Friday, January 23, 2009

As seen in Kansas: Road less traveled

Sometimes those interesting historical footnotes are hiding right under your, well, feet. And it only takes an afternoon walk on fine midwinter's day to discover them.

I must have driven past this historical marker a million times before actually seeing it in my own neighborhood.

It denotes the crossing of the old Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Scott Military Road -- not that it means much to the modern pilots of SUVs and minivans that now zip by at about 40 miles per hour today.

Ft. Leavenworth-Ft.Scott Military Road? All I knew was what I could infer from the context. Obviously it was a road used by the military to get from Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Scott. Seems simple enough.

But I thought there must be more to the story, or else why put up a sign? So I did a quick Google search.

According to this detailed and lengthy (if somewhat dry) account from the Kansas State Historical Society, the need for the road arose in the early to mid-1800s as the U.S. pushed the indigenous Indian populations into the "Indian territories" -- what today is Kansas and Oklahoma.

This was back before the residents of Missouri had to worry about fighting to keep their slaves from being freed by those pesky Kansans.

Back then, they were more worried about the Choctaw, Shawnee and Cherokee who might have felt a bit peeved, a bit miffed about being forcibly removed from their native lands after passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

So starting in about 1835 there was strong congressional interest in building a road along the then western edge of the United States from Iowa to Arkansas that would act as a kind of border that the U.S. Army could patrol.

By 1842 with the establishment of Ft. Scott, the military road was pretty much completed.

The road was heavily used by military and commercial interest and was important as the only direct route from Iowa to Arkansas and Texas.

But it didn't take long for westward expansion to leave it behind.
As the frontier advanced westward the importance of Fort Scott decreased. In 1852 present Fort Riley was established as Camp Center on the Kansas river at what was thought to be the head of navigation of that stream. The following year Fort Scott was abandoned.

The military road, however, continued for several years to be an important highway. In 1854 Kansas became a territory and a law enacted by the first Kansas territorial legislature (meeting in 1855) stated: "The road as now located and opened from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Scott, known as the military road, is hereby declared a territorial road." Within this decade other highways, came to be more traveled. Only a few landmarks can be pointed out today as marking the route of the old Western military road in Kansas.

Atomic Cannon
The Answer My friend

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