Santa Fe Trail monument to be unveiled in New Franklin

Saturday, August 31, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:59 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 31, 2013

COLUMBIA—The six 19th-century pioneers have found their place on the Katy Trail.

William Becknell, George Caleb Bingham, Kit Carson, Millie Cooper, Josiah Gregg and Ezekiel Williams will spend their foreseeable futures at the intersection of the Katy Trail and Highway 5 in New Franklin as part of a new monument.

The pioneers

William Becknell — A poor farmer saddled with debt, in 1821 he formed a caravan and headed west, establishing the commercial route known as the Santa Fe Trail.

George Caleb Bingham —  Bingham is a notable American painter whose work often featured scenes of the Missouri frontier. He lived in Franklin, Mo., for a time beginning in 1819.

Kit Carson — A famed 19th-century adventurer, Carson grew up in the Boonslick area. When he was 16, he ran away from home and traveled the Santa Fe Trail.

Millie Cooper — When American Indians attacked Cooper's Fort during the War of 1812, the 15-year-old Cooper stole away on horseback and summoned reinforcements from Fort Hempstead.

Josiah Gregg — He was a prominent trader who authored Commerce of the Prairies, a seminal history of the Santa Fe Trail.

Ezekiel Williams — An early trader on the Santa Fe Trail, his farm served as an assembly point for William Becknell and his party on their first, pioneering trip west to New Mexico.

The South Howard County Historical Society, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the city of New Franklin and numerous private donors came together to create the monument, which will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Saturday. The featured speaker will be historian Bob Priddy of Missourinet.

The idea for the monument featuring these six early settlers of the south Howard County area, where the Santa Fe Trail began, was born in the 1980s, said Sue Thompson, chair of the South Howard County Historical Society Monument Committee.

Back then, a group was formed in Howard County called Franklin or Bust. The organization began with two goals in mind. The first was to get the town of Franklin officially recognized by the federal government as the starting point of the historically important Santa Fe Trail. Several towns were vying for this designation.

The second goal was to build an interpretive center featuring prominent figures from south Howard County's history.

Franklin or Bust was successful on the first count, but the second effort fizzled out, Thompson said.

In 2009, the state decided to tear down the New Franklin viaduct, a bridge that had once allowed pedestrians to safely cross over a former MKT railroad switchyard.

Since the New Franklin viaduct had been a prominent landmark, local residents wanted something special to replace it. Seizing upon the unfinished second goal of Franklin or Bust, they decided to memorialize the Santa Fe Trail.

Specifically, they settled on a monument featuring several granite markers with the faces of early pioneers etched on them.

The South Howard County Historical Society partnered with the City of New Franklin and received a $123,000 Transportation Enhancement Grant from the state Department of Transportation,  Thompson said.

About $45,000 more was raised from a variety of local fundraising events.

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