By Jim Misunas
LARNED — Women travelers were few on the Santa Fe Trail.
That’s one reason why storyteller David Clapsaddle of Larned enjoys relating the story of author Marian Russell (1845-1936). Her book “Land of Enchantment” is a rare first-hand account by a woman about life on the Santa Fe Trail. Russell dictated her story to her daughter-in-law in the 1930s shortly before her death in Colorado.
Russell spoke of buffalo chips used for fire, road runners, horned toads and tarantulas. The residents at Country Place Senior Living recently heard how a steady diet of salt pork and biscuits was prepared.
“Land of Enchantment” paints a vibrant portrait from Kansas City to 19th-century New Mexico as seen by a bright young girl starting at the age of seven. Mrs. Russell’s memories provides a picture of the region’s Santa Fe Trail history.
Clapsaddle tells Santa Fe Trail stories from seven trunks, which preserve his memorabilia. But telling Russell’s story is one of his favorites because it’s a factually-based tale. Russell’s story carries personal meaning because Clapsaddle has met Russell’s grandson and visited her gravesite near Stonewall, Colo.
“The places and events are always true, but some of the other stories are historical fiction,” he said. “It’s gratifying to see they are internalizing the information.”
His presentation works well with people who appreciate a good story and American history.
“I always generate a number of questions from an adult audience,” he said. “A lot of them appreciate knowing what their children and grand-children are learning about history in their schools. It gives them a first-hand look at what I teach about history.”
Clapsaddle’s interest in the trail helped him develop a traveling trunk program targeted for elementary school students. The trunks hold artifacts from his private collection, and the stories he tells revolve around children and their experiences. He speaks before several thousand youngsters every year. The Fort Larned National Historic Site funds his program.
Clapsaddle moved to Larned where he worked at the state hospital as coordinator of research and training. It was through that job that he learned of the Dry Route of the Santa Fe Trail that passed through the hospital grounds. His father and mother fostered his interest in 19th-century history.
The Santa Fe Trail was one of the great commercial routes across the West, frequented by merchants and emigrants.
Fort Larned was occupied in 1859 and permanent buildings were built from 1866 to 1868. The mission was to escort the mail stage on the 140 miles of the Santa Fe Trail from Cow Creek in Rice County to the Arkansas River crossing west of Dodge City. U.S. cavalry rode on top of the stage or in a wagon that traveled alongside the mail.