Settling the "Great American Desert"
Zebulon Pike's Legacy
Near midnight, on October 12, 1806, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike and his exploring party, headed to the Rockies, reached the Arkansas River just south of here. The explorers camped by the river for two weeks to rest their animals and lay in a supply of meat.
Pike's published expedition reports strongly influenced public opinion about this region. He described the Great Plains as "incapable of cultivation," best left "to the wandering and uncivilized aborigines of the country." Later explorers echoed his claims, and the Plains became known in the mid-1800s as the "Great American Desert."
Though Pike's descriptions discouraged settlement here for more than fifty years, his explorations spurred on the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821. The Trail brought thousands of settlers through this area during the mid-1800s. By 1870, settlers had discovered that crops could, indeed, prosper here. In 1872, rail service reached this county, and settlers flooded in to begin a new life.
Early Barton County Settlers
"We raised onions, tomatoes and potatoes that year  near the ranch on spaded ground, they being the first
—Homer H. Kidder of Great Bend, from Biographical History of Barton County, Kansas, 1912.
..."The spring [of 1872] opened very fine, and the prairie schooners carrying settlers came in very fast... Considerable land was broken and planted to corn, etc., and the desert, which has since developed into a full blown rose, began to bud."
—Ed W. Dewey, from Biographical History of Barton County, Kansas, 1912.
Motion and Change
Like sailing ships on the ocean, fleets of canvas-topped wagons carried settlers over the plains to Barton County. A lighter version of the massive Conestoga wagons that hauled freight on the Santa Fe Trail, the Prairie Schooner was the wagon of choice for many of the region's settlers.
Erected by Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway, Kansas Dept of Transportation, and Federal Highway Administration.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Agriculture • Environment • Exploration • Settlements & Settlers. A significant historical date for this entry is October 12, 1806.
Location. 38° 31.354′ N, 98° 32.303′ W.
Other nearby markers. At least 6 other markers are within 15 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Wetlands & Wildlife National Scenic Byway (here, next to this marker); Wings Over the Water (approx. 4.6 miles away); Prey and Play (approx. 4.6 miles away); Hotel Wolf (approx. 11.9 miles away); Fort Zarah (approx. 14.4 miles away); Site of Fort Zarah (approx. 14.4 miles away).
Also see . . .
1. After Lewis & Clark. Library of Congress entry on Zebulon Pike and later explorers of the region. (Submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
2. "Great American Desert". Encyclopedia of the Great Plains entry (Submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
3. "Barton County". Cutler's History of the State of Kansas (1883) entry (Submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
4. "Covered wagons and the American frontier,". National Museum of American History entry (Submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.)
Credits. This page was last revised on May 27, 2022. It was originally submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania. This page has been viewed 275 times since then and 12 times this year. Photos: 1, 2. submitted on July 11, 2016, by William Fischer, Jr. of Scranton, Pennsylvania.