Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Smoky Hill Trail

Pike’s Peak or Bust read the slogan painted on wagons headed westward. Very few of these wagons made it to Pike’s Peak. Most of them found their way to Denver and the gold camps to the west. For whatever reason the mountain that was named after Zebulon Pike became synonymous with Colorado. During the gold rush to Colorado a new trail was laid for the gold prospectors,
The Smoky Hill Trail began at Leavenworth, Kansas and ended at Denver, then a part of Kansas territory. Kansas was part of Indian country and at Leavenworth the military established a fort to help provide protection to the travelers. From this early Army Post smaller garrisons and forts were established.
With the first reports of gold being discovered in Colorado a group of Cherokee Indians read this report. They were working in the gold fields of northern Georgia, mining gold. They put together a party to go to Colorado and check out the reports. This group of Indians followed the Arkansas River to the village of Pueblo, then north thru the Black Forest to Cherry Creek and followed it to where it joined the South Platte River.
Here the Cherokees set up a base camp from which to explore the area and prospect for gold. They named the area Aurania after the town they had came from in Georgia. From here they spread out panning in the different creeks nearby. With some success at finding small amounts of gold they sent a party back to Georgia with information and to bring equipment. There were also other prospectors searching the creeks and one of the prospectors had been at some hot springs in the mountains and went panning in the nearby stream with a tin cup. He panned out about an ounce of gold with his cup. When he brought the gold dust back into Aurania and reports of gold went out and gold fever struck.
Wagons westward and the rush was on before the Indians could get back to Georgia and get their equipment.
The Smoky Hill trail was more direct and got the prospectors to Colorado quicker. At Resolis was a stage stop for the Butterfield Stage Line. Here the Smoky Hill Trail split. The south branch followed the stage route and the north branch followed a more northern route. In this area is where the Benkelman branch of the Smoky Hill road joined the Smokey Hill route.
The Benkelman route followed the Republican River across Kansas to Nebraska then followed the Arikaree River across Colorado to the area known at Cedar Point. Here there is forest of Cedar trees, springs and higher elevation and cooler in the summer. The Calvary had established and outpost in this area, a troop was assigned to this small fort. The Benkelman route also went through the Beecher Island Battle site.
With these routes diverging and converging at Cedar Ridge it would be assumed that there would be communities there. The fort was abandoned when the Civil War started and the stage stop withered away as did Cedar Point.
The wagons rolled across the plains with gold in the eyes of the drivers and his companions. These wagons carried their hopes and life. In a book on old time maps, The First Hundred Years, there was a list of items to stock these wagons with for the journey to the gold camps of Colorado. The page the map was on was titled, “Routes to Pike’s Peak.” Only one route came close to the mountain and that was the trail to Pueblo.
Some of the items on the list: two yoke of oxen, 1 wagon, 1 frying pan, 1 Dutch oven, …………400 lbs of bacon, 100 lbs of coffee, 3 gallons of brandy,2 bushels of dried fruit, 2 bushels of beans……… and the list goes on. The grand total was over $500.00, didn’t include the sundries, brandy candles and munitions. This was to supply four men for six months. There was also a list of tools, 4 steel picks with handles, 4 shovels, 2 gold pans, 2 lb quicksilver and retort, etc.
To the gold fields headed these hardy souls. Most of them made to the gold camps, few got rich and along the way are gravesites of those who didn’t.
In Denver there is the Four Mile Historical Park. It was the last stop on the Smokey Hill Trail before it entered Denver, four miles away. They have recreated lots buildings and equipment and have found diaries that some of the travelers kept during their journey. One of the biggest complaints about the traveling was not about Indians, it was about bugs. Sleeping on the grass or in a dug out they had to share it with the crawly critters. Pioneers used the trail along with the gold seekers.
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