Dodge City’s population consists mostly of people coming from far away or from foreign places. This is nothing new.
Around 1900, the Santa Fe Railway brought Mexican immigrants to Dodge City to work on the railroad. Most of the men who came from Mexico were single or who worked to make money to send for their families. A few brought their families with them in search of a better life.
Unaccepted by the community, the immigrants began settling along the City’s outskirts. What became known as the "Mexican Village" formed around 1910. It was located south of the railroad tracks on the eastern half of Dodge City. The Village had its own grocery store, pool hall and, later, a Catholic church and school.
There was no formal government, however there were members of the community who were looked upon as leaders.
Discarded lumber and railroad ties provided wood to build houses and buildings. The homes were unpainted, had wood or dirt floors and tar papered roofs. The furniture consisted of a few chairs and beds. Homes had no plumbing and villagers got water from two hydrants. Despite these conditions families still had to pay rent to the railroad. To help make payments they planted gardens and raised chickens.
In 1913, the Santa Fe Railway constructed a new roundhouse and the Villagers were forced to relocate to a new site.
In 1914, Bishop John J. Hennessy, hoping to improve Catholics’ attendance at Mass in Dodge City, had Father John Handly perform a homily here. Parishioners, inspired by Father Handly’s words convinced Hennessy to appoint him as pastor for at least six months.
Handly had Our Lady of Guadalupe Chapel and School built in 1915 to serve the immigrants. Before then, formal education did not exist in the Village. Handly paid a parishioner, Faye Burns, $60 a month to teach the first class of 49 students.
Though times were tough for families, the Villagers displayed generosity to outsiders. According to former residents, families provided food and assistance to the many homeless people who traveled the railroads during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
An example of the Village’s rich ethnic culture is given by resident Fred Rodriguez: "On the wedding day ... the bride and groom and wedding party would meet at the bride’s home, and in procession, walk to the church accompanied by the village musicians, walking and keeping pace with the sound of the beautiful Mexican melody into the church."
In 1955, the Mexican Village was shut down and many of the houses and families moved north of the railroad tracks. Many former residents of the Village, including Louis Sanchez, former mayor of Dodge City, went on to accomplish great things.
The Village’s history is filled with the immigrants’ struggle to establish independence and stability, and their courage to continue to rebuild when they were forced to move yet again and again as the railroad expanded. Facing social rejection from the surrounding community, the immigrants found the ability to rise above their strife and create their own culture, which has influenced Dodge City’s own history and culture ever since.
Currently, Boot Hill Museum has an exhibit about the Mexican Village displayed with a Smithsonian exhibit "Water Ways," brought here by the Kansas Humanities Council. It is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
Kathie Bell is the curator of education and collections at Boot Hill Museum.