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Great Bend is a city in and the county seat of Barton County, Kansas, United States. It is named for its location at the point where the course of the Arkansas River bends east then southeast. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 15,995.
Prior to American settlement of the area, the site of Great Bend was located in the northern reaches of Kiowa territory. Claimed first by France as part of Louisiana and later acquired by the United States with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, it lay within the area organized by the U.S. as Kansas Territory in 1854. Kansas became a state in 1861, and the state government delineated the surrounding area as Barton County in 1867.
The first settlers of the area arrived in 1870. Living in sod houses and dugouts, they worked as buffalo hunters since trampling by bison herds precluded crop farming. In 1871, the Great Bend Town Company, anticipating the westward construction of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, founded Great Bend at a site roughly three miles west of Fort Zarah on the Santa Fe Trail. They named the settlement after its location at the "great bend" in the Arkansas River where the river's course turns eastward. The town began to grow as more settlers arrived over the following year and opened several businesses.
The railroad reached Great Bend in July 1872, and an election at about the same time declared the town the permanent county seat.
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