A Booming Frontier Town

The town of Baxter Springs was incorporated in 1868 after a charter was issued by the State of Kansas. Baxter Springs was located in the southeastern corner of what was previously called the Cherokee Neutral Lands. This unique region, situated in Kansas, was known as McGee County in the Kansas Territory days. It was the property of the Cherokee Indians. Although the Confederacy had claimed the land as their own, under the treaty provisions between the Cherokees and the Confederates, the sale of this property was never actually consummated. The Neutral Lands were always the possession of the Cherokees, although they were occupied by Union troops throughout the Civil War. 

In treaty negotiations following the war, the Cherokees ceded the Neutral Lands back to the federal government. The transaction was enacted in 1866 and from the Neutral Lands, two new counties emerged in the State of Kansas. Crawford County was named after Governor Samuel Crawford (who would later become a resident of rural Baxter Springs), and Cherokee County was named after the tribe of the same name. 

Baxter Springs then became officially a part of the State of Kansas. This new town on the map was certainly not new to the many cattle men and drovers from Texas. Upon the war's conclusion, it was found that herds of longhorns numbering in the hundreds of thousands were roaming at will on the plains of south central Texas. The demands for beef in the East provided an alluring market for all the beef that could be rounded up in Texas and somehow transported to those markets. The only requirement was driving these vast herds to the nearest market places where they could be shipped east. 

The location of Baxter Springs made it a natural destination for the long drives from Texas. The Southeastern Kansas town was the closest town to Texas, being situated on the edge of Indian Territory. Small herds were reported to have been driven to Baxter Springs as early as 1866, immediately following the cessation of the Civil War. Each year larger numbers of longhorns were driven on a trail that became known as the Eastern Shawnee Trail, terminating in Baxter Springs. An eastern branch continued as-far as Sedalia, Missouri.  


The Eastern Shawnee Trail was the shortest route from the south Texas plains to the railroad markets. The trail was popular, but it was not without its negatives. Very rough terrain, major rivers to ford, many with treacherous quick sands, rustlers who prowled the Indian Territory at will, free of law enforcement, were all hazards with which to contend. Within the territory, some Indians allowed passage uninterrupted; others considered cattle drivers as trespassers, thus extracting tolls from the drovers. 

Among the legendary drovers were cowboys by the name of Juvenal, Doherty, Duffield, and local boy, Enoch Wright. Some of the drovers were merely teenagers, Wright among them, made his home in Baxter Springs, later serving a term as mayor. 

After the longhorns had traversed the trail and averted the many obstacles along the way, the arrival at Baxter Springs could often be bittersweet. This town, the southernmost town in Kansas and the shortest trail to travel, has the distinction of being "the First Cow Town in Kansas." 

The drovers were met in Baxter Springs by cattle buyers, some of questionable character, who negotiated the price of the herd. At times, drovers unhappy with the prices offered to them, continued to drive their herds further north. Others, out of fear of rustlers, bypassed the town turning westward to avoid the possibility of losing their money or their herd. 

The coming of the railroad had a dramatic impact upon both the cattle trade and the development of the town of Baxter Springs. The town was aware that the railroad was rapidly making its way south from Kansas City. As each town was connected by rail, the promise of rail service to Baxter Springs was inevitable. With the hope of economic prosperity looming, corrals for holding thousands of cattle to load them onto railroad cars were constructed. The pens were constructed on land west of the proposed tracks west of the present 12th Street, then called South Street. The railroad depot was located between 10th and 11th street, then called Sheridan Street. 

Corrals were not so much to pen the cattle, because the massive herds grazed openly on the vast expanses of prairie grasslands south of Baxter Springs, even into the Quapaw reservation. These were ideal locations near the railroad to fatten the cattle after the long and tiring drive from Texas. Drovers were always on the alert to guard the herds from the potential dangers that they knew might await them at the end of the trailhead. Baxter Springs was certainly no exception to the potential dangers. 

As with most frontier cattle towns Baxter Springs for a while was home to its own class of desperados, a rather lewd and raucous sort. Legendary tales report that lawlessness, as might be expected, occurred here. It probably was not unlike most other frontier towns of the time. Exactly to what extent, it would be difficult to ascertain. No doubt, all sorts of vile and shady characters sought to make Baxter Springs their place of business, at least for a time. City court records reflect any number of fines collected, mostly for civil offenses. For some, a court appearance was a frequent occurrence, their fines adding greatly to city coffers. 

The arrival of the railroad in May of 1870 indeed ushered in a period of prosperity for the fledgling town, albeit it was a short period of time. Cattle arrivals from Texas no longer had to be driven a longer distance to Sedalia or other markets. Formerly, the additional drive could take several more tiring days. Shipping the cattle from Baxter Springs to northern terminals took from 10 to 12 hours by rail. 

Countless thousands were shipped from Baxter Springs in the first couple years after the arrival of the railroad. 

The glee following the arrival of the railroad for ease of cattle shipment was short lived, however. In 1870 the Kansas legislature enacted a bill which was intended to prevent Texas cattle from entering Kansas at any point east of the Arkansas River. This restriction was to be effective until November of each year, months after the arrival of most herds. The legislation was in response to complaints of local ranchers who claimed that the Texas longhorns were infected with tick fever. Secondly, the competing cattle towns to the west were then also receiving cattle by way of the Chisholm Trail, a much longer distance. This legislation definitely worked to the advantage of those opposed to the cattle trade taking place in Baxter Springs. Thus arose the more famous Kansas cow towns of Abilene, Dodge City, Caldwell and Wichita. 

Out of necessity, cattle drovers chose those routes to the west from that point on to market their vast herds. By 1872, Baxter Springs, "the First Cowtown in Kansas" had now become largely a memory in the cattle industry. 


As a fledgling cattle town, Baxter Springs was incorporated in the year 1868. Very rapid growth ensued. Lots were platted as early as 1866. Two gentlemen named Barnes and Mann constructed the first homes on property that became the original city plats. Eighty acres of land encompassing the springs, the old Ft. Blair and the Baxter homestead became the original plats for the city. Those first homes were on property that is now the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum. 

In its first year as an incorporated city, Baxter Springs could boast an impressive array of diverse and vital business enterprises. These included as follows: Dry goods, 7; Clothing, 2; Hardware, 1; Drug, 2; Tin, 1; Shoes, 1; Groceries, 3; Shingle makers, 2; Wagon makers, 1; Contractors, 4; Blacksmiths, 3; Painters, 1; Plasterers, 2: Barbers, 1; Cabinet makers, 1; Tailors, 1; Attorneys, 4; Jewelers, 2; Meat markets, 3; Hotels, 2; Sawmill,1; Physicians, 6; and two stage lines. But what might be most astonishing for a developing frontier town, only two saloons were in operation that first year. 

The cessation of the Civil War greatly impacted the make up of the populations of many towns. People who saw little hope for themselves in the rapidly growing and increasingly expensive East were seeking a new life in the wide open spaces of the West. They greatly anticipated the prospects of cheap and bountiful land. Many of these migrating folks were actually immigrants from Europe. The census rolls of 1870 illustrate the fact that many of those who first came to the new town of Baxter Springs were, in fact, born in Europe. Many of the skills and trades which these immigrants brought with them to the frontier were helpful in constructing the town of Baxter Springs. 

City government was quickly established. Mayor L. G. Denton presided over the first elected council which quickly enacted a very progressive and admirable book of city ordinances. These ordinances addressed many pertinent issues of the day pertaining to diverse subjects such as preventing watering livestock at the city springs, loitering on the streets, regulating the hours of operation of saloons and gaming houses, outlawing public intoxication, forbidding the carrying of weapons in public, forbidding prostitution, riding horses faster than eight miles an hour in town, mandatory sidewalks and describing their width, ordering all able bodied men to contribute one weekend of community service, and forbidding animals from roaming freely within the town. This is only a small list of the original ordinances. 

Unquestionably, all of these ordinances would have been exceedingly difficult for a single marshal and his constable to have enforced at all times. Yet, it is surprising the number of arrests made by the authorities. The court docket also records an extraordinary number of cases, mostly guilty, which were adjudicated in the municipal court. 

The original books of handwritten ordinances and the court proceedings are among the most perfectly preserved documents among the archival collections of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum. These documents preserve the most accurate record of the town's early history.


Despite the numerous ordinances enacted by the first city councils in the initial days after incorporation intending to curtail lawlessness, it was inevitable that there would be trouble and trouble makers. Baxter Springs was a typical frontier town in its infancy struggling to establish its identity. Therefore, characters of dubious reputation sought to make their presence known here. 

The work of the marshal and constable was a formidable task. But they handled the responsibility very capably. The city police docket records that many arrests were made in the initial days and months after incorporation. The names of the two marshals, Seaman and Taylor are found recurring on the records as the arresting officers. Both were very capable and respected within the new community. 

Unfortunately for Marshal Seaman, November 7, 1870 proved to be his final day of work for the City of Baxter Springs. On that day, Seaman was called to the Wiggin's House, one of the popular hostelries in town, to quell a disturbance. Miss Nellie Starr, a very prominent woman of "ill repute," was causing a dispute with the proprietor of the hotel, Mr. Wiggins. 

Nellie had been arrested for plying her trade on numerous occasions by the marshal. In his attempts to settle the dispute, shots were fired by both Nellie and a cowboy from Texas named Isham Good. In the ensuing gunfire, Marshal Seaman was shot and mortally wounded. Mr. Wiggins sustained a minor wound. 

Good was arrested and taken to  Columbus to stand trial for murder. Curiously, he was released on bail. Quite understandably, Good immediately mounted his horse and headed south into Indian Territory, never to be seen again. 

Nellie was charged with rash, violent and indecent behavior, profane discourse, disorderly conduct, noisy and boisterous talking and violent and offensive conduct. All of the above were violations of city ordinances. She paid her numerous fines and returned to business. 

The city council appointed C. M. Taylor to replace the late marshal. 

Taylor, like his predecessor, was well liked by the local populace and had a very successful arrest record. However, he did have his detractors, one of whom was the mayor of Baxter Springs, J. R. Boyd. 

The mayor was of questionable integrity. He had run up a bill at a business in Galena which he would not pay. The businessman swore out a warrant against the mayor demanding repayment of the debt. In June of 1872, Marshal Taylor was in his second year as marshal. His duty obligated him to serve the warrant on the mayor. Upon his arrival in Baxter Springs to arrest the mayor, when confronted, Mayor Boyd showed his revolver. 

An argument ensued, whereupon the mayor pulled his revolver, shot Marshal Taylor, wounding him mortally. 

Mayor Boyd was arrested later in the evening by the sheriff. He was removed from Baxter Springs, taken to Columbus to jail and bound over for trial. The consensus of Baxter Springs' residents was that the mayor should be compelled to suffer the maximum penalty of law for such a cold-blooded murder. The mayor excused himself from presiding at the next few council sessions. Mayor Boyd was tried at the next term of court in Columbus and was acquitted of the charge of murder, claiming self-defense. 

Incredibly, after his acquittal, Boyd returned to the city council chamber to resume his duty presiding over the city council proceedings. 

Tuesday - Saturday
10:00 am - 4:30 pm
1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
740 East Avenue
P.O. Box 514
Baxter Springs, KS 66713