Ralph’s Ruts is the name given to an outstanding example of preserved Santa Fe Trail ruts. Ralph Hathaway was a long time caretaker of Santa Fe Trail ruts and Plum Buttes, which are on land originally settled by his grandfather. There are several distinct ruts running parallel east and west through the pasture. When Ralph’s grandfather broke the sod on this farm he found several things: a pistol, a watch, and many pieces of hardware from burned wagons. Other artifacts that were found later were broken bits of ironstone china and a few large caliber bullets. You may have seen some of these items at the Coronado-Quivira Museum.
About one mile east of here was the location of an attack led by Charley Bent, (son of Santa Fe Trail trader, William Bent and his Cheyenne wife). Tensions were high between the Cheyenne and the US military following the massacre of Cheyenne at Sand Creek in 1864 during which over 150 people were killed, mostly Indian women, children, and the elderly. Charley Bent and his followers were mostly Cheyenne and attacked a single column wagon caravan in 1867. Members of the family of Franz Huning were killed during the attack. Knowing the dangers of trail travel, Huning had requested a military escort from the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at the Little Arkansas Crossing. Their request was denied. After the attack, Huning went to Fort Zarah for help. There were no soldiers in the camp, but two civilian scouts went back to the site with him. Not only had the family and one of the teamsters been killed, the prairie had been set on fi re to prevent the rest of the wagon train from returning to help.
After visiting Ralph’s Ruts, drive to the top of the hill beside the notch. The notch was probably formed as many wagons passed through the sand at the top of the hill. Look to the north (right). At one time you would have been able to see three large hills made of sand known as “Plum Buttes.” Plum bushes once covered these hills. Now you have to use your imagination because the wind has eroded away the hills. During the trail era, the hills were nearly 100 feet high. Historians call the Indian attack on the Huning family the Plum Buttes massacre because the wagons were near their lunch stop which would have been at Plum Buttes. Even though there was no firewood on the buttes, wagon trains usually stopped here for lunch.
There is a link to a short film about traveling the trail from Plum Buttes to Pawnee Rock, below.