The Wild West begins in … Kansas? That’s right.
Kansas, located smack-dab in the middle of the United States, can be considered the gateway to cowboy country. During the 1800s, pioneers in search of new homesteads drove wagons through Kansas on their westward journeys while cowboys drove herds of longhorns along the Chisholm Trail. A trip to Kansas yields plenty of opportunities to experience the Old West.
Kick off Your Cowboy Trip in Wichita
Wichita, Kansas’ largest city, is anchored by the iconic Keeper of the Plains statue. The monument pays tribute to the Native Americans who made the area their home long before pioneers began their westward journeys. To learn more about the Great Plains’ native communities, visit the Mid-America All-Indian Center, which showcases and preserves Native American history and culture.
The Keeper of the Plains statue, one of Wichita's most recognizable landmarks
Travel Back in Time in Dodge City
Continue your Wild West journey in Dodge City. This small town in the southwest part of the state (about 250 kilometers west of Wichita) was founded in 1872 and quickly became a trade center for travelers, cowboys and buffalo hunters. There was no law enforcement in the early years, and the town became notorious for its fights and shootings “where men died with their boots on.” Dodge City quickly became known as the “wickedest little city in the West” and has since inspired many Wild West movies and television shows, including Gunsmoke, a fictional TV series about marshal Matt Dillon, a lawman who had a knack for making gun-slingers scramble. (The phrase “get out of Dodge,” which means to leave quickly, is still widely used in the USA.)
Dodge City is quite a bit more civilized today. The only gunfights in these parts are those staged at the Boot Hill Museum during the summer. The museum transports you back to the dusty streets of the late 1800s, complete with original buildings and historical exhibits that document the life of the town and its cast of quirky characters.
Historical interpreters spin tales of how things used to be and can-can dancers kick up their heels at the Long Branch Saloon. Come during Dodge City Days, a 10-day festival in late July and early August, and you’ll experience all sorts of all-American action, from a barbecue contest to a rodeo … and a high-noon gunfight or two.
Beware of outlaws in Dodge City, once a rough-and-tumble Wild West town.
Learn About Larned
About an hour’s drive northeast of Dodge City, the small town of Larned is traversed by the historic Santa Fe Trail. Here, you’ll find the Santa Fe Trail Center, where you’ll learn all about the route along which goods were transported between the U.S. and Mexico. You can take a self-guided auto tour of the Santa Fe Trail’s river route, which offers 15 historical markers between Larned and Dodge City.
This small town is also home to Fort Larned National Historic Site, the best-preserved fort of its time. This army post built in 1859 to protect Santa Fe Trail travelers from attacks by Native Americans, on whose land they crossed. Time your visit during one of the fort’s living history events, which are held on holiday weekends throughout the summer (such as the Fourth of July). You’ll have the opportunity to experience what life was like at the fort during the pioneer days.
The Santa Fe Trail was used by pioneers and traders. You can still see the well-worn tracks in the prairie near Larned.
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