"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
"The Beginning of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association"
BY: Joanne VanCoevern, First President
My fascination with the Santa Fe Trail first started when I was a child. I would ride along with my aunt and uncle to check cattle in the pasture by the Arkansas River south of Offerle, Kansas. As we crossed back and forth, over those funny bumps in the pasture, I would beg my Aunt to tell me about the bumps. She told me that they were part of the Santa Fe Trail Wagon Road and people used to cross them going back and forth to Santa Fe. But even more important to our family, this was the trail that our ancestors had followed when they first settled in Kansas. My Aunt told me how my father’s grandparents had come from Butler County Pennsylvania in 1877 and stayed at Willow Springs, Kansas. In the spring of 1878, they decided to move farther west, where they could acquire land by homesteading. My great-grandfather, Louis Wetzel, loaded the wagon with the family’s belongings and followed the Santa Fe Trail to their new home in Ford County, KS. Two of his sons, Henry (my grandfather) and Will, came with him, bringing along the family cows, Tillie and Lillie. The women and smaller children came by train. When my maternal grandmother, Emma Strowhitz, came to America at the age of 7, she walked alongside the wagon as her family traveled along the Santa Fe Trail to their home in Edwards County, Kansas. My brothers, now farm the land that these ancestors settled on. While doing genealogical research on these ancestors, it led me to many questions about that trail that they had followed. What other people had used it? Where did it come from? Where did it go? Where, exactly, did it cross property now being farmed by my family?
In 1989, these questions led my brother, Steve, and me to visit the Santa Fe Trail Center and the Fort Larned National Historic Site. There we were given information about the Santa Fe Trail Association and the name of Marc Simmons came up as someone who might be able to help us in our quest for information. To read the text of his letter click here. While he said he was not that familiar with the exact location in the area we were researching, he was able to give us information to contact someone who might be able to help—David Clapsaddle of Larned, Kansas. However, before visiting with Dr. Clapsaddle, we decided to make one more stop--this time to the Edwards County Courthouse in Kinsley, Kansas. There we found the original county survey maps, and just by luck, we found the original survey field notes that accompanied the maps. (The notes were located in a box, sitting on top of the filing cabinet.) These maps had the Santa Fe Trail drawn on them, and was described as an “old wagon road”. These original survey maps of 1868, and the field notes, were the basis for what we would use to locate the Trail as it passed through our area.
Early in 1990, I contacted David Clapsaddle to see what information he had on the area we were researching (8 miles south of Offerle). He was in the middle of a project to mark the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Military Road. His next project was going to be researching the Wet and Dry Routes of the Santa Fe Trail. Our paths had crossed at just the right time. He was excited to hear that I knew of several places where ruts existed that had not been previously documented. And I was excited to find someone who had the historical knowledge of the area we were working on. We discussed the Santa Fe Trail Association and the possibility of forming a chapter in the area. To be honest, David was not too sure that one was feasible in that area. He thought there might be too much competition with other historical organizations already formed in the area. However, I didn’t agree with him and kept pushing ahead. Because we were crossing several communities, I felt that if the people were interested in the Santa Fe Trail and its history, then they would be interested in an organization devoted to it.
With the help of family and friends, I scheduled a meeting for July 20, 1990 at Offerle, KS and sent an invitation to all those with an interest in the Santa Fe Trail to attend. The people who were already members of the Santa Fe Trail Association and lived in Pawnee, Edwards and Ford Counties were the core of the people I notified, as well as announcements in local newspapers and letters to people I knew shared an interest. 30 people attended that first meeting to discuss the possibility of forming a local chapter. It was decided that there was definitely enough interest to form such a chapter. We also discussed the areas on which we would concentrate our efforts. After several suggestions it was decided that the area where the Santa Fe Trail split into two distinct trails, known as the Wet Route and the Dry Route, and where they merged back together again would be the basis for our chapter, as well as our chapter name—the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association. Our first newsletter [click here] was sent out to inform those interested that we were going to form a chapter and inviting them to the next organizational meeting. Following this meeting, which was held on Sept. 8, 1990 in Offerle, KS, information about our chapter’s formation and next meeting [click to see “wet dry first news release"] was sent to area newspapers.
The SFTA granted us interim status as a Chapter and we held our first official Wet/Dry Routes Chapter meeting on October 13, 1990 in Offerle, Kansas. The first officers for the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter were: Joanne VanCoevern, President; Tim Burghart, Vice-President; Pam Wetzel, Sec./Treas.; David Clapsaddle, Program Chairman. A committee was created to work on chapter by-laws and discussion was held about proposed upcoming events.
The year of 1991 proved to be a very busy and a very successful one for the young Wet/Dry Routes Chapter. Our winter meeting was held at the Santa Fe Trail Center on Feb. 2, 1991 and consisted of a business meeting, tour of the facility and a presentation of “An Overview of the Santa Fe Trail” by Dr. Clapsaddle.
The first primary project of the newly formed Wet/Dry Routes Chapter was to mark the Santa Fe Trail in our area. A newsletter dated March 11, 1991 [click to see “wet dry newsletter 3-11-1991”] was sent out to announce plans for upcoming meetings and to thank those who had made contributions toward the marking project. Sites to be marked were chosen and a plan was put into place to accomplish it. Several dates were chosen: Feb. 10, 1991 – “Rut Riders” gathered at Big Coon Creek Crossing to choose a site for the marker. March 24, 1991 --The marker was set at the Big Coon Creek Crossing. Members of the PEO Chapter of Kinsley, Kansas were on hand for this event. It was a donation from their organization that made this marker possible. June 2, 1991 -- The marker at Dinner Station was set. More information about the progress being made on marking the Trail was included in a newsletter dated September 16, 1991 [click to see “wet dry news 9-16-1991”].
On October 13, 1991, our Chapter gathered at Fort Larned for our fall meeting, which was held in conjunction with the 25th anniversary celebration of the establishment of Fort Larned as a National Historic Site. A potluck dinner was held at the picnic area, followed by a business meeting, a demonstration by George Elmore on period weapons, and a “show and tell” of Santa Fe Trail related artifacts by members.
In September, 1991, the Santa Fe Trail Association held their symposium in Arrow Rock, Missouri. During the board of directors meeting, the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter was officially added to the roster as a Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association.
By mid-1991, all money that had been available to use for the Wet/Dry Routes Marking project had been spent. A finance committee was formed and asked to make a suggestion for a fund-raiser at our Winter Meeting, held January 19, 1992 at Kinsley, KS. Over 100 people who had gathered to hear Bill Chalfant speak on the Battle of Coon Creek, which took place near Kinsley, attended this meeting. During the business meeting the finance committee presented their plan to the chapter. The April 2, 1992 newsletter [click to see “wet dry newsletter 4-2-92”] details the plan that the chapter put in place. Our first chuckwagon BBQ was held at Camp Pawnee on Sunday May 3, 1992. In addition to a meal consisting of BBQ Beef, Baked Beans, Cole Slaw, Scalloped Potatoes, Bread and Beverage, added attractions included a Buckskinners camp, a Buffalo Soldier interpretation by Clarence Wadkins, horse drawn buggy rides given by Greg VanCoevern and “Chief”, and period musical entertainment. This event was very well attended and because of the great support that we had received, we were able to finish our first Trail marking project.
Our marker committee chairman, David Clapsaddle, reported that all planned markers along the Wet/Dry Routes had been placed and that a dedication for these markers was planned for Friday, May 29, 1992 at 1:30 p.m. at the Sibley’s Ridge marker location. The program that day included David Clapsaddle who welcomed the audience and made introductions; Pastor David Parks, Zion Lutheran Church, Offerle, gave the invocation; Ramon Powers, Ex. Dir. Of the Kansas State Historical Society introduced our guest speaker, who was David Gaines, the director for the National Park Service Southwest Region. Clara Goodrich led the audience in singing Kansas Land and Home on the Range. Contributors to the Wet/Dry Routes Marker Fund and property owners of marker sites were recognized.
The dedication of markers placed on the Wet and Dry Routes was held in conjunction with the Rendezvous at Larned. Mildon Yaeger, Bob Rein and David Clapsaddle “traveling display” that depicted the 58 historic sites that the Chapter had marked. The display contains commentary and photographs and was exhibited in various locations before being permanently housed at the Edwards County Museum in Kinsley.
The Wet/Dry Routes Chapter summer meeting was held in Larned with David Clapsaddle presenting information on the 5 distinct routes that make up the Wet and Dry Routes of the Santa Fe Trail.
The tours that our chapter conducted in 1991 had been so successful that it was decided to repeat it. On October 10, 1992, 80 participants boarded buses at Larned and headed out to follow the Wet Route of the Santa Fe Trail. Following a stop at the Schaller Ruts site, a lunch was prepared and served at the home of Steve and Pam Wetzel. Many volunteers, headed by Joanne VanCoevern, Lynda Burghart and Pam Wetzel, were able to feed the hungry “Rut Riders” and get them on their way to complete a very successful tour.
Kinsley, Kansas was the location for our Winter Meeting held on Jan.17, 1993. Dr. Leo Oliva gave a presentation on Francis X. Aubry. New officers were elected during the business meeting and the results were as follows: Pres.-Lon Palmer; VP-Louis Van Meter; and Sec./Treas.-Mildon & Ida Yeager. Appointed officers were: Historian-Clara Goodrich; Publicity-Carl Immenschuh; and Program Director-David Clapsaddle
The spring business meeting was held in Lewis, Kansas on April 4 and plans were made for the Chapters participation in Santa Fe Trail Days, which was held at Larned, May 29-30, 1993. A float, designed and constructed by Mildon Yeager, depicting the Trail marking project was entered into the parade on May 29. That evening, over 50 people participated in the pageant titled “No Man’s Land”. The pageant depicted a typical camping scene that would have occurred on the Santa Fe Trail during the 1850s and was based on information from Marian Russell’s book Land of Enchantment. The following day, May 30, found the Chapter gathered again at Camp Pawnee for another picnic featuring a beefalo dinner and historical demonstrations, which included: horse-shoeing by Darrel Maddy; carpentry by Mildon Yeager; blacksmithing by Carl Dilley; black powder shooting by Zacharias Bone and Roy “Rooster” Connelly; and stone carving by Bob Rein. Margaret Furbeck of Abilene was the lucky winner of a raffle of a stone post that was then carved with her name. David Clapsaddle, portraying George Bent; and Rusti Gardner, portraying an account of the oldest profession in the West, gave presentations. An added highlight was hayrack rides given by Willis Warner with his team of Percherons. Profits from the day were over $1300.00, which was used to continue the various projects of the Chapter.
A workday and get-together was held at the 4-H Barn in Larned on August 28, 1993. Chapter members worked to prepare 10 markers for installation on the Fort Hays-Fort Dodge Road. The 10 markers will be added to the 12 markers already in place.
Another successful tour, this time of the Dry Route, was held on October 9, 1993. Joanne VanCoevern, Lynda Burghart and Pam Wetzel again led a group of volunteers who prepared and served a lunch to participants at St. Joseph’s Hall in Offerle, Kansas.
Several other projects were started in 1993. We received $1,000 from the Larned Conference & Tourism Committee to print brochures listing the 58 historic locations that the Chapter marked in 1991-1993. David Clapsaddle compiled the information and Joanne VanCoevern did the typing, and Larry Mix checked the odometer readings for the project. It was decided to start an expanded newsletter, [click to see “wet dry newsletter 10-1-93”] which would be mailed to our membership. Added features of this newsletter were a “Did You Know” column [click to see “wet dry did you know document”] by David Clapsaddle, book reviews by George Elmore and Joanne VanCoevern, and the Marion and Will Corner, which featured artwork from elementary children. Ida Yeager will do the word processing for this publication. Joanne VanCoevern took the traveling display, which contains commentary and photographs of each of the 58 historic sites marked by the Chapter, to the Santa Fe Trail Association Symposium in LaJunta, Colorado.
Our fall meeting was held in Spearville, KS at the Parish Hall. Ron Parks, director of the Kaw Mission in Council Grove, gave a presentation on the Kaws and the Santa Fe Trail.