History of Crawford State Park

Crawford State Park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (788th Company) in the early 1930s. The history of the area begins long before that, evidenced by two recorded archeological sites within the park’s boundaries, including the remnants of 19th century military outpost. Crawford County was established in 1867. It was named after former Kansas governor Samuel J. Crawford, the third governor to serve after Kansas became a state.

The story begins some 40 years before the county was established, when an area that includes present-day Crawford and Cherokee counties and the southern portion of Bourbon County belonged to the Osage Nation. In 1827, the Osage and the U.S. Government entered into a treaty designating a 25 mile-wide and 50 mile long strip of land west of the Missouri state line to be an unoccupied neutral area between the settlements in Missouri and the land owned by the Osage. A subsequent 1835 treaty between the Cherokee Nation and the U.S. Government turned the neutral land over to the Cherokee in exchange for $500,000. The region, subsequently known as the Cherokee Neutral Lands, was intended to augment the Cherokee’s holdings in the Indian Territory (northeast portion of present-day Oklahoma).

By 1860, many white settlers were scattered over the territory. In return, the Cherokee Nation wanted to be paid with money, instead of new land. But the national treasury was nearly empty so President James Buchanan promised to vacate the lands. Accordingly, in the fall of 1860, two companies of soldiers arrived at the south line of the Neutral Lands and drove the settlers north to Drywood Creek, an area surrounding Crawford State Park.

By late 1865, the Cherokee decided to relinquish the Neutral Lands because the U.S. government generally ignored Cherokee claims to the land, encouraged non-Native peoples to settle in the region, and Kansas continued mapping out counties and roads in spite of Cherokee claims to the land. With the Treaty of 1866, the Cherokee Nation placed the land in trust to the U.S. Government and authorized the Secretary of the Interior to sell the property. A portion of the land was included in the State of Kansas. Nearly 5,000 non-Native people had settled in the Neutral Lands before they were relinquished.

The Secretary of the Interior sold the land to the American Emigrant Company (AEC) which was formed to help emigrants settle in the U.S., but his successor set aside the sale because the U.S. attorney general said it conflicted with the terms of the 1866 treaty. AEC disagreed with the opinion, but through a complex set of legal maneuvers, it assigned its interest in the property in 1868 to James F. Joy, representing the Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad (formerly the Kansas and Neosho Valley Railroad). Joy was an empire-builder who owned several railroads. The railroad began surveying a route for a new rail line but the settlers opposed what they believed was the illegal sale of public land. In 1869, in response to growing threats from the settlers, the U.S. government sent troops into the area to protect the railroad’s interests.

The troops were officially stationed at Fort Scott, but they operated outposts along the railroad’s route, one of which was built on a branch of Drywood Creek where Crawford State Park now stands. Its remains are still visible inside the park entrance. The soldiers used an old caboose from the railroad, and they guarded “Spiderleg Bridge,” a bridge made of long poles and built over Drywood Creek.

The railroad between Kansas City and Baxter Springs was finished in 1870. It still serves Kansas – it is now the present-day BNSF Railway, and visitors cross the tracks as they approach the Crawford State Park entrance.