city, seat (1872) of Barton county, central Kansas, U.S. Great Bend lies on the Arkansas River where the High Plains begin to shade into tallgrass prairie. Situated in the alleged locality of the mythical city of Quivira sought by Francisco Coronado in the 16th century, the site was visited by the American explorer Zebulon Pike in 1806 and became a stopping point on the Santa Fe Trail (1821). East of the city are the ruins of Fort Zarah (1864), from which soldiers escorted wagon trains through the dangerous stretch beyond. The community, founded in 1871, was named for the great bend in the course of the Arkansas River where large herds of bison once watered. Reached by the Santa Fe Railway in 1872, it became a shipping point for wheat, livestock, and other agricultural products. The discovery of oil in the 1930s boosted the city's growth. Wheat processing and oil refining are the chief industries. Great Bend is the site of the Central Kansas Medical Center and Barton County Community College (1965). The city also has a free municipal zoo. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area and Pawnee Rock State Historic Site are nearby. Inc. 1872. Pop. (1990) 15,427; (2000) 15,345.
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