Tag Archives: santa fe trail

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.

Advertisements

Exploring the Santa Fe Trail: Osage County, Kansas

I know, I know, I’ve been working on this post for months now. The pictures are from late summer and fall. But the wonderful thing about searching for Santa Fe Trail ruts and landmarks in Osage County is that they’ll be easier to see in the winter, when the tree branches are bare and the vines and grasses have gone dormant. The hardest part is knowing where to look, as you’ll see in our adventures.

Armed with a detailed map from the Santa Fe Trail Association and feeling confident after our successful Santa Fe Trail exploration in Douglas County, Jim and I decided to tackle the next section of trail, which crosses through present-day Osage County. After studying the section-by-section trail map and the areas identified as trail ruts on Google Earth, we hopped into Jim’s truck and headed west past Simmons Point, which we discovered on our Douglas County adventure.

The official historic Santa Fe Trail route is marked in black; our path, which is restricted to roads, is marked in red. Important locations have pins. Click on the map to explore in detail. (This map was created with Google Map Engine Lite.)

The official historic Santa Fe Trail route is marked in black; our path, which is restricted to roads, is marked in red. Important locations have pins. Click on the map to explore in detail. (This map was created with Google Map Engine Lite.)

Osage County is very proud of its Santa Fe Trail history, and it’s easy to find trail information online. The towns of Overbrook and Burlingame consider the Santa Fe Trail an important part of their identity. With so much information online, we figured we would hit all of the trail highlights and identify some trail ruts in just a few hours of exploring.

Wrong. But I’ll get back to that.

Looking at the map, you can see that the trail runs very close to present-day U.S. 56 as it stretches through eastern Osage County, then continues along present day K-31 in western Osage County . As we headed west from Simmons Point (moving in the same direction as travelers on their way to Santa Fe), our first stop was the last marker in Douglas County, which identified a major trail crossing point and the Baden Post Office, which operated intermittently between 1883 and 1891.

The Santa Fe Trail Crossed Here: commemorating Simmons Point and the Baden Post Office.

The Santa Fe Trail Crossed Here: commemorating Simmons Point and the Baden Post Office.

It was after this sign that we made an important discovery: unlike Douglas County and Lyon County, Osage County is not as generous with signage.  Jim and I are both map enthusiasts, but as outsiders, trying to locate the trail as it “runs through the old Bryson farm” is not an easy feat without land records or a county native to guide the way. Despite having detailed notes and circles on maps, it is actually very difficult to find trail ruts in high summertime, when the land is overgrown by foliage.

It’s also very easy to see fake trail ruts everywhere, almost like water mirages in the desert. According to Ed Harmiston, the Overbrook Chief of Police and a serious Santa Fe Trail history buff, trail ruts are more than just wagon tracks.  You have to picture not just what the wheels were doing to the ground, but the way the hooves of hundreds of thousands of oxen and other animals would have churned up the dirt and mud as they pulled heavy wagons down the trail. This movement gives the land a very different type of scar than, say, a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Picturesque, but not Santa Fe Trail Ruts.

Picturesque tracks in the grass, but not Santa Fe Trail Ruts. Shot near Osage County Lake, where we missed seeing the real trail ruts because of an overgrown fence line.

You’ll notice on the map I created that there are several pins for places where trail ruts have been reported but were not immediately visible to us from the road. (NOTE: The Santa Fe Trail was once a public road, but the land it now runs through is often private property.  Trespassing is never a good idea. Don’t enter private land without permission.)

Our next major stop along the trail was Overbrook, a town that was laid out along the Santa Fe Trail about 14 years after the trail was decommissioned. According to the “Local History of the Santa Fe Trail” by Ed Harmison, the town was founded by W.T. Coffman and J.B. Fairchild, who each contributed 30 acres to start the town. It was named by a railroad foreman, who hailed from Overbrook, Pennsylvania. Overbrook celebrates its trail roots each year with the Santa Fe Trail Festival, and Harmison presents the local history of the trail and craftspeople demonstrate skills that would have been in high demand along the trail, such as soap making and blacksmithing.

While in Overbrook, we visited the cemetery, where Overbrook’s departed rest in the path of the trail, and ruts can be seen in the northwest section of the cemetery. There is a also marker commemorating a hitching post that once stood within the boundaries of the cemetery. A spring that to served as an important watering spot was once located in the 200 block of Ash Street, but the area is now covered by a housing development and there are no signs of the spring.

One of our greatest disappointments on this stretch of the trail was finding nothing marking the location of what was known as the Boneyard, which was supposed to be about four miles west of Overbrook. According to Ed Harmison, a wagon train was caught in a blizzard, and while the men made it safely to the 110-Mile Creek Crossing (where the McGee-Harris Stage Station was located), their animals were left behind and died n the storm. A giant pile of their bleached bones were a landmark along the trail for many years afterward. I have not yet found a date for the blizzard, but I have found online sources–such as this transcribed 1865 Santa Fe Trail diary–that mention it.

Further west at Osage County Lake, trail ruts are supposed to be visible just north of the lake. In fact, the ruts are supposed to run several tracks wide in this area. A house was recently built in the middle of them. Alas, the weeds were too tall in August, and we were unable to see much land beyond the fence line. We’ll make another trip to look for them some time this winter. There is also nothing left to see of the McGee-Harris Stage Station and 110-Mile Creek Crossing.

Feeling a little discouraged, we continued through Scranton and headed southwest toward the Switzler Creek Crossing, which was named for John Switzler, who constructed a toll bridge there in 1847. After crossing the creek, we found ourselves in Burlingame. U.S. 56 briefly turns into Santa Fe Avenue, the town’s main street, which is also the trail itself. The brick-paved road is said to be extra wide because it was designed as a place where wagons could safely pass each other through town. Santa Fe Avenue turns into K-31, which continues west along the trail (U.S. 56 turns south).

After several attempts at searching for trail ruts and the Dragoon Creek Crossing, we almost gave up and headed home. In fact, we were a little worried our trip was going to come to a bad end when we turned down what was technically a county road–a road that should have been marked minimum maintenance, I might add–and discovered it was in worse shape than most of the trail ruts were were trying to find. That leg of our adventure involved a conversation that went like this:

Diana: According to Google Earth, there should be trail ruts running east and west across this road.
Jim: Look at this road. Are you sure we’re not driving in the trail ruts? Because this road is pretty bad.

Fortunately, we didn’t give up. If we had, we would have missed the most scenic Santa Fe Trail site in Osage County: Havana Stage Station.

Havana Stage Station, looking east.

Havana Stage Station, from the west.

The Havana Stage Station was an important stop. Fifty German and French families had settled here, and there were several buildings that offered services and shelter to travelers. Today, only the remnants of the hotel and stage station remain. Its deterioration has progressed markedly during the past 80 years. Two pictures available through the Kansas Historical Society’s Kansas Memory website–a postcard from the 1930s and a photograph from the 1950s –show the stage station to still be a substantial structure even 60 and 80 years after the trail fell out of use.

West of the Havana Stage Station are visible ruts of the Santa Fe Trail.

Even in Kansas, there aren’t many places where you can truly escape modern noise. Along this stretch of K-31, however, vehicles are few and far between, leaving nothing but the sounds of the wind, birds, and insects. It was startling and beautiful, as was the scenery.

Our last stop along the Osage County stretch of the Santa Fe Trail was the grave of Private Samuel Hunt, a Dragoon with Company A, who died of an “inflammation of the bowels.” His was the first military burial along the trail. Although the grave location is well documented and is supposed to be marked,  we could not find it. Either we were looking in the wrong place, or the grave has been damaged–the area where we believe it is supposed to be is also a place where KSDOT is depositing torn-up roadbed concrete and is marked “no trespassing.”

Although Osage County’s section of the Santa Fe Trail is not the easiest to explore, wandering through little towns like Overbrook, Scranton, and Burlingame  was interesting and fun, and the Havana Stage Station is definitely worth a stop. If you’re on the hunt for trail ruts, though, I recommend waiting until winter, when the tree leaves and grass are less likely to block your view of the land. In fact, because the major stops are accessible by highway, this may be a great get-out-of-the-house trip during those cold winter months.

Legler Barn Museum in Lenexa, Kansas

On our way home from Overland Park, Kansas, Jim and I were driving down 87th Street Parkway and caught sight of a sign pointing the way to the Legler Barn Museum. Unable to turn away from a barn museum, we abandoned the I-35 exit and headed west to Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park, where the museum and several other historic buildings are located.

Legler Barn Museum.

Legler Barn Museum.

Adam Legler.

Adam Legler.

It’s hard to imagine it now, but the area around 95th and Quivera in Overland Park (where Oak Park Mall is located) was once rural and part of a long stretch of land that belonged to the Legler family. Adam and Elizabeth Legler immigrated to the U.S. via the Port of New Orleans in 1847. In 1863, the Leglers moved to Johnson County and made their home just north of the Santa Fe Trail at what is now 95th and Quivera. The stone barn, a two-story structure with porthole windows on the south side, a sandstone roof, and living quarters on the second floor (the Leglers lived above their animals before their home, which would stand until the 1930s, was built), was constructed in 1864 from locally quarried stones.

 

The portholes on the Legler Barn have inspired theories that the barn was once used as a fortress against unhappy Native Americans, William Quantrill's men, and Missourians during the Civil War. Their purpose was to allow ventilation without overwhelming the livestock inside with the southern sun.

The portholes on the Legler Barn have inspired theories that the barn was once used as a fortress against unhappy Native Americans, William Quantrill’s men, and Missourians during the Civil War. Their purpose was to allow ventilation without overwhelming the livestock inside with the southern sun.

Its location near the trail and a reliable spring meant that the Legler farm was a beacon to both invited and uninvited guests. Legend suggests that William Quantrill and Jesse James rested there. Long after the house was gone, the barn stood. Then, in 1971, the barn was forced off its own land when the area was developed for Oak Park Mall and numerous other businesses.

The corner of 95th and Quivera today. Adam Legler’s house and barn stood on the northwest corner.

Fortunately, instead of demolishing the barn, city officials carefully documented the structure before disassembling it and putting it into storage, where it stayed for more than a decade until the Lenexa Historical Society (Lenexa being a nearby Johnson County town) was able to restore the barn in a local park.

Three generations of women wore this wedding dress: Clarissa Allen wore it in 1908; her daughter Mary Jane Nesselrode wore it in 1940, and Mary Jane's daughter Clarissa May Mears wore it in 1964.

Three generations of women wore this wedding dress: Clarissa Allen wore it in 1908; her daughter Mary Jane Nesselrode wore it in 1940, and Mary Jane’s daughter Clarissa May Mears wore it in 1964.

In addition to the history of the barn, the Legler Barn Museum shares the history of Lenexa. The community got its start in 1869, when Charles Bradshaw would sell land to Octave Chanute, who wanted to start a railroad line to Kansas City. (Chanute would go on to build the first bridge over the Missouri River, design the Kansas City and Chicago Stockyards, found the town of Chanute, Kansas, and would also be the designer of the Wright Brothers’ plane.) The town was officially incorporated in 1907.

Whereas much of Johnson County has a reputation for bulldozing history for the sake of suburban progress, Lenexa still has connections to its roots. Many descendants of the area’s earliest settlers continue to live nearby and are involved in the historical society. The museum includes historic quilts, furniture, maps, and photographs.  A wedding dress worn by three generations of Lenexa women is displayed in a reproduction of a Victorian bedroom on the second floor. And an interesting display explains how Lenexa accidentally became the spinach capital of the world during the 1930s (they still celebrate with a Spinach Festival).

Near the museum are several other fun historic pieces, including a train depot and a caboose. There is no charge to see the museum, but donations are appreciated. There is also a lovely park nearby. This little museum is definitely worth a look.

Sunday Snapshots: The Flowers of Pioneer Cemetery/Baldwin City Cemetery

Known as both Pioneer Cemetery and Baldwin City Cemetery, this Douglas County burial ground’s first interment was in 1858 on land not far from a then-still-active Santa Fe Trail. The sign at the entrance highlights the native wildflowers on the grounds. It is poignant that many of the markers bear flowers, too.

Sunday Snapshot: Blue Mound on the Oregon Trail

Many trails originating in what is now the Kansas City metro area followed the same path until they reached Gardner, Kansas, where they separated. From Gardner, the Santa Fe Trail headed southwest through much of the state. The Oregon and California Trails moved in a more east-northeasterly direction.

The Oregon Trail had progressed several miles north of the Santa Fe Trail by the time it reached present-day Douglas County. Near Lawrence, just south of the Wakarusa River and 56 miles from the trail’s beginning, is one of the early major landmarks for the Oregon- and California-bound travelers: Blue Mound. Despite the trees and human development, this large hill is still visible for quite a distance; during the 1800s, when the land was still open prairie and the treeline was limited to the Wakarusa riverbank, it would have been visible from many miles away.

Blue Mound from the northeast.

Blue Mound from the northeast.

After Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence on August 21, 1863, Major. Preston B. Plumb was at Blue Mound with somewhere between 100 and 250 men, but was unsuccessful at stopping Quantrill’s men, who headed south past the mound and scattered for a successful escape. During this week’s Twitter reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid (which you can still read on Twitter!), Jim Lane criticized Plumb for not taking the offense.

Today, roads surrounding the mound, which is still in a highly rural area, are easily accessible. However, be warned: despite appearing on Google Maps and TomTom as a county road, E 1700 Rd to the immediate south of the mound appears to be a long driveway to private property. To learn more about the Oregon and California Trails, click here.

Blue Mound from the southeast.

Blue Mound from the southeast.

 

Sunday Snapshot: Stone Girl in Overbrook Cemetery

During our recent adventure searching for evidence of the Santa Fe Trail in Osage County (more on that soon!), we wandered into Overbrook Cemetery, which is practically situated on top of documented (and visible!) Santa Fe Trail ruts.

Most of the markers are basic and not nearly as old as the trail, but there was one in particular that drew us: the memorial to Vivian Butel, whose little girl statue has watched the trail where wagons once passed since her death in 1918.

Profile photo Overbrook Cemetery

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.