This set of ruts is located near the present-day town of Dodge City. During Santa Fe Trail days, the town did not exist. As you stand in the parking lot near the ruts, look to the south (across the highway). You will see trees along the Arkansas River. Today the river is usually dry, however, in trail days it oft en had enough water in it to make crossing dangerous.
Approximately 12 miles west of this site is the location of one of the crossings of the Arkansas River. Before the Mexican-American War in 1846, the south side of the river was Mexico. When the Santa Fe Trail traders crossed the river, they were in a foreign country. It was near these ruts that the traders had to make a decision—to take a shortcut to Santa Fe or continue west through the mountains. There were dangers in both routes. Those who crossed the river here and turned south to Santa Fe traveled through an extremely dry land.
This was very difficult for men and animals. This cut-off was known as the Cimarron Route. Those choosing to continue along the Arkansas River to the west were on the Mountain Route. It was also a long hard journey getting their wagons across those mountains.
Walk to the kiosk to learn more history of the trail. Look at the swales or ruts that are visible at this place. These were made by both Anglo and Mexican trade caravans. Thousands of wagons have cross this land and left their imprint in the land. It is hard for us to imagine the large number of wagons and men that regularly crossed the prairie between Missouri and Santa Fe and back again.
In the summer of 1829, the first military escort marched from Ft. Leavenworth. The escort had 200 infantrymen, 20 heavy wagons, and four carts pulled by oxen. The caravan they were protecting entered Mexico as they crossed the Arkansas River west of this site headed to Santa Fe. The military remained in this area for more than three months awaiting the return of the traders. Finally in October, the 96 traders returned along with 16 Spanish refugees who had joined them. They brought back 16 Spanish refugees who had joined them, 30 wagons, and 2000 head of horses, mules, and donkeys to sell when they returned home. Escorting them back to America was a Mexican force of 200 men. All of the people met on the American side of the river and spent two days celebrating—eating, hunting buffalo, showing their skills with horses, and other activities.
See also Stop 21.