The Wet/Dry Routes
of the
Santa Fe Trail

"Page Two"

     In the post-1859 period, the dry route abandoned its eastern terminus at Forks in Santa Fe Road to originate about one and a half miles southwest of Ash Creek. From this point the dry route's west-southwestwardly trek can be traced by a series of ruts: the first, a mile and a half from the terminus; the second, another half mile; and the third, a mile and a half more at the southeast corner of the Larned Cemetery. From the cemetery site, the dry route proceeded on for about a mile to cross Pawnee Fork on the present-day Larned State Hospital grounds. Here remains a huge cutdown leading to the river channel. Describing this crossing, Capt. William J. Lyster wrote, "the Ford three miles below the fort appears to have been the best, and has the longest trail leading to it." [44] Then, as now, the cutdown was of dramatic proportions.

     About a fourth mile south of the crossing was Boyd's ranch, original established near Pawnee Fork crossing on the wet route in 1864 by Samuel Parker. In 1865, Parker abandoned the ranch and moved upstream to the crossing on the dry route where he built a second ranch. In turn, he sold the ranch to partners Draight and Wagginer. Wagginer bought out Draight's interest and continued to operate the little enterprise through 1867 when Indians raided the ranch, burning the buildings and driving off the livestock. [45]

     In the following year, A. H. Boyd purchased the burned-out remains and built a complex of buildings including a twenty-by-forty-foot sod house that served as store, saloon, and brothel. Boyd also constructed a toll bridge at the nearby crossing. While the bridge was destroyed by flood waters in 1869, the ranch continued in operation through 1872. With the coming of the railroad, the need for such establishments ceased, and the ranch was converted to a family farm. [46] No physical evidence of the ranch remains. However, the ranch site, located on Larned State Hospital property, has been removed form cultivation by the Kansas State Historical Society for future excavation. Visitors to the area can readily identify the location by the weed growth in the staked off area in an otherwise cultivated field.

     Corresponding with the date of the Smith brothers' deaths was the establishment of the mail station built on Pawnee Fork. On September 22, 1859, William Butze and a crew of men arrived at the Pawnee to construct a mail station for Hall and Porter, successors to Waldo Hall Company. [47] The location of the mail station excavated in 1972, was about two and three-fourths miles west of the dry route crossing on the south side of the river. In November 1859, a post office named Pawnee Fork was established at the mail station. Butze was appointed post master. [48] The mail station site, identified by a simple marker, is included in a walking tour of the Fort Larned National Historic Site.

     In the following November, seventy-five troopers of Company K, First U.S. Cavalry under the command of Capt. George H. Stuart and Lt. David Bell Arrived to establish camp at Pawnee Fork. The name of the little post was changed to Camp Alert on February 1, 1860; and in the following May changed again to Fort Larned. In June, the post was relocated a fourth mile to the southwest of its original site. [49] Theodore Weichselbaum recalled Camp Alert as being "right across the timbered ravine, northeast of where they were building Fort Larned." Such a location would have been near the mail station. Just east of the mail station, a bridge was constructed across the Pawnee during the winter of 1859-1860 by Butze and Lieutenant Bell. The bridge, according to Robert Peck, was a private enterprise for which Butze and Bell were never paid. [50] Reporting the bridge in his May 23, 1860, diary entry, Lt. J. E. B. Stuart described Camp Alert as being on the west above the bridge. [51] As such, Stuart's description confirms Weichselbaum's statement concerning the site of Camp Alert.

     From the crossing near the site of Boyd's ranch, the dry route split into two separate branches. One Branch departed directly to the southwest; the other pursued the south bank of the Pawnee west about two and three-fourths miles to the mail station. From this point, the road continued southeast a fourth mile to Fort Larned. Skirting the southeast corner of the parade grounds, the dry route departed the post and proceeded to the southwest. [52]

     In 1864, the bridge built by Butze and Bell was burned by the Kiowas. However, the crossing continued to be used in the absence of the bridge. Comparing this crossing to the ford three miles east of Fort Larned, Captain Lyster wrote, "The next in importance as indicated by the size of the trail crossing it, was one mile below the Fort." [53] Faint evidence of the crossing can be observed on the south bank of the Pawnee.

     In 1866, the post office was moved form the mail station to Fort Larned. Needing a more direct route to the new post office, the stage company developed a road that ran from the eastern terminus of the dry route near Ash Creek to the north side of Pawnee Fork. Lt. M. R. Brown, engineer with the 1867 Hancock Expedition, designated this road as the Santa Fe Stage Route. Captain Lyster spoke of it as the dry route to Fort Zarah. [54] Following the north side of the river westward, the trail branched southwest at the site of the Butze and Bell bridge to connect with the road on the south side of the Pawnee before continuing westward to the present-day roadside park at Fort Larned National Historic Site. From this location, the road curled to the west side of the post where it crossed the Pawnee at the sutler's store. The site of the sutler's store, appropriately marked like the mail station, is included in the walking tour of Historic Fort Larned. From the sutler's store, the dry route left the post, departing to the southwest. [55]

     Five miles southwest of Fort Larned, a single rut of the dry route remains in spite of the area having been cultivated for several years. Four miles farther down trail, the dry route reached Rock Hollow, the first of five campsites between Forts Larned and Dodge. [56] True to its name, the campsite was in a low lying area adjacent to an outcropping of sandstone. Undisturbed by cultivation, two short lengths of ruts remain at this location.

     Beyond Rock Hollow, ruts of the dry route appear at intervals of one and a half, two, and six and a half miles. From the last set of ruts, the road took a southerly course for two and a half miles to cross the terrain now occupied by Hillside Cemetery [three miles west of Kinsley]. From the northwest corner of the cemetery where faint ruts can be detected, the dry route turned southwest for a mile and a half to the Coon Creek campsite used by travelers on the pre-1859 dry route.

     At Coon Creek, known as Big Coon Creek in the post-1859 period, an M. Cottrill Company stage station was in operation by 1863. There, in the following year, Indians raided a caravan owned by Stuart, Slemmons and Company. During the confrontation, half the caravan's livestock was driven off and one teamster, Andrew Blanchard, was killed. Here, also in 1865, Indians attacked a government train returning to Fort Riley. Two Mexican drivers were killed. A thirteen-year-old Mexican boy, wounded and scalped, managed to survive the ordeal. In September 1867, after killing a man at the Cow Creek Station north of Fort Zarah, Indians raided the Coon Creek Station driving off seven mules. [57]

     Robert Wright reported that in 1868 a small outpost called Fort Coon was located at Big Coon Creek garrisoned by a sergeant and ten troopers. According to Wright, the building was constructed of "sod with a heavy clay roof and port holes all around." [58] By the time of Wright's report, the stage line was discontinued on the dry route. In all likelihood, the army occupied the station following its abandonment by the stage company.

     Beyond Big Coon Creek, the post-1859 dry route pursued the same course as its pre-1859 counterpart to the western terminus. In this thirty-mile stretch were three campsites used in the post-1859 period. The first of the campsites, called Dinner Station, was located eight miles southwest of Coon Creek. Listed in an itinerary of the Santa Fe Trail published by the Lawrence Kansas Weekly Tribune January 25, 1866, this stop must have been short-lived. It does not appear in a similar itinerary published August 4, 1866, by the Junction City Union nor in other itineraries published at later dates. Cultivation has destroyed all evidence of the trail in the Dinner Station area.

     Another eight miles to the southwest, the post-1859 dry route reached the campsite known as Arroyo Blanco [white gully]. [59] Aptly named, the little sough at this location is still marked by deposits of white alkali. Unlike Dinner Station, this site, never cultivated, boasts four distinct ruts.

     Four miles farther, the post-1859 route arrived at Little Coon Creek, a sometimes source of water. At this campsite in 1867, Indians attacked a caravan driving off a number of oxen and a single horse. Fortunately, no traders were killed. [60] Ruts leading to the creek are numerous as are the cutdowns distributed over a quarter-mile length of the stream. To the west of the main crossing about a fourth mile, more cutdowns can be observed at a second crossing necessitated by the creek's bend to the north.
Ten miles to the southwest, the dry route reached its terminus with the wet route.

     After 1859, an auxiliary road was developed on the wet route. Departing the main trunk of the Santa Fe Trail near present-day Dundee, The new road followed the Arkansas River to Pawnee Fork crossing at present-day Larned. [61] There is little evidence to suggest that this road was used to any extent. Rather, the bulk of the traffic followed the established route to Pawnee Rock, Ash Creek, and on to Pawnee Fork.

     In the early 1860's many of the trains, especially those hauling military supplies, chose a third option. Departing the eastern terminus of the wet and dry routes southwest of Ash Creek, they pursued the post-1859 dry route to Fort Larned.

     About two and a half miles southwest of Fort Larned on the dry route, the wagons turned due south for seven and a half miles to merge with the wet route at Coon Creek one mile west of present-day Garfield. As reported by Captain Lyster, "it was customary for all ox trains going west from Ft. Larned to take the wet trail via Coon Creek Crossing, except after unusually heavy rain, when water could be found in holes and ravines usually dry." [62]

     Ruts from this cutoff are maintained in a forty-four acre tract of native sod by the National Park Service three and a half miles southwest of Fort Larned. [63] At Coon Creek crossing near Garfield, four cutdowns can be observed on the north bank of the stream. A fourth mile to the south, evidence of the cutoff continues in the form of deeply carved ruts heading toward the junction with the wet route a few hundred yards to the southwest.

     Beyond Coon Creek, the course of the wet route remained unchanged from the pre-1859 period, following the Arkansas around its south bend and on to its junction with the dry route. In the post-1859 period, Adkins ranch, a stage station, was established one mile west of the wet and dry routes' terminus. In the following year, Fort Dodge was located at the site of the station. According to Robert Wright, this location was chosen for the post because of its proximity to the junction of the wet and dry routes. [64]

     Within two years of Fort Dodge's founding, the Union Pacific railway, Eastern Division, reached Hays City. By October 1867, mail and passenger service was initiated on the newly developed Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road to Fort Dodge and on to Santa Fe. Freight service soon followed. From that time forward, overland traffic on the Santa Fe Trail east of Fort Dodge ceased; both the wet and dry routes fell into disuse except for local traffic. [65]
Used With Permission of the Author:
David Clapsaddle

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