Monday, September 28, 2009

Oregon Trail in Wyoming

Setting out from Casper, our first stop on the Oregon Trail is Fort Caspar. This old post began as a trading post and toll bridge built by Louis Guinard in 1859. It also served as an overnight stage stop, Pony Express mail stop and telegraph office. In 1861, volunteer cavalry were ordered to Guinard’s Bridge to guard against the increasingly frequent Indian Raids. The following year, the trading post became a one-company military post and was renamed Platte Bridge Station. Troops enlarged and rebuilt the fort in 1866, but when the the Union Pacific Railroad and the new transcontinental telegraph reached Cheyenne, Wyoming in the fall of 1867, migration along the the Oregon-California-Mormon Pioneer Trail dramatically began to wane. The army then began to establish new installations to protect the railroad route across southern Wyoming. On October 19, 1867, orders were issued to abandon Fort Caspar and troops and materials, including some of the buildings were transferred to Fort Fetterman, Wyoming. Almost immediately after the troops were gone, the Indians burned the buildings and the bridge. Today, however, the site, listed on the National Register of Historic Places is rebuilt and features a museum.

Next, we're on down the road to Fort Fetterman. Off the main road, we follow a well-marked gravel road some seven miles to the site. Alas, when we get there, it's closed for the season. Now, why is it that they couldn't have indicated on one of the other half dozen signs along the way that it was closed. Love Wyoming, but we experienced signage problems, just like this in a lot of places. Anyway, we're there, so snap a few pictures and we're on our way again.

Continuing along the historic path, we stop at a number of historic markers before making our way to Oregon Trail Ruts State Historic Site near Guernsey, Wyoming. The wagon ruts of the Oregon Trail on the North Platte River were winding up towards South Pass. Wagon wheels, draft animals, and people wore down the trail about two to six feet into a sandstone ridge during its heavy usage from 1841-1869. The half-mile stretch is "unsurpassed" and is the best-preserved of Oregon Trail ruts anywhere along the trail. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

We then make the short trip over to Register Cliff, located nearby. Also referred to as Sand Point Station, the cliff is natural sandstone monument rising one hundred feet from the valley floor of the North Platte River. Despite erosion by wind and water it remains very much as travelers on the Oregon Trail saw it more than 100 years ago. One of three main sites along the Oregon Trail where emigrants left inscriptions, emigrants camped here along the banks of the North Platte River and etched their names into the soft sandstone cliff. Many of the inscriptions were made during the peak years of travel on the trail in the 1840s and 1850s. Even earlier, however, as far back as 1829, trappers and traders passing through carved their names into the rock. A small trading post was located near the cliff. In 1861, it was turned into a Pony Express stop, and later a stage station. A walkway and informative sign at the base of the cliff enable the visitor to learn more about this historic site.

Continuing along, our next stop is Fort Laramie, which I have been looking forward to all day. Fort Laramie was located at the Crossroads of a Nation Moving West. In 1834, where the Cheyenne and Arapaho traveled, traded and hunted, a fur trading post was created. Though it was not a military fort at first, it was called Fort William and soon became known as a place of safety, as settlers moved across the continent. By the 1840s, wagon trains rested and re-supplied here, bound for Oregon, California, and Utah.

In 1841, Fort John was constructed, replacing the original wooden stockade of Fort William. Constructed of adobe brick, Fort John stood on a bluff overlooking the Laramie River. It was named for John Sarpy, a partner in the American Fur Company, but was more commonly called Fort Laramie by employees and travelers.

Fort Laramie, the military post, was founded in 1849 when the army purchased the old Fort John for $4000, and began to build a military outpost along the Oregon Trail. For many years, the Plains Indians and the travelers along the Oregon Trail had coexisted peacefully. As the numbers of emigrants increased, however, tensions between the two cultures began to develop.

In the 1850s, one of the main functions of the troops stationed at the fort was patrolling and maintaining the security of a lengthy stretch of the Oregon Trail. The 1860s brought a different type of soldier to Fort Laramie. After the beginning of the Civil War, most regular army troops were withdrawn to the East to participate in that conflict, and the fort was garrisoned by state volunteer regiments, such as the Seventh Iowa and the Eleventh Ohio. The stream of emigrants along the Oregon Trail began to diminish, but the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line in 1861 brought a new responsibility to the soldiers.

By the end of the 1880s, the Army recognized that Fort Laramie had served its purpose. Many important events on the Northern Plains had involved the Fort, and many arteries of transport and communication had passed through it. Perhaps the most important artery, however, the Union Pacific Railroad, had bypassed it to the South. In March of 1890, troops marched out of Fort Laramie for the last time. The land and buildings that comprised the Fort were sold at auction to civilians.

Today, the old post is a National Historic Site, preserving 11 restored buildings, such as “Old Bedlam,” the post headquarters and officers’ quarters built in 1849; the cavalry barracks built in 1874; Sutler’s Store; a stone guardhouse; and a bakery. A museum exhibits artifacts of the Northern Plains. The historic site, which encompasses 833 acres is administered by the National Park Service.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

To Wyoming

From the Stanley Hotel, we head up to Rocky Mountain National Park. Though its very cold and cloudy and some of the roads are shut down, it's still beautiful and we get lots of views of elk in mating season.

We then begin to head north to Wyoming, passing through the old settlement of Virginia Dale, Colorado along the way. Established in 1862, Virginia Dale began as an Overland Stage Stop. It was run by Joseph "Jack" Slade, a bad-tempered, notorious outlaw. As the stage agent, Slade built the house, stage stables and other buildings. However, he was allegedly also the leader of a gang who was regularly robbing the stage line. On one occasion six masked men relieved the stage of some $60,000 and according to local legend it was buried near the station and never found. Though the stage line suspected Slade, they could not prove it, so they just fired him. Uncharacteristically, the bad-tempered Slade, left without any problems. He moved on to Virginia City, Montana, where he soon got in to trouble again and after threatening a judge, was hanged. Several old buildings remain in this old settlement including the original stage station.

Our next stop is the Wyoming Territorial Park in Laramie. Here is the 1872 Territorial Prison which once housed numerous outlaws, including Butch Cassidy. The facility was operated as the Territorial Prison until 1890 when Wyoming became a state. In 1890, the facility was reorganized as the Wyoming State Penitentiary. It closed in 1902 and afterwards became a stock farm for the University of Wyoming. The site also includes a number of old buildings that have been moved in from other locations.

Continuing to mosey on, our next stop is Fort Fred Steele, established in June, 1868 to guard the Union Pacific Railroad against Indian attacks. The fort, located on the west bank of the North Platte River, once included some 300 troops, a sawmill, blacksmith, saddler, wheelwright and sutler's store, in addition to regular fort buildings. After the major Indian threat had passed, the War Department deactivated the post on August 7, 1886 and transferred its troops to other military facilities. A small community continued to stand at the fort location, utilizing some of the fort buildings and surviving with the logging industry and sheepherding. The community saw a brief economic revival after the building of the Lincoln Highway in 1922 but died when the highway was rerouted in 1939. Today, all that's left of the site is a few remaining foundations, a few standing ruins, and a couple of buildings.

Next we make our way to Rawlins, but alas, it is too late in the day to take a tour of yet another prison -- the Wyoming State Penitentiary, which began to be built in 1888, but due to lack of funding and Wyoming's notorious weather, would not be completed until 1901. When it opened, it had only 104 cells, no electricity or running water, and lacked adequate heating.

During its 80 year history, it housed approximately 13,500 people, including eleven women. throughout the years, overcrowding was a constant problem and several additions were built throughout the years. When the prison closed it sat abandoned until it reopened as a museum in 1988. Called the Wyoming Frontier Prison today, the site includes guided tours, the Wyoming Peace Officers' Museum, and an exhibit on the current Wyoming State Penitentiary

Then, we're headed northeast and following the Oregon-California-Mormon Trail. We stop for a few photo opportunities at Devil's Gate, a gorge on the Sweetwater River. Though, this site is along the trail, the wagons never passed through the rock formation, instead choosing to circle around it. In the early 1860s, four women who were camped near the point climbed to the ridge and when an 18 year-old ventured too close the the ledge she fell and was killed. She was buried in the gorge and her grave marker was inscribed with this epitaph:

"Here lies the body of Caroline Todd
Whose soul has lately gone to God;
Ere redemption was too late,
She was redeemed at Devil"s Gate."

Just a few miles to the east we come to Independence Rock, so named for a fur trader's Fourth of July celebration in 1830. This huge rock is one of the most famous of all Oregon Trail landmarks and was a favorite resting place for travelers along the trail. Called the "Great Register of the Desert", more than 5,000 names of early emigrant were carved on this boulder. Between 1842 and 1869, almost a half a million emigrants passed by here on their way to a new life on the American frontier, many of whom documented their passing by carving their names into this important landmark. Here, we also see the remains of the Oregon Trail, which are very hard to make out and we only know they are part of the path because of a marker placed in the road.

We then venture off the highway onto a gravel road that follows the old trail into Casper. Here, we see not only better traces of the old path, but also beautiful scenery and lots of pronghorn antelope.

It's full dark by the time we reach Casper and settle down for a much needed rest.

Friday, September 25, 2009

From Dave's Perspective - The Stanley Hotel Ghost Tour

For the record, although very skeptical of many accounts, I am a believer in the spirit world. Whether it be residual or just outright hauntings, I believe that there are things in this world we just don't understand yet. That's why taking the tour at the Stanley Hotel, reportedly one of the most haunted places in the U.S., was an exhilarating experience.

It helps that Kathy and I both are history buffs. The Stanley is celebrating 100 years after opening in 1909, and for reasons I will attempt to explain later in this blog, it seems to hold on to it's visitors past like a scrap book. The tour starts in the basement tour office with a bit of history on how the Stanley Hotel came to be. While in the office, look for the computer screen that presents a slide show of various pictures from staff and guests that have caught strange images on film. From orbs to full on apparitions these pics are very intriguing, although you have to wonder if some where involved in photo shop..maybe seeing is believing.

From the basement, the tour guide takes you to the lobby for a bit more history, including an exhibit of the Stanley Steamer Car and tales of Earl of Dunraven, said to be involved in the largest U.S land steal. Land that would eventually be sold to F.O. Stanley and his wife for the hotel. You'll also see the Pinion and Music Rooms, both with reported spirits, including that of Mrs. Stanley who is said to play the piano once in a while, as long as no one is in the room. Guess she's shy.

The tour then proceeds upstairs to the second floor with plenty of story's of ghostly encounters, including that of the Chamber Maid who is said to haunt room 217. This room used to be the Presidential Suite and has housed many famous guests, including actor Jim Carey, whom according to the tour guide, left the room after only 3 hours but never explained why.

From there it's upstairs to the 4th floor where back in the day many children played. The guide had plenty of experiences of his own to share about this floor of the hotel, and even treats the guests to tips on how they may experience the spirits for themselves. At least 2 of those touring with us experienced something that could have been a child trying to touch their hand.

After the 4th floor it's down to the basement tunnels, where the tour guide gives an explanation as to why the Stanley could be so haunted. F.O. Stanley didn't want to cut out all the Rock on the mountain, and instead built over it. This is primarily Granite and Quartz, and the guides explanation is that Granite captures sound and energy, and quartz releases them. Those two elements, coupled with a power source upstream from the hotel are why some believe residual hauntings, or place memories, have been reported throughout the hotel in almost every room.

Out of the entire tour, I found the story of how Stephen King came to write The Shining the best. Apparently he was writing a story about a haunted amusement park where the roller coasters would fly off their tracks and eat you, receiving some harsh criticism from friends. He wanted to take some time to think it through, so he and his wife Tabitha took a trip up through Estes Park, into Rocky Mountain National Park. Trailridge road (highway 34) was closed due to weather so they turned around and Stephen decided, since they had time on their hands, that they would check out the Stanley. Long story short, he reportedly experienced several things during his stay, many of which are incorporated into his classic novel. It's a fascinating tale, and if you have never read The Shining, I highly recommend you do before visiting the Hotel. If you're just not into reading, watch the mini series produced by Stephen King from the late 1990's, as it will give you a much closer feel of the novel than the Stanley Kubrick film with Jack Nicholson. Kubrick took too many liberties with the book and the location, not even filming at the Stanley.

For me personally, I found the tour to be very informative and well presented..and yes, I did "feel" something in several areas. Call it a different energy if you want, but I've only had these feelings in places I believe to be haunted. Is it my mind at work? Having been to so many places, haunted and not, I don't think so. I've walked away from many a place telling Kathy that the stories of Ghosts are bunk, but not the Stanley Hotel.

If you want to take the tour, call ahead and make an appointment. I suggest at least a week ahead of time, depending on the time of the year. As of this writing, tickets are $15. You do not have to stay at the Stanley to take the tour, but I recommend getting the full experience. If you have the dough, and they have the availability, try to stay in room 217 or 418 :) Otherwise any room will do. We stayed in the Manor House, an adjacent building to the main hotel, but it's just as historic and has just as many stories.

Legends of America  has more on Estes Park haunts here, and enjoy the many spookie stories already offered with our Ghostly Legends pages!

The Stanley Hotel

Ok, once we finished up Central City, we head north to Estes Park and one of our most anticipated stops -- the Stanley Hotel. Not only does this old hotel have a long and wonderful history, but it is allegedly one of the most haunted hotels in the American West.

The hotel was built in the early 1900's by F.O. Stanley, who created the Stanley Steam Engine -- a steam powered horseless carriage. The majestic Georgian style hotel opened in 1909, catering to the rich and famous. Arriving in Colorado in 1903, Freelan Oscar Stanley (F.O.) and his wife Flora had been sent West by F.O. Stanley’s doctor to seek the fresh mountain air.

Stanley, who suffered tuberculosis, had been advised to not make plans beyond six months. The doctor arranged for the couple to stay in a friend’s cabin in Estes Park for the summer. Immediately, they fell in love with the area and F.O.’s health began to dramatically improve. In 1906, F.O. Stanley began construction on the Stanley Hotel and in 1909, the luxury hotel was complete, with no expense spared. Equipped with running water, electricity and telephones, the only amenity the hotel lacked was heat, as the hotel was designed as a summer resort.

The Stanley Hotel has hosted many “famous” guests including The Unsinkable Molly Brown, John Philip Sousa, Theodore Roosevelt, the Emperor and Empress of Japan, and a variety of Hollywood personalities. And, of course, the Stanley Hotel hosted Stephen King, whose experience inspired his book, “The Shining.”

In addition to its regular guests, the Stanley Hotel is also said to play host to a number of other worldly visitors. The most notable is F.O. Stanley himself who is most often seen in the lobby and the Billiard Room, which was his favorite room when he was still alive. On one such occasion, he was said to have appeared during a tour group’s visit to the Billiard Room, materializing behind a member of the tour. Bartenders at the old hotel also report having seen F.O. stroll through the bar, disappearing when they try to cut him off at the kitchen. Not to be left out, Flora Stanley also haunts the hotel, continuing to entertain guests with her piano playing in the ballroom.

Today, the historic Stanley Hotel is said to continue to host not only the Stanleys, but also a number of other ghosts within its majestic walls. Though we didn't seem to capture any apparitions in our photos on our tour, we did have a few funny feelings as we went along the "ghost tour." That having been said, our readers have often found anomolies in our photos that we didn't at first see, so perhaps, there is something there.

For more on the Stanley Hotel, click HERE. And, stay tuned, as we will be adding a whole lot more of the hotel's history and hauntings on Legends of America.

In the meantime, Dave has written a play-by-play of our ghost tour, which provides a whole lot more information about what the hotel has to say about its history and hauntings. Coming up next HERE.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Central City and Nevadaville

Early, we get up and enjoy our "free" breakfast and though there is a scattering of snow on the ground, its plenty good for exploring the area. We begin with Nevadaville, which sits just outside Central City.


This old mining camp got its start in 1859 soon after John H. Gregory found the first lode gold in the area. The camp boomed quickly with miners working the Burroughs and Kansas lodes. One of the most important mining settlements in the area, it once boasted about 4,000 residents. In November, 1861, the town was mostly destroyed by a fire but most of it was rebuilt. It continued to prosper until about 1900, after which the population declined sharply. Today, this small community of just about six residents still displays its more prosperous days in mining ruins, crumbling structures and a few intact buildings.

On May 6, 1859, John H. Gregory followed Clear Creek upstream looking for gold. As he pulled a low tree branch out of the way and began to pan the creek, he discovered what was later called the "The Gregory Lode". Located in a gulch between what later became Central City and Black Hawk, he staked the first of many mining claims in the vicinity. Immediately prospectors flocked to the region and within two months, the population grew to 10,000 people seeking their fortunes. The Clear Creek Mining District was so rich with ore it became known as the “Richest Square Mile on Earth.”

When the town was just three months old, it already had some 300 buildings and a population of nearly 3,000. By August, 1860, the easy pickings were over and mining for gold became more difficult. As the depth of the mines increased, extracting gold from the ore became more complex. Due to the primitive technology, as little as 1/3 of the assayed amount of the ore was recovered. Other problems contributed to an economic slow-down in the area, including the Civil War and frequent Indian attacks on wagon trains crossing the Plains. The miners were becoming a rowdy bunch and in 1861, Central City recorded 217 fistfights, 97 revolver fights, 11 Bowie knife fights and 1 dogfight. Amazingly, no one was killed.

On May 21, 1874, a fire started in Dostal Alley, behind Main Street. The fire destroyed about 150 buildings in the downtown area. Afterwards, the community rebuilt its buildings in brick. By 1880, Central City, with a population of 2,547, began a period of relative stability that lasted about twenty years. However, Colorado was also growing and the Little Kingdom of Gilpin was no longer as influential as it had been. From the early 1880s until the early 1900s, Central City was merely a good mining town. Central's "boom" days were over.

In the early 1900s, gold production again declined as the mines were getting so deep that it had become too expensive. By 1920, the city supported only about 500 people and was quickly on its way to becoming a ghost town. However, in 1991, a statewide referendum legalized low stakes gambling, saving not only Central City from becoming a total ghost town, but also Blackhawk and Cripple Creek to the south. Though gambling has changed the atmosphere of these old mining camps, Central City still displays dozens of historic buildings and mining remains can still be found dotting the area.

Beyond Central City, we make our way northward to Estes Park, where we book into the allegedly haunted Stanley Hotel and are scheduled for a ghost tour. Stay tuned.

For more on Central City, click HERE.

Leadville, Colorado


Moving along, we make our way westward towards Leadville and it begins to snow. Aye, yi, yi -- the last time I was here in September, I didn't get to see Leadville because it snowed so much the roads were closed. But we're going anyway. Mosying through Buena Vista, we stop for gas and the temperature is hovering around 30 degrees but the sun begins to shine and by the time we reach Leadville, it's out full force. Then it snows, then the sun comes out, then it snows some more. But, we get to see the sights and though bundled up, it is beautiful.

Leadville, Colorado, often called "The Two Mile High City" and "Cloud City," is situated at 10,430 feet, and we probably climbed another 1,000 feet exploring the mining remains outside this quaint little town. Designated as a National Historic Landmark District, Leadville is comprised of seventy square blocks of Victorian architecture and is adjoined by the twenty square mile Leadville mining district, where many old mines and cabins dot the landscape.

The settlement began in 1859, when gold was discovered in California Gulch. However, the placer deposits quickly played out and even though the Printer Boy Mine successfully opened in 1868, the area was almost deserted by the 1870's. However, in 1875 a metallurgist named Alvinius Woods and his partner William Stevens discovered that the local sands which had made sluicing gold so difficult were composed of carbonate of lead with an extremely high silver content.

Thousands of prospectors again flooded the gulch which, eventually led to the founding of Leadville. In January 1878, the city of Leadville was incorporated and by 1879, the population had reached 18,000. In the summer of 1878, Horace Tabor struck it rich after grubstaking two miners on a small claim. Quickly he became the alleged Silver King of Leadville.

By 1893, the estimated population reached almost 60,000. At it's very height, Leadville was doomed to become a ghost town once again, when in 1893, the United States moved to the gold standard, which created a great depression in the area and resulted in the closing of most of the silver mines. All of the smelters closed, with the exception of one, which became the great Arkansas Valley Smelter, the largest in Colorado, which continued to operate until the 1960's. By 1896, the area mines had produced more than 200 million dollars in ore.

One of America's last remaining authentic mining towns, Leadville has a wealth of historical attractions, including the federally chartered National Mining Hall of Fame Museum, the Healy House & Dexter Cabin State Museum, and the Tabor Opera House.

Then we're off to Central City, and along the way, it begins to snow again, badly in some parts. By the time we reach this old boom and bust town, it is blanketed in snow. Then we become two of the worst customers known to the casino hotel that we stay in, as we've booked their bargain basement room, that comes with $20 in food coupons, and gamble not a single nickle -- hehe. Tomorrow, we tour Central City before making our way north to Estes Park to stay in the extremely haunted Stanley Hotel.

For lots more on Leadville, click HERE.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cripple Creek and Victor, Colorado

Cripple Creek

Some 38 miles southwest of Colorado Springs, sits the historic gold camp of Cripple Creek. In December, 1890 a man named Bob Womack discovered gold here and in the summer of 1891, struck a very rich vein and hurried to Colorado Springs to celebrate. In a drunken stupor the foolish man sold his mine for $500 cash. Word then spread and men began to stake claims all over a six square mile area surrounding what would soon be the Cripple Creek Gold Camp. Tents and cabins began to spring up and a mining district was organized in the fall of 1891. The creek, which flowed through the camp, had already been named by area cowboys, because so many cattle were lamed while crossing the rocky stream. The camp took its name from the creek.

By the time the town was officially incorporated in 1892, there were already over 5,000 residents. The next year, two big mines in the district were discovered and developed, and with the nation’s change to the gold standard in the same year, thousands of silver miners were thrown out of work, flocking to Cripple Creek. The deeper the mines were developed, the richer the veins became. Some of these deep developed mines were three to six miles away and soon the camp of Victor sprang up with many of the miners moving closer to work.

Like most booming gold camps, Cripple Creek wasted no time establishing dozens of businesses, including a number of saloons and brothels. At first the houses of “ill-repute” were located near the many saloons along Bennett Avenue, the main street of the settlement. However, to keep the peace between the business establishment and the “ladies,” the “girls” and their establishments one block south to Myers Avenue, which soon became known as the Red Light District.

Pearl de Vere, the most famous madam of Cripple Creek arrived in the Boom Camp in 1893. Soon, she would build the most opulent Gentlemen’s Parlor in the American West. Humorously called the "Old Homestead;" Pearl’s going rate was $250 a night, at a time when $3 a day was considered a good wage for a miner. When she died several years later, her funeral was the biggest that Cripple Creek had ever seen.

Soon, however, the gold would begin to play out and by 1920 there were only about 40 mines operating and production had been reduced to four million dollars. The 1930s saw a brief revival of mining, but this too waned and by 1945 there were less than 20 mines operating with only about one million dollars in gold produced each year.

Determined not to become a ghost town, the citizens of Cripple Creek began to promote its rich history to potential tourists. The Imperial Hotel began showing melodramas in the Gold Bar Room Theatre in the 1940s. In 1953 the Cripple Creek District Museum opened in the old Midland Terminal depot. In 1967 the Cripple Creek Narrow Gauge railroad began operation. However, by the 1980s tourism began to drop in Cripple Creek and other historic towns of Colorado. As a result, Colorado passed a law to authorize limited stakes gambling in Cripple Creek, Central City and Black Hawk, saving these old towns from total extinction.

Just seven miles from Cripple Creek on the side of Battle Mountain is Victor, Colorado. Filled with vintage buildings and gold mining structures, this semi-ghost town is one of the most preserved mining camps in Colorado. Before the town was even officially platted in 1893 it had already become known as the City of Mines because the largest and richest gold mines of the Cripple Creek Mining District were located on Battle Mountain just above the camp.

The first gold was discovered in Victor in 1891 by Winfield Scott Stratton who soon began the Independence Mine. In addition to the Independence Mine, other mines, including the Portland and Ajax Mines, were doing a brisk business just north of Victor on Battle Mountain, called the “richest hill on earth. And, in the very center of town the Woods Brothers, who were excavating the foundation for the much needed Victor Hotel in 1894, discovered a rock that was rich in ore. The Woods brothers wasted no time in finding another lot for the hotel and began to build the Gold Coin Mine at Diamond and Fifth Streets, which would become one of the richest in the area, producing more than $50,000 per month in gold ore.

In just a few years, Victor had developed into a town that rivaled its sister but larger city, Cripple Creek, and an old saying began, “ Cripple Creek gets the glory, but Victor has the gold.” At its peak, over 500 mines dotted the landscape surrounding Victor and some 50,000 people called the area home. But, Victor's days of prosperity ended in the early 1900’s when the vast majority of the gold was panned out or too expensive to get to. In the end, more than 22 million tons of gold had been taken from the area's many mines.
Next stops - Rocky Mountain National Park, and north to Wyoming.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Colorado in September

We're setting off for a long trip from Warsaw, Missouri across the state of Kansas, with the ultimate destination of the 50th birthday party of a good friend in Colorado Springs. Along the way, we've got to make quick stops at virtually every little Kansas town to get a picture or two for our Legends of Kansas site, before logging some 480 miles to our first destination -- my dad's home in Ulysses, Kansas.

From Kingman, Kansas we follow the Cannonball Stage Route, which once connected the railroad to towns across southwestern Kansas. Established by the flamboyant and colorful, Donald R. "Cannonball" Green in 1876, the line ran through Pratt to Coldwater and later to Greensburg, Kansas, a town he helped found in 1886. Green's stage line served areas not reached by the railroad, and for a few years carried the mail from Wichita to Kingman. Known for their speed, Green's coaches were pulled by teams of six or eight horses which were changed every eight to ten miles. More than a driver, Green was an advisor and teacher, sharing with passengers his knowledge of southwestern Kansas and the prairie landscape. As the railroads advanced, Green moved his stage service west but stage demand soon dwindled. In 1898 he took a claim in Oklahoma Territory when the Cherokee Strip opened. Although Green also served in the Kansas legislature, he was best known for his stage route between Kingman and Greensburg, the Cannonball Highway, which became U.S. Highway 54.

Continuing on, we make our way through the almost ghost town of Ford, Kansas, and on westward through numerous small farming communities, to arrive exhausted in Ulysses, Kansas.

After a good night's rest, we head north to Lakin to follow the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail into Colorado. This path of the Santa Fe Trail continued to follow the Arkansas River through Gray, Finney, Kearny and Hamilton Counties of Kansas. Though it was farther than the Cimarron Cutoff, it had continuing access to water and was not as prone to Indian attacks as the shorter route through the southwest corner of Kansas and the Oklahoma panhandle.

Following the River Road westward out of Lakin, we soon come to “Indian Mound” an important landmark on this portion of the Santa Fe Trail. It was one of the most historic spots between Pawnee Rock in Kansas and Bent’s Fort in Colorado. During those days, it was visible for many miles, but due to natural and man-made erosion it is not as high today as it was a century ago. Southeast of Indian Mound was Bluff Station, a stagecoach and express station where food and fresh horses were kept from trail riders and coach drivers before the railroad was built.

South of Indian Mound on the south side of the Arkansas River was Chouteau’s Island, named for famous fur trader Auguste Pierre Chouteau. Though it has long since disappeared due to erosion by the Arkansas River, it was once an important landmark on the trail. It was near here in the spring of 1816 that Auguste P. Chouteau's hunting party were traveling east with a winter's catch of furs when they were attacked near the Arkansas River by 200 Pawnee Indians. The men retreated to Chouteau’s Island to resist the attack and beat off the Battle of Chouteau's Island.

We continue along the trail through Hamilton County, Kansas into Colorado and take a quick tour through Camp Amache, a Japanese Internment Camp during World War II. Then, back on the trail, we wind through Holly and Granada to Lamar and the old post of Fort Lyon. Also known as Fort Wise and Fort Las Animas, Colorado, the fort existed on the Colorado eastern plains until 1867. The fort was known as Fort Wise until 1862, having been named after a southern Confederate state's governor. However, after the Civil War, it was renamed for General Nathaniel Lyon, who was killed in the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri, in 1861. The post is best known as having been the staging point for the Sand Creek Massacre led by Colonel John Chivington in 1864, in which some 150 Cheyenne Indians were slaughtered as they were making their way to their new Oklahoma reservation.

The army abandoned Fort Lyon in 1897 and in 1906, it became a U.S. Navy Hospital. In 1922, it became a Veteran's Hospital and remained so until 2001 when it was closed and turned over to the state of Colorado for conversion to a minimum security prison. The Fort Lyon National Cemetery, which began burials in 1907, remains open.

We continue on through Los Animas to the historic site of Boggsville, an old settlement founded in 1862. A National Historic Site today, this old homstead site on the Santa Fe Trail was once visited by such men as Clay Allison, Chief Black Kettle, and Wild Bill Hickok, and was the last home of famous scout and explorer, Kit Carson.

We forge on to La Junta and Bent’s Fort for our last historic stop of the day. This old post, established by William and Charles Bent, along with Ceran St. Vrain, was built to trade with the Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians and trappers in 1833. For much of its 16-year history, the fort was the only major permanent white settlement on the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and New Mexico. During the war with Mexico in 1846, the fort became a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny's "Army of the West." Disasters and disease caused the fort's abandonment in 1849. Archeological excavations and original sketches, paintings and diaries were used in the fort's reconstruction in 1976. Today, the reconstructed fort is designated a National Historic Site.

We then make our way on to Colorado Springs, where for the next few days, we lay off the "work" and enjoy good friends. Afterwards, we're on to Cripple Creek, Leadville, Central City, and the Rocky Mountain National Park.