When David A. Butterfield sat down to draft a new route to Denver along the Smoky Hill River in 1865 he knew travelers would be facing life-threatening challenges. Rough terrain, dehydration, and terrifying attacks by Cheyenne and Apache tribes protecting their inherited hunting grounds awaited the pioneers on miles of open prairie that would take weeks to cross. Butterfield knew all this, yet he believed by taking a “straight as the crow flies” approach he could shave days off already established routes to the gold mines being unearthed in the Colorado Rockies. It was a tall order but his gamble paid off and 150 years later we’re still traveling across the prairie in the shadow of the Butterfield Overland Despatch (1).
Most of the B.O.D.’s original route through Trego County can still be traced today through the installation of limestone posts marking the Atchison to Denver route from mile 284 to 305. At the base of each post you’ll find information about the trail and carved into the top of the limestone post an arrow points travelers towards the next marker. Today’s pioneers can easily visit one of the B.O.D.’s posts along the Smoky Valley Scenic Byway at Cedar Bluff State Park fourteen miles south of WaKeeney on K-147 Hwy.
Six stagecoach stations, the precursor to today’s convenience store, were located within Trego County’s boundaries; Bluffton, Stormy Hollow Station, White Rock Station, Downer Station, Ruthton Station and Castle Rock Creek Station, and while the buildings have long since been dismantled you can still find evidence left by the original pioneers at some locations. Bluffton Station, located in Threshing Machine Canyon, was a popular place for travelers on the B.O.D. to camp and you can still find names etched into the rocks dating back to 1849.
Honoring the 150th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Despatch is a celebration of the first steps towards settlement in Trego County. Stagecoach passengers traveling on the B.O.D. saw for themselves the vast potential of the prairie’s unbroken sod and the beauty of an endless horizon and soon their reports home stirred adventurous, enterprising souls to “Go West!” to the High Plains of Western Kansas.
The Trego County Fair has declared this year’s theme a celebration of the Butterfield Overland Dispatch and you can expect to see the hearty pioneer spirit in the people who come out to the events occurring throughout the week. “You’ll see the Butterfield Overland Despatch theme on the fair book and we’re hoping people will use it, as they’ve done in the past, in parade floats, fair entries, and in 4-H exhibits,” says fair board secretary, Sara Dunn.
Join us at the 2015 Trego County Free Fair, July 28 – August 2, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Trego County’s first highway, the Butterfield Overland Despatch!
1.“Despatch” was the historical spelling of “dispatch” during the settlement of the West.