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Kansas Western history: As real as it gets

Coronado Quivira Museum
In central Kansas, the Coronado Quivira Museum details various periods in the area’s Western history, among them the prehistoric Quivira Indians era and the 1541 journey of Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado.

“We have the largest collection of Quiviran artifacts in the area,” said museum director Maggie Carlson. “The tribe was here when Coronado came through, and he wrote about them. They were very extensive traders, and we find pottery from New Mexico, shells from the Gulf of Mexico and stones from Minnesota in our archaeological excavations.”

In addition to Indians and Spanish explorers, the museum has information on the Santa Fe Trail and its impact on the surrounding area. Artifacts on display include various period trail maps, as well as a Mexican wagon and moccasins, a tomahawk, a bow and arrow, and other items belonging to later American Indian groups that hunted in the area.

The museum staff can also take groups on tours in the area to see evidence of the Santa Fe Trail and other significant sites.

“One of our site tours goes to a popular area called Ralph’s Ruts,” Carlson said. “It’s an area of ground that was never farmed, and you can see where the ox and wagons left ruts in the ground.”

Boot Hill Museum
Dodge City
“Wild” only begins to describe Dodge City, a town in western Kansas that had a reputation as one of the roughest frontier towns in the 19th century. Although the town has been tamed since then, the Boot Hill Museum gives groups a look at some of the people and traditions that made history there.

“We’re probably best known for the lawlessness in the community in the early 1870s through 1900,” said Lara Brehm, the museum’s executive director. “Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson all spent time here.”

The museum takes its name from the infamous Boot Hill cemetery, where vagrants, outlaws and other troublemakers were said to be buried with their boots still on. Today, the museum’s main exhibit building sits on the same site.

The museum complex has several original structures from the period; a Victorian home, a blacksmith shop, the First Union Church and the Fort Dodge jail. Those are complemented by two blocks of re-created buildings along historic Front Street, where visitors can drink beer or sarsaparilla at the Long Branch Saloon or watch gunfights in the street at high noon.

“We have the Long Branch Variety Show, with Miss Kitty from ‘Gunsmoke,’ can-can dancers and singing bartenders,” Brehm said. “We can also do a country-style dinner for groups, with beef brisket, potatoes and onions, hot biscuits and apple crisps.”