By JUDI TABLER
LARNED — Unlike Fort Larned, the Santa Fe Trail Center Museum does not receive any federal or state funding.
The museum is not owned or operated by Pawnee County or the city of Larned. However, it does receive a small amount of help from the county levy.
The museum archive is the official Pawnee County repository. The frequently misunderstood link between the fort and the museum is a different but connecting story line of the Santa Fe Trail.
Preserving their families’ treasures began in 1923 when one of the oldest historical societies in Kansas began here.
For decades, historical items were stored in basements, attics, garages, and barns. Sometimes these treasures appeared on public display at the courthouse or the city library. And then when the fort was privately owned by the Frizell family, the “Pawnee County Historical Society” operated a museum in one of the fort buildings.
Somewhere along the way, the Pawnee County Historical Society changed its name to the Fort Larned Historical Society. This name remains today and here is where the confusion multiplies.
Many of these same historical-minded citizens were the individuals who fought the political fight and did the work to get the United States government to purchase the fort property and turn it into the National Historic Site it is today.
The fort’s role on the Santa Fe Trail was for the military presence and only existed from about 1860 to 1875.
Commerce across Kansas and this part of the trail was active from 1821 to 1880 with two-way traffic on foot. The early traders transported their goods in covered wagons pulled by oxen to Mexico.
When the railroad reached Santa Fe in 1880, the mode of travel then changed radically. Railroad companies sold the extra land they received from the government to settlers from the East coast and Europe.
It was then that the Santa Fe Trail route began to dry up.
Larned was incorporated in 1872. And the story of those years of activity at the Fort would stay hidden in history for almost 100 years.
Then, in the 1970s, Fort Larned’s military story was resurrected.
It was then that the Historical Society had to move their museum out of the fort complex. Those members whose parents or grandparents settled here and developed this area of Kansas wanted to tell the larger story of the trail.
There was more than only the military history of the Santa Fe Trail in Pawnee County. These ancestors wanted future residents and visitors to know that originally this land was Indian Territory and that strong, brave men and women pioneered this country
And the work began to establish this historical museum to tell the story of the domestic settlement on the Santa Fe Trail.
(To Be Continued)