Fort Wallace/Kit Carson
Fort Lyon Road

     During the first four decades of its 60 year tenure, the Santa Fe Trail was repeatedly shortened as it eastern terminus was moved westward from the original Missouri River landing at Franklin to Fort Osage, Independence, Westport, and finally Fort Leavenworth. Subsequently, in the next decade, successive sections of the trail were lopped off as a series of prairie ports were established along the westward-building Union Pacific Railway Company, Eastern Division [later the Kansas Pacific].

     On September 7, 1863, the U.P.R.R.E.D. began track construction at Wyandotte, Kansas. Work progressed slowly along the north bank of the Kansas River with rail service reaching Junction City in June 1866. [1] Immediately the little town near Fort Riley became the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Freight, Mail, and passengers previously routed along the trail from the Missouri River through Council Grove were transported by rail to Junction City and thence by wagon and stagecoach over a military and stage route which ran westward to Fort Ellsworth [soon to be named Fort Harker] and then southwestward to Walnut Creek where it struck the main trunk of the Santa Fe Trail. Thus, overland traffic on the original route of the Santa Fe Trail east of Walnut Creek came to a halt. [2]

     The following summer, 1867, the railroad reached Fort Harker, successor to Fort Ellsworth and located one mile north of the original post. Superseding Junction City as the U.P.R.R.E.D. railhead, Fort Harker became the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, dispatching freight wagons and stage coaches down the 40-mile road to the Santa Fe Trail junction at Fort Zarah on Walnut Creek. [3]

     By October 1867 the railhead had pushed westward to Hays City. This new town only one-half mile from Fort Hays, became at once the new railhead and eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. To accommodate traffic to the southwest a new 75-mile road was laid out to Fort Dodge where it connected with the original road to Santa Fe. Consequently, overland traffic on the established route of the Santa Fe Trail east of Fort Dodge ceased. [4]

     As the railroad pushed westward from Hays City, a new end-of-track town called Sheridan was established in May 1868 in present Logan County, Kansas. [5]There the Southern Overland Mail and Express Company relocated its terminus in anticipation of the railroad's June arrival. The following month the stage line moved its headquarters to Pond Creek Station, a Butterfield Overland Dispatch [BOD] stop established in 1865, 14 miles to the southwest. This was near Fort Wallace. The Southern Overland initially projected a road running from Pond Creek Station by way of Cheyenne Wells to Bent's Fort, and Dick Wootton laid out a road along the proposed route. This road was never developed however, and a second route was plotted from Pond Creed Station through Cheyenne Wells to Fort Lyon, Colorado. [6]

     Having no official name, the road to Fort Lyon was known by several designations. Captain W. H. Penrose, Commanding Officer at Fort Lyon, referred to the road as the "stage route to Cheyenne Wells." [7] Luke Cahill, a stage company employee and former first sergeant in the Fifth Infantry at Fort Lyon, called the road "the trail between Lyon and Wallace." [8] At a later date, the road was commonly known as the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road. Whatever the name, this road eliminated another significant section of the Santa Fe Trail, the stretch running westward for Fort Dodge to Fort Lyon. [9]

     The northern end of the line was construed to be any of three locations: Sheridan, the railhead which received passengers, mail, and freight from the east; Fort Wallace, twelve miles southwest of Sheridan, which housed the post office established in 1866; [10] or Pond Creek Station. [11] There the Southern Overland initiated a daily stage service to Santa Fe effective July 1, 1868. Actually, the stages ran only six days a week, departing each end of the line Monday through Saturday. [12]

     Between Pond Creek and Fort Lyon, the stage company established six stations at varying intervals, each named for a water source: Cheyenne Wells, Sand Creek [Big Sandy], Rush Creek, Kiowa Springs, Well No. 1, and Well No. 2. [13] Beyond Cheyenne Wells, originally a BOD station 36 miles from Pond Creek Station, the threat of Indian attack was ever imminent. [14] As early as August 30, 1868, Captain Penrose at Fort Lyon reported: "the country between here and the Denver stage road, the Smoky Hill and also between here and Fort Dodge is overrun with hostile Indians, every precaution is taken to protect the Stages, the Trails, and the settlers in my vicinity as is possible to do without cavalry." [15] While Penrose referred tot he Indians in generic terms, it appears that the majority of the raiders were Cheyennes and, to a lesser extent, Arapahos and Kiowas.

     At Sand Creek, 14 miles form Cheyenne Wells, Indians attacked the Big Sandy station on September 19. However, troops dispatched form Fort Lyon four days previously were able to repulse the raiders without any losses. One Indian was reported killed and another wounded in the exchange. [16]

     The Rush Creek Station, 15 miles beyond Sand Creek, never experienced Indian problems, but Kiowa Springs, 22 miles to the southwest, was not so fortunate. This station, kept by a Mr. Stickney, was attacked on August 25, 1868, but the Indians were driven off with no losses on either side. [17]

     At Well No. 2, only 12 miles form Kiowa Springs, a coach returned to the station on August 24 after proceeding only about one mile toward Fort Lyon. Being warned by a courier that Indians were in pursuit, the conductor turned the coach and raced back to the station. Waiting until darkness, the coach slipped away from the station and quietly made his way to Fort Lyon, arriving 12 ˝ hours behind schedule. [18]

     Well No. 1 was 15 miles beyond Well No. 2 and seven miles form Fort Lyon. On August 28, 1868, a party of 25 to 30 Indians surrounded this station After observing the stage company employees were prepared for the attack, the Indians left without incident. [19]At Well No. 1, Lydia Spencer Lane and her husband, William, stayed overnight in 1869 while en route to the railhead at Sheridan. Mrs. Lane's brief sketch of the property might well serve as a prototype of the stations n the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road: "We stayed all night at the small board shanty used as a mail-station, occupying the state apartment, I suppose, for the walls were papered with illustrations from various pictorials. I had a suspicion the pictures were put there more to keep out the wind-of which there is an undue allowance of kind and quality in Colorado-than to embellish the room. A bright and cheery little place it was, with windows that commanded a view of the country for miles in every direction." [20]

     Following the Battle of Beecher's Island in September 1868 northwest of Fort Wallace and the October 9 capture of Clara Blinn and her two-year-old son Willie east of Fort Lyon, the Cheyennes and their southern plains allies moved south of the Arkansas to winter in the Washita River Valley. [21] Then traffic on the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road returned to a peaceful flow. Nevertheless, the Southern Overland officials armed their employees at company expense [22] and on December 5 requested Captain Penrose to assign troops to each of the stations between Fort Lyon and Cheyenne Wells. At that time only 24 men were available for duty at Fort Lyon. Consequently Penrose dispatched four men at Fort Lyon to escort stages southward and assigned three men at Fort Lyon to escort stages northward. Penrose informed his superiors: "This arrangement does not seem to meet the approval of Mr. Barnum, [Superintendent of the Southern Overland Mail and Express Company] but is the best I can make." [23]

     During the winter of 1868-1869 the majority of the southern plains tribes were subdued by General Phil Sheridan's winter campaign and forced onto reservations in Indian Territory. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers were an exception, and they were slow to surrender their freedom. In the spring of 1869 a contingency of Cheyennes, comprised mostly of Dog Soldiers, moved north to the Republican River area in northwest Kansas where they resumed their depredations on the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road. At Sheridan they ran off several hundred mules in May 1869, and the following month they raided a caravan near Fort Lyon. Throughout the summer, numerous bands of Indians were reported along the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road. Fortunately, no lives were lost in any of the encounters. [24]

     Trouble of a different sort ocurred during the same period. While a coach was en route to Well No. 2 from Fort Lyon, a driver named Huggins killed another stage company employee named Taylor. Because both men had been drinking, Huggins was not held responsible for Taylor's death. He was relieved of his driving duties and assigned to Well No. 2 as a stock tender. Not finding the new duties to his liking Huggins left the company's employment. Shortly there after the station was closed. [25]

     By this time the town of Sheridan had grown to a population of 2,000, swelled by the lawless element common to end-of-track towns. A Reporter for the Topeka Commonwealth, described the situation in the issue of August 4, 1869: "The scum of creation have there congregated and assumed control of Municipal and social affairs. Gamblers, pickpockets, thieves, prostitutes and representatives of every other class of the world's people, who are ranked among the vicious, have taken possession of the town and reign supreme….Civil authorities are laughed at and disregarded, and crimes are rampant and predominant."

     Regardless of such observations, a sizable proportion of the population was comprised of respectable personnel associated with giant commission firms, principally the Otero & Sellars Company and the C. H. Chick Company. Employing clerks by the score, these two firms operated mammoth wholesale operations disbursing goods to New Mexico by way of freight caravans operated by New Mexico merchants who found a ready market for their wool at the Sheridan railhead. [26]

     During the late 1860s northwest Kansas was considered to be the prime buffalo hunting area of all the West. Hunters by hundreds, with easy access to the railroad, made Sheridan their base of operations. Roaming the plains within a short radius of the railhead, they slaughtered buffalo by the thousands. To capitalize on the wool and buffalo trade, Otero & Sellars pirated Moses Friedman from the C. R. Morehead Company of Leavenworth to conduct their wool, hide, and fur buying business. Miguel Otero recalled the company's warehouses contained, at one time 30,000 buffalo hides and 5,000 wolf skins plus thousands of coyote, badger, skunk, and antelope skins. [27]

     At Fort Wallace the population had increased to 286 soldiers, officers, and families, and 168 civilians, making a total of 479. Among the civilians were a few individuals associated with the newly-built railroad station named Wallace located north of the post. A row of officers quarters lined the north side of the parade grounds, and soldiers were quartered in four barracks, two sod and two frame. The temporary quarters and hospital tents occupied by the families of noncommissioned officers gave the post an "unfinished, if not unsightly appearance." [28]

     At Pond Creek Station, shortened to Pond Creek, a post office was established in November 1868. [29] In the same year, the little settlement was named as the temporary seat of government for Wallace County. In 1869, the town gained municipal status when a group of citizens filed for a city charter under the name of Pond City Land and Town Company. While the Southern Overland Company continued to dominate the town, Pond City attracted a number of other businesses including a jewelry store owned by John Whiteford, Wallace County's first justice of the peace. [30]

     In the meantime, as the UPRR-ED [changed to Kansas Pacific on March 3, 1869] extended westward in Colorado territory, a new end-of-the-track town was being developed at Kit Carson. By December 1869 a population of 300 was living in tents and eight frame buildings were under construction. [31] In March 1870 the stage company abandoned Pond City and moved its offices to the Colorado terminus. [32] In short order Kit Carson took on the appearance of its Kansas counterparts with the usual array of dance halls, gambling houses, and saloons, in addition to the more respectable business houses associated with the commission firms and the railroad. [33]

     With both the stage and railroad headquarters relocated at Kit Carson, a stage route was developed to Fort Lyon. Running due south from Kit Carson, the new road connected with the Fort Wallace/Fort Lyon Road at the Big Sandy Station and followed that older route on to Fort Lyon, a total distance of 55 miles. [34]

     To protect the new road, Company A of the 5th U. S. Infantry was transferred from Fort Wallace to Kit Carson. [35] As it turned out, however, the road was never threatened by Indian attack thanks to Major Eugene Carr's overwhelming defeat of the Dog Soldiers at Summit Springs, Colorado, on July 18, 1869. [36] Thus, it seemed that the road was plagued more by a monotonous landscape than it was by Indians. In April 1870 the area south of Kit Carson was described by a Denver correspondent as: "a lifeless prairie, with naught to interest or attract the eye of the traveler." [37] The following year Frances Roe, a young officer's wife en route to Fort Lyon, offered a similar observation: "There was not one object to be seen on the vast rolling plains not a tree nor a house, except for the wretched ranch and stockade where we got fresh horse and a perfectly uneatable dinner." [38] The location of the ranch described by Roe remains unknown, but it would appear that it was the only station on the road at that date. Such is plausible as the stages, traveling at the rate of four to six miles per hour, could cover the distance from Kit Carson to Fort Lyon in a single day. [39]

     The stage route is not to be confused with the freight road developed by George McBride and Dick Wootton, principle owners of the Kit Carson and Fort Union Bridge Company. Evidently following the same route laid out by Wootton in 1868, the freight road ran south from Kit Carson to a point a few miles north of the Big Sandy Station. From that location it departed southwest to a ranch on a stream identified by Ado Hunnius as Big Creek [present-day Gageby Creek]. From the ranch the road turned south to Bent's Old Fort and seven miles beyond to present-day La Junta, Colorado. There, the Arkansas River was spanned by a toll bridge constructed by Wootton and his associates at the site of King's Ferry. [40]

     While little is known of this freight road, one account by P. G. Scott provided a fleeting glimpse of the route. Scott arrived by rail at Kit Carson on August 18, 1870. Securing passage with a Mexican train captained by Dolore Pathea, Scott departed Kit Carson on August 20. His observations of the countryside closely parallel those make of the terrain crossed by the stage route: "The country round here Carson is a little rolling but is almost pure sand, grows a little short dry grass, almost too short for animals to get a bite at all, and a plant that looks like southern wood and which does not grow very high but is very plentiful. The water is mostly alkali and bad of r stock. In the creeks there is only a waterhole here and there. At Carson they have bored 1,200 feet and have not got pure water yet." [41]

     The road was so sandy that at some intervals 14 yoke of oxen were required to pull a single wagon. Reaching Bent's Fort on August 26, the train crossed the Arkansas and followed its south bank to the toll bridge operated by the Kit Carson and Fort Union Bridge Company. Scott Described the bridge as a "very common wooden affair." The toll was $1.00 per wagon. [42]

     During the summer of 1872 the Kansas Pacific reached Denver. Consequently government freight was no longer dispatched from Kit Carson by wagons. It was shipped through Kit Carson to Denver by rail, transported south to Pueblo on the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, and thence by wagon to the mountain route of the Santa Fe Trail at Trinidad. Stage traffic and most civilian freight, however, continued to flow south from Kit Carson. [43] Expecting the southern terminus to be located at Las Animas, a town founded in 1869 near Fort Lyon, the southern Overland Company moved its receiving and shipping office from Kit Carson to the new town in early July. The railroad bypassed Las Animas to establish a new town four miles to the west called New or West Las Animas. In short order the southern Overland Company abandoned the original Las Animas location and moved its offices to the new place where it constructed a complex of stables and corrals within sight of an imposing water tower, engine house, and other railhead facilities. From West Las Animas freight and stage traffic continued to move down over the mountain route of the Santa Fe Trail, while the Kit Carson/Fort Lyon Road and the McBride & Wootton freight route fell into disuse, being superseded by the Kansas Pacific branch line. [44]

     The closing of the roads from Kit Carson signaled the end of an era, the 1863-1873 decade which witnessed the gradual truncation of the Santa Fe Trail by the westward thrust of the Union Pacific-Kansas Pacific Railroad. In 1863 travel from Fort Leavenworth to Santa Fe By Way of Council Grove and the Cimarron Route was 821 miles. [45] Indeed, the railroads replaced the Trail. [46]
Used With Permission of the Author:
David Clapsaddle

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