Before there was a Pittsburg, or a Crawford County, or even a Kansas, General Winfield Scott established a military trail in 1844 as a supply route between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Gibson while checking on the Indian Territory bounty. This route was meant to be a protective route that also served frontiersmen as a link to the outside world. The route entered Crawford County two miles north and three-fourths miles west of Arcadia, across Crawford County down to Alternate 69 to the state line. The trail stretched out 286 miles long between the two posts. The military trail would later become known as the US 69 highway corridor where north to south traffic made their way through Crawford County and Southeast Kansas.
By 1866, stagecoach routes were established along the trail and post office and stage stops were established along the route. However, the first three post offices in the county, Cato, Crawfordsville and Monmouth, were not on the original route for stops.
The first gravel road in the county is thought to be the old Jefferson Highway. The gravel road entered the county at Opolis, going west and north and intersecting South Broadway at Centennial. As technology progressed, so did the construction of highways development through the county. The Straight Shot highway (now US69), was controversial in its day as it went out straight out of north Arma into the hilly area into Bourbon County. However, before highway 69, and the days before highway markers for travelers or bridges to cross over streams and creeks, the wagon tracks paved the way.
Before the outbreak of the Civil War, the military trail came known for its friction between antislavery and proslavery factions. During the outbreak of the Civil War, the road became a greater area of contention. The factions, known as bushwhackers and jayhawkers, could be a hero or villain, depending on one’s opinion of slavery in Kansas Territory at that time.
Before the start of the Civil War, the name “jayhawkers” applied to bands of robbers, associated with the Kansas Free-Stater cause, who rustled livestock and stole property on both sides of the state line. By the time the war ended, however, the term “jayhawkers” became synonymous with Union troops led by abolitionists from Kansas, and jayhawking became the generic term for armies plundering and looting from civilian populations nationwide.
Early maps show other trails that also entered Crawford county. One trail entered on the south border and went through Iowa City and north through todays Pittsburg and Frontenac winding through Croweburg, Mulberry, and the Military Trail. During this period, Bushwhackers and guerrillas blazed through the county, ranging up and down the Kansas-Missouri border terrorizing Free State sympathizers and killing Union soldiers going home on their furlough.
Stories, such as the one passed down from Amanda Hobson, the wife of George Hobson, founder of Iowa City (now Random Acres, east of the Mall), gives us a glimpse into the extremity of bushwhackers in the county. Mrs. Hobson stated in the winter of 1865, her husband and brother came home from hunting all day and told her about finding four skeletons in the field. The field they were referring to is where the Meadowbrook Mall is today. She described bits of uniforms on the bones and brass buttons revealing the skeletons were soldiers. The Hobsons buried the bones of the soldiers where they laid.
Crawford county civil war veterans and pioneers had many stories to tell when it came to skirmishes. One story tells of a detachment of Union soldiers from the 6th Kansas Calvary escorting a wagon train of civilians on their way to Fort Scott in 1864. The soldiers were from Cherokee, Crawford and Bourbon counties whose enlistment was over and were on their way back to the fort to be dismissed from service. A dozen wagons made along the train while the Union officers lead the way. It was around eight miles south and two miles east of Pittsburg, when the officers realized they were being followed. They turned off the Military trail and started to follow Cow Creek. The attack on the wagon train was led by 1st Indian Brigade Major Piercy. Part of the wagon train broke away and went west along Cow Creek. The Confederate troops caught up with them along Middle Cow Creek (located by Pittsburg Wastewater Plant), killing three soldiers, thirteen civilian men and burned the wagons. It is said that one of the men escaped from the attack because he had been a friend with one of the Confederate soldiers. The iron from the wagons was used after the war by Pleasant M. Smith II who opened a blacksmith shop on Cow Creek about three miles north of Lincoln Park. However, the story doesn’t end here.
In the 1920’s, Crawford County District Judge A. J. Curran spoke with a man from Eureka Springs, Arkansas when the conversation turned to the Cow Creek skirmish and the man saying he was among the men with the detachment. His story went that as soon as he saw the guerrillas coming toward them, he ran for his horse. As he did, his foot got caught in a grapevine throwing him under his horse just as he was being shot at. The guerrilla, thinking he had killed the soldier, rode away from the scene while in fact, the soldier wasn’t even injured and managed to escape. A year after the Civil War, A. J. Georgia, and others found skeletons in the same vicinity where the soldiers and civilians were overtaken and buried them.
Today, visitors can view the Cow Creek Skirmish Historical Marker and kiosk located at the Crawford County Historical Museum. During Little Balkans Day on Saturday 1st, visitors can also explore civil war army camps and aspects of the period, including battle reenactments at 11 am and 3 pm with skirmishes during the day. Period clothed soldiers, blacksmiths, stonecutter, basket weaver, quilters, Dutch oven cooking, herbal medicine, broom making, period music and other activities will be demonstrated throughout the day. Author, Steve Weldon’s program on the Raider Farm Massacre will begin at 1:30 pm in the Education Room.