By Jim Misunas
GARFIELD — Coon Creek Crossing along the Fort Larned Military Road is adjacent to U.S. 56 approximately 1.5 miles southwest of Garfield.
The property boundary encompasses 16.14 acres of land, comprising a narrow strip of relatively undisturbed pasture and wooded areas along the west side of U.S. 56. The property is comprised of gently rolling grassland and wooded areas, surrounding both sides of Coon Creek. The owners have made the southern portion available for visitation, with a marker and informal parking area situated along the edge of the highway.
The property was identified by Leo and Bonita Oliva during a 1988 National Park Service survey of Santa Fe Trail sites, which was published in 1990 as part of a list of 194 “High-Potential Historic Sites and Route Segments Along the Santa Fe Trail,” in the Comprehensive Management and Use Plan.
At its north end, the property contains a trail crossing over Coon Creek characterized by five distinct cutdowns present along the creek’s north bank. A clear depression, believed to be a trail-related dugout, is present as well and is recorded as archeological site 14PA366.
A noncontributing stone marker, erected by the Wet/Dry Route Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association, is situated along an east-west fence line and field road at the property’s northern margin. The southern portion of the property contains two areas of visible swales along with another crossing of Coon Creek evidenced by cutdowns on both sides of the waterway.
A non-contributing barn is situated between the visible swales and the cutdowns on the west portion of the site. The crossings and swales that comprise the Coon Creek Crossing and the Fort Larned Military Road Segment are examples of a Transportation Site (Trail Segment subtype), as defined in the multiple property nomination. Since the physical characteristics of land, natural features, and vegetation play a dominant role in the assessment of the site’s integrity, the seven aspects of integrity outlined in National Register Bulletin 15: How To Apply the National Register Criteria for Evaluation are applied to the site in a special way similar to their application to rural landscapes.
This site lies within the Great Bend Lowland division of the Arkansas River Lowlands section of the Central Lowland province of the Interior Plains of North America.3 The Great Bend Lowland is an undulating plain of little relief extending in a 10-40 mile wide band along the great northerly bend of the Arkansas River from around Dodge City on the west through Great Bend and Wichita to Arkansas City on the east.
It is a poorly drained area of sand dunes and sandy plains, among which are found salt marshes, ponds, and sloughs. The surface materials consist almost entirely of sands and gravels eroded from the Rocky Mountains during the Pleistocene and carried downstream by alluvial action of the Arkansas River, which flows through the area and to the east in a shallow channel bounded by a wide, flat, poorly drained river valley. The river is not confined to a single channel, but instead has a number of channels with intervening islands, which is a braided pattern characteristic of an aggrading or depositing stream. Most of the stream flow of the Arkansas is underground; water is usually only barely visible on the surface except during times of flooding.
The vegetation of the Great Bend Lowland in prehistoric and early historic times apparently consisted of sand prairie cut through by a thin band of floodplain forest or savanna along the Arkansas River and a few of its tributaries. Archeologist Waldo Wedel noted that the “low grass-grown banks” of the Arkansas upstream of the Little Arkansas seem to have been “largely treeless except for occasional cottonwoods” and in his view this was probably true for most of the region west and south of the main stream.
The potential natural vegetation of the prairie mainly included big and little bluestem (Andropogon gerardii and Schizachyrium scoparium), sandreed (Calamovilfa longifolia), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.), with the forested areas.
The northern portion of the property was addressed in a draft National Register nomination (prepared by the Urbana Group) in 1992 and much of the following discussion is drawn from that document. At the time of survey, five cutdowns were present along the northern margin of Coon Creek, but ruts were no longer visible on the south bank.
The meandering stream appears to have eroded the stream bank and the ruts. Several abandoned stream channels are visible south of the crossing. The northern portion of the property is bounded to the east by the western margin of U.S. 56 and to the north by an east-west fence line. More recent human modification of the site includes the deposition of “historic garbage recent in nature” in the depression/dugout and the erection of a wooden commemorative sign on the property by the county historical group. The natural processes of weathering and erosion have also played a role in the modification of the site especially in terms of fluvial erosion.