Old West history resides along well-beaten path
If you plan to dine at the newly reopened Al’s Café in Lost Springs, a short drive away is the historic Lost Spring Station on the Santa Fe Trail, 2¼ miles west of Lost Springs.
Located on a blacktop road, the historic site includes a monument and informational sign. A walking path to the spring along a creek bed can be accessed during special events or by appointment. The spring is in a cow pasture owned by Shields Farms.
The Santa Fe Trail was a commercial trail for trade between Missouri and Santa Fe. Angling from northeast to southwest, it ran across open, unsettled prairie for 40 years before Marion County was established and towns were platted.
Using pack mules on his first trip to Santa Fe in 1821, William Becknell of Missouri used wagons the next year. In 1825, the government surveyed the route and made treaties with Kansa and Osage Indian tribes.
During the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848, the Army of the West traveled the trail. A total of 1,700 men and 300 wagons traveled across what was to become Marion County.
Mail wagons began on the trail for monthly deliveries in 1850. Weekly deliveries began 1858. Shortly after, George Smith established Lost Spring Station, with a 30-by-50-foot ranch house and a large stockade.
“It was the 1860s equivalent of a convenience store, bar, and grill,” said Steve Schmidt, president of the Cottonwood Crossing chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association.
Smith lost the station to Jack Costello in a poker game. That’s when big political changes happened. In 1860, Marion Centre was settled; in 1861, Kansas became a state; in 1863, the Homestead Act was passed; and in 1865, Marion County was organized.
The railroad reached Junction City in 1866, bringing an end to national travel on the trail in Marion County.
“Traffic ceased on the Santa Fe Trail almost overnight,” Schmidt said, “like a downtown gas station when a bypass is opened.”
In 1868, Costello sold the station to business partner, Thomas Wise and moved to Marion Centre, where he opened a business and became the first mayor.
Wise continued to operate the station as a local business for a few more years before it was abandoned.
Maps at the site show the entire trail through the county. An auto tour route marked by special signs.
Last modified June 30, 2022