Kansas’ Hell on Wheels

(Deb) Welcome back to Around Kansas. I’m Deb Goodrich. (Frank) I’m Frank Chaffin. (Deb) And he is my handsome co-host, Frank Chaffin. So, Frank a couple of weeks ago, you know I got to go down to Oklahoma City for the Wrangler Awards at the Cowboy Hall of Fame and while I was there I got to meet the riders and the star of the, I think it’s a series on AMC, Hell on Wheels. (Frank) Hell on Wheels, yea. (Deb) And… (Frank) Great series. (Deb) It’s a fantastic series and of course, the term “hell on wheels” came from where ever the end of the track was being laid while they were building the railroad. So, Hell on Wheels moved literally, as the railroad moved west. But so many of these sites were in Kansas of course, as they were building the railroad. And after, the Civil War was over and the railroad just takes over, it’s the center of the news. It’s the heart of the nation. It’s everything. (Frank) And the series is going to start up again here, I believe this summer. (Deb) Yes. (Frank) So, look for it. It is a fantastic series. Of course, there’s a lot of drama. But there is a lot of true history in the show. (Deb) Yea. And I was visiting with Julie O’Brien who is one of the writers and she was talking about that. Just taking the most dramatic events from history and how they use those in the show. Of course you take literary license with this. It’s just fantastic. So, I want to share with you our own Hell on Wheels in Kansas. So much of Kansas history, and that of the West, rides on the rails and trails. Commerce and trade between the East and Santa Fe guided the course of settlement. The railroad inched westward, supplanting the stage coaches, steam boats and mule teams that had carried passengers and supplies. As it moved, the end of the line was called, for a time at least, Hell On Wheels, wherever it was located. In June 1866 the Union Pacific Railroad, Eastern Division, arrived at Junction City just west of Fort Riley. The town became at once the first of several prairie ports which dispensed freight and mail from the various railheads to connect with the Santa Fe Trail. By the summer of 1867, the tracks reached Fort Harker which had changed its name from Fort Ellsworth, and its location a mile north. Thus, Fort Harker became the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, taking the title from Junction City. Fort Harker’s hold on the eastern terminus of the Santa Fe Trail was short lived. By October 1867 trains were running on a regular schedule to the newly-established town of Hays City, and immediately the little municipality near Fort Hays assumed the title of the Santa Fe Trail’s eastern terminus. In the meantime, warehouses were dissembled, loaded onto flat cars, and transported to Hays City where they were hastily reassembled to receive the incoming and outgoing freight. A freighter said, Hundreds of freighting outfits have come to Hays City with the arrival of the railroad, and soon the surrounding country looked like a large tent city, except covered wagons took the place of tents. He continued, During those busy days, firms remained open both day and night. Those busy days in Hays City came to a close in June 1868 when the railroad arrived at the little town of Phil Sheridan, twelve miles east of Fort Wallace. The end-of-the-tracks town located on the edge of a ravine became at once the home of the ever-present commission houses where their warehouses were quickly reassembled and business was continued within a matter of days. From Sheridan, as it was most often known, freight was shipped on a new 120-mile road through Fort Wallace and on to Fort Lyon located on the so-called Mountain Route of the Santa Fe Trail. Sheridan took on the appearance of its predecessors, Ellsworth and Hays City. Said our young freighter, In many ways, Sheridan was like Hays City. It had much the same Main Street, much of the same saloons and dance halls, and houses of prostitution. During this period, the laying of tracks ceased because of financial troubles. Consequently, the railhead remained at Sheridan until 1869. The railroad company, reorganized and renamed the Kansas Pacific Railway, pushed westward to Kit Carson in Colorado Territory in 1870. This town, said the freighter, was different from the others. It was decent.