The Town of Kiowa as we know it today was settled in 1859 along the banks of Kiowa Creek and was originally nothing more than a stage stop. Such trails as the Smoky Hill South (aka the Starvation trail), the Butterfield Overland Dispatch, and Wells Fargo made their stops in Kiowa on the way to Denver and the fold fields of the Rockies.
The original settlement was named “Wendling” after Henry Wendling Henry ran the stage station and was one of the early settlers in the area. Sometime during the 1860’s the name was changed to “ Middle Kiowa”. Why “ Middle Kiowa” you might ask? The reason was that at one time there were two settlements along Kiowa Creek-one named “High Kiowa”, the other “ Low Kiowa”.
It is really unclear why the creek and settlements were named Kiowa. The Kiowa Indian tribe in Colorado spent most of their time further south, however it has been said that this area was their summer hunting grounds and compared to the other local tribes were usually “on the attack”. The two main tribes that were in this area were the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe.
In 1874, Middle Kiowa was given the honor of being named the county seat of Elbert County. That same year, four horse thieves were caught about 15 miles up creek and brought into town before Judge Fahrion. For three days the trial lingered, finally on the third night, a group of about 50 masked men overpowered the sheriff and deputies and loaded the four men into a wagon. They took them to an outcropping of pine trees southeast of town and with the men still shackled together in twos, they were hung together in twos-with the shackles still on.
Other stories tell about the struggle between farmers and ranchers in the 1880’s and how the town was split right down the middle. Ranchers lived on one side and farmers on the other, there were even separate mercantiles, banks, blacksmith shops, saloons, etc….for each-one of each on both sides of the street ! Legend has it that a rancher spotted a farmer he despised on the other side of the street and with a pistol in hand aimed and fired. Missing, he hit an overturned plow that ricochet the slug, which then struck and killed a fellow rancher on the same side of the street as he.
Life in Middle Kiowa however, was not always so wild and lawless. In 1912, the town was incorporated and the word “ Middle” was dropped. The same year the newly built brick courthouse was completed and dedicated with a bear barbecue.
On May 31st, 1935, the worst flood to ever come down Kiowa Creek washed away part of the town. Homes and businesses were destroyed, livestock was swept downstream and four people lost their lives. Floodwater’s were described as: a half-mile wide, 12 to 15 feet high and the speed of a fast horse. After floodwater’s subsided, the towns’ people went to the task of rebuilding what had been lost or destroyed.
Today, Kiowa has a population of about 724 and just within the last several years has experienced tremendous growth; to date Elbert County is the second fastest growing county in the state and the fifth in the nation. With that in mind it looks as if Kiowa future is as secure, as its past.