By Steve Quakenbush

William Becknell set out from Franklin, Mo., in 1821 to initiate a route of trade that would link the American frontier with a bustling Spanish colonial outpost in what is now New Mexico. No one knows whether Mr. Becknell and his party had any idea how significant his entrepreneurial adventure would be for the 45-year old United States, but the 870-mile trek would soon result in what we now know as the Santa Fe Trail.

Leading across the plains and into the future American Southwest, the trail partly followed previously-established Native pathways and forked in Southwest Kansas, offering travelers a longer but safer mountain route and the shorter but more perilous Cimarron route.

Initially traveled primarily for trading, and used until about 1880 when railroad lines made it obsolete, the trail also served immigrants, settlers and the military. It terminated on the plaza in Santa Fe, where a stone monument marks the point of arrival today. It also ran through what is now Garden City, and a marker still stands near Maple Street in Finnup Park, designating where the wagon roadway once ran.

Guests attending one of the final two spring presentations in the Finney County Museum’s free history lecture series will learn all about the trail, as well as the fact that Becknell’s endeavor coincided with the end of Mexico’s war for independence with Spain. Programs marking the route’s 200th anniversary are set for noon April 14 and 7 p.m. April 20 in the Mary Regan Conference Room. Admission is free and access is through the north museum entrance.

The April 14 speaker is Linda Peters, Lakin, a Kearny County Historical Society officer and leader in the area chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association. The speaker on April 20 will be Dr. Lee Oliva, Woodston, a retired Fort Hays State University history professor and author of numerous books about the trail, Kansas history and the frontier.

The noon lecture is part of the History at High Noon series, taking place the second Wednesday of January, February, March, April, September, October and November. The 7 p.m. talk is part of the Evenings at the Museum series, sponsored by the Southern Council of AT&T Pioneers on the third Wednesday of the same months.

Attendance is limited to 40-42 as a COVID precaution. Masks are welcome but not required and free masks will be available, along with access to hand sanitizer. Seating is spaced for social distancing.


While the Santa Fe Trail programs comprise the next pair of events on the museum’s community event calendar, people throughout Finney County and Southwest Kansas are also invited when we return to our full-scale Flea Market Festival of Antiques, Collectibles, Art and Crafts. That event, scheduled for the 12th consecutive year, is set for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 10.

The location is inside Lee Richardson Zoo, just south of the museum, and we’re planning to host approximately 40 vendors with booths offering antiques, crafts, artwork, toys, gadgets, food and a variety of

unique products. There will also be a parallel sale of gently-used garage sale items on and near the museum’s patio and adjacent conference room.

Mass gathering precautions forced us to scale the festival down in 2020, limiting it just to the patio sale, but this summer we’re welcoming back a corps of visiting vendors. In addition to the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, by the way, we’re proud to also welcome two additional 2021 sponsors – Commerce Bank of Garden City and Best Western Plus Emerald Inn and Suites. Support from all three is vital in making this popular community event possible.

Booths this summer will be spaced to offer greater social distancing, of course, since past years have resulted in a large crowed throughout much of the day. While no mask mandate is in effect, face coverings will still be welcome.

Admission for the public will be free, with access through the zoo’s pedestrian archway. In addition to our festival, the Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo will be conducting the Jungle Run auto show on the zoo’s west green at the same time, so the day should provide not only a morning and afternoon of one-of-a-kind shopping, but also a chance to see Impalas, Cougars, Roadrunners, Mustangs, Barracudas, Firebirds, Beetles, Bobcats and other beasts.

We hope you’ll be able to join us for the presentations April 14 and 20 to celebrate 200 years of history, and also stop by July 10 for a little bit of modern day trading, right here along the route of the Santa Fe Trail.

Steve Quakenbush is the executive director of the Finney County Historical Society. He can be contacted at HYPERLINK "mailto:squakenbush@finneycounty.org" or at squakenbush@finneycounty.org .