Everybody in Kaw City knew when to expect the Santa Fe train to roll through the city. On slow, summer evenings, it wasn’t unusual for a crowd to gather on the north end of town by the grain elevator to watch it go by. But the town was being forced to move and soon the train tracks would be covered with deep waters from a new lake. December 10, 1971 marked a historic, if not sad occasion for the people of Kaw City. It was the final day the train would ever be scheduled to come through their town. People missed work and children were released from school so they could be there to witness the train chugging away from the depot one last time.
One man in particular must have been filled with nostalgia as he climbed onto the engine of the train that day. John Brown was once a water boy for the railroad, carrying tumblers and a kettle of water back and forth to passengers. He rode the first train that came into Kaw City, and he was there to ride the last train out.
John Brown (left) and Mayor Fred Munson (right) waiting to ride the last train out of Kaw City
Ironically, the train would make one more trip through Kaw City. Following heavy rains in Oklahoma, the only way for the train to get past flooded tracks was to be re-routed through the town. Unexpectedly, people were awakened in the middle of the night to hear that old familiar sound of their train rumbling by.
The Kaw City Newspaper appeared shortly after the small Oklahoma town was established. News didn’t travel as fast in those days. Every letter of every word had to be set in place by hand. Typesetters labored for hours getting each page ready for print. They had to figure out where the “copy” would go and what size font they needed to use. Once the stories and designs were complete, they were locked into the bed of the press which was then inked. Paper was pressed against the inked type to make the impression which became the newspaper. This photo from circa 1902 shows the typesetters and printers at work.
The Kaw City Museum has some of the city’s old newspapers on display in the Brill building. The style of news writing was quite different in the early 1900’s and it’s fun to read some of the stories. You get a genuine peek into the past, reading about the Kaw City people and all the activities they were involved in.
Located in Kay County, Kaw City is situated in the Ox Bow Bend of the Arkansas River twelve miles east of U.S. Highway 77 on State Highway 11. The town was established by the Kaw City Townsite Company, which included William M. Jenkins (fifth governor of Oklahoma Territory), N. F. Frazier, C. W. Carey, and W. E. Brown. The sale of town lots began on July 4, 1902. Advertised as “the finest Townsite in Oklahoma, having as a place for business land as level as a floor with gently sloping upland for residences,” it was bordered on the north by the Kaw (Kansa) Reservation and on the east by the Osage Reservation. Situated in a fertile and productive farming and cattle region, Kaw City was connected with outside markets when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway built their line through the town. Completed in 1903, the train depot served as a shipping point for thousands of bushels of corn and other farm produce. Hundreds of carloads of Texas cattle moved through Kaw City into the grazing lands of the Osage Reservation for fattening prior to being transported to market.
From the town’s inception, building progressed rapidly. Kaw City soon had a bank, a newspaper, two lumberyards, and a mill. A wagon bridge built across the Arkansas River to the north increased trade from the area known as Kaw Country. A post office was established on September 12, 1902, and a one-room school opened with fifty-six children in November 1902. At 1907 statehood, population stood at 486.
The Kaw City School Bell that called children to school over one hundred years ago has graduated to its new home at the front entrance of the Kaw City Museum.
The bell first rang out in the fall of 1910 from a bell tower on the roof top of Kaw City’s two-story brick school house. It summoned children to school at 8:30 am and then rang again at 9:00 am, the time they were to line up by grade in front of the school’s steps before marching to their classrooms. The bell also sounded when lunch and recess breaks were over.
The bell’s rope was suspended through the roof and second floor, down into the first grade cloak room. First grade students were rewarded for good behavior with a chance to wrap their small hands around the thick rope and ring the bell. The fun came when the rope lifted them off the floor as the bell swung back and forth.