My plan was a ride out to Baldwin City, Kansas--a place I've been a few times now--and see for myself the wagon wheel ruts on the Old Santa Fe Trail a few miles East of the city. I'd just finished a few books on William Bent that Little Egypt had used to do some checking for a researcher that had made some inquiries about his family in the Kansas City area.
The Santa Fe Trail started roughly around Kansas City and traveled Southwest to Santa Fe, NM--about 1200 miles if I remember right. Bent and his business partner brother began by bringing trade items to the Indians via the trail, and then returning back with beaver pelts and buffalo robes for of all things--men's felt hats--which were the rage in the Eastern US and Europe at that time.
The route was used for more than 50 years, from the 1820's through the 1870's. I'm very excited for a chance to see a legendary setting and chapter in history of the Old West. For all I know, my family members used the Santa Fe Trail at some point--may have seen it--traded on it--and been close to where I'm going to travel!
I studied my map and just tried to travel light as possible. I'd have the headwind going out of course, but wanted to get out early so I could explore the site and take some photographs. My plan would be to catch the tailwind back into Lawrence and get in just under 100 degrees.
On the way out of town this morning I took "15 - 15" which is the intersection of 15th Street (N 1500 Rd and E 1500) and Haskell Ave. The way the grid is set up in the county, I started at 15 miles North and 15 miles East of the Southwest corner of Douglas County. Its some sort of survey system and road system--my neighbor Paul the Fire Fighter explained it to me. If I'm out on the roads and if there's a sign on them, I can figure out where I am exactly on the county grid. If I ever got in a fix, I could call the police of fire dept and they'd know right where to find me.
In the little village of Sibleyville, the farmers are doing quite well. The fields are fertile and the crops are looking great. These guys out here farming are wealthy!
At Hwy 460 I come to the village of Vinland. In the past I've kept going South, but this time I head West. I've never actually seen the airport--and here it is! I think these guys are running a crop dusting business out of Vinland.
Have you ever seen these things fly? Its crazy how low they dart over the fields then swoop up after they make their pass! The grass airstrip looks well-groomed, however these planes are tough and rugged and could land in a pasture if they needed to.
This is one of two or three old buildings that look like they've survived the ages. Roosters and chickens seemed a little edgy as I approached for a closer look. Dogs and people seemed to be still sleeping--waking everybody up on a hot humid Sunday morning didn't seem neighborly at the time. There was a kitty cat sitting on the porch watching me with some suspicion but she slinked away as I took the photo for you Gentle Reader of This Blog.
Behind this church, which seemed to be too unsafe for the congregation to use after awhile, was a new church--then that church got too old--and so there's another church behind it as well! It seemed that there were six or sever airplanes in Vinland--and just as many churches!
For a few miles I saw that some farmer had put large rocks on the fence posts--and strapped them down. Like are the rocks gonna float off into space or something? I don't get it...
By the way that road you see up there was freakin' straight as an arrow--and due South. The headwind was brutal and sometimes would change to a sudden crosswind. Also, the road was narrow and I did not want to get blown into the ditch or run into the ditch by a farm truck. People tend to drive a bit fast but slowed and gave me plenty of room when they passed. Just hard to see up on hills with on-coming traffic. Luckily I only saw about three cars the whole stretch, mes amis.
Church and cemetery across the road seem all that remain of the village of Clearfield. Rest in Peace those who reside by the side of the Hwy.
Finally at Hwy 56 I'd get to turn West--and get out of this headwind that was kicking my ass... In a few miles I arrive in Black Jack--where John Brown had a gun battle with Pro-Slavery Missourians--and then I'd find the park where the wagon wheel ruts could be seen.
So you have to understand that the Santa Fe Trail is basically Hwy 56. The original trail got plowed under and paved over--and pretty much disappeared when the Rail Road arrived in the late 1870's. It would have taken us six months to make it from Kansas City to Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory. With the train, and then the train connections to the steamboat towns on the Missouri River, that travel time was reduced to a few weeks. Outfitting a wagon with food and supplies, pulled by oxen, cost maybe several thousand dollars--I believe I read that a train ticket one-way in the 1870's was $68.00...
About Black Jack the village--well John Brown was on the prowl out here and pretty close to where I am he and his men captured some Pro-Slavery Raiders who had been terrorizing the Free State inhabitants. The story goes that John Brown, a very pious man, stopped into a church on a Sunday Service--and was unrecognized by the congregation of Pro-Slavery leaning Kansans. He over-heard where the guerrilla fighters had their camp and so that night (4 am) he ambushed them. After a day-long battle, the Pro-Slavery blokes had had enough. They surrendered to John Brown.
The Mighty Trek. I could not find the 1825 marker of Cornel Selbey's surveying mission of the Santa Fe Trail. I had read that it had been vandalized often. It may have been out there in the tall prairie grass somewhere and I couldn't see its location.
When the taste in men's hats changed, and felt hats were no longer in style, the market for beaver pelts to make the hats dropped out. Trade with the Indians for furs ended--plus the railroad pushing to California--made the Santa Fe Trail wither and die--but not after making some men like William Bent, Kit Carson, and others famous--and infamous.
Ivan Boyd was a biologist that taught at KU and/or Baker University. This is the entrance to the 18 acres of Virgin Prairie--and what remains of the original Santa Fe Trail!
Can you see the depression in the earth? Starting from the top of the rise in the center, and then curving past where my bike is parked? My bike and this sign are on a bump or like a median--the ruts pass to the left and to the right.
This is looking straight ahead East. I'm standing in the depression worn down by the wagons, and although you can't see the ruts, I can feel them under my feet.
Left to right you can make out the depression and see how the wagon wheels have worn ruts--the grass is about knee-high and very thick (this is so cool by the way!)
If you click on these pictures they're bigger so you can see more detail, mes amis. I'm standing on top of that rise, and I'm looking West. You can see my Mighty Trek parked down by the sign--there's two sets of ruts in the foreground and a set on the other side of the sign. These depressions were carved into the prairie by hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children--along with their wagons and livestock--heading West.
This is pristine virgin prairie--the grass is thick and waist high when I'm not in the Trail's wagon wheel ruts. The air is sweet, and thousands of birds are singing and catching insects for breakfast. I'm very happy to be here and able to walk on the actual Trail itself!
I'm standing in a wagon wheel rut, which is still very solid. Venturing off into the grass, the ground is soft and feels mushy, and the grass is waist high on me.
Wagon traveling East, back to Kansas City, and then on to St. Louis, would be carrying beaver pelts and buffalo robes traded from the Indians. Going West, this would be about the time travelers would have started--June and July--as there would be plenty of grass for their livestock to eat along the way.
I've walked West down the hill from where the Mighty Trek was parked by that sign, and now I'm at a gravel road which seems to be the end of prairie and the ruts for now. This if for folks that just drive past real quick I think, and see the ruts from their car.
Colera was a big deal at the height of travel on the Santa Fe Trail. I could figure because of all the people and animals--water got contaminated with shit and urine--and often the trail was a muddy slimy morass to struggle through. The rail road made things faster and cheaper--still from 1822 to 1877! Wow that is impressive!
Can you see the ruts? You can click on this photo to make it larger... I took this from the side and across the road as I was heading West on Hwy 56. If you were driving East on 56, you could just catch a fleeting glance...
I ride to Baldwin City via West Hwy 56, but before I stop in and get water, I wanted to quick check out the campus of Baker University. During the Lizard Under the Skillet Ride with the Lawrence Bike Club, I rode past here and heard a few things about the buildings.
When Lawrence was attacked by Missouri Guerillas, students from Baker could see the smoke from Downtown Lawrence fires fifteen miles North. The raiders shot and killed anyone they could find. Lawrence residents were caught unprepared for the murauders, and when John Brown caught wind of the attack, he came to this part of Kansas Territory to kick ass and take names.
Will try to find out the name of this chapel and get this up for you--I did not photograph the historic marker which explained from where in England the chapel came from. It was in decline and disrepair in England, and then sold to Baker and rebuilt here in 1995. Whatever the story, the place is quite lovely, and the time of morning I was there it seemed that I was a welcomed visitor.
My trip would not be complete without pulling into the Santa Fe Trail McDonald's now would it, Gentle Reader of This Blog? I need water, I'm hungry, and a cup of coffee would taste divine.
While here, I struck up a conversation with some motorcycle riders--a fellow my age and a nice woman too--on a date they were actually. They were quite impressed with my ride, and I gave them my map of the route I took (I down-loaded it from the Lawrence Bike Club's website--members only part)
They did not know the roads I had taken, and the woman was very excited when I told her about my visit to the wagon ruts on the Santa Fe Trail. They really knew very little about the Trail and its significance.
The woman was originally from Tulsa herself so that was cool! They had very nice touring motorcycles and gear, and were eager to take a quick trip (for them anyway on motorcycles) down to the Park. I showed them the pictures on my camera that I've posted here for you--soon they were off, waving goodbye as they headed East on Hwy 56.
Bent's Fort was on the Northern Route--I'm not sure why the split there on the map...
I had noticed the bank's sign across the street that said the time as 9:30 am and 91 degrees when I pulled in to the Santa Fe Market. By the time we left, it was now 10:20 and 98--had I been there that long? I had 15 miles to ride home and it was going to be hot as Hell.
Fortunately I got my tailwind, which pushed me up and out of Baldwin City, to the summit of Palmyra Hill. I shot down the hill at 45 mph (its like going down the back side of Gates Pass) and with the tailwind, I made some good time for a long stretch of about six miles at 20 mph past Vinland and on to Silbeyville.
"15 - 15" or riding back via rural East 1500 Rd (heading North on this road) seemed a bit faster than riding to Broken Arrow Park and dealing with no direct route back to the Little House. I was riding back into town and East 1500 Rd is then Haskell Road. Traffic wasn't too bad as everyone here just sleeps in and stays home when its 100 degrees with 90 percent humidity.
Well, I made it, Gentle Readers of This Blog--and it was a memorible ride for me! Thanks for reading my blog.