The 'Ozark Trail'

Kathie Bell
Special to the Globe
A system of roads from the early 20th century. SUBMITTED PHOTO

It wasn't a pioneer trail which came through Dodge City, but it was a trail none the less. And, in the 1960s, it was not welcomed by folks around here.

It was called the "Ozark Trail," though most of it ran nowhere near the Ozarks.

This trail was an automobile trail, which predated the U.S. Federal Highway System.

The Ozark Trails Association, formed by Arkansan William "Coin" Harvey in 1913, organized the network of roads primarily in the Ozarks and Oklahoma. The dream was to create a greatly improved car route from St. Louis, Mo. to Las Vegas. The main route mostly followed that of future U.S. Highway 66.

This "highway" did not travel in a beeline. It followed section-line roads which resulted in right angle turns almost every mile.

Some organizers had dreams of a more extensive network, with roads covering nine states and parts of the Trail going as far west as Denver; Las Vegas, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

The branch of this vast system proposed to go through Kansas followed today's U.S. Highway 400. It traveled through Wichita west to Dodge City and Garden City.

The Association adopted and marked primarily the main route from St. Louis to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Many of its branches were "adopted" but not marked, and some parts, including that which passed through western Kansas and Dodge City, were merely "promoted."

Without federal assistance, local communities and private citizens maintained much of this system of thoroughfares.

However, the U.S. government got involved when it completed the first federal highway project, building the Newcastle Bridge along the Trail between Newcastle, Okla. and Oklahoma City in 1923.

In 1926, with the establishment of Highway 66, which ran from Chicago to Los Angeles, the Ozark Trail passed into obscurity.

In the 1966, efforts were made in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma to revive this network of highways.

While in Dodge City for a longhorn celebration, Stone County, Mo. deputy sheriff, Ralph L. Hooker of Carthage appeared in the "Dodge City Daily Globe" on July 6, 1966.

He was in the process of riding all 2,500 miles of the Ozark Trail in an endeavor to promote this network of roads.

Apparently, people around here didn't know the Ozark Trail was a 20th century automobile route. An editorial by the Globe on the same date opposed the Trail stating "We were thunderstruck the other day when we were told that Dodge City is on the Ozark Trail.....Those Indians of the old Ozark frontier used to make a detour to the west, we guess."

The editorial went on to say Kansas Gov. William Avery must have gone along with the concept of this Trail by merely picking tourist attractions, including Dodge City, to be part of the Trail.

Though interstate highways replaced Highway 66, which had replaced the Ozark Trail, Highway 66 retains a strong presence though the central and southwestern U.S.

On the other hand, little is said of the Ozark Trail.

In the 1920s the Ozark Trails Association erected 21 large obelisks. Today, only seven of these remain in Oklahoma.

The map from Wikipedia shown here is a comprehensive depiction of the routes comprising the Ozark Trails.