By David K. Clapsaddle
“The essentials for a camping place are wood, water and grass,” wrote Robert Morris Peck in “Rough Riding on the Plains: A Trooper’s Story,” in the National Tribune, Feb. 28, 1901.
In the Trans-Mississippi West, travelers camped in the open far removed from even the meager amenities of a frontier settlement or a trading ranch.
They had to depend upon Mother Nature for the elements of survival, if not comfort.
Four years later, Colonel Henry Dodge, returning from his expedition to the Rocky Mountains, pursued a similar course from a point east of Round Grove to Fort Leavenworth.
The route was enhanced by the establishment of the Fort Leavenworth Military Road in 1837. Replicating the road to Round Grove for the first 29 miles, it veered to the southeast to follow the Kansas/Missouri line southward. The more extensive use of the road to Lone Elm came with the advent of the Mexican War when supply trains and troop movements plied the road in large numbers.
One such troop movement was that of the First Illinois Volunteers in 1847. Included in the regiment was Ben Wiley of Company B, a 26-year-old private.
His diary speaks several times of springs along the road.
Leaving Fort Leavenworth, his company marched to the present site of Buffalo Bill Park in Leavenworth. There Wiley recorded, “a good spring with plenty of water.”
After a 14-mile march, the company camped at Gum Spring. Continuing on, the company crossed Nine Mile Creek and veered southeast eight miles to another campsite named Gum Spring. After being ferried across the
Kansas River, the men marched four miles to what Wiley characterized as “one of the finest springs I ever saw.”
There were, in fact, six or seven springs in the immediate area. Regardless, the location was known as
Gum Spring, not Gum Springs. This spring, as well as the other two previously identified as Gum Spring, were so named for a “gum” hollowed from the bole of a gum tree to serve as a water reservoir. Gum was the
given designation for such a trough. regardless of the tree’s species.
Other roads emanated from the various railheads of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division, to
connect with the established route of the Santa Fe Trail at several points.
As such, for brief periods, each became the eastern leg of the Santa Fe Trail. The first was the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road running 120 miles southwest from Junction City to Walnut Creek. Barlow and Sanderson established a number of stage stations on this route in 1866, including Well’s Ranch on Plum Creek.
Lieutenant M. R. Brown, engineer with the 1867 Hancock Expedition, noted that at that location the creek was dry in the summer but that water could be obtained from a nearby spring.
This was the only spring noted on the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road except Sand Spring, three miles west of Abilene as recorded in the Junction City Union, Aug. 4, 1866.
The Union Pacific Railway pushing westward established other railheads at Fort Harker, Hays, and Phil Sheridan. The Southern Overland Mail and Express Company chose not to establish headquarters at Sheridan, but rather at Pond Creek, about 15 miles to the west, the site of a former Butterfield Overland Dispatch station. Six stations were established on the route which ran south from Pond Creek to Fort Lyon on the Bent’s Fort Road. Among these stations was Kiowa Springs, named for its nearby water source.
The reader may notice springs, plural, as opposed to previously mentioned water sources called spring, singular.
At the same time the Union Pacific/Kansas Pacific was pursuing an east-west course across Kansas, the
Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad was laying tracks in a southwest orientation across the state, reaching the end-of-the-tracks town named Granada in Colorado Territory in 1873.
From there, freight was shipped to Fort Union on what became known as the Granada-Fort Union Road or the Military Freight Road.
John Metcalf, a freighter, reported in his 1874 diary the names of two springs, Kiowa and Chico, both
located between the Cimarron River and the Rock Crossing of the Canadian.
A third water source called Willow Springs was the campsite of Major A. J. Alexander and his 8th Cavalry detachment in August 1874, situated eight miles northeast of present Kiowa, Colo.
This study had a threefold purpose:
(1) to recognize the importance of springs as a major water source for Santa Fe Trail travelers,
(2) to identify the location of the springs, and
(3) to establish the designatlon by which these water sources were known during the historic period.
Bingham’s table with a single exception referred to springs in the singular.
Other tables such as the Dave Carleton Table of 1846-1848, used the plural springs, always spring.
The same could be said of Charles Folsom’s 1842 table and the table compiled by Josiah Gregg.
Randolph Marcy’s table and Kendrick’s 1849 table followed suit.
There are some exceptions, of course, to this generalization, as previously cited.
One could conclude that in the historic period, spring was the generally accepted designation for this type of water source.
Regardless, within the general public and even some writers of note, springs has crept into the nomenclature of frontier references. Especially is this true with regard to towns established adjacent to historic spring sites. The Gum Spring site on the Fort Leavenworth-Lone Elm Road became the location of Gum Springs in early Johnson County.
Other examples include the Kansas towns of Willow Springs, Diamond Springs, and Lost Springs.
Sadly, devotees of the Santa Fe Trail do not make a distinction between the historic designation of spring and the modern invention of springs.
Perhaps, this study will help in this respect.
Santa Fe Trail Association Ambassador David Clapsaddle is president of the Wet/Dry Routes Chapter and a frequent contributor to Wagon Tracks.