About the Ruts
The Santa Fe Trail between the Kansas City, MO, and Santa Fe, NM, areas began as a route for trade and commerce in 1821 by William Becknell following a faint path that had been used for centuries by nomadic peoples following migrating animals. The wagons were drawn by teams of up to six oxen, and generally traveled four abreast. Through time this moving of freight along the trail resulted in ruts or swales being worn into the ground. There are many sites along the Santa Fe Trail where these ruts are visible, but few are as pronounced as those that are known as “Ralph’s Ruts”.
Ralph’s grandfather, John L. Hathaway, who in 1878 homesteaded the quarter section where Ralph’s Ruts are located, made two rounds with the sod-busting plow along the side of a forty-acre field and quickly determined that the ground was too sandy to cultivate. Consequently, the pasture where the best ruts are located is still virgin prairie. The swales have changed very little from the way they appeared when the trail ceased being used in 1872.
Just east of the prominent swales is the site of the Plum Buttes Massacre, named for the trio of sandy buttes two miles to the west, which rose high above the prairie and served as the only landmark on the relatively flat land.