"Cold Spring Campsite"
USGS Aerial Photograph

Cold Spring Campsite

     The Sharp family owns the Oklahoma ranch on which the Cold Springs are located and where there are fine Trail remnants.

     Cold Springs Creek is an area of live water located in the panhandle of Oklahoma. This made it an important stopping place for anyone passing through the area, including travelers on the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail. The main wagon traffic going to and from Santa Fe followed this route after William Becknell and others discovered it was suitable for wagons in 1822 and after. Because of the location of live water at Middle Spring, Upper Springs, Cold Springs, and Cedar Springs, this route became possible, establishing an international link between the United States and Mexico. It was commonly known as the road to Santa Fe until the Mountain Route was opened in the 1840s, when this part of the Trail was called the Cimarron Route.

     Cold Springs Creek is a tributary to the Cimarron River. The main asset of this drainage on the open prairie is that live surface water can be found year-round. This has always been important to human life in a semi-arid plains environment. The presence of Indians around the springs is evidenced by projectile points dating back several thousand years which have been found in the area. These springs flow from the Dakota aquifer with the protection of small sandstone bluffs. The amount and quality of the water at Cold Springs influenced the location and development of the international road through here. There is archaeological evidence that the Santa Fe Trail followed, more or less, older Indian trails from one reliable water source to another.

     The speculation that some of the early Trail travelers returned to settle ranches in the area was developed because a few of the carved names are familiar to later local history. An example of this was the Hood family. In 1885, when Jesse and Ellen Hood along with their six children traveled westward on the Santa Fe Trail, they stopped their ox pulled covered wagon and camped at Cold Springs. Traveling on, they settled in Lincoln County, New Mexico, living there for nine years. In 1894 they returned to the area and were the first family to take up squater's right and eventually to homestead on Cold Springs Creek.

     In the Cold springs Creek area the evidence indicates that the earliest route of the Trail crossed the creek close to Signature rock. This campsite and sandstone bluff have, in general, the older carved dates. In later years the traffic appeared to shift further south because of shorter distance and easier terrian. This is the location of Autograph Rock, where the sandstone bluff is much larger. It also contains the greatest number of names and dates. Both routes appear to have been used in later years, depending on the availability of grass for livestock. There is also evidence that the trail developed a third route even further south. This was, again, probably the need for grass when the main area of forage near Autograph Rock was inadequate.

     The area is also referred to as the point where the Aubry Route, opened by Francis X. Aubry in 1851 and used heavily by freighters until the late Civil War Years, left the main Cimarron Route to connect with the Arkansas River route approximately six miles east of present Syracuse, KS. the juncture of the Aubry and Cimarron routes was aproximately two miles east of Cold Springs Creek and is presently hard to locate and poorly defined. If Aubry carved his name on the rocks at Cold Springs, it has not been found. As most historians know, however, he was always in a hurry to make one more record-breaking trip.

     Some of the Indians, however, took time to carve on the sandstone bluffs. this was probably done while acquiring water and hunting along the converging game trails (animals also were dependent on the water). As the wagon trail developed, it also became an excellent place for the Indians to ambush travelers. Consequently, whenever possible after he Mexican War, military patrols kept watch in order to protect the merchant trains and later the stagecoaches transporting the U. S. mail. General James H. Caleton considered this one of the most dangerous sections of the Trail and wanted to station troops at Cold Springs during the Civil War.

     Some of the conflicts between travelers on the Trail and the Indians have been recorded, but many more are lost to history. As historians keep researching, the facts about these and other happenings at Cold Springs are refined and the real story grows. The following are some more of the known incidents relating to the Cold Springs area.

     In 1851 Reverend Lewis Smith and his wife, Baptist missionaries going to Santa Fe, left Independence and traveled with the command of Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Vose Sumner. Sumner was going to New Mexico to assume command of the military department. cholera appeared among the soldiers on the Trail, some of whom died and others, fearing death, deserted. The Smiths, according to the eastbound mail carrier who arrived at Independence from Santa Fe in July, were "at Cold Spring, getting along finely having left the troops on account of cholera." They most likely continued to Santa Fe with a military supply train which was several days behind Sumner.

     On December 4, 1859, at Cold Springs, soldiers from Fort Union, New Mexico, escorting the west-bound stage, were attacked by Kiowa Indians. The reason for the escort was an earlier attack on the mail party in which two employees of the stage company were killed west of Pawnee Fork In Kansas. The Kiowas used long-range rifles to keep the soldiers pinned down at Cold Springs for several hours. The Indian attack ended later that day with one man being wounded. This was the beginning of a long series of Kiowa-Comanche raids along the Cimarron Route which continued through the Civil War.

     The travelers on the Trail were very practical in most things but sometimes their knowledge of medicine failed them. One of the major concerns was what to do for those who became sick or wounded. Cold Springs has numerous unmarked graves to testify to this fact. A wagon train, returning from Kansas City and owned by Jose Perea of Bematillo, New Mexico, added several graves to the area when cholera hit the wagon train on the Cimarron River. A herder, Jose Librado Gurule, in his recollections of the tragedy, called it the "plague." The teamsters, as they became sick, were loaded into the wagons. They continued on their journey until there were not enough healthy men to keep going. At this point, they called a halt at Cold Springs. The treatment they used to "doctor" the sick men was a mixture of New Mexico red chili and "Penguin" whiskey (part of the payload from Kansas City). This remedy was not effective and many died and were buried here. After twelve days they were able to travel on west but still had to dig graves for later victims. Approximately one third of the men on this train died from the dreaded disease.

     Most graves on the Trail were unmarked in order to keep the Indians from locating them and disturbing the remains. One theory involving some of the names carved on the Cold Springs sandstone bluffs is that these rocks were used as substitutes for tombstones for those lost on the Trail. Many of the names have a Christian cross with them, giving rise to this thought.

     As travel on the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail lost popularity, others took an interest in the Cold Springs. Cattle drives, coming from the south, depended on its water source. Autographs of this era can also be seen carved in the stone.

     Autograph Rock and Cold Springs are now part of the Santa Fe National Historic Trail. Although it is located on private property, visitors may view the carved names and immediate area at certain times. For permission and arrangements to visit the site, contact the Boise City Chamber of Commerce, Boise City, OK 73933.

Cold Spring Campsite

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