The year was 1872 and western Kansas consisted of mile
after mile of waving prairie grasslands and one large, flowering river. Settlers traveling
west on the Santa Fe, Jones and Plummer, and western cattle trails simply passed through
thinking this area "uninhabitable". But one undaunted man, making his way west,
did stop and settle. Mr. S.S. Rogers was the first homesteader in what would later become
Liberal. Outside of the Cimarron River, water was very scarce in Southwestern Kansas and
there was usually a charge for even a small amount; howerver Mr. Rogers always gave his
water free to passing travelers. Quite often he would hear a reply of "that's mighty
Liberal of you" from the grateful recipients.
By 1885 Mr. Rogers had opened a general store and the
government established an official Post Office. It seemed only natural to call the new
As the Railroad extended its line through Seward County
people became interested in the area and Liberal's growth began. In April of 1888 the plat
for the present town site was created. In eight days 83 plank constructed houses were
built. Within a year the population grew to 800. Drought and the opening of the Oklahoma
Strip did much to decrease the population in a town whose economy was entirely dependent
on crops and cattle. Although the population was low, the spirits of the remaining
settlers were not. Always optimistic that something wonderful would come in the future,
these hardy souls remained and made it through some of the worst years the state would
Because of county seat difficulties between Springfield
and Fargo Springs, the Rock Island deflected its route southward and really created the
town of Liberal. Originally the survey called for the railroad to leave Plains in Meade
County and go through the center of Springfield in central Seward County and cross at the
more accessible crossing of the Cimarron River, but the townspeople of Springfield
offended the construction crew and the road was changed to cross the Cimarron River at
Arkalon. Upon reaching the end-of-the-line, Mr. M.A. Low ordered the surveying of a new
townsite a mile east of the Rogers place, having purchased part of four sections of land
there for that purpose in the center of the present day Liberal, Kansas.
The plot of the townsite of Liberal was opened April 13,
1888. During the following twenty-four hours, the sale of lots totaled $180,000.00 of
which some $60,000 was paid in cash. Within a week there were 83 wooden constructed houses
in Liberal, and within a year the boom was on, and Liberal was incorporated as a third
class city. In the following years citizens moved their homes and businesses from Fargo
Springs, Arkalon and Springfield to Liberal, which became the new county seat.
In 1920, gas was discovered west of Liberal on what was
to become the vast Hugoton Gas Field -- the largest gas reserve in the world. In early
1951, oil was discovered southwest of Liberal. During exploration, two layers of gas
production below the Hugoton Gas field were discovered, extending life expectancy of gas
in this area into the next century.
Those early settlers were right. Something wonderful was
in the future, and still is. That optimistic, "can-do" attitude still exists,
and it is this attitude that will carry Liberal into the twenty-first century preparing
for and embracing new opportunities along the way.
Liberal Goes From 3,000 Population Down
In 1890 the first city-owned wells were dug along Kansas
Avenue, and a small storage tank was it. Pipes supplied the business section, but homes
kept large barrels in front of the house which were filled twice a week for a fee of 50
cents per barrel. As a result of becoming the broom corn capital of the world and other
successful farm ventures, some five hundred buildings were erected in the years 1907 and
1908 alone. Consequently in 1909 a successful $45,000.00 waterworks bond was voted in, and
in 1911 at Seventh and Grant, a huge tank was erected along with a pipe system for the
rest of the city. In 1917, three more wells and another huge standby-pipe was added to the
In 1899 Liberal installed its first city lights. They
consisted of coal-oil lamps placed on street corners on eight-foot poles and were the
pride of the city. Local people bragged about being able to read their mail under the
street lights. In 1908 a few electric street lights were added into the business district
but homes continues to use coal-oil or kerosene lamps at that time.
The railroad is actually credited with keeping Liberal
alive in the early years before 1900. Liberal started out as a boom town, but Iike many
places it lasted only a short time as hard cash was practically non-existent, and many
people became discouraged and left with many returning home or moving on to try their luck
in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Those who stayed, however, achieved comfortable homes and many
of them became moderately wealthy. The 400 hardy souls in Liberal in 1900 were the only
ones standing between this city and the fate of half a dozen or so ghost towns that
surrounded Liberal. Those 400 residents are the core of the prominent city we know today -
except for their faith in the future of this town and the railroad, this town could have
experienced the same fate as those surrounding ghost towns.
Liberal is home to many persons of diverse cultures and especially the Scot Irish
families that had migrated westerly in trek of a new decade of a better quality of
life. After the havoc of the Civil War in the eastern part of the United States,
families had to have a new beginning. This is just one of the many communities.
Russell and Rosa Howell Williams began their pioneer efforts and a new life in 1912
when they left West Virginia and headed the wagon west. This zealous Scotsman would
not be deterred by the highwayman and outlaws. He could shoot a squirrel at 200
They arrived at the Saint Louis crossing as most pioneers and got to the fork in the
trail. The northern road to Colorado and the southern to Texas. A huge
decision was in the making !!! Russell laid down the reins of the two mules, Koaly
and Kate, and told them to make the decision. Those two mules discussed it and decided to
take the northern route.
Russell and Rose ended up in Pueblo Colorado some time later. Russell worked a
while in the steel mills and coal mines and he had made friends with another venturesome
couple. They decided to load their wagons and head south !!
To No Man's Land they headed as the land was open for settlement. In 1918, Russell was
a wheat farmer and homesteader where he lived some 40 years, retiring in Liberal. He
and Rosa died in Liberal in the mid-60's.