Most people, driving the I-35 Kansas Turnpike from Wichita to Emporia, think that Towanda is just a rest stop 16 miles north of Wichita.
The real town and township sit tucked aside highway 254, just 5 miles west of El Dorado. Geographically, the town is located at a big flowing spring in a valley at the headwaters of the Whitewater River. "Towanda" is an Osage Indian word meaning "many waters".
At the beginning of the Civil War, Towanda was the last settlement along the Santa Fe Trail on the way west to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Territory west of the Whitewater River was Indian Territory. The countryside was full of blue-stem grass; watered by a clear, flowing stream full of fish; shaded by Cottonwood trees along the banks; with an abundance of elk, deer, and antelope. Several times a year the buffalo passed by on their migration and the Osage Indians would trek to the area to hunt.
The first settler in the Towanda area was C. L. Chandler, a returning gold prospector from California, who heard tales from the Osage of the beauty and abundance of the area. In 1858 he built a cabin. Within five years he sold his land and cabin to James R. Mead for $3 an acre. The Osage sold off their land by treaty over many years. Osage Indians.
For seven years Mead operated his ranch as a trading post with the Indians. In 1864, an Indian agency was established and operated until 1867 when the Indians were moved to Oklahoma.
The Indians came to exchange furs for food, staples, blankets, and trinkets. They also came to the trading post to receive their scant rations of provisions and clothing issued by the government. It was here that Colonel Leavenworth made his headquarters and negotiated with Satana, Chief of Kiowas, and "Heap of Bears", the great Medicine Chief of the Arapahos. This resulted in the Treaty of Medicine Lodge.In 1870, Mead would move on, helping to found the city of Wichita, to the south and west along the Arkansas River. Isaac Mooney purchased the trading post and land for $2000. He then filed Homestead papers on additional land and platted the original townsite.
Skyways, History of Towanda
The Museum in Towanda is located at Third and Main, Towanda, Kansas 316-536-2500