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Monday, November 17, 2014

Time Portal

 

 

 

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                Time goes forward, yet there is a rear view mirror.  Where we have been is often reflected in museums and books, showing what it was like in times past.  There are the stores and shops along the byways that ply on these memories.  Many were tourist stops along the road, roadside attractions.  Over the years, many of these things have faded back into nature.  With discerning eye one can find bits and pieces from past centuries and with some imagination relive some of these times. 

                Early roads across the plains were dusty ruts bouncing over the prairie, going from watering spot to the next water hole.  Then the railroads showed up on the prairie and many roads shifted to follow the iron rails.  Twisting and turning the Iron Horse made its way westward, passing many a Prairie Schooner.  Soon there were horseless carriages mixed in with the wagons.  The demand for improved roads grew and the government started highway departments to meet the new travelers of the country. 

                Roads were graded and covered with gravel and soon concrete or asphalt.  These new highways continued to follow beside the rails and the paths the pioneers had blazed decades earlier. The railroad had curved along beside a creek bed for an easy grade.  It was also the long way to go from point A to B.  The highway surveyed new grades for the highway and they straightened out lots of the curves.  No longer was it important to follow the rail ribbon.  Now it was important to move the traveler cross country in a hurry.  

                As roads were realigned, many towns lost their thoroughfare.  Business either moved to a new location or closed up.  The government was changing the pattern of life on the plains.  What had been a busy street through town was now becoming a dusty ole roadway with no travelers passing by.  Over there is where the highway had moved to, isolating may downtowns and or cutting some towns off. 

                The Golden Belt Route was a road laid out from St Louis, Missouri to the goldfields of the Rocky Mountains.  It was the shortest most direct route from the river to the mountains.  US Highway 40 followed this route across Kansas to Colorado on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  To make it shorter it was moved numerous times to make travel easier.  In the process many towns were becoming ghost towns.  Yet this changing has also created a slice of other days.  A portion of the old route remained as a country road for the local ranchers and farmers.  This bypassed route can be followed today and see where the pioneers had traveled.  It is a gateway to another era.  It is something of a living museum that one can pause and ponder what happened years ago. 

                The east end of this forgotten slice of other days is south of the junction of US Hwy 40/287 and SH 96.  Traveling south on the state road one will approach a railroad crossing.  On a knoll to the east is the Aroya School house and turning down the dirt road towards the school is the ghost town of Aroya.  For years the town had set vacant until recently a couple of residents moved in to keep the ghosts of the past company.  Here a few old buildings stand, a gas station, garage and shop, commercial buildings and a couple of old homes.  Aroya had its beginnings in 1870 as a stop for the Kansas Pacific Railroad.  Along the rails can be seen some rubble piles from the railroad days.

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                Turning west the road follows the railroad tracks and just over 3 miles is the stage station for which the town of Aroya was named for.  Nothing left of the stage stop and it is in a pasture south of the tracks next to a gully.  Here this road follows the old railroad right of way which was a part of the South branch of the Smoky Hill Trail.  Wells Fargo operated the stage line through here and Hughes and Company was the operator as the railroad moved westward. In spots the ruts from the wagons and stage can be seen.  In most places the road is on the old trails going west. 

                The west end of this remnant of the Gold Belt Route is a now closed rest area.  Leading to the south is a country road.  In the distance can be seen a building sitting in a pasture and beyond that is the woods of the Big Sandy Creek.  This road leads to the Ghost Town of Clifford.  The building in the pasture is the one room school house.  When the road curves to the east, is downtown Clifford.  Here are concrete footers from structures now gone, depressions for basements/cellars and other footers.  Tall stately cottonwoods line the railroad tracks where the depot used to be.  Across the railroad tracks is the crown of all haunted houses.  A private road leads to the rancher’s sheds and equipment plus the Montgomery Ward house that is barely hanging one.  The porches have collapsed, the windows are gone and the winds of time moan through the old house.  The owner is also very protective of his property and doesn’t like people to wander onto it. 

                Clifford is the site of all kinds of western things.  Indian Sweat Lodge, Indian raids on the stage station of Mirage, nearby.  There was a robbery of a military payroll wagon and the stories of buried gold in the gulches over the ridge.  Indian attacks on the railroad workers, General George Custer being assigned to the area to protect the railroad workers.  A notorious outlaw gang rode in the area robbing weary travelers and trains, there were cowboys the saloons and frontier camps.  Whatever western movie Hollywood made, it happened here.  Cattle drives covering the land like a carpet, Buffalo hunters searching for their game, shoot outs.  There was also plague and pestilence.  Just past the curve is a small grave yard.  A family is buried here, possibly from influenza or anthrax.  The prairie had a way of humbling people. 

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                Coon Creek is the east edge of town.  Here there is a large sized pool the little stream has carved into the knoll on its way to the Big Sandy Creek.  It is on the banks of this stream the Indians built their Sweat Lodge.  With the woods nearby they had wood for the frame of their lodge.  Building a fire in the rock ring the Indians would begin their ritual.  Water was brought up from the creek in animal bladders or gourds and poured over the steaming rocks.  Buffalo robe covered the wood frame and the low chant of the Indians could be heard within.  Soon the cover was opened and into the pool of water the Indians jumped.  For decades the Indians had been using this spot, then, the white men showed up.  For water on the prairie was precious on this pond had abundant water. 

                To the north is a small grove of trees, roughly 3 miles.  Here is coon springs, the feed water for Coon Creek.  This was the north fork of the Smoky Hill Trail.  It also became a relay station for the Butterfield Overland Dispatch Stage Lines.  No longer was Coon Creek a quiet place of solitude for the Indians.  There were travelers with gold fever tramping through the Indians sacred place.  When BOD ceased stage operations, the Wells Fargo began operating the stage line.  They shifted their station to the south, closer to the pond Coon Creek had created.  Even closer now was the invaders. 

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The heist of the Army payroll was the main attraction for many visitors to Clifford.  In 1864 An Army payroll wagon was crossing the plains.  When it approached Mirage, some bandits jumped the guards and wagon and were able to rob the Army payroll.  The highwaymen managed a get way but not very successful for the troopers were after them.  The crooks were caught but they did not find the gold for the payroll.  The bandits said they had buried it in dutch ovens in a gully over there.   The burial site was not found and the legend of the buried gold began.  Even today some of the locals say it is still buried out there in the pasture some place. 

Numerous people have wandered the area, walking the gullies looking for the buried gold.  In the early 1900’s a gentleman showed up at Clifford to go treasure searching.  He spent months walking the area looking for the gold.  He left saying he had found nothing.  Would you tell if you found the gold.  Robbers still roamed the land back then a whiff of found gold would draw them out in a hurry.  Yet for a few, the dutch ovens are still buried in the gully over there. 

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The Montgomery Ward house still stands but just barely.  The porches have collapsed and the weather pounds on it.  Like so many things at Clifford, it too shall soon become a memory. 

 

There had been numerous conflicts with Indians along the Smoky Hill Trail and stage stations.  Here at Coon Creek there was more intensity because of the sacred spot of the Indians.  In 1870, the conflict came to a boil.  The railroad was following the trail and construction crews were scattered along the route of the Kansas Pacific RR.  That spring the Indians launched a series of attacks on the railroad workers and the stage stations from Kit Carson to Lake Station, CO.  The Indian raiders were in groups of a dozen.  Railroad workers were killed and wounded during these raids and the crews fled back to Kit Carson for protection.  There was a small garrison there but not enough to deter the Indians.  Washington DC was telegraphed asking for help. 

General Custer was reinstated to his command and sent to Kit Carson to protect the railroad workers and stage line.  Custer bivouacked at Kit Carson and Colonel Reno was bivouacked at River Bend CO.  They patrolled the railroad for six months with no major incidents after they arrived.    The Indians had retreated to Oklahoma or went north to join the Sioux in their battle where they would meet Custer again. 

The railroad was completed to Denver before the end of the year and Clifford became a stop on the new railway.  There was a depot, water tank and section houses built.  A few people moved in and set up shops and a saloon.  Ranching was the main business in the area and cattle were shipped. 

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Venture on down the road, it crosses coon creek.  In this area was the sweat lodge.  Look at the bridge, it is a throwback to when concrete was to be the solution to road construction, it dates the 1910’ or 20’s.  Most of these old crossings of concrete have disappeared.  Bounce on down the road, here is where the early day pioneers plodded along in their covered wagon.  The nearby railroad tracks were a guide and kind of a safe haven for the early traveler. 

Time rolls back on this rutty old road.  When the highway was realigned, the county got the old right of way and they took care of it as a county road.  To that end a small piece of early history was preserved in part.  This bouncy roadway probably had its beginnings in the 1850’s when the military marked the Smoky Hill Trail. 

The land is still rangeland, no longer do the buffalo roam, it is now cattle that keep the grass shorn.  Otherwise the land is the same it was centuries ago.  Oh there are fence posts and the railroad.  On ridges can be seen the watchers, antelope.  Warily they watch the interloper pass by.  The grass land is loaded with birds.  The prairie warbler, Western Meadowlark, will serenade in the summer.  Other birds flit among the grasses catching a variety of bugs, others search out the seeds of the grasses.  The gimp wing killdeer screeches when one gets to close.  High overhead floats the hawk or maybe a prairie falcon.  The kestrel Darts over the land hunting.  The woods of the sand creek house the majestic bald eagle and the owl stoically watches things unfold.  The land has not changed much.  Man’s mark is very small. 

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Bouncing on down the road brings one to the village of Boyero.  Here is a little ghost town that clings to its past.  There are a couple of residents that still call Boyero home and there are some nearby ranchers.  If one can catch one of them out and about, they are amiable and will talk about the town they live in and its early history.  The streets can still be seen, the livery is there as is the boarding house.  The store collapsed a while back and is gone, a concrete pad marks its spot.  There are some other old building and sheds still standing. 

The railroad had built a cistern there for water and they allowed the townspeople to get water from it.  The water of the creek is kind of rank.  Yet one guy told there was a spring on its banks and when he was younger, mom sent him to the spring to get water for her to wash her hair in. 

A state highway used to pass on the southern edge of town on its way to highway 40.  Now it is a dusty country road crossing the southern edge.  Boyero was also a section town for its railroad workers.  There had been some section houses here to house the employees. 

It was a bustling town for years and even today people in the area still refer to it as a town.  There ghosts of all types that roam the land here.  There are spooky stories if one can find the right story teller.  There are stories of grim times and happy times.  Here time is on hiatus and awaits the seeker with imagination. 

                On down the road wanders the soul, passing ranches, cattle grazing, the jackrabbit jumps up and leaves a trail of dust over the prairie.  The coyote prowls along looking.  Life here has its own rhythm and doesn’t change much.  There are more old concrete bridges to cross.  A stage station to pass. 

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Across the land a herd of cattle saunter along, cowboys riding along by them talking, dog trotting beside them listening.  A dust devil swirls up.  Listen to the song of the plains.

 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Galatea

 

Galatea was one of those towns that took me more then one attempt to find.  I had driver past it several times but never noticed it.  The railroad has a huge earth berm beside it and things on the other side are well hidden.  Where the county road turns off the state highway there is a small window to look back into it.  Then it still looks like no more another abandoned ranch house, which are plentiful on the plains. 

Galatea sits north of the junction of SH 96 and CR 27.  It had its beginnings in 1887 as a railroad camp.  The Missouri Pacific wanted to reach the Rocky Mountain goldfields and this route to Pueblo was almost a straight line from Kansas City. 

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Most of the railroad camps became memories.  Galatea lasted for a bit.  Some shops were there plus homes.  Today there is mostly weeds, couple houses, some out buildings and lots of concrete piles from footers and foundations. 

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The depression hit followed by the drought.  The lack of money and moisture took its toll on the early settlers.  The Dust Bowl of the 30’s blew many a settler out.  Most farm land was ruined and very little range land could be used. 

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The railroad provided some work for the few that hung in there during the dust storms.  The land is still dry and the dust boils in the sky on occasion.  It is not an easy land to live on yet a few make a nice living.  Many people grudgingly left their homes, for here were their dreams, their own land. 

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The railroad no longer carries trains, the rails are possibly going to be removed and the highway sees the occasional traveler.  Near by is the town of Eads, the County Seat.  Here are the stores and shops for provisions and take care of business.  Way over there someplace is a city or two.  Homes are few and far between.  Population for the entire county is less then 2000.  Galatea seldom shows up on maps and most travelers fly by not even noticing the few trees that struggle to survive marking the once town. 

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Here one can walk the path of John Steinbeck and the Grapes of Wrath. 

Highway 96 begins in western Kansas and ends in Pueblo, Colorado.  Along this route are scores of little ghost towns like this.  After doing some more research on Galatea, I found there were numerous camps the railroad built that never became towns.  So I have future excursions along this stretch of road to go town looking again.  Have to find a better map that shows the railroad locations. 

It is a highway of ghosts that winds beside the railroad tracks, much like it did more then a century ago.  The code polls still stand and the rails are rusted and the highway glides on past these pages of times past.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bethune

 

On the eastern edge of Colorado is the little burg of Bethune.  Not much left of it, there are few residents.  Otherwise the business district is gone.  Lots of vacant lots surround the Post Office and fire house. 

Out on the highway the grain elevator is still busy.  Trucks shuttle in and out and the occasional car passes by the closed gas station.

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The elevator is well worn, makes a roost for the pigeons and a buffet for the prairie falcons. Like the rest of the town is is slowly fading to twilight years.

The school still has enough country kids to stay open and the little yellow buses boil up dust clouds as they hustle the little to and from their school.

When the Interstate was built, Bethune became isolated.  No longer was there traffic passing through.  Over there a distance can be seen the shadows of passing traffic flying by on the freeway. 

There was a family by the name of Pyle that settled on the prairie here and Ernie would stop and visit his relatives on occasion.  Few decades back that was a stir in the town.  Like so many things in the past, that no longer stirs things up.

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Empty sits the gas station/coffee shop.  The cars no longer pause at the little town   Weeds and ghosts sit around pondering times past. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hoyt

 

Down in the river bottom are the remains of a waana be railroad town.  There are some foundations and rubble piles holding the memories of a Mr. Dehoyt. 

The Republican river was a thorough fare across the plains of eastern Colorado.  Here one could find water and wood for the pioneer these were necessary to sustain.  In the 1850’s a freight/stage line was lined across here, going from the Missouri River to the Pikes Peak gold fields.  Stage stations were placed along the route and the freight trains would use these stops also.  Small trading posts would pop up around these stage stops.

The 1880’s the railroad was building across the plains headed for Pikes Peak.  Speculators were crawling all over the land.  Land tents were set up and the were lots to be sold.  Whether they owned the land is another thing.

Young Mr Dehoyt platted out a town of a couple square blocks and called it Hoyt.  He was hoping the railroad would pass through his planned community.  In 1888 the railroad rolled across the land, building north of Hoyt by a few miles.

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Rather then having to climb out of the river bottom, the railroad built on the ridge to the south of Hoyt.  A depot was built and sidings were put in.  The town of Seibert came into existence.  Down in the river bottom the people of Hoyt missed their train. 

So the populace of the wanna be town packed up and moved south to the bustling new burg of Seibert.  Hoyt faded into the dark pages of forgotten villages. 

Seibert became a bustling little town and was was a ghost.  Seibert was a nice country town until the Interstate showed up and isolated the town.  What had been a bustling downtown of shops, stores and businesses is now a collection of vacant buildings and home to a few residents.  The grain elevators still keep the railroad busy otherwise Seibert is becoming a ghost town like Hoyt. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cheyenne Wells

Near the headwaters of the Smoky Hill River is the wells that the Indians had dug out.  It is also the name  a town to south used, Cheyenne Wells, CO. 

The Indian wells had been hand dug over the years along the banks of the creek.  Looking at the sand creek, one would see no water.  Yet along here there are small springs and if one scoops out some sand, the hole will fill up with water.  Knowing this the Indians would use this for their water source as they roamed over the plains in search of the buffalo. 

Curved back into the bank of the creek the Indians had a nice cool place in the summer to get out of the heat.  Into the side of the stream a small cave had been carved for protection and the water from the springs kept the cave nice and cool.

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Then gold was discovered in the mountains to the west and gold fever was under way.  This watering hole became and important stop on the journey west.  The Smoky Hill Trail marked this as a water stop on the trail map and later it was a stage stop. 

The white man enlarged the cave over the years to the point where a team of horses with wagon could be driven into the cave and be turned.  It had become a cavern.  Even after the railroad went to the south these wells were still used to wagon travelers. 

Some local people said it was to big and could no longer support the span.  There was fear it would collapse.  For years it stood the test of time.  Then in the 1930’s there was a clamor it was unsafe.  A local to it on himself to make it safe. 

He walked into the cave with dynamite.  Walked back out and watched a cloud of dust belch out from the cave the Indians had begun centuries earlier.

Today it is a desolate spot on the prairie.  The springs ooze out of the ground only to disappear into the sand.  Near by is a pump, not for water, rather black gold.  What had been an important oasis, is now forgotten empty spaces.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ghosts of Towner, CO

 

Towner is almost in the state of Kansas.  On a nice day one can look east and see the grain elevators od their neighbors in Kansas.  That is about all that’s left in Towner is a couple of grain elevator operations.  Population is now less then 25.  The businesses are gone, shuttered and overgrown.  The few homes there are nice and one can see some activity there. 

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Towner probably has one of the saddest stories a person could read about.  March of 1931 a nasty spring blizzard swept across the plains with nasty fury.  That morning dawned nice and warm, 60 plus degrees.  School children were picked up by the bus and off to school they went.  By the time they got to school the radio was reporting on the ugly blizzard headed their way. 

Children were put back on the bus to go home at 9 in the morning.  Having gone a short distance down the road the blizzard hit.  It was blinding and the driver could not see the hood of his bus.  There

was no heat and the windshield was frosted over.  Taking a turn to go to a neighbors house a short distance away the drive got lost and drove in circles becoming stuck in the heavy snow. 

For a day and a half the blizzard raged.  The children and driver were trapped in the bus, no heat, no food, no water.  The ending was not happy.

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Today there is no longer a school, it has consolidated with neighboring Sheridan Lake.  It is now a town of mostly empty streets, old machinery and a few dwindling houses. 

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Located on a state highway, there is not much traffic that flies past on the blacktop.  Being a state road rather then a US highway, not many changes have been made to the right of way.  The highway and the railroad parrallell each other for the most part and the bend and wind across the plains. 

Here one can step back in time and see what it was like to drive on a highway in the early 1900’s.  When the railroad pushed through in the late 1800’s a wagon road followed the iron rails.  Not much has changed.  Today it is a nice paved highway slicing over the grasslands. 

Most of the towns on SH 96 could be considered ghost towns and few there is nothing left but empty shacks.  Even western Kansas has its share of forsaken burgs.

Here there is a look back at another time when dreams of a new life were flocking to get their own piece of land. 

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When something is neglected, Mother Nature steps up to reclaim her land.  Weeds sprout and things collapse.  Even the railroad is seldom used and buried in among the weeds.  Time has stopped along here. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Country Store

 

The little town of Woodrow hangs on with a tenuous thread.  The Post Office is still there, a part of the General Store, a church and a couple of homes.  Years ago Woodrow was a thriving farm community of a couple hundred people.  Like so many things, people went in search of and moved away.  There were enough left to keep the Post Office going, which helped the little store stay open. 

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Being on a busy local state highway has helped some.  There is a coffee shop and lots of travelers will pause for a cup of java.  Here time has paused.  One can see a small pioneer community in operation.  People stop in for a visit, check the mail, coffee and……..  Very few things have changed.  The gas pumps are gone and the rest of town is a memory. 

The building was built at the turn of the last century and appears to be well taken care of.

Woodrow, Co where time stands still.  The cowboy saunters in, the farmer pauses and the shop keeper says hi. 

How much life is left in the little burg?