Several weeks ago I wrote about the Republican river valley and the Milford Lake. While I still have that information out of my file, I wanted to write a little about the Smoky Hill River.
As I said, Dan and I grew up between these two rivers. As children, we did not realize the history surrounding the rivers. The Smoky Hill River runs from the west to east, ending at Junction City where it joins the Republican River to form the Kansas River.
With the discovery of gold near Pikes Peak in 1859, a shorter route to Colorado was established following the Smoky Hill River and called the Smoky Hill Trail. The Trail, surveyed in 1858, was considered the most dangerous crossing of Western Kansas because of repeated conflicts with the “hostiles.” When David A Butterfield established the Butterfield Overland Despatch, in 1865, Indian raids were common with many of the stations destroyed and men killed. A very interesting account of one raid is found in the Raynesford Papers. The BOD only ran two years, with the Union Pacific Railway following almost the same route in 1867. However, once long wagon trains that previously formed at Council Grove to follow the Santa Fe Trail now formed at Junction City to follow the Smoky Hill Trail. It should be noted that familiar names of the day were present to protect travelers, such as General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, and Buffalo Bill Cody.
Dan grew up less than a mile from the river and about six miles from Junction City. His Dad spoke of ruts through one of his pastures. The first stop on the route was at a spring that still flows near his home. Last year we received permission to visit the area and the picture I posted was taken of the Smoky Hill River. Years ago, Dan showed me a little head stone near a fence row in their pasture. We have since not been able to find it. However, we thought it might have been a victim of the Trail.