While I strongly agree that development of Santa Fe Trail historic sites is an important tourism push for this region, Karen LaPierre’s “Viewpoint” piece in the Tribune of Thursday, August 30th, demonstrated the lack of knowledge many locals and, indeed, tourism people have about our local sites.
For instance, she stated that, “Fort Zarah currently has not had much archeological study.” On the contrary, various Fort Zarah and Walnut Creek Crossing sites have been excavated and much of the material retrieved is on view at the Barton County Historical Society (a Santa Fe National Historic Trail Interpretive Site). It should also be noted that these sites are on private property and are not open to tourists or unauthorized excavators. The first excavations actually occurred in 1933, when Major McFarland Cockrill was sent out here from Fort Riley to locate and disinter the remains of soldiers buried in the old Fort Zarah cemetery. The remains of those soldiers were then shipped to the National Cemetery at Fort Leavenworth. A number of digs and site investigations also occurred from the 1960s into the 1980s.
Ms. LaPierre mentioned the sites that have recently been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places along the Santa Fe Trail over in Pawnee County. She failed to note, however, that two extremely important Barton County sites have been on the National Register for forty or more years: Pawnee Rock (1970) and the Walnut Creek Crossing (1972).
Indeed, many students of Santa Fe Trail history would agree that the most dangerous stretch on the old trail was that between Plum Buttes (Rice County) and Pawnee Rock (Barton County) -- right across the breadth of Barton County. Tourism promotions locally have neglected the exciting stories that occurred right here. Names like Kit Carson, Buffalo Bill Cody, George Armstrong Custer, General W.S. Hancock, Satank, Satanta, and many others left marks in our local history. Few people are aware that Fort Zarah was garrisoned by Galvanized Yankees and Buffalo Soldiers. How about the Massacre at Plum Buttes, the Walnut Creek Massacre, various murders, Indian attacks, and so on? We have a lot of history here. Let’s use it to benefit our economy.