There is a certain prominent hill in northeast Ford County. It rises gradual and sublimely from surrounding vastness. A view from its summit is rare when considering distance. An estimate of the number of homes visible from the hill is nearly 150. Light of eight towns may be seen at night from the hill. In every direction of the land slopes for miles. Its greatest slop, however, is toward the sough and east where in the distance the sand hills beyond the Arkansas river melt into the mellowness of the sky. The writer stood upon this hill one day and remarked to the owners that with such a splendid view an appropriate name for their farm would be "Wonder View Acres" or "Buena Vista Place". They informed me that the place had always been known as "Mule Head Hill' and that they felt obliged to call their farm by that name. Not a very euphonic name, the writer lamented, but reconsidered. Neither was Boot Hill nor Horse Thief canyon, but their place in history had made their names seem beautiful to those who appreciate the past. With due respect for the past, the writer proceeded to learn how the hill got its name. It was difficult. Many of the older residents and students of history were questioned. All knew its name but opinions differed slightly as why it had the name.
As early as 1822 a shorter route was taken by the freighters enroute to Santa Fe. This hill rises about midway between the Pawnee Fork and the Caches near the present site of Dodge City. Water was scarce along this route. Winter snows did not drift badly along it, and for these reasons it was used, no doubt, more than the river route during the colder seasons. However, water was available at both the creek crossing near the present site of Kinsley and at the Coon Creek crossing southwest of the hill. Thus the route could be used at all seasons but usually the heaviest travel was made during the month of June. During the trail days of 1822 to 1872 the hill was used as a lookout point for stealthy Plains Indians. Although no single tribe claimed this region, the Cheyenne's no doubt found both the Sawlog valley to the northwest and the Arkansas valley to the southeast to be favorite haunts. The uplands between these two streams were splendid grazing lands for the buffalo, which roamed the prairies in great numbers at that time. Nomadic tribes vied with each other in hunting down the buffalo on these plains. They resented the idea of the traders, soldiers, forty-niners and settlers for they to shot down their buffalo for food along the trail. The tribes soon learned from stealthy observation the value of the freight and made the route a perilous one for all of those who traveled it.
Evidences were found by early settlers that would indicate that battles with the Indians had been fought along the, west slope of the hill. Bows and arrows, bullets and empty shells have been found there. A further clue to such a battle lies in the fact that human bones were found by the present owners when excavating for their basement about twelve years ago.
It is little wonder that the hill was used as an observation point, for Indians, since not only many miles in each direction along the cut off but also a considerable distance along the river route could be viewed from its summit. It seems a bit strange that the trail led exactly over the hill in place of around it. Its very summit seemed the objective. It is believed by some that valuable supplies and even large sums of money were buried on this hill.
The reason for its name, however, lies in another of the hill's uses. Tradition says it was used as a mule supply point for the trail. From fifty to one hundred mules were kept pastured near the hill and were herded into a strongly built stockade on top of the hill. Mexicans having used mules for transportation since earliest times, were employed to a great extent both along the trail and at the hill to care for and handle the mules. Being about a day's journey from the Pawnee Fork the freighters used the hill as an overnight campsite. Authorities agree on that and also that a supply of mules was kept there to serve the needs of the freighters.
In earliest times freighting was done with pack mules. A caravan numbered fifty or more mules, each loaded with about 300 pounds of freight. Wagons were first used in 1822 when traders left Missouri with twenty-five wagons and a train of pack mules. It proved so satisfactory that the caravans of pack mules alone were used less and less. But in either case fresh mules from the supply on the hill were used to replace the fagged out ones. Some authorities relate that only the lead or "Lead" team was replaced by a new team each time the freighters arrived at the hill. Others say that when a heavily loaded freight outfit was sighted approaching the hill, extra mule teams were sent out from the government's supply on the hill and hitched to the "Lead" team to help the outfits over the hill. In either event the hill was used as a mule supply.
After more than a century the trail is almost obliterated, yet there may be seen angling across the remaining bit of pasture land several parallel depressions almost leveled by the intervening years and over grown with a greener buffalo grass.
The present owners are Mr. and Mrs. Paul Herrmann who with their three daughters live on the very summit of the hill. Former residents were the late Judge Preston and his family.
A granite marker has been erected at a spot where the old trail crossed the hill. On it is the inscription: "Santa Fe Trail, 1822-1872, marked by the Daughters of the Revolution and the State of Kansas, 1906." Scratched on each side of the square cement base are pictures of a mule's head with its proverbial long ears. The marker stands as a monument to the memory of the old trails. It is mute evidence of the tragedy and terror, valor and vigil, rigor and romance of the early day. Would that the hill itself could speak, reveal its mystery and relate the actual part it played in the winning of this great southwest.
Used With Permisssion of the Author:
Mrs. K. K.
[Given to the Kinsley Library by L. L. A.]
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
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Larry & Carolyn
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