Black Jack Battlefield - Atlas Obscura

Black Jack Battlefield

Wellsville, Kansas

Some say that the battle fought at this Kansas site in 1856 was the first unofficial battle of the American Civil War. 


The town of Black Jack once served as a camp for travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Across the road to the east of the battlefield, you can still see ruts from the years of wagon traffic.

In 1856, when the territory of Kansas was established, citizens were split over a big decision: Would Kansas be a free state, or a slave state? Abolitionists like John Brown and Amos Lawrence encouraged those who shared their philosophy to go to Kansas to grow the population pushing for a free state. But in nearby Missouri, a pro-slavery state, people were harassing and killing citizens from Kansas with free-state leanings. The period of violence became known as “Bleeding Kansas.”

One of the most active pro-slavery advocates in the area was Henry Clay Pate. The night of June 1, after assaulting the nearby towns of Palymra and Prairie City and taking two of Brown’s sons as prisoners, Pate set camp at Black Jack. At dawn on June 2, Brown and his men ambushed Black Jack. Around 100 men fought for the next three hours. Brown called it “the first regular battle between free-state and proslavery forces in Kansas,” with reasonably even opponents, compared to uneven attacks and massacres of the time period.

In the end, Pate surrendered to Brown. But the real war was just getting started. The battle was the beginning of the Civil War action in Kansas, where many historians say the American Civil War began.

Today, visitors can visit the nature park and historical site to learn about the history of Black Jack.

Know Before You Go

The park is open to visitors dawn till dusk every day. Information pamphlets with a guided tour marking several important locations pertaining to the battle are available in a kiosk outside one of the log cabins in the park.

In partnership with KAYAK

Plan Your Trip

From Around the Web