History Of Baxter Springs
History of Baxter Springs
Baxter Springs, the largest community in Cherokee County, was once a rest stop for the Osage Indians as they traveled toward their summer hunting grounds. Chief Black Dog and members of this tribe paused at the mineral springs that once flowed just south of what is now East Seventh Street. They believed that the water had miraculous healing properties, and they routed their trek purposely to partake of the flowing springs.
From Baxter’s Place to Baxter Springs
In the spring of 1849, John J. Baxter, his wife and eight children moved from Missouri to 160 acres of land near Spring River. His land included a spring, which flowed from the side of a hill near what is now Military Road, where he set up and operated an inn and general store, which came to be known as "Baxter's Place.” "Baxter's Place" was incorporated in 1868 and was renamed Baxter Springs in honor of its early settler.
Baxter Springs Massacre
Baxter Springs is also the site of Fort Blair and the Battle of Baxter Springs. On October 6, 1863, the guerilla band of Quantrill’s Raiders attacked Ft. Blair in an unsuccessful raid. Having been repulsed by the Union Troops at the fort, the raiders ambushed an approaching military wagon train led by Maj. General James Blunt. General Blunt and his command were caught totally by surprise, as they had no knowledge of the earlier attack on Fort Blair. After the attack, in violation of the rules of war, Quantrill called for the surrender of Blair's troops and shot them dead when they did.
“The First Cowtown in Kansas”
In 1868, a great demand for beef in the northern cities brought Texas cattlemen and stock raisers collecting large herds of cattle on the southern plains to the area, using Baxter Springs as a stopping point on their journey to the northern markets. Because of this, Baxter Springs is known as “The First Cowtown in Kansas,” because the cattle drovers found the location a welcome break after months on the dusty trail. The numerous saloons provided all the amenities a poor cowboy could use.
During this time, an active Stockyards and Drovers Association was organized for the purpose of buying and selling cattle. Corrals were constructed for approximately 20,000 head of cattle with ample grazing lands and fresh water.
Baxter Springs grew rapidly, thanks to the stimulating economy. The city government then issued $150,000 in bonds to entice the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad to extend its line into southeastern Kansas. More bonds financed a new school, a courthouse (now the Johnston Public Library), and street improvements. The bonded indebtedness was more than they assessed of the city, however, and when the railroad moved to Texas, so did the cattle drives, leaving the city deeply depressed.
Early visitors to southeast Kansas were often impressed with its beauty. The river that flows through this section of land was fed by many springs and was remarkably clear. As early as 1838, the river was known as Spring River. A cable-ferry boat was instituted in 1867 and operated into the early 1880's when the first bridge was built over the river. As the city grew, so did the activities around the river. Citizens of Baxter Springs celebrated the Fourth of July and the Old Soldiers and Sailors Reunions, which followed the Civil War and continued until 1914, and also brought fame to the city. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, a three-story frame structure with two turbine water wheels, and a grinding capacity of 50 barrels of flour a day was built and known as the Baxter Springs Flouring Mill. It was the only manufacturing plant in town. Today the river is used mainly for fishing and camping.