Black Pool: Real of Ruse?
Ford County, Kansas

     With the 1848 discovery of gold in California, thousands of argonauts raced westward to seek their fortune. Among these many gold seekers was a group of Cherokees and whites from Washington County, Arkansas. Departing a point near present Saline, Oklahoma, in the spring of 1850, the party pursued what became known as the Cherokee Trail into present southeast Kansas and on to merge with the Santa Fe Trail at Running Turkey Creek in present McPherson County, Kansas. From that point, the group followed the Santa Fe Trail to the west.

     Among the gold seekers was William Minor Quesenbury who kept a literate diary of the journey. Following are his diary entries for May 23-25.

May 23 (Thursday)
     Owing to there being no grass at all at the creek, we left as soon as we could get breakfast. All day the wind blew hard. It has been disagreeable to travel.

Buffalo in sight all the time.
     No grass all day. Nooned near a stream where a wagon had been abandoned. Got some of the spokes for stakes.

     At Pawnee Fork the banks were steep but the wagons got over without difficulty. Pawnee Fork is the largest stream we have crossed since we left the Verdigris. The course of the road has been almost due south for the last five or six hours. At night concluded I would finish a letter I had commenced. Wrote till ten, and then was kept awake till twelve by Jack Hildebrand and someone else talking just outside the tent. Buffalo dung! The little prairie dog is doing well.

May 24 (Friday)
     This stream that we are camped on I think comes from a spring. It is twelve or fifteen feet wide on an average, and of the same depth all the way that I have been along. It can't be crossed but on horses without wading.

     Got off from the creek about nine. Rode still S. Buffaloes constantly in sight. Buckner killed one but it was poor. Nooned at a pond close by the side of the road on the left hand. Ducks on it. Took a nap under the wagon. Made about twenty miles. I suppose, we have no way of measuring distance.

     Our encampment is now on the bank of the Arkansas for the first time. The water is not so dark as it is at Fort Smith, it about the same color as the Rio Grande. It is as warm however, as it has anywhere been. The range is still bad. We must be in the middle of the Great Buffalo Range. Dog towns continue. Buffalo dung for fuel.

May 25 (Saturday)
     Permitted our animals to graze for sometime before we got off. Our road is as ever, but runs almost due south.

     Led Buckner's pack animals to give him a chance for a buffalo. Whilst we were nooning, he, Merrill and some others came in with a large supply of meat. Riley Buchanan and myself, after a hard chase caught a dog in the----of a city. But killed in the taking. Our road ran closer to the river bank than it has heretofore. Pyeatt, Jo Williams and myself went over on to an island. Nothing but a land bank with grass and stunted cottonwood lies on it. Passed a large spring some forty yards to the left of the road. A great many names are craved on the rock. We learned from the inscriptions the ox team company had passed here on the 17th.

     A short distance after passing the spring, two or three Indians came to us. They were on patrol. Left the road and camped about a quarter of a mile from the river for convenience of water. We still us buffalo dung. The Indians camped with us.[1]

     It appears that Quesenbury's party, upon crossing the Pawnee River near present Larned, Kansas, followed the Santa Fe Trail to Coon Creek which the diarist characterizes as "twelve of fifteen feet wide." There the party camped one mile southwest of present Garfield, Kansas. On May 24, the men continued to the southwest for some twenty miles, camping that evening on the Arkansas River just south of present Kinsley, Kansas. On the 25th they pursued the Santa Fe Trail to the south bend of the Arkansas River and proceeded upstream about three and a half miles to a point where the Trail left the river valley to pursue a northwestwardly orientation. About a mile and a half after leaving the river valley, Quesenbury wrote we "Passed a large spring some forty yards to the left of the road." he further states, "A great many names are carved on the rock. We learned from the inscription the ox team company had passed here on the 17th.[2]

     James Mitchell with the ox team company led by Captain Edmonson did not reference the spring but did mention the rock where members of the company left their names. This is the same location described by Joseph Gleason on May 13, 1860, in abbreviated language: "waterfall pond, 10 or 12 ft, I cut my name, date, year."[3] Gleason's description is somewhat in keeping with the present appearance of the site. The most significant difference is that Gleason's signature does not remain but carved in the sandstone is a rectangular border containing Black Pool Dis by E. Post 1843. Other names do remain, some too faint to read. Gregory Franzwa suggested that most of the names "are from the post-trail era."[4] At some time, someone scribed the Black Pool inscription to a pronounced depth and stained the characters with a dark material. Resultantly, the inscription is well defined in comparison to the other nearby names.

     In 1954, interest in the so called Black Pool was revisited. Ray Pierce of The High Plains Journal in Dodge City wrote the Kansas State Historical Society requesting information with regard to the Black Pool, in particular the establishment of a U. S. Army post at that site and the signature of Zebulon Pike on the sandstone. The response was a polite negative on all three inquiries. In 1955, Pierce wrote the Secretary of War again requesting information related to the Black Pool. He mistakenly identified the Black Pool inscription as follows, "Black Pool. U. S. Post 1843 E. EP." He inquired as to the name of T. F. Titus 1811 and Zebulon Pike, the latter on a large boulder which had fallen into the pool. Pierce suggested that Titus might have been the name of a government surveyor connected with the U. S. survey which he stated was conducted eleven years before the opening of the Santa Fe Trail. Again the answer was negative. Also in 1955, Pierce wrote the Department of the Army requesting similar information with particular reference to a U. S. Army post. Once again, the response was negative. Joining the search was H. F. (Heinie) Schmidt; pioneer figure of Dodge City. In 1954, he wrote the National Archives and Records requesting information concerning the Black Pool and Col. Titus. The response was negative on both counts. In turn, Schmidt contacted a number of "old timers" in the area seeking information about the site. In one letter he identified the Black Pool inscription as "The Black Hole U. S. Patrol 1843." Again he made mention of "Colonel Titus 1811" and the boulder broken off and fallen down in the hole "bearing the names and dates of many old explorers, trappers, and soldiers." The answer to these letters were, in the main negative, except for a recollection of Pike's name among those inscribed at the site. However, one respondent did cite the following, "We saw many names--Taylor, Price, Harris, and soldiers scratched their names and ranks too."[5]

     An interesting article appeared in the February 12, 1968, Dodge City Globe titled "Black Pool Forgotten Today." The author stated that the inscription in the site reads, "Black Pool discovered by E. Pool 1843." He went on to write, "I think that Mr. E. Pool was possibly engaged in charting the Santa Fe Trail." Perhaps the writer's most fascinating statement was, "Last summer I lowered a weighted rope into the pool and found it very, very deep. In fact I was unable to find the bottom." Such is the folklore that pertains to the site.

     Another bit of lore is that the pool is the remains of an ancient volcano. In 1991, staff at the Kansas Heritage Center in Dodge City, contacted the U. S. Geological Survey with regard to the proposition. The respondent replied that if the site was such, "it would rewrite many text books."[6]

     What then, must be the truth of the Black Pool? The answer might be in another inscription documented some nineteen miles west to the Black Pool site. On June 5, 1859, Charles Post confided to his diary,

     We concluded to travel until noon as we did not have large enough range for our cattle; Quite cool, pleasant driving. Our road led up on the high land in consequence of the bluffs running down to river, which is rarely the case on the north side of river, but on south side the sand hills for a great portion of the way lead into river. I was riding ahead of train and found a beautiful pool in a basin some thirty feet lower than the top of bluff with an outlet to the river. I have not yet seen anywhere an account of this pool, so I named it Crescent Pool; it is about seventy-five miles from Pawnee Fork. I carved my name and address in the rocks, also the name of the pool; it is a beautiful spot. We encamped at eleven o'clock for day and night at old Fort Atkinson, nothing remains except a bridge with four sides showing the outline of walls which were of sod.[7]

     A comparison of the two sites is instructive. (1) The so-called Black Pool is located about 49 miles from Pawnee Fork. Crescent Pool was about 68 miles from Pawnee Fork. (2) The Black Pool inscription is dated 1843. The Crescent Pool inscription was carved in 1859. (3) The Black Pool inscription speaks to E. Post. The Crescent Pool inscription was the work of Charles Post.

     Who then was E. Post and what is the origin of the Black Pool name? As to the latter, Franzwa speculated that the pool "has a dark coloration due to the underlying strata of black shale."[8] As to the identity of E. Post, one might surmise that someone knowing of the inscription near the Fort Atkinson site incised the "Black Pool" signature with a deceitfully similar inscription. Perhaps future research will shine a brighter light on the Black Pool, 1843, and E. Post.

     The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail has placed a limestone marker one half mile west of the spring to identify the ruts which traverse the pasture in which the so called Black Pool is located.

     Editor's Note: There is another possibility to investigate. If the inscription did say "Black Pool U. S. Post 1843," as Gregory Franzwa reports, it could have been placed there when Captain Philip St. George Cooke led four companies of First Dragoons as escort to the 1843 spring caravan going to Santa Fe. Some of these troops encamped in the area of the Black Pool and, on the opposite bank of the Arkansas River, captured the Jacob Snively force of Texans then in the area to attack wagon trains along the route. There was debate at the time as to whether the Texans were on U. S. soil when captured. Perhaps someone with the expedition inscribed the words to show the location was east of the 100th Meridian. Although a military camp is not an official post, it was not uncommon to refer to them as such in the 19th century. Given the date of 1843, Cooke's expedition seems a likely candidate for the inscription. Of course, the inscription could have been added at a later date, and there is no way to determine that today. Regardless of the validity of this inscription, the Black Pool was near the Santa Fe Trail, was mentioned by other travelers (some of whom carved their names at the site), and it is still there today. As Franzwa noted, the water appears to be black when one peers into it from the surrounding rock ledge, and calling it a "black pool" seems logical.

Footnotes

  1. William Quesenbury's Diary, Flashback, 29, No. 1-4 (February, May, August, & November 1979), Washington County, Arkansas Historical Society.

  2. To avoid the uneven terrain along the river, the Trail made an arc to the northwest and ran westward along the ridge for about five miles before returning to the river valley. This was the first of three such detours dictated by the "rough country" along the north bank of the Arkansas which generally was free from such obstructions. The other two detours were initiated about eight and half miles west of present Dodge, and one mile west of present Cimarron, Kansas. David Clapsaddle, comp., A Directory of Santa Fe Trail Sites (Larned: The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail, 1999), C-49-C-50; D-7; Hobart E. Stocking, The Road to Santa Fe (New York: Hastings House, Publishers, 1971), 146.

  3. Patricia K. A. Fletcher, Dr. Jack Earl Fletcher, and Lee Whitely, 1850 Another New Route to the California Gold Fields, Vol. 2, Cherokee Trail Diaries (Sequim, WA, 1999), 269.

  4. Gregory M. Franzwa, The Santa Fe Trail Revisited, (St. Louis: The Patrice Press, 1989), 117.

  5. Kansas Heritage Center, Black Pool File, Dodge City, Kansas. The U. S. Survey of the Santa Fe Trail was conducted in 1825-1827, fourteen years after the Titus 1811 signature and date.

  6. Kansas Heritage Center, Black Pool File.

  7. "The Arkansas Route: The Diary of Charles E. Post," in LeRoy R. Hafen, ed., Overland routes to the Gold Fields 1859 From Contemporary Diaries, Vol. XI, The Southwest Historical Series, (Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1942), 42.

  8. Franzwa, Santa Fe Trail Revisited, 117.
         Used With Permission of the Author
         David Clapsaddle




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