Sapling Grove, 11/03


Johnson County Sun, Nov. 13, 2003, by Rob Roberts

Renamed city park was site
of historic trail rendezvous

? ? ? ? ? A 13-year-old Overland Park boy and his mother blazed a trail from the Johnson County Historical Museum to Overland Park City Hall to ensure that the memory of an important place in the nation's frontier history would long endure.?  [Photo: Mother and son Kathy and Christopher Lamb, flanked by trail experts Ross Marshall (left) and Craig Crease stroll through Sapling Grove Park at 82nd Terrace and Grant on Tuesday.]

? ? ? ? ? For Christopher and Kathy Lamb, the journey ended on a triumphant note Monday, when the Overland Park City Council unanimously endorsed the renaming of Comanche Park at 82nd Terrace and Grant to Sapling Grove Park.

? ? ? ? ? The Lambs, who live down the street from the city park, learned about the historical significance of the site in June, when they attended an exhibit on local frontier-trail sites at the Johnson County Historical Museum.

? ? ? ? ? But the story actually begins much earlier.

? ? ? ? ? According to Shawnee resident Craig Crease, president of the Kansas City Area Historic Trails Association and the primary consultant for the museum exhibit the Lambs attended, the Bidwell-Bartleson party, generally recognized as the first organized overland emigration party to travel to the Pacific coast, rendezvoused at Sapling Grove campground 162 years ago.

? ? ? ? ? On May 12, 1841, the group of 60-plus departed from Sapling Grove, a wooded area bisected by a branch of Turkey Creek and today occupied by the park, Comanche Elementary and several homes.

? ? ? ? ? "At Soda Springs, the group split up," Crease wrote in a historical essay on Sapling Grove.?  And "ultimately, 32 men, one woman and one infant continued on to California.

? ? ? ? ? "Although this one event alone substantiates the important role of Sapling Grove on the California Trail, the campground also has other important ties to this trail.

? ? ? ? ? "Joel Walker and family stayed at Sapling Grove in spring of 1840, before continuing on to Oregon.?  The following year, they journeyed overland to California to become one of the founding families of the region.

? ? ? ? "In May 1843, John C. Fremont, on his second exploring expedition but his first foray to California, most likely stayed at Sapling Grove on his way out.

? ? ? ? ? "By 1849, hundreds of 49ers, destined for the western shores, would have passed through or stopped at Sapling Grove, although by this time, the name 'Sapling Grove' had vanished into obscurity."

? ? ? ? ? Indeed, Crease said, post-1850 historians frequently came across references to the site and thought "Sapling Grove campground" was just another name for the Lone Elm campground.

? ? ? ? ? The latter campground, located near what is now 167th Street and Lone Elm in Olathe, was the spot where two branches of the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails - which ran more or less congruently through Johnson County - joined.

? ? ? ? ? The southernmost of those branches started in Independence, Mo., one of two trailhead cities where westward emigrants outfitted themselves for their journeys, the other being Westport, Mo.

? ? ? ? ? Sapling Grove was located along the branch between Westport and Lone Elm, Crease said.

? ? ? ? ? He discovered that and Sapling Grove's exact location about 10 years ago, upon happening across Col. George Sibley's unpublished field notes, made in 1827, when Sibley was surveying the Santa Fe Trail for the federal government.

? ? ? ? ? Due to his extensive knowledge about Sapling Grove and its place in history, Crease said he was thrilled upon being approached last summer by Kathy and Christopher Lamb, who told him about their plan to have the park site renamed.

? ? ? ? ? Mother and son had come up with that idea together, Kathy said. ? But it was Christopher's idea to start a petition drive in support of the renaming, she said, and it was he who gathered 111 signatures from neighbors living near the park.

? ? ? ? ? Ultimately, the idea also was endorsed by the Overland Park Historical Society, the Downtown Overland Park Partnership and the Grantioch Homes Association [Neighborhood Group], which represents 450 residences near the park.

? ? ? ? ? But not every one was enthusiastic about the name change.

? ? ? ? ? During three appearances before the Citizens Advisory Council on Parks and Recreation, the Lambs learned that some residents of the Comanche Heights subdivision wanted to maintain the name "Comanche Park," fearing that a change would lead to a loss of identity for the area.

? ? ? ? Others questioned why anyone would want to eliminate the name of an Indian tribe that once inhabited the area, only to learn that the Comanches didn't live here, that the name was merely chosen by developers of the adjacent subdivision.

? ? ? ? ? Another point made in support of the name change, according to Ross Marshall, past president of the Oregon-California Trail Association and the Santa Fe Trail Association, was that "Sapling Grove" supporters weren't suggesting a new name for the park.

? ? ? ? ? "We just wanted to change it back," Marshall, a resident of Merriam, explained.

? ? ? ? ? Despite the best arguments of the Lambs and trail historians like Crease and Marshall, the advisory council deadlocked on the renaming issue, sending it to the City Council's Community Development Committee on Nov. 5 with no endorsement.

? ? ? ? ? But the Lambs won a 6-0 recommendation from the Community Development Committee.?  And on Monday, the full City Council approved the name change without further discussion.

? ? ? ? ? Now, Crease said, the National Park Service will likely become involved in efforts to interpret the history of Sapling Grove at the park site.

? ?  ? ? According to Crease, he and Marshall have been working with national and local agencies for several years to erect trail markers throughout the Kansas City area and increase residents' awareness of the area's rich frontier history.? ? "Most people know generally that the trails went through this area," he said.?  "But they don't know about all the campgrounds of the 1830s, 1840s and 1850s that are literally in their neighborhoods."

? ? ? ? ? Another important but obscure campground site, Crease said, is that of the Flat Rock campground, which was located about a half mile east of present-day 103rd Street and Pflumm Road.

? ? ? ? ? Soon, Marshall added, it will be tougher to overlook the Lone Elm campground site. ? The city of Olathe recently paid $1.8 million for that 154-acre site, he said.?  Youth sports fields have been developed on half of the site, Marshall said, and next year the addition of interpretive markers, kiosks and walkways will begin on the other half.

Posted by stevewien on 06/09/2004
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