Kansas was granted statehood in 1861, becoming the 34th state in the US. Now with a population of nearly 3,000,000, Kansas is known as the Sunflower State, Wheat State, and the Jayhawker State. Find these and other interesting facts about Kansas here. The Santa Fe Trail cuts across Kansas on it way to Santa Fe, New Mexico. US 56 & US 50 highways in Kansas follow the Trail through the State.
This is a volunteer site, with content based on a FCHS booklet produced for the 125th anniversary of Ford County in 1998, and the FCHS book Dodge City and Ford County, Kansas: 1870-1920 Pioneer Histories and Stories and the FCHS Rath Collection's Early Ford County and The Rath Trail.
About 2.3 miles beyond Dodge City and on the north side of US Highway 50 is a low rounded hill that until recently had a large rocky face protruding on the south end. Called Point of Rocks - the first of several along the trail it was a major landmark for trail travelers. Two of the earliest trading expeditions to New Mexico, the Cooper party outbound and the Fowler party returning to Missouri, met here on June 12, 1822. The famous rock protrusion was destroyed in 1981 when the Kansas Highway Department widened the road.
This excellent set of ruts is 9 miles west of Dodge City on the north side of US Highway 50. It is owned and managed by the Boot Hill Museum, which permits visitors to walk to the site of the parallel ruts. The Kansas Highway Department has provided a turnout and parking area for easy access.
Rather predictably the middle and generally-used ford of the Arkansas on the Santa Fe Trail's Cimarron desert route came to be known as Cimarron Crossing. However, prior to the 1860's this name was little used! Scattered information, brought together for the first time here, supplies proof, also, that the middle crossing was relocated at least twice between 1827 and the 1860's.
This Point of Rocks is about 2.5 miles west of Pierceville and is on the north side of a road that parallels the Arkansas River and the Santa Fe Railway tracks. This is a minor landmark on the Santa Fe Trail, but it is a reference point in several travel accounts.
In 1852 a small group of Sisters of Loretto left the Loretto Motherhouse in Kentucky to begin the arduous journey to Santa Fe in the newly acquired Territory of New Mexico. Before they could reach Independence, Missouri, Mother Matilda Mills, the superior, died of cholera. The remaining Sisters spent seven weeks traveling the Santa Fe Trail in a Dearborn wagon, part of a wagon train led by Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. They reached Santa Fe in September where they established Our Lady of Light Academy and later opened other schools throughout New Mexico.
Located 3 miles west of Deerfield on US Highway 50 is a fine set of parallel ruts ascending a hill to the east. These are on the north side of the highway and marked with a Kansas State Historical Society marker. Paul Bentrup donated the site to the county historical society.
The Upper Crossing of the Arkansas River stretched from about a mile east of present-day Lakin, Kansas, to Chouteau's Island. This crossing was on the shortest route between the Arkansas and Cimarron rivers. Even though there were sand hills to negotiate, there was also a natural valley to follow for part of the distance. This crossing was used less than the Middle Crossings but much more than the Lower Crossing.
Chouteau's Island has disappeared because of erosion by the Arkansas River, but it was located due south of Indian Mound during the Santa Fe Trail era. The name Chouteau's Island predated the trail, and the area became known as the Upper Crossing of the Arkansas River. The official survey of the trail went to this point before crossing the Arkansas River, and it was here in 1829 that the first military escort on the trail, comprised of troops of the Sixth Infantry led by Bennet Riley, camped while the trader caravan proceeded to Santa Fe. At that time the Arkansas River was the international boundary.
Indian Mound is approximately 5 miles southwest of Lakin, Kansas. This is a natural landmark that was most likely used as a lookout point by Indians and traders. The view from this mound is still impressive today.
The site of Fort Aubry is 3 miles east of Syracuse on US Highway 50, then 0.5 mile south on a rural road, 0.5 mile east on a rural road, and very near a farmstead on the south side of the road. The Aubry cutoff, opened by Francis X. Aubry in 1850, became an important route from the Arkansas River to the Oklahoma Panhandle because water supplies were more reliable along this route than along La Jornada. The Aubry crossing of the Arkansas River, approximately 3 miles downstream from the site of Fort Aubry, was used more than the Upper Crossing near Lakin, Kansas, and it rivaled the traffic at the Middle Crossings for about 10 years. The importance of this route led to the establishment of two military posts in 1865, Fort Aubry and Camp Nichols (in the Oklahoma Panhandle). First established as Camp Wynkoop in 1864, the name Fort Aubry was assigned in 1865. The fort was abandoned in 1866 and the site used for a stage station. The Aubry crossing has disappeared, but wagon ruts still delineate the trail here, and the spring still exists near the fort site. Remains of the fort consist mainly of three clusters of dugout depressions.
Kansas State Line to New Mexico State Line
1806, Lieutenant Zebulon M. Pike and small party of U.S. soldiers sent to explore southwestern boundary of Louisiana Purchase; discovers peak that bears his name, but fails in effort to climb it; reaches headwaters of Arkansas River near Leadville. 1807, Pike crosses Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Conejos River in San Luis Valley and builds Pike's Stockade; placed under nominal arrest by Spanish authorities and taken to Santa Fe; later, he and his men are released. The Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail runs through the State of Colorado.
The Old Granada site is about 3 miles east of the town of Granada, south of the Arkansas River and on the route of the Santa Fe Railway. This was an end-of-track town on the railroad from 1873 to 1875. The railroad carried most of the freight of the Santa Fe Trail to this point, where it was loaded onto wagons for the trip through Emery Gap to New Mexico. After the railroad was extended farther west, the site was abandoned, and the new town of Granada was laid out a few miles to the west.
Bent's New Fort is 1 mile west of the Prowers-Bent county line on US 50, then 1 mile south on Prowers County Road 35, 0.2 mile east, and 0.5 mile south. This fort was operated by William Bent from 1853 to 1860, when he leased the site to the U.S. Army. Only foundation ruins outline the post.
Old Fort Lyon is less than 1 mile west of Bent's New Fort. Originally called Fort Wise, this fort was built by the Army in 1860. A treaty with the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians was signed here in 1861, but it was not honored by either side. Fort Lyon was deeply involved in the Indian troubles of this region during and after the Civil War. This fort was relocated in 1867, and today only a few foundations of the officers' quarters remain. Santa Fe Trail wagon ruts are still visible north of this site.
New Fort Lyon is 1 mile south of US Highway 50 on Colorado 183, east of Las Animas. Active from 1867 to 1889, this post replaced the Old Fort Lyon and helped to guard the Santa Fe Trail and later the railroad line. The fort is now a veterans hospital, and some of the original buildings have been remodeled for use as part of the hospital complex.
Boggsville is about 2 miles south of Las Animas on Colorado 101. This small complex of two trading stores, owned separately by John W. Prowers and Thomas O. Boggs, was a stage stop on the Santa Fe Trail. Both buildings remain today in a deteriorated but stabilized state.
Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site is north of the Arkansas River, 8 miles east of La Junta on Colorado 194. The fort was an active trading post from 1833 to 1849, and it was of national importance to the opening of the American West. This fort has been faithfully reconstructed and is open to the public.
Bent's Old Fort Historical Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing visitor services at Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site. We support the famous site by offering over one hundred titles of books for sale and the Indian Trade Room where the visitor may purchase high quality trade items unique to the Bent, St. Vrain & Company in 1833 - 1849.
The Arkansas River crossing was at the present-day site of La Junta, Colorado, and may have been one of several crossings in this area. Susan Magoffin, among others, used this crossing.
Iron Spring is 11 miles west of Timpas, Colorado, on US Highway 350, and then I mile south on a gravel road. It was an important water supply on the trail and a stage station; it was also the scene of several Indian attacks. Trail ruts are still visible near the spring; a few building remains are nearby.
Hole-in-the-Rock is north of Thatcher. The name for this once well-known landmark comes from a hole in the bed of Timpas Creek that was deep enough to retain water when the rest of the creek was dry. The railroad built a stone dam below the hole to get water for locomotive boilers. Over time, the entire impoundment silted in to the height of the spillway. A stage station was located near this site.
The Spanish Peaks are west-northwest of Trinidad. They can be seen from great distances along the Mountain route, and they served as landmarks for trail travelers.
The Hough-Baca house is on US Highway 350 in Trinidad. It was built by a Santa Fe Trail merchant, John Hough, and later sold to the Baca family. The Santa Fe Trail passed near the house, and several of its present furnishings were brought west on the trail. The structure is now a state-operated museum.
Fisher's Peak overlooks the entrance to Raton Pass between Trinidad, Colorado, and Raton, New Mexico. It was a landmark for Santa Fe Trail travelers, jutting out from the surrounding mesa.
The Cruz Torres grave is on the Wootton ranch at Raton Pass. Cruz Torres was murdered near the ranch and was buried south of the ranch house.
The Wootton ranch is near I-25 at the north entrance to Raton Pass, on the Colorado-New Mexico state line. This ranch is famous as the home of Richens Lacy "Uncle Dick" Wootton, who owned and operated the Raton Pass toll road. The ranch house was a copy of the Hough-Baca house in Trinidad, which was destroyed and then rebuilt by James Ownby in 1905 from plans available. The toll gate was near the ranch house.
Raton Pass sits astride the Colorado-New Mexico border. This pass was difficult to cross until the Army made improvements during the Mexican War, but it was not widely used until "Uncle Dick" Wootton started improving it in 1864 as part of his toll road. The improvements prompted many travelers, including the stagecoach line, to switch to the Mountain route instead of following the Cimarron route. The pass today is the route of the railroad and I-25.
New Mexico Sites
Colorado State Line to Santa Fe New Mexico
Santa Fe Trail, El Camino Real, Route 66, The Turquoise Trail, Billy the Kid: The words conjure images of days gone by, of heritage and history, of rural America. The Santa Fe Trail enters New Mexico on two fronts, I 25 at Raton, and the Oklahoma Panhandle near Clayton, New Mexico.
Willow Springs is at 545 Railroad Avenue in Raton, New Mexico. This spring was at the south end of Raton Pass and was the site of a campsite and forage staton. The spring is now capped and used as a well by the current property owner. It was the landmark around which the town of Raton developed.
The Clifton house site is south of Raton on I-25 and west of the junction with US 64. This house was a trading post and stage station, as well as a popular stop on the Mountain route. The Canadian River crossing is nearby. Only the remains of one wall are still standing at this site.
Swink's Gambling Hall is at the south edge of Cimarron. Built in the 1870s, it was a saloon and dancing hall during the later trail days. The building has been remodeled.
Aztec Mill is in the southwest corner of Cimarron. It was built in the 1860s to provide flour to the Maxwell ranch and the Jicarilla Apache Indian Reservation, as well as Santa Fe Trail travelers. Today it is operated as a museum.
The St. James Hotel is on the east side of New Mexico Highway 21 in Cimarron. This hotel was built next to the Santa Fe Trail in its later days and was reportedly a hangout for outlaws. The building has been restored and operates today as a hotel and restaurant.
The Cimarron Plaza and well are one block east of New Mexico Highway 21. Santa Fe Trail wagon trains entered the plaza from the east after crossing the Cimarron River. On the opposite side of the plaza was Maxwell's mansion, built in 1864; it burned in 1885.
The Lucien Maxwell house in Rayado is on New Mexico 21, 12 miles south of Cimarron. Rayado was started from a Santa Fe Trail campsite by Lucien Maxwell in 1848. Rayado, was the point where the Mountain route and two of its side trails rejoined. There was a military camp at Rayado in the early 1850s to help protect this part of the Mountain route.
The Ocate crossing is north of New Mexico Highway 120, 14.5 miles west of Wagon Mound and 1 mile north on a ranch road. This was a watering point and campsite, and wagon ruts are still visible on both sides of the crossing. This route was heavily used during and after the Civil War, and it was often mentioned by trail travelers. Kearny's Army of the West crossed here in 1846 and camped nearby.
Fort Union National Monument is 8 miles northwest of the town of Watrous on New Mexico Highway 161, near the junction of the Cimarron and Mountain routes. Fort Union was the foremost military post on the Santa Fe Trail during the period 1851-91, and for a time it was the largest American military post in the Southwest. Founded primarily to protect the trail, the original structures had already deteriorated by the Civil War, and a star-shaped fortification was built. After the Civil War, a third Fort Union was completed, which included a garrison and traditional post, regional quartermaster depot, and an arsenal on the site of the first fort. The adobe ruins of the third fort and extensive Santa Fe Trail ruts comprise the bulk of the national monument.
Tiptonville is northwest of Watrous, near New Mexico Highway 161. The small community grew up around the home of William Tipton. The Tipton home is gone, but the few remaining buildings here are believed to date from the Santa Fe Trail era.
The Fort Union corral stands just south of the Sapello stage station at Watrous. This well-preserved stone corral was reportedly used by Fort Union troops as a livestock corral.
Mora is about 30 miles north of Las Vegas on New Mexico Highway 518. Mora is a predominantly Hispanic town that was indirectly connected to the Santa Fe Trail by a trail segment that linked Watrous west to Mora and then south to Las Vegas. Ceran St. Vrain, a former partner of the Bent brothers, built a mill at Mora. The mill, St. Vrain's former house, and his gravesite may still be seen. The mill was a major attraction for many traders who otherwise would have bypassed the town since the main trail was about 6 miles from Mora and went directly to Las Vegas. The hauling of milled flour from Mora to Fort Union accounted for a large part of the local trail traffic.
La Cueva is 25 miles north of Las Vegas on New Mexico Highway 518. A mill was established here in the 1850s and used until 1949. The adobe structure and the milling equipment still stand, badly in need of preservation. There was much traffic to this mill from Fort Union for flour, which was distributed to military posts throughout the region as well as along the trail.
Hermit's Peak is between La Cueva and Las Vegas and can be seen from either New Mexico 518 or I-25. The peak was named in honor of Giovanni Maria Augustini (or Augusti), after whom Hermit's Cave in Council Grove, Kansas, is also named. Augustini traveled to New Mexico with a trading caravan and spent three years in isolation on this peak. The peak was a landmark for trail travelers.
The town of Las Vegas began as a Santa Fe Trail town in 1835. The trail passed through the plaza, and presumably many traders stayed here. It was from the top of the flat-roofed adobe structure, between numbers 210-218 on the north side of the plaza, that Brig. Gen. Stephen W. Kearny claimed the New Mexico territory for the United States in 1846.
Kearny Gap is 2 miles south of Las Vegas and west of I-25. Also called Puerto del Norte, this pass was little used by Santa Fe Trail traffic prior to the Mexican War. Wagon ruts west of Kearny Gap indicate that it must have been used extensively by freight wagons after the Mexican War.
After leaving Las Vegas, travelers had to find an easy pass through the high ridge of hills. Two passes within a few miles were probably used, and the Puertocito Pedregosa was probably the most used. It is north of the railroad tracks and I-25.
The town of Tecolote was founded at the Tecolote River crossing during the Santa Fe Trail era. The Tecolote Creek crossing is 12 miles south of Las Vegas on I-25. This crossing was used well into the 20th century, and it is still visible. Wagon ruts in the hill to the south attest to the intensity of traffic.
Starvation Peak is about 5 miles southwest of Tecolote. Also known as Bernal Hill, this peak was a landmark for Santa Fe Trail travelers. Near this hill the trail swung to the west, and at this point were Bernal Spring and for a time a stage station.
San Miguel del Vado is south of I-25 and about 26 miles southwest of Las Vegas. San Miguel was one of the first places where caravans crossed the Pecos River, and it was the first Hispanic settlement on the trail in New Mexico. For a time San Miguel was a port of entry, and traders often camped here. After Las Vegas was settled, San Miguel ceased to be important as a trail town and was bypassed. The old church at San Miguel was present throughout the trail period, and it still stands, although it has been remodeled. The plaza at San Miguel was formed by adjoining adobe houses and could be closed for defense against Indian raids. Some of the houses are now gone, but the outline of the plaza can still be seen.
Glorieta Mesa runs west from the Pecos River for 25 miles along the south side of I-25. The mesa served as a landmark on the Santa Fe Trail. The trail followed the valley along the north side of the mesa for 25 miles and then crossed Glorieta Pass to reach Santa Fe.
San Jose del Vado is about 28 miles southwest of Las Vegas, in San Miguel County and south of I-25. This was a community of Spanish and European from Greece, France, and local native pueblo on the west bank of the Pecos River. Some Mexicans came later on after the civil war declined. The adobe houses were built around the square, which could be closed for defense in times of Indian raids. The route of the Santa Fe Trail through San Jose was shorter than through San Miguel, and after Las Vegas was settled, this route came into greater use, and San Miguel subsequently declined as a trail town. The Pecos River crossing site cannot be seen today, but it is believed to be near the old bridge. Many of the old houses around the square remain..
Kozlowski's stage station is about 3.4 miles north of I-25 on New Mexico Highway 63, on the former Kozlowski ranch, today known as the Forked Lightning Ranch. This was a trading ranch and stage station on the Santa Fe Trail, and it was known for its excellent food. Part of the ranch house and stage station make up the present-day ranch headquarters. The Kozlowski ranch also figured in the Civil War battles at Glorieta Pass, serving as Union headquarters before that engagement on March 28, 1862.
Kozlowski's Spring is north of the stage station on the north side of a creek. Travelers developed a campsite here, and this site was later selected as the location for Kozlowski's trading ranch.
Pecos National Monument is on New Mexico Highway 63, north of I-25. This is the site of the Pecos Pueblo, which was the easternmost pueblo visited by Francisco Coronado in 1541. The pueblo was still inhabited when the Santa Fe Trail opened in 1821, but it was abandoned about 1838. The abandoned pueblo was used as a campsite by trail travelers. The pueblo was well known and often mentioned in the journals of trail travelers. Ruts of the trail are present.
Apache Canyon is at the western-end of (Borieta Pass and near Johnson's ranch site on I-25. Once a narrow wagon gap on the Santa Fe Trail, the canyon was enlarged during construction of the Santa Fe Railway and I-25. Governor Manuel Armijo fortified this gap in 1846 to prevent U.S. forces from reaching Santa Fe. He withdrew without fighting. The Battle of Apache Canyon, which was the first Civil War engagement in the area, occurred on March 26, 1862. Union forces included Colorado and New Mexico volunteers. The Confederates were driven from the battlefield and many were captured. A small bridge in Apache Canyon (the remains of which may be seen today) was constructed by soldiers in the 1850s, and it figured in the Battle of Apache Canyon. When retreating Confederates crossed this bridge, they cut it and dropped the decking into the narrow ravine below, believing that would stop the pursuing Union soldiers. Mounted Union troops were ordered to jump their horses across the gap, and all but one made it. Both sides were reinforced the next day, preparatory to the major engagement near Pigeon's ranch on March 28.
Glorieta Pass is on I-25 between the Glorieta Mesa and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, just west of Glorieta. In use by Indians since ancient times, this was not an easy pass to traverse; but because of the intensity of use, it was constantly improved by both Santa Fe Trail travelers and the U.S. Army. Kearny's Army of the West marched unopposed through this pass in 1846 on its way to Santa Fe. Later, the railroad built through this pass to reach Lamy.
Pigeon's ranch is on New Mexico 50, about 3.4 mile southeast of the I-25 exit at Glorieta in Santa Fe County. This ranch was founded by Alexander Valle and was a stage station on the Santa Fe Trail on the eastern side of Glorieta Pass. A section of the original ranch house remains today. The Civil War Battle of Glorieta Pass was fought on March 28, 1862, about 0.5 mile west of the ranch. The Confederate forces initially drove the Union troops from the battlefield, which extended across the Santa Fe Trail. As the Confederates were apparently winning this battle, other Union forces raced across the top of Glorieta Mesa to capture and destroy the Confederate supply train at Johnson's ranch. This proved to be the decisive blow, and the Confederate forces were soon driven from New Mexico.
The Johnson's ranch site is on the western side of Glorieta Pass at the town of Cafioncito, north of I-25. Founded by A. P. Johnson in 1858, this ranch was a trading ranch and stage station on the Santa Fe Trail. In March 1862, while Johnson was absent, Confederate forces used the ranch as their headquarters during the Battle of Glorieta Pass. Nothing remains of this ranch today, but the town of Cafloncito is located on the site.
The plaza is in the middle of Santa Fe and was the traditional end of the Santa Fe Trail for westbound travelers.
The Palace of the Governors is on the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza. Built in 1610, it served as the seat of government in New Mexico for 300 years. After occupying New Mexico for the United States in 1846, Kearny raised the U.S. flag over the palace and took up residence inside. It is now houses the Museum of New Mexico.
Fort Marcy was built on the hill overlooking the city of Santa Fe in 1846, and some features are still visible. This was the headquarters for troops in New Mexico until Fort Union was built in 1851 to get the troops out of the Santa Fe environment.
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