|Ashland - A Lifestyle Worth Sharing - A
History Worth Knowing
Ashland invites you to share in a lifestyle which begins with a vision of the high plains inhabited with buffalo and Plains Indians tribes, transforms in the 1500’s with the arrival of the white man and the dreams of Coronado and the Spanish conquistadors, adjusts with the Indian Wars of the 1870’s and the triumphs of Generals Philip Sheridan and George Custer, and follows the dusty cowboys herding cattle up the Western Cattle Trail to Dodge City. Nestled in Bear
Creek valley on the western fringe of the Red Hills, a town
company formed in Winfield in 1884 selected the spot where
the Fort Dodge-Camp Supply military trail crossed the Sun
City-Meade Center trail as the perfect site for a new city.
Most likely the first white man to set foot on Ashland soil
and pass through Clark County was also the first white explorer
in Kansas. The expedition of Francisco Coronado traversed
what became the southwest United States searching for the
riches of the legendary city of Quivira located somewhere
in the central plains region. Most historians show his route
following Indian trails to a crossing on the Arkansas River
east of present day Dodge City, Kansas.
As Coronado searched for the riches of Quivira he left the
earliest descriptions of the “beast of the plains”,
the buffalo, which were found in incredible numbers. The existence
of the Plains Indian tribes depended on these great animals
which provided for their every need.
As the American Civil War came to an end in 1865 the attention
of the nation was drawn to the “Great American Desert”.
Many war veterans took advantage of the Homestead Act passed
in 1862 which made it possible to easily acquire 160 acres
of land. The Plains Indian tribes slowed the settlement of
the plains. The U.S. Army sent troops to protect the white
settlers and keep the Indians on lands which the government
assigned them. The buffalo were a solution to the Indian problem,
without the buffalo the Indian could be more easily controlled
on reservations. Robert Wright of Dodge City reported that
he overheard a conversation between General Sheridan and Major
Henry Inman who were estimating the number of buffalo in a
50 mile wide strip between Ft. Dodge and Camp Supply. Their
first estimate was ten billion. They figured again and said
one billion. Finally, they decided that 100 million was a
number which might be believed, though they thought the larger
numbers were more accurate. A soldier on the trail in 1868
reported that after making camp on Bear Creek, they saw millions
of buffalo the next day. A Dodge City buffalo hunter, George
Reighard, reportedly killed 2000 buffalo on the spot where
Ashland is located today and then went to Sand Creek and killed
3000 more. The last buffalo had been exterminated from Clark
County by 1875.
The eradication of the buffalo coincided with the arrival
of cattlemen in the area which began about 1874. By 1877 at
least four cattle ranches had laid claim to segments of the
open range. The Western Cattle Trail was begun in 1872 when
the railroad entered Dodge City and extended nearly three
miles on either side of the Ft. Dodge-Camp Supply Trail. Its
use continued until about 1885.
On February 3, 1870, the U.S. Army placed soldiers half way
on the military trail between Ft. Dodge, KS and Camp Supply
in Indian Territory due to the threat of Indian attacks on
supply wagons. Bear Creek Mail Station, a sod house constructed
on the east side of the creek, was the first habitation in
what became Ashland. It was called “Soldiers Graves”
after an attack on May 30th when an angry group of Kiowa braves
attacked the Mail Station and killed two soldiers. The U.S.
Army determined that more protection was needed and two redoubts,
one to the north and the other to the south, were built in
1871 and Bear Creek Mail Station was abandoned by the military.
However, as traffic along the Ft. Dodge-Camp Supply trail
increased the sod house became a “road ranch”.
It was a place where cowboys could pick up their mail, freighters
could stay for the night, and meals were served. It was first
called “Jack’s Ranch” because it was owned
by John Glenn. The Widow Brown and her two daughters ran the
ranch until it was purchased by Charles Roby.
It was with Charles Roby that members of the Ashland Town
Company met in September, 1884 and for $700 secured a clear
title to the town site of Ashland. Its location was superior
but another town, two miles to the northwest, had organized
in June and had a newspaper and post office, both essential
to any community. To avoid conflict a deal was offered to
the residents of Clark City who quickly moved businesses and
residences to Ashland. Ashland had received its name because
Ashland, Kentucky, was the hometown of Capt. J.B. Nipp, the
father-in-law of I.K. Berry, a member of the town company.
The building of houses started in November 1884 with city
lots selling for $500 each but was delayed because winter
set in early. The structures from Clark City had been moved
by mid-January 1885 and by spring Ashland had a population
of 2042 of which 877 were home owners. The town boasted a
new two story hotel, four restaurants, the post office and
grocery, a dry goods and clothing store, a lumberyard and
hardware store, a livery and feed store, a stable and corrals,
a drug store and doctor, and the newspaper, once the Clark
City Clipper renamed the Clark County Clipper.
Beginning in November 1887 the face of Main Street changed
as new brick buildings replaced the earlier wooden structures.
The oldest of the three storied buildings located at the corner
of Main and 8th Street proclaims Ashland National Bank above
its entry. The others extended along the block to the north.
Two of the buildings, the “Smith Block” and the
“Woodbury Block” burned in the “Big Fire”
of March 1, 1933.
In the June 1885 election Ashland received 1577 votes from
a total of 2066 votes cast to determine the location of the
seat of government of Clark County. In July the Ashland Town
Company demonstrated its confidence in the growing community
by donating a city block for the construction of a courthouse
and jail. The cost of building the brick courthouse was $30,000.
Red sandstone rock used in the window and door sills and in
the steps of the new building was quarried from canyons north
of town near the home of Lot Ravenscraft. The courthouse was
remodeled in 1932 and the top tower was removed. The old Clark
County Courthouse was replaced with a new one in 1951.
At the July meeting the town founders also voted to reserve
another city block for a school building. The bell from the
original Ashland school is displayed in front of the Ashland
Elementary School which was constructed in 1937 as a project
of the Public Works Administration (PWA). A separate high
school located in the southwest part of the city was built
in 1917 and used until 1963 when a new home for the Ashland
Bluejays was built north of Highway 160.
Additionally, the Town Company set aside land on which the
Methodist and Presbyterian churches could build. However,
the earliest church to organize was the Catholic Church which
met that same month in the home of the newly elected Clark
County sheriff, Michael Sughrue. Along with these churches
Ashland today has congregations at the Baptist, Church of
God, First Christian and Lighthouse Assembly of God churches.
Many early communities succumbed to the trials of the frontier
experience which explains the jubilation of Ashland when the
Chicago, Kansas and Western Railway Company (C.K. & W.),
a part of the Mulvane branch of the Santa Fe, brought its
first railway cars to Ashland in September 1887. It provided
a modern transportation system for the growing community and
held promise of future growth as it became a junction point
between the Englewood branch and the Cash City and Meade branch
of the railway line. The railroad brought needed supplies
to Ashland and served for many years as the place from which
grain and cattle were shipped to market. Agriculture has always
been the economic center of the community.
Much more of the history of Ashland is worth knowing. Fortunately,
an abundance of Ashland’s history has been saved. The
Clark County Historical Society was created in July 1939 to
conserve the memories of the earliest pioneers and printed
5 volumes of Notes on Early Clark County, Kansas. The
Museum was built in 1968 as a result of the Historical Societies
dedication to historical preservation. The Ashland centennial
celebration resulted in the publication of Ashland: The Story
of Its First 100 years, 1884-1984. History is lived every
day. Ashland has a lifestyle worth sharing and a history worth