The Santa Fe Trail Center near Larned is a regional museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of the geographic area once known as the Santa Fe Trail. The trail was a great trade route which linked the United States with Mexico, and later with its own American southwest. The era of the Santa Fe Trail began in 1821, when Mexican independence from Spain opened up new trade opportunities for both American and Mexican merchants. Pulled by oxen and mules, commercial freight wagon trains crossed the plains until the railroad arrived near Santa Fe in 1880. This ended rnthe Santa Fe Trail’s freighting days and a new era began as settlers established homes, farms, and ranches along the ruts of the old trail.
The museum’s exhibits show the trail as a transportation route which blended the Indian, Spanish, andAmerican cultures. Displays include prehistoric Indian artifacts, a Wichita Indian grass lodge, a full-sized mounted buffalo, a commercial freight wagon , and an exhibit showing the Spanish influences on rnthe trail.
The period of settlement along the ruts of the old trail, brought about by the coming of the railroad, is depicted in the museum by a series of rooms showing pioneer life in the early 1900’s. An impressive rncollection of historic firearms showing the progression of weapons from flintlock to cartridge is also on display.
Outdoor exhibits on the Trail Center’s 5-acre complex include a sod house, dugout home, limestone rncooling house, one-room schoolhouse, and a Santa Fe Railroad depot. On special occasions, living history programs provide visitors with an insight into early pioneer life.
In 1991, the Santa Fe Trail Center was designated a certified site on the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. It was the second site on the trail and the first site in Kansas to receive this important designation by the National Park Service.