Cottonwood Crossing Chapter


"...We found the colonel in a sad predicament indeed. He had one wagon fast in a mud hole
with the tongue twisted off, and the others so much disabled he could not move them."
— Susan Shelby Magoffin, Cottonwood Creek, June 25, 1846



Our Chapter generally has four to five meetings a year. The meetings consist of a meal at a local restaurant, followed by conducting of Chapter business, and then a presentation on SFT related history. In addition, we generally have one or two field trips each year to trail sites either in Marion County or adjacent counties. Annual chapter membership is $15.00 per year, in addition to the national membership dues in the Santa Fe Trail Association. To download a Cottonwood Crossing Chapter Membership Form, click here.

Our Board of Directors generally meets every-other month to conduct Chapter business, plan meetings and field trips, and plan projects.

History of the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter

The Cottonwood Crossing Chapter was designated by Santa Fe Trail Assocation in June of 1994. The first organizational meeting of the chapter was held January 3, 1994, in Canton, Kansas. Election of Officers occurred March 8 and ratification of the Chapter’s constitution and By-Laws occurred May 10th, 1994. The first Chapter meeting was October 4, 1994 with a pot-luck picnic at the Youk Ruts, west of Durham, Kansas.

Location and Directions

MarionCountySFTRoute The Cottonwood Crossing chapter’s geographical area and focus on Santa Fe Trail history is Marion County, Kansas.

The Chapter takes its name from the Santa Fe Trail crossing of the Cottonwood River located approximately 1.5 miles west of present day Durham, Kansas.

The Cottonwood Crossing was one of the more difficult and famous crossings of the SFT. A bend in the river made a natural corral, so it was always a camping spot.
Traveling westward, it provided the last wood of any extent; westward, there was treeless grass prairie. Because of this, the crossing was generally noted in diaries kept by the travelers.

East of the Cottonwood Crossing, there was little fear of Indians; westward, travelers were more vigilant. Typically, the first sightings of buffalo occurred not far west of the Cottonwood Crossing, particularly in the earlier days of the Santa Fe Trail.

The Santa Fe Trail is considered to have been active in Marion County from 1821 (Becknell’s pack mule caravan) through approximately 1866, when the railroad reached Junction City, Kansas.

Points of Interest

A few of the many points of interest along the Santa Fe Trail within the chapter area.
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Chapter Projects

The Stone Marker

A few yards north of Hwy 56 on the Marion-McPherson County Line is a large stone marker placed by the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter. It depicts the locations of the Santa Fe Trail and the Chisholm Trail with a generalized map of the area. The two trails actually crossed just a few miles northeast of the Stone Marker. (You may read articles that erroneously report the trails crossed at the Stone Marker, but an inspection of the map on the Stone Marker clearly shows that is not the case.) The exact location of the crossing of the trails is a topic of debate.

Marion County Auto Tour

The Cottonwood Crossing Chapter has erected a series of signs which direct motorists on an auto tour across Marion County. The signs have been supplied by the National Park Service. The route intersects the Santa Fe Trail in numerous locations. Trail remnants or historic markers can be seen along the auto tour route. The eastern end of the tour is at the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) marker on Hwy 77, one mile east and 1.1 miles north of the Town of Lost Springs. The western end of the auto tour is at the Stone Marker, a few yards north of Hwy 56 on the Marion-McPherson County Line.

The Marion County Auto Tour is becoming a popular tour bus route. WARNING! The auto tour route includes paved, gravel, and unimproved dirt roads. Some of the latter are impassible when wet. Use caution.


Click here for our printable Auto Tour Brochure (PDF).



Cottonwood Crossing Interpretive Kiosk

The Cottonwood Crossing Chapter, in partnership with the National Park Service (NPS) and with assistance of Marion County, has constructed an historical interpretive site approximately 1.5 miles west of Durham, Kansas on the paved road.

A large sign on the shelter announces that you are at the Cottonwood Crossing of the Santa Fe Trail.

The NPS has provided three interpretive panels on the following topics:



Zebulon Pike, who camped near this location on his expedition westward.
The Cottonwood Crossing, its difficulties and its significance.
Entrepreneurs of the Plains, the story of the road ranches that sprang up in the latter days of the Trail’s history.

The panels above are professionally prepared and contain original artwork developed especially for this interpretive site.

This DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) marker is adjacent to the shelter.




Crossing Markers

The Cottonwood Crossing Chapter has set some small stone post markers at locations where the Santa Fe Trail crosses existing roads.


These stone markers are in addition to metal signs that have been set by the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter at all 48 locations the Santa Fe Trail crosses a public road in Marion County. Funding to the Chapter was provided by the SFTA from grant money provided to the SFTA by the National Park Service. Chapter members provided the labor to install the signs with assistance from the Marion County Sign Department.

DAR Markers

There are several DAR markers in Marion County. They were placed in 1906. The markers say “Santa Fe Trail 1822 -1872.” Although Becknell made his first trading expedition to Santa Fe in 1821 using pack mules, wagons were first used in 1822. Although use of the SFT (except for local travel) ended in approximately 1866 in Marion County, the DAR used the 1872 date because that is when the Santa Fe Railroad reached the Colorado border, ending the need for the SFT in Kansas.

NOTE: Some sources call all SFT related stone markers “DAR markers.” That is not correct. DAR markers should only refer to those stones placed by the DAR in 1906.

Lost Spring Station

The Lost Spring Historic Interpretive Site is located 2.5 miles west of the Town of Lost Springs. It is located at the site of the Lost Spring Station and the spring close by. The interpretive site has been constructed by the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter in partnership with the Santa Fe Trail Association, The Shields Family Trust (owners of the land), and Marion County, with technical input from the National Park Service.

The First Phase of the project was completed July 3, 2010 and included erecting a historic interpretive panel and installing a new time capsule. The path to the spring has been improved and the spring has been fenced to prevent damage from cattle.

French Frank’s Trail Segment

Frank's Trail Panel

The French Frank’s Trail Segment Interpretive Site is located northwest of the Town of Lehigh, KS, on 245th Road, approx. 0.2 miles west of Chisholm Trail Road. This is the location of the Cottonwood Holes and was about a half-day’s journey by wagon train southwestward from Cottonwood Crossing. Because of availability of water here, this was usually a noon camping ground to allow time to water and rest the draft animals before pushing on westward to Running Turkey Creek for the night camp. Later in the trail era, this because the site of a road ranche (an 1860s version of today’s convenient store, bar, and grill) operated circa 1861 to 1866 by Claude Francis “French Frank” Laloge. The interpretive site has been constructed by the Cottonwood Crossing Chapter in partnership with the Santa Fe Trail Association, Steve and Glenda Schmidt (owners of the land), Marion County, and the National Park Service.

This site is in the National and State Registers of Historic Places. Diaries place Susan Shelby Magoffin here at noon, June 27, 1846, and Dr. F. A. Wislizenus here, along with the Albert Speyer caravan, for a night camp June 1-2, 1846, this being the only documentation discovered thus far of this site being a night camping ground.

Trail Information

The Cottonwood Crossing Chapter, with funding provided by the National Park Service, has developed data on the location of the Santa Fe Trail in Marion County. The data have been published in booklet form for use by the Marion County Planning and Zoning Commission, the County Mapping Dept, other government agencies, industry, and private individuals. The information provided consists of:


On-going Maintenance

Chapter members regularly provide the time, material, and equipment to maintain the historical monuments. Here you can see Bill Silverstand in action.

Photo Sources: Aerial photos are from Unless noted, all other photos are by Steve Schmidt and permission to use those photos is granted only to the Santa Fe Trail Association for use on the SFTA web site.