Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail

Last updated: January 9, 2008

The Lusk Herald
March 23, 1950

ISABEL M. WILLSON WRITES OF OLD CHEYENNE-DEADWOOD TRAIL

This was a white man's road, made for business purposes. It took its way daringly across unmarked plains, over swift and treacherous streams, and among heavily-timbered mountains.

In 1868 the Union Pacific Ry. was completed, and Camp Carlin was established as a great Federal supply depot. From it supplies were freighted to the different forts and settlements, scattered out over this great new country, pathetically few, alarmingly isolated, and far removed from the necessities of life. Bull-trains were "whacked" along over the Cheyenne-Deadwood road, hauling flour and bacon, calomel and overalls, engineer's transits, sometimes gay silk handkerchiefs and mouth-organs, in 1870.

Fort Laramie was one of the oldest forts In Wyoming. It was originally called Fort William, after William Sublette, and was built in 1834 by Smith, Jackson & Sublette, Robert Campbell bought it and re-named it Laramie. In 1836 the fort was purchased by the American Fur Company, and its history is replete with adventure, romance, with military, business, and social prominence, more so perhaps than any other of these pioneer outposts. It existed before either Cheyenne or Denver were even thought of.

Cheyenne became a small settlement in 1868, and the road from there to Fort Laramie was made soon after, the Fort being much the more important settlement of the two.

Gold was discovered at Deadwood about 1874, causing a great increase in activity over all roads leading to that point. In spite of the animosity on the part of the Indian tribes, and many raids and massacres along the way, the new road north was pushed on towards the Black Hills, the mail route extended and a few stations were maintained, as Rawhide Buttes, Silver Springs, and Hat Creek stations. A state line was regularly started over this wild frontier road in 1876, by Luke Voorhees, one of the history-makers of Wyoming.

Treasure-boxes containing large quantities of gold from Deadwood, and government gold for the payroll of the miliary forces stationed at the forts, were carried in this way, and many passengers crowded the stagecoach. The silk-hatted man from Massachusetts and the Chinese mine laborer, the reckless adventurer and the tin-horn gambler, all elbowed their way into the Black Hills Stage. Good old George Lathrop, in his young days, was one of the stage drivers, all of whom were men of intrepid courage, indifferent alike to winter blizzards, spring floods, and the constant menace of attack by hostile Indians.

Cheyenne was made primarily by the U.P.R.R., which was the greatest pioneer that ever crossed this country.

Leaving Cheyenne for the north, the stage-line passed Camp Carlin 1 1/2 miles away, the great depot of government supplies. Then came Fort Russell, the nine mile ranch, Swartz's road house, Goodwin's, Bard's, and Snow's ranches, Bear Springs, then the "Chug," and Chug Springs, Kelley's place, Point of Rocks, Hunton's ranch, and the Eagles' Nest, then across the Laramie River to Fort Laramie. Continuing north from the fort, the trail crossed the North Platte, which was bridged at this point previous to 1880.

From there the stagecoach swept on across sage-brush flats past Montgomery's place, across Muskrat Creek, on to the Rawhide Buttes Station-postoffice-store-hotel, run by Russell Thorpe, Sr. Going north again the traveller passed Demmon's Silver Springs ranch, then Jack Madden's at Silver Cliff, where the mine was opened up in '80. Six years later the F.E.& M.V. Ry. ran trains east and west through this point, and located a town at the Cliff, but a year or so later the town, at least all the buildings were destroyed by a terrific windstorm, and was rebuilt at a site a mile east of the old town, on Frank Lusk's holdings, and was re-christened Lusk.

From Madden's ranch and the stone barn some of us remember, the stage-road crossed the "Breaks" to Charlie Hecht's Hat Creek Station. And Hat Creek Station is a really historic spot. A "fort" was built there in early days, and a U.S. Signal Station maintained there for a time, also a telegraph and express office, and a postoffice. It was one of the highlights of the trip to Deadwood to alight at the hat Creek Store, replenish the inner man with whatever refreshment could be obtained, somewhat later or perhaps to "bed down" on a couple of "corner-wads" comfortably spread out on the floor or a vacant counter, and with another gaily colored "snoogan" as cover and the trusty gun, loaded and ready for instant action, the weary traveller would snatch what sleep he could. At present there is little to be seen at the site of Hat Creek fort that would recall those rare old days. But there is a lovely monument of native stones mounting a handsome bronze tablet that briefly tells the historic tale. This marker was placed by the Luke Voorhees Chapter, D.A.R. July 4th, 1927.

Nobody knows how many unmarked graves are in the cemetery at Hat Creek Station now obliterated, covered by a kindly growth of wild roses. One old-timer says there were as many as 75 graves, "and not one natural death among them. All died with their boots on, either killed by Indians in the raids near by, or in some other violent way." And Wyoming's native roses have grown there, Nature's tribute at those piteous graves.

Beyond Hat Creek we find on the old maps McMurphy's ranch, then J. Howard Ford's ranch near the crossing of the Cheyenne River. Then came Beaver Creek and a long lonely stretch untenanted by white men, till we reach Jenny's stockade. Naturally we think, "Well, at last there is a woman in it," but no, this Jenny was a man, a stalwart and enterprising one at that, for Mr. Jenny built and owned the stockade in pioneer times. The Cheyenne-Deadwood road, after crossing Little Beaver, ran northward along the east side of the stream, then turned northwest to avoid a densely-timbered spur of the Black Hills, through the pass east of Inyankara Mt. It passed Black's ranch, thence ran west of Sundance Mt. north of which it turned into the old Montana road which it followed southeast through Spearfish to the city of Deadwood.

We have made no mention of the old government farm on this road, fifteen miles north of Fort Laramie, so called because of an attempt made by a few of the soldiers from the fort, to raise some potatoes and other vegetables. A small area was ploughed up and planted, with some result.

In 1887 the stageline on this route was discontinued. Railroads carried practically all the transportation of passengers, mail, and freight. As the gold fever died down Deadwood ceased to attract so much travel, and now the old Trail, this "White Man's road," seems in danger of being forgotten, relegated to a place among the shadows of the past. Shall we let it be lost? the old Forts? the old ranches? the graves hidden under the wild rosebushes? May it not rather be commemorated with honor, for it was the white man's road when roads wee few, and did its part in the opening up of new teritory, and assisted in the settling up and developing all Eastern Wyoming. Over it traveled men of great resources, of staying qualities, history-makers, who have been back of the constructive forces which have made the state what it is.




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