History of Hays

The Wild West

Shortly after the Civil War, railroad builders and settlers began pushing into western Kansas with ever-increasing intensity, provoking resistance from the Indian inhabitants of the area. To provide protection for this citizenry of railroad workers, Fort Fletcher was established in 1865. This fort's name was changed to Fort Hays in 1867. The incoming railroad and the Fort led Hays City to form later that year. 

In those early days Hays was a wild and lawless town, filled with saloons and dance halls. The legendary James B. "Wild Bill" Hickok served as sheriff for a few months in 1869, but he left town the next year after a brawl with some troopers from the Fort. Summing up her impression while her husband, George Custer, was encamped near Fort Hays, Elizabeth Custer said, "there was enough desperate history in that little town in one summer to make a whole library of dime novels." Between August of 1867 and December of 1873, there were over 30 homicides in and around Hays. Hays City developed the reputation, which was well deserved, as one of the most violent towns on the Kansas Frontier. The original Boot Hill is located in Hays, not Dodge City as many people believe. In fact, when Dodge City was founded in 1872, the Hays City Boot Hill was well populated.
Mrs. Custer noted in her diary in the summer of 1869, there were already 36 graves in the cemetery called
"Boot Hill".

This tough little "end of the track" town was home to many frontier "wild west" characters including Calamity Jane and "Buffalo Bill" Cody. William Cody gained his famous nickname during this era, pursuing his job as buffalo hunter for the notorious Goddard brothers. But by the mid 1870's, the "end of the tracks" moved on and with it went the teamsters, railroad workers, soldiers, and famous characters of the day. Hays City gradually quieted down and began serving as a point of arrival for immigrants, most notably those from the Volga region of Russia.

Ethnic Heritage

Volga German settlers began arriving in Ellis County in the mid-1870's. These frontier settlers were named so because prior to coming to the United States, they had settled along the Volga River in Russia. Coming from a harsh climate, the Volga Germans were able to adapt and thrive in their new home. They learned to use what nature provided. A good example of this is their use of limestone in the absence of lumber. This can still be seen today in their homes, churches and fence posts. Being a very religious people, they expressed creativity in the construction of beautiful churches, many of which are still in use in the communities surrounding Hays. The most famous of the churches is the magnificent St. Fidelis Church, more commonly referred to as "the Cathedral of the Plains", which stands today as a monument to the Volga German immigrants and their enduring lifestyle.

A REAL Step Back in Time

Before the Volga Germans, before the frontier soldiers and wild west desperadoes, and even before the native American Indians roamed the plains, Kansas was home to some pretty interesting characters....or maybe we should say creatures! You have to take a real step back in time, say 80 million years or so to really appreciate these inhabitants. During a time that geologists refer to as the Cretaceous period, Kansas was covered by a sea several hundred feet deep. While the ocean was in western Kansas, the soft sea bottom was perfect for preserving the bodies of large animals that flourished in the Cretaceous sea. This fossil bed now serves as a perfect location for professional and amateur paleontologists to observe, study, and collect fossils from "a land before time".