Pawnee Rock - Santa Fe Trail Landmark
Pawnee Rock is a
historic landmark on the
Fe Trail, as well as a small town that grew
up around the rock in present-day Pawnee County, Kansas. Located in the
southwest corner of the county, the bluff, comprised of Dakota Sandstone,
sits about 100 yards from the old Santa Fe Trail, but before this road was
blazed, the large rock formation, rising up out of the flat prairie, was a site where the
held councils of war and peace.
battles were fought here and the sandstone citadel was also used by
the Native Americans
as a vantage point to spot buffalo herds, and later -- approaching wagon
White explorers such as
Josiah Gregg, Alexander Doniphan, mentioned
Pawnee Rock in
later became a popular stop upon the Santa Fe Trail
for the white settlers heading west in search of adventure and
fortune. The Rock was considered the mid-point of the long road
lying between long stretches of dry plains. Water, provided by the
and fresh meat, obtained by plentiful game, was vital to the survival
of the wagon trains.
Rock today, Kathy Weiser, April, 2009.
This image available for photo prints & commercial
As the hundreds of
thousands of trappers, soldiers, gold seekers and emigrants passed by,
they carved their names into every conceivable place upon the
sandstone face of the bluff. In 1848, James Birch, a soldier on
his way to the Mexican War, wrote: "Pawnee Rock was
covered with names carved by the men who had passed it. It was so full
that I could find no place for mine."
Although the rock was
one of the most famous landmarks along the 750-mile trail, it also
became known as one of the most dangerous points, as the angry
began ambushing the caravans. Word of the attacks spread from
one end of the trail to the other, but the wagon trains still stopped
at the vital campsite needing fresh provisions for the rest of their
Originally the rock was much larger than it is presently, as a
great deal of stone was taken from the bluff and used by settlers. There are two
versions of how it was given its name. The first says it was after a skirmish
with Pawnee Indians in which
Kit Carson took part. The second says the
name attached from the fact that the various tribes of Pawnee met in general
council on the top of it.
In 1908, the remaining
portion of the bluff was acquired by the Woman’s
Club and the next year it was turned over to the State of
a historic site. On May 24, 1912, a stone monument was dedicated with
great celebration before a crowd of some eight thousand onlookers. The state park today
provides a road leads to a shelter house and monument on the summit. An overlook, monument and historical signs now grace its reduced summit,
where visitors can stand, witnessing the view that so many throughout
history have shared. The site is open from sunrise to sunset.
The town of Pawnee Rock got its start as a station along the
& Santa Fe Railroad. Laid out in 1874, by the Arkansas Valley Town
Company, it had many thriving business by the early 1880s. The first
building to be constructed was the Rock Hotel, which quickly became a
stopping place for travelers through the area.
Unfortunately, with the coming of the railroad and the formation of the town,
the Pawnee Rock landmark began to be destroyed. Much of it was moved by the
railroad company to build foundations for water tanks, depots, and other
buildings. More of the bluff was used in the construction of buildings by the
Atop Pawnee Rock, April, 2009, Kathy Weiser.
This image available for photo
prints & commercial downloads
The first grain elevator was built in 1878 by W. H. Bowman,
Aaron Garvick and Eli Bowman. They also built a flour mill and operated it
until 1899 when it was purchased and moved to Garfield, near Larned.
same year, A.W. Metcalf opened a general merchandise store which carried all
types of goods including boots and shoes, harness and
horse furnishing goods, tobacco, stationery and notions. Several other commercial buildings and residences were also
built in the small community.
The town grew grew slowly at first but by 1887,
it was large enough to be incorporated. The first set of officers were
elected in April, 1887 after an exciting campaign was carried on by
the two opposing factions, the main issue being pool rooms, and whether or
not they should continue in the town.
By 1912, the town had
become a supply point for
a large territory in
Pawnee and Stafford Counties and was a shipping
point for grain, cattle and other livestock. By then it sported three general stores, two banks, two furniture stores, two
hardware stores, five elevators, an electric light and ice plant, a weekly
newspaper, three churches, and fine public schools. It had a population at that
time over over 450 people.
Over the years, Pawnee Rock moved into the future,
while maintaining its agricultural base. Today, its population is just about
350 people. Its history is retained in several old buildings include the
Opera Hall, which was one of the first buildings erected in the town.
The sandstone walls were made of stone taken from
the Pawnee Rock outcropping. Later it became the Knights of Pythias Hall, before
being utilized as a diner in the 1960s. Today, it houses an antique shop. Other
old buildings include the post office, which formerly housed a bank; the
American Legion Hall, which once housed a grocery store, the railroad depot, and
a couple of other old brick buildings.
Pawnee Rock State Park is situated about ˝ mile north of Highway
156 on Centre Street. The historical park protects the bluff and visitors can
climb the rock face or ascend the pavilion's spiral staircase for a grand view
of Barton, Pawnee, Rush,
and Stafford counties.
In the area can also be seen wagon trail ruts along Ash Creek, a tributary of
the Arkansas River.
the town's earliest buildings, once serving as an Opera House, continues to
Kathy Weiser, April, 2009.
This image available for photo prints & commercial
Town of Pawnee Rock, Kansas
Only the post office remains open on Pawnee Rock's
tiny main street today. Kathy Weiser, April, 2009. This image available for photo prints & commercial
of Kansas, updated March, 2017.
Attacks at Pawnee Rock
Santa Fe Trail Through Kansas
Legends' General Store
Kansas - The Sunflower State - From
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