History and Hiking: Black Jack Battlefield

Our book will include “top” trails – top 10 best, best for mountain bikers, best for wildflowers, etc. along with best for history. One of those history trails is at Black Jack Battlefield.

Black Jack Battlefield, near Baldwin City, was the site of one of the first battles of the Civil War, and it was  designated as a National Historic Landmark in 2012. It was described as the place for the first shots fired in the Civil War on a recent episode of the National Geographic show “Diggers.”

Bonus history – this location also has some wagon ruts from the Santa Fe Trail.

To the battle!

To the battle!

The history in Kansas at this time was so violent, it’s been referred to as  “Bleeding Kansas.” The events, in short, that led up to the battle at Black Jack Battlefield:

Abolitionist John Brown led the fight against the pro-slavery forces led by Henry C. Pate from Missouri on June 2, 1856. That’s the same Henry C. Pate who was in the group that burned Lawrence on May 21, 1856. Shortly after the Lawrence was looted, John Brown and others executed five pro-slavery men at Potawatomie Creek, and then three anti-slavery men were taken prisoner by Pate, two of which were Brown’s sons. (Followed along so far?)

The five hour battle ended with John Brown’s side winning and his sons were released in exchange for the pro-slavery men who’d been captured.

Self-guided tours of the site are available, and the brochure explains the history of the battle with nine stops from Pate’s position, the point of surrender, John Brown’s position and more. Free guided tours hosted every Saturday and Sunday at 1 pm through the third weekend of October.

Also linked to the shorter self-guided tour path is a nature trail and mowed grass trails through a prairie restoration area. It’s a pleasant walk through a place of huge historical significance, and the trails are well taken care of and easy to follow with signs on the nature trail identifying different plants and trees.

I always find it to be a bit odd to walk through a battlefield. As you would imagine, over 150 years later, other than the signs pointing out the pivotal moments of the battle, there is no sign that anything had ever happened there, much less something that helped kick off a war that changed the shape of America forever. It’s a quiet place, or at least it seems as though it would be on most days not during the guided tours, and I had the place to myself.

I always kind of expect to feel the weight of history in places like these. To somehow connect with the ones who crossed through in covered wagons or were prepared to die fighting over the issue of slavery. I never quite feel what I think that I should, which is silly since there is no “right” way to feel, but I think the best that can be done is to get out and go to places like these. To pay respect to what happened there by visiting and walking the trails and by appreciating the space that it is now. Walking the trails at Black Jack Battlefield is a way to connect with the simple, natural world of the prairie and with the complicated history of not just the state of Kansas, but with the nation, and there’s not a lot of places where you can do that.

If you go:

Open from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year


163 E. 2000 Road
Wellsville, KS 66092

Some of the best Kansas City barbecue: Oklahoma Joe’s

The Kansas City area has some great hiking and biking trails, like at Kill Creek Regional Park in Overland Park, which will be featured in our Kansas Trail Guide book, coming out early 2015. And while you’re in the Kansas City area, it would be a waste to miss out on authentic Kansas City barbecue. As a Kansan, I’d argue it’s some of the best barbecue in the world. And one of the best places to get the best barbecue is at Oklahoma Joe’s.

Oklahoma Joe's. Photo by Marshall Astor

Oklahoma Joe’s. Photo by Marshall Astor

The birthplace of Kansas City was near 18th and Vine on the Missouri side of the state, but Kansas boasts some great barbecue options in the barbecue city. The original Oklahoma Joe’s is rather unexpectedly located in a gas station, but don’t be put off. It was opened by Jeff Stehney and his wife in 1996 after their barbecue competition team, Slaugherhouse Five, had won hundreds of awards, and it will have lines out the door for lunch.

But the line is worth it, and one of their most popular dishes, and one that’s won a lot of their awards, is their pulled pork. I’m partial to the brisket, but really, you can’t go wrong with just about anything on the menu. It’s quite literally finger-licking good, and if you spend some time on the nearby trails in Kansas City, you won’t have to feel guilty about digging into the overwhelmingly delicious (though not really all that healthy) lunch.

Visitor information:
3002 W 47th Ave (the original gas station location)
Kansas City, KS

11950 S Strang Line Rd
Olathe, KS

11723 Roe Avenue
Leawood, KS 66211