This map taken from a 1916 Ford
County Plat book shows Wilburn as it relates to Ford
This is a modern map of the
northeastern most corner of Meade County showing
Wilburn just north of Section 2.
The town of Wilburn was actually located in
the southern-most part of Ford County in [SW/4-SEC 35-Twp
29-Rng 26]... about a quarter mile from the Ford and Meade
County line. Wilburn Cemetery still stands today a quarter
mile south and two miles east of the town site [NW/4-SEC
1-Twp 30-Rng 26] in Meade County.
The town site was platted in February, l885,
by L. P. Horton and Charles P. Brown. Named after the infant
son of Brown, it was situated along Crooked Creek, the first
settlement south of Dodge City at the time. Wilburn was an
important stop on the Jones & Plummer trail, a supply trail
that led from Dodge City to Mobeetie, Texas, used primarily
for the transportation of goods by Dodge City merchants.
This trail also accommodated Cal Fergurson's stage, which
transported people from the end of the railroad in Dodge
City to points in Meade County and beyond.
Wilburn's future, however, lay entirely with
the prospects of a proposed north-south route of the
Chicago, Nebraska, Kansas & Southwestern Railroad running
from Redlands, Nebraska to some point in Texas. When this
"artery of commerce" failed, Wilburn's future was to be an
unrealized dream. But for the moment, its founders, like the
rest of those settling southwest Kansas were long on hope
and the old Jones & Plummer Trail was enough contact with
commerce and the outside world.
(the following is adapted from "On My Fathers
Side" by C. Robert Haywood)
In l885, the way to Wilburn as well as to
other Meade County hamlets of Fowler, Belle Meade, Meade
Center, Spring Lake, Pearlette, and Carthage was the same.
One got off the train in Dodge City, bought a ticket at the
Dodge House or the Stage Office two doors down, caught the
coach at an early 7:00 A.M., and rode as a pampered guest,
not on an "old fashioned stage... but on the latest
improved-spring cushioned seats," making it as far as Fowler
for dinner. None of the towns on Ferguson's swing seemed a
better prospect than Wilburn.
The town had achieved a kind of instant,
over-night success; booming along with the unlimited
prospects of the rest of the mid-l880's land rush. Horton
and Brown, the former from Michigan and the latter from
Iowa, had built the first store and began selling groceries
in April, 1885. Within a year it was a thriving country
center. The editor of The Wilburn Argus, Frank
Mathews, saw its prospects as better than those of Kansas
City or Wichita when they were first established, and a
future every bit as fine. Where Fowler in Meade County,
Appleton in Clark County and Ryansville in Ford County all
had near and contending rivals; Mathews saw none for
Wilburn. Apparently Pearlette, even with its post-office,
was so insignificant as to deserve no consideration. By
mid-summer l885, even the rival editor in Fowler
begrudgingly admitted that Wilburn was "quite a little
In April, 1886, editor, Frank Mathews, of
The Wilburn Argus reported: We now have a lone hardware,
one clothing store, two grocers, a lumberyard, a shoe shop,
a larger feed and livery stable, post office, a large
will-conducted hotel, a blacksmith shop, and two rustling
real estate firms who are always willing to give you any
information desired. We also have one of the best
schoolhouses in Southwest Kansas, and last but not least a
newspaper and publishing office.
From the beginning it was a homesteaders
town. It catered to the settlers, that is to say, those
"settled" folk who sought the solid support of home and the
family virtues of a community already settled down. It was
not to have, nor did it desire to have,any wi1d unsettled
beginnings such as the old cow-towns had weathered. Frank
Mathews testified that it was "a moral town," contrasting
favorably with Dodge City by the "conspicuous absence... of
the dram shop, gaming hall and their volaries. The western
rough has returned to the frontier and the snob of the east
has not yet arrived." Wilburn's settlers wanted only
stability and opportunity. The kind of society they hoped to
fashion was to be a replica of eastern propriety and as near
to its cultural pattern as possible.
The establishment of a school was an
indication in that direction. The original school had been a
modest, incomplete structure with a dirt floor, no desks,
only benches for the students. But soon a new school house
was built. The school was followed quickly by other
manifestations of established respectability: a literary
society and an organized baseball team.
J. E. Platt, the State Sunday School
Superintendent of the Congregational Church, organized
Wilburn's first Sunday School in the spring of 1885, meeting
in Theodore Pillow's home. A year later he came back to
preach in the school house, praising the congregation's
progress and predicting a great future there for the Lord.
The Methodist Episcopal Church, however; stole the first
march on the other sects and rival congregations when they
succeeded in getting the Rev. T.P. Moore assigned to
Wilburn; an assignment both the Fowler and Appleton
congregations were seeking. The coup was so inspiring that
when the Southwest Kansas Conference of the Methodist Church
began discussing the site for a new college which was
eventually to go to Winfield, Wilburn made a bid for it.
In the summer of 1887, the town reached its
peak. The city government was in full operation; business
was brisk; new settlers were filing the surrounding claims.
The July Fourth celebration of that summer was to be the
town's high water mark. Besides the usual picnic and oratory
there was to be fireworks and, just like the big cities, a
hot-air balloon ascension... representing a town on the
Dreams of Wilburn becoming a metropolis where
dashed when the railroad's building plans never
materialized. Meanwhile the Rock Island Railroad reached
Fowler nine miles southwest of Wilburn on January 31, 1888.
The town existed for several more years, but was on a
gradual decline. In 1911, the government finally closed the
The school house as a country school remained
on well into the lives of the third generation of the
original settlers, serving as an educational, social, and
community center for box suppers, literary programs,
election day polling, and, during the depression, a grim
meeting place for AAA and governmental programs.
The rest of the town site was gradually
incorporated into the Van Riper acres and after Senator
Chester I. Long purchased the land it became part of the
"Wilburn Park Farm" with its experimentation with sheep,
poultry, and irrigation. Eventually the old store-post
office was moved to a neighboring farm to serve as a work
shop and, after World War II, efficiency and progress in the
guise of school consolidation, even the school house was
torn down. Wheat fields have long since claimed the once
bright hopes and Wilburn is marked only by history, few with
living memory can remember even its decline. The "turn of
the Kaleidoscope of time" has been completed.