Donahue Ruts nominated for national historic register

Staff writer

Several areas of the historic Santa Fe Trail that ran through Marion County from 1821 to 1866 have been accepted for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

Officially titled “Donahue’s Santa Fe Trail Segment,” it comprises several stretches of wide indentations in grassland owned by the Jim Donahue family north of Durham.

One portion contains at least four visible swales 100 feet long, while another portion has one swale 200 feet long.

The segment was part of the route that connected the Lost Spring site west of present-day Lost Springs and Cottonwood Crossing northwest of present-day Durham.

The segment is nationally significant for its association with transportation and commerce along the Santa Fe Trail and its potential to yield information about this route through central Kansas.

The Donahue Ruts are northeast of the Durham Ruts, which are west of Durham and listed on the National Register.

The trail saw wide use during the 45 years it was actively traversing Marion County.

In June 1846, a commercial caravan left Lost Spring at 7 a.m intending to reach Cottonwood Creek before nightfall, a drive of more than 15 miles. Because of muddy ground, it didn’t reach its destination until the following afternoon.

Following close behind that caravan was Brigadier General Stephen Watts Kearny and his Army of the West. In early July, this group of approximately 1,600 men crossed the Donahue land on their way to occupy Santa Fe during the Mexican-American War.

One of the last recorded uses was in August 1865, when Kansas settler Frank Stahl was employed to drive more than 1,100 cattle to Fort Union, New Mexico for the U.S. military. Stahl watered the cattle at Lost Spring on Aug. 21 and encamped on a creek about six miles beyond Lost Spring. He crossed Cottonwood Creek the following day, having crossed the Donahue segment.

The Kansas Pacific Railroad arrived in Junction City in 1866 and Salina in 1867, ending commercial traffic on the trail in Marion County. In the years immediately following, the Santa Fe Trail was used as a local road in this area until section line roads were established from 1882 to 1892.

Steve Schmidt, president of the Sunflower chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association, was happy to hear about the new historical designation on the trail.

“Anything that enhances the history of the trail is welcome,” he said.

Schmidt spearheaded the effort to mark an auto tour route of the trail in Marion County several years ago.

Last modified Sept. 22, 2016