61. Lost Spring Station, Marion County, KS

Brown metal site sign, red stone DAR marker, and tall interpretive panel. located near the main road and parking area.
Lost Spring Station

Site of road ranche, mail stage station, and post office on the Santa Fe Trail. Name derived from nearby spring. Owned in trail days by Jack Costello, a colorful figure who was prominent in early Marion County settlement. 1908 monument placed by the Marion County Old Settlers. 

The “original” Lost Spring is located on Lyon Creek, ¾ mile east and ½ mile north of the Lost Spring Station site. The “original” Lost Spring is in the middle of a section and is inaccessible to the public. The 1857 General Land Office surveyor noted the spring: “…there are some fine springs of fresh water in this Township [T17S, R4E] and among their number is the spring known to all the Santa Fe Traders and trains as the lost spring. It is situated in Section 16 near the center of the section. the spring affords fine fresh water…. ” [punctuation and capitalization are from the surveyor’s notes]. 

In 1859, George Smith established a road ranche in Sec. 20 about a mile to the southwest of the “original” Lost Spring, but soon lost it in a poker game to Jack Costello. Not long after, Costello acquired a partner in the station, Thomas Wise. The road ranche was a station operated for the contractors transporting mail between the Missouri River and Santa Fe. The station, which was located close by this site, included a hotel, and provided meals, supplies, and a place of entertainment for travelers.

The station gained a reputation for catering to the rougher element including visitors such as “Bloody” Bill Anderson in 1861 (who later became notorious as Quantrill's lieutenant). There are numerous legends about events that supposedly occurred at Lost Spring Station, but few can be confirmed with primary documentation. A US Post Office named Lost Spring was operated at the station 1861-1864. 

The main Santa Fe Trail passed about 0.5 miles east and a mile south of the Lost Spring Station site, enabling the heavy freight wagons to stay on the high ground at the head of the Cress Creek drainage. The later branch of the trail that passed close by the Lost Spring Station might be considered a “short-cut” for the lighter mail wagons and stages which could more easily negotiate the Cress Creek valley.

Activity on the Santa Fe Trail between the Missouri River and the Great Bend of the Arkansas greatly diminished in 1866 when the railroad reached Junction City, Kansas. Costello sold out to Wise in 1868. Wise and Costello were active in establishment of the Town of Marion and organization of the County of Marion. 

The station took its name from its proximity to the “original” Lost Spring on Lyon Creek a mile to the northeast. Over the years, however, the spring a few yards northwest of the station on Cress Creek came to be known as “Lost Spring” because of its proximity to Lost Spring Station. In 1908, the Marion County Old Settlers organization and the Shields family erected a large granite marker to commemorate the station. That monument was originally on the south side of 340 Rd., but was moved to its present location in 2009. A blue and white metal sign at the site contains misleading information about the site, but a new historic interpretive sign was erected adjacent to the granite monument in 2010.

For more information:

Cottonwood Chapter of the Santa Fe Trail Association

Auto Tour (2 page PDF brochure)

Points of Interest

Historic photo of a man with a mustache wearing a shirt, vest with pocket watch, and jacket.
Jack Costello, Marion's first mayor
Historic photograph of eight men standing around the Daughters of the American Revolution marker enclosed by a metal fence, dated July 4, 1908.
Men in front of Daughters of the American Revolution marker