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The "Rise, Decline and Fall" of Modern Rome


The "Rise, Decline and Fall" of Modern Rome


Excerpt from The Life of Hon. William F. Cody Known As Buffalo Bill The Famous Hunter, Scout and Guide An Autobiography, Chapter 13, A Millionaire, page 149-152.


William F. Cody


Frank E. Bliss






Soon after returning to Fort Hays, I was sent with dispatches to Fort Harker. After delivering the messages, I visited the town of Ellsworth, about three miles west of Fort Harker, and there I met a man named William Rose, a contractor on the Kansas Pacific Railroad, who had a contract for grading near Fort Hays. He had had his stock stolen by the Indians, and had come to Ellsworth to buy more.

During the course of our conversation, Mr. Rose incidentally remarked that he had some idea of laying out a town on the west side of Big Creek, about one mile from the fort, where the railroad was to cross. He asked my opinion of the contemplated enterprise, and I told him that I thought it was "a big thing." He then proposed taking me as a partner in the scheme, and suggested that after we got the town laid out and thrown open to the public, we should establish a store and saloon there.

Thinking it would be a grand thing to be half-owner of a town, I at once accepted his proposition. We bought a stock of such articles as are usually found in a frontier store, and transported them to the place on Big Creek, where we were to found our town. We hired a railroad engineer to survey the site and stake it off into lots; and we gave the new town the ancient and historical name of Rome. To a "starter," we donated lots to any one who would build on them, but reserved the corner lots and others which were best located for ourselves. These reserved lots we valued at fifty dollars each.

Our modern Rome, like all mushroom towns along the line of a new railroad, sprang up as if by magic, and in less than one month we had two hundred frame and log houses, three or four stores, several saloons, and one good hotel. Rome was looming up, and Rose and I already considered ourselves millionaires, and thought we "had the world by the tail." But one day a fine-looking gentleman, calling himself Dr. W.E. Webb, appeared in town, and dropping into our store introduced himself in a very pleasant way.

"Gentlemen, you've got a very flourishing little town here.
Wouldn't you like to have a partner in your enterprise?"

"No, thank you," said I, "we have too good a thing here to whack up with anybody."

My partner agreed with me, but the conversation was continued, and at last the stranger said:

"Gentlemen, I am the agent or prospector of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, and my business is to locate towns for the company along the line."

"We think we have the only suitable town-site in this immediate locality," said Mr. Rose, "and as a town is already started, we have saved the company considerable expense."

"You know as well as I do," said Dr. Webb, "that the company expects to make money by selling lands and town lots; and as you are not disposed to give the company a show, or share with me, I shall probably have to start another town near you.
Competition is the life of trade, you know."

"Start your town, if you want to. We've got the 'bulge' on you, and can hold it," said I, somewhat provoked at his threat.

But we acted too independently and too indiscreetly for our own good. Dr. Webb, the very next day after his interview with us, began hauling material to a spot about one mile east of us, where he staked out a new town, which he called Hays City. He took great pains to circulate in our town the story that the railroad company would locate their round-houses and machine shops at Hays City, and that it was to be the town and a splendid business center. A ruinous stampede from our place was the result. People who had built in Rome came to the conclusion that they had built in the wrong place; they began pulling down their buildings and moving them over to Hays City, and in less than three days our once flourishing city had dwindled down to the little store which Rose and I had built.

It was on a bright summer morning that we sat on a pine box in front of our crib, moodily viewing the demolition of the last building. Three days before, we had considered ourselves millionaires; on that morning we looked around and saw that we were reduced to the ragged edge of poverty. Our sanguine expectations of realizing immense fortunes were dashed to the ground, and we felt pretty blue. The new town of Hays had swallowed Rome entirely. Mr. Rose facetiously remarked that he felt like "the last rose of summer," with all his lovely companions faded and gone, and he left blooming alone. I told him I was still there, staunch and true, but he replied that that didn't help the matter much. Thus ends the brief history of the "Rise, Decline and Fall" of Modern Rome.