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Out of the Morgue
Great Bends first settler becomes mayor after Spring election of 1886
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D.N. Heizer was elected Mayor of Great Bend this week in 1886. He followed several business interests both here and in Colorado, as well as working as a land agent for the Santa Fe Railroad. - photo by courtesy of the Barton County Historical Society museum, from the personal history of D.N. Heizer.

Since its founding in 1872, Great Bend has held spring elections for local officials, and this year saw the last.  In 1886, there was a particularly tight race for mayor, so in the spirit of honoring the past and saying goodbye to a long-standing election tradition, this week Out of the Morgue looks back at that election and the results.  

This week in 1886, the people of Great Bend and every other incorporated city in the state went to their local polls to choose who their local leaders would be.  For Great Bend, the race was for Mayor, justices, and a police judge, as well as school board members and aldermen for each of the four wards.   It is probably no surprise to learn that the turnout wasn’t much better then than it is now, according to the exit polls printed in both newspapers of the time,theInland Tribuneand the Great Bend Register.

From the Inland Tribune,this editorial sums up the political climate of Great Bend:

“It is no easy matter to manage this city, and the new administration will find that they have some troublesome questions to meet, many needed and pressing claims for improvements, and slim sources from which to draw revenues.  It is an easy thing for the people to kick, find fault and condemn public officials, but it is quite a difficult task to draw blood from a turnip.  Let the people encourage the new officers and do all they can to aid them, and the public interests will be much better subserved than by personal bickerings and jealousies.  You all had your quarrels before the election; now blot all petty differences of opinion from your memories and like members of one common family go to earnest work for your common good.”

This is probably good advice for the ages, and for all political races, local and national.

The race for Mayor was between D.N. Heizer, and O.B. Wilson, both well liked.  Heizer had declared his candidacy, but his affiliation with the Santa Fe railroad caused concern among the people that he might not give fair consideration to other railroads who might propose to bring service to the area.  He had been a long-time leader in Great Bend, as well as its first settler as of May 23, 1872.   In 1873 he became an agent for sale of Santa Fe Railroad land.  His association with that railroad continued for many years, but was not in the end his primary profession.  From 1878 when he first visited Colorado Springs, Colo., until 1893 when he moved his family to Colorado Springs, he lived between the two towns, building hotels, and active in mining there.  In fact, during his term as Great Bend’s mayor, he spearheaded the move of about 100 Kansas investors to purchase the properties held by two of the Marriott sisters in Cascade, Colo., and organized the Cascade Town Company, according to his personal history, which can be found in the library of the Barton County Historical Society museum.  

The concern about his position on railroads was warranted, according to reports in the Great Bend Register that pointed out,“Great Bend is the point at which the Missouri Pacific wishes to cross the Santa Fe.  And to prevent this the Santa Fe folks will, without doubt build from Great Bend west and if they build any shop or round houses at all they will of course be built here (Larned) in exchange for our $15,000 bonds.”

Because of this, many wrote in votes for Wilson, who did comparably well all things considered.  D.N. Heizer received a total of 249 votes to Wilson’s 233.  

Heizer was the last mayor elected for a one-year term.  After 1886, the mayor was elected for a two-year term. The people would remember O.B. Wilson, who would become Mayor in 1889

In theInland Tribune, kind words were said about both candidates.

“Mr. Heizer’s speech to the citizens who serenaded him on Tuesday evening ought to be satisfactory to those who opposed him on account of his Santa Fe railroad interests.  He very frankly and earnestly proclaimed himself in favor of any railroad measure in which our citizens feel a common interest, and pledged himself to do all in his power, both as mayor and individually in aiding any railroad measure that our citizens demand.”

“Mr. Wilson made a splendid race for a candidate who was only known to be in the field on the morning of election, and he has just cause to feel highly flattered for the support given him.”

Other comments found throughout the papers included:

“Sixteen majority for mayor is rather closer than was really necessary, but it will do.”

“Boys, it came within an inch of being a Waterloo.”

“The band was out Tuesday evening serenading the officers elect, all of whom made very neat and appropriate speeches.”

“There are perhaps more men in town this week who propose to “get even” than were ever found after a city election.”

“The straight ticket was evidently the people’s choice or the nominations would not have received so unanimous a vote.  They all made a very creditable race.”

 “The city election passed off quietly; there being four voting precincts in the city, had the effect of scattering the people and keeping them separated during the day, and this, of course, contributed to the quiet of the election.”

“Great Bend is booming up.  We will have about 800 voters in the city and don’t you forget it.  The city election is over, our officers are elected, let us give them our hearty support.  Let every man go to work.  Talk for our town, boom it, by making all the improvements you can, plant trees, fence in your lots with a neat fence, do a little painting, any thing to show improvements.  Whoop her up, she is getting there Eli.”

Railroad tidbits

Since railroads played such an important part in the early days of Barton County and especially Great Bend, we thought we’d share some other little tidbits of information we gleaned from the papers having to do with railroads.  

“The average cost of American railroads, including rolling stock, is said to be $160,400 per mile.”

“There is a strong tendency in England to the use of steel railroad ties, that weigh more and cost twice as much as the wood tie.”