This jewel sits just 9 miles west of Dodge City on U.S. Highway 400. It is the longest and best preserved part of the Santa Fe Trail.
Boot Hill Museum administers this Santa Fe Trail rut site near Howell. During the 20th Century Santa Fe Trail aficionados and locals realized this site was significant due to many factors.
It has never been plowed leaving the ruts plainly visible. The site is almost at the halfway point of the 780-mile Santa Fe Trail and is on its main branch. Over this section of trail traders pulled thousands of wagons with 10,000s of oxen from 1821 until the 1870s when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway replaced the Trail.
The rut site also affords a broad view of the surrounding countryside which gives visitors a sense of what travelers on the Trail saw. Furthermore, being close to the highway and to Dodge City, the site is easily accessible.
In the mid-1950s, area citizens put forth a concentrated effort to make the rut site a National monument. At the time, Kansas had no National Parks or monuments and people were determined to make it the first in our state.
In 1959, the Department of Interior denied a request to make the site a monument because there was a "large and deep irrigation ditch" which looped back and forth across the trail ruts destroying the integrity of the site. That irrigation ditch was the Soule Canal!
This set back did not stop efforts to make the rut site a monument. It was back to the drawing board. Advocates of a monument argued from the ground the Canal was nearly invisible and, being built in the 1880s not long after the discontinuance of the Trail, the Canal was a historic feature as well.
In the early 1960s the Jaycees, which operated Boot Hill Museum, took on this quest as a project. At one time, there were plans to place a museum building and an observation tower at the site, but these plans never came to fruition.
Boot Hill Museum purchased the rut site in 1969. Meanwhile in 1966, the federal government placed the Santa Fe Trail rut site on the National Register of Historic Places.
Finally in 1992, the National Park Service certified the Santa Fe Trail rut site.
Over the years, the National Park Service and Boot Hill Museum have made improvements to the site including building of kiosks, foot bridges and walking trails. Signage has been updated and improved. The Boot Hill Museum Santa Fe Trail rut site, 1 mile west of Howell, is open every day during daylight hours and is free to the public.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education at Boot Hill Museum.