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Old January 2nd, 2011, 10:29 PM   #1

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There is an old Trail that crosses Kansas and Colorado, It was known as the Smoky Hill Trail to Denver, it would later be known as The Butterfield Overland Despatch stage route or BOD.

The old trail would have pretty much vanished if not for Howard Raynesford, below is a short bio on Howard.

Howard Raynesford was born August 13, 1876 in Ellis, Kansas. He was a farmer, operated a dairy, had a wife and sons. It is for his "hobby" that he is now remembered. Howard was an historian, Director of the Kansas State Historical Society, and tireless expert on the Smoky Hill Trail and the Butterfield Overland Despatch stagecoach line that ran over the trail. Raynesford painstakingly mapped the route of this trail. In his spare time he walked over 200 miles following the trail and locating many of the stagecoach stations. In 1963 the Kansas Legislature granted permission (no funding) for him to place stone-post markers on the right-of-way where the trail crossed major highways. 138 markers were placed.


After reading Howards acounts of the old trail I took a couple of summers traveling the Kansas portion of the BOD taking photos, the Indian forts Hays, Harker, Larned, Wallace, The German family massacre site as well as Threshing Machine Canyon massacre. Monument Rocks, Castle Rock, my photos are taken off the beaten path from the trail or just parelel to, not much has changed as far as the look of the land in many parts, so the views are pretty much what was seen from the top of a stage or the back of a horse.

Maybe I can show you a part of Kansas you have never seen before and the history left behind to be found in it's prairies.


One of Howards BOD markers.


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Castle Rock on the BOD. Name a character from the Old West and they have sat a horse on top of this bluff above Castle Rock looking out on the prairie to the north. The trail was about 200 yards out from the Castle formation on the plain.

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I hope this is a good fit for Historum, maybe a little unusual, but if your into the Old West as I am and enjoy seeing where it happened it should be tolerable.

I find Howards story below to be amazing.

Howard Raynesford explained his fascination with the Smoky Hill Trail in this way:
"Old trails have always had a great fascination for me. In Connecticut and Virginia I have been on the old Appalachian Trail which ran along the highest elevations from Mt. Kadahdin in Maine to Stone Mountain in Georgia. I have been on the old stage route from St. Louis through Arkansas, Indian Territory and Texas to El Paso and then along the southern borders of New Mexico and Arizona to Yuma and up to Los Angeles and San Francisco, which had to be abandoned when the Civil War broke out. I have been on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails at various places, but none held a greater fascination for me than this historic old Smoky Hill Trail.

Back in the first decade of the century, two men advertising a correspondence school rented window display space in Nicholson's store where I was working as a clerk. I got pretty well acquainted with them, especially the older one, whom I learned had been the youngest trooper in Custer's famous 7th Cavalry, a mere boy in his late teens, and was familiarly known in that organization as "Chic". When asked if he was in the Little Big Horn fight, he said he had been kicked by a horse and was in the hospital with a broken leg when the regiment left on that fatal expedition. As soon as he could travel he had started for the front but the conveyance in which he was traveling tipped over in crossing a stream, hurting his leg again, with the result that he did not get on the battlefield until a week after the massacre. In talking of Custer's activities in this vacinity I mentioned the Smoky Hill Trail. He looked at me in a queer sort of way and asked if it would be possible to get down on this trail while he was here. It was arranged and as we walked out from our car to the trail which at this particular point near Ft. Downer is very wide and plain, he walked out ahead of us onto the trail, removed his hat and knelt down. This seemed rather strange conduct to us, and he gave this explanation. He said his father was the discoverer of gold at the mouth of Cherry Creek in present Denver, that the creek was given his name, that when Denver had become a going town his father had sent for his wife and young son and that he, being that son, had traveled by stagecoach over this trail with his mother to join his father.

And when I think of the many celebrities who have traversed this Trail such as Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, Custer, Forsyth, Beecher, Stanley and many others, and of the hopes and fears engendered by its prospects and dangers, as I have been engaged in searching it out by walking it, I must confess that I have had somewhat the same feeling for it that Mr. Cherry had."
The photo below is near Downer station where Howard brought Mister Cherry. I found Howards story about Mister Cherry fascinating, There is a monument to the old trail in Denver, on Cherry Creek.

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The Smoky was always known as the fastest route to Denver, your other option was along the Platte, way to the north, it was sandy (Your wagon was slower) and it added days to the trip. Freemont traveled the Smoky, the Pikes Peakers traveled it many draging hand carts across the plains. The old trail was a real Rattle Snake, some died by Indian hands, most died of pure ignorance beleiving this trail to be well marked, with good water and grass it's length for if the news papers said it was an easy trail then it was an easy trail, the problem was it was anything but easy or marked. Many would find this not to be the case, more folks died of thirst and starvation than at the hands of Indians. The News Papers would retract information given after that first summers travels, being more truthfull about the dangers.

We will pick up the Smoky Hill Trail in this report just to the east of Fort Harker, The trail was fairly easy travel untill you get to Harker from Harker west it got a little hairy!

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Another photo near Downer Station.


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When traveling the trail it's kind of fun to imagine those who traveled the Smoky before. below are a couple of photos of four girls who traveled the trail with their Father, Mother, two other Sisters and a Brother. Only the four younger girls would survive as captives of the Southern Cheyenne. They looked out on these same hills as they passed west that summer of 1874.

The German family and there age, John German The mother, Liddia (Cox) German, Rebecca Jane (20), Stephen (19) and Joanna (15) were killed and the five victims were scalped. The survivors were Catherine (17), Sophia (12), Julia (7) and Adelaide (5).



Sophia, Julia, Catherine, and Addie.


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This map shows the Smoky among other Kansas trails. The Smoky Hill Trail pretty much cuts dead through the center of Kansas. and at that time what you found in the center of Kansas were the Southern and Northern Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanchee, Pawnee, Arapaho, and the Sioux, there were even some plains Apache, pretty much a who's who of plains tribes.

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An easy 2 hour ride on horse back east of Fort Harker there is a rock formation known as Mushroom Rock this would have been a draw for those stationed at Harker, so I would imagine that Custer would have brought Libby here for a look maybe a picnic while stationed at Harker.

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The old formations have changed very little over time.


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Where I can I like to throw in then and now photos.


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The second set of mushroom formations.


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And one from a few years back, as you can see not much has changed.


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The formations lie one on each side of the road in the grove of trees, Fort Harker is over the ridge to the right a little about 6 miles west.

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The lay of the land on this part of the trail.

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You may ask what do all of the landscape photos have to do with history? To me the landscape is as much a historical artifact as would be Wild Bills, pistol, Buffalo Bills, Saddle, Roman Noses, lance. This is the landscape that was the stage for many of the old west's ledgend's, not Monument valley as John Ford would have you believe.

A few more pics of the topograpy of the area along the Smoky Trail just to the east of Fort Harker, with a little history of the trail, the narrative is from the Raynesford papers.

When the great "Pathfinder", John C. Fremont, reached Bent's Fort, near the site of the present city of Las Animas on the Arkansas, on the return trip of his second great trans-continental exploration, agreably to his instructions he turned northeast to discover the head waters of the Kansas River and explore its course to its mouth.

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On July 8, 1844, he located the junction of several small sandy creeks which proved to be the beginning of the Smoky Hill River, and from there he followed and explored this stream through to Kansas City, reaching there the last of July.


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So far as is known, Fremont's little party of 16 men were the first white men to traverse this Smoky Hill route, and, following his report, the Government seems to have recognized the importance of the Smoky Hill as part of a national highway, and topographic surveys were commenced along its course. But there was apparently no attempt to lay out a trail until gold was discovered in the Pikes Peak and Clear Creek regions of Colorado in 1858.


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The big rush that followed discovery of gold in California followed the old routes of the Platte and Arkansas, but this new region lay between them and the more direct Smoky Hill had every advantage of the older routes and was shorter by several days travel time. Apparently the first man to recognize these advantages was W. H. Russell of the famous firm of Majors, Russell and Waddell, who in the winter of 1858 conceived the idea of a line of daily coaches on this route between the Missouri River and Denver. His partners would not go in with him on the proposition so he stocked and equipped it himself on a ninty-day credit, and the first stage over this new route reached Denver on May 17, 1859. But the project proved to be premature and at the end of the ninty days his partners took over and transferred the equipment to their regular line on the Platte.

(The tree line along the bluff is the Smoky River, like all Kansas Rivers the further west you go the dryer they run.)

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Though the Government was using it some, as were probably many emigrant parties and gold-seekers, the life of the Smoky Hill route really began when David A. Butterfield took hold of it in 1865. Though living at Atchison, he had an extensive acquaintance in Denver from several years residence there, and the people of Denver had unbounded faith in him. He was a smooth talker was very ambitious and had few equals as an organizer, and evidently believed in advertising, for he spent large sums of money advertising his enterprise through the leading papers in New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Atchison, Denver and Salt Lake, and it became one of the leading topics of the day all over the country.


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The leading newspapers printed column after column about it and everywhere it was talked about. Then Butterfield went to New York and Boston, and laying his plans before leading capitalists, succeeded in organizing the "Butterfield Overland Despatch" with a capitalization of three million dollars, half of which was paid in. Branch offices were soon opened and agents appointed in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cincinnatti, St. Louis, Chicago, Denver and Salt Lake.


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Next stop Fort Harker.
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Old January 2nd, 2011, 11:07 PM   #2

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breath-taking, thank you!
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Old January 2nd, 2011, 11:17 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by NewModelSoldier View Post
breath-taking, thank you!
Yep....that's Kansas alright.....nice work there Sod Buster.
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Old January 2nd, 2011, 11:22 PM   #4

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Nice post Sod Buster. And first out of the chute.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 12:12 PM   #5

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Interesting stuff. Then and now photos always blow me away.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 12:38 PM   #6

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Thanks pedro, I have many more then and now photos to share along the Smoky Hill Trail.
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Old January 4th, 2011, 01:30 PM   #7

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really top-notch stuff!
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Old January 5th, 2011, 04:16 AM   #8

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Sod...enoying this thread! Great pics, great background info!

Thanks for putting this info up on the forum.
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Old January 5th, 2011, 02:57 PM   #9

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Fort Harker, Kansas...


Fort Harker, located in Kanopolis, Kansas, was an active military installation of the United States Army from November 17, 1866 to October 5, 1872. The first Fort in the area was Fort Ellsworth just a couple of miles west, not much of a fort mainly tents and dugouts.

Fort Ellsworth was established in August, 1864 at the junction of the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road and the Smoky Hill Trail, near the Smoky Hill River. Fort Ellsworth was established as the command headquarters for the District of the Upper Arkansas. Soldiers at the fort patrolled the overland trails to protect wagon trains from any resistance from the Indian tribes in the area. The fort also served an important role in distributing supplies to other United States Army outposts further west. Fort Ellsworth connected supply lines from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riely to the east with Fort Zarah, Fort Larned, Fort Dodge, Fort Hays, and Foet Wallace to the west. After two years of rapid growth, the fort was badly in need of better facilities and more space.


The town of Kanopolis sits pretty much on top of the old fort, fortunately some of the buildings were built of stone and still stand, there are four structures left.

The town of Kanopolis, Kansas, the main drag. None of the fort buildings are in this pic.


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The lay out of the old fort on top of the town of Kanopolis, streets.


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Soon after the completion of major construction, the railroad arrived at Fort Harker. The Union Pacific Eastern division completed a line to Fort Harker in July 1867. The rail line ran through the fort, and a depot was established just outside the fort. Two large warehouses were built next to the line, which became the principal resupply route for the fort.By the end of 1867, the fort supported a four-company garrison, the supply depot and over 75 buildings.


I never have really gotten the story on this stone, it hangs in the Harker Guard House Museum, I believe I have read that it was found in a canyon east of the fort, nearer to Mushroom Rock. Cody was all over Harker and the surounding terain as a scout, it would not surprise me if Cody would have carved his handle in these sandstone canyons, as you will see through out this report many did. Just south of Mushroom Rock the Smoky has been damed creating Kanopolis reservoir, the Smoky is allso damed just west of Hays creating Cedar Bluffs reservoir.


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Kanopolis reservoir, looking west. Mushroom Rock, maybe 5 miles directly to the right in the pic. (north) the Cody Rock supposedly found in canyons up on the west end of where the reservoir now stands, on the horizon.


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In the summer of 1867, an Asiatic Cholera outbreak began amongst the soldiers of the four companies of the 38th Infantry stationed at the fort. The disease may have arrived with the 38th, who traveled to the fort from St Louis Missouri, where a cholera outbreak was also occurring. The first case of cholera at the fort was diagnosed on June 28. Within days, one civilian and one soldier had died from the disease, and the epidemic had spread to other soldiers and civilians at the fort, as well as settlers in the surrounding area. The Post Quarter Master reported that 58 citizens were buried during the month of June. The epidemic continued through the remainder of 1867, and by the end of the year the official report tabulated 392 cases with 24 deaths among the white troops and 500 cases with 22 deaths among the black troops stationed at or near the fort.


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In the old pic below old Glory's just a ghost waving above the parade grounds, and it must have been a windy one that day, hard out of the South.


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The Smoky Hill Trail looking west out of Harker.


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Last edited by Sod Buster; January 5th, 2011 at 03:31 PM.
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Old January 6th, 2011, 03:36 PM   #10

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Fort Harker.


Fort Harker
Ellsworth County, Kansas
1866/1872
General Orders No. 22 issured on November 17, 1866, by General Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Division of the Missouri, directed the Name of Fort Ellsworth be changed to Fort Harker, in honor of General Charles Garrison Harker. Harker was born in New Jersey on December 2, 1835. General Harker died on June 27, 1864, from wounds received in an abortive offensive action during the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain.

There are two of the Junior officer's quarters from old Fort Harker, still standing, both are ocupied, and are on private property.


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In 1866 young Bill Cody took his first scouting job at the fort. The next year, while hunting buffalo for the railroads, he became known as Buffalo Bill.


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"There have been no drills here the past Winter, the soldiers being all occupied in building quarters. Isn't it a mistake on the part of the Government to require enlisted men to work as common laborers, with no opportunity to perfect themselves in drill? An officer cannot have proper discipline in his command under such circumstances. The men, too labor somehow under silent protest, desertions are more then frequent. February 16, 1867."


The Commanding Officer's quaters also still stands, if those walls could only talk.They were built in 1867.


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The Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, was completed to Fort Harker on July 10, establishing rail communication with the East. The railroad ran through the military reservation approximately three hundred yards north of the parade ground. The depot was situated one third mile northeast of the post. Quartermaster's and Commissary departments was established at the post, and two large storehouses were erected close to the railroad track for their use. From these depots, during the greater part of the years 1867/68, all the posts on the Arkansas and many in Colorado and New Mexico were supplied.

The Union Pacific RR runs just North of The Smoky Hill Traill, it would end the Stage Coach days of the trail, as the stage shortened the route as the tracks moved west.


The fourth building is the old Fort Harker Guard House, it sits on the far west end of the fort, please excuse the bike, but it is how I traveled this trail. As close as I could get to riding a horse up it. This is looking west.


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After a relatively quiet winter, the soldiers made preparations during the spring and early summer of 1868 for a continuation of encounters with hostile Indian parties. During the fall of 1868, General Sheridan removed his headquarters from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Harker. Major Inman claimed that plans for Sheridan's campaign during the winter of 1868/69 against allied hostile tribes were designed in the officers quarters at Fort Harker, with contributions from Sheridan, General Forsyth, Colonel Andrew J. McGonnigal, and Major Inman.

The back side of the Guard House looking up the street to the east towards the Officer's Quaters.


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Rumors spread during 1869 that General Custer would be assigned to Fort Harker to command two companies of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. Instead however, on August 25 Brevet Colonel Joseph G. Tilford was sent to Fort Harker. General Miles was in command of Fort Harker at this time. Troops D and K, 7th U.S. Cavalry, wintered at Fort Harker, but without Custer. These two cavalry troops left Fort Harker on February 22, 1870, to confront roaming hostile bands of Indians.
Between May 3 and 15, 1870, Custer and four troops, F, I, L, and M of the 7th U.S. Cavalry left Fort Leavenworth and arrived at Fort Harker. After receiving and forwarding reports of Indian attacks on a train near Willow Springs and Lake Stanton, Custer and his troops continued west to Fort Hays, Kansas. Major General John Pope, commander of the Department of the Missouri, placed General Custer in charge of protecting the Kansas frontier during the summer of 1870. He instructed the commanding officers at Fort Harker and Fort Hays to provide Custer with troops as needed, and he also placed 7th U.S. Cavalry forces under Brevet Lieutenant Colonel J. G. Tilford under Custer's command.

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At Fort Harker more of the distinguished generals of the war have slept or been entertained than any other post in the U.S. Some of the well known were; Generals Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, Terry, Howard, Schofield, Marcy, Grierson, Custer, A. J. Smith, Sully (son of the celebrated American Artist who painted Queen Victoria in her youth) and others have camped there. It's commanders were Custer, Gibbs, Sully, A.J. Smith and Miles.

1867 Looking east down the same road as above, there were three or four of the huge Cavalry barns on the west side of the Guard House, to this day the Old Guard House is still guarding the Smoky, as it did starting in 1867.

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