Tag Archives: Black Jack Battlefield

Sunday Snapshot: Coal Creek Library

Last weekend when the weather was relatively nice for a January in Kansas, Jim and I wondered down some previously unexplored roads in Douglas County. We stumbled upon the little community of Vinland, Kansas. In a space smaller than two city blocks, we found two historic churches (including the church where basketball legend James Naismith was once a preacher), a Grange Hall on the National Historic Register, and the oldest library in continuous use in Kansas. Across the street from the town was a mowed-grass airfield for small planes.

Coal Creek Library was founded in 1859 and was considered the oldest continuously operating library in Kansas and was run by the oldest continuously working woman in Kansas.

Coal Creek Library was founded in 1859 and was considered the oldest continuously operating library in Kansas and was run by the oldest continuously working woman in Kansas.

The town of Vinland was settled in 1854, and its community members were generally strong abolitionists. Its citizens fought along with John Brown at the Battle of Black Jack, and they believe that area-resident Charles Dow was the first person to die in the Civil War in 1855.

The citizens of Vinland were an educated bunch, and they established a library early in the town’s history. Founded in 1859, the library was in continuous use until recently, when it was turned into a museum. One of Kansas’ oldest citizens, Martha Cutter Kelley Smith, was still assisting patrons at the 3,700-volume library with a potbelly stove in 2008, when she was 102 years old, and Kansas honored her as the oldest female worker in the state. Her Vinland roots run deep; Martha’s own family had homesteaded near Vinland in 1866.

As we drove around Vinland and admired the architecture and the history, we had no idea that the town was in mourning. Their elderly librarian, Martha Cutter Kelly Smith, had passed away the day before our visit at the age of 108.

Vinland is still an active community and holds an annual fair. You can follow Vinland on facebook. The library museum has been open to the community on summer weekends in the past, and we hope to make a trip back to see the library museum soon.

 

 

Sunday Snapshot: Douglas County Santa Fe Trail Ruts Revisited

One of the toughest parts about searching for Santa Fe Trail ruts is that you can be standing right next to them and not be able to see them. Even in places where the ruts are intact–places where they haven’t been tilled up or paved over or filled in with trees–they are usually covered with prairie grasses and can only be seen in certain kinds of light.

Jim and I have driven by the trail ruts near Black Jack Battlefield several times, but it wasn’t until last weekend, when the winter sun was only an hour away from setting, that we could really, truly see them. (The link above goes to Google Maps, where you can see them easily from the satellite image.)

It turns out that these ruts are part of the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Reserve, which is located next to the Black Jack Battlefield historic marker. A bridge from the parking area off of U.S. 56 and E 2000 Rd will take you to a path that leads right to the trail ruts.

We followed the path up the hill and saw this:

The low winter sun outlines the trail ruts in shadow.

The low winter sun outlines the trail ruts in shadow.

Wow.

Curved solid lines indicate the width of each rut. The dashed lines indicate the path.

Curved solid lines indicate the width of each rut. The dashed lines indicate the path.

When you’re driving by, it’s harder to see these ruts because the tall grasses smooth out the lines. At the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Reserve, the foot path path takes you right into the ruts, which are much deeper than they look from the road.

Standing by the sign in the middle of the trail ruts.

Standing by the sign in the middle of the trail ruts.

The sun was setting quickly, so we headed back toward the bridge, following alongside the third of the deep trail ruts.

This rut runs north-northwest toward modern-day U.S. 56.

This rut runs north-northwest toward modern-day U.S. 56.

Northwest Trail Ruts Labeled

Should you find yourself in Douglas County on a winter afternoon, stop by the Ivan L. Boyd Memorial Prairie Reserve and take advantage of the sunset, which shows off the Santa Fe Trail ruts to the fullest.

Exploring the Santa Fe Trail: Douglas County, Kansas

Two wonderful things happened during the past few weeks. The first is that Joanne VanCoevern, manager of the Santa Fe Trail Association, shared with me a series of very detailed maps of the Santa Fe Trail. The second is that a fellow writer introduced me to Google Map Engine Lite, which lets you draw your own maps. So, after our recent adventure following the Santa Fe Trail in Douglas County, Kansas, I’m able to show you where the trail runs (roughly) and how we followed it.

My very first Google Map Engine map. The black line is the Santa Fe Trail; the red line is the route we followed.

My very first Google Map Engine map. The black line is the Santa Fe Trail; the red line is the route we followed. Click on the map to visit the Google Map Engine map.

The black line represents what is officially believed to be the common route of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. An important thing to remember is that people didn’t really follow the trail like a road. If there was a lot of mud, they veered off the trail onto dryer land. If they thought they could take a short cut, they took a short cut. Today, though, we have to stick to the roads (the red line). The local farmers and ranchers frown upon driving through their fields just to follow the trail.

We started our adventure at Simmons Point Stage Station and followed the trail backwards (people heading to Santa Fe would have moved in a southwesterly direction; we were on the return trip). We’d noticed this building before, but we didn’t realize its historic significance until we were studying the trail map. While it is believed to be a fairly “new” building–Simmons Point wasn’t constructed until the 1880s, after the trail was technically decommissioned because the railroads were in place–it’s still considered an important trail site. The trail itself runs right behind the house. Unfortunately, this building is in terrible disrepair and likely won’t survive much longer. Go see it now while you still can.

Simmons Point Stage Station, which was likely built after the Santa Fe Trail was in heavy use. This historic building is in terrible disrepair and will likely collapse in the near future.

Simmons Point Stage Station, which was likely built after the Santa Fe Trail was in heavy use. This historic building is in terrible disrepair and will likely collapse in the near future.

Next, we headed northeast to find the marker at Globe, which was once a mail stop. From the marker, looking southwest, you can actually see the silo and tower next to Simmons Point.

We then zigzagged northeast until we found Willow Springs, which was a major watering hole along the trail. Today, this area is surrounded by beautiful farmland and there is a historic German Baptist Brethren church just south of the historic marker.

Willow Springs, once an important watering stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Today it is also the location of one of the oldest German Brethren churches in Kansas.

Willow Springs, once an important watering stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Today it is also the location of one of the oldest German Baptist Brethren churches in Kansas.

As we headed east, we watched the land for any signs of trail ruts, but most of this area has been heavily cultivated for farming and nothing was obviously visible. We crossed U.S. 59 and headed toward what the trail map called The Narrows: an area where there was only a thin strip of land high enough to keep wagons and beasts of burden out of the mud.

We found a marker for Brooklyn, which was once a trading post on the trail. The post was destroyed by William Quantrill’s raiders in 1863. A weirdly cheerful marker just across the road highlights the area as being on Quantrill’s trail.

The trail slants to the southeast toward what was once Palmyra, a little town that was quickly incorporated into the larger Baldwin City. Historic Markers near the high school give a brief history of the town. An important well is just a block east of the school.

Southeast of Baldwin City are some of the most impressive trail ruts along the trail. The camera just doesn’t do justice to what you can actually see on the ground. The satellite images are even more impressive. Because it was already dark when we reached this point, I’m posting a photo I shot in May when we were visiting Black Jack Battlefield, which is just south of the trail ruts.

Santa Fe Trail ruts near Black Jack Battlefield east of Baldwin City. The ruts are deep enough that they're visible in satellite images.

Santa Fe Trail ruts near Black Jack Battlefield east of Baldwin City. The ruts are deep enough that they’re visible in satellite images.

The Santa Fe Trail Association is a fabulous resource for trail history and location information. There’s something magical about knowing that this important road, which once wandered out into the unknown, now flows through today’s farm fields and backyards.

Sunday Snapshot: Black Jack Battlefield Nature Trail

Just a few feet from the Santa Fe Trail (and only a few miles from my home) is one of Kansas’ newest additions to the National Register of Historic Places: Black Jack Battlefield. The Battle of Black Jack is considered by some to be one of the earliest battles of the American Civil War.¬† In 1856, John Brown attacked a group of Pro-Slavery men led by Henry Pate, who had taken prisoners in retaliation for John Brown’s attack on Pottawatomie Creek, which was in retaliation for an earlier attack on Lawrence, Kansas. (Franklin and Douglas counties were not peaceful places to live in during the 1850s.)

Today, the battlefield has been preserved. Visitors can take a guided tour or watch reenactments. You can also visit the nature trail from dawn to dusk at no cost. The nature trail is beautiful and will offer new blossoms as the seasons pass.