Twelve historic sites along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas were nominated this month for the National Register of Historic Places.
It is the first of what is expected to be 40 sites in Kansas that historians and Santa Fe Trail buffs are seeking for future national designation.
The sites follow the trail across the state of Kansas, said Leo Oliva, a historian from Woodston whose speciality is the Santa Fe Trail.
“We have been working on this for years, ever since the trail was designated a national historic trail in 1987,” Oliva said. “We started with these 12 sites and spread them out so they weren’t in all one spot in the state. They picked sites that were so obvious for their history.”
Oliva said he his group hopes to nominate as many as four or five more by November and continue to nominate sites until they are all eventually on the register.
The 12 historic sites stretch from French Frank’s Santa Fe Trail segment in Marion County – a ranch built in 1861 by French immigrants Claude Francis Laloge and Peter Martin, who offered food and provisions for travelers along the trail – to areas near Wagon Bed Springs and Point of Rocks in Morton County in the southwest corner of the state.
In the spring of 1831, Jedediah Smith – famed mountain man, trapper and explorer – died along the trail near Wagon Bed Springs as he led a train of wagons and pack mules. The French Frank site includes at least six different swales – ruts made by wagons – and Cottonwood Holes, the site of a former trail-period ranch.
The Santa Fe Trail was the I-70 of its day. The military used it during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and Indian wars. Miners used it to travel back and forth to the gold rushes, and families used it to migrate west, according to Oliva.
The trail moved America, from 1821 when Mexico won its freedom from Spain and welcomed Missourian William Becknell’s small trading party in Santa Fe, until 1882, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad reached the Kansas state line.
The National Trails System of the National Park Service partnered with the Kansas Historical Society to document and nominates the sites along the trail. The process began in 1994 and at least 30 sites have been recommended through the years for nomination. Of that 30, the 12 sites recommended earlier this month were the first to be approved for nomination by the Kansas Historic Sites Board of Review.
Other sites along the trail to be nominated include:
“The idea is preservation,” Oliva said. “Once they are on the National Register it’s harder to destroy them because they will be protected by law from alteration or destruction. All these sites deserve to be preserved.”