Cottonwood Crossing to be National Park Historic site

With the Marion County Commission's blessing, plans are moving ahead to create a National Park Historic Site at Cottonwood Crossing west of Durham on the historic Santa Fe Trail.

The National Park Service (NPS) and Cottonwood Crossing Chapter of the National Santa Fe Trail Association are cooperating to bring the project to fruition. Representatives from both groups met Sept. 18 to view the site and discuss details.

Plans are to erect enclosed displays detailing the history of the crossing and surrounding campground. The displays will be located on a small triangular piece of ground owned by the county about one mile west of Durham along a paved road (290th Street at Falcon Road).

A granite marker erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1906 already marks the spot. A limestone post erected by the Cottonwood Crossing chapter sits just across the road on the south side.

County road superintendent Gerald Kelsey, who was present at the meeting, said millings from U.S.-56/77 north of Lincolnville will be used to create a turnout and semi-circular drive at the site for cars and busses.

The county's expense to prepare the site would be approximately $5,000, Kelsey said, to be supplemented by a proposed matching grant from the National Park Service to provide funds for the displays.

John Conoboy, an agent of the NPS from Santa Fe, N.M., said the first step will be to get a signed certified agreement on the site between the county and the park service. Then grant money will be sought.

Conoboy said matching funds may not be available until Congress appropriates money for the NPS budget, which may be as late as February or March.

In the meantime, the exhibits will be designed.

Final plans will be presented to county commissioners for approval before the project is begun.

Conoboy was pleased with what he saw. Because the site already is available, he said, he foresees no problems with its development.

A history

The Santa Fe Trail was a commercial route which existed for 50 years, from 1822 to 1872, between St. Louis, Mo., and Santa Fe, N.M.

Vernon Lohrentz, Newton, secretary of the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association, said Cottonwood Crossing is one of the major landmarks on the Santa Fe Trail.

He said the local chapter was established to preserve, protect, and promote it and other significant points on the trail in this area.

According to Lohrentz, members have a personal interest in the trail but, in addition, more and more tourists are seeking out the site. He said people have come from as far as Europe to visit it.

Traffic on the trail became heavy in 1859 after the Journal of Commerce published a list of stations along the trail. Between April and Sept. 8 of that year, more than 2,170 wagons and 8,000 tons of freight passed westward through as-yet-unorganized Marion County. At the same time, immigrants' wagons, returning Pike's Peak gold seekers, and Mexican traders were headed east.

A traveler on his way to Pike's Peak in 1859 wrote in his journal that about 700 persons were camped at "Cottonwood crick." He said buffalo, deer, elk, and antelope grazed nearby. He noted that recent rains made traveling slow and difficult.

He found Moore's Ranch, as the supply station there was known, to be nothing more than two log cabins, one a dwelling and the other a grocery store.

Gil Michel, Newton, president of the local chapter, said the crossing was difficult because of steep banks. Often double and triple teams of oxen were needed to pull the heavy wagons across.

However, it also was an attractive site because the horseshoe shape of the river there provided large sheltered campgrounds on either side of the creek, provided trees for lumber to make wagon repairs, and was an ideal place for corralling cattle.

All evidence of the many crossings has been erased by flood waters and erosion. However, great swales can be seen in the landscape at various spots along the former trail. The biggest ones look much like waterways, being very wide and deep from the thousands of wagon wheels and animal hooves that rutted the ground.

Dennis Youk, Marion, has preserved an area on land he owns where the swales can readily be seen, about one-quarter mile south of the DAR marker at Cottonwood Crossing.

The Cottonwood Crossing supply station originated when George Smith built a cabin at the site. It was purchased in 1858 by Abraham and Ira Moore and became known as Moore's Ranch. It operated until the coming of the railroad in 1872 made it obsolete.

The Journal of Commerce recorded that the station was an important stop, providing supplies, corn, hay, wood, grass, and water. It also was a mail station.

The first settlers at Marion (then known as Marion Centre), who arrived in the early 1860s, often traveled to Moore's Ranch to pick up mail and supplies.

In April 1861 a meeting of settlers was held and a proclamation was issued for an election to be held at Moore's Ranch to organize a county government. This was the same year the Civil War began.

When voting commenced, it was discovered there were not enough white people in the county to fill all required offices, so organization of the county was postponed until 1865.

That year, 1865, a toll bridge on the Santa Fe Trail at Council Grove recorded the following traffic: 4,472 wagons, 5,197 men, 1,267 horse, 6,452 mules, 38,281 oxen, 112 carriages, and 13,056 tons of freight.

Most of this traffic passed through Marion County and had to cross the Cottonwood River.

Just seven years later, the trail fell into disuse when it was replaced by the railroad.

Development of a wayside stop at the crossing will assure that it will be remembered for generations to come.

(Note: Some of these facts were taken from Marion County Kansas, Past and Present, by Sondra Van Meter)