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The Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve

The Ivan Boyd Prairie Preserve is located in south Douglas County, near Baldwin, and adjacent to the site of the pre-Civil War battle of Black Jack, 2 June 1856, a battle that happened as a result of the Pottawatomie Massacre and other events. Ivan Boyd was a resident of the town of Baldwin, and was a member of the faculty of Baker University for many years. He was an ardent naturalist and conservationist, and, in rain and snow, could often be seen walking through the countryside he loved so well -- and doing so at an age when most of us much prefer an easy chair and a large-print book. He was particularly fond of children and is beloved by generations of those whom he introduced to the wonders of nature. At his death, nothing seemed more fitting that to dedicate to his memory a tract of the native prairie that few knew or loved so well as he.


The preserve is a favorite place of those who enjoy the sights and seasons of the wild flowers with which the native prairie abounds. In the Kansas prairie, there is, as it says in the book of Ecclesiastes, a time and season for all things. From week to week, the prairie undergoes subtle changes as the time and season for some flowers comes and goes, and other flowers and plants take their place. The rich green grass of early Spring is quite different from the tall stalks of Autumn, each tipped with a feathery head. Some people come once and enjoy the view, but others come time after time, seeing a different aspect of the changes of the season with each visit.


As is true of most things, there is more to the prairie than meets the eye, and it takes an alert eye for one to realize that one is walking down an historic path. The narrow swathes of grass that are just a bit lighter in shade than their surroundings mark the wagon tracks of the old Santa Fe trail. During the 1830's and 1840's caravans of great freight wagons, loaded with goods shipped by river to Westport, rumbled across this land on their way to Taos and Santa Fe while flanking guards of United States Army dragoons protected their passage. A couple of months later, they would return, laden with the products of the upper reaches of the Rio Grande. It was not far from here that a band of marauders robbed and murdered don Sánchez, a Mexican national on his way to Westport. Santa Ana, the ruler of Mexico, used the unfortunate event as a pretext for shutting down the Santa Fe trade, an action that soon led to the outbreak of war between Mexico and the United States. The Mexican-American War ended with the United States' acquisition of a vast expanse of land, including the gold and silver mines of California and Nevada. The United States is a far different place than it might have been if the bandits had not been lurking near here when don Sánchez happened by

There is still more food for thought in those thin lines of pale grass. It has been well over a century since the wagons rolled down this road, but the prairie still bears the marks of their passing. Although the prairie is, or rather was, so vast as to overwhelm the senses of the settlers who came here from the East, it is also fragile. This not only breeds among Kansans a generally considerate attitude to their surroundings, but also a general alertness to the land in which they live. While others may find the prairies and plains featureless and monotonous, those who pay attention to such things find that nature bears the stamp of our history and even the grass beneath their feet has a story to tell.


But if the prairie grass can reveal, it can also conceal. Almost hidden by tall grass, one can find an old marker in the Prairie Preserve. Although it has been much weathered and cracked by the prairie winds and the great variations of temperature to which our region subjects both stones and people, one can still read some of the words chiseled on its surface


The inscription in the lower right corner of the marker reads "SURVEY 1825." This is a monument erected by Russell Hays in the 1960s to honor the SFT and its early travelers. 1825 was also a landmark year for Kansas in other respects. It was in that year that the United States concluded treaties with the Kanza and Osage tribes by which the resident tribes gave up their lands in eastern Kansas. This great tract was used to create small reservations for the tribes who were to be removed from their lands east of the Mississippi. First came the Shawnees, then the Kickapoos and Pottawatomi, then the river tribes of the Kaskaskia, Peoria, Wea and Piankeshaw, and then the Sac and Fox, fresh from Illinois, where their leaders, Blackhawk and the Prophet, had led them in a vain uprising against the wave of European settlers moving into the Rock River valley. One might stop for a minute to remember that it was during the Blackhawk War that an officer by the name of Jefferson Davis swore a young Illinoisan named Abraham Lincoln into the militia. Finally came the Wyandot from Michigan. Along with them came missionaries to convert and teach them, and soldiers to build forts from which to watch them and keep them where they had been placed.

Many settlers and travellers have left us their impression of these great plains, and most tell of the shock they felt at finding themselves at the bottom of an immense saucer with banks of unbroken grass extending on all sides of them to a immeasurable distant and featureless horizon. The sky above them seem just as limitless. Nor matter how fast their coach of horse carried them, it seemed to them that they had scarcely moved, and one remembered Coleridge when he said that he was like "a painted ship in a painted ocean." Some exulted in this vastness, others were frightened, and some went mad. It's well to remember that it was the emigrant tribes, moved from their native woodlands, who were the first of the easterner to face the immensity of the prairie and the rigors of the plains, and no one asked them what they felt. It is only proper that so many of our place names -- Wyandotte, Shawnee Mission, Miami and Pottawatomie counties, and others -- bear their names, since they were the first to settle these lands after Osage and Kanza had made way for them. If one keeps one's eyes on the ground, an occasional stone arrow point or broken spear head appears as a reminder of those early days.

As I said, many people find our prairies featureless and monotonous. If one is alert and sensitive to one's surroundings, however, there is actually a good deal to be seen and much to be appreciated.

This page was prepared by Dr. Lynn H. Nelson, KU History Professor Emeritus. The photographs were provided by Phyllis Legler, an ardent naturalist and keen observer of the Kansas countryside.
Lawrence, Kansas
29 September 1996

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