© 2021
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lost Springs

Washing melons on the Arkansas River at Deerfield, KS
Washing melons on the Arkansas River at Deerfield, KS

I'm Hannes Zacharias, former resident of Dodge City, speaking for High Plains public radio, radio readers book club. The book is Running Out by Lucas Bessire, published in 2021.

A key component of the book is the loss of Wagon Bed Springs located very near the Little Rock house and one of the first springs encountered on the ‘dry route’ or ‘jornada’ part of the Santa Fe Trail, located some 30 miles southwest of the Arkansas River. One traveler, Meredith Miles Marmaduke in 1824, commented “left our encampment at 4:00 AM and traveled without making any halt until 4:00 PM without one drop of water for our horses or mules. Fortunately for us at 4:00 PM a small ravine was discovered and pursued for several miles. After digging in the sand in the bottom of it, water was procured in sufficient quantity to satisfy both men and horses. I have never in all my life experienced a time when such general alarm and consternation pervaded every person on account of the want of water.”

On his second expedition to Santa Fe in 1822 William Becknell traveled this ‘dry route’ to avoid going over the 7800-foot Raton pass. Departing the Ark River, the party may have died of thirst had they not come upon a stray Buffalo that had drunk deep in the Cimarron further to the southwest. The groggy buffalo was killed, cut open, and the men drank the water in the stomach. Finaly reaching the springs, they quenched their thirst and filled their water containers.

Wagon Bed Springs is not the only historic landmark lost to Aquifer depletion along the Cimarron River. Following Wagon Bed Springs, entrepreneurs would then encounter Middle Spring located some 36 miles upstream and then Upper Springs some 18 miles beyond. Between the Middle Springs and Upper Springs, travelers crossed the Cimarron River at Willow bar, taking its name from a strand of willow trees growing in the sandbar midstream.

This route passed to the western end of the present-day Oklahoma Panhandle and springs welcome travelers providing water and relief from stifling summer heat. The sandstone bluffs enshrine the names of travelers, taking care to etch their name and date for future visitors to remember.

George Gibson further remarked “the whole country is a Prairie, not a stick of timber or plant or shrub to be seen except those usually found on prairies, (however) ducks, geese, cranes, etcetera, are common in the valleys and then livened by songs of more than one species of the American songsters, Robins, larks, blackbirds, etcetera, in abundance”.

Some five miles beyond the bluffs was Upper or ‘Flag’ springs and the site of Fort Nichols, founded in 1865 by Kit Carson. During its brief months of existence, the fort guarded this section of the trail between Ft. Union, New Mexico and Ft. Dodge from hostile Indians.

All these areas are now gone due to aquifer depletion.

But why should we care about losing historic landmarks like Wagon Bed Springs to Aquifer Depletion? Because… as David McCullough, American Historian says, “Historic landmarks are the tangible links to our history, connecting us to the stories of those who came before us and helping us understand our own place in the world.”

Is aquifer depletion making us lose our place in the world? Good question.

I’m Hannes Zacharias in Lenexa, and you are listening to High Plains Public Radio and the Radio Readers Book Club.

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
Stay Connected