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:
• Boyd’s Ranch Site and the Pawnee Fork Crossing in Pawnee County. The site was along the Dry Route and was used by travelers headed to Fort Larned and by mail wagons and stagecoaches. In 1859, Boyd’s Ranch offered food and provisions and a wooden toll bridge for them to cross over the Pawnee River.
• Coon Creek Crossing and Fort Larned Military Road Segment, near Garfield in Pawnee County where the Wet Route of the trail crosses Coon Creek. The area includes cutdowns along the creek’s bank, the remnants of a dugout and trail swales.
• Sawlog Creek Crossing on the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Military Road in Ford County. The site includes nearly three unbroken miles of intact swales. The road connected the two forts; soldiers were designated to aid travelers with protection and supplies.
• Charlie’s Ruts or Bentrup’s Ruts near Deerfield in Kearny County. The site includes 12 swales that span more than 800 feet across.
• Klein’s Ruts in Grant County. The site contains several visible swales and was located along the La Jornada, a waterless area that connected with the Mountain Route at the Upper Crossing of the Arkansas River near the Cimarron Route.
• Four additional sites in Morton County include areas within the Cimarron National Grassland. The nominated sites have swales and two commemorative markers erected in 1907 and 1914 by members of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“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.”