Smoky Hill Trail

(Frank) Hey, we’re back again. And still no coffee, but hey you know.
(Deb) Doggone, the service around here, I’m telling you what! (Frank)
So…let’s see you have another story that you want to talk about. (Deb)
You know I have images of roads all over my house. And have just always
been drawn to roads. I love to travel. There’s nothing that tickles me
more than just getting on the road. And of course, Kansas is blessed with
roads and trails. And you’ve done a lot of research on some of those
roads. And of course, before they were highways, like I-70 they were
trails that were military roads, there were all kinds of commerce trails,
the Santa Fe Trail and all this good stuff, the military roads. Before
that they were Indian paths and buffalo trails, so all those trails just
keep evolving. And one that we’re gonna take a look at today is the
Smokey Hill Trail, which a lot of people may not remember. But those of
you who are western movie fans, when you would see all those movies with
the stage coach attacks, you know they were always portraying the stage
would get robbed, that was the Butterfield Overland Despatch in many
cases. And so we’ll talk about that today. The Smoky Hill Trail had been
used as early as 1858. It was 500 miles long but it was still 100 miles
shorter than the other routes across the prairies to Denver and could
shave one to two weeks off the travel time. It earned a bad reputation
early on, though. The road was not clearly marked west of Fort Riley and
there was little water for the last 130 miles. Travelers often arrived
reciting ghastly stories of danger, hunger, and death along the
Starvation Trail. In 1865 David Butterfield saw the Smoky Hill Trail as
an opportunity to create a thriving business. Butterfield was born in
Maine but was fascinated with the West. After the Civil War he moved to
Atchison, where he began to solicit financial backing to bring his dream
to reality. Thus was born Butterfield’s Overland Dispatch or the BOD.
Freight wagons and stages could reach Denver from Atchison in twelve
days. The cost for traveling aboard a BOD coach, $175 per person one-way,
was not considered extravagant. Eventually 39 stations were established
and manned along the trail west of Fort Riley at an average interval of
about 12 miles. Some of these were home stations where passengers could
get meals at an added cost of from 50 cents to one dollar per meal. The
trip was fairly comfortable from Atchison to Fort Ellsworth but from
there westward the terrain was rougher. In addition, Cheyennes and
Arapahos took exception to this invasion of homeland and began to attack
coaches and stations. Initially there was no military protection west of
Fort Ellsworth, but as the attacks increased the government established
forts along the trail. Fort Fletcher was established and Camp Pond Creek,
later renamed Fort Wallace, was established near the Kansas/Colorado
state line. Losing money, Butterfield sold out to Ben Holladay, who was
running a similar business along the Platte River Road. Tribes continued
harassing the travelers but it would be the coming of the railroad that
ended the stage and freight traffic along the Smoky. The Smoky Hill Trail
Association holds its annual conference October 16 – 18 in Atchison, and
among the speakers are Jerry DeBaker, Butterfield’s descendant. Visit the
group’s website for more information.
(Frank) So anyway we have to say goodbye. So, I’m Frank. (Deb) It was
tough without the coffee though. I’m Deb. (Frank) And we’ll see you
somewhere… (Both) Around Kansas.
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