Rest stop at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, Kansas, and Kansas highway 52

Native grasses at a travel rest stop at Marais des Cygnes National Wildlife Refuge, Kansas, intersection of U.S. Highway 69 and Kansas 52 – with our motorhome and car in the background.

From the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

The Refuge is named after the Marais des Cygnes River which runs through the middle of the refuge and is the dominant natural feature of the region.  The name, Marais des Cygnes, comes from the French language and means Marsh of the Swans.  It is presumed that trumpeter swans, which were historically common in the Midwest, used the wetlands adjacent to the Marais des Cygnes River during spring and fall migration.

The Refuge was established in 1992 for the protection and restoration of bottomland hardwood forests.  Approximately 5,000 acres of the 7,500 acre refuge are available for wildlife oriented recreation including hunting, fishing, and birding.   A wildlife sanctuary encompasses the remaining 2,500 acres of the refuge and is not available for public use.

The Marais des Cygnes Massacre:

The Marais des Cygnes Massacre is considered the last significant act of violence in Bleeding Kansas prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War. On May 19, 1858, approximately 30 men led by Charles Hamilton, a Georgia native and proslavery leader, crossed into the Kansas Territory from Missouri. They arrived at Trading Post, Kansas in the morning and then headed back to Missouri. Along the way they captured 11 free-state men, none of whom were armed and, it is said, none of whom had participated in the ongoing violence. Most of the men knew Hamilton and apparently did not realize he meant them harm. These prisoners were led into a defile, where Hamilton ordered the men shot and fired the first bullet himself. Five men were killed.

Hamilton and his gang returned to Missouri. Only one man was ever brought to justice. William Griffith of Bates County, Missouri, was arrested in the spring of 1863 and hanged on October 30 of that year. Charles Hamilton returned to Georgia, where he died in 1880.

The incident horrified the nation and inspired John Greenleaf Whittier to write a poem on the murders, “Le Marais du Cygne,” which appeared in the September 1858 Atlantic Monthly.

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