Alva, the county seat of Woods County, is located in the northeastern quadrant of the county at the intersection of U.S. Highway 64 and U.S. Highway 281. It is situated sixty-five miles northeast of Woodward, seventy-two miles northwest of Enid, and 110 miles southwest of Wichita, Kansas. Alva originated as the first railroad station southwest of Kiowa, Kansas, when the Southern Kansas Railway, later a subsidiary of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, was extended from the railhead at Kiowa, Kansas, across the western end of the Cherokee Outlet to serve settlers moving into the Texas Panhandle. Construction began in fall 1886, and the extension became operational a year later on September 12, 1887. This line connecting Kiowa, Kansas, and Canadian, Texas, operated for twenty months before the opening of the Unassigned Lands to white settlers in 1889 and for six years before the opening of the Cherokee Outlet in 1893.
The secretary of the interior had selected Alva as the county seat for M (Woods) County and the location of a land office before a presidential proclamation of August 19, 1893, opened the Outlet. Consequently, the 320-acre townsite was surveyed and platted prior to the Cherokee Outlet Opening of September 16, 1893.
The town's primary economic base has been agriculture since the arrival of the first homesteaders. Early-day settlers produced a variety of crops and livestock on their 160-acre homesteads. However, by 1950 the 160-acre homesteads were being consolidated into larger farm units, and the farmers were concentrating on beef and wheat production.
The Territorial Legislature approved the establishment of the Northwestern Territorial Normal School (now Northwestern Oklahoma State University) in Alva on March 12, 1897. The first classes met in a local church on September 20, 1897, with three faculty members and fifty-eight students. In 1996 the Oklahoma Legislature established branch campuses of Northwestern in Enid and Woodward. Consequently, the university has emerged as Alva's largest employer in the 1990s.
One year after it was settled, Alva had more than 115 business establishments serving the needs of its residents and the homesteaders. One hundred years later Alva had eighty-one businesses providing employment for 853 residents. The city has a city council/statutory aldermanic type of government and is a Certified City. Alva has participated in the Oklahoma Main Street program and is the location of Charles G. "Bill" Johnson Correctional Center.
The population of Woods County has decreased in each decennial census from 17,005 in 1930 to 9,089 in 2000. Alva had a population of 3,913 in 1920, 5,121 in 1930, 5,055 in 1940, 6,505 in 1950, 6,258 in 1960, 7,440 in 1970, 6,416 in 1980, 5,495 in 1990, 5,288 in 2000, and 4,945 in 2010. Eleven properties in Alva are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They include the Alva Armory (NR 88001360), the Central National Bank (NR 84000705), the IOOF Hall (NR 84000706), the Fine Arts Building at Northwestern Oklahoma State University (NR 83002141), and the Hotel Bell (NR 13000395).
Pratt was founded in 1884 and named after Caleb S. Pratt, a young Civil War officer from the Kansas Infantry, who was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri The first post office in Pratt was established in June 1884.
In 1887, the Chicago, Kansas and Nebraska Railway built a main line from Herington to Pratt. In 1888, this line was extended to Liberal. Later, it was extended to Tucumcari, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas. It foreclosed in 1891 and was taken over by Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railway, which shut down in 1980 and reorganized as St. Louis and Southwestern "Cotton Belt" Railroad, a subsidiary of Southern Pacific Railroad which merged in 1996 with Union Pacific. Most locals still refer to this railroad as the "Rock Island".
Built in 1930, Hotel Roberts is the largest and most highly styled historic hotel in Pratt. Construction of the hotel was initiated by the Pratt Chamber of Commerce, which formed a committee in the late 1920s specifically to facilitate the construction of a large new hotel. Seen as a potentially valuable asset for the community, the hotel was financed in part through a public subscription campaign, and constructed on land provided by the Chamber. The Pratt Hotel Company owned and operated the hotel and hired Wichita architect Samuel S. Voigt and Kansas City contractor Webster L. Elson to design and build the building. Elson not only supervised the rapid construction of the "fire-proof" building, he was a founding member of the Pratt Hotel Company, and he retained an ownership interest in the property for many years. The community hospital was established on the eighth floor of the building in 1932, complete with an operating room and an x-ray machine. Architecturally, the building is significant as an early and sophisticated example of the Art Deco style in central Kansas. The hotel opened as the Hotel Roberts in 1930, and continued under that name until 1959, when it was purchased by Monte Parrish and renamed the Hotel Parrish. In January 2015 it was listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places for its local significance in the areas of architecture and community planning and development.
The nearby Pratt Army Airfield Base served as the final staging area for B-29 outfitting in 1943–1945.
The Miss Kansas Parade and Pageant are held here.
The state headquarters of Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks was constructed southeast of the town.
Nestled in a valley east of the Gypsum Hills is the historic town of Medicine Lodge, Kansas, the county seat of Barber County. Medicine Lodge took its name from the Medicine River, which skirted the townsite on the west. This stream was named by the Kiowa Indians who discovered the healing qualities of the river and often met upon its banks in council for "making medicine." For years before the settlers arrived, area Native Americans believed the spot to be under the protection of the Great Spirit.
Prairie fires, which periodically destroyed tree growth along the western rivers, had passed around the region, making it seem that the waters of the Medicine River possessed a magic power to protect the green woodland clinging to its margin. Representatives of many tribes in the Southwest met in peace at a little medicine lodge that is said to have stood on the river bank near what would later become the townsite of Medicine Lodge. Here, they fasted and prayed and bathed in the curative waters of the sacred river so that their bodily ills might be healed.
When the settlement of Kansas Territory was brought almost to a standstill by constant Indian wars in the 1860s, representatives of the Federal Government made plans for a great peace council between the Indians and the white men. Scouts, soldiers, settlers, and gold-seekers were enlisted to carry word to tribes that Government representatives desired to meet them and negotiate a treaty of peace at a place of their choosing.
After months of tribal councils and pow wows, the tribes chose the site of their medicine lodge on the wooded river banks. Two factors influenced their choice. They believed that near their ancient sanctuary, the Great Spirit would watch over all that took place. The spot, too, was miles from the white mans' civilization, and here, in their own country, they believed there was less danger of treachery on the part of the white men. Plans were completed for the meeting in the early fall of 1867. In October, up to 15,000 Indians met with 600 Government representatives in what is said to be the largest gathering of Indians and whites in the history of the United States.
The commissioners, whose duty it was to negotiate the treaty with the chiefs of the five Plains tribes - Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Apache, and Cheyenne, were all men of prominence in war and Government affairs. Representing the Federal Government were N. G. Taylor, orator and scholar; General William T. Sherman, Civil War hero; and S. J. Crawford, Governor of Kansas. Others who played essential parts were Colonel A. G. Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone, Colonel Edward W. Wynkoop, agent of the Arapaho and the Cheyenne, respected by the whites and possessing the trust and confidence of the Indians, Colonel James H. Leavenworth, an agent of the Kiowa and the Comanche, Kit Carson, William Mathewson, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Indian fighters and scouts; and Jesse Chisholm, for whom the Chisholm Cattle Trail was named. Henry M. Stanley, later known for his explorations in Africa and his search for David Livingstone, covered the event for the New York Tribune.
Towering above all the Indians was Little Raven, orator and chief of the Arapaho. A.A. Taylor, later Governor of Tennessee, attended the council as a secretary. In an account of the event published in the early 1900s, he said:
The county seat of Alfalfa County, Cherokee is located in the approximate center of the county on State Highway 8 two miles south of U.S. Highway 64/State Highway 11. In the mid-nineteenth century present Alfalfa County lay within the Cherokee Outlet. It had been used primarily for cattle pasturage until 1890, before the September 1893 land opening. When counties were created in 1893, future Cherokee lay within Woods County.
Kansas developers wanted to convince railroads to build through the newly opened territory to market its huge wheat crops. The Kansas City and Oklahoma Construction Company built a grade south from Anthony, Kansas. Their Cherokee Investment Company also purchased one hundred acres, platted the town of Cherokee on the route, and held a lot sale on February 9, 1901. On February 10, 1903, residents celebrated the arrival of the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railroad (later owned by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway), under construction southward across the county's center. Afterward, entrepreneurs of nearby Erwin moved their buildings northwest to Cherokee. The Erwin post office was redesignated Cherokee in March 1903 with Clarence E. Wood as postmaster. Cherokee incorporated in July 1901. The developers enticed a second railroad with a ten-thousand-dollar bonus and free town lots, and the Denver, Enid and Gulf constructed a line through the community in late 1905. The Santa Fe later acquired that trackage. By 1907 Cherokee's population had risen to 964 and by 1910 to 2,016.
The community became a dominant regional center for agricultural services, banking, wholesale-retail trade, and transportation. Smaller surrounding communities, such as Ingersoll, Burlington, Driftwood, Byron, and Amorita, relied on Cherokee's ventures for access to larger markets. In 1907 Alfalfa County was created with Cherokee as its seat, a permanent location after a January 1909 election, and in March the town's incorporation was confirmed. By 1909 Cherokee had three banks, flour, alfalfa, and planing mills, a concrete block works, a school desk factory, and three newspapers, as well as Baptist, Catholic, Christian, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Friends churches.
Like many early-twentieth-century Western towns, Cherokee fanned out around a railroad depot, in this case, around two depots. The Orient depot stood at the west end of Main Street, the Santa Fe depot at the east end. In 1901 the Choctaw Northern had built its line a few miles west of town in order to attract farmers' business to its new town of Ingersoll. Cherokee had a population of 2,017 in 1920. A new high school building was completed in 1921, and a bond election provided for a new courthouse completed in 1924. Various industries provided employment: Cherokee Mills Company stored wheat and produced flour, McDowell Standard Battery Company maintained a factory, and an ice plant and planing mill operated.
By the time of the Great Depression Cherokee was an important urban and trading center. Community development projects in the 1920s included street improvements, improved water supply, and so forth. Oil-field activity in the county during 192829 and again in the mid-1930s fueled prosperity. A half-dozen oil companies maintained storage batteries adjacent to the rail yards. The Orient Hotel, the Hotel Henderson, the Ideal Hotel, and Jobe's Hotel served travelers. The depression brought about a new kind of promotional activity, and business owners worked hard to attract conventions, including the Oklahoma State Holiness Association, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, and the 4-H Clubs in 1933, the Baptist Association and the Tri-County Masonic Association in 1935, and the Oklahoma Press Association Regional Meeting and the Northwestern Oklahoma Baptist Association Annual Dinner in 1936. In addition, sporting activities, primarily bird-hunting expeditions in the Salt Plains area, brought in hundreds of tourists. The population grew from 2,236 to 2,553 between 1930 and 1940. Numerous residential additions doubled the physical size of the town, which expanded south and east.
A description of Cherokee in 1936 noted that the town sustained five groceries, two department stores, eleven gasoline stations, two bakeries, five garages, nine restaurants, two banks, two hardware stores, five automobile dealerships, three lumberyards, and about two dozen other retail businesses. Four grain elevators operated. An ice cream factory was in business. The Alfalfa County News and the Cherokee Messenger informed the public. Children attended a high school and a grade school, both in new buildings. Federal projects during the New Deal era included a National Guard Armory and a public library constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1936-37 and 1939, respectively. The armory is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NR 88001371).
While the years before and after World War II did not bring overwhelming prosperity to Cherokee, the town survived the Great Depression in better shape than many other communities. Although the Masonic Association established the county's first hospital in Aline, it was moved to Cherokee in 1918, and after 1976 the county operated it. After a peak of 2,635 in 1950, the number of residents declined to 2,410 in 1960. However, in 1970, 125 businesses operated in the town of 2,119 inhabitants, and the city opened a new industrial development park in that decade. The town subsequently experienced loss, reaching 2,105 in 1980 and 1,787 in 1990. The Santa Fe maintained its trunk line north-south through the mid-1990s, and its east-west line, part of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe system, ceased operations soon afterward.
The National Register of Historic Places lists several local properties: the Hotel Cherokee (NR 98000200), the Farmers' Federation Elevator (NR 83004153), the Cherokee IOOF Lodge building (NR 84002953), the Friends Church (NR 04001337), and the Alfalfa County Courthouse (NR 84002937). Eleven churches and one newspaper serve residents. Cherokee operates under a city manager form of government and maintains three parks and a swimming pool. The 2000 census reported 1,630 residents, and the 2010 census counted 1,498.
Located along the state line between Kansas and Oklahoma, the City of Kiowa is a town with a population of 1,026. Wheat farming has long been one of Kiowas major industries. Every year during wheat harvest, officials from all over Kansas turn their eyes to Kiowa as a key indicator of how the harvest will be for the state. Besides agriculture, Kiowa is also home to products that are sold across the globe.
Several years ago, the people of Kiowa recognized a need to modernize the local hospital so in 2013, the new Kiowa District Hospital was completed. This new 27,600 sq. ft. facility provides services such as emergency room, labs, therapy and surgery to meet the medical needs of Kiowa and the surrounding area. The hospital also manages the Kiowa Hospital District Manor, recently updated rest home facility.
The City of Kiowa has excellent schools in South Barber USD 255, an efficient governing body, active civic organizations and women's clubs, and a prosperous downtown business establishments. Just north of Main Street is an up-to-date-library and the Kiowa Historical Museum. The Kiowa Community Building is widely used for events ranging from estate sales and dances, to a dinner theater and election headquarters. The local news paper is published weekly featuring news from Kiowa and the surrounding cities of Hardtner, Hazelton in Kansas, and Burlington in Oklahoma. For entertainment, Kiowa has a movie theater that premieres current films every weekend. The Kiowa Public Pool, located in Progress Park, is open all summer.
As you may be able to tell, Kiowa may be small in population but not in quality of life. That's why the people of Kiowa enjoy Living in the Heartland.