kansas City, and is very near the extreme limit of the great agricultural region of Kansas, so that the town occupies a good position to supply the Colorado and mountain markets. It is one of the best grain points on the line of the Kansas Pacific Railway. The town has eight churches, two large schoolhouses, two steam flouring mills, one foundry and machine shop, one soap factory, several blacksmith and wagon shops, three newspapers, three banks, three lumber yards, and houses representing all branches of business. The population of the city is now estimated at 3,500, and, situated as it is, in the centre of the great wheat bell, is destined to be a progressive in the future as it has been in the past, and seated as the town is, in a valley unsurpassed in richness and beauty, surrounded with the choicest agricultural country under the sun, inhabited by an energetic, progressive, and industrious people, well may Abilene be named "The Beautiful City of the Plains."


Presbyterian. - Was organized May 11, 1873, with a membership of fifteen. In 1876 they built a very fine brick church, and in 1879, a parsonage. In September, 1881, this church was so injured by a wind-storm, as to render it unfit for further use as a house of worship, and it was torn down. In the following year, a beautiful stone church edifice was erected on the original site, which is a very handsome building. From the organization of the church until now, 1882, it has had but one pastor, who is the Rev. W. H. Snyder. The present membership is 100, and the church property is valued at $11,000.

Lutheran. - This church was organized, Oct. 22, 1870, with a membership of thirteen. The first pastor of the church was Rev. Wm. E. Crebs. The membership of the church kept gradually increasing until 1878, when it was decided to build a house in which to worship. Early in that year, they erected a beautiful brick edifice, which was dedicated on August 13, Rev. Mr. Crouse, of Bucyrus, Ohio, preaching the dedicatory sermon. The church has now a membership of 120, and is under the pastoral charge of Rev. George A. Bowers. The value of their church property is $6,000.

Methodist Episcopal Church. - An organization of this church was formed in Abilene, in 1871, by Rev. J. S. Kahar. The membership at that time was fifteen. A complete organization, however, was not effected until 1872, at which time Rev. John Curts became pastor. In 1879 the membership was large enough to enable them to erect a commodious and well finished brick house of worship. The present membership of this church is 200, and the present pastor is Rev. E. W. Van Deventer. The church property is valued at $6,000.

Baptist. - This church has the oldest organization in town, and associated having been formed in 1868, and in that same year they erected a very neat frame edifice in the south part of the town, which they continued to occupy as a house of worship until 1880, when it was sold to the United Brethren. This church organized with only seven members, and their first pastor was Rev. J. R. Downer. They have recently purchased a beautiful piece of ground upon which they will build a $10,000 church next year (1883), and for which preliminary steps are now being taken. The present membership of the church is sixty, and the present pastor is Rev. George Mariam.

Catholic. - Prior to 1874, the members of this church had no house of worship in Abilene, the nearest being in Solomon City. In that year, they erected a brick church in the southern portion of the city. It is quite strong in membership, and includes all Catholic families for miles around Abilene. The church has no resident pastor, the officiating clergyman being Rev. Father John F. Lary, who resides at Solomon City.

Episcopalian. - The members of this church do not exceed twenty-five in number. Until this year, they have had no regular place of worship. They have just completed, however (1882), a very neat and comfortable frame edifice, at a cost of $2,500. This church divides territory into parishes, and the parish to which Abilene belongs is St. Johns', of which Rev. Joseph Young is pastor, whose residence is at Salina. The number of communicants is twenty- five, although the number baptized into the church is many more.

Universalist. - In 1870, the members of this church in Abilene organized themselves into an association and built a small, but neat, frame church. They had no regular minister, but yet services were held regularly in the church, which were chiefly conducted by Mr. V. P. Wilson. In 1873, Mr. Wilson moved away from town, after which the building was closed up until 1876, when it was sold to the Campbellites, or Christians. The members still kept up their organization, however, and in 1881, erected another house of worship. Numerically, the church is rather weak, having only about twenty members, and being without a regular pastor.

United Brethren. - Organized in 1880 with thirty members. Shortly after organizing, they purchased the church building owned by the Baptists, and which was erected by them in 1868. The church has now a membership of forty-five, and has been under the charge of its pastor, Rev. H. D. Herr, since its organization. The church property is valued at $2,200.

Christian. - This church has had an organization in Abilene since 1874. In 1876, the members purchased, of the Universalists, the small frame church that they had erected in 1870, in which they still continue to meet for worship. At present, the church has no pastor.

Western Home Lodge. No. 60, I. O. O. F., of Abilene, was organized September 14, 1870, with five charter members. The first officers of the lodge were: J. G. Northcraft, N. G.; W. H. Elcholtz, V. G.; D. R. Gordon, secretary; V. P. Wilson, treasurer. The present officers are: W. A. Morton, N. G.; S. Hammon, V. G.; M. V. Brillhart, R. S.; A. S. Davidson, P. S.; J. E. Bonebrake, treasurer; H. C. Junkins, W.; W. W. Herr, C.; V. Meyer, I. G.; and A. I. Haines, O. G. The present membership is 123.

Benevolent Lodge, No. 98, A., F. & A. M., of Abilene, was instituted November 10, 1870, with ten charter members. The first officers of the lodge were: J. B. McGonigal, M.; C. Kilgore, S. W.; John Johntz, J. W.; T. C. Henry, secretary; V. P. Wilson, treasurer; W. H. De Groot, S. D.; Alvin Nixon, J. D.; M. Nicolay, S. S.; A. T. Shroyer, J. S.; and T. N. Wiley, T. The present officers are: G. C. Kenyon, M; A. C. Roming, S. W. ; C. W. Brooks, J. W. John Johntz, treasurer; T. S. Barton, secretary; R. McCormick, S. D.; J. P. Quinn, J. D.; and E. Bishard, T. The present membership of the lodge is seventy-two.

Abilene Lodge, No. 93, A. O. U. W., was organized February 25, 1882, with thirty-two charter members. The first officers of the lodger were: D. W. Jacoby, P. M. W.; W. H. Elcholtz, M. W.; W. D. Volk, F.; L. Geanque, O.; A. H. Paul, R.; R. Waring, Fin.; D. L. Pisle, Rec.; M. V. Brillhart, G.; L. Lips, I. W.; J. J. Miller, O. W. The present officers are: W. H. Elcholtz, P. M. W.; W. D. Volk, M. W.; L. Geanque, F.; A. R. Paul, O.; M. V. Brillhart, R.; R. Waring, Fin.; D. L. Pisle, Rec.; W. W. Herr. G.; H. Harnish, I. W.; John Corno, O. W. Present membership forty.

[TOC] [part 6] [part 4] [Cutler's History]