Pawnee Rock is the most famous natural landmark on the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas. At one time this landmark rose above the prairie 150 feet. In modern times, the rock was quarried for building materials for houses and the railroad, removing 20-30 feet of its original height. For years visitors could see hundreds of names carved into the soft sandstone of the rock.
The stone pavilion which is on the top of the landmark now was built to give an idea of the height of the rock during the days of the Trail. Because of the rock's use as a landmark, it was mentioned in many traveler diaries. Most historians believe that this natural landmark was a sacred ground for the Pawnee Indians. They may have held tribal councils on the flat top of the rock. This was also the location of battles between the Pawnee and other tribes including the Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. For those reasons, freighters considered it one of the most dangerous places on the Trail. Plains Indians oft en used the high point as a place from which to watch buffalo herds, wagon trains, and soldiers as they crossed the prairie. Pawnee Rock is located approximately half way between Fort Zarah to the east and Fort Larned to the west.
Marion Sloan (Russell), who was seven years old when she first traveled the Trail. Marion, her brother, and mother had joined the wagon train at Fort Leavenworth. This train combined with a government wagon train making for a safer trip.
At Pawnee Rock, the wagon train circled for the night. A double guard was posted to watch the herd of two hundred Army horses as they grazed. The horses were to be delivered to Fort Union, further down the trail. During the night Indians stole the horses. Captain Francis Aubry, head of the wagon train, refused to continue the trip until the horses had been replaced.
Men were sent back to Fort Leavenworth to gather more horses, adding two weeks to the trip.
Another famed traveler of the Santa Fe Trail was eighteen year-old Susan Magoffin. She traveled the Trail in 1844 with her husband, James Magoffin, a Santa Fe trader. At the Ash Creek crossing near here, Susan’s carriage overturned as she att empted to cross the creek. Injuries from this accident caused her to lose her baby later along the trail at Bent’s Fort. Her diary became the basis of a book, Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico.