Editor’s Note: Local historian David Clapsaddle writes about aspects about the Santa Fe Trail. The early years before trading on the Santa Fe Trail eventually included Fort Larned and Pawnee County. The 16th installment researched the Cimarron Ranch in Gray County.
By David K. Clapsaddle
Fort Aubry Ranch
Prior to buying the Cimarron Ranch with partner A. J. Anthony, Robert Wright and James Anderson established what Wright called “a fine ranch” in the spring of 1864 at the site of Camp Wyncoop in present Hamilton County, 80 miles west of the Cimarron crossing.
Wright, uncharacteristically of a frontiersman, brought his wife and two small children to the ranch. The family had been with him earlier at the Spring Bottom Ranch where Indian attacks had compelled Wright to abandon the ranch. At the Camp Wyncoop location, Wright built “one of the strongest little forts in the country.”
In September, 1865, an army post named Fort Aubry was established at the ranch site and remained in operation through April of the following year. Throughout the army’s presence at the ranch, Wright continued to operate his business which also functioned as a stage station.
Wright left the ranch in the fall of 1866, and his whereabouts between this time and August, 1867, when he and A. J. Anthony purchased the Cimarron Ranch, is not known.
Fort Wise/Fort Lyon
The previously mentioned 1858 table of distances listed Trading Post, 490 miles from Wesport, three log houses, once occupied by Bent. The reference was to the trading post established by William Bent in 1852 which eventually became the site of Fort Wise in 1860.
The trading post was not in operation at the 1858 publication of the table of distances. By that time, Bent’s New Fort, constructed a mile east of the trading post where merchandise could be purchased, had been leased to the government as a storage place for Indian annuities.
However, provisions and supplies were available to civilians at the Fort Wise (changed in name to Fort Lyon in 1862) Sutler’s store and later at the post trader’s store at Fort Lyon’s new location as of 1867, 20 miles to the west.
The last trading establishment listed in the 1858 table of distances was Bent’s Fort, 30 miles west of Bent’s New Fort. Established in 1832, it served as the centerpiece of the Bent, St. Vrain Company.
Abandoned in 1852, a portion of its ruins remained in 1858 when the 1858 table of distances listed, “Everything necessary for men and animals.”
Between 1861 and 1866, the Missouri Stage Company and later Barlow and Sanderson established fire stations southwest of Bent’s Fort on the Bent’s Fort Road; Iron Springs, Hole in the Prairie, Hole in the Rock, and Gray’s Ranch on the Purgatoire, none of which functioned as a trading establishment with the exception of Gray’s Ranch.
A post office was added in 1863, and Dan Taylor opened a general store in 1865.
Beyond the Purgatoire, at Raton Pass, was Dick Wooton’s fabled establishment which served as a stage station. Uncle Dick, a legend in his own time, hosted many a dance and sold quantities of liquor, but his place could hardly qualify as a trading establishment.
At the south side of Raton Pass was Willow Spring, a forage station established by the army and operated by S. A. Sayre. Its fine spring made the station a welcome water stop, but it in no way was a trading establishment.
A few miles south of Willow Spring was the Clifton House built in 1866-1867 as a gathering place for cattlemen. Later it became the home of the Red River stage station. It, too, could not be characterized as a trading establishment.
The next stop on the Bent’s Fort Road was Cimarron, N.M., which found its roots in the 1857 settlement of Lucien Maxwell and blossomed into a fair sized community with a number of businesses which catered to Santa Fe bound travelers.
Beyond Cimarron was the Rayado, a precursor to Cimarron established by Maxwell in 1848. The little settlement became the home of Post at Rayado in 1850.
The post was deactivated in 1851 with the advent of Fort Union, 30 miles away. While Maxwell sold supplies to travelers on the Bent’s Fort Road during the early days of Rayado, there is no record that he ever operated what could be described as a retail establishment. However, the Barlow Sanderson Company did locate a home station there where meals were served to stagecoach passengers at the station/store operated by Jesus Abrew.
South of Rayado, the Bent’s Fort Road crossed the Ocate River and proceeded on to the junction of the Mora and Sapello Rivers, also the junction of Bent’s Fort Road and the Cimarron Route of the Santa Fe Trail, the starting point of this study.
En route, travelers would have arrived at Fort Union. There, civilians could access the sutler’s store (post trader’s store after 1867) to purchase a wide variety of goods.
Almost as an addendum, the ranches which populated the roads emanating from the several railheads of the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division (changed to Kansas Pacific in 1869) deserve an audience. Running from Junction City, Kansas, in 1866, what became known as the Fort Riley–Fort Larned Road struck the established route of the Santa Fe Trail in 1866 at Walnut Creek.
Prior to the railroad’s arrival, the road had been used by the army and the Kansas Stage Company.
But with the advent of the railroad at Junction City, the Barlow Sanderson Company initiated thrice weekly mail deliveries down the road to Walnut Creek and on to Santa Fe.
Both the Kansas Stage Company and Barlow Sanderson established stage stations along the 120-mile route, but there is no evidence to suggest that any station functioned as a trading establishment, with the exception of the ranch at the Smoky Hill crossing.
(To Be Continued)