The city of Kiowa, in Barber County, Kansas, has occupied two different sites during
its history. When the first settlers arrived in 1872, they established a village along the west bank of the Medicine Lodge River, a few miles north of the Indian Territory line. Surviving an attack by Osage Indians in the fall of 1872 and another in 1874, the town was incorporated and a post office established in the latter year. Although the town's growth was slow, A. W. Rumsey's mercantile store became a trading center for ranchers in the area, for traders, and for immigrants on their way west. Most of the inhabitants lived in dugouts or sod houses and burned "prairie coal" (buffalo or cow ships) for fuel. The hazards of living included prairie fires, gray wolves, rattlesnakes, grasshoppers and a river with no bridge. Recreation was limited but the Fourth of July and Christmas were celebrated with basket dinners and dances. Kiowa lost its chance to be a railroad town when the townsite owners refused to donate 80 acres to railroad officials for a deport and trackage and to allow them a 50-50
division of the townsite. With 5,000 acres purchased from W. E. Campbell, a rancher who owned 48,000 acres on the southern borders of Barber and Harper counties, a new hastily formed town company laid out a townsite four and a half miles southeast of the original village. Railroad officials were granted 40 acres for a depot and stockyards in what was known as New Kiowa. It was incorporated in 1884 and businesses began moving from the old town.
Cattle raising was the main industry in the region. Ranchers with huge acreage and thousands of cattle, organized into cattle pools for the sake of economy, better protection of the herds, and the opportunity to upgrade them. A pool captain supervised the riders of all ranchers in the pool, calves were branded according to the brand of the cow, and the business, was transacted by a vote of members of the pool as in a joint stock company.
Some Cherokee Outlet cattlemen formed the Cherokee Strip Livestock association to keep trespassing cattle off of their ranges which were rented from the Cherokee Indian Nation.
On August 4, l885, the Southern Kansas Railroad reached New Kiowa and the town immediately became a major shipping point, handling thousands of cattle from the Cherokee Outlet , Texas and New Mexico. The Southern Kansas became the property of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad on October l, l887. Large shipments of cattle from New Kiowa ended, however, when President Harrison ordered all cattle removed from the Cherokee Outlet by Dec. l, l890, preparatory to opening the Oklahoma lands for settlement. Altogether, there were 10 openings and in 1893, Kiowa was one of the starting points for the biggest land run into the Cherokee Outlet. On September 15, l890, with Old Kiowa largely abandoned, a petition was granted to change the name of New Kiowa to just Kiowa.
Kiowa's boom ended with the Oklahoma land openings, but the population stabilized and the town has not only survived but grown in quality. Wheat farming is a major industry as well as the cattle business. The Barber County Cattlemen's Association is one of the oldest and most progressive association in Kansas. Around 70,000 head of cattle graze on 500,00 acres of grass, the largest acreage in the state for this purpose. There are excellent schools in South Barber USD 255. Kiowa also has six churches,
an efficient governing body, active civic organizations and women's clubs, and prosperous business establishments. As a farming community, it is served by two implement companies, one of which, the Kiowa Service Company, is reputed to be the number-one dealer in North America for combine sales.
With two resident doctors, the Kiowa Clinic and the Kiowa District Hospital serve the medical needs of Kiowa and much of the surrounding territory. An up-to-date-library and the Kiowa Historical Museum are located on North 7th Street, with a school museum opposite the Community Building on South Fifth Street.
The Community Building is widely used for events ranging from estate sales, dances, family reunions, and a dinner theater to election headquarters. Senior Citizens have their own building on East Main Street.
Kiowa has a weekly newspaper featuring news from the trade territory of Hardtner, Hazelton and Kiowa in Kansas, and Burlington in Oklahoma. The city also has one movie theater. The swimming pool is open all summer just north of Progress Park and there is a fine softball field adjacent to the park. The Masonic and O.E.S. lodges hold regular meetings in their new lodge hall and the Knights of Columbus have a meeting hall on East Main Street. Friendship Manor is a modern rest home. Kiowa is governed by a mayor and city council. The city owns the utilities and trash hauling is available. New curbs, guttering and paving have enhanced the city streets in recent months.
Three outstanding events are held annually in Kiowa. The Labor Day Picnics began in the 1930's and, with the exception of a brief hiatus during World War II, have been held every year since in Kiowa's Progress Park. A free lunch is provided by the Kiowa Chamber of Commerce and numerous activities are enjoyed during the day and evening. In normal years, participants number between 3,000 and 5,000 but every three years, when
all-school reunions are held, the attendance may reach 10,000. Pioneer Days celebrations, lasting three days, have been held yearly in April since l987.
Events include a claim-jumpers relay race followed by a Pioneer Cattle Drive and parade down Main Street. Pioneer breakfasts, hamburger feed and music at Progress Park as well as rodeo events at Miller's Arena are enjoyed.
In l992, a new attraction was a melodrama put on by the Kiowa Karachters, a local group of Thespian. Since then the enterprise has become know as the Borderline Theater with actors from a wider area involved. Twice yearly the group presents a dinner-theater two nights, followed by an afternoon matinee, held in the Community Building. Performances are always sold out. Best of all are Kiowa's people-civic-minded, industrious, capable and friendly. Visitors, new residents and new enterprises are always
The following history was written by Jean M. Brown our local Historian. Mrs. Brown has written 2 books about Kiowa: A History of Kiowa, Old and New, On the Cowboy-Indian Frontier and More about Kiowa and Other Stories. If you would like more information about Kiowa contact the local Library