I am the descendant of John Baxter, who died in a duel on the street and has a town in Kansas named after him. This info is from the Baxter Springs Heritage Center & Museum
Settlement within the Cherokee Neutral Lands was restricted to Cherokee settlement. Homesteading was not an option available to land-hungry settlers. However, there was little authority present that could prevent white settlers from entering the Neutral Lands. The law, however, was circumvented. And a few trespassers did venture into the lands intent on setting claim to choice lands.
John Baxter, a resident of neighboring Newton County, Missouri entered the Neutral Lands and lay claim to lands west of Spring River. The year was assumed to be 1849. The exact date is questionable. Baxter was an intriguing character. He had an extremely large, extended family. His eight children had a wide span in ages. Baxter was a self-proclaimed minister, a practitioner of a phenomena called Spiritualism. Largely unknown to the rural Newton County farm families, Baxter and his family were a subject of curiosity.
Wiley Britton, who, as a neighbor boy of the Baxter's, recalled the mysterious Baxter and his family. He described the family as being "enlivened, intelligent, and very liberal for this region. Baxter was an adherent of Universalism who conducted religious services from his home. Baxter was a man of considerable force of character living among us and was distinctly beneficial in bringing about broader religious and political toleration among the people of Newton County.
The Baxters were all extremely talented. They provided newspapers and books which were made available to the community. They possessed an organ. All could sing and would entertain local guests frequently. Great conversationalists, the Baxters were certainly a culturally advanced family compared to their farm neighbors." It is uncertain for what reason, the Baxters elected to depart their Newton County home to move to the Neutral Lands. Perhaps the lure of free lands encouraged their relocation west of the Missouri line.
John Baxter and his large family found land just west of Spring River that they deemed to be attractive and claimed this for themselves. Their claim was entirely illegal, but there was little reason for them to fear being removed from the Neutral Lands.
A small creek fed by numerous springs, one being highly mineral in content, dotted the hillside across from site chosen for the homestead. Abundant timber was found all along Spring River to their east. The homestead lay east of the Military Road which linked Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas to Ft. Gibson, Indian Territory or Cherokee Nation.
The Military Road had originally been surveyed to pass to the east near Spring River and Lowell but its course was altered to the west. John Baxter built his home strategically adjacent to the Road. The springs below his home provided a natural campsite for passers-by. The military convoys frequently traveled the length of the road.
Since no other business ventures were found nearby, Baxter established a mercantile of sorts to cater to the needs of those traveling by. His business came to be known as "Baxter's Place." The Baxter business became a popular wayside stop on the Ft. Leavenworth to Ft. Gibson road.
The Baxters were not the only white settlers to take up residence in the Neutral Lands. Another settler by the uncertain name of Rogers or Commons had claimed land on the east side of Spring River. Both families resided near one another, Spring River being a dividing line of sorts. A disagreement arose, however, between the above named individual and a daughter of Baxter over a disputed land claim. Baxter and his son ventured across Spring River to confront the adversary over the "ownership" of the disputed property.
Commons and his family were waiting in their cabin when the Baxters approached. Upon reaching the cabin, civil talk increased into rage, and ultimately shots were fired. The lifeless body of John Baxter lay on the ground. His son continued the volley and killed the son of Commons. The date was December 20, 1860.
The patriarch of the Baxter family was gone. The Baxter era was also over. The entire family departed their homestead in the Cherokee Neutral Lands. Their only vestige of the years spent in this location was the cabin and the grave of the head of the Baxter
The land which John Baxter claimed as his own and the springs that faced his cabin have given rise to the name of the town that we know today as Baxter Springs, Kansas.