8 Wonders of Kansas history

An 8 Wonder of Kansas History

Black Jack Battlefield, Baldwin City

Address: 163 E 2000 Road, Wellsville, Kansas 66092
Phone: 785.883.2106
Website: www.blackjackbattlefield.org

Black Jack Battlefield is a finalist for the 8 Wonders of Kansas History because many historians agree that this battle fought between Free-State and Pro-Slavery men was the beginning of true civil war combat in Kansas, making it where the American Civil War began.

Sign pointing out the site of the battlefield.  Photo courtesy Kathy Quigley
The Black Jack Battlefield is the site of the Battle of Black Jack, in which a Free-State militia led by the abolitionist John Brown attacked and defeated a pro-slavery militia on June 2, 1856. Around 100 men fought an intense three-hour battle that ended with Henry Clay Pate, the leader of the pro-slavery militia, surrendering to Brown.

Brown himself called the action "the first regular battle between free-state and pro-slavery forces in Kansas." Previous "Bleeding Kansas" violence consisted of sackings, massacres, and other events in which a more powerful group quickly overwhelmed a smaller unarmed or non-resisting group. The Battle of Black Jack was the first armed action in which two forces of comparable strength and determination fought in Kansas. Many historians agree it was the beginning of true civil war combat in Kansas, which is where the American Civil War began.

The battle occurred where it did because the pro-slavery militia was camped at a popular campground on the Santa Fe Trail when Brown and his men attacked at dawn. During the battle, men used wagon ruts left by travelers on the Trail as temporary cover.

Looking towards the battle area. Photo courtesy Kathy Quigley
Land containing the battlefield was purchased by Robert Hall Pearson, who fought alongside of Brown in the battle, and was preserved by him and his descendants for nearly 150 years before being sold in 2003 for development of the Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park. The farmhouse Pearson built overlooking the battlefield in 1890 is currently undergoing restoration.

The Black Jack Battlefield is unique in Kansas History because...
  • ...it is the site of the first regular battle between two armed militias fighting over the question of whether Kansas would be slave or free
  • ...it is where John Brown began his armed war on slavery, the Battle of Black Jack and the raid on Harpers Ferry being the bookends of that war
  • ...two nationally important historical entities, the Battle of Black Jack and the Santa Fe Trail, are together at one place


There is a special continuity between the past and the present, owing to the family of one of the battle participants having preserved and protected the battlefield for 150 years.

Except for the greater abundance of trees now present, the area of the battlefield is much as it was in 1856. Shallow swales that were once deep wagon ruts can be seen on the battlefield. Visitors can stand at the site where Pate surrendered to Brown and look to where the pro-slavery camp was. They can also view the creeks the opposing militias used as natural fortifications while they fought.

Wooden signs were erected on the battlefield in the 1980s by an aged descendant of Pearson, marking where he understood was the location of significant events in the battle. He was present as a boy in 1911, when Samuel Shore and several other veterans of the battle came back to reminisce about the fight there, and showed him where the events occurred. In addition to the wooden signs erected in the 1980s, there are numbered posts marking the site of important events in the battle, the numbered posts corresponding with numbered descriptions in a self-guided tour brochure available in the park's shelter house.


Hand laid stone bridge built after the battle is part of the nature park.  Photo courtesy Kathy Quigley
Also available in the shelter house are brochures on the Battle of Black Jack, John Brown in Kansas, and the Santa Fe Trail. Modern signage includes large professionally produced panels on the site covering all aspects of the park including the battle, the Pearson Farmstead, and the Nature Park. The panels interpret these through the use of images, maps, and text.

The Black Jack Battlefield and Nature Park is open dawn to dusk year-round for self-guided battlefield tours. Guided battlefield tours are given on weekend afternoons from the first Saturday in May through the third Sunday in October. Special on-site events include an annual commemoration of the battle held on the Saturday nearest to the date of the battle.

Source: Kerry Altenbernd's nomination