Baxter Springs - First
Kansas Cow Town
Hotel Baxter in 1909, courtesy Wichita State
Before there was even a settlement in the area,
the natural mineral springs was a popular stop with the Osage
they traveled toward their summer hunting grounds. Believing that
the mineral springs had miraculous healing properties, Chief Black Dog and
members of his tribe routed their trek through here to take part in the
flowing springs. Though long gone today, these springs once surged
just south of what is now East Seventh Street in Baxter
In the spring of 1849 the Reverend John Baxter,
his wife and eight children moved from
160 acres of land near Spring River. Flowing from the side of a hill
near the Military Road that ran between
and Fort Gibson, was the natural spring that the Osage Indians had long
visited. Near the spring he set up "Baxter’s Place,” an inn and
general store. However, Baxter would not live to see the city that
would eventually take his name. The Reverend Baxter, who was well
known in the area as a gun-toting preacher, was gunned down in a property
dispute in 1859.
Blair, also referred to as Fort Baxter, was
established in the spring of 1862 to protect
Kansas residents against the frequent attacks from Confederate
regular and guerilla forces during the
Civil War. Located north
of the springs, it was here that the battle referred to as the
Springs Massacre occurred. Confederate guerillas, under the
command of William Quantrill, struck the fort around noon on October 6, 1863,
then moved on to massacre a contingent of troops being led toward Fort
Smith by General James G. Blunt. Nearly 100 Union soldiers were
killed in the guerilla attack and are buried in the Baxter
Springs Cemetery, just west of the city.
Chief Black Dog, Osage tribe.
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photographic prints and downloads
In 1865, after the war was
over, a town was laid out on 80 acres by Captain M. Mann and J. J.
Barnes and soon thereafter
Springs became an outlet for the
cattle trade. As
became off-limits for Texas
cattle due to quarantines,
Springs welcomed them to
Kansas. The community built
stockyards with corrals capable of holding 20,000 cattle and provided
range land with plenty of grass and water. Though the town took
on all the appearances of prosperity, it also inherited a reputation
for being one of the wildest cow towns in the West.
After the long cattle drives
cowboys found the town
a welcoming sight after several months on the dusty trail, making the
most of the numerous Baxter
Springs saloons. Offering up flowing liquor, card games and
available women, every third business in town was a gambling house or
a saloon. Public hangings, gunfights and
saloon brawls soon became common occurrences.
incorporated in 1868 with about 1,500 residents and the city
government issued $150,000 in bonds to entice the Missouri River, Fort
Scott and Gulf Railroad to extend its line into Southeastern
More bonds financed a new school, a courthouse and street
improvements. On May 12, 1870 the
Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway arrived, beating out the Missouri
River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad for the privilege and just two years
later the town boasted 6,000 residents. But soon, the railroad
pushed south into Texas
and the Baxter
Springs cattle industry died. However, its illustrious past
hung tight, when in 1872, the mayor of Baxter
Springs, J.R. Boyd shot down C.M. Taylor, the city marshal, over a
dispute regarding a warrant for an arrest.
For several years Baxter Springs made little progress. By 1876, the community's
population had fallen to only about 800 residents. During this
period of hard times, it was discovered that the mineral springs had
wonderful health-giving properties and
Baxter Springs became a famous health spa. A park was laid out on
Military Avenue near the bathhouses and people came from across the
country to drink the healing waters.
On April 19, 1876, two members of
the James-Younger Gang, Charlie Pitts and Bill Chadwell, rode into
town and robbed the Crowell Bank. Though
Frank James may have been involved in some manner in planning the
robbery, they were not seen. Almost three thousand dollars were
said to have been taken from the bank. This building now houses
the charming Café on
Route 66 with a sign
on the side of the building that says it was once robbed by Jesse
James. The locals will also support this, though historians
believe that the James Brothers were not directly involved and were no where near
time of the robbery.
In the late
1800s lead and zinc were discovered across the state line in
economically by attracting more residents. Soon the
mining operations grew and reached into the southeast corner of
and the town once again became a prosperous business center. With the
influx of miners, the dependence on the mineral springs disappeared
and the bathers eventually stopped coming.
66 came through the town providing an additional source of revenue
as gas stations, cafes and motor courts sprouted up in the town.
1930’s during the notorious run of Bonnie and Clyde, the
General Store was said to have been robbed by the infamous
duo twice within one week. As the legend goes, Bonnie and Clyde
and robbed the store, only to return just a week later
when they traveled through town again and robbed it once more.
In the late
1940’s, Mickey Mantle from Commerce,
played for three years with the
Whiz Kids. In 1949, while playing a baseball game in the park Mantle hit a ball
into the Spring River. Later, when the game was delayed by a
rainstorm, Mantle was approached by Tom Greenwade, a scout for the New
York Yankees and signed Mantle up to play.
The 1970’s saw the demise of mining in the
area, which left a blighted mark upon much of the lands of southeast
Baxter Springs continued to thrive through the diversification of
business, agriculture and industry. Today, the small town is called
home to about 4,500 residents.
The original spring for which the town was
named and used long ago by the Osage
Indians ceased to flow with the
advent of lead and zinc mining.
The town still boasts many remnants of the
era, as well as additional history of the
Civil War. The town offers
a historic walking tour as well as several museums. At the corner of
11th and Route 66
(Military Avenue) sits the now closed Café on the Route, which is housed in the 1870
building that was once the Crowell Bank and robbed by members of the
James-Younger gang in 1876. The building was also home to the original
Murphy's restaurant, famous on Route 66 for its pies.
If you missed it, the
Rainbow Curve Bridge is
just north of town, the only remaining Marsh Arch Bridge on Route 66.
At the Chamber of Commerce you can pick up
information on the Military Frontier Scenic Byway and the
Driving Tour which features 16 Civil War sites.
Heritage Center and Museum you can see a rebuilt building from
displays on the Baxter Springs Massacre, Civil War artifacts, Native Americans and
continues on to
through more mining towns -
of America, updated October, 2015.
Route 66 (Main
about two miles west of Riverton,
Kansas, Kathy Weiser, 2007.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Murphy's Restaurant , now closed, after it moved from it's original
Springs, Picture from May, 2004,
same building served as a post office in 1915,
courtesy Wichita State University.
was the toughest town on earth.
-- Eugene F. Ware in the Kansas