Wet/Dry Routes Chapter


"The wagons left Pawnee Rock some time before us. I was anxious to see this wonderful curiosity.
While mi alma watched on the rocks above...I cut my name...It was not done well,
for fear of the Indians made me tremble and I hurried it over."
— Susan Shelby Magoffin, Pawnee Rock, 1846


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History of the Wet-Dry Routes Chapter

The first organizational meeting of what would become the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter was held on July 20, 1990. At that meeting it was decided that there was enough interest to form a local Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association. We were officially added to the roster of chapters by the SFTA at their board of directors meeting held in September 1991 at Arrow Rock, MO.

After our first meeting, the Wet/Dry Routes chapter immediately went to work to provide educational and entertaining programs, conduct tours of the Santa Fe Trail in our area and initiate marking projects. As the marking progressed, information was researched and gathered which resulted in the publication of an auto-tour guide which enabled travelers to visit the various markers. The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter continues to enhance our marking projects, present interesting programs, and create special activities. In addition, members of the Chapter continue to research the area to locate other sites associated with the Santa Fe Trail, attempt to preserve the Trail resources we have documented and seek out further documentation about our area. For more history, click here.

Location and Directions

The general area of concentration for the Wet/Dry Routes Chapters is between the Ash Creek Crossing and Fort Dodge, in the Kansas counties of Pawnee, Edwards and Ford.

The area of the Wet/Dry Routes can be easily accessed by simply following U.S. Highway 56. Town and cities along this modern-day route include Great Bend, Pawnee Rock, Larned, Garfield, Kinsley, Offerle, Bellefont, Spearville, Wright and Dodge City.

Once early Santa Fe Trail travelers left Pawnee Rock and crossed Ash Creek, they would travel another six miles and reach Pawnee Fork, located at present-day Larned, KS. From Pawnee Fork, travelers would continue along the north bank of the Arkansas River until they reached one of the several crossings or beyond. This is the route that became known as the “Wet Route”. The Wet Route has also been referred to by such other names as the river route, the water road, and the lower road. A caravan, captained by Charles Bent in 1833 and escorted by Captain William Wycliffe's Command, departed the river valley near Pawnee Fork crossing to pursue an upland course to the Arkansas. From that date forward, traffic on the Santa Fe Trail alternated between the established road along the river known as the “Wet Route” and the road across the upland that became known as the “Dry Route.”

In the Kansas Historical Quarterly 16 (November 1948) on page 348, an article by H.B. Mollhausen and titled, “Over the Santa Fe Trail Through Kansas in 1858,” stated the following:

By the way, there is a road across the upland known as the “Dry Road.” It is even shorter than the road down the river which has been called the “Water Road,” but the “Dry Road” is always avoided by the oxen caravans, and usually by the mule caravans, too because of the lack of water.

Other references to this route include such names as the bluff road, the ridge road, and the upper road. It also was referred to as the cut-off and the straight road, concluding that taking this route could save several miles. Historical references estimated the mileage saved on this route as being from ten or eleven miles to twenty or thirty miles. Modern measurements indicate the difference between these two routes is about six miles.

Points of Interest

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

Marking Project

From its inception, the Chapter has been engaged in an ongoing marking project. Initially, limestone posts set with bronze plaques were placed at sites: where physical evidence of the SFT remains; sites of trading ranches; sites of Indian engagements; sites of documented campgrounds; and places of topographical interest. Subsequently, interpretive markers were placed at some of the same sites which were of particular historical importance and easily accessible to the traveling public. At this writing, 109 such sites have been marked on the following branches of the SFT: the route pursued by the 1825 U.S. Survey Team; the Wet Route; the three variants of the Dry Route; the route from Fort Larned to Coon Creek; and the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road. West of the junction of the Wet and Dry Routes as far as the Cimarron Crossing in Gray County, the Chapter has extended the marking program. The Fort Dodge/Dodge City/Cimarron Chapter has partnered with the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter in the expenditure of some markers in Ford and Gray Counties.

Additionally, the chapter has placed white marble grave stones at Pawnee Rock and near the Wet Route Crossing of the Santa Fe Trail near Larned, Kansas to honor three soldiers who died and were buried at those locations during the Mexican War.

Also, the Chapter has placed limestone post/bronze plaques markers at nine locations in the Larned area in memorial of Henry Booth, SFT figure and the principal founder of both Pawnee County and Larned, Kansas.

Far removed from the Chapter's territory, the Chapter has placed a limestone post/bronze plaque marker in Rice County to identify the SFT Crossing of Owl Creek. Nearby, the Chapter placed a large stone marker incised with the single word CHAVEZ to replicate a similar marker which once graced the area where Don Antonio was murdered by Missouri mercenaries associated with the Republic of Texas in 1843.

Publication Projects

In 1999, the Chapter published A Directory of Santa Fe Trail Sites which identifies all the above mentioned locations with information as to directions from one site to another, the presence of physical evidence, historical content, topographical data, G.P.S. position, landowner's name and address, and legal description. Each site is plotted on the original township map as ed in 1871-1872.

In 2008-2009, the Chapter republished and distributed three pieces of SFT literature in booklet form: Rules and Regulations By Which To Conduct Wagon Trains Drawn By Oxen On The Plains; Fort Atkison On The Santa Fe Trail; Reminiscences Of The Ten Years Experience On The Western Plains. Copies of each have been placed in all schools and libraries in Pawnee, Edwards, Ford, and Gray Counties by the Wet/Dry Routes and Fort Dodge/Dodge City/Cimarron Chapters. At this writing, 1500 copies of the booklets have been distributed.

For a look at some of the Wet/Dry chapter's completed projects on the Santa Fe Trail, click here.

Zebulon Pike Plaza

Two hundred years to the day following the crossing of the Pawnee River on October 29, 1806, the Chapter dedicated the Zebulon Pike Plaza.  Located near the Wet Route Crossing of the SFT on U.S. 56 in the Schnack-Lowrey Park on Larned, Kansas, the Plaza, ringed by limestone fence posts, contains signage with reference to the Pike Expedition, early Spanish and American explorers, and later travelers of the SFT era.  Limestone benches and a shelter house are provided for the convenience of the traveling public.

Guided Tours

For a number of years, the Chapter has conducted tours related to the Wet Route, the Dry Route, and the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road.  Such tours are planned to accommodate small and large groups.  The Chapter does not charge for the tours, but the participants are expected to defray any expense involved; travel, meals, and lodging. 

To see A Self Guided Auto Tour of the Santa Fe Trail's Wet Route, click here