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Kansas Route 66

Baxter Springs
a Most Robbed Town

Kansas Route 66

 

Baxter Springs Tile Art Work
This ceramic tile pane on Baxter Springs American Bank celebrates the town's colorful  history.

Baxter Springs is an old town, founded before the Civil war in the 1850s along the Military Road. In fact, this old town is the site of Fort Blair and the Battle of Baxter Springs. On October 6, 1863 Quantrill attacked Ft. Blair in an unsuccessful raid. Having been repulsed by the Union Troops at the fort Quantrill's raiders ambushed an approaching military wagon train led by General Blunt. General Blunt and his command were caught totally by surprise, as they had no knowledge of the earlier attack on Fort Blair. After the attack, in violation of the rules of war, Quantrill called for the surrender of Blunt's troops and shot them dead when they did. This was a massacre.

Following the Civil War, Baxter Springs became known far and wide as one of the wildest cowtowns of the west. Cattle drovers found Baxter Springs a welcome break after months on the dusty trail. The numerous saloons and palaces of diversion provided all the amenities a poor cowboy could use.

          
Baxter Springs became known as the "First Cowtown in Kansas." This was a wild town in the old days. In fact I don’t know of any other town that had more of its banks robbed than Baxter Springs! Seemed to me that every historical plaque on each bank building had the dates it was robbed. The old Eden's Grocery Store (right photo) was actually robbed twice in one week's time! The story goes that Bonnie and Clyde came through Baxter Springs and robbed it on the way out of town. Then just a week later they came through town again and robbed it once more as they were passing through!

Old Baxter Springs General Store

              

Around the turn of the Twentieth Century deposits of lead and zinc were discovered in the area. It was soon obvious that these mines would provide the economic base for Baxter Springs and towns like it in the area. Then in 1926 Route 66 came through the town providing a new source of revenue – the tourist industry. Gas, auto supplies, eateries and motor courts became the order of the day.

         
Cafe on the Route

The building that the Cafe on the Route, a modern Route 66 business, is in is quite historical. It was built in the 1870s during the height of Baxter Springs cowtown days. It was the Crowell Bank and yes ... as the story goes, Jesse James robbed it one fine day back in the 1870s. Today you can find a fine meal here instead of "cash withdrawals." The Cafe on the Route and the Little Brick Inn, located upstairs, opened in May 1998 and has been serving fine food to travelers and residents alike in Baxter Springs.

          

Baxter Springs Phillips Station

This old cottage style Phillips Filling Station along Route 66 in Baxter Springs has an attached garage. It was run by Burl Chubb in the 1940s and 1950s. Ray Parsons, grandfather of former WalMart CEO Lee Scott, also ran this station.

Phillips Cottage Style

           
The drive through Baxter Springs is quite interesting. All up and down the main street, which is Route 66, you will see the distinctive architecture of small town America. The buildings are preserved and many of the businesses are still open. Though closed now, Bill Murphey's Restaurant was a local Baxter Springs hangout for decades. Before it became a restaurant this old building used to be a bank - and yep, you guessed it - it was robbed too! Henry Starr, a brother-in-law of the infamous Belle Starr, stopped by to make a withdrawal back in 1876. The story goes that the gang rode into town and dropped in at the bank to get change for a five-dollar bill. When the cashier turned around the Starr gang drew their guns and relieved the bank of almost $3000.00 dollars. Now that was a sizeable sum back in 1876. They beat feet for the Indian Territories, now Oklahoma, and made their get away. Maybe one reason Baxter Springs was robbed so much is the close proximity to the border of Missouri and Oklahoma. That made getting away from the local law enforcement jurisdiction a lot easier.
        

Bill Murphey's Restaurant
Bill Murphey's Restaurant is located in what used to be a bank and is a vintage Route 66 business.

Restaurant Sign

          

Baxter Store

Downtown Baxter Springs is resplendent with examples left over from the hey-day of Route 66. Life has slowed somewhat these days but Baxter Springs is far from being a shadow town.

Baxter Store

If you drive through Baxter Springs be sure to stop at the Baxter Springs Heritage Center. This museum has many fine exhibits illustrating the early days of Baxter Springs and this corner of Kansas. As you walk into the museum you will see a preserved bank teller's counter and window from an early day Baxter bank. Upon inquiry I found out that this old bank had been robbed too. This prompted me to change my tact as far as questions of Baxter history were concerned. I had to ask, in all seriousness I might add, if there were any banks in town that WEREN’T robbed! Just to make my note taking a little easier you see...

Photographs taken June 2003

Click on an area or city of Route 66 on the map below to take a cyber tour of that section of the  Mother Road

Travel Cyber Route 66 in Kansas

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NAVIGATION NOTE: Buckle up and hold on to your mouse! These pages are arranged like the map above, from the western state border to the eastern state border. I have set up this site as if you were traveling from EAST to WEST, much like the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath. You can click on the Route 66 shields to "travel" the Mother Road in either direction though. Or you can select any shield below to take you to that specific state.

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