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New Mexico native and museum director lays down Kansas roots
Santa Fe Trail Center Museum Director Seth McFarland and a full-sized mounted bison. The bison, affectionately called “Wally,” is on exhibit in the museum’s East Gallery.

LARNED — From his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Seth McFarland has taken to the trail that bears the city’s name and ventured 483 miles – all the way to Pawnee County and the Santa Fe Trail Center Museum and Library. McFarland was named the museum’s director in late September following two decades and five stops at other museums either as an administrator or working in community outreach.

“This is my third museum, at least in relation to the Santa Fe Trail,” McFarland said. “I’ve worked in small, rural areas and larger urban communities so I’ve had a taste of how large and small organizations function.” He said his interest in museums and history began in the third grade.

McFarland is no stranger to the Santa Fe Trail but said living in Kansas is a new experience. “This opportunity in Larned was what I was looking for given my interest with the trail and my experience working in other museums.”

McFarland has worked the past seven years at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe and said he has always wanted to experience other stopping points along the famed trail. “I’m happy to finally land in a rural community,” said McFarland. “It’s been an urban rush for about the last 10 years and this is a welcomed opportunity to relieve that stress.”

Moving forward, McFarland said his plans revolve around increasing revenue for the Trail Center.

“I see a lot of opportunities to help the museum share the story of this region and part of my vision is to improve fundraising and strengthen ties in Pawnee County and the surrounding communities,” he said. “I really want to establish a network with these communities and the Ft. Larned Historical Society and the Ft. Larned Historical Site and continue to provide a meaningful education experience for all ages.”

McFarland said the current COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges to museum operations but those issues are not unique to the Trail Center. “COVID has been an interesting twist for us,” he said. 

“Obviously it’s restricted visitor traffic like it has at other museums but it has ignited our creative abilities to virtually connect with people.” McFarland also noted that while the pandemic has limited travel activities, it has also provided local residents an opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their regional past. “We’ve noticed that this has also encouraged folks to recognize the local history and venues in their own neighborhood,” he said.

The Trail Center has acquired several historic buildings over the years, according to McFarland. “And these buildings all have a story to tell,” he said. “Almost everyday I’ve found something new in our collections or our archives and I want to be able to share those items with our visitors.”

As far as marketing efforts are concerned, McFarland said social media and printed advertising have been the primary venues for coordinating public outreach.

“We’re also exploring additional online options because traditional marketing tends to be rather costly, especially for smaller museums,” he said.

Individuals or organizations interested in making a donation to the museum can do so either by mail or in person but McFarland said an online donation platform is in the works. Donations may be sent to: Santa Fe Trail Center Museum, 1349 K-156, Larned, KS 67550.

The Santa Fe Trail was a 19th-century route through central North America that connected Franklin, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico. Pioneered in 1821 by William Becknell, who departed from the Boonslick region along the Missouri River, the trail served as a vital commercial highway until 1880, when the railroad arrived in Santa Fe. Santa Fe was near the end of the El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro, which carried trade from Mexico City.

The Santa Fe Trail Center Museum and Library has an extensive collection of authentic objects in its collections, including prehistoric American Indian artifacts, trade items from the trail, antique furniture, agricultural equipment, vintage automobiles, tools, toys, paintings, rugs, clothing, medical equipment and more.

It also houses more than 700 linear feet of archival records documenting life in Larned, surrounding communities and Pawnee County. The museum is the official repository of historic Pawnee County records. An an extensive collection of books, including topics on American Indians, Spanish exploration, pioneer life on the plains, the Santa Fe Trail, Westward Expansion, trappers and much more are included in the museum’s research library.

Museum hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit or call 620-285-2054.