Course of the Santa Fe Trail

The Kansas State Historical Society had worked out the course of the Trail through the different counties of Kansas, and identified it with geography of 1928, as follows:

Johnson County

The different Missouri River branches of the trail, whether from old Franklin, Fort Osage, (Sibley), Independence, Westport, or Kansas City, came together in the northeast part of Johnson County, and by one common course passed out of the county near its southwest corner. An early course of the road entered the county and state just nine miles due south of the month of the Kansas River and east of the village of Glenn. The line from Westport passed near the old Shawnee Mission. From near Lenexa the trails passed over one route southwest through Olathe and Gardner, across Bull Creek and into Douglas County. The junction of the Oregon and California trails was near the present town of Gardner, and at one time there stood at this point an old guidepost which bore the legend: “Road to Oregon.”

Douglas County

The trail entered Douglas County near its southeast corner, a few miles east of Black Jack, from where it took a northwesterly course through Palmyra and on to Willow Springs. Here it turned to the southwest, passing close to Globe and Baden of later days and into Osage County about three miles north of the southwest corner of Douglas County. Palmyra, which later became a part of Baldwin, was long a favorite place for repairing wagons and for rest. Willow Springs, about seven miles to the northwest of Palmyra, was also a favorite place and had a thrilling territorial history.

Osage County

In passing westerly through Osage County, a distance of twenty-four miles, the trail dropped only one mile south, entering from Douglas County at section 3-15-17; thence to Flag Spring and almost due west along the natural divide for ten or more miles, passing where the town of Overbrook now stands and on to 110 creek crossing in section 12-15-15. From this place it ran westward, passing within a mile south of the present Scranton to the present location of Burlingame, where it crossed Switzler Creek. This was the location of the Council City of territorial days. For a mile through Burlingame, Santa Fe avenue represents the course of the trail. After crossing Dragoon Creek its course took it through the old town of Wilmington, in the southeast corner of Wabaunsee County.

Lyon County

Entering the county of Lyon near the northeast corner, the trail crossed the county dropping about five miles south of a westerly course. Waushara, on Chicken Creek, Elm Creek, the crossing of 142 Creek, and Agnes City, on Bluff Creek, were stopping places of more or less importance at different times. In Lyon County the main line of the Missouri Pacific Railway is from three to six miles south of the old trail.

Morris County

The trail entered Morris County about seven miles east of Council Grove, and in crossing the county dropped south just six miles. A short distance east of Council Grove it crossed Big John Creek and ran close by the “Big John Spring” now in Fremont Park, where at one time were numerous stones bearing inscriptions, names and dates.

Council Grove was the most noted stopping place between the Missouri River and Santa Fe. Here the treaty with the Osage Indians was made, August 10, 1825, for right of way of the trail across the Plains, and for years it was the last chance to obtain supplies. Its Main street, on both sides of the Neosho, marks the course of the trail. From Council Grove for several miles there were two routes, one along the high divide to the north of Elm Creek, and the other passing up the valley of said creek, the two roads uniting a mile or two southeast of the present town of Wilsey.

From Council Grove the trail passed westward, close to Helmick and Wilsey of to-day, thence directly north of the “Morehouse ranche” pastures and through sections 33 and 34, township 17, range 6, of the adjoining “Diamond Spring” or “Whiting ranche” where the famous prairie fountain, “The Diamond of the Plain” still flows. This is about four miles north of the present village of Diamond Springs, on the A. T. & S. F. railway. The trail passed about three miles north of Burdick and entered Marion County some six miles south of the present Herington, Dickinson county.

Marion County

The trail entered Marion County at the east side of section 12-17-4, a mile and a quarter south of the northeast corner of the county. Its first place of note was the well-known “Lost Spring,” situated about two miles west of the present town of Lost Springs and fifteen miles due north of the present town of Marion. This spring is at the head of Lyons Creek, a tributary of the Kansas River. From here the road passed in a westerly direction near the sites of the present towns of Ramona and Tampa, dropping southwesterly to the Cottonwood, crossing near what is now the town of Durham (at one time “Moore’s ranche”): continuing southwest, it passed out of the county at a point directly east of the present town of Canton, McPherson County.

The survey of the trail between “Diamond of the Plain” and Cottonwood Crossing passed two or three miles south of the route as used, and thus crossed several creeks in Morris and Marion counties, which the upper route avoided by following the watershed between the Kansas and Cottonwood rivers.

McPherson County

Entering the county midway of its castern boundary, just east of the present Canton, the trail bore slightly southwest, crossing Running Turkey Springs, and Dry Turkey Creek and passing out of the county some miles south of the present town of Windom. On section 21-20-3, about five miles south of the present city of McPherson, is a place on Dry Turkey Creek (once called Sora Kansas Creek) where the United States commissioners, while surveying the trail, met the chiefs of the Kansas Indians in council on the 16th day of August, 1825. A monument to commemorate the event had been erected near the spot.

Rice County

Through Rice County the trail passed almost east and west through the center. Entering at the east side of section 13-20-6, it crossed the Little Arkansas at the noted Stone Corral and breastworks thence ran west, passing less than a mile south of the present city of Lyons; crossing Jarvis Creek, and Big and Little Cow creeks, it passed out of the county at section 31-19-10 into Barton County. About three miles west of the present Lyons, close to the trail, are the “rifle pits” and “Buffalo Bill’s well.”

Barton County

Entering Barton County the trail ran due west five miles to the present Ellinwood, where it first came to the Arkansas River. Following the river, it passed Fort Zarah, located near the crossing of Walnut Creek. From here the trail rounded the north or great bend of the Arkansas, turning southwest near the present town of Great Bend, and passing out of the county close to the famous “Rock Point,” afterward known as “Pawnee Rock.”

Pawnee County

The trail passed through the present Larned and old Fort Larned reservation, crossing the Pawnee River. From this point to Fort Dodge, in Ford County, there were two routes, one following closer to the Arkansas River and touching Big Coon Creek near the present Garfield; the other passing Fort Larned and running southwest, sometimes at a distance of ten miles from the Arkansas River.

Edwards County

Through Edwards county the trail followed two main routes. The oldest, or river route, kept between the Arkansas River and the parallel stream of Big Coon Creek, (formerly Clear Creek), and passing by the present sites of Nettleton and Kinsley. The other route kept from four to six miles from the river, crossing Little Coon Creek about three miles west of Kinsley at the old Battle Ground, and passing out of the county about a mile south of the present village of Offerle.

Ford County

The trail entered Ford county from the northeast by two routes; the lower route followed the north side of the Arkansas, while the upper route entered the county about eight miles north of the river. These two lines came together near Fort Dodge, and then followed along the north side of the river, through the present site of Dodge City and near the “Caches” five miles west, entering Gray county just north of the Arkansas. There was another route of the trail in this county which was sometimes used. It crossed the Arkansas River near the mouth of Mulberry Creek, and following up the creek, ran to the southwest. This trail was not safe in dry weather, there being few living streams near it.

Gray County

The old trail, as first surveyed through this region in 1825, was the route along the north side of the Arkansas river. This was the road unless wagon trains took the shorter but more dangerous Cimarron cutoff. The river route passed by the sites of the present towns of Wettick, Cimarron, Ingalls, and Charleston. The branch known as the Cimarron route crossed the Arkansas river near the present town of Cimarron at a place known for years as the “Cimarron Crossing.” It was so named because it was the shortest and most frequented way to the river of that name. It was sometimes called the “Middle Crossing,” to distinguish it from the “Lower Crossing” near Mulberry Creek junction, and the “Upper Crossing” near Chouteau Island. The Cimarron Crossing and route was generally used after 1830, except during the dryest seasons or when the Indians were especially dangerous. It passed southwest into Haskell County of to-day, and was by far the shortest road to Santa Fe.

Haskell County

The Cimarron branch of the trail entered Haskell County near the northeast corner and passed southwest between the present Ivanhoe and Santa Fe, and out of the county midway of its western border. Wild Horse Lake was to the north of the trail, but there were no important stopping places along its twenty-seven mile course in the county.

Grant County

The trail entered Grant County midway of its eastern boundary, and continning its southwesterly course, crossed the North Fork of the Cimarron River and passed on to the well-known “Lower Springs,” later known as the “Wagon Bed Spring,” on the main Cimarron River. This stopping-place was in the extreme south part of the county, near the present Zionville, and was the point on the Cimarron to which the caravans headed when they had followed the trail, as surveyed in 1825, up the Arkansas river to Chouteau Island (near the present Hartland, Kearny County,) and there turned directly south. This route up the river was considered safer, the water spots not being so far apart, but it was not used much after 1830, the route to and from the Cimarron Crossing of the Arkansas being so much shorter.

Stevens County

Through Stevens County the trail paralleled the Cimarron River in its course through the northwest part of the county, but there were no important camping places. In following up the Cimarron to the southwest the trail sometimes kept fairly close to the river, but at times was several miles away; hence there were really two routes—the “river” and the “upland.”

Morton County

Morton County had some thirty miles of the old trail within its borders. Entering the county about eight miles south of its northeast corner, the trail followed up the Cimarron and passed out of the county and state at a point about seven miles north of the southwest corner. The “Middle Spring” of the Cimarron route was in this county, not far from a noted place and landmark known as “Point of Rocks,” this point being on the southeast quarter, section 12-34-43. There was also another “Point of Rocks” known in trail days, about 130 miles further on, in New Mexico. The Cimarron route of the Santa Fe trail, after leaving the present boundaries of Kansas followed up the Cimarron River, first on one side of the stream, and then on the other, through the present states of Colorado and Oklahoma, for a distance of some sixty or sixty-five miles, when it entered the northeast corner of New Mexico.

The Upper Arkansas River Route, And Finney County

This route of the trail followed up the north side of the Arkansas River from the Cimarron Crossing, through the counties of Gray, Finney, Kearny, and Hamilton, and is to-day represented by the main line of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. It was used by those desiring to stop at Bent’s Fort, in Colorado, or go on to Santa Fe via Trinidad, Raton Pass, etc. Through Finney County the trail touched the sites of the present towns of Pierceville, Garden City and Holcomb, but during trail days there was only one place of historic importance. The United States government survey of 1825 crossed the Arkansas River to the south side at a point about seven miles up the river from the present Garden City and not far from the Holcomb of to-day. From this crossing, carefully described in the survey, the trail followed south of the river to Chouteau Island, where it turned due south to the “Lower Spring” of the Cimarron.

Kearny County

The Upper Arkansas River branch of the trail followed north of that river through Kearny County. Chouteau Island—near the present town of Hartland—was a place of historic importance. It was to this point that the disastrous expedition of Chouteau (1815-1817) retreated and successfully resisted a Pawnee attack. Here too the Santa Fe trail, as surveyed by the United States Government in 1825, turned due south to the “Lower Spring” (Wagon Bed Spring) of the Cimarron. This route was sometimes called the “Aubry route” since Francis X. Aubry was known to have partially followed it on at least one of his famous rides between Santa Fe and Independence. It was a much better watered route than the one by way of Cimarron Crossing.

Hamilton County

The line of the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway represents the route of the old trail through the present towns of Kendall, Mayline, Syracuse, and Coolidge. Four miles east of where Syracuse now stands is a spring discovered by the famous French-Canadian scout Aubry. The United States Government established Fort Aubry here in 1865, but it was abandoned within a year. The trail passed out of the county and the state near the present town of Coolidge, and ran on up the river to where it turned southwest to Santa Fe via Trinidad and Raton Pass.

In 1828 two men were killed by Indians on the Santa Fe Trail. The traders had feared attacks from Indians in previous years. They had requested the Government to furnish the caravans a military escort, but this it had failed to do. It had been the theory of the military men that a strong post on the border of an Indian country was sufficient to hold the savages in check, and they pointed to Fort Leavenworth, recently established to replace Old Fort Osage. No military post could entirely restrain wild tribes roaming six hundred miles away. This fact was finally the cause of the detail of the escort of 1829.

In 1829, Major Bennett Riley was at Fort Leavenworth. In the spring of that year he was ordered to take four companies of the 6th Infantry and accompany the trader caravan to the western frontier. He moved on the 5th of June, and joined the traders at Round Grove, in what is now Johnson County, Kansas. If the Indians had entertained any intention to attack the train the presence of the troops dispelled it. Major Riley escorted the caravan to Chouteau Island, in the Arkansas, without any molestation whatever. The traders turned south towards the Cimarron, and as they entered Mexican territory as soon as they crossed the river, it was impossible for Major Riley to accompany them any further. He camped on the north bank of the Arkansas and watched the American wagons disappear in the desert wastes. They had hardly disappeared below the desert horizon when horsemen were observed coming towards the American encampment at full speed. They announced that the caravan had been attacked by Indians and one man killed, and that they had been sent to urge that the American troops come to the rescue. Major Riley well knew the gravity of the step he was requested to take, for the caravan was on Mexican soil. But he chose to take the consequences in the emergency. The Indians retreated over the plain upon the appearance of the troops. To reassure them, Major Riley went with the traders one more day, then returned to Chouteau’s Island, in the vicinity of which he camped for the summer. He had agreed to wait there until the 10th of October for the traders on their return journey from Santa Fe. He was beset by Indians the whole summer and had more than one encounter with them. The caravan did not appear on the 10th of October. On the 11th Major Riley broke camp and marched for Fort Leavenworth. He was soon overtaken by horsemen, however, and informed that the caravan was approaching under a Mexican escort.

The Americans halted and awaited the traders. They soon came up, with the Mexican escort under command of Colonel Viscara, Inspector-General of the Army of Mexico. A scene of fraternity ensued. The Mexican troops were feasted by Major Riley, who put his troops on review for the Mexican commander, who remained with his army as guests of the Americans for three days. On the 14th of October the commands parted in the most friendly manner, and the caravans returned to the borders of the Missouri without further incident.

There was a second military escort for the caravans. It was in 1834.

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