First it is well known as the site of Quantrill's battle and massacre there in October of 1863. After attacking Fort Blair, which was still under construction at the time, and being repelled, Quantrill attacked and annihilated a Union wagon train under General James Blunt that was on its way into the fort, leaving over ninety bodies strewn about the field.
Baxter is also famous for being the first cow town in Kansas. During the years immediately after the Civil War, before the railroad reached towns farther west like Abilene and Wichita, Baxter Springs was the main destination for herds of longhorns driven through Indian Territory from Texas to Kansas. After the long journey along the Shawnee Trail, the cattle would usually lay over in Baxter before being herded (later shipped) on to their final destination. Part of the reason for Baxter's rise as a cattle town was the fact that Kansas had laws that allowed the Texas longhorns to enter the state only during specified months, and the cattle would lay over in Baxter, which at the time was located south of the state line in the Cherokee Neutral Lands, while awaiting passage. Although Baxter's life as a rowdy cow town was short lived, for a while it roared just as loudly as its successors farther west. Larry O'Neal of the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum told me yesterday that the only thing the other towns had that Baxter lacked was a famous marshal like Wyatt Earp. I reminded him that probably part of the reason Baxter lacked a famous lawman was because two of the town's early marshals were killed in the line of duty. I find it a little ironic that perhaps the only reason they didn't become famous was that they didn't live long enough to embellish their stories the way Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok did.
Baxter declined for a time during the late 1800s after its hurrah as a cow town, but it revived in the early part of the twentieth century during the tri-state district's lead mining days and once again became a booming town for awhile.
Baxter has a few other minor claims to fame, too, such as being the hometown of golfer Hale Irwin, but the first three are the main ones.
By the way, Treble Heart Books has just released my new historical novel, entitled Showdown at Baxter Springs, that is based on the town's heyday as booming cow town. As far as I know, it's the only western ever set in early-day Baxter Springs. For anybody who's interested, you can order the book directly from the publisher at http://www.trebleheartbooks.com/SDLarryWood.html.