Here US-56 lies directly on the route of the Oregon-California and Santa Fe trails. Nearby, the trails branched. On a rough sign pointing northwest were the words, "Road to Oregon." Another marker directed travelers southwest along the road to Santa Fe.
Between 1840 and 1870 thousands of settlers, miners, and soldiers plodded the 2,000 miles of the Oregon-California Trail from the "jumping off" towns on the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean. Diseases such as cholera and smallpox were the travelers' greatest enemies. Unknown thousands of emigrants died from disease, as did many of the Indians through whose lands they traveled.
The Santa Fe Trail was famous as a freight route between Missouri and New Mexico. Pack trains undertook the difficult journey as early as 1821, following rivers and earlier Indian trails. By 1825, large wagon trains were carrying tons of goods both east and west. US-56 generally follows the old trail route southwestward across Kansas some 500 miles, nearly two-thirds of the trail's total length.