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Santa Fe Wet-Dry Route geography is explained
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LARNED — The general area of concentration for the Wet/Dry Routes Chapters is between the Ash Creek Crossing and Fort Dodge, in the Kansas counties of Pawnee, Edwards and Ford.
The first primary project of the newly formed Wet/Dry Routes Chapter was to mark the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas.
The area of the Wet/Dry Routes can be easily accessed by simply following U.S. 56. Towns and cities along this modern-day route include Great Bend, Pawnee Rock, Larned, Garfield, Kinsley, Offerle, Bellefont, Spearville, Wright and Dodge City.
Once early Santa Fe Trail travelers left Pawnee Rock and crossed Ash Creek, they would travel another six miles and reach Pawnee Fork, located at present-day Larned.
From Pawnee Fork, travelers would continue along the north bank of the Arkansas River until they reached one of the several crossings or beyond. This is the route that became known as the “Wet Route.”
The Wet Route has also been referred to by such other names as the river route, the water road, and the lower road. A caravan, captained by Charles Bent in 1833 and escorted by Captain William Wycliffe’s Command, departed the river valley near Pawnee Fork crossing to pursue an upland course to the Arkansas.
From that date forward, traffic on the Santa Fe Trail alternated between the established road along the river known as the “Wet Route” and the road across the upland that became known as the “Dry Route.”
In the Kansas Historical Quarterly 16 (November 1948) on page 348, an article by H.B. Mollhausen and titled, “Over the Santa Fe Trail Through Kansas in 1858,” stated the following:
“By the way, there is a road across the upland known as the “Dry Road.” It is even shorter than the road down the river which has been called the “Water Road,” but the “Dry Road” is always avoided by the oxen caravans, and usually by the mule caravans, too because of the lack of water.”
Other references to this route include such names as the bluff road, the ridge road, and the upper road. It also was referred to as the cut-off and the straight road, concluding that taking this route could save several miles.
Historical references estimated the mileage saved on this route as being from 10 miles to 20 or 30 miles. Modern measurements indicate the difference between these two routes is about six miles.