Hays is a city in and the county seat of Ellis County, Kansas, United States. The largest city in northwestern Kansas, it is the economic and cultural center of the region. It is also a college town, home to Fort Hays State University. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 20,510.
In late 1866, anticipating the construction of the Kansas Pacific Railway as far west as Fort Hays, a party from St. Louis, Missouri led by one William Webb selected three sections of land for colonization near the fort. In June 1867, to better serve the railroad, the U.S. Army relocated Fort Hays to a site near where the railroad was to cross Big Creek, a tributary of the Smoky Hill River. Seeing a business opportunity, Buffalo Bill Cody and railroad contractor William Rose founded the settlement of Rome, Kansas near the fort's new location. Within a month, the population of Rome grew to over 2,000. Webb, meanwhile, established the Big Creek Land Company and then surveyed and platted a town site, which he named Hays City after the fort, roughly one mile east of Rome. The railroad reached Hays City soon thereafter and constructed a depot there. The railroad's arrival, combined with a cholera epidemic that hit Rome in the late summer of 1867, drove Rome businesses and residents to relocate to Hays City. Within a year, Rome was completely abandoned. As the western terminus of the railway, Hays City grew rapidly, serving as the supply point for territories to the west and southwest.
In its early years, Hays City was a violent frontier town characteristic of the American Old West. More than 30 homicides occurred in or near the town between 1867 and 1873, and it was the location of the original Boot Hill. Several notable figures of the Old West lived in Hays City at points, including George Custer and his wife Elizabeth, Calamity Jane, and Wild Bill Hickok who served a brief term as sheriff in 1869. Hays City became the county seat of Ellis County in 1870. By 1872, many of the rougher elements of the populace had left, mainly for Dodge City, and Hays City became more civilized. In 1885, the town was incorporated, and "City" was dropped from its name.