"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
A Self Guided Auto Tour of the Santa Fe Trail’s Wet Route
The Wet Route of the Santa Fe Trail began at present Larned, Kansas and followed the Arkansas River to its south bend near present Ford, Kansas. There, the Trail veered northwest to pursue the river through present Dodge City and westward to the site of the Caches.
In 1858, H. B. Mollhausen described the Wet and Dry Routes as follows.
"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."
The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association has placed markers at numerous places along the Wet Route to identify historically important sites. Fifteen of these locations are included in the tour which begins at Larned and ends four miles west of Dodge City, a distance of 73 miles. The modern day traveler will be pleased to know that the entire tour will be on hard surfaced roads and that all the markers are easily accessed from the roadside.
David K. Clapsaddle, President
Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the
Santa Fe Trail Association
Zebulon Pike Plaza
The tour begins at the south edge of Larned, Kansas on U. S. 56 near the Pawnee River bridge. Adjacent to that point is the Zebulon Pike Plaza dedicated by the Chapter in October, 2006 on the 200th anniversary of Pike crossing the Pawnee River. At the Plaza, the Chapter has placed interpretive markers with reference to travelers who forded the river near this point before and after the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821.
Forks In Santa Fe Road
From Stop 1, proceed southwest on U. S. 56, 3.3 miles to the markers on the right. At this point, the original Dry Route split from the Wet Route to take a west-southwest orientation away from the river valley. Be advised there were two other variants of the Dry Route.
From Stop 2, continue on U. S. 56, 5.4 miles to the markers on the right. There, George C. Sibley surmounted the ridge on September 1, 1825. His diary entry reads as follows
“Apprehending more Rain and fearing to be detained here by high water, we set to work cutting down the Banks, and preparing the ford for the Waggons to cross. We got all safe over without any accident or much difficulty by 11 o’Clk. and then proceeded South West through a flat bottom about 6 Miles, and came to a
High Ridge. The Waggons passed round the point, still keeping in the bottom about half a miles from the River. I rode upon the Ridge, from the top of which,
I could distinctly trace the course of the Pawnee River for a great distance by
The fringe of Trees along its banks. Its general course as far as I could see is from So[uth] to No[rth] E[east]. It runs nearly parallel with the Arkansas at an average distance of about Six Miles apart, gradually diverging.”
Junction of the Wet Routes and
the Fort Larned Military Road
From Stop 3, proceed on U. S. 56 (through Garfield) 2.9 miles to the marker on the right. There, near the Coon Creek Crossing, the Wet Route merged with another road which ran south from Fort Larned. East of the markers is the U. S. 56 bridge which replicates the crossing. Nearby is a limestone post marker with two plaques, one which speaks to the crossing , another which identifies this location as the September 1-2, 1825 campsite of the Santa Fe Trail Survey Team.
From Stop 4, proceed on U. S. 56, 3.2 miles to the markers on the left. To the south of the markers near the Arkansas River was a well known campsite called Plain Camp, so called because it had no characteristics to distinguish it from many other locations along the Arkansas.
From Stop 5, continue on U. S. 56, 1.6 miles to the markers on the left. To the south of the markers near the Arkansas River, Comanche warriors attacked the command of Lt. John Love on June 26, 1847. Five dragoons were killed. Thus, the engagement and the location became known as Love’s Defeat.
Battle of Coon Creek
From Stop 6, proceed on U. S. 56, 5.1 miles to the markers on the left. South of the markers near the Arkansas River, Comanches and Plains Apaches besieged the command of Lt. William Royall and Lt. Philip Stremel on July 18, 1848. The battle was so named because of its proximity to Coon Creek.
At this point, the tour digresses from the path of the Wet Route to avoid rough roads and many markers not accessible from the roadside. The tour will rejoin the Wet Route at Stop 9.
From Stop 7, proceed on U. S. 50/56 through Kinsley to Offerle. At the west edge of the town, the Chapter has placed an interpretive marker on the right in a roadside park with reference to the Wet and Dry Routes.
Mulberry Confluence with
the Arkansas River
From Stop 8, proceed on U. S. 56 to Spearville, the main entrance into town (unmarked), turn left .4 mile to the Catholic Church; left .1 mile, right 1.5 mile, left 2.1 miles, right 11.4 miles, right .5 mile to U. S. 400, and right .3 mile to the markers on the left. South of the markers, Mulberry Creek empties in to the Arkansas River. For some time, this location was identified as the Lower Crossing where early Santa Fe Trail travelers forded the stream. Recent research has concluded that only one expedition used this crossing and that the Lower Crossing was actually upstream a number of miles. The Santa Fe Trail Survey Team camped at this location on September 6-8, 1825.
From Stop 9, continue west 3 miles on U. S. 400 to the markers on the left. South of the markers near the Arkansas River was Small Drain, another will known campsite.
From Stop 10, proceed west on U. S. 400, 1.9 miles to the markers on the left. South of the markers was a peninsula on the south side of the Arkansas River called Jackson’s Island. There in 1843, Capt. Philip St. George Cooke disarmed mercenaries from the Republic of Texas intent on raiding Mexican wagon trains.
Junction of Wet and Dry Routes
From Stop 11, continue west on U. S. 400, 5.3 miles to the markers on the right. There the Wet and Dry Routes merged. In earlier times, the routes merged at the Caches about ten miles to the west.
From Stop 12, proceed west on U. S. 400, 1 mile to the markers on the left. Fort Dodge was the western terminus of the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road on which freight wagons and stage coaches traveled from the railhead at Hays City, November, 1867 through June, 1868.
September 9, 1825 Campsites
of the Santa Fe Trail Survey Team
From Stop 13, continue on U. S. 400, 1.5 miles to the markers on the right. South of the markers near the Arkansas River was the September 9 campsite of the Santa Fe Trail Survey Team.
From Stop 14, proceed on U. S. 400, 3.3 miles to 2nd Avenue in Dodge City. Turn right .1 mile to U. S. 50/400, then left 4 miles. North of this point .2 mile on the left are markers which identify the location of the Caches. The Caches was a hiding place for trade goods stored by the Baird-Chambers party in 1823. Here the Wet and Dry Routes merged early in the historic period.
We hope you enjoy the tour!
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