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An Old Trail Plowed Under Hays to Dodge

by Minnie Dubbs Millbrook

Autumn 1977 (Vol. 43, No. 3), pages 264 to 281
Transcribed by Tod Roberts; digitized with permission of
the Kansas Historical Society.
NOTE: The numbers in brackets are links to footnotes for this text.


AT THE END of the Civil War, the United States again turned its energies and burgeoning industrial might back to peace time concerns. The course of empire must take its western way; civilization must not be stalled; the Indian problem must be solved and the whole continent must be settled. The nation must be tied together, East and West, by railroads.

Congress was not unmindful of the coming confrontation with the Western Indians. New cavalry regiments were recruited and money was allotted for the strengthening of the Western army posts and some of the best generals were allotted to the Western military departments. Kansas was to have one of the railroads and although the guarding of the surveyors and track layers laid an extra burden on the small military forces, Gen. William T. Sherman felt the railroads had "more than a usual claim on us for protection, because . . . they aid us materially in our military operation by transporting troops and stores rapidly across a belt of land hitherto only passed in summer by slow trains drawn by oxen dependent on the grass for food. . . ." [1]

In the spring of 1867 Gen. Winfield S. Hancock marched west from Fort Riley with a force amounting to 1,400 men including units of the Seventh cavalry, one of the new regiments. He also had some artillery -- the whole to impress the Indian who heretofore had probably never seen as many as a hundred troopers together. Certainly no tribe could assemble a mighty force like Hancock's. But the Indians and particularly the Cheyennes who claimed the lands the railroad would cross, were not impressed. They were not even willing to give a serious look at the great army and when in their haste to get away they killed a few station keepers on the trail, Hancock retaliated by burning the village they had deserted. History has always faulted Hancock for his lack of finesse and the consequent carnage and plunder in which the Indians engaged the rest of the summer. Though the campaign was militarily a failure, the westward advancing railroad was already relieving the army's transportation problems.

In his marching back and forth from post to post, bent on talking to the chiefs of all the tribes that hunted in western Kansas, Hancock, old quartermaster that he was, made many recommendations concerning the military installations and supply arrangements. Both Fort Harker and Fort Dodge must be rebuilt and Fort Hays was to be moved 17 miles northwest to a location adjacent to the railroad survey. Hancock saw this new Fort Hays as an important point in the army's supply system. He wrote to General Sherman:

My impression is that the real route of travel for emigrants hereafter will be from Fort Hays or Harker (most probably from Hays) directly across to some point a little west of Dodge, crossing Walnut Creek and the branches of Pawnee Fork, where the country affords excellent grass, good running water, plenty of wood, good roads -- wood, water, and grass at convenient intervals.

Pawnee Fork and Walnut Creek would have to be bridged, however, as the level of water in them is far below the banks of the streams. I believe that to be the most practicable route for a railroad also. . . . [2]

Although Hancock spoke only of the emigrants, it is obvious that he was also concerned with the supplies for the army posts to the west along the Santa Fe trail. Even before the railroad along the Smoky Hill had reached Fort Harker, the supplies destined for Santa Fe and points west, were being transferred to wagons at the rails' end and taken cross country to Forts Zarah and Larned and thence on down the Santa Fe trail. It was in the area of Fort Harker that the old Santa Fe trail came closest to the Smoky Hill trail along which the railroad was being built, and by 1867 the stages were making the transfer at this point. [3]

In the meantime Hancock had been assigned to another department and was replaced by Gen. Philip Sheridan, who on leave, did not immediately take charge of his department. Nevertheless the interest of the army in a route from Fort Hays to Fort Dodge did not fade. In December John W. Davidson, inspector of the Department of the Missouri, made a report on a possible road running almost directly between the two western posts.

Fort Hays to Smoky


Good water, grass, some wood & good crossing

Smoky to Big Timbers [4]


Wood, grass & water in pools, never failing.

Big Timbers to Walnut Creek


Good water, grass & wood in abundance, bad crossing, requires a one span bridge.

Walnut Creek to N. Pawnee


Wood, water, grass abundant. Very bad crossing, requires bridge, probably two spans.

N. Branch to Middle


Wood, water & grass abundant, bridge required.

Middle to S. Branch


Abundant water, grass & wood, fair crossing. Corduroyed.

S. Branch to Ft. Dodge



This report is interesting in that it does not designate the three branches of the Pawnee as they are named on the army map of 1868. [6](See map above.)That map was originally made in 1852 when I. Carle Woodruff of the topographical engineers made a reconnaisance of sites for military posts on the Arkansas river. His report has not been found in the National Archives but the map he made was in use for many years by the U.S. army. In 1852 the officers at Fort Atkinson were Capt. Simon B. Buckner and Lts. Henry Heth and John T. Schaff. Perhaps in compliment to them, Woodruff gave their names to the three western branches of the Pawnee river and they still remained on the map of 1868. However, with one exception, the names do not seem to have been used locally. That exception was the Buckner or Middle branch of the Pawnee which remains to this day Buckner, named for Captain Buckner in 1852.

Henry Heth, who remained several years in command at Fort Atkinson, contributed to the process that caused the south branch of the Pawnee to be named Sawlog. There were no trees along the Arkansas and wood for the fort had to be hauled from the south branch of the Pawnee. Wood gatherers would strip the trees of their smaller branches, and leave the big trunks which they could not manage with their simple tools. Hence the name Sawlog by which the creek was known by 1868. When later Robert M. Wright visited the area he found a "well-defined road leading to Sawlog. In fact, the road was as large as the Santa Fe trail, showing that they must have hauled considerable wood over it." [7] Fort Atkinson was abandoned in 1853. In 1861 the three young officers resigned from the army and fought on the Confederate side during the war.

The Fort Hays-Fort Dodge trail as envisioned by Davidson, the inspector, passed directly through one of the most highly esteemed and regularly used camping grounds of the Indians, particularly the Cheyenne. The establishment of a military road would tend to push the Indians further west where conditions were less accommodating.

It will be remembered that in October, 1867, a treaty had been made with the Indians on Medicine Lodge creek, 60 miles south of Fort Larned. The Cheyenne who claimed the territory through which the railroad was being built, consented to its passage and agreed to go onto a reservation. Although allowed to hunt in western Kansas, they promised not to molest the settlers on the frontier. Hopefully this treaty, which was not unlike that signed on the Little Arkansas in 1865, would be better observed. The spring of 1868 opened auspiciously, but there was a delay in delivering the annuities promised the Indians. In August only a few days before the guns and ammunition were issued, impatient young bucks slipped away from their bands encamped on the Walnut and Pawnee, to make a raid northeast of Hays on the Saline and Solomon rivers. Within a few days they killed at least a dozen settlers, outraged women, took captives, stole stock, and burned homes. In September a band of Cheyenne caught a military detail of scouts under Gen. George A. Forsyth at Beecher's Island on the Arickaree river across the line in Colorado and severely battered them. The Indian war was on again.

Earlier in the summer the Cheyenne had been camping well out towards the headwaters of the Pawnee and the Walnut when the August raid on the Solomon had been made, but after that foray, the tribesmen with peaceful intentions immediately moved south of the Arkansas. The hostiles moved north and west, where the warriors took part in the Arickaree fight. There were no Indian attacks along the Dodge-Hays trail at any time, although the army used it all summer. Several teamsters remembered traveling the trail. John Murphy stated:

In the summer of 1868, I was assigned to the post train at Fort Hays. This train was organized and equipped at Fort Harker and proceeded to Fort Hays, . . [Captain Kimball, quartermaster at Hays] saw to it that we were kept constantly on the road between Fort Hays and Fort Dodge. As the distance between the two posts was nearly 100 miles, it required about three days to make the trip each way. We were allowed no rest at the Fort Hays end of the trip. [8]

Another teamster, Sigmund Schlesinger, recalled the road:

I also worked on a wagon train plying between Forts Hays and Dodge. On one of these trips we camped on Walnut creek, about thirty miles south of Hays. Here we were visited by some Indians, who came begging for coffee, sugar or anything in the line of grub. We were told that there was a large village of Indians in the vicinity, which was an incentive to break camp sooner than we intended. Later I understood that the following fall a portion of these Indians were of the attacking party upon Colonel Forsyth at Beecher Island. [9]

While Sheridan had a number of military details out pursuing hostile Indians these were unable to catch and punish the red raiders. He decided, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs agreed, that the tribes should be forced onto their reservations in Indian territory and that the only way to accomplish this would be to attack them where they could be found settled in their winter camps. By early October Sheridan had received the approval of the War Department for a winter campaign and he set about at once accumulating the stores necessary to support such a movement. [10] A supply point was established 90 miles south of Fort Dodge nearer the region in which the wandering tribes camped during the winter. Two regiments of soldiers -- the Seventh U.S. cavalry and the 19th Kansas volunteer cavalry -- would participate in the action and 400,000 rations had to be deposited at this forward supply camp before the troopers marched. Every pound of food and other items of supply had to be hauled by wagon from Fort Hays, on the Kansas Pacific railroad. While freighting along the Hays-Dodge trail may have been routine throughout the summer of 1868, it now became frenetic.

Again it was a teamster, Billy Dixon, who drew a vivid picture of the massive drive to get the supplies in place before the winter took over. At Leavenworth, Dixon signed on as a teamster with a contractor who had brought 600 mules from Missouri and Kentucky and was recruiting drivers. The boy arrived with the mules at Hays on October 15, 1868.

These were exciting times. The very air buzzed with news of Indian depredations. . . . The government wanted supplies rushed forward with all possible haste to what was known as Camp of Supply, afterwards Camp Supply, a military garrison at the junction of Beaver and Wolf creeks in what is now Woodward County, Oklahoma.

The mules were unbroken but nevertheless, "kicking, squealing and bucking" they were harnessed and hitched six to a wagon and strung out on the road, The wagons were so heavily loaded the mules could not run away. Single file the 100 wagons and the 600 mules would have made a string four miles long. However, for better protection by a smaller escort they "moved in quadruple, reducing the length to one mile."

The first day out we got to Smoky Hill River and camped for the night We then pulled to Walnut Creek, and the third day brought us to Pawnee Fork. Between this place and what is now the town of Bucklin, Kas. we had a stampede that for real excitement beat anything I had ever seen, The mules ran in every possible direction, overturning wagons, and outfit colliding with outfit until it looked as if there would never be a pound of freight delivered at Supply. Many of the wagons were so badly demolished that they had to be abandoned and left behind. Their loads were piled on other wagons and carried forward.

Our route carried us past Saw Log Creek, Fort Dodge -- there was no Dodge City at that time -- Mulberry Creek, and thence to Bluff Creek. Here we sighted buffalo, . . . a big herd of stampeding buffalo bore squarely down upon our train. Things looked squally, . . . A troop of cavalry was deployed to drive back or turn the oncoming herd . . . .

Dixon's train returned to Fort Hays and made a second trip down without mishap, but they had trouble on the way back.

The unloaded wagons were comparatively light, and the mules could easily pull them. We were driving two wagons abreast. Nobody ever knew what scared one of the rear teams, but it certainly got scared. . . . The rattling and banging and jolting of the wagon, and the shouting and swearing of the driver caused a tumult that spread panic among other teams and the stampede quickly reached the lead teams. So here we went, in every possible direction. It was impossible to hold the mules. Wagons were overturned, broken and scattered over the prairie for miles, and some of the mules were so badly crippled that they had to be shot. . . . After this experience, the mules were harder than ever to control, and would 'run at the drop of the hat' or the flip of a prairie dog's tail. [11]

Dr. George M. Sternberg, military medical officer in the area noted that the big supply trains should have medical officers in attendance. "In one of the trains coming from Fort Hays a few days ago, one man was killed and another severely wounded by a stampede among the mules. . . . I also found several men in the train disabled by kicks from mules." [12]

To command the winter's action Sheridan chose Bvt. Maj. Gen. George A. Custer, who was summoned from his home in Michigan. [13] Custer arrived at Fort Hays on October 3 and went down the trail the next day. On October 7 he wrote his wife, "I arrived at this post Fort Dodge last night having ridden the ninety miles in two days -- rather good marching for one somewhat out of practice." He arrived rather late in the evening however as he wrote "we routed the officers out of bed on our arrival and sat up talking till after twelve." [14]

General Sheridan himself left Hays on November 15 with two ambulances and a light baggage wagon, each drawn by four mules. It had rained all night and the morning air was filled with a heavy mist, The temperature was at freezing and a strong wind blew from the north. By 10 o'clock the detail had reached the Smoky Hill and by noon the Big Timbers, eight miles farther, where they were met by an escort of 20 men with the staff horses. The mules were exhausted by the heavy mud, the ambulance got behind and the escort had to go back for it. About an hour after dark the party pulled in at the North fork of the Pawnee, which was approximately the half-way point of the journey. Of that comfortless night without fires and with falling snow, Sheridan himself wrote: ". . . a blizzard struck us and carried away our tents; and as the gale was so violent that they could not be put up again, the rain and snow drenched us to the skin. Shivering from wet and cold, I took refuge under a wagon. . . ." [15]

Though Sheridan had by November 1 accumulated quantities of stores at Fort Dodge for the campaign, there was some freighting from Hays to Dodge during the winter. Mail was carried regularly down to Dodge and on to Camp Supply. Alfred L. Runyon of the 19th Kansas cavalry was part of an escort of a train to Hays and back about the end of January, 1869. He wrote on February 10 at Fort Dodge, "We made a trip to Fort Hays about two weeks ago. . . . The train which our company was escorting, got snowed in at Big Timbers creek, and did not get into Dodge for eight days. . . . The weather, lately, has been very stormy, and the snow is very deep, in places, between Fort Dodge and Fort Hays, and is consequently very hard on trains, and many a poor mule and broken wagon is 'turned over,' as it is termed by being abandoned." [16]

The winter campaign in Indian territory was successful and the various Indian tribes were brought onto their reservations. In the spring the victorious troops came back up the trail to Fort Hays, again leaving incidental accounts of the journey. David L. Spotts, cavalryman in the 19th Kansas, who kept a diary, wrote that marching on foot behind the mounted Seventh cavalry they arrived at Fort Dodge about four o'clock on the afternoon of April 2. There they camped northeast of the fort, outside the stockade. Next day they did not march "because the Seventh have a good place to stay and do not care to leave so soon, consequently we have to await their pleasure." The troop drew rations and Spotts was happy with a "big feed of beans." Some of the soldiers went over to the town and came back drunk and contentious. In order to stop the noise and racket the troops were ordered to march at two o'clock in the morning and by the time they got to the Sawlog the noisy ones had become quiet. Spotts wondered at the name of the creek. "There is hardly any timber along this creek and when told it was Sawlog Creek we naturally looked for sawlogs. Perhaps the timber had been made into sawlogs. [17]

Next day though it snowed the soldiers went on "just the same as if it had been a pleasant day," stopping for lunch on April 4 at the Middle fork where there was a good camping ground. At night they camped on the North fork after a march of 26 miles.

The soil along this stream is the richest since we left Cache Creek. All the afternoon we have been going over a rich, black, sandy loam and sunflowers on both sides of the road from ten to fifteen feet high. About ten o'clock we were going by a mound with some brush on it, when suddenly about twenty soldiers came out of the mound and we learned they were living in a dugout. It was quite different from the dugouts we had down at Fort Cobb and Cache Creek. Theirs was a long, large and deep trench covered with logs, grass and dirt . . . . They are quite warm and comfortable in winter and also cool in summer . . . . We are told that many of the settlers on the frontier live in dugouts of this kind. . . . [18]

The next day, April 5, camp was made at Walnut creek, or so Spotts says, though he was apparently confused as he also stated that they had marched 30 miles from the Pawnee and were only 12 miles from Hays. He must have been at Big Timbers. He complained that there was only a cottonwood or two "which are only scrubs" and wondered how the creek ever got the name of Walnut. The foot soldiers were tiring from their long walk. "Some have sore feet, but manage to hobble along and are always on hand at meal time. . . . Several of the boys, especially the fleshy ones, complain of being tired but I stand it pretty well as my feet are in good condition and have been so all our trip of several hundred miles." He was still much impressed by that part of Kansas. "Some day that part of Kansas will be the garden spot of the state. I may come back here in the near future and take up a claim for I am sure I could not find a better place in the state." [19]

Though Spotts had walked the whole way without becoming footsore another trooper of the 19th cavalry remembered or at least failed to write little about the march except the fatigue he suffered

We had to 'hoofit' . . . at the rate of from 25 to 35 miles per day, which was the utmost cruelty on the men, almost all with blistered feet. Custaer[sic] may gain a name for making long marches in short periods, but he wears out men and animals in doing so. He has few friends among the privates of the 7th and 19th. [20]

Another trooper, Winfield S. Harvey, farrier in the Seventh cavalry, looked -- as he traveled up the trail -- only for those necessities of the army, wood and water. He arrived at Fort Dodge April 2, finding plenty of water and no wood. Wood was procured from Fort Dodge. On the third they camped at Sawlog crossing and next day camped at "Poney" (Pawnee) fork. "This is a very bad country, no grazing for our horses," but plenty of wood and water. Probably too many other horses of the advance units had grazed there. At Walnut crossing on April 5, Harvey saw plenty of buffalo and shot some. On the Smoky river there was no wood but plenty of water. Arriving at Big creek near Fort Hays on April 7, he wrote, "This is a fine place. Plenty of wood and water; and a good place for horses and men." [21]

While the foot soldiers and the troopers took three or four days to make the journey from Dodge to Hays, it could be made much faster with a good pair of driving mules. Perhaps the fastest time recorded was made by Capt. George A. Armes of the 10th U.S. cavalry. He gives no reason in his diary for his hurried trip and one wonders what stern emergency took him from Dodge to Hays and back in three days.

Walnut Creek, Kan., April 6, 1869. Received permission to visit Fort Hays and left during the night; changed mules at Buckner's ranch and drove along lively, making 64 miles; weather pleasant.

Fort Hays, Kan., April 7, 1869. Arrived here at one o'clock this morning. Stopped all night at the sutler's and slept on the billiard table, which I found very comfortable under the circumstances, being so tired. . . .

Camp near Fort Dodge, Apr. 9, 1869. Arrived at one o'clock this morning. Was up at seven o'clock. Gave orders to march at eleven o'clock tomorrow to Camp Supply. [22]

A month later having apparently been down to Camp Supply in the meantime Armes made another quick trip to Fort Hays.

Buckner's Ranch, May 20, 1869. I left Fort Dodge on leave of absence at 9 o'clock this morning, arrived here at 2 o'clock this evening. I had a pleasant ride and am now quartered for the night in a dugout, which is a good protection from the Indians. . . . [23]

For the first time a traveler designates the dugout where he found lodging as a "ranch" referring perhaps to a more elaborate installation than just a dugout along the trail. If so, this then, was the first road ranch on the trail at the Buckner (Middle fork) of the Pawnee.

Later in the year of 1869, John O'Loughlin, a teamster who had been in the government service since 1861 and had undoubtedly traveled the trail many times through 1868-1869, decided to establish a road ranch at the point where the Hays-Dodge trail crossed the North fork of the Pawnee. Apparently a bridge had never been built there though the government inspector had stated one would be needed. O'Loughlin constructed a low bridge from poles cut along the creek, built a dugout or so and dug a well. He sold flour, bacon, and whisky to buffalo hunters and provided meals and lodgings to travelers on the trail. He is said to have charged the government $1.00 per team to cross his bridge. Civilian wagons crossed for 50 cents. [24]

In July, 1870, when the census taker arrived at O'Loughlins he found no other inhabitants in that area. O'Loughlin and his helper, James Branner, were listed inaccurately as residents of Ness county, whereas the ranch was in Hodgeman county, a few miles below the Ness county line. At the bottom of the census blank, the recorder wrote: "This ranche [sic] is upon the Pawnee Fork of the Great Arkansas. They [the men] do not live by farming but by trade and traffic with those who pass through the country and by hunting and trapping. There are no settlers or inhabitants west of this in the state of Kansas . . . . " [25]

With the Indians cleared from the region, buffalo hunting had begun in earnest in 1870. Billy Dixon had gone into business for himself and owned several teams and wagons used generally for hunting. However, at times he also hauled express from Hays to Dodge. In later years he remembered vividly one such hazardous trip in the fall of 1871. He made Walnut creek the first night and stayed there at a ranch run by Johnnie Quinn. Next day it was very cold and spitting snow. He walked through the afternoon trying to fight off the drowsiness that he knew might end in his freezing to death if he stopped to rest.

Reaching a long divide, I dropped down the slope with my mules in a gallop, and luckily was soon in sight of a road- ranch kept by John O'Loughlin. I was scarcely able to speak when I drove up and found half a dozen men coming to meet me, all eager to hear the news from town, whatever it might be. In answer to their questions I merely shook my head. My jaws were set like a vice. I could not speak a word. They saw instantly my condition. Running into the dugout they began piling wood into the fire place, and the room was soon as hot as an oven. I thawed gradually, burning like a live coal one moment and shivering the next as if I had a fit of ague. This was my first experience with killing cold. [26]

And again later when the stock had drifted away from Dixon's camp of buffalo hunters during a snow storm, the mules were found at O'Loughlin's ranch.

As there was snow on the ground and it was difficult to find fuel, even buffalo chips, we decided to stay at O'Loughlin's place until the weather settled. Other hunters were in the same plight as ourselves, and they too came drifting in to O'Loughlin's. We were a jolly crowd. What sport we had, telling stories of our hunts, drinking whisky, playing cards and shooting at targets. [27]

Just when the ranch at Walnut creek had been built is not known but Dixon's is the first mention of it. Later its owner was killed. Perhaps it was then taken over by Alexander Harvey. Harvey was a Scotsman and had served two enlistments in the army when he was mustered out of the Sixth U.S. cavalry at Fort Dodge in February, 1872. He had been with his regiment around Hays since 1869. [28] According to tradition a rather elaborate installation had been erected at Walnut creek in 1869. There was an enclosure or stockade made of timbers driven into the ground, enclosing a space of 20 x 50 feet. This fence was eight to ten feet high. The store building within had a lookout room on the roof with portholes in its walls. There is also a story of the time when Harvey went to Hays for supplies and came back to find his store looted and his clerk dead with a bullet in his body. [29]

In 1872 the army finally got around to making a survey of the trail. William Holland of the topographical engineers, leaving Hays on May 20, 1872, accompanied by 30 troopers of Company F, Sixth U.S. cavalry, made measurements of the trail and drew maps that still survive in the National Archives. The crossings were briefly described. At the Smoky Hill there was a whisky ranch, east of the trail and some distance north of the river. [30] At Big Timbers, on the creek of that name, there was no ranch and the big timbers had shrunk to a few scattering trees. The creek bed was dry but a small spring formed a pool.

At Walnut creek, Holland noted the ranch to the north and west of the crossing, the corduroy bridge, the water in the creek running 20 feet deep, three feet over the bridge and very steep creek banks. The keeper of the ranch at this time would have been Alexander Harvey, though Holland did not mention this.

Going on down to the Pawnee, the surveyor found again almost perpendicular banks, a corduroy bridge, muddy water, and scattered timber. The ranch, surely John O'Loughlin's, was south and west of the crossing.

Going on down to the middle fork of the Pawnee, the trail ran down hill to the crossing through a steep dry ravine, although alternate roads to the right and left were also penciled in on the map. Here again was a corduroy bridge, as well as a good ford in the rear of Buckner's ranch, which was very close to the creek south and west of the crossing. [31] Camping on the north side of the creek was another detail of the Sixth cavalry.

Next morning Holland went on to Dodge, noting the crossing -- no bridge, no ranch -- at the south fork of the Pawnee. He also described Rock Springs some distance below the creek. His trip of approximately 88-1/2 miles was summarized thus:

Left Hays at 7:20 A. M . May 20, 1872
Camped on Walnut -- traveled 32 miles, 315 yards
Camped on North Branch of Pawnee -- traveled 18 miles, 150 yds.
Camped on Middle Branch of Pawnee -- 10 miles, 1711 yds.
Camped on Arkansas -- traveled 27 miles 338 yds.
Arrived at 2 P.M. [32]

When the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad built through Dodge from the east late in 1872, it seemed to forecast the end of the old trail. Supplies for the army posts to the west and south would no longer be freighted through from Hays but would come from the east direct to Dodge on the railroad. John O'Loughlin, who kept the ranch at the north fork of the Pawnee, sold out, believing his ranch would no longer be profitable without the military traffic. Furthermore by the end of 1872 the buffalo herds which had grazed the area had been generally destroyed and hunters were pursuing this game farther south. Nevertheless George Duncan bought the squatter's rights to the O'Loughlin ranch and apparently improved it greatly. While there is no direct information that O'Loughlin had anything but dugouts in which to entertain his guests, Duncan had quite an elaborate layout. A neighbor of 1878 described the place.

Duncan's ranch was an interesting place. . . . It consisted of a big stockade of logs about two feet in the ground and standing perhaps seven or eight feet above ground. These logs had been hewn on the sides to fit close to make a real protection from Indians.

Forming one side of the stockade were the log buildings, a house of several rooms and a stable. . . . In the living room there was a table made of slabs which was hinged against the wall, and which when not in use hung against the wall, filling the space between the hinges and the floor. Under this table was a secret door through a tunnel to a dugout, some distance away, providing a last stand should the buildings be taken. . . .

How long Duncan had been there I do not know, but at one time he had built a toll bridge of logs, simply corded in the stream, to fill the space, evidently having left an opening for a culvert. A heavy rain had washed out the bridge, but a few of the logs were still embedded in the bank when we were there. He had also constructed some lime kilns in which he had burned the limestone rock into lime. [33]

One doubts that the trail brought Duncan's much trade. There was still some military movement since it was cheaper at times to march troops from Fort Hays to Fort Dodge than send them east and around by the railroads. Former buffalo hunters began to take claims and build homes, soddies and dugouts, along the Walnut west of the trail crossing. A colony from Chicago located a site on the Walnut, formed the town of Smallwood and engineered a fraudulent organization of Ness county. In the winter of 1873 the commander at Fort Hays had to send a detachment down to Smallwood to bring the colonists back to Hays or they would have starved. [34] In 1874 when Gen. Nelson A. Miles made a campaign down through Oklahoma and Texas, the Sixth cavalry regiment marched down the trail from Hays to Dodge. Otherwise there is but one reference to the trail in the Fort Dodge records of 1874. On July 26 a wood cutter came into Fort Larned reporting that 30 or 40 Indians had attacked Duncan's ranch and he and some neighbors had driven them off. In response to this report Captain Joseph Kerin of the Sixth cavalry of Fort Dodge rode on the evening of the 27th, pushing his horses to the limit only to find that no Indians had been seen in the vicinity of the ranch that summer. The horses were pretty well done up and the captain had to buy 400 pounds of hay for them from Duncan. On the way back to Dodge one horse had to be abandoned as it could not walk, and 12 out of 35 horses were more or less broken down by the hard ride. [35]

Few newspapers of either Hays or Dodge before 1876 have survived so various local stories that have come down by word of mouth cannot be authenticated. Some of these stories had to do with the cavalry chasing horse thieves down the trail. It is well known, however, that when the railroad came into Dodge City a number of the citizens of Hays moved down the trail to the new town. Heinie Schmidt, late local historian at Dodge, often told how his father, Adam Schmidt, blacksmith, had moved down to Dodge, traveling the trail and staying all night at Duncan's crossing.

One traveler gave a newspaper an account of his trip in May, 1876:

Wednesday morning . . . [started in] the rain. In due time . . . halted upon the banks of the Smoky Hill. . . . We visited the spring . . . [and had a] diminuative camp fire, and upon Friday morning we crossed, [and started for] the Walnut . . . . Walnut, with its wood piles was the "balm" . . . in Gilead. . . . Friday night found us encamped upon the Pawnee, almost under the shadow of a ranch belonging to that most genial of gentlemen, Mr. Duncan. Saturday . . . sunshine . . . night . . . brought us to wood and water at Duck Creek. Sunday morning, May 28th, we drove into Dodge City. . . . [36]

It would seem that by this time the ranch at the Buckner crossing had been vacated and only at Duncan's and Harvey's on the Walnut could lodging be found. Harvey's ranch had become a supply point for settlers in the country around as well as an accommodation for travelers on the trail. Eventually it became the nucleus of a small town that still remains, named Alexander after the soldier Alexander Harvey who came there first in 1872. [37]

In 1877 an attempt was made to establish a mail route from Hays to Dodge, the contract being let for $1,500 per year. We follow this attempt through the columns of the Hays Sentinel:

February 2, 1877. The first stage on the new mail route from Hays to Dodge left last Monday.

February 16, 1877. The Dodge City mail carrier's horse gave out on his last trip over and he was obliged to draw his cart from Hodgeman county by hand.

February 23, 1877. The Dodge City mail has been laying at this point for the last ten days, awaiting the arrival of somebody with a horse having sufficient strength to make the trip.

March 16, 1877. The Dodge City mail route might as well be abolished. Over a month has elapsed since the last mail departed.

March 30, 1877. John Buffer backed out of his contract to carry the mail across to Dodge. . .

On June 8 the Hays newspaper protested, "The Hays and Dodge road is a state road. Some are plowing it up between here and the Smoky -- which is wrong." But there was still travel on the road. An item in the Dodge City Times of November 24, 1877, stated, "Ed Masterson's wife has returned. She came from Hays on a horse."

Settlers came into Rush county in great numbers throughout 1877 and as they moved on into Ness and Hodgeman counties, travel again picked up on the road. By 1878 it was sufficient to cause not only the establishment of a mail route but a stage line run by the mail contractors, Bob Brooks and Capt. C. W. Edwards. "They had two three-seated rigs which carried six passengers each. . . . One stage would start at Hays and the other at Dodge." The trip took three days and the fare was $6 for the three-day trip. [38]

The stage headquarters was at Hampton, P.O., named for Joe Hampton who had settled along Big Timber creek near where the old road crossed the creek in the southeast corner of Twp. 17 S, R. 20 W. Later Bob Brooks owned a store there until Hampton was superseded by McCracken in 1886.

There seems to be little memory of how long this stage was in operation, probably only briefly. It was running, however, in the fall of 1878 when Cheyenne Indians left their reservation in Oklahoma and raided western Kansas on their return to their old home in the north. The stage was not allowed to leave Dodge for several days, but was then given an escort of four soldiers, which was continued for a few weeks. [39]

From 1877 to 1879 practically every quarter of land in both Ness and Hodgeman county was claimed by homesteaders. In 1879 Hodgeman county was organized. Sometime in this period George Duncan moved away, apparently abandoning his ranch. When the editor of the Hodgeman county newspaper went to Hays city in August, 1880, he remarked on the trail: "The crossing at Duncan's Ranch is in a horrible condition, and it is almost impossible to cross at that point. As this is the only laid out road in the county it certainly should be repaired." [40] But it was never repaired. Harry Mudge, a wealthy Bostonian, in 1880 began buying up land for a ranch that would extend from the Pawnee to the Buckner. The logs of Duncan's stockade were torn down by Mudge's men and hauled to his ranch for firewood. [41]

The crossing was not forgotten. On October 27, 1929, a monument erected by the Hodgeman Community Ladies Aid Society was unveiled at the crossing. By that time a county road crossed the creek at the same spot by way of a high iron bridge. The inscription on the monument reads:

This monument marks the site of Duncan's crossing and the old Fort Hays-Fort Dodge trail, established in 1867. Many famous men passed here, including President Hays, General Sheridan, Custer, Hancock and Miles. The first white settler in Hodgeman county, John O'Loughlin, here operated a toll bridge, trading post and stockade, which was later owned by George Duncan, the first postmaster in the county and for whom this river crossing is named. Dedicated to the pioneers who faced the dangers of prairie trails and frontier life to establish homes in this community. [42]


Mrs. Minnie Dubbs Milbrook, Topeka, is a frequent contributor to the Quarterly. Also, she is the author of Ness-Western County, Kansas (Detroit, 1955). Her research and writing on Gen. and Mrs. George A. Custer have brought her nationwide recognition.

1. Report of the Secretary of War, 1867, p. 36.
2. 41st Cong., 2d Sess., H.R. Exec. Doc. No. 240 (Serial 1425), p. 107.
3. Junction City Union, February 2, 1867.
4. Big Timbers was a creek that flowed into the Smoky Hill river from the south. There was considerably more timber on this creek than on the Smoky and although the trail crossed it not too far from its source its water was fed by springs.
5. "Letters Received," Department of the Missouri, 1867, Military Records, National Archives.
6. This map is from the "Records of the Office of the Chief of Engineers," National Archives, part of Map No. Q140. Printed map on paper dated 1868 (RG 77).
7. Robert M. Wright, "Personal Reminiscences of Frontier Life in Southwest Kansas," Kansas Historical Collections, v.7 (1901-1902), p. 78.
8. John Murphy "Reminiscences of the Washita Campaign, and of the Darlington Indian Agency," Chronicles of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, v. 1, no. 3 (June, 1923), p. 260.
9. Sigmund Schlesinger, "The Beecher Island Fight," Kansas Historical Collections, v. 15 (1919-1922), p. 540.
10. Donald J. Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes (Norman, 1963). pp. 301-317. This text covers the activities of the Indians as well as that of the troops throughout 1868.
11. Olive K. Dixon, Life of Billy Dixon (Dallas, 1927), pp. 56-60.
12. Martha L. Sternberg, George Miller Sternberg (Chicago, 1920), p. 13.
13. Under a court-martial sentence, General Custer had been on suspension from duty for a year. Though the sentence had more than a month yet to run, Sheridan asked for its remittance.
14. "Elizabeth B. Custer Collection," Eastern Montana College, Billings, Mont.
15. Personal Memoirs of P. H. Sheridan (New York, 1888), v. 2, pp. 310-311.
16. "A. L. Runyon's Letters," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 9 (1940), pp. 70-71.
17. David L. Spotts, Campaigning With Custer and the Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry on the Washita Campaign, 1868-69 (Los Angeles, 1928), pp. 175-178.
18. By this time there were perhaps a number of dugouts built for shelter along the trail by military details that passed back and forth regularly.
19. Spotts, Campaigning With Custer, p. 179.
20. "A. L. Runyon Letters," p. 75.
21. Winfield Scott Harvey diary, "Winfield S. Godfrey Papers," Library of Congress.
22. Col. George A. Armes, Ups and Down of an Army Officer (Washington, 1900), p. 291.
23. Ibid., p. 297.
24. History of Hodgeman County, Kansas, compiled by H. C. Norman (Kinsley, 1941), p. 1; "Sketches of Early Days in Kearny County," Virginia Pierce Hicks, Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 7 (1938), p. 55.
25.1870 Federal census, Ness county.
26. Dixon, Billy Dixon, p. 70.
27. Ibid., p. 73.
28. A. T. Andreas and W. G. Cutler, History of the State of Kansas (Chicago, 1883), p. 1586.
29. La Crosse Republican, August 13, 1931.
30. This was the approximate location of a whisky ranch owned in 1871 by Billy Dixon and operated for him by Billy Reynolds. Dixon, Billy Dixon, pp. 63-64. Reynolds decamped with all the proceeds. Dixon does not state whether he discontinued the business after 1871.
31. Local historians have always assumed that this crossing was named for the owner of the ranch in 1872. Rather, however, it was the name that persisted from 1852 and had appeared ever since that time on army maps. It was not only on the map of 1868 but was also on a Rand McNally map of 1876. --See Business Atlas of the Great Mississippi Valley and Pacific Stop (Chicago, 1876-1877).
32. Scout by William Holland of the engineers, accompanying Co. F, Sixth U.S. cavalry from Camp Hays to Fort Dodge, "Military Records," 1872, National Archives.
33. W. C. Simons, "An Address Made Before the Old Settlers' Association of Lawrence, Kan., Sept. 15, 1924," Kansas Historical Collections, v. 16 (1923-1925), P. 520.
34. Minnie Dubbs Millbrook, "Dr. Samuel Grant Rodgers, Gentleman From Ness," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v.20 (1952-1953), pp. 330-331.
35. Fort Dodge Records, "Letters Received," 1874, Kansas Historical Society.
36. Ellis County Star, Hays, June 15,1876.
37. Andreas-Cutler, History of Kansas, p. 1586 Other mentions of the trail in 1876 are Floyd B. Streeter, Prairie Trails and Cow Towns, New York, 1963), p. 189; Ellis County Star, May 11 and June 8, 1876.
38. Rush County News, La Crosse, May 19, 1949.
39. Ibid.
40. Buckner Independent, August 12, 1880.
41. Margaret Evans Caldwell "The Mudge Ranch," Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. 24 (1958), p. 294; Norman, History of Hodgeman County, p. 12.
42. High Plains Journal, Dodge City, September 24, 1953. There is no evidence that Pres. Rutherford B. Hayes ever traveled up the Hays-Dodge trail. He visited Dodge City, arriving by train on the Santa Fe railroad, and departed the same way.