Entering Lyon County, Kansas, near the northeast corner, the Santa Fe Trail crossed the county, dropping about five miles south of a westerly course. Waushara, Chicken Creek, Elm Creek, the crossing of 142 Mile Creek, and Agnes City on Bluff Creek were stopping places of more or less importance at different times. As it crossed Lyon County, the trail was from 100 to 150 feet wide, packed hard from constant usage. One early resident said that this bare strip was valuable as a guard from the early sweeping prairie fires. He also stated that he could ride out to a high point almost any day, any hour of the day, and see a wagon of some description trekking westward, so constant was the migration.
Elm Creek Crossing
After the trail entered Lyon County, it began to move toward the southwest, first crossing Elm Creek at what was called “Hard Bottom Ford”. Here, a mail station was later located, and today, the site is commemorated with a DAR marker.
In 1868 and 1859, during the Pike’s Peak gold excitement in Colorado, large numbers of gold hunters passed over the trail here. Some were driving good teams and wagons, some were on horseback, and others had small pushcarts or wheelbarrows, loaded with all their earthly possessions. On one day in 1859, some 325 wagons and/or carts crossed Elm Creek near the old mail station. It was not unusual for as many as 500 vehicles to cross the ford at the height of the gold excitement in a single day.
142 Mile Creek
Beyond Elm Creek, the trail angled westward to “142 Creek”, named for its distance from Fort Osage, Missouri. Here, settled the first white person to live in Lyon County, just days after the Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed. Charles H. Withington established his home here in June 1854. Like Fry McGee in adjacent Osage County, Withington violated the Indian Intercourse and Trade Act. Still, between the date that the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law and the official opening of the Territory to settlement, federal authorities turned a blind eye to the encroachment of several settlers.
Withington opened a store on the Santa Fe Trail, which was the first of its kind in the state, away from Indian posts. His place was the headquarters for all the settlers coming to the Neosho Valley the following year. Not known as a ranch or a station, Withington’s enterprise was characterized simply as Withington’s Store. A post office named Allen was added to the store in February 1855, with Withington as postmaster.
Over the years, the store was expanded and also served as a hotel and mail station. Additional revenue was derived from a toll bridge that Withington built over 142 Creek. During the days of “Bleeding Kansas,” when settlers fought to make Kansas a “Free-State” or a “Slave State,” opportunists often raided settlements along the Santa Fe Trail. On September 15, 1856, a gang representing themselves as Free-Staters looted the store, stealing everything in his possession. Withington continued to operate the store through 1866 when the railroad ended the Santa Fe Trail trade through the area.
The site, of which nothing remains today, is located several miles north Allen, Kansas. Just to the west of “142 Creek” is a D.A.R. marker. The trail then moves on westward to Rock Creek and the now-extinct town of Agnes City.
Rock Creek Crossing & Agnes City
About 13 miles west of 142 Creek, Santa Fe Trail travelers would come to Rock Creek, named for the stony formations which lined its course. Here, the first settler was a man named Arthur Ingram Baker, who worked with Charles Withington, and settled at 142 Creek. Baker was also a blacksmith for the Sac and Fox Agency in Iowa and came to Kansas with the agency in 1846. In 1854 he moved to Rock Creek, where he established his home and a “trading post.” Like Withington’s business, Baker’s enterprise was known simply as a store.
This settlement, which lay beside the small stream of Rock Creek, was well known to travelers along the Santa Fe Trail as a good camping and watering place, with wood for fuel. The Indian name of the stream was Ne-ko-its-ah-ba, meaning “Dead Men’s Creek,” which was conferred upon it on account of the large number of human bones found there by some of the tribes, indicating that a great Indian battle had been fought on its banks, probably about the beginning of the 19th century.
At Rock Creek, the former blacksmith soon became a public servant, appointed as Election Clerk in 1854 and 1855. In 1855, he was also briefly elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. However, following a recount of the votes, the seat was given to Mobillon McGee, a partner with his brother Fry P. McGee at 110 Mile Station.
In November 1856, a post office was established at the site and was named Agnes City in honor of Arthur’s wife. The following year, Baker began replacing his original small cabin with a substantial two-story stone house. In addition to running the store, Baker also engaged in stock-raising, farming, and operating a blacksmith shop. In 1857, he also began to advertise himself as an attorney, even though he had no training.
From his arrival at Rock Creek, he engaged in farming, particularly as a stockman. Another source of income was the blacksmith shop, and he also served as postmaster at the Agnes City post office beginning in 1859.
In 1861 Baker purchased the Council Grove Press and wrote several articles in vigorous support of the Union. The next year, on the night of July 3, 1862, Arthur I. Baker and his brother-in-law, George Segur, were killed at the Rock Creek crossing by “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s gang of Confederate guerrillas.
Today, the town of Agnes City is gone. The only thing that remains is its cemetery. A D.A.R. marker commemorates the townsite and Santa Fe Trail.
Agnes City Cemetery, which is still kept up, is located 1/2 mile north of Road 360 and Road E, just across from the old townsite. The old trail then continued westward to the historic town of Council Grove, in nearby Morris County, where several Santa Fe Trail sites can still be seen.
Sources: See Santa Fe Trail Site Map & Writing Credits