The Saratoga Sun -

By Liz Wood 

Trekking along pioneer trails


Editor’s note: This is the first of a series of stories about pioneer trails passing through the Platte Valley and Wyoming.

Sagebrush has grown over much of the evidence of the pioneers crossing the bluff towards the Platte River.

Traveling 14 to 20 miles per day, the pioneers migration across the high desert must have seemed endless 145 years ago.

Bob Randall, one of the historians to talk Saturday explained some of the pioneers traveled north of Elk Mountain, some through Pass Creek and others traveled through Oberg Pass.

Pass Creek is between Elk Mountain and Coad Mountain; Oberg pass is between Coad Mountain and Pennock.

The Overland Trail was originally an Indian Trail. Randall explained to 38 people who went on the Emigrant’s Crossing Trek Saturday.

Early trappers probably travelled though the area. In 1825, explorer William Ashley came through what became known as the Overland Trail. In 1835 John Fremont traveled on the trail.

In 1843 Fremont was on his second expedition traveling across the country, when he traveled north of Elk Mountain and following the Overland Trail, Randall explained.

On his return, Fremont went through Little Snake River Valley, Battle and Encampment.

The Cherokee traveled the trail in 1849 on their way to the California gold fields. Randall pointed out that in some of the caravans that passed through there were only nine Cherokees in the whole group, and yet the trails still retain the name of Cherokee Trail, Randall said.

The main Cherokee Trail came down through Pass Creek to the Overland Trail and Emigrant’s Crossing.

Randall said there were several Cherokee Trails; one branched around Elk Mountain, which at the time was called Medicine Bow Butte, and traveled down to the Overland Trail. Another group went through Pass Creek and came down through Lake Creek.

One more group came out of North Park and travelled through the Riverside and Encampment area to Twin Groves. Randall said he followed that trail in the 1960s and at that time, it had gone through the Willford Ranch.

During his exploration of the trail, Randall discovered a coal-oil lamp with purple glass.

In 1850 it was suggested to Brigham Young that the Overland Trail be used by the Mormons because the Oregon Trail was becoming so crowded, but the advice was never taken.

In 1858, Randolph Marcy drove 1,500 head of cattle across the trail and through Bridger Pass. Randall said he wondered at what point would a person call it a road, rather than a trail with the cattle and emigrants coming through.

The Overland Trail started in Atchison, Kan. and traveled through Julesburg, Colo. At Julesburg, it split, with the southern route to Denver and the northern route came up to the North Platte River. At the time, it was called the North Fork of the Platte River.

The trail went through Virginia Dale, Colo., Tie Siding, Wyo., and north of Elk Mountain, Randall said. He said he wondered why they did not travel through Pass Creek. Randall speculated that the route north of Elk Mountain must have been a safer route.

Once the pioneers reached the Platte River Crossing they would go through Sage Creek and Bridgers Pass and eventually join the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger.

In 1861, Ben Holliday had loaned money to the stage line on the Overland Trail. The line was called the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company. Randall said the employees had a different name for it, “COCPP — clean out of cash and poor pay”.

Holliday ended up foreclosing on the company, when it could not repay the money Holliday had loaned.

What was important for Holliday at that time was the mail contract, Randall said. In 1862, the postmaster general insisted the mail contract be moved to the Cherokee Trail and Holliday agreed. The contract was worth $1 million the first year and $846,000 the next year.

In 1864, it was recorded by Dr. Finfrock at Fort Halleck that 4,274 wagons, 50,000 stock and 17,584 men and “c” passed through. Randall did not know what the “c” stood for. It could have been children and the men could have stood for men and women.

in 1862, Fort Bridger was built to protect the emigrants, the stage line and the mail route, Randall said.

1865 became to be known as the bloody year on the plains. Holliday lost $375,000 because of the Indian depredation, Randall said. In June and July 1865, 75 people were killed on the Overland Trail and 1,000 head of stock were run off.

Also in 1865 on Oberg Pass, 30 to 40 wagons and estimated 100 to 150 people were completely wiped out by Indians, Randall said. There was very little trace of them, but early settlers would find a wheel or a skull.

Randall said the Indians would seem to attack for a year, and then ease off for a year. The odd number years such as 1863, 1865 and 1867 were bad years for Indian attacks.

In 1866, Fort Halleck was closed and dismantled and Holliday sold the Overland Stage Line to Wells Fargo.

Holliday must have been sharp, Randall said. He sold the line for $300,000 in Wells Fargo stock, $1,500,000 in cash and other considerations.

In 1867, according to Dan Kinnaman’s book “A Little Piece of Wyoming”, April to August, Indians took 357 head of stock, burned 12 of the 31 stations in Wyoming and destroyed three coaches, wounded many passengers and killed 13 employees.

Holliday had gotten out of the business the year before this happened.

In 1869, the railroad was completed, which distracted the Indians from the emigrants and concentrated the next threat, the transcontinental railroad.

The Overland Trail continued to be used by people who were moving stock or couldn’t afford to travel on the train, but eventually the use of the trail was discontinued.

Randall summarized that there were so many trails, because the guides had trails they preferred and it would depend on which guide the pioneers had.


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