We will start this part of our trip down the Santa Fe Trail south of Olathe, Kansas at a place called Lone Elm Campground. A DAR marker sits on the northwest corner of the Lone Elm Campground. Travelers coming down the trail from Independence, Missouri on the Santa Fe or the Oregon Trail used this campground, which was generally reached the first night out. The campground covered approximately 80 acres. In the early days the campground was also known as Elm Grove and Round Grove. From Susan Magoffin's diary, we learn that by 1846, only one elm tree remained. It stood on a small incline near the creek. There was sufficient water for the animals and the grass grew as tall as a man's waist. This water was from a spring within the campground. The Marker, moved out of the right of way and placed on a new base was rededicated on September 8, 1997.
From the Lone Elm Campground the Trail picks up the modern day Santa Fe Trail, that being US 56 highway. Across the State of Kansas US 56 from Kansas City and US 50 at Kinsley, Kansas are never more than a few miles form the Old Santa Fe Road and most of the time they are the Old Road. West of the Campground, you will come to the town of Gardner, Kansas. About 2 miles west is the place where the Junction of the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails is located. The Santa Fe Trail continued west and the Oregon Trail went in a northwesterly direction into Nebraska. At this location sits another DAR marker. Other marking projects are in the works for this location in the near future.
As you travel west the next place you come is a place that in Trail days was called "The Narrows" a ridge or divide separating the Wakarusa Creek which ran on the north and the Marias de Cygnes on the south. Wagon trains kept to this high ground or ridge as it was the easiest way to travel, especially when it rained. Also in this area is the location of the Battle of Black Jack Park a fine set of Santa Fe Trail ruts may be seen at this location.
The Simmons house, is in great ruin at this time. The house sits on top of a ridge and is reported to be the last place you can look north and actually see the Oregon Trail (with binoculars). If you look very carefully to the east-northeast of the house, you can see ruts coming across the pasture to the house. This was a watering spot, at time a small hotel and resting spot. Just west of the house on the north side of US 56 is a small cemetary. Looking closely, you can see about 3 swales cuttting through the area.
Baldwin City is the next town to explore. With the limits of Baldwin City is the location of the Trail town of Palmyea. Palmyea was founded in 1854 and was know as a repair stop during the later days of the Trail. In the town of Baldwin City there are several location to see with interpretive markers explaining the site.
Returning to US 56 continue west to the town of Overbrook, Kansas. In the town of Overbrook, take Cedar Street south from US 56, the street will turn to the east to the cemetery. Just after entering the cemetery a faint rut may be seen on the north side of the road. On the back side of the cemetery there is a sign post marking the Santa Fe Trail rut. Located about 5 miles west of Overbrook is the Santa Fe Trail High School, this school is said to be setting on top of the Santa Fe Trail. Within the grounds of the Osage State Fishing Lake more ruts may be seen. As you enter the grounds, about .2 of a mile south, look to the east and you will see more fine Trail ruts.
From the fishing lake, head west to the crossing of 110 mile creek. The creek was known as Oak Creek, but when George Sibley, in 1825, surveyed this site it was found to be 110 miles from the beginning of the survey at Fort Osage in Missouri, the name 110 mile creek sticks with this stream today. Also at this creek crossing about 1854, a man by the name of Fry McGee settled and built a toll bridge and provided accommodations for the wagon trains and stagecoach passengers.
Continuing west you will pass places like Scranton, Jones park DAR marker, Switzler Creek where a toll bridge was erected in 1847. At Burlingame you will need to take SR 31, and continue on to Dragoon Creek and Crossing. About 1 1/2 miles past the Dragoon Creek bridge sits a DAR Marker on the north side of the road. From this DAR marker if you will look about 100 yards to the southeast you should be able to see the ruins of the Havanna Stage Station. This location is on private property and should be treated a such! It can be seen from the road. Just down the road from the DAR marker about 1/4 mile, on the north side of the highway is the grave site of Private Samuel Hunt, who died on the Santa Fe Trail in 1835.
About 7 miles west and 1 south of Burlingame, Kansas you will find the Wilmington School house.
Pickup US 56 and continue west towards Council Grove. Located approximately one mile east of Council Grove on the north side of the highway and north of the Morris County Fairgrounds off of US 56 is the Old Stone Barn. This barn was built by town founder Seth Hays in 1871 on land owned by Seth. This 76 foot long native stone barn stands as the only remaining building that comprised Morris County Poor Farm, existing on this site from 1889-1945.
The Old Stone Barn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was in danger of collapse until some repairs were done in the 1990's. The barn is currently undergoing a complete restoration. It is hoped that one day the barn will be converted into an interpretive center for the Santa Fe Trail.
After you see the Old Stone Barn and get back on US 56, you will drive right over the top of Big John Springs. The highway was built right over this historic site.
Council Grove, Kansas on the Neosho river is by far one of the most historic places along length of the Santa Fe Trail. The site was named by Commissioner George Sibley when he was on the 1825 survey of the Santa Fe Trail. At this location he made a treaty with the Osage Indians for safe passage of the wagon trains going to Santa Fe, New Mexico.
For many years after the Santa Fe Trail was opened, Council Grove was the only trading post between Independence, Missouri and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Council Grove was the rendezvous for west bound travelers, freighters and traders who were crossing the plains. This point on the trail was also a place to repair wagons. Some of the pioneers would wonder if this was a good idea going west. Little did they know, that the worst was yet to come!
Also in Council Grove is the Hays House, said to be the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River. It was founded by Seth M. Hays. Still in operation to this day, it is still one of the finest places to eat on the Santa Fe Trail.
As you enter the Hays House, pay particular attention to the building before you enter. U.S. 56 runs through the middle of town, and the downtown shops all sit precisely parallel to the highway, except for the Hays House. The west end of the restaurant is farther from the highway than the east end. Why was this the only building built like this? The reason is that the Hays House was built parallel to the original Santa Fe Trail. When the highway was built, it altered direction slightly, and the other buildings followed the new road, but the Hays House remained true to the Santa Fe Trail.
With 12 registered historic sites and a carefully preserved past, Council Grove remains a treasure trove of history to be explored. Once a bustling rendezvous point on the Santa Fe Trail, Council Grove today attracts caravans of a different sort; tourists and history buffs eager to relive the trail days' spirit. A Council Grove brochure, free at the Visitors Bureau and at most businesses takes you on a self-guided tour of 18 historic sites around the area. Around town are; Council Oak, Post Office Oak, Madonna of the Trail, Neosho Bridge and Crossing, Hays House Restaurant, Becknell Monument, Old Kaw Mission, Old Bell, Hermit's Cave, Last Chance Store, Custer Elm, Father Padilla Monument and several others. You could spend two or three days in Council Grove, exploring all its history.
About a days travel west of Council Grove you will come to Diamond Spring, the Diamond of the Plains. This treasure was in fact, discovered first by "Old Ben Jones" a hunter of our survey party, on the 11th August, 1825. It is thus noted in my "Pencil Sketches" at the time. This Spring gushes out from the head of a hollow in the prairie, and runs off boldly among clean stones into Otter Creek, a short distance, it is very large, perfectly accessible, and furnishes the greatest abundance of most excellent, clear, cold water, enough to supply an army. There is a fountain inferior to this in the Arabian Desert, known as "The Diamond of the Desert". This magnificent Spring may, with at least equal prepriety, be called the Diamond of the Plain. We found it a most excellent camping place. A fine Elm Tree grows near to and overhangs the Spring. On the 10th and 11th June, 1827, I encamped here with my party (as above noted), during our stay I made requistion of "Big John" and his carving implements once more, to inscribe on the stooping Elm "Diamond of the Plain", which was promptly done, the tree has since been cut away I believe. The fountain is now generally known as "The Diamond Spring".
Geo. C. Sibley, Western Journal V. No. 3 (December, 1850)
Diamond Spring, now rises in a concrete cistern and is piped to a nearby concrete stock tank. A DAR marker is also at this site. This location is on private property of the Diamond Creek Ranch and should be treated as such.
West of Diamond Spring about 6 miles is the ruins of the Six Mile Creek crossing and Stage Station, also at this site is another DAR marker.
This is the last site on this trip through the counties of Douglas, Johnson, Wabaunsee, Osage, Lyon, and Morris counties in Kansas. This tour of the area is by no means all of the sites to be explored, but it is a good starting point for your tour of the Santa Fe Trail.
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
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Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.