The Santa Fe Trail Rut Site is located 9 miles west of Dodge City on U.S. Highway 400/50. It is the longest and best preserved section of the Santa Fe Trail. Boot Hill Museum owns and administers this site which offers a broad view of the surrounding countryside. With the exception of some modern infrastructure around the site visitors can get a real sense of what travelers on the Trail would have seen.
The site has never been plowed, which leaves the ruts plainly visible. The site is near the halfway point of the 780-mile trail and is located near the junction of the Mountain Route and the Cimarron Route of the trail. From 1821 until the late 1860’s traders crossed this area with wagons loaded with trade goods pulled by oxen.
In the mid-1950s, area citizens worked to make this rut site a National monument. At the time, Kansas had no National Parks or monuments and people were determined to make this the first.
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 is the Soule Canal.
This setback did not stop efforts to make the rut site a monument. 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 of the site 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.
The Department of the Interior designated the “SANTA FE TRAIL REMAINS” in Ford County, Kansas as a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1963. In 1966 the federal government placed the Santa Fe Trail rut site on the National Register of Historic Places. Boot Hill Museum purchased the rut site in 1969. 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 recently been updated and improved. The Boot Hill Museum Santa Fe Trail rut site, 9 miles west of Dodge City, is open every day during daylight hours and is free to the public.
The Kansas Highway Department has provided ample turnout and parking area for easy access.
Map and artwork are courtesy of the Santa Fe Trail Association.
Asa Soule and the Eureka Irritation Canal
Known as “Soule’s Folly” its remains still grace the landscape in Ford and Gray Counties along the Arkansas River.
It started when two brothers living in Spearville, but originally from Rochester, New York, had an idea to make our dry land blossom. In the fall of 1882, they conceived the idea of a large irrigation system that would divert water from the then flowing Arkansas River. They contacted a wealthy patron from their hometown, the “Hops Bitter King,” Asa T. Soule.
Soule who had become rich by marketing a patent medicine consisting of bitters, hops, and alcohol, eagerly embraced the concept. He jumped right in with both feet founding the town of Ingalls in Gray County. In an unsuccessful effort to make Ingalls county seat, he built a fake railroad and armed men to raid the existing county seat of Cimarron. He also invested in land around Dodge City so he could rake in the wealth the new canal would bring to the farmland of the area.
Soule formed the Eureka Irrigation Canal Company. He paid laborers $1.50 a day, or $2.50 if they supplied their own team. Construction began in 1883 and took at least two years. The finished product zigzagged 96 miles along the north side of the Arkansas River from near Ingalls to Coon Creek in Edwards County.
Soon after the Canal’s completion, the problems began which gave it the moniker “Soule’s Folly” arose. The canal wall suffered breakage and leaked water into the porous soil. There was either too much water in the form of flash floods – one which destroyed a dam. Or there was too little water due to irrigation upstream and drought. Fortunately for Soule, by then he had sold the canal to foreign investors.
For years, irrigators attempted in vain to salvage the canal by using pumps, but too much water was lost from evaporation and from leakage. After changing ownership numerous times “Soule’s Elephant” was totally abandoned in 1921.
All was not in vain, the lure of irrigation from this canal and other ditches brought farmers to the area in the 1880’s. This project also paved the way for more successful efforts at irrigation which is now common and vital to agriculture in the region.
Parts of the Soule Canal run through Boot Hill Museum’s Santa Fe Trail Rut Site on U.S. Highway 50 west of Dodge City. In fact, when the Rut Site was first nominated for the National Register of Historic Places, the U.S. government rejected the nomination because parts of the Soule ditch criss-crossed the ruts. Local proponents of the Rut Site convinced the authorities the Soule Canal was an historical feature in its own right and got the Site placed on the Register.
In 2014, the two western most portions of the Soule Canal near Ingalls in Gray County were added to the National Register of Historic Places.