Gray county had no separate existence as a county until 1881, when it was first created. Its early incarnation was brief, however, for in 1883 it was swallowed by encroaching counties, and not until 1887 did it become a permanent name on the map of Kansas. In 1855 it formed part of Washington county; from 1860 to 1865 it was embraced in Peketon. The boundaries of Marion county were extended to include Peketon in 1865, and from a portion of this territory Foote county was created in 1873. This last county covered nearly the position of the Gray county of 1881 and of to-day. Foote county disappeared from the map in 1881, and by legislative enactment, approved March 4, Gray county was created with east, west and south boundary lines identical with those of Foote county, but with the north line pushed twelve miles north of the old boundary of Foote. In 1883 Gray county, in its turn, was wiped out by changes in the boundary lines of Ford and Hodgeman counties and the creation of Finney county. In 1887 it was resurrected, however, the act being approved on March 5, The east and west boundaries of the new Gray county were the same as those of Foote in 1873 and of Gray in 1881, but the north line was located twelve miles south of the north boundary named for Gray in 1881, while the south boundary line was pushed six miles below the earlier southern boundary. The county was attached to Ford county for judicial purposes.
Organization of Gray county having been petitioned for, A. J. Evans was appointed, on April 12, 1887, to take the census of the county and register the vote on location of county seat. The registration closed June 18, 1887, with the following result: Cimarron, 746; Ingalls, 102; Montezuma, 596; the plurality for Cimarron being 150. The census returns showed 48% inhabitants, with 912 householders. The governor proclaimed the- county organized on July 20, named Cimarron the temporary county seat, and appointed the following temporary officers: County commissioners, E. S. McClellan, J. Q. Shoup and Frank V. Hull; county clerk, G. C. Pratt; sheriff, W. B. Marsh. The county was in the sixteenth judicial district, of which J. C. Strang was judge.
Until the advent of the Santa Fe railroad in 1872 '73 there had been no settlements in the county outside of cattle or hay camps, or the camps of buffalo hunters. Bob Wright and A. J. Anthony had a hay ranch in the county, some twenty-five miles west of Fort Dodge, in 1866-'68, and from the region around Rath and Wright had shipped 200,000 buffalo hides after the opening of the railroad. While the railroad was building, in July, 1872, the president, T. J. Peters, asked the governor to ship 200 guns with which to arm the track men against attacks of Indians. The crossing of the Arkansas river near Cimarron had long been a favorite camping ground on the Santa Fe trail, and a part of Long's expedition, returning from the Rocky Mountains in August, 1820, passed along here, following the river. The crossing was in common use in 1825 by traders, soldiers, hunters, Mexican freighters and Indians.
As stated, the three towns contesting for the county seat were Ingalls, Cimarron and Montezuma. The first two were on the Santa Fe railroad and much more centrally located than Montezuma, which was a new town. Ingalls was about six miles west of Cimarron by the railroad. The post office there had been called Souk, in honor of A. T. Soule, of New York, who financed the "Eureka Irrigation Canal Company," but was eventually changed to conform to the name of the railway station. It is said that when Soule located the intake of his ditch he decided he ought to have a town there, so he laid out one, planned it for the county seat, and named it for Senator Ingalls. In 1888 the population of the town was 200, in 1891 it had dropped to 120, and the census of 1912 gives it a population of 150. Notwithstanding the lack of population in his town, Mr. Soule started in on a campaign to secure the county seat for Ingalls. Should he fail in that, his plan was to throw the county seat to Montezuma and with this in view he used money in every direction to injure the chances of Cimarron. If Ingalls was successful in the contest Soule planned to spend $100,000 on public improvements. He talked of a project to establish a sugar factory there, and also announced the purchase of machinery and the selection of an expert to bore wells for artesian water, for coal and for gas. In the "People's Convention" at Ingalls, held about the middle of September, 1887, Soule promised a railroad to Montezuma if in return that town would vote for Ingalls for county seat. Montezuma" delivered the goods," and Soule built a railroad from Dodge City to Montezuma, calling it the Dodge City, Montezuma & Trinidad Railroad.. This road was to form a part of the Arkansas, Kansas & Colorado Railroad, then under construction, which was to be leased and operated by the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific. To draw votes and investments from Cimarron, Soule began to boom Dodge City. He bought the waterworks plant, the First National bank, and 640 acres of land north of town, which he laid out in town lots.
On a forty-acre tract north of Dodge City Soule
built a college and dormitory costing $50,000. This he turned over to the Presbyterian Church, with an additional
gift of $10,000 as an endowment. The church was not successful in its management of the college and the property
reverted to Soule. After his death, in 1893, his heirs gave the campus and buildings to the Methodist Church, which
organization has since maintained it.
The Gilberts, J. W. and G. G., of Dodge City, were responsible for the advent of Asa T. Soule on the stage of Gray county affairs. They were brothers, formerly from Rochester, N. Y., and they conceived the idea of interesting their old fellow citizen in a land and irrigation scheme which they were promoting in Kansas. Soule had money to invest, having made his millions, some eight or ten of them, out of a patent medicine known as "Hop Bitters."
Upon the showing of the Gilberts he became interested in the Eureka Irrigating Canal Company. This company was incorporated three times in 1883, and each time Spearville was named as the place of business. The source of supply for the canal was the Arkansas river at Ingalls, and its lower end was Coon creek, some forty-five miles east of Spearville. To divert the water into the canal a wing dam of piles was built into the river, extending up stream 2000 feet. This cost about 130,000. The canal at its head was forty-eight feet wide and six feet deep, gradually decreasing to a width of forty-five feet and a depth of five feet, with a fall of about two feet to the mile. Its total length was ninety-six miles, and it was built along the top of a ridge north of the river and the A. T. & S. F. railroad track.
The company issued stock to the amount of $1,000,000, and Soule took it all, furnishing the money for the construction of the ditch, which cost in the neighborhood of $250,000. He bonded it for a million and sold the bonds in London at par, having secured water contracts enough to make a good showing. It was claimed that the only time the ditch was full of water was while he was working off this deal. Soule cleared up a cool half million in profit out of the "investment." In a local paper there appeared, under a cartoon of a somewhat cantankerous looking elephant, this legend in bold type: "Ole Soule has unloaded a large elephant," and there followed an account of the transfer of the Eureka Irrigating Canal company by mortgage to the Mercantile Trust Company of New York, dated July 1, 1887.
The ditch has since been bought, through Eugene F. Ware, who represented the English bondholders, by the Gilberts, who never lost faith in its usefulness. This transfer occurred in 1909.
In the meantime the struggle for the county seat was on in earnest. The temporary county commissioners, who were in favor of Cimarron, appointed an election to be held Monday, October 31, 1887, for the location of a permanent county seat and the election of county officers, the date set being only eight days before the regular or general election day, which fell that year on November 8. On November 4 the commissioners met to canvass the vote, but were served with an injunction issued by Judge Strang restraining them. Ingalls claimed a majority of 236 for the county seat and Cimarron a majority of 43.
On November 7 the supreme court issued a writ of mandamus, requiring the commissioners to canvass the vote on November 12, which they did. The canvass resulted in the election of the Cimarron ticket of county officers, and Cimarron as county seat by a majority of 43. Meanwhile the regular election was held November 8, and on November 23 Judge Strang held that the November election was the regular election and that Ingalls was the county seat. Following this decision the county records were gradually removed to Ingalls, the last being taken over on February 21, 1888.
By an alternative writ of the supreme court issued March 14, 1888, the county offices were ordered taken back to Cimarron, but action on this was postponed. On September 8 the county clerk's office and records were moved to Cimarron, the town then having the board of county commissioners and the county surveyor.
After a good deal of altercation between the two towns, Ingalls decided to go after what county records Cimarron was holding. With this end in view, a bunch of "bad men" from Dodge City was pressed into service by the Ingallites, and on Saturday, January 12, 1889, a sortie was made on Cimarron. The men were armed with Winchesters and six-shooters and swooped down on Cimarron about ten o'clock in the morning. They rushed the building where the records were kept, seized them and placed them in a waiting wagon, and the driver knowing his part of the business dashed away towards Ingalls at a break-neck speed. By this time the Cimarron men had gathered and shooting had begun. One Cimarron man, J. W. English, was killed and two others severely wounded. After the fight the invading party made off to Ingalls, three of their number being slightly wounded. Following this exhibition of warlike spirit, Governor Martin ordered two companies of militia to the scene of battle to keep the peace.
The county-seat contest dragged through two years of litigation in district and supreme courts, the final decision being handed down on October 5, 1889, in favor of Ingalls, and the town remained the county seat until 1892. The record of this county-seat case contained over 3000 pages, and in the decision rendered in October Chief Justice Horton dissented from the opinion of the court and delivered a scathing rebuke to A. T. Soule, also denouncing the corrupt methods employed by Cimarron men to offset the "unparalleld iniquity of Soule and his agents."From the testimony it appears that Montezuma held the balance of power, which Soule bought up by his railroad scheme. His checks for various sums, from $100 upward, were freely distributed, and he imported armed men from Dodge City to intimidate voters at Cimarron.
It was also shown that a secret society had been formed in Foote precinct prior to the election, called the "Equalization-Society." It was composed of seventy-two men, whose object, as shown by the constitution and bylaws, was to sell the solid vote of the society to the highest bidder, the proceeds to be divided equally among the members. They were bound by oath to vote solid, and the penalty for violation of this oath was death. T. H. Reeve, one of the Cimarron managers, bought this vote for $10,000,. giving this society a bond for the amount, signed by fifteen of the prominent men of Cimarron. Seventy-one votes were delivered and cast for Cimarron, men from that town having been delegated to stand by the polls all election day and see that the vote was cast as paid for. After the election the Equalization Society appointed a committee to go to Cimarron and cash the bond. They were promptly told to get to a warmer region, that the bond was a forgery, and that, anyway Cimarron had the vote.
The sheriff was a Cimarron man, and it was told of him that he swore in some 140 deputies, all interested in Cimarron, besides employing '' toughs'' from Ravanna and Dodge City as deputies, all armed and at the polls on election day. Soule was charged with having spent about $30,000. He attended the election himself, and it was claimed that his agents offered a bribe to one of the commissioners if he would refuse to canvass the returns. During all this strife both sides were amply armed. No wonder that Chief Justice Horton said that the election was "a travesty on justice and a burlesque on elections.''
As for the town of Montezuma, the railroad was completed and a depot built, two large hotels and a large number of business Louses were erected, but after a while, there being no business, the Rock Island ceased operating the railroad. Two townships through which the road ran had voted bonds to the amount of $70,000 to the road, and naturally felt aggrieved at this abandonment. A mandamus suit was brought in the supreme court to force the road to resume operations, but the court held that the road could not be compelled to operate at a loss. The farmers were therefore helpless; Soule was dead, and there was no one to fall back upon. They raged in vain when the rails were taken up and sold to a Gould line in Texas. Then, to compensate themselves, they decided to take a hand. By night they carried off the ties, the stations and the bridges; not even a stick of lumber was left; nothing but the railroad grade remained to tell the story of the Dodge City, Montezuma & Trinidad Railroad.
In 1895 the town site was vacated. It had been beautifully platted, with four avenues running at right angles from the twelve central blocks, and four boulevards on the limits, and the streets running north and south were named for the states. The following men were members of the town-site company: Gen. T. T. Taylor, Hutchinson, president; L. B. Hamlin, Chicago, vice president; J. R. Graham, Emporia, secretary, and Dr. T. J. Wheeler, resident member. Montezuma was twenty-two miles south of Cimarron and about six miles from the south line of the county. The first paper was the Montezuma Chief, edited by J. E. Hebard, who was also postmaster. The only evidences of a town now to be found on the old town site are shallow holes in the ground, cellars where buildings once stood.
But Montezuma has been resurrected. The Santa Fe, on its Colmor cutoff, laid out, in May, 1912, a new town just a mile and a half from the old town site, naming it Montezuma for its predecessor. A station, a hotel, two general stores, two elevators and two lumber yards were planned for immediate construction; and its life, while perhaps not so spectacular, promises to be longer and more useful than the life of the old town. (Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Volume 12, by Kansas State Historical Society, pages 463-467, 1912)
The old trail, as first surveyed through this region in 1825, was the route along the north side of the Arkansas river. This was the road unless wagon trains took the shorter but more dangerous Cimarron cut-off. The river route passed by the sites of the present towns of Wettick, Cimarron, Ingalls and Charleston. The branch known as the Cimarron route crossed the Arkansas river near the present town of Cimarron at a place known for years as the "Cimarron Crossing." It was so named because it was the shortest and most frequented way to the river of that name. It was sometimes called the "Middle Crossing," to distinguish it from the "Lower Crossing" near Mulberry Creek junction, and the "Upper Crossing" near Chouteau Island. The Cimarron Crossing and route was genearlly used after 1830, except during the dryest seasons or when the Indians were especially dangerous. it passed southwest into Haskell County of today and was by far the shortest road to Santa Fe. (A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, by William Elsey Connelley, Pages 113-114)
Ingalls, a little town in Gray county, is located in the township of the same name, on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R. R. 6 miles west of Cimarron, the county seat. There are a number of stores, telegraph and express offices, and a money order postoffice. The population, according to the census of 1910, was 250. Ingalls was one of the candidates for county seat in the latter '80s, and at one time had the county offices. (Kansas, by Frank Wilson Blackmar, 1912, page 937)