Steele House – A possible new national historic site

In Lake Scott State Park, also home to one of our top 10 trails, the Steele House has been nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Herbert and Eliza Steele built the limestone house in the 1890s along Ladder Creek. They sold 600+ acres of their land to the forerunner to the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism, and on that land and with the damming of Ladder Creek, Lake Scott was created in 1930.

The house is open to visitors and it’s been preserved much like it was over 100 years ago.

Bluffs at Lake Scott State Park

Bluffs at Lake Scott State Park

Beach House at Lake Scott open now through Memorial Day

Beach house photo from Friends of Lake Scott

On Saturdays and Sundays from 8am to 6pm now until Memorial Day, you can visit the Beach House at Lake Scott State Park.

Out on the western plains of Kansas, Lake Scott was created in the late 1920s, and the Beach House is privately owned and not always open. The Spanish Revival architecture style building was constructed in the 1930s, and you can stop by to get food items, fishing equipment, bait, boat rentals and camping supplies.

There’s also indoor showers if you’ve taken a dip in the lake or to freshen up after the hike around the lake – one of our top 10 Kansas trails.

135th Anniversary of the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork

Cave in Battle Canyon. Photo by Mark Conard.

Cave in Battle Canyon. Photo by Mark Conard.

It’s been 135 years since the Northern Cheyenne and the US Cavalry were both at Punished Woman’s Fork, and this weekend, both will be back.

It was on September 27, 1878, the Northern Cheyenne, on their way back to their homeland, fought their last battle with the US Army in Kansas, a mile south of present day Scott City and Lake Scott State Park along Highway 95. In honor of that historic event, El Quartelejo Museum and Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection are hosting the 135th Battle Canyon Symposium on September 27 and 28, 2013.

For a national historic site, it’s surprisingly unchanged from what it would have been like 135 years ago. That’s part of the beauty of the western prairie. Much has remained unchanged, and the rolling hills and canyons that were the site of such history and bloodshed remain steadfast, silent witnesses to a story that has often been overlooked.


Dedication from 4:00 to 5:30pm on Friday 9/27 at Punished Woman’s Fork National Historic Site. It was at 4:00pm on September 27 that the fighting began at the site.

Following the dedication and at the El Quartelejo Ruins Monument Site in Lake Scott State Park: native song and dance performance by the Northern Cheyenne and a 4th US Cavalry exhibition from 6 to 8:30pm.

Saturday is the big day with the Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection at El Quartalejo Museum hosting the speakers, including Northern Cheyenne leaders, descendants from the Cheyenne chiefs, and historians.


Sent to a Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma in 1877, the Northern Cheyenne had little food and there was a measles outbreak, and there was little hope of survival. Dull Knife and Little Wolf, Cheyenne chiefs, took matters into their own hands, and the night of September 9, 1878, with the fires left burning, they led over 300 Cheyenne off the reservation. They were headed back to Yellowstone Country, 1500 miles away.

Rifle pit

Rifle pit. Photo by Mark Conard

By September 13, 1878, troops had found them, and surrender was offered as an option. Dull Knife refused to go back to the reservation, and Cheyenne and army troops began fighting.

A cat and mouse game continued through the next week with the Cheyenne trying to get away and fighting back until they reached “Punished Woman’s Fork” on September 25, 1878.

This was to be the place of their last stand, and it was chosen specifically. The remote canyon had a natural cave at one end where women, children, and the elderly could take shelter, and along the hills and bluffs, rifle pits could be dug to provide cover for the Cheyenne fighters. The US soldiers could be lured into the canyon (now known as Battle Canyon) and ambushed with the landscape acting as an additional weapon for the Cheyenne.

One of the fighters described the incoming soldiers: “A great angry snake of whites come against us in the morning.”

September 27, 1878, those not fighting took shelter in the cave, and the battle began. The Cheyenne ended up backed into Battle Canyon, but they drove the army back and took out Lt. Col. Lewis, Commander of Ford Dodge, Kansas, who’d once said “I will run the Cheyenne to ground or leave my body on the prairie.” He did the latter.

The night of September 27, the US army pulled back to camp, and the Cheyenne again made their escape in the night with their fires left burning and continued heading north.

Nearby trails

The trail around the perimeter of Lake Scott State Park will be one of our top 10 trails in the guidebook. Easy to follow, it’s got some incredible views out over the lake and of the nearby cliffs.

And the answer is….

Smoky Valley Ranch!

Lake Scott State Park is within the same region, and more well known, so those were good guesses, but the location of these chalk cliffs is the Nature Conservancy’s Smoky Valley Ranch in Logan County.

Cretaceous Formations

Cretaceous Formations

There is a 1 mile loop and a 5 mile loop through the shortgrass prairie and throughout the hike are chalk cliffs, though these, the most impressive, are located primarily along the 1 mile loop.

It can be a bit tricky for route finding on the 5 mile loop – I managed to make it about 7 miles, but that came from following cattle tracks when they criss-crossed the main hiking trail, and not having a clear description of the trail (which you’ll have with the publication of our book), though even when adjusting the track to correctly follow the trail, the long loop came out to about 5.5 miles.

I was saved by being able to see my exact location on the Garmin GPS device – I would recommend one of those, or at least a compass on this particular trail. Out on the shortgrass prairie, once you get over the ridges and can no longer see the formations shown above, it can be easy to get turned around and in the open prairie, there are no trees, so it’s best hiked in either spring or fall.

All that being said, it’s a pleasant hike through some unique terrain. It’s free and open only to hikers. On the trail, keep an eye out for badgers, turtles, and hawks. It’s also a new site for the federally endangered black footed ferret.

To best explain why the place is important and worth a visit, I’ll use an excerpt from the website:

Why the Conservancy Selected this Site

This area is a rare remnant of shortgrass prairie and home to the green toad, a state-threatened amphibian, and the swift fox. In addition to its biological significance, it is a living repository of geological, paleontological, archaeological, historical and cultural history.

Pre-Historic History

The chalk badlands along the Smoky Hill River contain a rich fossil record of animals that lived in a vast inland sea that covered Kansas during the Cretaceous Period, some 80 million years ago. The Cretaceous Period was part of the Age of Reptiles, an era famous for its dinosaurs. Although dinosaurs were restricted to landmasses far from western Kansas, their marine representatives — mosasaurs and plesiosaurs — roamed the seas. Besides these large marine reptiles, huge turtles, sharks, flying reptiles, giant clams, and toothed-birds inhabited the area. Because fossil remains are so well-preserved and scientifically significant, the chalk badlands are among the world’s most famous locations for fossils from this era.

A Paleoindian site, the first physical evidence that humans inhabited North America at the end of the last Ice Age, was unearthed on Smoky Valley Ranch in 1895. This discovery contradicted contemporary theory and was not confirmed until 13 years later when a similar discovery was made in Folsom, New Mexico.