By David K. Clapsaddle
Marching double time, the battalion traveled 15 miles on the 17th to 110 Mile Creek. There, Bryan recorded, “Water and wood in abundance.”
There, in 1854, Fry P. McGee purchased a farm from some white men married to Shawnee women. McGee brought his family to 110 Mile Creek where they occupied the log buildings built by the previous owners and constructed a toil bridge across the stream, testimony to timber at that location.
West of 110 Mile Creek, Bryan’s battalion marched eight miles on the 19th to a stream he failed to identify by name.
There, he wrote, “We came to a creek with narrow skirts of timber on each side.”
The stream was Bridge Creek, sometimes called Switzler’s Creek for the proprietor of the toll bridge built at that location, now the town of Burlingame.
On the 20th, the battalion marched 18 miles to Pool Creek, better known as 742 Mile Creek.
There, Bryan wrote, “Pool Creek, water and wood.”
In 1854, Charles Withington opened a trading establishment at that location, using timber from the creek to construct log buildings and a toll bridge.
The battalion continued its march west 18 miles to Big John Spring on the 21st. There, Bryan observed, “Prairie still roiling, rocks in great abundance - timbered creeks.”
The spring was named for Big John Walker, who, at the direction of George C. Sibley, scribed in large letters on a large oak tree during the 1827 resurvey of the Santa Fe Trail, “Big John’s Spring.”
Only 21/2 miles farther was Council Grove in present Morris County, Kansas, named for the tree growth on the Neosho River where commissioners of the Santa Fe Trail Survey party negotiated with Osage tribal leaders for right-of-way through their lands on Aug. 9-10, 1825.
There, the battalion stayed from July 22-24, but Bryan made no mention of the timber which populated the Neosho.
Regardless, the record is replete with descriptions of Council Grove in this respect. Perhaps, none is more telling than that of Josiah Gregg.
“This point is nearly a 150 miles from Independence, and consists of a continuous stripe of timber nearly half a mile in width, comprising the richest varieties of trees; such as oak, walnut, ash, elm and hickory, and extending all along the valleys of a small stream known as Council Grove Creek, the principal branch of the Neosho River. This stream is bordered by the most fertile bottoms and beautiful upland prairies, well adapted to cultivation: such indeed is the general character of the country from thence to Independence.”
Departing Council Grove on the 25th, the battalion pushed on 18 miles to Diamond Spring where Bryan observed, “timber scarce, all walnut.”
The spring was named Diamond Spring on June 10, 1825, during the survey of the Santa Fe Trail when George C. Sibley directed Big John Walker to carve on a stooping elm, “Diamond of the Plain.”
Continuing the march on the 26th, Bryan and his companions arrived at Lost Spring, 15 miles to the west. He recorded, “Lost Spring situated on a slough without timber, one tree three or four miles off is all the timber in sight.”
Such is reflected by Susan Magoffin who wrote on June 23, 1846, “I believe there is not a tree in sight.”
Pressing on, the battalion reached what Bryan called Cotton Wood Fork on the 27th.
Cottonwood Grove was situated on a creek of the same name in present Marion County. Aptly so, according to Bryan who wrote, “The timber on this creek is all cottonwood, hence the name.”
Matt Field, a one time thespian and would-be poet, was dramatic in his praise of the place. “Between St. Louis and Santa Fe, a distance of 1,500 miles, it may be imagined there are some very beautiful places, and there are, but the loveliest place to be selected in all that long travel is Cottonwood Grove, a magnificent oasis about 150 miles beyond Independence.”
Eighteen miles beyond Cottonwood Grove, the battalion reached what Bryan called Turkey Creek, actually Running Turkey Creek.
There on July 28, he wrote, “No timber discoverable no water until we reached Turkey Creek rather a slough than a creek; encamped here, no wood (chips, plenty); nights very cool.”
On the 29th, the battalion marched 24 miles to the Little Arkansas River.
Bryan made no mention of wood there, but later sources indicate the presence of timber on the stream. On Aug. 7, 1858, Augustus Voorhees confided to his diary, “They are building a bridge here. The timber is cottonwood and box elder.”
From the Little Arkansas, the battalion marched 10 miles to Owl Creek.
There, Bryan wrote, “No timber, or water, still in sight of Arkansas timber.”
On the 31st, the battalion marched 10 miles to Cow Creek.
There, Bryan made no mention of timber, but later reports indicate that indeed timber was present on the stream.
Santa Fe Trail Association Ambassador Clapsaddle is president of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter and a frequent contributor to Wagon Tracks. Special thanks to him for his research and articles. It should be noted that the absence of timber on the Great Plains was largely due to frequent prairie fires.
(To Be Continued)