Cherokee Trail river crossing designated as historic site

Chad Frey
Butler County Times Gazette

A site on the south edge of El Dorado is the latest listing on the National Register of Historic Places, according to the Kansas State Historical Society.

The site is a river crossing, currently on private property, that was used as part of the Cherokee Trail.

"It takes years to dig up all the information required to do what Monica and I have done. I feel we have done something that is now saved and could have been lost forever," said landowner Mike Thompson.

A group called Friends of the Cherokee Trail, Kansas recently celebrated the listing. Members have started the process of application paperwork and gathering documentation for designating the entirety of the trail in Kansas.

The group is, however, celebrating the listing of the river crossing.

“The Walnut River Crossing of the Cherokee Trail, also called the Fayetteville trail, as part of the Oregon-California Trail, is a significant site,” said Brian Stucky, president of Friends of the Cherokee Trail, Kansas. “This trail began as a Gold Rush trail in 1849.”

As the trail was first traveled, Cherokees from Tahlequah, Okla., and European-Americans from Fayetteville, Ark., joined in Oklahoma to make the journey to California. That group passed just south of El Dorado, through the northeast corner of Harvey County, passed within 1 mile south of Goessel (on the Harvey-Marion county line), then joined the Santa Fe Trail near Galva before traveling to Colorado and Wyoming, where they joined the California-Oregon trail.

Travelers on the trail ended at the gold fields in California. As an emigrant and all-purpose trail, it came to a close in 1861.

“At its peak, hundreds of wagons a day were observed passing this point,” Stucky said.

The Fourth of July was celebrated as early as 1847 by a group of Missouri volunteer soldiers on their way to Mexico to fight in the Mexican-American War. The crossing was also in use before 1821 as the route from St. Louis to the Rockies as the Osage Trail and original Santa Fe Trail. The Osage Indians used the trail to go to their hunting grounds north of present-day Wichita.

According to Stucky, where the trail crossed the Walnut River on the south side of El Dorado, there were "cut-downs" in the riverbank that made it possible for wagons to cross.

“There are obvious wagon swales up on the upper land. Also, at this spot is the only rocky river bottom in the area which makes the crossing possible,” Stucky said. “On the north side of the river was the site of the beginning of the city of old El Dorado with several structures. The Conner log cabin, the first structure in El Dorado, served as a residence, store, the county seat, courthouse, and post office.”

The cabin has been moved to the grounds of the Butler County Oil Museum.

The Cherokee Trail is currently under consideration by Congress for inclusion in the National Historic Trails listing.