Historically Speaking: The town of Montezuma
About 25 miles southwest of Dodge City is a community named after a well-known Aztec chief. It is unclear why they named a town after an indigenous inhabitant of Mexico.
Thomas T. Taylor and J.R. Graham formed the Western Kansas Town and Land Company in 1886 in Finney County. That same year they purchased 306 acres of land which J.J. Humphrey platted. They named the new town Montezuma after the Aztec Chief. Initially part of Finney Country, it became part of Gray County when the Gray County was organized in 1887.
A.T. Soule, rich and famous for his marketing of “Hop Bitters,” had built the Eureka, or Soule, Canal in the early 1880’s. This feature ran through the town of Ingalls in Gray County and Soule wanted the County Seat placed in Ingalls rather than Cimarron. In 1888, as an incentive for the people of Montezuma to vote for Ingalls for County Seat, he promised to build a railroad from Dodge City to Montezuma. The citizens of Montezuma held a huge celebration upon the railroad’s completion. Soon, they laid plans for a college and fairgrounds.
The town grew to 300 people. During Montezuma’s boom times, it had a livery stable, feed yards, boarding houses, a hotel, mercantile stores, a photography gallery, a meat market, a grain and implement dealer, a grain mill, a lumber company, a hardware store, a grocery store, a doctor, a bank and stage lines. Though the community didn’t have a school, the Congregational Church served as a school for more than 100 children. The “Montezuma Chief” newspaper circulated throughout the town and surrounding area. With city two wells, there was plenty of water for the inhabitants and the numerous freighters who stopped in Montezuma.
The Hotel Cottage (or Montezuma Hotel) gained fame as a sanatorium because it was close to an “electric well” which waters possessed “unusual curative properties.” People from all over America and even Europe came to Montezuma to be cured of various ailments including rheumatism and arthritis.
The years 1889, 1890 and 1891 brought bad times to Montezuma. Homesteaders moved back east. Drought and poor crops were “Old Montezuma’s” undoing. By 1894, there was only one business remaining, which the owner removed to Oklahoma.
There was no demand for shipping on the railroad. With the death of A.T. Soule and the demise of the Soule Canal, no money was available to build the railroad south and west of Montezuma and, in 1894, it was torn up. In 1895, the Kansas legislature declared the town vacated. They moved the church to Fowler in 1898. In the meantime, the last family had left in 1896.
Left behind were open wells, cellars and basements which were a hazard, so the County offered five cents per foot to have them filled in. All that remains of Old Montezuma are farm fields.
In 1912, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway came through the area which led to the current town of Montezuma being established south of the old town near the tracks.
The new Montezuma has over 850 residents. Many of the streets bear Mexican names with a major artery named “Aztec.” A crown jewel of city is the Stauth Museum which has over 3,000 visitors each year. Nearby is Florida Power and Light’s windfarm – one of the largest in the State.