The Main Street of America and the West

Town and Country

Route 66 marks the connection of Chicago and the West

Published on: April 12, 2013

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to visit with some victims of cattle theft in southwest Missouri, specifically near Joplin, which will be in the Missouri Ruralist in the future. The drive from Joplin to where I live in north Kansas City is over two and a half hours, so I thought I would do some sight-seeing on the trip home.

Having heard of the history of the town of Baxter Springs, Kansas, just 20 minutes from Joplin, I decided to check it out. With their proximity to Oklahoma, the southern-most regions of Missouri and Kansas share the red dirt their southern neighbor is known for.

They have also been hotspots for cattle throughout history. Baxter Springs was one of the initial "cowtowns" for Texas cattle drives. Joplin on the other hand is a hotspot for cattle to this day. The Joplin Regional Stockyards has served the four-state region for over 70 years, according to its website.

Both towns are on Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and the Mother Road. Baxter Springs is one the few towns on Kansas's 11 miles on the route. The town has several restaurants and shops devoted to its location on the highway and  once had a popular motorcycle shop. Missouri is also known for its iconic Route 66 stops, including Joplin, St. Louis and Springfield – which was actually where the highway's name originated, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Although the route isn't as prominent with today's interstate system, the "Main Street of America" symbolizes moving west in the hopes of prosperity – which was outlined in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. During the Dust Bowl years, the route served as the main road for displaced farm families seeking employment in California. It also marks the connection of west and east. Just like the cattle drives of the late 1800s, the route travels from the west to the metropolis of Chicago.