“ . . .for on reaching the narrow ridge which separates the Osage and Kansas waters (known as ‘the Narrows’), we encountered a region of very troublesome quagmires. On such occasions it is quite common for a wagon to sink to the hubs in mud, while the surface of the soil all around would appear perfectly dry and smooth. To extricate each other’s wagons we had frequently to employ double and triple teams, with ‘all hands to the wheels’ in addition--often led by the proprietors themselves up to the waist in mud and water.”
--James Josiah Gregg, Commerce of the Prairies, 1844
The Douglas County Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association has a long, diverse, and rich history. We are indebted to the various stewards who have held and maintained still visible wagon ruts since the discontinued use of the trail. The ruts are visible at several locations in Douglas County. To the east, in Johnson County, the trail splits from the Oregon and California Trail near Gardner, Kansas. Trail ruts can easily be seen at the Ivan L. Boyd Prairie Preserve which is adjacent to the Battle of Black Jack site, at Black Jack Park near Baldwin City, KS. This was the first instance of a skirmish between the pro-slavery and free-state factions, which can be said is the first battle that lead to the Civil War of 1861-1865. Other ruts are visible near Hickory Point along “The Narrows”, as well as several miles west of Globe, adjacent to US 56.
The earliest known organized activity relating to the preservation and marking of the Santa Fe Trail was accomplished by the Daughters of the American Revolution,who in 1906 and 1907 erected seven markers in our Chapter area. The Santa Fe Trail Historical Society was formed in 1967 to preserve both, the land and historical sites specific to the Santa Fe Trail, as well as those sites that mark the firsts in Kansas: first civil war skirmish, first public library, first post office, and first four year university. In 1968 Burdine Twichell Taylor, using primary sources, compiled a brief history of the area. In the early years several other pamphlets were produced about historical sites in southern Douglas County. Special thanks go to Katharine Kelley who organized and maintained those archives for all to use.
The Santa Fe Trail Historical Society is still active and maintains a membership with the Santa Fe Trail Association. In 2008, this group became the newest chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association.
The Santa Fe 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. Here, can be seen the old Palmyra Santa Fe Well which is located to the east of the high school. One half mile to the northwest is Trail Park, which contains interpretive markers and just beyond the park are stretches of county roads that lie on the old trail. Beyond here, the route traveled through a place called "The Narrows," a ridge that separated Wakarusa Creek on the north and the Marais des Cygnes River to the south. Wagon trains had to stay on this ridge to avoid rough terrain and muddy draws. The Narrows ran from just west of present Black Jack State Park, east of Baldwin City through Hickory Point and Brooklyn then to the site of Willow Springs, some 9 miles to the northwest. Willow Springs, was also a favorite place and had a thrilling territorial history. After Willow Springs, Trail travelers turned to the southwest through Globe and onto Simmons Point. Here, ruins of the old Simmons Point Stage Station can be seen from US Highway 56, 12 miles west of Baldwin City. The road then passes into Osage County about 3 miles north of the southwest corner of Douglas County.
The main “modern” town within the Douglas County Chapter area is Baldwin City, Kansas. Lawrence, KS is located just to the north. U.S. Highway 56 closely follows the Trail east to west through the chapter area. You can reach U.S. Highway 56 from Interstate 70 by traveling south from Lawrence on U.S. Highway 59. From Wichita, go north on I-35 to the same exit 60 at McPherson, follow Highway 56 to the east. From Kansas City, take I-35 south to Wichita. Take the US-56 exit 210 toward Gardner. Continue to follow US-56 through Douglas County, which closely follows the route of the Santa Fe Trail.
(Junction of the Santa Fe and the Oregon/California Trails lies just to the east of the Douglas County Chapter area.)
The junction of the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon/California 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/California trails separated after following the same route from Independence, Missouri. An informational Kiosk is located here describing the various trails, as well as sites to the east and to the west. Native prairie grasses and plants have been planted here to allow the visitor to visualize what the Trail travelers would have witnessed.
A dramatic set of parallel ruts are located in Ivan L. Boyd Memorial Prairie Preserve, adjacent to Black Jack State Park 3 miles east of Baldwin City. These are among the finest along the entire length of the trail.
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.
(Drawing to the right is of the ruts at Black Jack park. The ridge known as the Narrows can be seen in the distance.
Blue Mound is approximately 3 miles southeast of Lawrence, Kansas. This prominent hill, which is south of the Kansas River, rises to 1,043 feet (317.91 meters) about sea level and 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. Blue Mound is located at latitude - longitude coordinates (also called lat - long coordinates or GPS coordinates) of N 38.904449 and W -95.182193.
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 as well as the residents. 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 Palmyra well.
One half mile to the northwest of Palmyra Well is Santa Fe Trail Park. It contains a large granite DAR marker. This marker originally had a bronze plaque that was stolen in the 1960’s. This has been replaced by a marble replica of the plaque. Replacing this plaque was the main impetus of forming the Santa Fe Trail Historical Society of Douglas County. The diagonal county road adjacent to the park follows the exact route of the trail to the northwest. The property was donated to Baker University in 1907 and was recently placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites.
While not included by the DAR in their marking project, it is considered historically important. It was a loosely defined area from Signal Hill on the east to almost Brooklyn on the west and stretching along the Narrows. A property dispute arose between Charles Dow, a free-state man, and Franklin Coleman, a pro-slavery man, which ended in the brutal daylight slaying of Dow by Coleman, his neighbor as he walked past Coleman’s house. His body fell and lay on the Santa Fe Trail until his friend Jacob Branson came to claim it.
Brooklyn was a settlement as early as 1855 and was incorporated in 1858. All but the saloon/general store were destroyed by Quantrill’s men as they retreated from burning down Lawrence in August 1863. A DAR marker is located slightly to the north of where the main cluster of buildings once were.
A post office, established here in 1855, was called Davis until 1861 when it was changed to Willow Springs. This was a very welcomed watering hole. The military road from Fort Leavenworth joined the Santa Fe Trail slightly to the east of here. (The watercolor to the right, by Doug Holdred, depicts trail travelers passing communities before heading out onto the open prairie.)
The DAR marker labeled Globe is somewhat misleading. The actual site is located 1 mile north of the current Globe Store on U.S. Highway 56. In 1856 the town of Marion was formed two miles south of the marker location. In 1881 the post office of Marion was moved and renamed Globe. It was located in the Featherston store across the road to the east of the DAR marker.
The Simmons Point stage station is north of US Highway 56 and 12 miles west of Baldwin City. The ruins of the stage station itself remains today as part of a privately owned farmstead. The station was operated by Phillip and Elmira Dodder Simmons, but its actual dates of operation are unknown. This is private property and trespassing is strictly forbidden. There are additional ruts visible in fields on both sides of U.S. Highway 56 about 1.5 miles west of the stage station.
Vice President: Richard Wellman
Treasurer: Marvin Jardon
Secretary: Barbara Pressgrove
Annual dues are $5/individual; $35/Institutional (Business, Proffesional , or Organization.); $100/Life membership.
Send check or money order payable to SFTHS to Marvin Jardon, Treas. SFTHS, 203 Silver Leaf Lane, Baldwin City, KS 66006.
To download the membership form, click here.