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Baxter Springs

a city in Cherokee County; population (2016) 3,963

approximate location of Baxter Springs
location of Baxter Springs

The site of what is now Baxter Springs was once a popular stop for the Osage Indians, who believed that a mineral spring that flowed out of a hill just south of present-day East Seventh Street had miraculous healing properties.

In the spring of 1849 the Reverend John Baxter, his wife, and their eight children moved from Missouri to 160 acres of land near the spring and established an inn and general store. Known in the area as a "gun-toting preacher" Baxter was shot and killed during a property dispute in 1859.

In 1862 the U.S. Army established Fort Blair to protect Kansas residents from Confederateregular and guerrillas operating out of southwestern Missouri. On October 6, 1863, Confederate guerrillas under the command of William Quantrill struck the fort, and then moved on to massacre a contingent of troops being led toward Fort Smith by General James G. Blunt. Nearly 100 Union soldiers were killed in the attack; all are buried in the Baxter Springs Cemetery just west of the city.

reconstructed building on the site of Fort Blair
reconstructed Fort Blair building

The town of Baxter Springs, named for Reverend Baxter and the infamous mineral spring, was laid out in 1865, and it quickly became a very popular outlet for the Texas cattle trade. When it was incorporated in 1868, the town boasted a population of about 1,500. The Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway reached Baxter Springs on May 12, 1870, and within two years the population had grown to about 6,000. The city's cattle shipping industry declined dramatically as the railroads pushed south into Texas, and by 1876 the population had dropped to about 800.

While Baxter Springs' cattle business dropped, some residents realized that the mineral springs once visited by the Osage Indians did indeed have health-giving properties. A park was laid out near already-existing bathhouses, and Baxter Springs soon began drawing visitors from across the country. Very few, if any, of those visitors chose to stay permanently, however.

Baxter Springs' fortunes improved after lead and zinc were discovered just across the state line in Missouri. The mining operations soon reached into the southeastern corner of Kansas, and the city once again became a prosperous business center. Unfortunately, the mining activity which allowed the city to regain its prosperity also caused the mineral spring to stop flowing.

The next boost for Baxter Springs was the "arrival" of the infamous Route 66 in 1926.

The 1970's saw the demise of mining in the area, as well as a marked decline in traffic on Route 66. Fortunately the city had already diversified its economic base and was able to survive.

Baxter Springs Chamber of Commerce

Cherokee County
William Quantrill

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The West >> Kansas >> Cities and Towns

This page was last updated on August 27, 2017.