The Santa Fe Trail entered Douglas County, Kansas near its southeast corner, a few miles east of the old town of Black Jack before taking a northwesterly course through Palmyra and on to Willow Springs. Here, it turned to the southwest, passing close to the now extinct towns of Globe and Baden and into Osage County about three miles north of the southwest corner of Douglas County.
Black Jack Highway Park, Baldwin City
Located three miles east of Baldwin City on US 56, Black Jack Highway Park which commemorates what many say was one of the first battles of the Civil War, even though it took place five years before the war officially began. The Battle of Black Jack occurred June 2, 1856, when John Brown, a fierce opponent of slavery, led his militia against a proslavery force during the days of Bleeding Kansas.
An authentic log cabin is situated in the park and contains many antiques from the Santa Fe Trail era. A small footbridge and trail connect the park to the Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve, located immediately to the south. Here, a dramatic set of parallel trail ruts can be seen, which are among the finest along the entire length of the trail.
Nearby, the Pearson Memorial Park, situated on E. 2000 Road, one-quarter mile south of US 56 Highway and is said by some to be the actual site of the Battle of Black Jack.
Palmyra Well, Baldwin City
The old community of Palmyra grew along the Santa Fe Trail in the 1850s, and the well provided water for trail travelers and their livestock, as well as for residents of the community. This was a favorite place for repairing wagons and for rest. Palmyra had a post office from 1857 until 1862, when the post office name was changed to Baldwin City. Palmyra continued coexisting with Baldwin for several years but, was finally absorbed into Baldwin. Palmyra’s presence has been commemorated with nearby markers. The well is located in present-day Baldwin City, Kansas, to the east of the high school.
The Palmyra area of Baldwin continues to be well-utilized by the city as both the middle school and high school sit on land that was once Palmyra.
Santa Fe Trail Park, Baldwin City
One-half mile to the northwest of Palmyra Well is the Santa Fe Trail Park. It contains a large granite Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) marker. The diagonal county road adjacent to the park follows the exact route of the trail to the northwest. The property was donated to Baker University in 1907 and was recently placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites.
Beyond here, the route traveled through a place called “The Narrows,” a ridge that separated Wakarusa Creek on the north and the Marais des Cygnes River to the south.
The Narrows, Douglas County
Along the “Narrows”, wagon trains had to stay on this ridge to avoid rough terrain and muddy draws. The Narrows ran from just west of present Black Jack Park, east of Baldwin City, to the site of Willow Springs, some nine miles to the northwest.
In May 1846, the US Congress declared war against Mexico and a month later, General Stephen W. Kearny’s Army of the West left Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Leading his army, he left Fort Leavenworth on June 30th, blazing a new trail from the fort to the Santa Fe Trail and the infamous “Narrows.” His first few days were extremely difficult as the soldiers and wagons struggled in seas of mud and encountered steep bluffs where the mules and oxen had to be unhitched, forcing the soldiers to haul the wagons by hand. Though it took days longer than they had hoped, they were finally successful, connecting up with the Santa Fe Trail on July 4th.
Blue Mound, Douglas County
Approximately three miles southeast of Lawrence, Kansas, this prominent hill, which is south of the Kansas River rises to 1,043 feet above sea level and served as a landmark for travelers on their way to the Santa Fe Trail along the 1846 military road from Fort Leavenworth. Blue Mound is the larger and more prominent of two hills that are sometimes referred to as the Wakarusa Buttes. It is located in Eudora Township.
Hickory Point-Stony Point, Douglas County
An extinct settlement area today, it was never large enough to have had a post office. It was located in an area from Signal Hill on the east to almost Brooklyn on the west and stretching along the Narrows. During the days of “Bleeding Kansas”, a property dispute arose between neighbors, Charles Dow, a free-state man, and Franklin Coleman, a pro-slavery man, which ended in the brutal daylight slaying of Dow by Coleman. Charles Dow’s body lay on the Santa Fe Trail until his friend Jacob Branson came to claim it. The murder of Dow triggered a series of confrontations that later led to the Sacking of Lawrence, the Wakarusa War, the Pottawatomie Massacre and the Battle of Black Jack. Wanting to distance the town from the negative attention, and there being another town named Hickory Point in Jefferson County, prompted the town to change its name to Stony Point which is still used today. The site is located at North 650 Road between East 1500 & 1550 Roads.
Brooklyn Town Site, Douglas County
Brooklyn was settled as early as 1855 and was incorporated in 1858. All but the saloon/general store were destroyed by William Quantrill’s men as they retreated from burning down Lawrence in August 1863. A DAR marker is located slightly to the north of where the main cluster of buildings once was. The old townsite is located near North 550 & East 1400 Roads.
Willow Springs, Douglas County
The trail then took northwesterly course to Willow Springs, a good watering spot on the prairie, before turning back to the southwest towards Simmons Point. A post office was established here in 1855, which was called Davis until 1861 when it was changed to Willow Springs. The town once also boasted a blacksmith shop, creamery, and a school. Today, the Willow Springs area is a small collection of houses, mostly farms, and the Willow Springs German Baptist Brethren Church. The old townsite was located near North 550 & East 1100 Roads. Santa Fe Trail slightly to the east of here.