History of Maxwell Wildlife Refuge

The refuge is located in McPherson County about six miles north of Canton. Its story began in 1859 when Henry Gault Maxwell drove a small herd of bison to the area and established a homestead. He later dreamed of preserving a piece of the prairie so future generations could experience what the region was like before it was settled. After the elder Maxwell’s death, his two sons became successful businessmen and never forgot their father’s dream. The last surviving son, Henry Irving Maxwell, crafted his will to fulfill his father’s vision. In 1943, Henry Irving Maxwell’s estate began purchasing land to create a wildlife refuge. In 1944, 2,560 acres were deeded to what is now the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP), which created the refuge. The KDWP later added 260 acres to the west of the refuge and in 1954, built McPherson State Fishing Lake and campground areas.


A herd of about 200 bison are managed at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge. They are descended from a starting herd of seven cows and three bulls purchased in 1951 from the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. A small herd of elk, which once were common in Kansas, is also kept at Maxwell Wildlife Refuge.