Cheyenne County, Colorado



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Cheyenne Wells Caves
Submitted by author, Betty Lou Mahlberg,
Copyright (c) 1998-2004 by Betty Lou Mahlberg

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Location: Sec 28 T13S R44W (NE 1/4) on south bank of the South Fork of the Smoky Hill River. The site was the original setting of Cheyenne Wells town. When the railroad came, it dug another well and lined it with ties so water could be piped to the railroad. But before the pipe line was laid they found water in a well on the corner of Hwy. 385 S 2 W, where there is now a trailer house sitting. With that well established and the railroad there most of the dwellings were moved to the present site of Cheyenne Wells (5 miles south of the caves). The Cheyenne Wells Caves were known earlier as Station Gulch.

Lt. Fitch in one of the first persons to record his experiences on a survey crew. He reported "Barely out of site of the Blue Mound Station the Butterfield Overland Dispatch (B.O.D.) crossed out of Kansas State into Colorado Territory, about 15 miles west of the state line the road came to the next station, Cheyenne Wells Station." Lt. Fitch was here in 1860 and dug a well. He reported, "This well was built by our party and is one the finest of wells, yielding sufficient water to supply a heavy immigration." Lt. Fitch also returned in 1865 to establish the B.O.D. south fork. This crossed the Smoky Hill Trail just north of the river.

Next recording of these caves was made by Bayard Taylor of the New York Tribune in June 1866. Taylor wrote, "At Cheyenne Wells we found a large and handsome frame stable for mules but no dwellings. The people lived in a natural cave extending some thirty feet under the bluff. There was a woman and when we saw her, we argued good fortunes. Truly enough, under the roof of conglomerate limestone, in the caves dim twilight, we sat down to antelope steak, tomatoes, bread, pickles, and potatoes, -- a royal meal after two days of detestable fare."

Also recorded in books, Colonel Louis Carpenter was at Cheyenne Wells and tried to establish a fort above the caves before he and his black troops were called to battle at Beecher Island. He and his troops had never been in battle before. (Colonel Carpenter's troops were freed Negro slaves he had enlisted.)

Another referral to the caves says, "The site of the Fort of Smoky Hill River west of the section line fence. The cave, the former stage station is a short distance west of the Fort just below the top of the bluff on the east side of Station Gulch. A short distance above the Smoky Hill River." (This is the only old recording of possible two caves there.)

My father, O. L. Gudgel, born here in 1894, was a cattle herder and he tells about three caves there. The large one was big enough to run a stage coach and six horses hitched inside to get away from Indian attacks. The middle sized one is the Station Gulch (trading post), but also the friendly Indians had a smaller post (cave) there.

In the Cheyenne Wells Lariat in 1913, Nathan Schuelke wrote an essay and, in order to have a name for his paper, he called the large cave "Buffalo Bill's Cave". No one before or since has referred to it by that name. He wrote, "Standing south the cave cannot be seen. It is not nearly as large as it used to be. It is scarce large enough for a man to stand upright. Huge boulders, large enough to crush a dozen men, have fallen down from the roof. An old stage driver who spent the greater part of his life on the plains and most of that on the trail, tells us that in the early sixties the trail running from Kansas City to Denver and another running from Omaha to Santa Fe met at this place and the tracks are seen today -- they are the original Santa Fe trail and the Butterfield (or Smoky Hill) Trail."

Bert Seip wrote in this same Lariat -- "The earliest path over the tractless prairies were trails. Through this country a branch of Santa Fe Trail crossed the trail from Kansas City to Denver. The one branch went to Santa Fe, for the reason it goes by the Santa Fe Trail, while in fact that historical trail follows the Arkansas River. The tracks are still visible and "The Old Cave" where the trail divided, and where they stopped for shelter and food is still found in the hillside. After completion of the railroad in 1870, the settlers came and settled. The Old Wells at the junction of the trails north of here were moved to present town site".

In the late twenties, the cave was large enough for two high school boys to drive their cars into and come back out.

Another lady, Margaret Long, AB-MD wrote in the Smoky Trail 2nd Edition -- The location -- and quotes Mr. Compher. He told her about the cave, corrals, and Johnnie White's saloon. It was opposite the cave on the west side of the Station Gulch. There were Indian graves nearby. (These graves have been rediscovered by two local men in the past few years). She stated, "there were no signs of the wells", but I remember them and Kern (owner of the land) had them bulldozed in recent years. So she evidently did not know where to look.

A local man that worked for the CCC in 1938 says, he was on the crew that blasted down the front of the caves because people were concerned about the kids, who went on picnics there, were running inside where there were many snakes. Another man recalls the year was 1935-1936 and they built dams from the rocks.

These caves could still be restored with very little work. It is hoped no one else will dig there until we get it declared a historical site and experts restore them.

Lee, Wayne C. and Howard C. Raynesford. Trails of the Smoky Hill. 1980. The Caxton Pristin LTD, Caldwell, Idaho 83605. Pages: 56,69,89,131-133.

Long, Margaret AB-MD. The Smoky Hill Trail. 2nd Edition. Pages: 82, 104

The Lariat, 1913 . Cheyenne County High School, Pages 42 - 47.

Taylor, Baynard . Colorado, A Summer Trip. , Pages 50-53. maybe subtitled "Long Smoky Hill Trail" (I found references to this book, but was unable to find the book. References in the "Trails of the Smoky Hill".

Oldtimers memories:

Clyve Foulke, O. L. Gudgel, Raymond Mitchell ( only one living in 1990), Walter Moore and Bob Sexson.
These men were among the many that had part in this story.


Copyright@1998-2008 Betty Lou Mahlberg


Background graphic by Karla Mahlberg, Copyright 1998- 2008
Karla Mahlberg, Copyright, 1998- 2008