History of Green Wildlife Area
The Green Wildlife Area near Willard in western Shawnee County is rich in the history of Kansas from before statehood. The wildlife area and the surrounding land was the site of Uniontown, once the largest town in Kansas, but whose tragic story lasts little more than a decade.
Uniontown was established in March 1848 as a trading post for the Potawatomi Reservation and became one of the most important trading points on the Kansas River. Col. Thomas N. Stinson, who later founded the town of Tecumseh northeast of Topeka, built the first house in Uniontown in1848. At its peak, the town boasted 300 residents and as many as 60 buildings, of which 14 were said to be stores. Uniontown was met by a branch of every major trail in the area, including the California-Oregon Trail, the Fort Leavenworth-Fort Riley Road, the Salt Lake City Trail, and the U.S. Mail Route.
The town was known as the last place west of the Mississippi River where travelers headed to the California gold fields could purchase supplies before striking out across the continent. Travelers following the Oregon Trail crossed the Kansas River at a nearby rocky-bottom ford – when the water wasn’t too high. Captain John C. Fremont used the crossing in 1848 during his first exploration of the Great Plains. Remnants of the Oregon Trail can still be seen along one of the wildlife area’s nature trails.
Uniontown was struck by cholera outbreaks in 1849 and 1850 which killed hundreds of Native Americans and non-native people and, as a result, the town was burned down. It was resurrected beginning in late 1850, and the town once again grew to include a physician, two blacksmiths, a wagon-maker, two gunsmiths and a saw mill. A ferry was built in 1850 at the Kansas River crossing. Competition from other growing towns like Topeka and Manhattan brought Uniontown to its knees, and it was finally burned to the ground and abandoned in 1859.
The Green family acquired the property in the 1870s and used it for agricultural purposes until the 1960s. In 1877, the family built a home from the native stone remnants of Uniontown. The dated stone that once was perched above the home’s doorway can be seen near the wildlife area parking lot. Evidence of the family’s farming operations are still visible in the wildlife area.
All that remains of the town’s history is a privately-owned cemetery near the Green Wildlife Area parking lot. The cemetery preserves the graves of Uniontown’s cholera victims, 33 of whom were buried in a common grave. The Uniontown Cemetery is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is owned by the Citizen Band Potawatomi Nation.