Historically Speaking: The town of Ulysses

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
A mile field in Ulysses in 1946.

At one point, citizens of this town pulled up stakes and moved the entire town two miles west.

In 1885, Wyatt Earp’s first cousin, George Washington Earp, surveyed the site of Ulysses. The town was named for former U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant. Earp actively promoted the town and became its first lawman. He had a hard-hitting reputation very much like his cousin, Wyatt.

Within six months Ulysses’ first newspaper, The Grant County Register, was up and running. A few months later the town had a population of nearly 1,500, an opera house, a good-sized hotel, six saloons (even though Kansas was dry) and a bunch of other businesses. In two years, the town had 500 more people, two more hotels and 12 restaurants.

Grant County was organized in 1887 and, in 1888, the State of Kansas proclaimed Ulysses its temporary County Seat. On October 16, Grant County citizens voted to make that status permanent. It was a peaceful process, but not without dispute. The town of Tilden (later Appomattox) vied for the County Seat as well. George Earp enlisted the assistance of several gunman including Bat Masterson and Luke Short to protect the ballot box in Ulysses.

Though the election went off without a hitch, controversy surrounded the process. Apparently, parties in both Tilden and Ulysses bought votes – some with public funds. As a result, Ulysses fell into financial hardship because funds needed to pay for the land it sat on were used in this endeavor. Ulysses won the County Seat battle, but ultimately lost the war. In 1909, Ulysses was down to 100 people and in such dire financial straits, the only way to prevent foreclosure was to relocate the entire town two miles west to its current location. This new land had been deeded to the “New Ulysses Town Company.”

The move began on February 1, 1909, and used horses pulling skids. If buildings couldn’t be moved whole, the movers cut them into pieces. Leaving only a masonry school behind, the old lots in what was then referred to as “Old Ulysses” were deeded back to east coast bondholders.

In 1920, “New Ulysses” had 103 residents. But things improved in the 1920s when natural gas was discovered in the area. In 1921, they dropped word “New” from the town’s name. By 1930, Ulysses was back up to 1,140 inhabitants.

Agriculture plays heavily in the economy of Ulysses and Grant County. Today the town has a population of nearly 6,000. The only building remaining from the big move is part of the Hotel Edwards which is featured in Grant County’s Historic Adobe Museum. Part of Ulysses High School sits on the extinct town of Tilden/Appomattox.

An interesting historical event happened well before the founding of Ulysses when, on May 27, 1831, Comanche warriors killed famed explorer Jedediah Smith south of the future Ulysses.