History of Montezuma
Old Montezuma 1886-1892
Old Montezuma was never incorporated. The Land Company sold residents lots for one dollar each, and business locations were five hundred dollars. The business section was rectangular, two blocks wide and four blocks long. At the height of the town, there were about fifteen business acres. It's likely the population never did get over 300 except, in the winter when the railroad was under construction.
B.F. Dern, and R.E. Baily had a grocery store on Main Street. Pete Althouse ran a shoe store in the rear of the building. There was the Britten General Store, Green Hotel, with McDonald as manager, the Caldwell Hardware Store, which also housed the post office with Jim Thompson as postmaster. This building burned in 1888, and was the only fire that old Montezuma ever had. One residence was struck by lightening, but it didn't burn.
The Cottage Hotel was run by W.O. Homan, and Williams and Dickerson were the bankers. John Smith had the butcher shop, and McIntire sold coal and lumber. Taylor, Pinninger and Nuttle were druggists. There were two livery stables, one owned by Cossel and the other by E.N. Dern. Joe Combs and M.A. Granger were dealers in real estate.
The town had three doctors, Dr. Wheeler, Dr. Cox and Dr. Meredith and one lawyer, Headley. Hurley Lewis, Kosa, and Reed were the names of the blacksmiths; Conwell Tucker, and Brooks the carpenters. Early school teachers were
Maude Stevens, E.N. Dern, Carrie Orthwaite, Mollie Land, Parmenter Woolen and Williams. The ministers were the Reverends Childs, Beard, and West.
E.J.Clark and Sandrett were station agents, and Doug Harris, Grant Webster and R.J. Pribble served as section foreman.
These businesses and professional people served their patrons in the old town of Montezuma.
Established in 1912
When Gray County was first created, a stage coach system was organized to run from Cimarron to Meade Center.
The distance was too great for horses to make the entire trip in one day, so a group of men from a nearby town decided to build a town to accommodate the stagecoach stop midway. They became the Western Kansas Town and Land Co. They distributed stock that was valued at $100,000 and shares were sold at $50 each. As the town was already platted, the residential lots were sold for thirty and fifty dollars each and business lots for fifty dollars. The men decided to name their new town after the Aztec Chiefton, Montezuma, because it was believed that the water contained fabulous healing qualities, treasures.
The new town was soon to know the favors of a famous eastern philanthropist, Asa T. Soule, whose fortune had been amassed from his Hops Bitters enterprise. He promised the citizens of the south part of Gray County that if they would vote for his town of Ingalls in which he had extensive interests including the building of the famous Eureka Canal that was to make a garden place of the entire part of our area that he would build them a railroad from Dodge City to help in the disposition of their products and bring in needed supplies to a budding community. Aside from the benefits derived from transportation, the project provided work for the new settlers who had been attracted to a new land with little but their ambitions and willingness to get ahead.
But if all progress is made in the shadow of man, then Soule most certainly made his shadow fall across the area - in fact in one way or another he influenced all of Gray County. Mr. Soule died before he could operate his railroad the five years he promised the settlers. The opening of the Cherokee Strip attracted the grasshopper ridden, drought stricken, blizzard frightened pioneers of western Kansas, and the old town of Montezuma established with such high hopes in 1887 was declared closed in 1895 by Congress.
People uprooted in other unfortunate areas kept streaming in to the abandoned homesteads, the cheap land for which they only paid a token price.
In 1912 the Santa Fe decided to build a railroad across Southern Gray County which came through about a mile and half north of the original town of Montezuma, and so a new Montezuma was established on the railroad line. The first train came through the small community unheralded in June, 1912.
The first business in the new town was an eating place for the railroad workers and was run by the Davises and the Dickersons from Cimarron, who took turns for a week at a time bringing their families down to run the place. The first grocery store was housed on the corner of Aztec Street and Hwy 56. Howell and Rhinehard had a real estate office in the north half and Kniss and Griffin sold groceries in the other.
The value of land began to soar and in a short time went from ten dollars an acre to twenty and even thirty on occasion, and the optimists predicted that it would sell for forty in another year or so. T.M. Deal built a lumber yard providing material for the new incoming residents.
Dr. D.C. Munford and his wife, returned Chinese missionaries, came to help the sick and later built the drug store. In 1913 the bank was built and A.P. Smith built a hardware and implement store just across the street North. School was held about a mile west of town. The Luther Flats were built at the north end of Main Street to provide housing and office space for a budding city. There Montezuma's first baby, Milton Hood, was born. His mother later became the postmistress. In 1914 the first newspaper, "The Chief" was published which in 1915 became the Montezuma Press. In the old town of Montezuma the publication had been called "The Chief" in deference to the town's name.
The new Montezuma was incorporated in 1917. Bonds had already been voted for a new school building. On April 16, 1914, the newly constructed general store of Griffen and Blanton burned. It was located just across the street south of the Drug Store. In 1914 Dr Munford began building on the corner north of the post office. He had also purchased a new x-ray machine.
Ed Beilman purchased the city well and the Town-site Company. The well stood on the lot back of the present drug store. Mr. Beilman hoped to make it possible for people to pipe water to their homes and also add much needed fire protection.
In 1914 the wheat crop was unusually good and many fields averaged over twenty bushels to the acre. The school was moved into town.
A.N. Rennie purchased the implement business from A.P. Smith.
In 1928 petitions were carried to permit the contracts for four blocks of curb and gutter to be installed in the business district.
The twenties ended with its post war problems and left Montezuma a growing town. A large new elevator was being built and other businesses were opening. City water tower was erected and water being piped into homes. In 1930, the population had grown and The Press predicted that from 163 in 1920 it would reach 423 and would soon reach fifteen hundred.
A new golf course was laid out and the road to the cemetery was graveled.
In the 30's the people of the community struggled through the depression years with little or no crops, getting very little money for the few products they were able to put on the market. The best Model T Ford was advertised to sell at $655. Rabbit drives were held to control the predators that had become a menace to crops. The Library had grown from a humble beginning to 1047 volumes and was housed in the city building.
The practice of summer fallowing was urged on farmers as well as strip farming to control erosion by wind. Many men added to their meager incomes by working for C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corp). We had been dogged by dust storms, poor economy, and rumblings of war in European countries.
Of course, the forties were saddened at its beginnings of World War II by the Pearl Harbor incident and in one way or another affected nearly every home.
The Mennonites shipped more than forty carloads of flour to war torn countries of Europe. In 1947 construction was begun on the new Co-op elevator. The Bethel Home was completed and a large dedication service held.
In 1950 the population was 507; in 1954 the first television sales were announced in Montezuma. In 1957 a large antenna was mounted at KTVC and the new test pattern was soon to appear.
No story of Montezuma could be written without giving credit to the vast contributions the Mennonites have made to the community. From the time they began arriving after the railroad opened up vast acres of land to them, they have been vital and dedicated citizens.
The Mennonite settlement had its beginnings on March 28, 1912 when Peter A. Friesen and family of Lehigh, Kansas arrived at the Cimarron railroad station. There was no railroad, or for that matter, no town of Montezuma at the time. When the settlers arrived they were snowbound in the railroad yards in Cimarron and before they could leave, A.B. Unruh, Fred Jantz and Herman Unruh from Durham, Ks and the Peter Friesen family from Steinback Manitoba joined them.
After the storm abated, the families loaded their possessions in wagons and followed a winding path through the hills to the southwest for 20 miles arriving at their destination at about sunset the same day.
Immediately following their spring settlement, the Dodge City and Cimarron Valley R.R. laid its tracks right through the heart of the community and the little town of Montezuma sprang up to its present location. In three years time the church had grown to forty-two families with the majority of the settlers coming from Marion County, Kansas.
~Portions of the article were written by Helen Ward Rennie. Much of the information can be found in Helen Ward Rennie's book, "Tale of Two Towns" published in 1961.~
Mayors of Montezuma, KS.: Tom Vandeveer, 1917; Alvin Polston, 1919; H.V. Thompson, 1920; Roy Rabourn appointed to replace Thompson who had moved, 1922; J.W. McReynolds, 1923; R.C. Parks, 1929; Frank Bloomingdale, 1931; Sam Nite, 1932; Joe R. Smith, 1933; R.L. Rabourn, 1937; Holly Renfro,1939; Ralph Fry, 1943; C.K. Parks,1945; R.L. Monninger, 1947; Ward Rennie, 1959; John B. Unruh, 1969; Vernon Nusser, 1971; Dale Tuxhorn; 1991; Nancy Dotts, 1999; Chet Wiswell 2020.