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Barber County, Kansas

Established in 1867, Barber County, Kansas, was located on reservation lands of the Osage and Cherokee Indians. Plains Indian tribes hunted the plentiful herds of bison in the red hills. As white settlers moved into the area, conflicts increased with American Indians living in the region. Here the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty was written under national scrutiny. After the discovery of gypsum, the county became an important source for building materials. The area once again caught the nation’s attention during the temperance movement.

Barber County, Kansas, in the south central part of the state, is in the Gypsum Hills region where flat topped mesas and red iron rich soil creates dramatic vistas. The county was part of old Washington County, Peketon County, and an enlarged Marion County. Organized in 1873, it was named for Thomas Barber, a free-state man killed in 1855 during the volatile days of Kansas Territory and the fight over slavery. The county was mistakenly spelled as “Barbour” for years until the spelling was officially changed to “Barber.”

Tensions grew between native peoples as traffic on the trails increased and settlers moved into the area. Years before Kansas was a territory, the U.S. moved native peoples from different tribes in the East to a permanent Indian frontier. The Osage Indians were assigned reservation lands in this area, which was also rich hunting grounds for Plains Indian tribes including the Comanche and Cheyenne.

Major General Winfield Hancock led an expedition in 1867, with the hope that by demonstrating force the uprisings would be discouraged. The expedition resulted in death, destruction, and greater mistrust. That failure led to a meeting of representatives of the federal government with thousands of native peoples at the junction of the Medicine Lodge and Elm creeks. The Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache tribes worked with the U.S. government to negotiate an agreement. As tribal leaders plead their cases, newspaper reporters watched; they relayed the speeches and described the negotiations to their readers around the nation. The final peace treaty reduced the land holdings of the native peoples in exchange for land in Indian Territory. Peace in the area remained elusive as reservations were established and tribes were relocated. The site of this council meeting is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and as a National Historic Landmark.

As Barber and Comanche county cattle ranchers saw the growth of competition from Texas cattle drives, they joined together to form a cooperative in 1870. The Comanche cattle pool consisted of up to 80,000 head of cattle and a combined 1.5 million acres in south central and western Kansas and northern and central Oklahoma, which became the largest fenced range in the U.S. Members shared in expenses and profits so their cattle could graze on the land and be shipped to markets across the country. The coop ended in 1888 when lands were divided among members.

An 1874 raid resulted in the murder of white settlers. Contradictions surrounding the incident are unclear as to whether the raiders were Indians possibly led by white men or white men dressed as Indians.

The Medicine Lodge bank was robbed in 1884 by a gang led by Henry Newton Brown, the marshal of Caldwell in nearby Sumner County. The bandits were pursued and captured. As they were being held in jail that night, a mob overpowered the Medicine Lodge sheriff, shot and killed Brown, and hanged the other men from a tree.

During construction of the Santa Fe railroad in 1887, gypsum deposits were found along the Medicine River. William and Thomas Best were living in England when they read the news. They came to Kansas and opened a plaster company in Sun City in 1891. The gypsum gained a reputation for superior quality to produce plaster and concrete. Over the years hundreds of workers have been employed in the industry. Sold to the National Gypsum Company in 1938, production continues today at this plant providing quality building materials used in wallboard and plaster.

Carry Nation, known for her work as a temperance advocate, lived in Medicine Lodge, the county seat of Barber County. She “smashed” her first saloon in the Kiowa, a town in Barber County on June 1, 1900. Her home in Medicine Lodge is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. Other notable people from Barber County include Dorothy DeLay, born in Medicine Lodge who was a violin instructor at the Juilliard School; Chester I. Long, lawyer, U.S. congressman, and U.S. senator; Jerry Simpson, U.S. congressman; Jasper Tincher, U.S. congressman; Edward Joseph Hunkeler, Roman Catholic archbishop; Carleton Beals, journalist; B. H Born, All American basketball player; and Martina McBride, country music singer.

Quick Facts

Date Established: February 26, 1867
Date Organized: July 7, 1873
County Seat: Medicine Lodge
Kansas Region: South Central
Physiographic Region: Red Hills and High Plains
Scenic Byways: Gypsum Hills
Courthouse: 1956


1855 – Thomas Barber, for whom Barber County is named, is killed in Kansas’ fight over slavery
1867 – Barber County is established
1867 – Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty
1870 – Comanche Cattle Pool cooperative begins
1874 – Barber County is organized
1874 – Indian Raids occur
1883 – The spelling “Barber” is officially corrected from “Barbour”
1884 – Medicine Lodge bank is robbed by Caldwell lawman
1887 – Gypsum deposits discovered
1900 – Carry Nation targets the first of many saloons on her quest for establishing prohibition
More on Barber County


Entry: Barber County, Kansas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2010

Date Modified: August 2023

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.