A landmark along the Santa Fe Trail near Dodge City may soon be bulldozed to make way for the widening of a highway.
Kansans today know the Point of Rocks as the hilltop west of Dodge that sports the silhouette of cowboys on horseback.
But for people who lived in the area in the early 19th century, the Point of Rocks area helped mark the international boundary between the United States and Spain, Mexico and Texas until 1845, when it became part of the U.S. territory. It also was a landmark along the Santa Fe and Great Western trails.
“It is like a lot of historic landmarks: Once they are gone, they are gone forever,” said Leo Oliva, a Santa Fe Trail historian. “We’ve lost so many already, we are trying to preserve what’s left.
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“It was a landmark as significant as any of them. For those traveling the trail, it measured distance and time from campsites.”
The Santa Fe Trail was the I-70 of its day. The military used it during the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Indian wars. Miners used it to travel back and forth to the Western gold fields, and families used it to migrate west.
Actually, there are three Point of Rocks landmarks in Kansas on the Santa Fe Trail: the one at Dodge City, one near Pierceville in Finney County and one in the Cimarron Grasslands in Morton County in the far southwest corner of the state.
The one near Dodge City is the least preserved.
“I know people aren’t happy, but the thing with this one is that it is greatly reduced from what it was originally,” said Tim Weston, the Kansas State Historic Preservation Office archaeologist in Topeka. “It doesn’t look like what the freighters would have seen.”
A project to pave U.S. 50 in 1935 removed nearly 80 percent of the landmark hill, Weston said. And in 1985, another roads project removed even more.
That’s one reason the hill has not been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Weston said.
“It just doesn’t retain its historic appearance,” he said.
But for some, the iconic placement of the silhouetted cowboys is the best reason for keeping Dodge’s Point of Rocks. The sign was placed there in 1997.
“It is the gateway for the west side of Dodge City,” said Gary Kraisinger of Halstead, author of the book “The Western: The Greatest Texas Cattle Trail, 1874-1886.” His book makes five references to the Dodge City Point of Rocks hilltop.
Jack Fox, whose property includes the Point of Rocks geographic formation, told Dodge City commissioners last week that the Department of Transportation’s plan would mean the metal silhouette cowboys will have to be moved.
“There isn’t another place that is more perfect than that is,” Fox told the City Commission. “It’s up on the hill. You can see it from far away.
“The cowboys, that’s how they ran over the rocks. It’s just the perfect place for it.”
KDOT has proposed expanding the 16-mile portion of U.S. 50 from Dodge City to Cimarron to four lanes at a cost of $69 million. Currently, there are about 6,000 vehicles that travel that portion of the highway each day. By 2018, that number is expected to climb to 8,000 and eventually 12,000 by 2038, said Kirk Hutchinson, public affairs manager for the southwest district of KDOT.
A final decision on the project by KDOT is expected soon.
In the meantime, opponents of the project are circulating a petition to present to Gov. Sam Brownback. To see or sign the petition, go to www.westerncattletrail.net/point-rocks-petition.
Contributing: Associated Press