The Town of Santa Fe
An excerpt from... "100 Years Beneath the Plow"
Star City was platted June 4, 1885, and recorded in Finney County, in the southwest quarter of Section 31–28–32, containing 36 blocks. The location was across the present US Highway 83 east of where Santa Fe became established. After short while a company came in and bought the townsite, changing the name to Santa Fe, for the historical trail which crossed the county just a few miles north.
The Ivanhoe town plat, in the southeast corner of Section 26–27–33, was dated June 16, 1885, and filed of record in Finney County July 1, 1885. A later plat dated January 18, 1886, also recorded in Finney County, sets out 54 Blocks with the Ivanhoe Town Company reserving for its use forever a tract in the center of town 300 feet by 580 feet.
One old settler who came to the county in the fall of 1885 stated that there was only one house on the townsite of Santa Fe at the time. Probably the first building was a station on the hack line from Garden City to Fargo Springs and Springfield. The tract of Santa Fe, covering 98 blocks and located in the east half of section 36–28–33, Is dated June 12, 1886, and filed of record July 31, 1886, also in Finney County.
The first issue, June 11, 1886, of the Santa Fe Trail gives a description of the new town of Santa Fe: "The fact that a new town in south-central Finney County has been organized and is already assuming the appearance of a city is not generally known; nevertheless, such is the case. Santa Fe was started a few weeks ago, but it's actual building boom did not set in until last week. Last Monday, three of four building companies commenced operations, and the fruit of their work today show the neat and good sized store buildings in Santa Fe. There are at present two grocery stores, one restaurant and hotel (with regular borders) one bakery, one laundry, two lumber yards and arrangements for businesses of all kinds have been made and will be commenced as soon as the shelving and counters can be put in place for the reception of goods. .."
The Indians had only recently been driven westward and northward from this region, and Buffalo were still quite numerous on the plains south of the Arkansas River in the early part of the 1880s. Herds of wild horses were seen as late as 1883. Indians came Santa Fe, but they were all peaceful and on the way from Oklahoma to Nebraska. They would stop at Santa Fe, linger for rest or refreshment and go on. No doubt they were regarded with curiosity and awe by the citizens of the town.
As the nearest water source was the town of Ivanhoe six miles north, a well was dug early in Santa Fe's existence, probably in 1886. This well was dug by hand, 220 feet down, and then drilled another hundred 100 feet for pipe. The settlers for many miles around came to the pump with their wagons and water barrels, sometimes lining up for an eighth of the mile.
The growth of Haskell County and Santa Fe in 1886 was amazing, and in 1887 the boom was at its height. That spring settlers in the county could awake in the mornings and see many clusters of covered wagons that had come together in the evening to spend the night, leaving separately the next morning, destined for some as yet unstaked claim. The population of Santa Fe at the height of the boom was definitely ascertained. Some authorities think it was about six or seven hundred, but there are other sources just as reliable who place the number 1,200 or even 18,000.
On July 1, 1887, Gov. Martin declared the county organized and designated Santa Fe the temporary county seat.
In 1891 the exodus began in the population of Haskell County and Santa Fe fell rapidly. Several factors contributed to the decline. The Oklahoma Territory was opened to settlement in 1889, and several men who had mortgaged their own homesteads took out for the 'strip." Also, much of the big wheat crop of 1892 rotted in the stacks as it was too costly to thresh and haul it so far to market in Plains or Montezuma. No more wheat was raised for many years after that, but the damage was done. The disaster resulted in a lot of "blasted hopes and busted farmers," many of whom hastened back to where they could stick their feet under their father-in-law's table.
People left taking only what what their wagons could hold. The county population dropped to 1,077 while Santa Fe dwindled to about 300 persons in 1896, never again to be any larger. By 1899 the county population reached a low at 434 and Santa Fe's resident population fell to 60. The ransacking of empty houses was widespread. Buildings were torn down or moved to a new location. In 1899 Henry Johnson moved a six room vacant house to his ranch. Santa Fe must have been a dreary place in those days, with so many vacant buildings and hard times on every hand. Dr. Miner's wife said that "when we arrived in Santa Fe 1903 it was a rather desolate looking town, no sidewalks, and the houses were unpainted and weather-beaten, the worst feature was that there was only one well." Of the several wells dug in the 1880s all but one in front of the Court Brown Hotel had fallen into disuse as the exodus continued.
There had been a boardwalk in Santa Fe. One fall the town officials bought lumber and built board sidewalks about six feet wide, extending three blocks in each direction from the center of town, according to Jap McCoy. When the exodus of '93 occurred, or perhaps during the later drought years when nearly everyone had left, the remaining citizens tore up the sidewalks and used the wood to build windbreaks.
Santa Fe's future seemed uncertain as the building of a railroad through Haskell County appeared to nearing reality. On November 2, 1911, the following article appeared in The Santa Fe Monitor: "Last Sunday's Kansas City Post had a half page illustrated burlesque on the moving of Santa Fe, and it was at a dandy. They succeeded in getting everything moved but Sheriff Lucas in his jail full of prisoners, and they wouldn't budge. Parsons Stanely was in the procession with the M. E. Church on his back, followed by the opera house, the quick meal restaurant, and a fat lubber toting a large beer sign. Some the ladies said they were glad to see the saloon go as they didn't need it anyway. (There never was a saloon and Haskell County.) The most ridiculous part of it all was with old Si Plunket carried off the old town pump which have been loafing around and arguing politics for nigh unto 40 years.
Seriously Santa Fe hasn't moved yet, and may never move. Grading hasn't commenced yet on the road we are expected to move to. At the best it will be nearly a year before it is completed if Santa Fe finally decided to move, it will probably be a year or so before it is done. We are all hoping it will not be necessary at all. Santa Fe is in the exact center of the county; there couldn't be a better location, and it ought to remain where it is. So all this fuss seems to be a little premature. . ."
In 1912 there were still 250 to 300 people in Santa Fe when the railroad was built through Haskell County six miles south. Steve Cave was the first to prepare to move, trading his Santa Fe lots to the railroad for new lots and Sublette. Jim Patrick moved his real estate office just ahead 9 miles southwest of Sublette. A considerable part of Santa Fe's population followed him there, but most of them went to Sublette. The moving continued for 10 years. Thirteen Santa Fe houses were relocated in Sublette and four or five in Satanta. Most of these were relatively large and were probably the nicer homes.
The Santa Fe schoolhouse was sold to be used as a church at Pleasant Prairie; the courthouse was torn down and the lumber used to build John Alexander's farmhouse. A few other buildings remained in Santa Fe until 1920 when the last of them was moved to Sublette. Santa Fe was not officially abandoned until 1926 when the county commissioners passed an order vacating the land, although the actual abandonment was completed several years before the official order.
And so this would-be center of the southwest ceased to exist. It was not because the ambitious pioneers of that town did not try to make it a city, but simply that the railroad's bypassing of it sealed its fate. All that remains of the flourishing, busy community is the cemetery. . . and a hoard of traditions. - Lawrence Stude, Old Santa Fe; Ruby Rutledge