Editor’s Note: Local historian David Clapsaddle writes about aspects on the Santa Fe Trail. This series profiles how Santa Fe Trail freight, passengers and mail shifted from the overland trail to railways.
By DAVID K. CLAPSADDLE
Beyond Abilene the expedition crossed the Solomon and Saline forks on a portable pontoon bridge built on canvas boats by engineer Lt. M.R. Brown’s engineering squad.
At the Solomon crossing, nine miles beyond Abilene, the expedition was joined by Henry M. Stanley, a correspondent for several eastern publications.
Stanley’s journalistic observations provide a human and often humorous perspective of the expedition, complementing the accurate, yet tedious, accounts complied by Lt. Brown.
Three miles beyond the Saline, the expedition camped at Salina described by Brown as a small town with muddy streets. Departing Salina, the expedition crossed Dry Creek and proceeded on to Elm Creek where Ernest Hohneck’s ranch was located. Impressed with the fare served up by Hohneck, correspondent Stanley was lavish in his praise:
“We stopped at Hohneck’s ranch, our quondam friend, for dinner, who had already prepared, in the delightful anticipation of our visit, an elegant and plentiful repast, consisting of bona fide buffalo, deer meat, smoked ham and quinces. We enjoyed it amazingly, and therefore suggest to the belated travelers that they always stop at Hohneck’s ranch when they come this way. Hohneck proved himself a gentleman and a scholar, and it was with something akin to sadness that we departed from the adobe mansion that he had himself built on the wild waste of the desert.”
Beyond Elm Creek the expedition pushed on to camp at Spring Creek, 16 miles from Salina according to Brown’s odometer reading.
There the lieutenant noted the presence of the Barlow, Sanderson stage station commonly known as Pritchard’s. The next stop, 12 miles beyond Pritchard’s, was Clear Creek where Brown identified a “ranch on roadside.”
This was the ranch originally established by the Farris brothers in 1860.
Six miles beyond Clear Creek the troops reached Fort Harker.
There they went into camp on the north side of the Smoky Hill near the site of abandoned Fort Ellsworth.
As the men rested on the following day, Stanley had the opportunity to visit Fort Harker in its earliest days of development.
His description was far from flattering — “a single square surrounded by some wooden shanties…a great wart on the surface of the plain.”
On the following day the troops proceeded down the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road to Oxhide Creek.
This little stream, according to A.C. Spilman, “furnished timber and water and was the first camping-place out of Harker.”
Crossing Oxhide Creek, Hancock’s forces camped at Plum Creek, 17 miles from Fort Harker. There Brown noted that the creek was dry in the summer but that water could be obtained from a spring at nearby Well’s Ranch, a Barlow, Sanderson stage station.
The expedition departed the regular road at Plum Creek taking a west-southwesterly direction so as to cross Cow Creek where there was an ample supply of wood.
After camping at Cow Creek, the column turned south five miles to intercept the Santa Fe Road (Brown’s designation for the Fort Riley-Fort Larned Road) and continued on to Fort Zarah at Walnut Creek.
This diversion eliminated the next stop on the stage route, Cow Creek, located 12 miles southwest of Plum Creek, 10 miles northeast of Fort Zarah.
(To Be Continued)