MOUNT MITCHELL HERITAGE PRAIRIE
WAUBAUNSEE COUNTY, KANSAS
It was one of the most dramatic and critical chapters of American history. Heated debate over slavery left the halls of Congress and erupted in bloodshed on the prairies of Kansas.
This prelude to the Civil War — “Bleeding Kansas” — saw proslavery and antislavery settlers struggling for control of Kansas Territory.
Through the efforts of local residents and friends known as the Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards, a historic park has been created that ties Wabaunsee County to this pivotal period in our nation’s past.
Located on a 45-acre hilltop three miles south of Wamego, the park is called the Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie Preserve. It is dedicated to Captain William Mitchell and the Beecher Bible and Rifle Colony, The property, part of Captain Mitchell’s farm, was given to the Kansas Historical Society in 1953 by Mitchell’s son W.I. Mitchell.
Organized in New Haven, Connecticut, this famous colony of free-state immigrants arrived at Wabaunsee in April 1856. Determined to see Kansas become a state free of slavery, they formed a militia with earlier settlers and fought along side John Brown and Jim Lane in the Border War.
The Kansas Historical Society accepted Mitchell’s gift but because of funding issues a park was never developed. In 2001, they decided to relinquish ownership of the site, so local residents came together and formed the Prairie Guards to fulfill the wishes of the original donor.
The Prairie Guards are now a well-established non-profit with over 125 families and friends involved in its activities. We have organized 1,500 hours of volunteer labor and have made major improvements to the park, including building new fencing, an access road, parking area, retaining wall, information kiosk, and two miles of trails. We are also working to control woody encroachment of the prairie.
The park is an intact tallgrass prairie of remarkable biological diversity. Prairie enthusiasts from Minnesota, after a tour of Kansas prairies and wetlands, called the flora at Mount Mitchell the most impressive they had seen.
The hilltop remains mostly in its pre-settlement condition, allowing visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the territorial prairie landscape. Its summit affords exceptional views of the Kaw River Valley and its rich agricultural lands.
A military trail, known as the Toeka Fort Riley Road and described as the “Nearest and Best route between Fort Riley and the eastern part of Kansas,” descended from the Flint Hills uplands into the Kaw River valley on the east flank of Mount Mitchell. Visitors can walk in ruts and swales from this historic trail. Between 1857 and 1860 slaves seeking their freedom used this road with the help of local families. At least 20 individuals from the Wabaunsee community were active in the operation of the Underground Railroad.
The Mount Mitchell Heritage Prairie/Topeka-Fort Riley Road has been recognized by the National Park Service’s Underground Railroad Network to Freedom program as a site of national significance. It is also a Star Attraction of the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
The privately owned Mitchell farmstead, just north of the property, is also recognized by the Network to Freedom Program as an authentic Underground Railroad Station. It is one of the few original structures in the Midwest known for hiding slaves.
Each succeeding generation after these pioneers have made efforts to keep the stories of this history alive.
It is now our turn. Come stand on Mt. Mitchell amidst the wildflowers and nesting birds. Listen to the sound of bluestem in the wind. Look out across the prairie to the house where slaves seeking their freedom were hidden. Having done this, you will see why we are so excited about developing this educational resource for the area’s children and visitors.
Please join us. We need funds to continue our infrastructure development and the installation of interpretive signage.
Tax-deductible contributions can be sent to:
Mount Mitchell Prairie Guards
23320 Rockton Road
Eskridge, KS 66423