Texas Trail Canyon—First Visitors
This canyon is the scene of more exciting history than all others in the country. It was heartily damned by all attempting its crossing, but as heartily accepted by the trail herders who used it as a corral. Old Tom Wray piloted an Olive herd there for the winter of 1876-1877. For Ira Olive, it was Corral Canyon. Teddy Blue was crossing the river below the Olives and designated it the Olive Republican Pens, but the name didn’t stick. The incoming homesteaders pushed the cattle trails west and this place became the Texas Trail Canyon, and so it is today. The historical marker says so. Before this, we have Lt. Sackett’s journal of 1851. He was seeking a better and shorter road between Forts Leavenworth and Laramie. His party encamped there and his report was critical of the deep gulch which he wrote off as uncrossable without considerable expense and the river valley so sandy it would not support military wagons.
Trail City Saloon, Trenton,
and the Texas Trail
The old trail city saloon was used by Tom Britton as a stable. It had a cotton wood ridge pole that was nearly two feet through. Tom used to show Grace /Grace Davis Sullivan/ and me when we would take milk down to Brittons. We carried our shoes along with us and then put them on to cross the cactus patches.
There was a post with rocks around it which marked the center of Hitchcock County, and it stood in the middle of the road so that people had to drive out around it. It stood there until it rotted away. There was a big board on it that said it was the Center. We followed this road from Grandpa Holston’s place down to Britton’s farm. The Texas Trail ran just east of this enter point and line, up through section 34, and crossed over in the NE ¼ of Sec. 33 and crossed into the SW ¼ of Sec. 28 at its SE corner.
The Britton homestead (possibly pre-emption) was the site of these old buildings. The old saloon was standing when we got there 1886. Arthur Ferry, Tom’s nephew, said that only once did cowboys come through there after they /the Ferrys/ had arrived—it was after the trail days when the Herd Law went into effect. About a half dozen or so cowboys came through there and went to riding around his mother’s house, hitting on the roof of her soddy. Mrs. Ferry was a widow with 2 girls and a boy. Art/said his mother put him out the window and he ran up to his Uncle Tom’s, and Tom came down and sent the cowboys away.
The next morning Arthur found that one of the cowboys had dropped his quirt, and Art had it for years. In the handle of the quirt was a piece of iron, with the leather over it. They used then for fighting, too.
Brittons lived in a sod house. The old saloon/stable was 75 to 100 feet east of the house. It had regular casing doors, unlike their other sod buildings. When we saw it in ’86, it was about 80 feet long and about 16 feet wide. There were no partitions in it then. The only wood in it, aside from the ridge pole, was the door and window casings. The roof was sod over willow or cottonwood brush. The alkali sod was then laid over it like shingles. Tom showed us holes in the ridge pole where the old soft-nosed bullets had been fired into it. It had a low ceiling, just six or seven feet. The roof on it was nearly flat.
Before I married /February 1899/, Pete Haeger had me come to sow fifteen acres of wheat for him on his tree claim, as all the trees had died. The old Texas Trail crossed this fifteen acres and then went down into the canyon. Nothing would grow because of the ground being tramped so hard. The trail must have been one hundred feet wide at this point. I was to get a third of the wheat crop, but I didn’t have to bother harvesting it, because it all dried.out. There were no cactus where the trail had gone, it was so hard, so we could follow the old trail barefoot, when kids. On Ab’s place /Grandpa Holston/, we plowed around it for years, because it was so hard, it would turn the plow aside—you couldn’t get the blade in. It was always called the Ogallala Trail in those days, rather than Texas.
Tom Britton got one good soaking. A man came in with about 100 head of those wooly, little Texas ponies. They were going to try to breed them to a larger stud. A while later, after the man had gone, Tom discovered the ponies all had Texas fever, so Tom drove them up to a little corral, up on the divide on school land, at Dry Canyon; its probably in the SW corner of Section 16. They all died up there in that little corral.
They didn’t skin the ponies, but just left them there; that must have been about ’83, if I remember correctly. The bones were still there when we went by in ’86. That little fenced-in area seemed just covered with white bones. We went by there on our way to Jim Lane’s homestead to buy some young cottonwood poles, along with some willow poles, which had been burned over. We used them for fuel and fence posts. We got the posts or poles out of Dry Canyon, on the land which Frank Miller later had and that Phottoff owns now. We sure thought we had a tale to tell the women that night when we got home, telling them about all those bones.
Ned A. Davis to P.D. Riley
interview, Sunday, June 6, 1964
Texas Cattle Trails and Crossing at Elephant Rock
For some time the Texas herds passed about midway between Norton and Oberlin, Kansa, then crossed the Republican River below the mouth of the Frenchman River at Culbertson, trailing north towards Ogalalla. Under pressure of incoming settlers, the trail shifted and passed about 8 miles west of Oberlin (near where the TV tower now is) and crossed the Beaver Valley between Elephant Rock and Marion, Nebraska. F. G. Stilgebour’s parents lived near Marion; young Foster recalls going with his father in a lumber wagon some 6 to 8 miles west of Marion for calves dropped from the herds.
Generally the drovers were pleased to have the homesteaders take the newly born calves rather than to kill them. Foster remarked, “Keep this in mind: Texas cattle trails were not a series of closely bunched ruts but something like old bossy traveling between the barn and pasture, but since cattle must eat as they travel, the trail spread out miles wide—only to bunch up for night corralling, safe river crossings, and whatever else judgment dictated.”
Once the Stilgebouers crossed rut indentures near Elephant Rock. The main trail passed between Elephant Rock and present Herndon, Kansas, then crossed the Republican River going through the present Carmody Ranch southwest of Trenton. What a welcome place it was—a saloon on the river bottoms for the cowboys, while the cattle sipped river water!
Note—Mrs. Schrieber and others tell that the area around and northwest of the Traer School has been a profitable place to search for Indian artifacts. Many large articles were found during the early pioneer days and even yet some are found in that area. One student tells that school was dismissed some Friday afternoons for the students to search for arrow points in fields where the top soil had blown off down to the hard pan. The air was full of dust, almost too thick to see. Often there was an excited yell as another point or scraper was found. Elephant Rock could be seen across Beaver Creek.