Baxter Springs, an incorporated city of Cherokee county, is located a short distance west of Spring river, at the junction of two divisions of the St. Louis & San Francisco R. R., 11 miles southeast of Columbus, the county seat, and not far from the southern boundary of the state. The first settler was a man named Baxter, who located there about the year 1858, when the land was known as the "Government Strip." During the war of 1861-65, Baxter Springs was on the direct route from Fort Scott to Fort Smith, and lying, as it does, close to the Missouri line, it was also subject to an attack from some of the guerrilla bands that infested the region. A military post was established there in May, 1863, and garrisoned by the First Kansas colored infantry and a battery commanded by Lieut. Knowles. In June the garrison was withdrawn and the post remained unoccupied until Aug. 17, when Col. Blair ordered Capt. John Crites' company of the Third Wisconsin cavalry to reoccupy it. A little later Crites was reinforced by a detachment of the Second Kansas colored infantry under command of Lieut. R. E. Cook, and early in October further reinforcements were added under Lieut. James B. Pond of the Third Wisconsin cavalry, who took with him a 12-pound howitzer. On Oct. 4 Gen. Blunt left Fort Scott for Fort Smith, with an escort of 100 men of the Third Wisconsin and Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, the band and a wagon train, and about noon of the 6th reached a point near Pond's camp at Baxter Springs. Here he saw a body of mounted men advance from the timber on Spring river and as they wore Federal uniforms he thought they were Pond's men out on drill or to give him a reception. Capt. Tough, Blunt's chief of scouts, rode forward, but soon returned with the information that the men were rebels, and that a fight was then going on at Pond's camp.
As a matter of fact, the men seen by Blunt were some of Quantrill's guerrillas, commanded by Quantrill in person. Seeing that they were recognized, the guerrillas advanced on the escort, fired a volley, and then charged. The Union troops were outnumbered more than five to one and fled at the first fire. Blunt succeeded in rallying 15 of his men, and with this meager force held the enemy at bay, until noticing a gap in the line be made a dash through it and escaped. His adjutant-general, Maj. Curtis, attempted to cut his way through another gap, but was killed. Britton, in his "Civil War on the Border," says: "In many instances where the soldiers were closely pursued, they were told that if they would surrender they would be treated as prisoners of war; but in every case the moment they surrendered and were disarmed, they were shot down sometimes even with their own arms in the hands of the bandits."
A short time before this unhappy affair, which is known as the Baxter Springs massacre, Pond's camp had been attacked by the guerrillas while 60 of his picked men were absent on a foraging expedition. Lieut. Pond managed to work the howitzer by himself, and the fact that the camp was supplied with artillery doubtless deterred Quantrill from charging and capturing the entire force then in the garrison.
In 1865, after the war was over, two men named Armstrong and Davis built a house on the site of Baxter Springs, and the next year a town was laid out on 80 acres by Capt. M. Mann and J. J. Barnes. Soon after this A. F. Powell opened a store, and when Baxter Springs became the outlet for the Texas cattle trade, the town took on all the appearances of prosperity. But the cattle trade brought to the place a number of notorious characters, and Baxter Springs quickly won the distinction of being a "wide open" town. The late Eugene F. Ware, in one of the Kansas Historical Collections, says "it was the toughest town on earth." In Nov., 1867, it was made the county seat of Cherokee county, but the following summer, while the Cherokee Neutral Lands were in dispute, James F. Joy, who had purchased the lands, and Congressman Grinnell of Iowa visited Baxter Springs, and the citizens at a meeting adopted resolutions declaring they were satisfied with the plan proposed by Joy in dealing with the settlers on the lands. This offended many citizens of the county, and at an election the following February (1869) a majority of the people voted to remove the seat of justice to Columbus. In the meantime Baxter Springs had voted bonds for something like $200,000 to aid railroad companies, etc., and this led a number of the citizens to leave the place. Added to this, the outlet of the cattle trade was removed farther west and the boom was over. For several years Baxter Springs made but little progress, but in Sept., 1873, rich lead deposits were discovered in the vicinity and again the town began to grow, this time in a permanent and substantial manner.
The Baxter Springs of the present day has an electric lighting plant, waterworks, two banks, two weekly newspapers, an international money order postoffice from which five rural routes emanate, flour mills, hotels, planing mills, a telephone exchange, telegraph and express offices, a large retail trade, and in 1910 had a population of 1,598.
In 1885 Congress appropriated $5,000 for a national cemetery about a mile west of the town, where the victims of the massacre of 1863 are buried.Pages 160-162 from volume I of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed May 2002 by Carolyn Ward.
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