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Santa Fe Trail provides history for county

Residents identify strongly with trail

Staff writer

Susie and Mark Will are visiting every marker on the Santa Fe Trail, but Marion County’s are the nicest, they said.

“There aren’t many places left that still have wagon ruts,” Mark said. “This area is great because you can clearly see them.”

The push to restore the trail’s heritage was started by Daughters of the American Revolution in the early 1900s, Steve Schmidt said.

Schmidt is president of the Santa Fe Trail Association’s Cottonwood Crossing chapter.

The Cottonwood Chapter, with the aid of the National Parks Service, completed the DAR work. The association installed maps at the sites and supplied pamphlets.

“It’s a really neat partnership,” Schmidt said. “Our chapter gets the materials at no cost and the park service gets it installed for free.”

Residents around the county identify strongly with the trail, he said.

“I talk to people and just about everybody can understand the trail and how unique it was,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt places between 50 and 100 pamphlets per month at the site on the Marion-McPherson county line. The association also sees several hundred people checking off the sites as geocaching locations per year, he said.

The Wills are no strangers to the county. Now residents of Wichita, Mark is originally from Herington, and Susie was a teacher at Lost Springs for seven years.

“A lot of these signs are new, they weren’t here when she was teaching,” Mark said.

Their interest in the trail began recently. While driving back from Pennsylvania, they stopped in Franklin, Missouri, and decided to trace the entire length of the trail.

“I wasn’t a big fan of history in school,” Mark said. “Now it’s become fun.”

A popular misconception about the trail is how it was used. The trail was for commerce, not immigration, Schmidt said.

Other points of confusion are dates of operation and documented references.

DAR defined the period of trail operation 1822 to 1872, which represented the time when the first wagon traveled the trail until train tracks were built to the Colorado-Kansas border, Schmidt said.

“Use in Marion County pretty much ended in 1866,” he said. “That was when the train got to Junction City.”

Confusion over documentation concerns Lost Spring, as opposed to Lost Springs. The singular version is in reference to the spring itself, while the plural spelling is the town, Schmidt said.

“Not everybody follows the standard like they should,” he said. “Trying to decipher some of those documents is interesting.”

Last modified Sept. 13, 2018

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