On the eastern most edge of the county, just a stone's throw from the Pratt County border, is the town of Wellsford. As the century turned it was an up-and-coming township with a growing population, a stop on the rail line and a handful of notable residents.
Hall's Flea Market, a small church, a small motor repair shop and a handful of diehard residents are all that is left of the once promising community.
There was a hotel and general store as well as a Main Street of merchants peddling clothes, food and services.
On a Wednesday evening in 1889 the lifeless body of O.W. Kennedy was found near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Wellsford. Kennedy, the younger brother of a local foreman was taken to a nearby station house and pronounced dead by the coroner.
The official cause of death was "apoplexy" and reports did not indicate any damage to the body. In the late 1800s apoplexy was a word used to describe a sudden loss of consciousness prior to death.
Locals spoke in hushed tones about the discovery, noting that Kennedy had been found with his eyes wide open.
Earlier that year the Wellsford Register Newspaper reported on a mischievous gang who would soon become connected to the ghastly unsolved murder and its grotesque investigation to come.
"There is a crowd of ruffians, composed of three to five persons and it is thought they live south of Wellsford, who have been making the nights hideous by either getting drunk or feigning to be drunk and going up and down our streets whooping and yelling as though they were heathens and had no better sense.
"But last Friday night the climax of all their previous nocturnal orgies seemed to have been reached. They went up and down on Main Street and shot several times. To close up their devilish work set fire to some hay in a wagon that was standing in the street."
The article also mentions that the group shot through the walls of the general store and destroyed the dancehall.
Angry townsfolk made a promise that should any of the men repeat that evening's events that they "will be dealt with in a way that they will not soon forget."
A letter signed by the residents of Wellsford finished with a stern warning.
"A word to the wise is sufficient and should this advice not be heeded, something stronger than words will be used."
A.W. Balfour, the deputy sheriff of Kiowa County, rushed to Wellsford in weather that was described as "a soaking rain." He was accompanied by his close friend Major Neeley Noble and arrived "drenched to the skin."
Page 2 of 2 - It was Balfour and Noble's belief that they could solve the murder through a dated and macabre technique then known as kine-probing.
Sloshing through the loose mud on the edge of the Sand Hills, Balfour and Noble exhumed the already deteriorating body of the young Kennedy and with near medical precision photographed the iris of the victim, believing they would be able to see his murderer in the pictures.
The results of the investigation were never revealed, although it is believed that the Greensburg photographer who developed the photographs burned them on the orders of Balfour.
The story spread fast and the nearby Quaker community of Haviland were up in arms about the treatment of the body.
A local clergyman, in a memorable sermon to his Sunday congregation, cast a bold declaration upon the small community dubbing it "the corner of hell."
Balfour, who was gunned down in 1892 by Dalton Gang tough guy Zip Wyatt, never discussed Kennedy or what he saw or didn't see in the photographs.
In order to save our county historians from injury due to excessive finger wagging I wanted to issue this brief disclaimer.
Readers should not take the stories in this week’s “Kiowa County’s Spookiest” special section as definitive truths. Many of the stories have been embellished and exaggerated to create a more macabre and entertaining read. They are historical fiction stories that mix actual facts, rumors and legends with a pinch of seasonal hyperbole.
As a writer I work extremely hard to limit weekly news items to reputable facts and quotation, but these types of stories let me flex my fiction muscles and have some fun.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them.