Pale Horse Revelations #20: Wichita, Kansas - From Tribal Village to Major City
1867 - Surveyors Surveying Sedgwick County
Hello readers and welcome back to Pale Horse Revelations. This entry marks a new direction for this weekly blog. Previous editions have focused on exploring the historical elements featured in my debut novel, "Behold a Pale Horse: The Legend of the Pale Rider Part I." After nineteen editions I'm afraid we've about exhausted that avenue.
So, like the novel's protagonist, who had no set destination as he traveled through the west, we find ourselves heading in a different direction from that which we originally set out in. Going forward, each issue will focus on a significant person, place, or event in Old West history. While I make no promises, don't be surprised if some of these places, people, or events find their way into future Pale Rider adventures.
To kick off this new focus, I have decided to feature Wichita, Kansas. I choice this topic because I felt it would provide a good cross over as we move from topics featured in my novel to more general topics. In the novel, our protagonist and his sidekick travel to a trading post operated by Jesse Chisholm on the mouth of the Little Arkansas River. Located across from the trading post is a Wichita village. As you may have surmised when reading the story, this is the future location of modern-day Wichita, Kansas.
Today, Wichita is the largest city in the state of Kansas. According to the 2020 census the city's population exceeded 397,000. The Wichita metro area's population exceeded 647,000 according to the same census data.
But this location was called home by humankind long before this modern metropolis emerged. In fact, archeological evidence suggests that human settlement can be dated as far back as 3000 BC. In 1591 Spanish explorer and adventurer Francisco Valesquez de Coronado arrived to find the area occupied by the Wichita people. Conflict with another tribe drove the Wichita further south around 1750.
The area became part of the United States in 1803 as a result of the Louisiana Purchase. In 1854 it was incorporated into Kansas territory, and the state of Kansas in 1861. During the Civil War the Wichita people were driven to flee into Indian Territory by Confederate forces. They returned in 1863 and established a settlement the Banks of the Little Arkansas. During this time Jesse Chisholm established a trading post at the site. This was one of several trading posts that would eventually mark the Chisholm trail between Texas and Kansas.
In 1867 the Wichita abandoned the site and returned to Indian Territory. A year later, James R. Mead, a business associate of Chisholm's, led a group of investors in establishing a town company. Surveyor Darius Munger was hired to build a log structure for the company. This initial structure would serve as a hotel, community center, and post office. Business opportunities would attract area hunters and traders and a new settlement soon began to take shape.
That summer Mead established the Wichita Town Company, naming the town after the tribe that had previously settled there. In 1870, Munger and an immigrant named William "Dutch Bill" Greiffenstein filed plats laying out the first streets. The city was officially incorporated on July 21, 1870.
The railroad reached the city in 1872. As a result, it became a railhead for the cattle drives coming up the Chisholm Trail from Texas. For a while the city became known simply as "Cowtown." Located across the river was the town of Delano. It became the destination of choice for the arriving cowboys due to its abundance of saloons and brothels combined with a lack of law enforcement. Like many cow towns of the period, it had a reputation for violence. Among the lawmen who worked to change this was Wyatt Earp, who served there for a year before moving on to Dodge City.
The cattle boom in Wichita was short lived. By the middle of the decade the cattle trade had moved west to Dodge City. Wichita subsequently annexed Delano in 1880. Rapid immigration led to further expansion during the 1880s. Wichita State University, originally named Fairmont College, opened in 1886. By 1890 Wichita was the third largest city in the state.
Growth would continue over the decades for various reasons. First was the discovery of oil and natural gas deposits nearby. The money from this boom was invested in the emerging aircraft manufacturing industry. Prominent Aircraft manufactures Beechcraft and Cessna originated in Wichita.
Several now well-known companies originated in Wichita. Well-known sporting goods and camping retailer, Coleman originated there in the early 1900s. Other famous companies that originated in Wichita include White Castle (1921) and Pizza Hut (1958).
This brings us to the end of another edition of Pale Horse Revelations. I hope you enjoy the new direction we're taking and would love to hear your feedback. As always, I encourage anyone interested in learning more to dig in and do a little research of their own.
Don't forget, I would love to hear from you, my readers, about topics related to the Old West that you would like to know more about. All you need to do is fill out the Contact form found near the bottom of my home page (www.bmiltonhyde.com) and indicate your suggested topic in the message box at the bottom of the form. I look forward to hearing from you all.
Please be sure to check back next week for the next installment of Pale Horse Revelations and thank you for your continued interest and support.