Thursday, September 26, 2013

Smoky Hill Trail

Statue marking the end of the Smoky Hill Trail
     The East Colfax neighborhood has roots dating back to the late 1850s, when a branch of Smoky Hill Trail brought gold seekers arriving by horse and wagon on what today is East Colfax Avenue. Over time, farms and houses appeared along the trail, which soon became known as the Kansas City Road, because it connected the early village of Denver to the nearest big city to the east.
     In 1858, gold was discovered in the Kansas Territory east of the Rocky Mountains (now Colorado), and when the news reached the Kansas City area, a trail was needed to travel across the plains. What was once an old Indian trail that ran along the Smoky Hill River became the most direct route to the gold fields in 1859, and it was named the Smoky Hill Trail. There were cutoff routes to Denver from both the Oregon and the Santa Fe Trails, but the Smoky Hill Trail was the most traveled; it was also the most dangerous of the three trails because of the possibility of Indian attacks and the scarcity of water.
     Emigrants using the trail outfitted in Leavenworth, Kansas City, Abilene or Salina and followed the Smoky Hill River to southwest Colorado near Old Cheyenne Wells where the headwaters of the Smoky Hill began. From there, the Smoky Hill trail divided into two trails, a north and a south trail, both of which went to Hugo and then to Lake (just south of Limon). At this point the North Trail continued on a route similar to present day Interstate 70 / U.S. 40 coming into Denver from the east; the South Trail went to more of a western route to present day Kiowa and then northwest to Denver. It is not hard to imagine how desolate this area was at that time. If you have ever taken the Kiowa road to Denver from Limon, you will know that, even today, there is not much of anything out there for miles and miles.
     A third section of the trail, called the Middle Smoky Hill Trail, went west from Lake, then turned northwest to Denver where it met the South Smoky Hill Trail. This portion of the trail became known as the “Starvation Trail” because of the gruesome story of the Blue Brothers who resorted to cannibalism in 1859. Daniel Blue’s survival story was written by Henry Villard, a newspaper correspondent who joined in the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1859, which appeared in the Cincinnati “Daily Commercial” on June 3.


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