Spring River Wildlife Area offers mysterious homestead find

Earlier this year, I found myself moving down to the Joplin, MO area to be closer to my girlfriend who is from Carl Junction. The move was exciting and presented many opportunities, including the chance to find some new hunting and fishing spots that I have never explored. After settling in and making it through the final cold months of the year, I hopped on OnX Maps to begin exploring aerials of public and private ground to gain permission. I had two goals in mind. Find a place that showed promising turkey sign for the spring season, and see if I could find any hotspots for deer activity. Luckily, a fairly large piece popped up on my radar immediately. A 17-minute drive from my new house was all it would take to arrive at the 424-acre Spring River Wildlife Area in Southeast Kansas.

At first glance on the map, it appeared to have everything – tillable ground with a sizable chunk of mature timber and fields of native grasses. The entire eastern edge is a plateau that overlooks the Spring River.

The Spring River Wildlife Area is unique because it is located within the Ozark Plateau in the extreme portion of SE Kansas. The Spring River borders the east side of the property for a length of .8 miles.

In mid-March, my girlfriend and I set out to explore the property, hoping to find some deer sheds and some turkey sign. Upon arriving, we immediately flushed some quail in the native grasses along the road.

Although the scenery is spectacular on this piece, most of the walk was uneventful as we trekked a couple of miles zig zagging our way towards the river. I was surprised to not find more turkey sign, but deer sign was abundant.

The views over the river were breathtaking as we stood on a rocky plateau looking down. We made the descent and noticed several unique rock outcroppings. Those alone were worth the walk. While there weren’t any caves that we found, there was this amazing shelf of rock that protruded far out from the top of the mountain. The ledge underneath was like a perfect bench, almost like the years of deterioration by mother nature created it on purpose.

We continued our walk down the bluff and along the river and didn’t go far before I noticed a man-made structure on the edge of the bluff above us. Considering how remote we were, I was fascinated to find out what it could possibly be and hastily climbed back up.

My nerves were on edge as I approached, not knowing what we may find. My mind began playing tricks on me, making me think I heard some noises as we approached. It’s times like those where I wish I didn’t leave my side arm in the truck.

Luckily, there wasn’t anybody hiding out there like my imagination led me to believe. The structure was made of stone, with bars in all the windows, which were all broken out. The roof was completely collapsed. There didn’t appear to be any fresh activity around the building. There was only one door, which appeared to be made of steel.

Interestingly, there was no noticeable road leading to this place whatsoever, just an old trail grown up with trees that may have possibly been utilized a long time ago.

So many questions were running through our minds. It was clear it was decades old, but what was it used for? What were the builders so concerned with back in the day that they felt the need to fortify it so strongly? Was it an old jail?

Spring River Wildlife Area
Spring River Wildlife Area

The remains of what looked like an outhouse were nearby, as well as I what I believe was an old brick oven. There was no wiring in the structure, but there were some wires on the ground outside. Someone was back in there trying to do something, but what?

All I could think about was that this was some Blair Witch scenario or satanic worshipping site. My mind always wanders to the horror movie stuff with things like this.

In reality, it is likely only a few possibilities for what this historical place might be. Maybe it is an old jail judging from the design and bars in the windows. It could be an old trading post that was stationed along the river. Or, maybe it was simply a hunting camp that the previous owners didn’t want being broken into when they were away.

After taking some pictures and thoroughly scaring my girlfriend with my theories, we hiked back to the truck without incident and even found a shed antler. But now it was time to do some digging.

Google searching and reviewing plat maps turned up nothing. I reached out to the local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks, and Tourism office that manages the area. To my surprise, both the current and former manager had no idea about the history of that place.

I ended up finding a Facebook group with over 50,000 members called “Old and Interesting Places in Kansas” and decided to post it there. One commenter had mentioned another guy found it the year before looking for shed antlers like us. While still unverified, there were several folks who seemed to know some “answers”.

One person said it used to be a stage coach stop. And another person who claimed to know a local historian stated that it was “well documented” this building was also used as a resting place for women with mental illnesses when they were being transported between different asylums. Creepy! Of course, none of them actually provided any verifiable evidence to their claims.

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The KDWPT is supposedly going to get back to me once they learn more about this mysterious place at Spring River Wildlife Area. But until then, if you’d like to explore the area yourself, you can find the structure at the pin drop in the photo below.

Spring River Wildlife Area

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