The Town of CULLISON, Pratt Co., Kansas" ar out on the level plains of Kansas at the western edge of Pratt County where one could see to the rim of the world, and at a time when a house was nowhere in sight, a praire schooner came to a halt. A young man stood up on the seat and looked around for a few minutes and then said to his wife, 'Yes, this is the place.' The man was James B. Cullison, a young lawyer who, attracted by the possibilities of this new land, had come with his wife and baby son to pre-empt a claim and make a home. The little shack he built was the first structure of what was later to become the town of Cullison. They were to demonstrate through the years the courage and endurance necessary to conquer a wild land and establish in it a civilized culture."
("Pioneer Saints and Sinners: Pratt County from its beginnings to 1900" by J. Rufus Gray, The Printing Press, Pratt, KS:5th printing, 1977, page 121.)
"Attracted by the possibilities of the country, a homesteader, James B. Cullison, for whom the town was named, proved up on a claim, built his claim shanty and there he and his family lived, without a thought of all that their home was to mean in the lives of generations to come. In 1884, the original town of Cullison was platted on this homestead and on March 17, 1885, Mary M. and James B. Cullison deeded this plat to the City of Cullison."
("History of a Praire Town" by Clara B. Farnsworth from an unpublished manuscript collection entitled "Cullison 1886-1986, Collections & Recollections" gathered in commemoration of the Centennial of Cullison and photocopied in a limited number. Copy in 1997 possession of Jeffrey R. Cullison of No. Ogden, UT.)
The above are romanticized accounts of how the town of Cullison, Pratt Co., KS came into being. The young lawyer, James B. Cullison, who would be elected to the Oklahoma State Supreme Court later in his life, and his wife, May Mary Sharp Cullison, were my great-grandparents. The baby son mentioned above was my grandfather, James Buchanan Cullison, Jr. James, (Sr.)--called "J.B." or "the judge" for much of his life, did indeed recognize the quality of the land he moved his young family to in Pratt Co. He also recognized that a frontier town needed something besides good soil in order to thrive. It needed to be at a junction in the quickly expanding railroad system of the plains.
After much study of the area, and much discussion with railroad officials, J.B. located the likely spot for such a junction and invested all he had in buying up the land rights to the area. Handbills were published and articles appeared in such newspapers as the Wichita Eagle and the Sarasota Sun announcing the start of a new town. This was a bold move. Although Pratt County had been organized in 1867, it was largely unsettled territory. The future county seat, the town of Pratt, had not yet been started. The nearest railroad town was over fifty miles away. Even so, a number of families soon came and staked out their claims (see Gray, pp. 121-124).
Unfortunately for J.B. and family, the railroad people changed their minds and firmly announced their intentions to build elsewhere. But the growth of the town of Cullison was already underway. A small business center developed and the railroad folks began to reassess their decision. But J.B. was already looking forward to other areas of potential growth when a team of investors, so impressed with the location, railroad or no, sought to buy up the potentially strong townsite. On the 11th of May 1886 the Cullison farm was deeded to the Occidental Town and Land Co. who successfully platted this farm (which would later be called North Cullison) and promoted the new frontier town of Cullison. J.B. had already moved his family on to prepare for the famous Cherokee Strip Race in Oklahoma wherein he would stake his claim near the future town of Enid to become a respected lawyer, a life-long elected justice of the District Court, and eventually the only Republican Justice elected to the Oklahoma State Supreme Court during the decades of firm Democratic political control of state politics.
His namesake town also went on to thrive. A branch of the Santa Fe, known as the Kingman, Pratt and Western, as well as the Rock Island railroads built their way to Cullison. "Of all the towns of Pratt County, Cullison had the brightest prospects. It had two railroads, it was not involved in any contests, and everybody seemed to like the place. In the 1880's it grew rapidly and exceeded the fondest hopes of its promotors[sic]. Churches, homes, schools, hotels, banks, business houses, and sidewalks were rapidly added, and the settlement began taking on city airs" (Gray pp. 123-124).
Although the exact population is not known, by 1887 Cullison had between 250 and 2,000 residents as it was an incorporated city of the third class. A city hall was built and a newspaper, the "Cullison Banner", was published weekly. The Kingman, Pratt, and Western railroad constructed a roundhouse, turntable, water tank and other facilities. The elected mayor and city council began to set the city in order. A city park was set aside, trees were planted and a city waterworks installed. In short, Cullison was booming.
But then the great drought of the 1890's struck and the entire area, dependent as it was on agriculture, went into lean times. Many lost or had to abandon their farms and businesses. The Kingman, Pratt, and Western railroad tore up its track between Cullison and Pratt due to lack of business and Cullison gradually receded from being a booming community to being isolated in the hot winds and dust.
As the drought abated and good crops began to grow in the area, people returned and the town gradually revived. Through the benevolence of the town's banker, George W. Lemon, farmers were allowed to gradually pay off their mortgages. Mr. Lemon could have easily foreclosed on the majority of the farms in that area becoming something of a land baron. Instead, he gave the farmers all the time needed to recover from the lengthy drought. As the agriculture of the area thrived, modern times made their way to the prairies and Cullison installed a phone system in 1904. Electricity lighted streets and homes in 1924 and the Cullison State Bank prospered. Churches, schools and businesses thrived.
By 1916 the need for a high school resulted in the building of Cullison High School. It was a large, two story brick structure that survived into the late 1980's. Students from Cullison H.S. competed in and did well at statewide scholastic and sporting competitions. In 1929 the Cullison H.S. boy's basketball team won the championship. CHS was a well-known and respected school.
In 1933 my grandfather, James B. Cullison, Jr., returned to the town where he had spent a brief time of his infancy. He visited and spoke with former friends and neighbors of his parents who recalled for him the early events of the town. By that time, however, Cullison had passed beyond its times of prosperity and growth. The Great Depression, another series of droughts and World War II began to change national life from one based on agriculture and rural living to industrial city life. Cullison slowly receded and once busy streets became quiet.
Not much remains of the old Cullison of prosperity and boom times. A few old buildings are all that is left of those years. I visited Cullison in 1987 and could not help but think of part of it almost as a ghost town. The present residents of the town are friendly and helpful. The current population of Cullison is not listed in several atlases but in 1987 I met the mayor of Cullison who estimated it to be 100-125 residents. The most prominent features of the town are the Cullison Cooperative grain elevator and a large water tower both of which can be seen from several miles away and have the name of Cullison painted in large letters on their sides.
In 1986 the town of Cullison organized a very successful Centennial reunion and commemoration. Several thousand people attended the various activities and most expressed surprise that so many people had connections to such a small town. Commemorative plates, coffee mugs, belt buckles, hats and the like were sold and a photocopied compilation of reminiscences, newspaper clippings, photos, documents and such were distributed to all who were interested.
Cullison is located on present day Highway 54 about 10 miles west of Pratt just over 80 miles west of Wichita. The Pratt County Historical Society (208 S Ninnescah, Pratt, KS 67124) maintains an active museum that includes displays of time period memorabilia and photographs. A small display of early Cullison is included and may be of interest to Cullison family members. A very nice photograph of Justice James B. Cullison is included in the display.
--Jeffrey R. Cullison, 1997
James B. Cullison (1857-1936) was the 10th of 12 children of Elisha King Cullison (1808-1865) and Matilda McCabe (1818-1872). Elisha was the 3rd of 5 children of Bennett Cullison (abt 1765-1824)and Elizabeth King (1771-1832). Both Bennett and Elizabeth were of St. Mary's Co., MD. Bennett was one of 7 known children of John and Mary Cullison of St. Mary's Co., MD. The possible tie between the St. Mary's Co. Cullisons and the early Cullisons of other MD counties is currently being researched as is the unknown parentage of John Cullison.
For more information on the above lineage or on the town of Cullison, KS, visit the Queries & Answers page.