There is no Trump in Kansas, but Scott County has Pence.
Not that there is evidence of political aspirations in this little town. It sits just off Cherokee Road, surrounded by treeless farmland, where it has been floundering for more than a century.
It’s unlikely that its founder, J.W. Pence, has any blood connection to Vice President Mike Pence – or that the 85 percent of Scott County voters who supported the Trump/Pence ticket did so because there was a town of Pence in their county.
Yet like a resilient politician, the little town has withstood blow after blow – first surviving despite not getting a train track shortly after its birth, then a tornado that wiped it out in 1915.
There is not much left here – but Pence, Kansas, still has vitals thanks to a flourishing Pence Community Church.
Every Sunday they gather – some from as far as 30 or 40 miles away – to worship. Pastor Don Williams has served here for 17 years, watching his congregation grow large enough that they built a new church seven years ago. Currently, they are adding classrooms and a fellowship hall to the building – which will double the space.
“We are getting much larger than ever expected,” said Williams. “I do a little children’s sermon on Sundays and 30 to 40 kids come up.”
Pence is born
There are five Pence cities in the United States. Even Mike Pence’s home state of Indiana has a little village named Pence, albeit not much bigger than the Kansas burg.
It’s hard to imagine that northwest Scott County once bustled with a hotel and stores.
Yet, here, on the High Plains, pioneers saw promise. They came for free land, building towns every 10 miles – about the distance a farmer, with his horse and wagon, could get to town and back to the homestead by nightfall.
On Oct. 27, 1886, J.W. Pence and investors platted the town of Pence – with its 55 blocks – at the height of settlement in western Kansas.
Charles Wyatt and his family came to the area in spring 1887 to a fledgling town with aspirations for a railroad. He bought the hotel and soon moved a store from nearby Elkader, in Logan County. His wife, Sarah, operated the post office and played the organ for Sunday church services, said Dennie Siegrist, facility manager at Scott County’s El Quartelejo Museum.
“It was a thriving little frontier town,” said Siegrist as he reviewed the museum’s historical documents.
The town site also had a livery stable, a general merchandise, the Pence City Bank, J.F. Black and Co. Real Estate, a blacksmith, Settles harness store, S.A. Wood Pioneer Market, Olgilvie’s Furniture, lumber yard and the church, according to an article titled “Pence in 1887” as told by Earl J. Wyatt.
E. P. Rochester moved with his parents from Ashland, Illinois, to Pence in November 1886 and learned to set type for the weekly newspaper – the Pence Phonograph, according to the Kansas State Historical Society.
F.B. Price’s memories of Pence are also printed in Scott County historical articles. Price wrote that Pence had a so-called doctor who set Nellie Coats’ wrist when she broke it.
“Then it was discovered he was only a drug clerk,” Price wrote. “He made a quick exit.”
“Two Swedes started what was to have been a bakery, but it was never completed,” Price added, ending his short historical writing by saying at age 90, he drank a “Hell’s plenty of beer” while penning his recollections.
The area had a lot of wild horses, said Siegrist, reading from the historical book. To catch the herd, townsfolk kept them away from water until the horses were thirsty. They would then drive them into a corral with a water tank. The Wyatt family, including Earl, would corral and break the wild horses to ride.
And, at one time, there was even a small gold rush, Siegrist said.
“I’ve never heard anyone say there was a large amount of gold taken from there,” he said.
But just like a gold rush, the town’s adrenaline wouldn’t last. Residents began to leave as the news spread that the Missouri Pacific Railroad would not build a track to Pence.
Siegrist said Scott City offered more incitement to the railroad. In 1887, a railroad crew began constructing the track that angled southwest from Healy to Scott City.
A small population would continue to frequent the Pence area, despite the lack of railroad. According to “Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history,” Pence had a population of 27 in 1910.
However, on June 3, 1915, a tornado blew away what remained, according to a June 1955 story in the High Plains Journal.
Williams said those left moved the town to its present location a short distance south. The community church congregation continued to meet in the school house.
With dreams of a new church, the Ladies Aid began having food sales, bazaars and offering other services to bring in dollars – raising $1,300 of the cost of a new building.
Soon, men, women and children were digging a basement, and in June 1932 the new church, which cost a total $5,000, was dedicated.
By this time, however, there wasn’t much left of little Pence. The post office closed in August 1920.
Look around to the north, near the Pence cemetery, and it is difficult to find evidence of the original town site. Case or Black avenues, along with Broadway Street, are gone.
Moreover, there are only a few signs of life at Pence’s present location.
On this winter day, a mountain of grain was piled near the elevator – indicating the town was busy this fall with the harvest. A few farmers drive by, including Williams’ cousin, Alan, who said he and his family have been attending church here for several years.
Pence might be nearly dead, but Pence Community Church is surviving and growing with parishioners of all ages, Pastor Williams said.
“It’s the friendliest church I’ve ever walked in the door,” he said, adding the church is popular because “They make sure we teach the Bible and nothing else.”
Williams chuckles at any connection to the vice president, but added a few made comments referencing Pence, Kansas, and Mike Pence during the campaign.
However, if the Pence community has any political leanings, it wasn’t evident a month after the presidential election.
Google Pence and you get both information on Mike Pence and the Pence church, said Williams. Still, he said, it is unlikely VP Pence has ever heard of Pence, Kansas.
”They ought to invite him here someday,” said Williams.
Kansas Agland Editor Amy Bickel’s agriculture roots started in Gypsum. She has been covering Kansas agriculture for more than 15 years. Email her with news, photos and other information at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (800) 766-3311, ext. 320.