"The column forded the Arkansas at Fort Dodge and headed straight for Fort Hays. Two years before when the Eighteenth Kansas marched up and down, to and fro, in this part of the country, it was a trackless waste between two forts. Now the column marched all the way over a smooth, well traveled wagon road."
Sgt. James Albert Hadley
Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry
Fort Dodge, established in 1865, was initially supplied by goods freighted from Fort Leavenworth down the Santa Fe Trail.  However, with the arrival of the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, at Junction City in June 1866 and at Fort Harker one year later, supplies were shipped to these respective railheads and transported by wagon to Fort Zarah juncture of the Santa Fe Trail and on to Fort Dodge. By October 1867, the tracks of the Union Pacific pushed westward to newly founded Hays City.  Thus, this little municipality became the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, and nearby Fort Hays superseded Fort Harker as the supply depot for the distribution of military goods to the Southwest.
In the spring of 1867, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, Commander of the Department of the Missouri, transverses Kansas with fifteen hundred troops, making a show of force to the southern plains tribes.  During this campaign, Hancock, old quartermaster that he was, recognized the need for a road between Forts Hays and Dodge. Subsequently, Hancock, writing to Gen. Philip Sheridan, his replacement as commander of the Department of the Missouri, stated:
"My impression is that the real route of travel for emigrants hereafter will be from Fort Hays of Harker [most probably from Hays] directly across to some point a little west of Dodge, crossing Walnut Creek and branches of Pawnee Fork, where the country affords excellent grass, good running water, plenty of wood, good roads---wood, and grass at convenient intervals." 
Soon after, December 1867 Lt. Col. John W. Davidson, inspector general for the Department of the Missouri, wrote Sheridan proposing an itinerary for a seventy-five mile route between the two posts.
Fort Hays to Smokey . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10m
Good water, grass, some wood & good crossing.
Smoky to Big Timbers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8m
Wood, grass & water in pools, never failing.
Big Timbers to Walnut Creek . . . . . . . . . 7m
Good water, grass & wood in abundance,
bad crossing, requires a one span bridge.
Walnut Creek to N. Pawnee . . . . . . . . . 12m
Wood, water, grass abundant. Very bad
Crossing requires bridge, probably two spans.
N. Branch to Middle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13m
Wood, water & grass abundant, bridge required.
Middle to S. Branch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .13m
Abundant water, grass & wood, fair crossing.
S. Branch to Ft. Dodge . . . . . . . . . . . . 12m 
Although Hancock referred to a road for emigrants, the route he suggested was first used by a stage company. Upon removal of the railhead from Fort Harker to Hays City, Barlo, Sanderson and Company was ordered by the U.S. Postal Department to initiate mail deliveries from Hays City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, effective November 1, 1867. Beginning at Hays City, the stageline ran to Fort Dodge and continued over the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe. Stages departed from each end of the line on Monday Wednesday, and Friday, the one way trip being completed in four-and-one-half days. Mail deliveries continued from Hays City through the summer of 1868 when the railhead was transferred to Sheridan and the stage headquarters was relocated at Pond Creek Station. 
Early in 1868, the route experienced a steady stream of military traffic, with freight deliveries being make on a regular basis. John Murphy, a teamster recalled:
"In the summer of 1868, I was assigned to the post train at Fort Hays. This train was organized and equipped at Fort Harker and proceeded to Fort Hays, . we were kept constantly on the road between Fort Hays and Fort Dodge. As the distance between the two posts was nearly 100 miles, it required about three days to make the trip each way. We were allowed no rest at the Fort Hays end of the trip." 
During the fall of 1868, traffic on the road dramatically increased in preparation for General Sheridan's winter campaign against the southern plains tribes. Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, still under suspension from court-martial action, was summoned by Sheridan to lead the Seventh U. S. Cavalry in this campaign. Arriving at Fort Hays from his Michigan home on October 30, Custer hurried down the road two days later to reassume command of his old regiment. 
Following Custer down the road were supplies for the campaign including four hundred thousand rations to be transported ninety miles beyond Fort Dodge to Camp Supply in Indian Territory. Six Hundred unbroken mules for Kentucky and Missouri were shipped by rail to Hays and subsequently hitched, "kicking, squealing, and bucking," to one hundred wagons. Driving four abreast, three-span of mules per wagon, the wagons stretched out for a full mile. Eighteen-year-old Billy Dixon, a teamster on the expedition, recalled:
"The first day out we got to Smoky Hill River and camped for the night. We then pulled to Walnut Creek, and the third day brought us to Pawnee Fork. Between this place and what is now the town of Bucklin, Kas. We had a stampede that for real excitement beat anything I had ever seen. The mules ran in every possible direction, overturning wagons, and outfit colliding with outfit until it looked as if there would never be a pound of freight delivered at Supply. Many of the wagons were so badly demolished that they had to be abandoned and left behind. Their loads were piled on other wagons and carried forward."
"Our route carried us past Saw Log Creek, Fort Dodge-there was no Dodge City at that time-Mulberry Creek, and thence to Bluff Creek."
"We reached Camp Supply at the end of a twelve days' journey. The supplies were unloaded on the ground and covered with tarpaulins."
Upon return to Fort Hays, a second such trip was conducted. 
To augment the regular troops in this campaign, General Sheridan called upon the governor of Kansas, Samuel Crowford, to raise a volunteer regiment of cavalry. Not only did Crawford recruit twelve hundred volunteers, he resigned office to assume the command of the newly formed twelve-company regiment designated as the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry. On November 5, ten companies of the regiment marched from Topeka to join the regulars in Indian Territory.  Subsequently, the two remaining companies, D and G, traveled by rail to Hays City, marched down the road to Fort Dodge, and continued south to join the rest of the regiment. 
On November 15, General Sheridan departed Fort Hays for Fort Dodge. Caught in a blizzard the first night out, the general "took refuge under a wagon, and there spent a miserable night." Continuing down the road the following day, Sheridan reached Fort Dodge that evening in spite of persistent sleet and snow.  Proceeding on from Fort Dodge, Sheridan set up headquarters at newly established Camp Supply constructed under the supervision of Lt. Col. Alfred Sully who had assumed command of the expedition. Seeking a more aggressive leader, Sheridan relieved Sully, placing Custer in command. With the full force of Sheridan's confidence in his favor, Custer marched south on November 23 to confront the enemy. Four days later, the Seventh Cavalry struck Black Kettle's Cheyenne village on the Washita. Fifty-three captives, all women and children, were taken. 
From the Washita, Custer marched triumphantly to Camp Supply where he deposited the prisoners and returned south in pursuit of other victories. Meanwhile, the captives were marched on to Fort Dodge and up the road to Fort Hays where they were imprisoned in a pen-like structure..  Custer remained in Indian Territory throughout the winter, completing a successful campaign which forced most of the Indians back to reservations. In April 1869, Custer marched to Fort Dodge and up the road with his own regiment, the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry which had been put under Custer's command, and two women [Sarah White and Anna Brewster Morgan] Who had been rescued from Cheyenne Indians holding them captive. Accompanying the march were three Cheyenne warriors whom Custer had taken hostage to guarantee the safe return of the women.  On June 13, 1869, some seven months after the Battle of Washita, the Cheyenne's were marched back down the road and returned to their families in Indian Territory. 
Deactivated in 1889, Fort Hays was transferred to the State of Kansas in 1897.  Today the fort's lands are dedicated to the Fort Hays Experiment Station, a golf course, and Historic Fort Hays, a state historic site. Original buildings remaining at the site included: the blockhouse, the guardhouse, and officers' quarters. A marker identifies the location of the quartermaster's complex which housed the supplies freighted down the road to Fort Dodge and beyond to Camp Supply. Here the road began. Two different routes departed the quartermaster's complex, one circling to the southeast before leaving the post to the southwest, the other skirting the parade grounds to the northwest before turning southwest. About one-fourth mile southwest of the pose, the routes merged into a single trail. Here, pronounced ruts can be observed in the pastureland now maintained by the agriculture Experiment Station. 
Four and one-half miles southwest of Fort Hays, the road reached Five Mile Hollow, so named for its distance from Hays City. Snuffer's wagon train was caught in a blizzard while camped here in November 1871. According to Billy Dixon, the cook died, frozen to death while trying to start a fire in the bottom of a wagon. His efforts to burn the tailgate were in vain.  Untouched by cultivation, the hollow remains much as it did during the days of the road. Bisected by a slough and populated by a scattering of trees, this natural basin drains the prairie from all four directions. One can easily see why the hollow, with a ready supply of water and grass, became a camp site on the road.
One mile southwest of Five Mile Hollow, the road intercepted the Smoky Hill. Near this junction Lookout Station was established by the Butterfield Overland Despatch in 1865.  In April of 1867, General Hancock, seeking a council with the Sioux and Cheyenne's camped thirty miles west of Fort Larned, marched within one-half mile of their village. The Indians, with memories of Sand Creek fresh in their minds, slipped away under the cover of darkness during the night of April 14, fleeing northward across Walnut Creek to the Smoky Hill Trail. On the following day, fleeing warriors attacked Lookout Station. That evening, men from Big Creek Station, eight miles to the east of Lookout, saw the sky reddened with the reflection of fire. John Betts and Captain Barron hurried to Lookout Station to find:
"The station had been burned, the stock stolen and the cook nailed to the barn and the barn burned, and the bodies of the men badly burned and the stock driven off." 
During the following summer, the station was rebuilt. 
Just east of the Lookout Station location, a Butterfield Overland Despatch marker, erected in the 1960s by H. C. Raynesford, identifies the westward route of the Smoky Hill Trail. At the station site, several shallow depressions, evidence of the station's buildings, can be observed. To the north a few hundred feet is a large entrenchment, the remains of the dugout barn used to stable the stage company's animals. Between the two is one remaining rut of the Smoky Hill Trail.
Four miles farther southwest, the road reached the Smoky Hill River. Here, according to Colonel Davidson, was a "good crossing" as compared with the steep banks of other streams along the road.  While there was no ranche  at the streams along the road.  Holland's description is in keeping with Billy Dixon's narrative. In the fall of 1870, Dixon engaged in buffalo hunting, accompanied by two skinners:
". . . moved south of Hays City about ten miles and came to a boiling spring that flowed from an opening in solid rock. Here we decided to make our permanent camp for the winter, so we built a picket house and a big dugout, expecting to dry a lot of buffalo meat for market, but finally abandoned this scheme. Our camp was on a main-traveled road leading to Hays City. Freighters and hunters urged me to establish a road ranch or store, where such supplies as were used in that country could be purchased in reasonable quantities. Having some spare money, I stocked up with tobacco, whisky and a general line of groceries, an employed a man named Billy Reynolds to run the place for me, while I devoted my time to killing buffaloes. Many a jolly company gathered at the road ranch at the boiling spring. The sale of whisky was a common practice in those days, as whisky was freely used by frontiersmen, and its sale was expected as a mater of course. Other conditions were to hard and to pressing for the question of the morals of the traffic to be raised as it was in later years, when the country became more thickly settled, and an entirely new order of things was established."
"I was well acquainted with Reynolds and liked him, having formed his acquaintance on the Custer expedition to Camp Supply in 1868 when he was a mule driver. He was a friendly, whole-souled kind of fellow, and knew just how to treat men to get their trade. I make good money out of this venture until 1871, when the income abruptly and permanently ceased-during my absence Reynolds sold the whole outfit and skipped the country, without even telling me goodbye. I had been absent two weeks when I returned one day to find only the empty building. I never again heard of Billy Reynolds. I doubt that his robbing me was ever to his final advantage. Money obtained in that way never brought good luck, even in the plains country,where men were judged by rougher standards than prevailed father east." 
How long Dixon operated the ranche following Reynolds' departure is unclear. Probably not long after Holland's visit.
The Smoky Hill Crossing is still marked by nine separate cutdowns on the south bank of the river.  One-eighth mile farther southwest a sharp rise in the prairie signals the departure of the road form the second bottom of the river. Here nine deeply carved ruts can be observed in perfect line with cutdowns on the south bank.
Big Timbers Creek, eight miles for the Smoky Hill River was characterized by Davidson as having "wood, grass, and water in pools never failing." However, five years later, Holland noted only a few trees and a single pool. At the crossing, Monty Leach was appointed postmaster in 1877.  Here Leach established a store. This provided the nucleus of a little community called Hampton, the official designation of the post office, so named for Joe Hampton the area's first settler. As the town grew, Richard Mulroy built a two-story house, and later the Mulroy family established a hotel. Other businesses included the Noble Bros. Store and a blacksmith shop operated by Billy Metz. At a later date a school was organized. In 1878, a stage company founded by Bob Brooks and Capt. G. W. Edwards established headquarters at Hampton. In addition to mail deliveries between Forts Hays and Dodge, the company transported passengers operating two, three-seated rigs which accommodated six passengers each. The one-way trip, beginning at either fort consumed three days. The fare was six dollars. Following the Dull Knife raid in 1878, the stage service was halted for seven days, but was resumed under the escort of soldiers for a two-week period.  How long the mail company remained in business is unknown, but not much longer than its predecessor operated by John Buffer for a two-month period in 1877.  After Bob Brooks left the mail company, he established a general store at Hampton, succeeding two previous store owners. When nearby McCracken was organized with the coming of the railroad in 1886, the little town of Hampton died. However, Brooks' store remained in operation for three or four years following McCracken's founding. 
At this location, the creek curved, necessitating two crossings. A cutdown leading up the south bank of the northern crossings is still much in evidence as are the cutdowns on both sides of the stream at the southern crossing, a few hundred yards to the southwest. Just south of the northern crossing is the Hampton Cemetery. The first burial in this cemetery occurred in 1879, when use of the road was coming to an end. The townsite of Hampton was located immediately south of the cemetery. Across the road from the townsite are foundation remains of the old schoolhouse. To the north of the foundation, several ruts can be seen leading from the southern crossing to the town site.
Walnut Creek, seven miles farther southwest, was the next stop on the road. Davidson noted in his 1867 report: "Very bad crossing, requires a one span bridge."  At this crossing, in the summer of the following year, General Sheridan stationed a detachment of troops, dividing a force of eight hundred men between Walnut Creek and Fort Dodge prior to his winter campaign south into Indian Territory.  When Holland visited the Walnut in 1872, the creek was flowing twenty feet deep, three feet over the corduroy bridge.  Holland also reported a ranche located north and west of the crossing. The origin of the ranche, complete with a log store building topped by a lookout and enclosed in a stockade, remains moot. However, local lore says that the ranche originated under the proprietorship of a Mr. Fink. When Billy Dixon visited the ranche in 1871, the proprietor was Johnny Quinn. George Reighard, a teamster on the road during this period, remembered the ranche in four short words, "They sold mostly whiskey." 
In 1872, the ranche was taken over by Alexander Harvey. Born in Scotland in 1843, Harvey emigrated to Canada in 1859 where he engaged in merchandising. In 1861, he moved to Ogdensburg, New York, where he enlisted in Company A, Sixth U. S. Infantry. One year later, Harvey transferred to Company A, Sixth U. S. Cavalry as a bugler. Mustered out of the army in 1864, he reenlisted in February of 1867 in Company G of his old cavalry regiment. Stationed at Fort Hays in the spring of 1869, he was mustered out of the army with the rank of first sergeant in February of 1872 at Fort Dodge. During the following two years, Harvey operated the ranche catering to civilian travelers and settlers moving into Rush County.  One local account describes a buying trip by Harvey to Hays City. Upon his return to the ranche, he found the store looted and the clerk shot to death. Billy Dixon recalled that Johnny Quinn was shot at the ranche in 1871.  Was Quinn the clerk killed? Likely.
In 1874, Harvey was appointed postmaster at the post office designated by his given name. He also became notary public in the little town which developed at the crossing, also known as Alexander. In the same year, Harvey sold his store to pursue other interests; school teaching, farming, and real estate. In December of 1877, he married Mattie King of Decatur County, Illinois. Two years later, he was elected Rush County treasure, and in 1880 he moved to Rush Center where he engaged in ranching.
When the railroad was built south of Walnut Creek in 1886, the little town of Alexander was moved from the north side of the creek to its present location.  The original crossing was located one-eighth mile north of present-day Alexander. Here, local history buffs have dredged out the cutdown on the north bank. The cutdown on the south bank has disappeared. Local lore contends it was filled with blowing dust during the 1930s. No trace of the ranche can be found.
Leaving Walnut Creek, the road passed southwest through Rush County and clipped the extreme northwest corner of Pawnee County before continuing into Ness County. In this three-county corner, much of the land remains uncultivated. Hence, wagon ruts can be found at four separate sites in a three mile radius of this tri-county location.
From Ness County, the road proceeded southwest through Hodgeman County to the Pawnee Fork. This stream was identified as the north branch of the Pawnee River by I. Carl Woodruff, a topographical engineer who visited the area in 1852. Woodruff named the north branch Heth in honor of Lieutenant Colonel Heth, then stationed at Fort Atkinson. Davidson's 1867 report noted that "[here was] . a very bad crossing, requires bridge, probably two spans."  Here, on April 13, 1867, General Hancock camped with his troops en route to the three hundred lodge village of Cheyenne's and Sioux less than two miles upstream. Here, also, Hancock's small squad of engineers built a permanent log bridge across the narrow but steep banked stream to accommodate the movement of his troops. 
In December of 1869, John O'Loughlin established a trading ranche at this location. Born in County Clare, Ireland, in 1842, O'Loughlin emigrated with his family to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1850. In 1861, O'Loughlin moved to Kansas where he found employment as a teamster with the quartermaster department at Fort Leavenworth, a position he maintained through December 1, 1869, when he left government service at Fort Hays. At the ranche, O'Loughlin began the operation of a toll bridge. Whether he used the bridge built by Hancock's forces in April 1867 remains a moot question. However, Davidson's December 1867 report makes no mention of a bridge in place at that time. 
O'Loughlin and his helper, James Brannan, constructed a number of dugouts from which they sold provisions, meals, and lodging to military personnel, buffalo hunters, and freighters.  Billy Dixon spoke of one such dugout in which he sought refuge during a blizzard in the fall of 1871:
"Reaching a long divide, I dropped down the slope with my mules in a gallop, and luckily was soon in sight of a road-ranch kept by John O'Loughlin. I was scarcely able to speak when I drove up and found half a dozen men coming to meet me, all eager to hear the news from town, whatever it might be. In answer to their questions I merely shook my head. My jaws were set like a vice. I could not speak a word.. They saw instantly my condition. Running into the dugout they began piling wood into the fire-place, and the room was soon as hot as an oven. I thawed gradually, burning like a live coal one moment and shivering the next as if I had a fit of ague. This was my first experience with killing cold." 
From the railhead at Sheridan, a road was developed running through Pond Creek and Cheyenne Wells to strike the main trunk of the Santa Fe Trail at Fort Lyon. Consequently, overland traffic on the Santa Fe Trail east of fort Lyon was eliminated. Pushing westward from Sheridan, the Kansas Pacific [changed from Union Pacific by 1859] reached Kit Carson, Colorado, in early 1870. From Kit Carson, another road was developed running southwest to Las Animas, a little settlement established near Fort Lyon in 1869.  Regardless, the Fort Hays/Fort Dodge Road continued to serve as a supply line between Forts Hays and Dodge until 1872. In that year, the Atchinson, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad reached Dodge City, eliminating the military need for the road.  Fearing a complete loss of revenue, O'Loughlin sold the ranche to George Duncan and moved to Dodge City. Early in the following year, O'Loughlin opened a store in an abandoned dugout on the railroad right-of-way in present-day Kearny County. Here also in 1874, he was appointed postmaster O'Loughlin, the principal figure in the founding of Lakin and the development of the county, became a well-known farmer-stockman maintaining holdings in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. 
Used With Permission of the Author:
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
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Larry & Carolyn
St. John, Ks.