Santa Fe Trail – West

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 Western Santa Fe Trail
1825 Kaw Treaty Site | Allison and Booth's Fort | Ash Creek Crossing | Barton County Historical Society | Beach Ranch Well | Black Pool | The Caches | Camp Grierson | Coon Creek Crossing | Cow Creek Crossing | First Fort Zarah Site | Fort Atkinson | Fort Dodge | Fort Ellsworth/Harker | Fort Hays | Fort Larned National Historic Site | Fort Mann | Jarvis (Chavez) Creek Crossing | Little Arkansas River Crossings | Lower Crossing | Miller Grave | Pawnee Fork Crossings | Pawnee Rock | Peacock Ranch Trading Post | Plum Buttes | Quivira National Wildlife Refuge | Ralph's Ruts | Santa Fe Trail Center | Second Fort Zarah Site | Sibley's Campsite & Little Red House | Stone Corral Site | Walnut Creek Crossing
Pawnee Fork Crossings

There were three crossings of the Pawnee Fork. One, the wet route or river road crossing, was on the southwest edge of the present town of Larned, Kansas; the second, the dry route crossing, was on the west edge of the present Larned State Hospital grounds; and the third, apparently established as a stage line crossing, was approximately 0.5 mile east of the present site of Fort Larned National Historic Site. The wet route crossing is no longer visible. The dry route crossing site may still be seen and crossed by means of a concrete dam. It was a difficult crossing at times, and a campsite was developed there. A mail and stage station was located at this crossing in 1859, and this led to the establishment of Fort Larned, first located nearer this crossing than the present military post. Just west of this crossing was a trading ranch, Boyd's Ranch, which was just off the Fort Larned Military Reservation and thus could provide off-post entertainment in the form of liquor, gambling, and prostitutes. It has not been determined when the third crossing was established or how long it was used, but it was apparently used by a stage line. The bulk of trail traffic likely used the dry route crossing where Boyd's Ranch was located.

Fort Larned National Historic Site

Fort Larned National Historic Site is on Kansas Highway 156, 6 miles west of Larned. Active from 1859 to 1878, Fort Larned was one of the major military installations on the Santa Fe Trail, only Fort Union in New Mexico was larger. Nine of the ten original stone buildings remain today, and the tenth was reconstructed in 1988. This is one of the best preserved frontier military posts in the American West, as well as on the entire Santa Fe Trail. Restoration and refurnishing of the fort are nearly completed. One building has been adapted to serve as museum, interpretive center, and administrative office. A set of Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts is located in a detached area 5 miles south of the fort.

Coon Creek Crossing

The Coon Creek crossing is just north of US Highway 56, about 1.5 miles west of the town of Garfield, Kansas. Wagon ruts are still visible on the north bank of the creek.

Black Pool

The Black Pool is about 4 miles northeast of Ford, Kansas, 1 mile north on Kansas 400, across the Arkansas River, 3.5 miles east on the first gravel road and then 0.5 mile south to a pasture. The well-preserved pool is about 0.25 mile into the pasture and is beside the Santa Fe Trail wet route and near the Arkansas River. Well-defined trail ruts are nearby. The Black Pool is a spring, and the water appears to be black when viewed from above because of an underlying shelf of shale. Many inscriptions have been left in the rock ledge above the pool, including one that states "BLACK POOL US POST 1843," although its authenticity has not been established. This pool is not identified in any Santa Fe Trail literature nor is it identified in military records, but the location matches that of an incident in 1843 when U.S. troops commanded by Capt. Philip St. George Cooke captured the Texan Snively expedition nearby.

Lower Crossing

The Lower Crossing of the Arkansas River is near where Kansas Highway 400 crosses the river about 1 mile north of Ford. This stream crossing was used by some early wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail, and it was one of several crossings of the Arkansas. The area from here to the Cimarron River was known as the Cimarron Desert or La Jornada. There is evidence that this was an ancient river crossing used by Indians in prehistoric times. The Lower Crossing was not used much after the early 1830s because the distance from the Arkansas to the Cimarron River was shorter from the Middle and Upper crossings. In addition the dry route, from near Pawnee Rock to the site where Fort Dodge was later established, rejoined the Arkansas River west of this crossing.

Fort Dodge

Fort Dodge is about 2.5 miles east of Dodge City on Kansas Highway 400. The post was founded in 1865 to help protect a long section of the Santa Fe Trail. The fort site had been previously used as a campsite by trail travelers because the wet and dry routes rejoined at this point. A stage station preceded the fort, but it was burned by Indians. From this fort Gen. Phil Sheridan launched his winter campaign of 1868-69, and Fort Dodge was the point from which supplies were sent by wagon train into the field for that campaign. Those supplies came to Fort Dodge via the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge road. Fort Dodge troops were also charged with the protection of stagecoaches, mail, and railroad construction crews. The fort was removed from service in 1882. Today the former fort serves as the Kansas State Soldiers Home. Several original buildings remain, including the commanding officer's quarters, several officers' quarters, enlisted men's barracks, and the post hospital. Although they have been remodeled, they illustrate army life along the Santa Fe Trail.

Fort Atkinson Site

The Fort Atkinson site is about 2 miles west of Dodge City on US Highway 50 and was originally established as Camp Mackay on August 8, 1850, to control Indians and to protect the Santa Fe Trail. On June 25, 1851, a newly built fort was officially designated as Fort Atkinson. Being constructed of sod, it was popularly known as "Fort Sod" or "Fort Sodom," and it was the first fully garrisoned fort to be erected along the Santa Fe Trail. Its mission was to protect the trail from Indian raids. It was not successful. Atkinson was abandoned permanently on October 2, 1854, because of its inadequate buildings and the difficulty and expense of supplying it. Attempts were made to protect this section of the Santa Fe Trail with summer patrols of troops from 1855 to 1859.

The Caches Site

The Caches, located in section 29 or 30, 726S, R25W, was an oft-noted landmark on the trail. These famous pits, commented on by numerous trail travelers, were dug out in 1822-23. A trading party led by James Baird and Samuel Chambers set out from Missouri late in 1822. Their pack train was caught by a blizzard near this site. They lost their pack animals to the harsh weather. Later, in 1823, they dug pits to cache their goods, went to New Mexico to purchase mules, and came back and dug up their goods and took them to Santa Fe. The pits were left open. Numerous travelers thereafter commented about the pits, which became a landmark on the trail, although no evidence of them remains today.

Fort Mann

The Fort Mann site is about 1 mile west of Dodge City on US Highway 50. Fort Mann was established in April 1847 because the Army needed a post midway between Fort Leavenworth and Santa Fe to repair wagons and replace animals. It was a quartermaster repair station with a log stockade for protection, and it was erected under the direction of Daniel P. Mann. Although not a regular military post, Fort Mann was defensible and occasionally occupied by regular troops, such as the Indian Battalion of Missouri Volunteers in 1847-48. it was abandoned in 1848.

Sibley's Campsite & Little Red House

In April of 1872, Booth, one of the original members of the Larned Town Company and post trader at Fort Larned, Kansas positioned wheels under one of the sutler's buildings at the fort and transported it to a location near Schnack Park in present-day Larned, Kansas.

Pawnee Rock

Pawnee Rock is 0.5 mile north of US Highway 56 on the north edge of the town of Pawnee Rock, Kansas. Pawnee Rock was one of the best known natural features along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas. Although some of the rock was removed by settlers and the railroads for construction materials, one can still enjoy panoramic views across the prairie from this relatively high landmark. It is administered by the Kansas State Historical Society.

Santa Fe Trail Center

The Santa Fe Trail Center is a nonprofit regional museum telling the story of the geographic area once known as the Santa Fe Trail. This transportation route blended Indian, Spanish, and American cultures.

Ash Creek Crossing

The Ash Creek crossing is 5 miles southwest of Pawnee Rock. This was not a difficult crossing, but nonetheless it developed into a campsite for Santa Fe Trail travelers. This site is historically significant because Susan Shelby Magoffin's carriage upset here and she later miscarried as a result of the accident.

Barton County Historical Society

This museum has a fine display of artifacts and other items from Fort Zarah and the Santa Fe Trail. The Ray "Jiggs" Schulz Research Library has been dedicated and will be open during Museum hours. The library will house a huge collection of rare Kansas history books and other materials, mostly donated by Mr. Schulz, and some artwork. The museum complex is located just south of the Arkansas River on US 281.

First Fort Zarah Site

The first Fort Zarah was established in 1864 to help protect mail service on the Santa Fe Trail. The fort was about 200 yards west of the trading ranch on the east side of Walnut Creek and north of the crossing toll bridge. This was also at or near the point where the Fort Harker-Fort Riley military road met the Santa Fe Trail. The mail station and corrals were on the south side of Walnut Creek, across the creek from the fort. The foundations of this structure have been partially excavated.

Allison and Booth's Fort or Ranch and Peacock Ranch Trading Post Site

The sites of these small trading posts are 2 miles east of Great Bend, Kansas, and south of US Highway 56, near the Walnut Creek crossing. William Allison and Francis Booth(e), formerly conductors for Waldo, Hall and Company on the Santa Fe mail run, opened a post on the north side of the trail and east of the Walnut crossing in 1855, in the heart of Plains Indian lands. They established trade with the Plains tribes and also sold supplies to trail travelers. Booth was killed by a disgruntled employee in 1857, and Allison died in 1859 at Independence, Missouri, while on a trip to purchase supplies. George Peacock apparently acquired the trading rights from Allison's estate, and thereafter evidently constructed a new stone building as a trading post. Peacock was killed by the Kiowa war chief Satank in 1860, and the trading rights then went to Charles Rath. Rath operated the ranch until 1867, when the army ordered him out for selling arms, ammunition, and whiskey to the Indians. The Indians burned the post a few months later, and today only the foundations remain.

Second Fort Zarah Site

The second Fort Zarah site is on the north side of US Highway 56, about 2 miles east of Great Bend, Kansas, and about 0.5 mile east of the roadside park. This second fort was built in 1867, about 0.5 mile north of the first one. This was a more permanent post, comprised of a large stone building with quarters for officers and troops, kitchens and mess halls, storerooms, and other functions. This post was abandoned in 1869, when it was felt that the Indian threat was not sufficient to warrant a second post so close to Fort Larned.

Walnut Creek Crossing - Barton County, Kansas

The Walnut Creek crossing is about 2 miles east of Great Bend and south of US Highway 56. The crossing included a trading ranch, toll bridge, and military post. When the creek flooded, wagon trains would camp on its banks for days waiting to cross. It was one of the first streams in the region to have a toll bridge.

Fort Ellsworth/Harker, Kansas

No trip along the Santa Fe Trail would be complete without a stop in Ellsworth County and Kanopolis/Ellsworth, Kansas. The museum for Fort Ellsworth/Harker is in the town of Kanopolis, Kansas, located in the old "Guardhouse" from Fort Harker days. In the town of Ellsworth visit the Drovers Mercantile for a dose of what cowboy life was like in the 1870's in the area.

Plum Buttes

The Plum Buttes were 4 miles west of Chase, Kansas, on US Highway 56, 1 mile north on a gravel road, and then 1 mile west. Plum Buttes referred to several very large sand dunes that were covered by plum bushes, These highly visible dunes became landmarks for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail, who sought to avoid the soft, sandy, and nearly impassable soils along the Arkansas River. Plum Buttes was a favorite nooning spot on the trail, and because it was the only landmark in the vicinity, it was often used as a reference point to delineate the location of significant events. Thus, the 1867 massacre near Ralph's Ruts, 1 mile east, is known as the Plum Buttes Massacre. The last dune, still visible in the 1870s and 1880s, had disappeared because of wind erosion by 1900.

Ralph's Ruts

These ruts are 4 miles west of Chase, Kansas, on US Highway 56, then 0.75 mile north on the Ralph Hathaway farm. The seven parallel trail ruts are some of the finest examples of pristine trail remains any place along the entire route. Visitors to the site have easy access, a turnout for parking, and a DAR marker to point out the location. In addition, evidence indicates that the so-called Plum Buttes Massacre of 1867 occurred near the eastern boundary of the Hathaway quarter-section. Extending westerly from here, the ruts continue on intermittently for another 2 miles, where they form the spectacular Gunsight Notch, a ridge worn away by 60 years of commercial and military traffic.

Beach Ranch Well

Buffalo Bill's well is 4 miles west of Lyons, on US Highway 56 and then 1 mile south on a gravel road. At this point two gravel roads intersect, and the well is in the northwest quadrant of that intersection, very near the road. The well was originally dug to serve the Beach ranch at Cow Creek crossing, providing water for livestock as well as for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Sometime after 1860 William Mathewson, who was known as Buffalo Bill, purchased the Beach ranch, also called the Cow Creek ranch, and operated it until 1866. Mathewson was known as Buffalo Bill because he helped supply buffalo meat to starving settlers in Kansas Territory during the severe drought of 1859-60.

Cow Creek Crossing

The Cow Creek crossing is 4 miles west of Lyons on US Highway 56, 1 mile south, and then west to a bridge over Cow Creek. The actual crossing was just south of the present bridge. Cow Creek was an important campground and crossing where a trading ranch and stage station developed in 1858. The ranch and stage station were built east of the crossing by Asahel and Abijah Beach in 1858. A well was dug at approximately the same time to provide water for livestock and for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. A toll bridge was built over Cow Creek in 1859. The present bridge is believed to be below the site of the original, which was reportedly just north of the old crossing of Cow Creek. Looking south from the west end of the present bridge, stones for crossing the streambed were identified during the drought of 1988.

Little Arkansas River Crossings

The two crossings of the Little Arkansas River are 5 miles south of US Highway 56 on county road 443 on the McPherson-Rice county line, and then 0.5 mile west. The upper crossing is marked by a cottonwood, the "Marker Cottonwood", which still stands and is surrounded by wagon ruts from the Santa Fe Trail caravans. The lower crossing is no longer visible. Stones were placed in the river bottom of the upper crossing to provide a firm surface for the wagons, and these stones are reportedly visible when the stream is dry. A toll bridge was built at the lower crossing in the late 1850s or early 1860s, and the areas on both sides of the river were popular campsites for trail travelers.

Jarvis (Chavez) Creek Crossing

The location of the Jarvis (Chavez) Creek crossing is reportedly near the center of section 17 in Wilson Township, west of the Little Arkansas River and along Jarvis Creek in Rice County. This site is important because Antonio Jose Chavez, a Hispanic trader, was murdered here in 1843. This murder became an international incident, with ramifications in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City.

Stone Corral Site

The stone corral site is on the south side of the lower crossing of the Little Arkansas River, just north of the existing county road. This corral was probably the most famous structure at the crossings and was built in connection with the trading ranch and stage station there. Stone for the corral was quarried 2 miles away. The corral was used from the early 1860s until after the Santa Fe Trail was abandoned. At some later time the stone walls were dismantled, and the stone was used for construction at other locations. Today no trace remains of the corral.

Military Camp (Camp Grierson)

Camp Grierson is south of the lower crossing of the Little Arkansas River and south of the present-day county road. The camp was established in the summer of 1865 to protect the crossings and the trading ranch there during a period of Indian unrest. The camp was manned once more in 1867 by one company from the black regiment of the 10th Cavalry. It was at this time that the troops established a more permanent position and named it Camp Grierson. After several months the troops were withdrawn. Some of the earthworks of the camp are still visible south of the county road on the east side of the river. Several soldiers were killed by Indians in the vicinity (some of these were deserters from units farther west) and buried near the camp, but the larger number of dead buried there were black soldiers who died of cholera while stationed at Camp Grierson. The bodies were later removed to the Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery, but the burial pits may still be seen south of the military campsite.

1825 Kaw Treaty Site

The site of the 1825 treaty with the Kansa Indians is 1 mile south of Elyria, Kansas, just north of a gravel road and east of Dry Turkey Creek. In 1825 the Santa Fe Trail survey commissioners met at this site with members of the Kansa or Kaw Indian tribe to negotiate permission for the trail to pass through the their lands. The Kansa then lived north of the Kansas River and east of present Manhattan, and the trail crossed only a small segment of their lands. The Kansa Indians were to have gone to Council Grove to meet with the commissioners immediately following the Osage Treaty, but they failed to arrive in time and had to follow them down the trail. The Indians caught up with the commissioners at Dry Turkey, where the treaty was signed.

Miller Grave

The Ed Miller grave is in Jones Cemetery, which is 2.25 miles east and 0.5 mile north of Canton, Kansas. In 1864, 18-year-old Ed Miller was killed by the Cheyenne Indians as he rode to warn residents at a trading ranch that Indians were raiding in the area. He was buried near the site of his death, and the site became a cemetery after the area was settled.

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

You've made it about half way to Santa Fe at this point. Time for a brake? After leaving the above museum continue south on US 281 to the K19 junction. Turn east to one of the most interesting drives along the Santa Fe Trail. Quivira National Wildlife Refuge has two large salt marshes, and both are excellent places to look for birds such as mallards, wood ducks, pintails, white pelicans, eagles, shorebirds and more. In the right season you may even get a look at the Endangered Whooping Crane. Additionally, deer bobcats, coyotes, and other mammals are often seen lurking about during the heat of the afternoon. For a wonderful wildlife opportunity, Quivira offers an experience you won't find anywhere else in Kansas.

Fort Hays

Fort Hays was an important U.S. Army post that was active from 1865 until 1889. Originally designated Fort Fletcher (after Governor Thomas C. Fletcher of Missouri), it was located five miles south of present-day Walker, Kansas, and became operational on October 11, 1865.

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