By Mary Gallagher, writer – producer
One of the most educational, revealing and sometimes heartbreaking aspects of our travels is the opportunity to trace many events of history. We made this trip to produce a thirty minute video on the Santa Fe Trail through the state of Kansas. It’s often a tragic story. Particularly tragic for Native Americans, this time period lays positive evidence of the United States government as it performed methodic ethnic cleansing of a nation that the world has not seen equaled since.
It is still unknown how many millions of Native Americans died coast to coast through war, starvation, disease sometimes purposefully induced, imprisonment and torture. Today Native Americans continue to be victimized by a shameful US government that condones stealing their money and land, forcefully keeping them in poverty without adequate education, health care and other benefits. Millions of dollars are sent in aid to the poor and oppressed outside of the United States – some of these dollars deliberately stolen from oil and other revenues off Indian land.
The Santa Fe Trail started in Franklin, Missouri in 1821 and covered 865 miles to Santa Fe. The trail enabled pioneers and traders, no women, to carry freight and goods to the Mexican territory making the return trip with silver coins, donkeys and beaver pelts in their large red, white and blue freight wagons pulled by up to ten yokes of oxen or mules. Most of these wagons were capable of carrying around 6,000 pounds. Fortunes were made and lost along the trail and many lost their lives. Dangers included wild animal attacks, buffalo stampedes, robbers, disease, Indian uprisings, accidents and a host of other situations.
With the coming of the railroads in 1872 travel along the trail ended. We started our 5 day journey just inside the eastern Kansas border in Fairway.
The Shawnee Indian Mission
The school was established in 1830 and three of the original buildings are still standing and restored. Native American children were brought here to live while they were educated in trades as well as learning to read and write. The children lived in dormitories on the top floors of the buildings. There remains today a lot of controversy about the removing of children from their families and tribes. They were not allowed to speak their native language, see their families or follow tribal customs while living in the missions.
World famous Canadian architect Douglas Cardinal is of the Blackfoot tribe and speaks passionately about the removal of children from tribes for this “indoctrination” to the white mans world. He himself a casualty of this practice continued in Canada until a few years ago.
Docents provide informative tours of the Shawnee Mission buildings and demonstrate crafts and skills of the time. During my visit, no comments were made regarding anything negative about the government policy of removing children from their families.
The MaHaffie Farmstead
The Mahaffie Farmstead is the last remaining stage coach stop on the Santa Fe Trail. The 1865 limestone house, ice house and wood peg barn sit on 15 acres. Travelers were led into the large comfortable basement for meals and rest. An oxen team pulling a loaded wagon averaged 15 miles per day. The house and grounds are open for tours. As in many locations after almost 160 years the actual ruts of the trail are still visible. In this case from the front porch of the house.
Olathe and the Olathe Boot Factory
Since 1873, even before the railroads were here, custom boots were being made for the working cowboy in Olathe, Kansas. We had a tremendous time visiting the Olathe Boot factory, learning the 130 year history of the American cowboy boot. Today some of the work is done by machine but much of the finishing still is handwork. Once the factory has your “foot” on record you can continue to order custom boots like many movie stars and famous athletes. They had to drag me out of here it was noisy but fascinating.
* In the early 1900’s, the Daughters of the American Revolution did a remarkable job of marking the Santa Fe trail with stone markers, still visible and noteworthy today.
Originally home to the Kaw Indians, the town has developed a brochure you can use to tour its 18 historic sites in your car or by foot. The name Council Grove originated when George Sibley surveying the road to Santa Fe in 1825 held a council with the Osage Indians, granting safe passage and right-away across the prairie from this the last stop for supplies.
There is a large preserved tree stump that tradition says; while patrolling the Trail with his famous 7th Cavalry Regiment, George Armstrong Custer camped under the huge elm that flourished at this site. The massive trunk is all that remains of the historic tree that measured more than 100 feet tall and 16 feet around. I found it quite unique to spend time visiting the remains of a tree and the shelter that has been built to protect it.
This is the only place I’ve ever visited, in a lifetime of travel, that had banners out on the buildings on the main street welcoming me and my crew to town. It was so awesome and one of the kindest greetings I could ever imagine.
We stopped or drove by every historic site in Council Grove and you can see an excellent interpretation and photos under historic tours on their website.
The Cottage House Hotel, Council Grove
25 N. Neosho
800-727-7903 or 620-767-6828
Started in 1867 as a three room cottage and blacksmith shop, constructed in a Queen Anne Victorian style, the cottage is just a convenient half block from downtown. The gazebo-style porches are favorite gathering places for guests and the historic hotel is a restored showcase of unique Victorian charm. Every room in the main hotel has a personality all its own – mine had a whirlpool bath so large a football team could have used it. Also available are 10 motel-style rooms in an adjacent unit. We had a light but tasty breakfast before setting out on the next phase of our journey.
The Hays House
112 West Main
We ate here at the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi river. Started in 1857 by Seth Hays, founder of Council Grove and Daniel Boone’s great grandson.
Maxwell Game Preserve and Refuge
With over 200 buffalo and 70 Elk roaming free on this 2500 acre preserve of native prairie you get a thorough sense of what the real scene was like in 1820. Trams take you out into the middle of buffalo herds, while guides explain the surrounding flora and fauna. Then lunch usually features buffalo stew or buffalo burgers. This was a little difficult for this author…to see them and then eat them!
There is fishing and camping at the McPherson State Fishing Lake on the western border of the refuge.
Being close to one buffalo is pretty exciting but it is truly exhilarating to be surrounded by a significant herd, as we were, standing outside a jeep on the wide open prairie. The vistas of prairie grass on the rolling hills bring to life so many cowboy movies, wagon trains, Dorothy and the tornado in a way that makes sense of the beauty of this land.
Kansas Cosmosphere and Discovery Center
1100 N. Plum
Hutchinson, Kansas 67501 (only 250,000 miles from the moon!)
620.662.2305 or 800.397.0330
While I live ten minutes from the Smithsonian Air and Space museum in Washington, D.C., the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson blew us away. Started in a chicken coup as a planetarium in 1962, today this is one of the premier space centers of the world. The new facility, launched in 1980, features permanent exhibit galleries in the Hall of Space Museum, only the sixth OMNIMAX® Theater ever built, and, of course, the planetarium that started it all.
They have everything from fascinating exhibits and real space memorabilia, planes, week long space camp, demonstrations and other educational programs, a wonderful store – more than enough to keep you busy for the better part of a day. The lobby alone features an actual flown SR-71 spy plane, a full size replica of the Space Shuttle, and a T-38 Trainer.
Their website is wonderful, easy to navigate and stuffed full of information.
Hedrick’s Bed and Breakfast
7910 N. Roy L. Smith Road
Nickerson, Kansas 67561
toll free (888) 489-8039
Fax: (620) 422-3766
Loretta Bailey, Joe & Sondra Hedrick, Innkeepers
You know how a few things in life truly stand out and sometimes they aren’t what you expect? Well some aspects of traveling Kansas weren’t even “send a postcard great” but then a star would fall out of the sky and you couldn’t believe your luck. That was the case at Hedrick’s. We came in at night-it was very dark, after a long day and were exhausted. I didn’t really see a thing but my room which was decorated in an “exotic” animal theme. In the morning we had a wonderful huge country breakfast and went out for a tour of the barns, out buildings and corrals.
I’m an animal lover and was in instant heaven! Camels! A baby zebra! Gazillions of Kangaroos of every size! Horses! Dogs! Cats! Rabbits! Goats! Pigs! It was like waking up at a campground for animal campers not people. We were in further luck as it was off season and no one else was about so I didn’t have to share a single creature with little kids or their parents. Some things I enjoy being selfish about.
Joe Hedrick started as a rodeo clown, in addition to his farm. Then someone gave him an ostrich, then another animal and on and on it went. Eventually they had one of the largest collections of traveling animal petting zoo programs in the US. Doing their own breeding and frequently assisting zoos and others in the management of domestic and wild animals. These animals were living like kings! No cages, plenty of food, better health care than most Americans, pleasant knowledgeable managers and clean surroundings.
I did not want to leave and whatever age you or your fellow travelers are; do not fail to stop for a night or at least a tour at Hedrick’s.
Santa Fe Trail Center
In Larned we stopped at the Santa Fe Trail Center, the only museum devoted exclusively to the Trail and headquarters for the Santa Fe Trail Association. Here, I totally confirmed the fact that I would live in a tree or just about anywhere before a sod house! It’s dark, damp and scary things fall out of the ceiling and crawl on the walls and floors.
Exhibits inside the very attractive center start with prehistoric times forward. They have excellent research sources.
By car from Interstate 70, travel 30 miles west of Salina, the fort is 83 miles southwest, after taking exit 225. The park is also accessible by KS 156 and various other state roads.
I felt like a real soldier in 1859, on the day of our visit, some re-enactors in authentic replicas of the fatigue uniform marching and testing rifles, a blacksmith was making various implements and there was a cold wind coming across that flat prairie that cut through your coat chilling one to the very bone.
Frequently, living historians staff the infantry barracks, hospital, blockhouse, commissary and officers quarters. During the summer season, there are demonstrations providing a more detailed look at life in the 1860s.
Fort Larned was established as a base of military operations against hostile Indians of the Central Plains, to protect traffic along the Santa Fe Trail and as an agency for the administration of the Central Plains Indians by the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the terms of the Fort Wise Treaty of 1861.
The nine well restored buildings make it one of the best examples of Indian Wars period forts. Most of the buildings including: barracks, commissary, officers quarters and more, are furnished to their original appearance and you can’t imagine sleeping in those little beds or the austere furnishings, lack of color or knickknacks!
If you’re a buff of this period of history and type of site, it’s wonderful plus the non-interested folks in your party can sit on the porches, take a little nature walk and there is miles of space for kids to run around.
Open every day except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas and New Years Day.
* The official Kansas website
* Arial photos of the trail from beginning to end
* America’s scenic byways including the Santa Fe Trail