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Owner loses mail station in poker game
Tales of the Satna Fe Trail
Clapsaddle and bed covering
COURTESY PHOTO Local historian David Clapsaddle shows quilts and animal covers that would be used by travelers in forts and stopping points along the Santa Fe Trail.

By David K. Clapsaddle

Editor’s Note: Local historian David Clapsaddle writes about aspects about the Santa Fe Trail. The early years before trading on the Santa Fe Trail eventually included Fort Larned and Pawnee County. The seventh installment profiled the areas of Diamond Spring and Six Mile Creek.

Lost Spring
A short seven miles west of Six Mile Creek was Lost Spring, named for its lack of water at certain periods of the year.
Emptying into Lyon Creek, it was a well known location on the Santa Fe Trail. There, in present Marion County, George Smith established a ranch in 1859. In the same year, he contracted with Hockaday and Hall to operate a mail station.
The three-room board and batten structure built by Smith measured 30-by-40 feet with an L extension containing a kitchen and dining area.
The building was outfitted with four outside doors, five 12-paned windows, and a dirt floor. Interior walls were covered with newspapers. In the absence of chimneys, stone pipes extended through the sod roof.
Southwest of the house was a stockade, enclosing an acre of ground, constructed of eight-foot poles with rifle loops placed at appropriate intervals.
Late in 1859, a drifter named Jack Costello, who had traveled through the West following a stint in the Mexican War, stopped at Lost Creek for a night of drinking and gambling. By dawn of the following morning, Costello’s poker prowess had won the station.
Smith saddled a horse and rode away leaving his property in the lucky hands of Costello.
Costello made a number of improvements to the station, building a corral and digging a well. Adding an ample supply of provisions, he began to cater to the lawless element of the area, and the station soon became known as a hangout for the ne’er-do-wells. Eleven men were said to have met their deaths at Costello’s station.
In the same year, the Thomas Wise family, returning from an unsuccessful trip to the Colorado gold fields, stopped at the ranch.
Wise, being impressed with the farming prospects of the area, was persuaded by Costello to join him in the operation of the ranch. The partnership was strengthened in 1862 when Costello married Wise’s sister, Abigail.
In 1861, a post office named Lost Spring was established at the station. Oddly enough, neither Costello nor Wise was chosen as postmaster. Rather, Joshua Smith received the appointment.
In 1866, like other establishments east of Walnut Creek, the Lost Spring enterprise was forced to close by westward extension of the Union Pacific Railway. However, Costello and Wise remained at the ranch, farming the 160 acres homesteaded by Costello.
In 1868, Costello sold the quarter section to Wise. Moving to Marion Centre, he opened a general store and saloon.
Cottonwood Creek
Cottonwood Creek was 17 miles west of Lost Spring in present Marion County.
Sometimes called Cottonwood Grove for its fine stand of timber, it was the last place on the Santa Fe Trail where wood could be obtained for many miles. There, George Smith, the same George Smith of Lost Spring fame, established a ranch sometime in the mid-1850s.
The precise date that Smith came to Cottonwood Creek is unknown, but the ranch was in operation when Maj. John Sedgwick’s troops arrived at the crossing in 1857.
At that time, Smith was conducting business from a single log house. By 1858, according to the 1858 table of distances, a mail station was located at the ranch where Smith sold hay, corn, and provisions. The ubiquitous entertainment was also listed.
In that year, Abraham Atlantic Moore and his brother Ira stopped at the ranch on a return trip from Santa Fe. Thinking the ranch to be a good investment, they purchased the business, built a second log house, and continued to operate the business.
A post office named Moore’s Ranch was opened in November, 1860. Ira Moore was appointed postmaster.
In 1861, Abraham, sometimes called Lank, moved to Marion Centre and opened a store. In the following year, he married Nancy Waterman. At the organization of Marion County, he was elected county treasurer. Ira, too, moved to Marion Centre where at a later date he built a grist mill west of the town in partnership with Charles Fuller.
In the Moores’ absence, William Shreve was employed to manage the ranch, and upon his death in 1865, his daughter Charity assumed his place.
In the same year, Abraham was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives.
Like the other trading establishments east of Walnut Creek, the ranch closed to serve overland traffic after 1866 when the railroad superseded the Santa Fe Trail in the Marion County area.
(To Be Continued)