ELLIS COUNTY, KANSAS

ROME, ELLIS COUNTY HISTORY

"The secretary of the Kansas Historical Society is endeavoring to prepare a complete list of all the Kansas towns which once flourished and then passed into oblivion. Perhaps Mr. Martin is not aware of the stupendous nature of his undertaking," remarks Frank C. Montgomery in the Kansas City Journal. "The early Kansan was essentially a town builder. The settler who did not dream dreams of a future metropolis on his quarter section was very much the exception. Every county in the state has had from three to ten towns which flourished for a brief spell and then decayed slowly or went quickly before the violent assaults of some successful rival. In many of the counties the story of county seat contests reads like something akin to civil war. Aside from the slavery question, nothing has caused the loss of more life in Kansas than the fierce jealousies which existed between the building towns, and particularly upon the western border. Martin has certainly hit upon a subject of surpassing interest and one which involves most of the history of the state itself.

"When the collection of abandoned towns has been made complete it will be found that none has more of interest than the town of Rome, in Ellis county. Rome was the pioneer town of the whole western half of Kansas. If we draw a line from Jewell county south to Harper county, we shall find that west of it is fully one-half of the territory of Kansas and in 1867 Rome was the only town in this vast region.

"Rome came into existence in the latter part of May in the year given, being founded by the Lull brothers of Salina. At that time the Kansas Pacific railroad was complete to Ellsworth and grading was in progress more than one hundred miles west. By the middle of June quite a town had appeared about the first tent erected by the Lull boys. Why the name of Rome was chosen no one can tell. It was soon the rendezvous for all the plainsmen. The first stone building was erected by W. E. Cody (Buffalo Bill), and he was one of the moving spirits of the settlement. In a week the population numbered about 500. Soon there were 2000 souls upon the town site, composed of that curious hodgepodge, always found in the frontier camp, of business men, soldiers, railroad graders, gamblers, hunters, cut throats and prostitutes. There were stocks of goods in Rome that would be a credit to any of the largest cities of Kansas. Numberically the salons were in the ascendancy. Glancing down a single business street, the eye would meet such familiar names as the "Lone Star," "The Dewdrop Inn," "The Occidental," "Grader's Retreat," and "The Last Chance." Writing some years ago of the rise and fall of Rome, Mr. S. Motz, one of the original settlers said:
"The saloon business was thriving and continuous all day, all night; no halt, no intermission. The fully supplied customer was pushed out into the street to make room for the thirsty one. This apparent ill treatment touched the sympathies or the speculative nature of one Joe North, a conspicuous character among the saloon element, who constructed a small annex to his place of business, to be used as a stowaway for all who had lost the power of locomotion. Some of North's competitors circulated the report that all who enjoyed the advantage of this special hospitality would depart humming the refrain, "Not a Penny in My Pocket." The report, however, did not affect the business of Joe; his victims always had a good word for him. He was generous, kind hearted by nature, but so thoroughly imbued with the high-heeled-boot and broad-brimmed-hat idea that only what was reckless and tended toward desperate deeds would satisfy his ambition to be known as wild and woolly and hard to curry. Before he had fully established the reputation which he coveted his career ended at the end of a rope, with the other end thrown over a telegraph pole at Wallace, Wallace County.

"In the summer of 1867, the Kansas Pacific reached Rome and passed on west. In June of that year a great freshet in Big creek drowned out old Fort Fletcher, fifteen miles below, and a new post called Fort Hays was established about a mile from Rome. Then came Phinney Moore and W. E. Webb and erected a tent on the plateau about one mile east of Rome and said there were starting a town called Hays City. At the same time the railroad raised its approaches to the Big creek bridge, cutting Rome off from the fort by a high embankment. Then the rival towns struggled for the ascendancy and Hays City gradually forged ahead. There was not much violence between the partisans, though at one time "Judge" M. E. Joyce, a famous border character, got a bullet through his shoulder in the course of an argument which he was making in behalf of Rome. In 1868 the cholera swooped down on Rome and gave her another impetus toward the goal of oblivion. Little by little her population oozed away, and mostly into the new town of Hays, and by 1870 there was little left in Rome save the ruins. To-day not even a ruin remains and the traveler can see but an enormous patch of sunflowers to mark what was once the metropolis of all western Kansas. (Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 12, by Kansas State Historical Society, 1912)


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