Santa Fe Trail – Eastern

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Map of Eastern Santa Fe Trail
Black Jack Park Ruts | Blue Mound | Cottonwood Creek Crossing | Council Grove Markers | Diamond Spring | Dragoon Creek Crossing | Durham Ruts | Fort Leavenworth | Fort Riley, Kansas | Grinter House | Havana Stage Station | Lone Elm Campground | Lost Spring | Mahaffie Farmstead | McGee-Harris Stage Station | The Narrows | Palmyra Well | Samuel Hunt Grave | Santa Fe/Oregon Trail Junction | Shawnee Mission | Simmons Point Stage Station | Six Mile Creek Crossing and Stage Station Site | Soldier Creek Crossing | Switzler Creek Crossing | Wilmington
Fort Riley, Kansas

U.S. Cavalry Museum, located at Fort Riley, Kansas. The U.S. Cavalry Museum is part of the Army Museum System and chronicles the colorful history of the American Mounted Horse Soldier from the Revolutionary War to 1950. The building that houses the Museum was once the headquarters used by General George Armstrong Custer.

Council Grove Markers, Kansas
Council Oak

The Council Oak site is in the eastern part of the town of Council Grove, Kansas, on US Highway 56. Under this oak tree it is believed that a treaty was negotiated with the Osage Indian tribe in 1825 for safe passage of Santa Fe Trail traffic through their lands. The tree itself was destroyed by a storm several years ago, but the stump remains under a protective canopy.

Post Office Oak

The Post Office Oak is in the eastern part of Council Grove on present-day US Highway 56. This oak tree had a hole in its base that was used as a cache for mail. Letters were placed in the tree by travelers and picked up by those going in the opposite direction for delivery. This "post office" was used by trail travelers from the 1820s to about 1847, when Seth Hays established a trading store at Council Grove. Today only a portion of this tree still stands.

Neosho River Crossing

The Neosho River crossing is about where US Highway 56 bridges the Neosho River at Council Grove. This was an important river crossing on the Santa Fe Trail. The steep banks and high water sometimes made crossings difficult and prompted other crossings close to the highway bridge.

Hays House Restaurant (Frame Store)

The Hays House Restaurant is on Main Street in Council Grove. Seth Hays came to Council Grove in 1847 to trade with the Kaw Indians, whose reservation was nearby. He originally built a log house, out of which he traded, and then in about 1859 he put up the large building originally called the Frame Store. It is that replacement store that has been remodeled as the Hays House Restaurant. Some of the original timbers may be seen in the basement. The building has seen many uses, including a general store, hotel, saloon, and courthouse. The restaurant claims to be the oldest restaurant west of the Missouri River.

Conn/Stone/Pioneer Store

The Conn Store is in Council Grove on the south side of US Highway 56, Main Street, at Neosho Street, in the town's business district. This store was considered to be one of the most important trading stores in Council Grove during the Santa Fe Trail era. The building was erected in 1858, and although much altered from its original state, it is still in use by a local business.

Seth Hays House

The Seth Hays house is in Council Grove about two blocks south of Main Street (US Highway 56). Built in 1866, this house was lived in by Seth Hays, his black maid, and his adopted daughter. The house is important because of Hays's prominence in Council Grove and his connection with the Santa Fe traders. It is one of the few trail homes in the area that has been preserved in nearly original condition, and it is currently operated as a museum.

Kaw Mission

The Kaw Mission is on the northern edge of the town of Council Grove. Built about 1850 as a school for Kaw Indian children, it became a school for white children when the Indians refused to send their children to classes there. It was the first all-white school in Kansas. Today the building is one of the oldest buildings still standing in this part of Kansas and is operated by the Kansas State Historical Society as a museum.

Hermit's Cave

Hermit's Cave is two blocks north of US Highway 56, (Main Street) on Belfry Street in Council Grove. On this site is a small cave that was reportedly the home of an Italian religious mystic, Giovanni Augustini, for a few months before he traveled to New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail.

Last Chance Store

Last Chance Store is west of the Council Grove business district on the north side of US Highway 56. This store has become known as the most famous, but not the largest nor the most important, trading store in Council Grove during the trail era. Built in 1857, the privately owned building remains today in a nearly original state.

Although not a marker, a visitor to our site brought this historic place to our attention:

I am the President of Historic Preservation Corp. in Council Grove. I was dismayed to click on to your site and see that the Trail Days Bakery Cafe located in the Historic 1861 Limestone Terwilliger home was ignored entirely.  This stone building is located right on the Santa Fe Trail and was listed in 1863 as the last site of civalization on the way to santa Fe New Mexico. We have an 1858 Log house, a 1902 School house, and other later period buildings on this Maple Camp grounds. We have what authorities believe to be a Kanza Indian pictograph on the wanut back door casing of the Terwilliger Home. This pictograph is rare, in fact no one knows of another one existing anywhere on a white persons dwelling for a white person. The Terwilliger Home is a treasure far too rare to be so ignored. Also it has ties to the Civil War.

Diamond Spring

Diamond Spring is near the headquarters of the Diamond Spring Ranch southwest of Council Grove. This site was a campsite favored by Santa Fe Trail travelers because of the high-quality springwater. It was known during the trail era as the "Diamond of the Plains." A stage station and small settlement grew up here prior to the Civil War, but these were destroyed in a raid by Missouri bushwhackers, led by Dick Yeager, in 1863. The station was never rebuilt, but Diamond Spring continued to be a valuable water source and popular campsite as long as the trail was active in this vicinity.

Six Mile Creek Crossing and Stage Station Site

The Six Mile Creek crossing and stage station site are on the road that runs south from US Highway 56 toward the town of Burdick, Kansas, and just south of the bridge over Six Mile Creek. Six Mile Creek was named because it is 6 miles from Diamond Spring. There are good trail ruts coming into the crossing site from the east, but the actual crossing is no longer visible. The stage station opened about 1863 after the Diamond Spring station was destroyed. The station was in use until 1866 or 1867, when the stage line moved to Junction City, Kansas, because of railroad construction. A ranching operation was headquartered at this site after the station was abandoned, and the station building served as the ranch house until after the turn of the century. Today only the basement walls and some debris from the upper stories can be seen, with some trail ruts nearby.

Havana Stage Station

The Havana stage station is about 1 mile west of Dragoon Creek and just south of Kansas Highway 31. Reportedly built in 1858, this station was complemented by a store and a hotel. Today the hotel and store are gone, and only the remains of the stage station are discernible, although the Heart of the Flint Hills Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail is planning to restore it.

Dragoon Creek Crossing

The Dragoon Creek crossing is 3 miles northwest of Burlingame and north of Kansas Highway 31. This site is a natural rock crossing point on Dragoon Creek. The creek itself is reported to have been named after a troop of dragoons who came over the Santa Fe Trail in the 1850s, or possibly for a dragoon, Samuel Hunt, whose grave is located just to the west. This natural crossing still appears as it did in the trail days.


This community was located at the junction of the Santa Fe Trail and the Military Road from Fort Leavenworth by way of Topeka. In 1857 a few settlers located at the junction, and in the next year a post office was established here. Wilmington became a thriving community, replete with several establishments catering to trail traffic. The citizens established a school district in 1861.

Samuel Hunt Grave

The Samuel Hunt grave is just north of Kansas Highway 31 and about 0.5 mile west of the Havana stage station site. Private Samuel Hunt, U.S. Army Dragoons, served with Colonel Henry Dodge's Rocky Mountain expedition in 1835 and died at this location on the return march to Fort Leavenworth. This is the earliest known gravesite of a soldier on the Santa Fe Trail.

Switzler Creek Crossing

The Switzler Creek crossing is at the eastern edge of the town of Burlingame, Kansas, very near the present-day US Highway 56 bridge. A toll bridge was operated here from 1847 to the 1860s, and it was at Burlingame that the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway made its first contact with the Santa Fe Trail in 1869. The trail went down the main street of Burlingame.

McGee-Harris Stage Station

The McGee-Harris stage station is about 1 mile south of US Highway 56 on the east bank of 110 Mile Creek and east of Burlingame, Kansas. This stage station was started in the 1850s by Fry McGee, who also erected a toll bridge over 110 Mile Creek here. McGee's son-in-law, named Harris, built a residence and store nearby, and following the death of McGee, he operated the station from 1861 to 1866, when this segment of the trail closed. Crumbled building remains are all that are left today of the stage station, residence, and store.

Soldier Creek Crossing

The Soldier Creek crossing is southwest of the Samuel Hunt grave, where visible Santa Fe Trail ruts lead to the creek. The creek is reportedly named after an army unit that suffered heavy losses from cholera at this location in 1851.

Simmons Point Stage Station

The Simmons Point stage station is north of US Highway 56 and 12 miles west of Baldwin City. The stage station itself remains today as part of a privately owned farmhouse that has been abandoned. The station was operated by Phillip and Elmira Dodder Simmons, but its actual dates of operation are unknown.

Black Jack Park Ruts

A dramatic set of parallel ruts are located in Douglas County Prairie Park, adjacent to Black Jack State Park east of Baldwin City. These are among the finest along the entire length of the trail.

Palmyra Well

The Palmyra well is within present-day Baldwin City, Kansas, to the east of the high school. The community of Palmyra grew along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1850s, and the well provided water for trail travelers and their livestock. Palmyra has long since been absorbed into Baldwin City, but its presence on the Santa Fe Trail has been commemorated with markers nearby, and the well is identified today as the Santa Fe well. One mile to the northwest is Trail Park, which contains interpretive markers; just beyond the park are stretches of county roads that lie on the trail.

Santa Fe/Oregon Trail Junction

The junction of the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail is approximately 2 miles west of the town of Gardner on US Highway 56, and 0.25 mile to the north. At this point the Santa Fe and Oregon trails separated after following the same route from Independence, Missouri. In the 1840s a sign, which said "Road to Oregon," was erected at this site.

The Narrows

The Narrows ran from just west of present Black Jack State Park east of Baldwin City to the site of Willow Spring some 9 miles west. Wagon trains had to stay on this ridge to avoid rough terrain and muddy draws.

Blue Mound

Blue Mound is approximately 3 miles south of Lawrence, Kansas. This prominent hill, which is south of the Kansas River, served as a landmark for travelers on their way to the Santa Fe Trail along the 1846 military road from Fort Leavenworth. Blue Mound is the larger and more prominent of two hills that are sometimes referred to as the Wakarusa Buttes.

Lone Elm Campground

The Lone Elm campground is 3 miles south of Olathe on Lone Elm Road, on the main branch of the Santa Fe Trail from Independence. There was a spring here (now enclosed in a small well) and excellent grazing for livestock. Originally known as Round Grove or Elm Grove because of a grove of trees, the campground was a major campsite for travelers, who eventually cut down all the trees except one for firewood, resulting in its name "Lone Elm." The last tree was also finally cut down, but the name endured.

Mahaffie Farmstead

The Mahaffie farmstead is on the north edge of the city of Olathe at 1100 Kansas City Road. The farmstead was a stage station on the road from Westport, and dinners were served in the basement of the house. The two-story native limestone house was constructed in 1865 and is the only known Santa Fe Trail stage station that is open to the public. It is owned and operated by the city of Olathe.

Shawnee Mission

The Shawnee Methodist Indian Mission is at Mission Road and 53rd Street in Fairway, Kansas, just a few blocks west of State Line Road. Begun in 1830 in present Wyandotte County, it was relocated in 1839 to its present site in Johnson County near a branch of the Santa Fe Trail originating in Westport. The remains of three original brick mission buildings are now owned by the state of Kansas, administered by the Kansas State Historical Society, and operated as a museum. Trail ruts are still visible to the north of these buildings. The blacksmith shop of the mission was reportedly used by trail travelers, many of whom mentioned the mission and the Shawnee Indians on whose reservation it stood.

Fort Leavenworth

Fort Leavenworth, the oldest active Army post west of the Mississippi River, has devoted more than 170 years of service to the nation. During the country's westward expansion, Fort Leavenworth was a forward destination for thousands of soldiers, surveyors, emigrants, American Indians, preachers and settlers who passed through.

Grinter House and Ferry

The Grinter house and ferry sites are east of the city of Bonner Springs on Kansas Highway 32. The first ferry across the Kansas River was started in this vicinity in 1830 or 1831 by Moses Grinter, and it was used by Fort Leavenworth troops to reach the Santa Fe Trail. The ferry was important to the Fort Gibson-Fort Leavenworth military road, opened in the 1830s. This became a major branch of the Santa Fe Trail until the Mexican War and was also used after that time, although other branches from Fort Leavenworth were opened. The two-story brick house was built by Moses Grinter on the northern bluff above the Kansas River in the late 1850s. Today this house is fully restored, owned by the state of Kansas, and administered by the Kansas State Historical Society as a museum. In the 1850s the stagecoach line from Independence to Fort Leavenworth and beyond also crossed the river on the Grinter ferry. The site of the ferry can still be viewed from the Grinter house, although its precise location is not known.

Lost Spring

Lost Spring is 2.3 miles west of the town of Lost Springs on the north side of a paved road. Lost Spring was a valuable source of water for trail travelers and was also used for a trading ranch, stage station, and campground. The spring still flows today, and wagon ruts are visible near the crossing of the small creek on the south side of the paved road.

Cottonwood Creek Crossing

The Cottonwood Creek crossing is about 1 mile west of the town of Durham, Kansas. This site was a major campsite on the Santa Fe Trail, but was widely known as a difficult crossing because of the steep banks and occasional high water. There were several instances when wagon trains were caught here by blizzards and suffered losses of both livestock and human lives. This was also the site of a stage station and the largest trading ranch west of Council Grove on the trail. George Smith started the stage station and trading ranch about 1856, and this site became the first post office in Marion County. A.A. and Ira Moore bought the property in 1859 and operated it until the railroad came to the area in 1870-71. Today nothing remains of the crossing or the ranch, but a few wagon ruts may still be seen northeast of Cottonwood Creek, and there is an outstanding segment of ruts southwest of this stream.

Durham Ruts

An outstanding set of ruts extends southwest to northeast across unbroken prairie land on the Scully property southwest of Durham, Kansas.

Communities and Related Links

Kansas State Historical Society
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