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9 Best Things to Do in Historic Scott City

Scott County has been a Western Kansas prairie oasis for eons. The resulting archaeological sites open a window into early American history. People and animals found water in the semi-arid climate along Ladder Creek and White Woman Creek. Like them, you’ll find rest and recreation in Scott County. Scott City is 40 minutes north of Garden City and an hour south of Interstate 70’s western Oakley exit. The drive from the Interstate crosses the Smoky Hill River Valley, home to Niobrara Chalk formations. The state park is one of Kansas’s most historic locations.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Visit the Fick Fossil and History Museum while in Oakley. Before continuing to Scott City, northbound visitors should stop at the Lee Richardson Zoo in Garden City to see its exotic animals in their natural habitats.

Ladder Creek now feeds Lake Scott in northern Scott County, while White Woman Creek heads underground in Shallow Water Basin in southern Scott County. Ladder Creek received its name from a ladder the Puebloans left in its valley. 

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Table of contents: Historic Lake Scott State Park | Battle Canyon | El Quartelejo Museum/Jerry Thomas Gallery | DeGeer Corner | Keystone Gallery | Monument Rocks | Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park | Duff Bison Ranch | Western Vistas Historic Byway

Two sad legends explain White Woman Creek’s name. In one, a captive White woman married a Tsis tsis’stas (Northern Cheyenne) man and died when soldiers attempted to return her to her original family. The other says a captive ended her life after watching another captive’s torture. The creeks aren’t the only tales entwined around Scott County and its county seat, Scott City.

Let’s tour the best things to do in Scott County, Kansas.

Explore Scott City hosted me, but all opinions are my own.

El Cuartelejo north of Scott City
The seven-room pueblo called El Cuartelejo is a silent witness to the Taos Puebloans who yearned to be free.

1. Historic Lake Scott State Park north of Scott City

Eliza and Herbert Steele settled beside Ladder Creek in a stunning oasis of natural springs and deep wooded canyons. The site included ready-made irrigation ditches, and the Steeles had found an ideal setting to grow crops. One day, Herbert watched a prairie dog dragging corn from underground. He notified the state’s historical society and two archaeologists excavated the area. They discovered the nation’s northernmost pueblo.

The Taos Indians revolted against Spanish colonial rule in 1680, and Luis and Lorenzo Tupatu were among the revolt’s leaders. When the Spanish reestablished control 12 years later, the Tupatus led their Pin, wel, ene (Picuris) pueblo to the Ladder Creek Valley. Tribal tradition says the Pin, wel, ene lived peaceably with the Diné (Apache) people for 14 years. They didn’t want to return.

And then Juan Ulibarri tracked them down in 1706. His report says that he rescued the Taos tribe from enslavement and that tribal members “cried for joy” when his party arrived. He returned 67 Taos Puebloans to Spanish control, including Lorenzo and his nephew Juan Tupatu, Luis’s son.

The site became a National Historic Landmark in 1964. It’s only one of 26 archeological sites in the park.

Ad: Enjoy a souvenir Kansas cutting board.

State park licenses

  • All Historic Lake Scott State Park visitors must purchase daily or annual park passes. Kansans may buy annual state park passes with their car registrations. Camping requires an additional permit.
  • Anglers and hunters 16 and over must possess the appropriate licenses.
  • Boaters under 21 must complete a Kansas-approved boater education course.
  • Restrained pets are welcome in Kansas state parks, but leashes must be 10 feet or less. The parks forbid pets in swimming areas and in public structures.
  • Buy all permits here.
Battle Canyon cairn north of Scott City
A cairn marks the site of the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork.

2. Battle Canyon north of Scott City

The Tsistsis’stas escaped from their reservation near Fort Reno, Oklahoma, in 1878. They intended to reach their Montana homeland, and Kansas stood between them and freedom. They collided with the United States Army in Battle Canyon, a mile from the state park.

The Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork was the location of the last Native American battle with the army in Kansas. The tribe’s non-combatants sheltered in a cave, which is still visible today. Lt. Col. William H. Lewis received a mortal wound in his leg when he exposed himself to gunfire. Lewis died in a wagon headed to Fort Wallace. He was the last White casualty of the Indian Wars in Kansas.

The Tsistsis’stas fled after they fought the last Indian battle when the army hesitated to pursue them. Their path took them to Northwest Kansas, where warriors left a trail of death during the Last Indian Raid in Kansas.

The canyon is a mile south of the state park.

Related: Read about the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork.

Collection of Sgt. Edward Botzer, Scott City
Jerry Thomas’s collection includes memorabilia from Sgt. Edward Botzer, the last trooper’s corpse discovered at the Battle of Little Bighorn.

3. El Quartelejo Museum/Jerry Thomas Gallery & Collection in Scott City

The Scott County Historical Society combined with noted artist and Scott City native Jerry Thomas to create the El Quartelejo Museum and Jerry Thomas Gallery. Each museum occupies half of a single building.

Visiting the El Quartelejo Museum is like riding a conveyor belt through time. The belt begins with the terrifying monsters that inhabited the Western Interior Sea over 80 million years ago until the present day. Another building holds the museum’s larger artifacts like tractors and buggies. 

Thomas collected numerous fascinating artifacts to support his award-winning Western and wildlife artist career. The 5,000-square-foot museum includes Thomas’s artworks and his artifact collection. It even includes Lewis’s portrait, the only known image of the last officer to die in a Kansas battle. Buy artwork prints in the museum store.

Roxie’s reliable report: “El Cuartelejo” is the Spanish spelling; “El Quartelejo” is the English spelling.

The gallery is No. 96 in my book 100 Things to Do in Kansas Before You Die. Order it here.

Maria DeGeer at DeGeer Corner, Scott City
Scott City honors Maria DeGeer with a sculpture where her cabin once stood.

4. DeGeer Corner, honoring the founder of Scott City

Thomas sculpted Maria DeGeer at DeGeer Corner. The City of Scott City renamed Fifth Street DeGeer Avenue in her honor. DeGeer was the only known woman to found a city in Kansas. The 55-year-old was a noted speaker in the temperance and prison reform movements. She was also an attorney. DeGeer desired to run Scott City as a temperance town, but others desired otherwise. She eventually left and moved to Sharon Springs. There, she started The Western Times newspaper, which is still operating.

Roxie’s reliable report: Scott City funded the first free public library in Kansas. L.W. Cretcher allowed the Scott County Civic Club to install the library on his lumber company’s second floor.

Xiphactinus audax at Keystone Gallery north of Scott City
This Xiphactinus audax has a sore back.

5. Keystone Gallery

The Keystone Gallery is on Highway 8, north of Scott City. While in Logan County, it has a Scott City mailing address. The gallery inhabits a formerly abandoned church at the intersection of Dakota Road and Highway 83. Sculptures adorn the gallery’s grounds. Inside, find fossils, including a 20-foot Mosasaur and a 14-foot Xiphactinus, with paintings depicting life below the Western Interior Sea.

Purchase intriguing art pieces like jewelry, stone eggs, and other souvenirs.

Monument Rocks north of Scott City
Monument Rocks has seen much history.

6. Monument Rocks

Monument Rocks, known as the Chalk Pyramids, are about 50 feet tall and are visible in the distance from the Keystone Gallery. The largest formation has a large keyhole, wide enough to walk through. Legend says someone shot a hole into the landmark and erosion widened it. The rock is striped with limestone and shale layers. The Western Interior Sea deposited the layers at a rate of 0.0014 inches per year,

The Smoky Hill Trail passed the rocks, and the Butterfield Overland Despatch established Monument Station a mile south of the rocks. The army later stationed troops there, and they fended off warrior attacks during a 30-hour siege on August 22, 1867. Only some low mounds mark the fort’s site.

The monument is private, but the owners allow visitors during daytime hours. They charge no admission. The soft stone is easily damaged, so do not climb upon it. The National Natural Landmark is on gravel roads, so avoid going during wet weather. Fill up your gas tank before you leave Scott City, and pack water. The formations formed beneath a sea, but the site is waterless. It also lacks bathroom facilities.

Little Jerusalem Western Vistas Historic Byway
A panoramic view of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

7. Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park

Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park is about half an hour west of Monument Rocks. While the Rocks’ formations are taller, the badlands are more extensive. The same Niobrara Chalk comprises both. A picnic area and vault toilets are at the entrance; state park fees apply. Carve the designated rocks at the entrance, but don’t disturb the formations along the trails.

The 332-acre park encompasses 220 acres of badlands. View the 100-foot-tall spires and cliffs from two trails, the half-mile Overlook Trail and the 2.5-mile Life on the Rocks Trail. Both trails end at viewing areas, but the longer trail is slightly more difficult than the shorter one.

Related: Explore Kansas rock formations.

8. Duff Bison Ranch Tours in Scott County

The 400-member Duff Buffalo Ranch bison herd roam on 3,800 acres of shortgrass prairie along Highway 83 north of Scott City. Lucky travelers can see them when they graze alongside the highway. Schedule tours for groups of 1-40 people. Pricing depends on the group size. Tours are available from mid-May to mid-October, but please book in advance.

Elkader Ruins
The Elkader Ruins

9. Western Vistas Historic Byway

Western Vistas connects Scott City to the Wild West and wild remnants of the Western Interior Sea. Strange rock formations dot the Smoky Hill Valley, and many of them are fossil-bearing. Legendary figures such as George Armstrong Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody wandered this land. Experience the pageantry of history along Western Vistas.

Related: Follow our Western Vistas itinerary.

Where to eat and stay

Eat chicken-fried steak at the Majestic Theatre. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a performance. Stay at the Best Western El Quartelejo or enjoy a throwback experience at the Lazy R Motel. The Scott City Inn has 30 guest rooms making it the city’s largest. All rooms have air conditioning.

Follow our ancestors to the oasis called Scott County.

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