Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road
"Page Two"

     George Duncan, O'Loughlin's successor, was born in 1847 at Joliet, Illinois. At age sixteen, Duncan enlisted in the 117th Illinois Cavalry, being mustered out with the rank of corporal after serving two years and three months, [47] At the ranche, which came to be known as Duncan's Crossing, Duncan continued to operate the toll bridge while making considerable improvements to the property. The family of W. C. Simons, a noted Lawrence, Kansas, journalist, homesteaded near the crossing, Simons later recalled:

     "Duncan's ranch was an interesting place, and I am surprised that I have never seen it mentioned in any of the sketches of these early days. It consisted of a big stockade made of logs set about two feet in the ground and standing perhaps seven or eight feet above ground. These logs had been hewn on the sides to fit close to make a real protection from Indians."

     "Forming one side of the stockade were the log buildings, a house of several rooms and a stable, all built to afford protection against hostile Indians. In the living room there was a table made of slabs which was hinged against the wall, and which when not in use hung against the wall, filling the space between the hinges and the floor. Under this table was a secret door leading through a tunnel to a dugout, some distance away, providing a last stand should the buildings be taken." [48]

     During Duncan's tenure, military traffic was rare, with one notable exception. In 1874, Gen. Nelson Miles marched the Sixth U.S. Cavalry down the road from Fort Hays to initiate his campaign into the Staked Plains of Texas. [49] However, business prospered for a few more years as settlers began to homestead in the area of the ranche. Duncan added revenue to the ranche'' operation by producing lime. Lime burning, as a process was called, was time consuming and laborious, but profitable. Used for sanitary purposes, whitewashing, mortar and tanning, lime was much in demand on the frontier. In 1868, Calvin Dyche, furnished one thousand bushels of lime to Fort Dodge at $1.50 per bushel. [50]

     Another source of income was derived form the sale of forage. One such sale occurred in July of 1874 when a woodcutter came to Fort Larned reporting that Indians had attacked Duncan's ranche. In response, Capt. Joseph Kerin led a detachment of the Sixth Cavalry from Fort Dodge on a forced march to the ranche only to find no Indians had been in the area all summer. However, the forced march had so exhausted the horses that Kerin had to buy four hundred pounds of hay from Duncan to feed the famished animals. [51]

     The year 1875 was an eventful one for Duncan. In that year, he was appointed postmaster at the Hodgeman post office located at the ranche, and married Hattie Cook. Two of Duncan's children were born at the ranche. [52] How long Duncan occupied the ranche is not known. However, he was there in 1878 at the time of dull Knife's raid when settlers in the area fled to the safety of his stockade. [53] In 1880, workmen from the Mudge Ranch, a giant enterprise which extended from the Pawnee River to Sawlog Creek, removed the stockade for firewood. In the same year, the editor of the Buckner Independent spoke to the condition of the crossing: "The crossing at Duncan's Ranch is in a horrible condition, and it is almost impossible to cross at that point." [54] Evidently, Duncan left the ranche in 1879, he received homestead patents for adjoining forty-acre tracts, each from four separate quarter sections. [55]such a scheme allowed Duncan to incorporate all the holdings established at the crossing into a 160-acre claim. At age eighty-two, Duncan, then a resident at the National Solders Home in Leavenworth, returned to the crossing to attend the dedication of a monument erected by the Hodgeman Community Ladies Aid Society. [56]

     Never cultivated, the ranche site remains much as it did in the 1870's except for the lack of water in the river and absence of the giant elm trees which were killed by the Dutch elm disease in the 1970's. The cutdown leading to the crossing from the northeast is still very much in evidence. Less pronounced are the ruts leading up the south bank. The toll bridge was twice destroyed by flood waters. Following the first washout, Duncan replaced the bridge with a low water structure described by Simons as a "toll bridge of logs, simply corded in the stream, to fill the space, evidently having left an opening for a culvert." After the second washout, Duncan did not rebuild the bridge but lined the crossing with rock. [57] Opposite the cutdown at the base of the south bank, a number of these limestone's remain in place. Also remaining at the crossing are two dugout depressions and a lime kiln. The kiln, excavated some fifteen years ago, was originally nine feet deep with a diameter of twenty-four inches at the top graduating to sixty-seven inches near the bottom. The walls of the kiln still maintain a glazed ceramic finish, the result of fires from over a century ago. [58]

     Thirteen miles from Duncan's Crossing, the road reached the stream identified by Woodruff in 1852 as the middle branch of the Pawnee and named Buckner in honor of Capt. Simon Buckner, then stationed at Fort Atkinson. As at the two previous crossings, Davidson noted the need for a bridge on the Buckner. [59] A toll bridge was eventually constructed by some unnamed proprietor who presumably established the nearby trading ranche at some unidentified date. The first mention of the ranche was made by Capt. George Armes of the Tenth U. S. cavalry. Returning from Fort Dodge to Fort Hays, Armes was quartered on the night of May 20, 1869, n a dugout which he declared to be "a good protection from the Indians, who are on the warpath looking for a chance to secure scalps." [60] Armes' single reference to the dugout is the only known description of the ranche's facilities. Holland's 1872 report confirms the presence of both the bridge and the ranche:

     "Going on down to the middle fork of the Pawnee, the trail ran down hill to the crossing through a steep dry ravine, although alternate roads tot he right and left were also penciled in on the map. Here again was a corduroy bridge, as well as a good ford in the rear of Buckner's ranch, which was very close to the creek south and west of the crossing." [61]

     At this juncture, mail couriers from Fort Hays transferred mail to riders for Fort Larned before continuing on to Fort Dodge. [62] How long the ranche remained in operation after 1872 is unknown.

     This location has been substantially modified over the years by road construction and agriculture. However, long lengths of ruts can be found at intermittent intervals approaching the crossing from the north east. The cutdowns on the north side of the creek have been destroyed, but several cutdowns can readily be observed leading up the steep slope of the south bank. At the ranche site one-fourth mile down stream from the crossing, no physical evidence of the dugout noted by Armes or the ford mentioned by Holland can be discerned. [63]

     Sawlog Creek, located thirteen miles from Buckner Creek, was originally identified as the south branch of the Pawnee and named Schaff's Branch by Woodruff in honor of Lt. John Schaff, then stationed at Fort Atkinson. [64] The creek's name was later changed to Sawlog because of the vast amount of timber which lined its banks and furnished Forts Mann, Atkinson, and Dodge with wood for both fuel and construction. Robert Wright further explained the name change.

     "The creeks, when the fort was first started, were all heavily wooded with hackberry, ash, box-elder, cottonwood and elm. We cut 1500 cords of wood almost in one body on a little creek six miles north of the fort, all hackberry. There were a good many thousand cords cut on the Sawlog, which stream is properly the south fork of the Pawnee, but the soldiers would go out to the old Hays crossing, chop down a big tree, hitch a string of large mules to it, haul it up on the bank near the ford, and after stripping off its top and limb, leave its huge trunk there. In consequence thousands of immense logs accumulated, making the place look as if a sawmill had been established; and these great trunks were saw logs ready to be cut into lumber. The early buffalo hunters called the creek Sawlog, which name it bears to this day." [65]

     Davidson's 1867 itinerary speaks of the crossing as "Fair crossing. Corduroyed." [66] Evidently the army or stage company had installed a low water bridge at this point, much like the bridge built by Duncan on the Pawnee.

     At this location, the original sandstone marker of the northeast corner of the Fort Dodge Military Reservation has been elevated on a concrete base at its original location. Here, also, the property owner has erected a series of flag poles to mark the ruts which transverse the two-mile length of his pasture. Also intact are two dramatic sets of cutdowns carved deeply in both the north and south banks of the creek. Near the crossing is a dugout depression. Whether the dugout was used in conjunction with the road or by a later settler is unknown. However, dugouts were not uncommon along the road. David L. Spotts, returning to Fort Hays with Custer form the winter campaign of 1868-1869, recalled one such dugout north of the Pawnee Fork:

     "We were going by a mound with some brush on it, when suddenly about twenty soldiers came out of the mound and we learned they were living in a dugout. It was quite different from the dugouts we had down at Fort Cobb and Cache Creek. Theirs was a long, large and deep trench covered with logs, grass, and dirt. . . They are quite warm and comfortable in winter and also cool in summer. . .We are told that many of the settlers on the frontier live in dugouts of this kind. . ." [67]

     After the major expanse of the road had fallen prey to the plow, the Sawlog Crossing and the final stretch to Fort Dodge remained in use by setters traveling from Jetmore to Dodge City. [68] In this area, much of it still uncultivated, many lengths of ruts can be found.

     Fort Dodge, the terminus of the road, was situated twelve miles southwest of the Sawlog. There is no evidence of ruts in the immediate area of the post. Neither do any of the quartermaster's buildings remain which housed the supplies delivered down the road from Fort Hays. However, a number of original buildings remain at the fort which was deactivated in 1882. Those structures include two barracks which appear to be a single building, having been joined sometime after the post became the Kansas Soldiers' Home in 1890. [69] Also in good repair are the commanding officer's quarters, the hospital, a commissary building, and officers' quarters.

     During the summer of 1989, the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road was marked at the following sites; Fort Hays, Lookout Station, Smoky Hill River Crossing, Big Timbers Creek Crossing, Walnut Creek Crossing, Wagon Ruts location in Ness County, Pawnee River Crossing, Buckner Creek Crossing, Sawlog Creek Crossing, and the Kansas Soldiers' Home [Fort Dodge]. The markers, bronze plaques inscribed with Fort Hays/Fort Dodge road, were individually inscribed with other information relative to each location. On August 6, 1989, these markers were dedicated at a ceremony conducted at Duncan's Crossing. Rededicated in the same ceremony was the Duncan's Crossing Monument erected in 1929. Needing repair after sixty years of exposure to the elements, the monument was reconstructed by a group of volunteers from the Larned area who also was responsible for the erection of the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road markers.

     Participation in the ceremonies were Michael Morrow of Wichita, great grandson of George Duncan, and Marcella McVey of Lakin, granddaughter of John O'Loughlin. Many other members of the Duncan and O'Loughlin families were in attendance. Recognized also were twenty-six people who were present for the 1929 dedication of the Duncan's Crossing Monument. Speakers for the occasion were U. S. Rep. Pat Roberts from the First District of Kansas, and George Neavoll, an editor with the Wichita Eagle. Neavoll stated:

     "The rededication of this splendid marker and the dedication of 10 markers lining the route of this historic roadway are reminiscent of another heroic effort earlier this century. That was the marking of the entire Santa Fe Trail route across Kansas by the Daughters of the American Revolution. . .Today we revere not only the Santa Fe Trail and all its many contributions to the settling of the west. We revere, to, the various side roads such as this one that make the trail complex not a single route but a historic weaver across this beautiful land. . .This makes all the more important, then, the marking of this road for the benefit of generations to come."

     The Wet/Dry Route Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail alone with the help of many people have as of October 1, 2000 placed on the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road a total of 30 markers at places of importance on this branch of the Santa Fe Trail.
Used With Permission of the Author:
David Clapsaddle

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