History of Lakin, Kansas

The City of Lakin was founded in 1873 by John O'Loughlin to serve the needs of the pioneer spirit sweeping the nation. The O'Loughlin trading post was established to accommodate the passengers using the A.T. & S.F. rail service and pioneers traveling by wagon on the Santa Fe Trail.

The city was named after David Long Lakin, who was a trustee for the railroad company. Since 1894, Lakin has served as the county seat of Kearny County. Lakin currently has a population of 2,542.

For a step back in time, you can visit the Kearny County Museum. You will be able to walk through history, viewing attractions from 1872 to the future. Some of the historical sites include: the oldest house in Lakin, the restored Columbian schoolhouse (1893), the Conestoga wagons which were used to haul freight on the Santa Fe Trail, the depot (1876), survey wagon (1800's), and the 12-sided barn built in 1909.

Within our county are several attractions and landmarks of the Santa Fe Trail, which was declared a National Historic Trail May 8, 1987. To the west, Chouteau's Island, Indian Mound and Bluff Station where the caravans sometimes went south to join the Cimarron Cut-Off. The mountain route of the trail followed the Arkansas River west to Bent's Fort. To the east of Lakin, approximately 3 miles can be seen old wagon ruts

For more information about the History of Lakin, Kansas call 620.355.7448.



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Jennie Rose O'Loughlin

A TRAVELER motoring at great speed through western Kansas today and grumbling over what he terms inconveniences little realizes what the first travelers had to contend with.

On April 1, 1927, an observer stationed near the old Santa Fe trail reported the passage of two hundred motor cars in a given time. Had he been stationed in the same place half a century earlier he would have reported the passage of prairie schooners whose occupants were going to the frontier to conquer the sod and build homes. They went with the determination and courage necessary to brave the discomforts occasioned by Indian raids, blizzards, prairie fires, hot winds, droughts and grasshoppers. Though some returned to the East, many remained, keeping their faith in a country which seemed at times to deny them a bare living.

Not only these pioneers, but everyone who passed over the Santa Fe trail in the early days, stopped at what must have seemed the last outpost to buy supplies. This stopping place was the first building in Lakin; a dugout.

The Santa Fe railroad was completed to the western state line December 28, 1872. On that day the first cars were run over the entire route from Atchison to Colorado. Immediately after the construction of this road John O'Loughlin saw the advantage of locating a store and trading post at Lakin. In April, 1873, he established himself in a dugout and prepared to supply the needs of the traveling public.

There was no bridge across the Arkansas river from Dodge City to Granada, Colo., so the territory served by this store might be said to extend from the Smoky Hill river on the north to the Red river on the south. After the Indians burned Thomas O'Loughlin's store at Pierceville in 1874, [3] this was the only place between Dodge City and Granada where supplies could be obtained. The stock had to be varied in order to meet the needs of trappers, freighters, soldiers, buffalo hunters, and cow punchers. Besides the ordinary line of staple groceries and dry goods, one could buy Sharps rifles, fixed ammunition, ox bows, ox yokes, ox shoes, and everything necessary for the outfitting of an ox-team, Colt's six-shooters, chaps, spurs, saddles, high-heeled boots, bright-colored silk shirts, scarfs and handkerchiefs, Stetson hats, Dutch ovens, and crosscut saws. The last thirty pairs of ox shoes were sold in 1901 by Ernest McDowell to a man who was driving cattle through the country. About the same time the last of the fixed ammunition for buffalo guns was sold to a customer who made a special trip to Lakin for it, having heard that he would find some in this store. One day in the seventies a man from Colorado asked for a crosscut saw. This request was inconsistent in view of the fact that there was not a log in the country; however, the obliging clerk, D. H. Browne, surprised him by taking one from its place on the wall. An emigrant, westward bound, had traded it to the proprietor for groceries. At the same time he had disposed of a barrel of lamp chimneys. This is an example of the variety of goods obtained by trading.

Early settlers relate that herds of buffalo extending as far as the eye could see were roving over the prairies. The meat from these animals was about the only kind to be obtained, although there was some antelope and deer meat. The meat had to be cut, dried, and salted for use. Sometimes as much as a ton was cured. Bill Levitt, one of the first Santa Fe engineers, tells that many times he saw the roof of the dugout shingled with buffalo hams which the train crew ate later with Mr. O'Loughlin in Lakin. There was no eating house here at the time, but Guy Potter soon built one which he sold to Fred Harvey. The manager of the Harvey house obtained here much of the antelope and buffalo meat used in the various houses of the system.

Where the Indians killed one buffalo for food, the hide and tongue hunters killed fifty. This slaughter kept up year after year, thousands of hunters being employed to kill as many as they could. The building of the Pacific railroads divided the buffalo into two large herds which ranged on both sides of the Platte river, the estimated numbers of each being about three million. It was never thought by Western men that it would be possible to kill such a number, but by 1875 the southern herd was practically exterminated and this gave rise to a large industry for Lakin. The buffalo bones were gathered and shipped to the East where their principal use was in the making of commercial fertilizer. Each wagonload of bones weighed about three hundred pounds. The average price was six dollars a ton, and hundreds of carloads were shipped.

One of the things which most impressed Billy Russell as he first rode into Lakin was the sight of huge piles of bones, perhaps thirty carloads, stacked along the railroad track. Another thing was Harry Browne standing in the store door, no doubt wondering who the tenderfoot might be. Mr. Russell is a native of Boston, and, although he felt quite sure that he could not content himself in Lakin, from that Saturday afternoon until the following Monday morning he became so attached to western Kansas that he has been here continuously since.

During the construction of the Santa Fe railroad buffalo were so numerous as to impede work, and on more than one occasion trains were delayed by running into herds. Guy Potter, an early resident of Lakin, was aboard a train which was delayed one hour and forty minutes at Pierceville waiting for buffalo to cross the track. From the caboose that day the brakeman shot thirteen buffalo.

Trappers brought in many kinds of hides. They were then given fifty and seventy-five cents for coyote and wolf hides on which bounties are now ten and twelve dollars.

It might be imagined that the store keeper's life was dull and prosaic; however, the lines of cattle movement were established so that chuck wagons from the north loaded at Lakin for the roundup on the south, and many times in a single day the clerk was instructed to send bills for one outfit to Chicago, another to Kansas City, and a third to Denver, thus showing the ramifications of the cattle trade. Recently residents of Adobe Walls, Tex., told of driving cattle through Lakin and later making frequent trips with loads of bones and hides which were exchanged for groceries.

The banking facilities at that time were so limited that the keeping of money was a problem. Money belonging not only to Mr. O'Loughlin, but to others who had entrusted it to his care, was concealed in coffee cans, under bolts of calico, beneath kegs of fish, and anywhere that one would not expect to find it. One day a fish keg was moved; under it was a canvas sack containing one hundred fifty dollars whose whereabouts had long since been forgotten.

As time went on it was found necessary, in order to handle the increasing trade, to move the store into larger quarters. For a time after that the dugout served as a storehouse but was later torn down. Children playing on the site found several dollars in small change thought to have dropped down between the board and dirt walls where it had been put for safekeeping.

When the new building was erected in 1879 Lakin could boast of the Harvey house, section house, station, Theodore Brown's drugstore, the O'Loughlin store, the Lakin Eagle office, Potter & Mitchell real estate office, Gray & Jones Supply Company, all of which faced the railroad. For that time and place a store thirty by fifty feet not only looked but seemed as large to the citizens of Lakin as Marshall Field's.

A. B. Boylan, the first telegraph operator and station agent, located in Lakin in 1875. Previous to that time he had made his home in Dodge, but made daily trips to the end of the line. He carried his telegraph instrument in the caboose and, whenever communication was necessary, attached the instrument to the wire. After the station was built he was transferred to Lakin. He was also the first postmaster.

Joseph Dillon came to Lakin in 1879, on the first of May, and when Franklin Pierce arrived on the third, the Dillons were planting their garden. Mr. Pierce recalls the first time he ever saw Maria Dillon, now Mrs. D. H. Browne. She was planting potatoes. The season was very dry, so the crop was a failure, but in the fall they dug up the potatoes and ate them.

Mr. Pierce also decided to try his luck gardening but thought it best to confine his activities to raising watermelons. He was very successful in this undertaking and when the melons were ready for market offered to sell a wagonload to Mr. O'Loughlin, who said he could not use a wagonload but would take two dozen. When Mr. Pierce loaded the wagon he found that the box would not hold a dozen and a half. The same year he planted the large grove of trees now to be seen west of town. For a time Mr. Pierce was in the real estate business with C. O. Chapman, and later with J. Longstreth. During the summer of 1879 the Loucks and Dillon residences were built.

In 1882 Mr. O'Loughlin was married. The following year the store building was moved to its present location. Mr. O'Loughlin early saw the advantage of the allied businesses of farming and ranching. His large holdings included farms and ranches in southern Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the best known of which was the Pig Pen ranch of northern Grant county, so called on account of the cattle brand.

Since Mr. O'Loughlin's death in 1915 the business has been under the management of his sons. Fifty-three years after its establishment it marks the trail; a memorial, not only to the founder's foresight and integrity, but to all those who believed in Lakin.

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