L to R: Jay Everett - UP gen. superintendant, Denver; Ben Jones - UP director, Public Affairs; Tammy Wellbrock - Hays Chamber Exec. Director; Hays Vice Mayor Kent Steward
Shortly after the Civil War, railroad builders and settlers began pushing into western Kansas with ever-increasing intensity, provoking resistance from the Indian inhabitants of the area. To provide protection for this citizenry of railroad workers, soldiers and desperados, Fort Hays was established in 1867.
Later that year, Hays City was founded as the Union Pacific Railway Eastern Division worked its way west. The early days of Hays City were wild and dangerous and skirmishes between some of the local "rough" citizens, the railroad workers and the soldiers only added to the reputation as a lawless and tough "end of the tracks" town. This tough little town was home to many frontier "wild west" characters who were an exciting part of the early days of Hays City: Calamity Jane, James Butler Hickok, General George A. Custer and his wife Libby, "Buffalo Bill" Cody and "Rattlesnake Pete" Lanahan. As the western terminus of the railway, Hays City grew rapidly, serving as the supply point for territories to the west and southwest.
By the mid 1870s the "end of the tracks" moved on and with it went the teamsters, railroad workers, soldiers and famous characters of the day. Hays City gradually quieted down and began serving as a point of arrival for immigrants, most notably those from the Volga region of Russia. During this time, the train brought more businessmen, families and Volga German settlers, transforming this rough little town into a growing and prosperous community. In 1885, the word "City" was officially dropped from the name Hays City and the town grew to become the largest community in the region.
Today, Hays has a population near 20,000 and is the county seat of Ellis County. Proud of its outstanding educational opportunities, Hays has one of the finest medical facilities in western and central Kansas. Much of the economy of Ellis County is based on agriculturally related jobs, and hays is fortunate to be surrounded by productive agricultural land and large underground oil reserves. The industrial, commercial and retail growth in recent years has established Hays as the retail and trade center for Northwest Kansas. Located in the heart of historic Downtown Hays is the Union Pacific Plaza, an area that serves as a congregation place for many community events throughout the year.