Photo by Jill Draper, Pawnee Rock Historic Site
BY HAROLD DRAPER, Kanza Group Chair
The Santa Fe Trail was opened in 1821 as a trade route between Missouri and Mexico when Mexico won its independence from Spain. Pawnee Rock, in present-day Barton County, was the landmark for the halfway point of the 800-mile trail. During the Mexican-American War, the Army of the West traveled the trail on the way to occupy New Mexico, arriving at Pawnee Rock in July 1846.
Private Jacob Robinson, who kept a diary of the Army’s progress on the trail, climbed the rock and saw a vast herd of buffalo, “one of the grandest sights ever beheld.” He described how “Every acre was covered, until, in the dim distance, the prairie became one black mass from which there was no opening.” The buffalo were easy to shoot and the hungry soldiers slaughtered 40 buffalo for their food on that single day.
Source: Hampton Sides. 2006. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West. Random House, Inc., New York