C O U N T Y .. H I S T OR Y
 Cheyenne County, Colorado



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WHAT IS HERE: County Formation | Trails | Trail Monuments | Stage Routes | Railroad | Homesteads | Historic Sites | Links

Cheyenne County was established in 1889. The county is located in eastern Colorado and borders Kansas. The county seat is Cheyenne Wells.

Neighboring Counties:
Colorado: Kiowa (S), Kit Carson (N), Lincoln (W)
Kansas: Greeley , Wallace

  County Formation Chronology

1859 - The area that became Colorado was part of Kansas Territory, Nebraska Territory, Utah Territory, and New Mexico Territory. Discovery of gold brought more and more people. A movement began to establish a separate territory. The name of the provisional territory was Jefferson Territory.

1860 - U.S. Congress approves the Territory of Colorado.

1861 - The Territory of Colorado becomes official. The area of present-day Cheyenne County is mostly in Huerfano County with the westernmost portion in the Cheyenne and Arapahoe Reserve.

1868 - The Cheyenne and Arapahoe Reserve is dissolved. Area merged with El Paso and Pueblo counties. El Paso and Pueblo counties extend to the Kansas line.

1870 - Greenwood County formed with the town of Kit Carson as the county seat.
1870 CENSUS Online Greenwood County - mostly Kit Carson area.
See: A town history of Kit Carson.

1874 - Greenwood County becomes only county in Colorado to be completely abolished. The area divided into Bent and Elbert counties.

1876 - Colorado becomes a state.

1889 - The counties of Cheyenne, Kiowa, Kit Carson, Lincoln, Otero and Prowers formed from portions of Elbert and Bent counties.

Suggested links:

- Don Stanwyck's Colorado County Evolution, Pictorial
Colorado Maps at USGenWeb Archives Digital Maps Library
Colorado Places by County

  The Old Trails

"Old Military Trail"
This trail connected Fort Wallace (on the Smoky Hill River in Kansas) to Fort Lyon (on the Arkansas River in Colorado).

Omaha Trail

This trail angled down from Kansas into northeast Cheyenne county and merged with the Smoky Hill Trail east of Cheyenne Wells.

Smoky Hill Trail

The Smoky Hill Trail (also called the Butterfield Trail and the Starvation Trail) followed the Smoky Hill River. It crossed Cheyenne county from east to west. Lt. John C. Fremont is known to have used this trail as early as 1844. When gold was discovered on Cherry Creek in 1859, the trail was promoted as the most direct route to Denver. The route was treacherous and earned the name "Starvation Trail"). David Butterfield established the Butterfield Overland Dispatch along this trail. This was Indian hunting territory. Several military forts were established along the trail to protect travelers. The Kansas Pacific Railway followed this trail through Kansas.

The trail split near "Old Wells" (about 5 miles north of present day Cheyenne Wells) into north and south forks. The north fork of the trail went northwest from "Old Wells" Station through Deering Wells Station, Big Springs Station, and David Wells Station and eventually to Denver. The south fork was first surveyed in 1860, and again in 1865. The south fork ran southwest from Old Wells through Eureka Station to Dubois Station. Then it headed northwest to Grady Station. The two forks joined up again near Hugo.

Texas-Montana Cattle Trail

This trail was used during the Civil War. It ran south to north across Cheyenne county through Big Springs Station.

Suggested links:

Cheyenne Wells Caves A History, by Betty Mahlberg


Old Trails Monument
(north of Kit Carson on State Hwy. 59, erected in 1954)

Inscription: "Smoky Hill Trail -- Famous emigrant and stage road between Kansas City and Denver. Stations and stock were moved to this shortened north route in 1866. Traveled by pioneers, soldiers and Wells Fargo Express. Big Springs station 2.4 miles west. Stagecoach service was withdrawn upon completion of the railroad, but wagon traffic continued thereafter."

"Old Cattle Trail -- The Texas-Montana, Bacon and Potter, and J. S. Chisum trails, leading from sections of Texas, converged in this vicinity. Over these routes great herds of Texas longhorns, scions of hardy stock from Spain, moved northward. Big Springs 2.4 miles west, was an important cattle watering place. Legend says that Billy Comstock, early scout, was killed here by Indians, who left him unscalped in tribute to his courage and ability."

Smoky Hill Trail Monument (6 miles west of Cheyenne Wells on Hwy. 40, erected in 1939)

Inscription: "The route of the famous Smoky Hill Trail. Emigrant and stage road extending from Kansas City (Westport) to Denver via Fort Riley, Fort Hayes, and Fort Wallace. Traveled by gold seekers, soldiers and pioneers. Route of Butterfield's Overland Dispatch and Wells Fargo Express. The trail replaced by the Union Pacific Railroad in 1870."

  Stage Routes - under construction

The Butterfield Overland Dispatch (B.O.D.) began operation in Cheyenne county in 1865. In 1866, The Butterfield Overland Dispatch was purchased by Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo sold it in 1869. The coming of the railroad led to the eventual end of the stage business. Some stage lines continued for many years to locations not reached by the railroad. The stage stations were about 25 miles apart.


Smoky Hill Trail (above) for information on station locations.

The Cheyenne County History Map shows the stage routes and stations in Cheyenne County.


Kansas Pacific Railroad reached Colorado on January 25, 1870. Tracks were laid across Cheyenne county [Greenwood county, at that time]. By the end of June 1870 the railroad reached the western end (Aroyo). The towns in Cheyenne County grew up along the railroad route. Hotels, restaurants, saloons, blacksmith shops, dry goods stores and other businesses were built. The following is a chronology of the railroad construction progress across the county in 1870:
February 1, 1870 - Arapahoe

March 3, 1870 - Cheyenne Wells, the community at "Old Cheyenne Wells" (a stage station) moved 5 miles to meet the railroad at the present-day site

March 10, 1870 - First View

March 28, 1870 - Kit Carson, county seat of Greenwood County and a stage station.

June 16, 1870 - Wild Horse

June 18, 1870 - Aroya (west end of county)

To get a better idea of the growth of a "railroad" town, take a look at the 1870 US Federal Census for Greenwood County (the only year a census was taken in this short lived county). Colorado was still a territory at this time and Kit Carson was the only town in the census. The census has been transcribed and and is available at the USGenWeb Census Project archive - Greenwood County Census.

In 1870, the Kansas Pacific began surveying for a branch line from Kit Carson south to the Fort Lyon on the Arkansas River. The Arkansas Valley Railroad was built in 1873-1875. It was short lived and the tracks were torn up in 1877.

The Kansas Pacific is now the Union Pacific Railroad.

Recommended reference:

Book: The First Five Years of the Railroad Era in Colorado by E. O. Davis

  Homesteads - under construction

The United States Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862. Claims could be made on 160 acres. The homesteader could purchase the land for $1.25 per acre after he lived on the land for six months and cultivated it. If the homesteader lived on the land continuously for five years and cultivated at least one-eighth, he could purchase it for a small fee, usually $26 to $34.

A later law allowed for an additional quarter section, if adjoining land was available.

The U.S. Government opened up eastern Colorado land for homesteading in the late 1880's. Many people took advantage of the Homestead Act. People came to Cheyenne County from all parts of the United States. Some were Civil War veterans. Many European immigrants also came to Cheyenne County. They were Bohemians, Irish, Germans, Norwegians, Swedes, and others.

Cheyenne County experienced several growth spurts. The largest growth occurred between 1900 and 1910. The population grew from about 500 in 1900 to over 3,600 in 1910. During this period Cheyenne County was the fastest growing county in Colorado.

Suggested links:

Early Homesteaders of Cheyenne County - a growing list of early homesteaders in Cheyenne County
The Homestead Act of 1862

  Historic Sites

Cheyenne County Courthouse, 51 South First Street, Cheyenne Wells. Built in 1908. National Register of Historic Places. National Register: 07/27/89, 5CH52

Old Cheyenne County Jail, Cheyenne Wells. Built 1894, used as a jail until 1961. National Register of Historic Places. Now a historical museum. National Register: - 06/16/88, 5CH39

The Historic Plains Hotel, Cheyenne Wells. Built in 1919. Still used as a hotel.

Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Building. 15170 Fifth Street, Cheyenne Wells. State Register 03/12/96, 5CH128

Kit Carson Pool Hall, 2nd & Main Streets, Kit Carson. State Register 12/08/93, 5CH112

Union Pacific Pumphouse, First Street, Kit Carson. Built circa 1880 stone pumphouse, used by Union Pacific Railroad's steam locomotives. State Register 06/14/95, 5CH114

Wild Horse Mercantile, 15170 5th Street, Wild Horse. Built after the 1917 fire, store was in continuous operation in the late 1960s. State Register 06/14/95, 5CH116

Wild Horse School, 8513 State Hwy. 40/287, Wild Horse. Built in 1912. State Register 12/11/96, 5CH122


More Cheyenne County History items:
History Map of Cheyenne County With towns, trails, railroads, etc
Cheyenne Wells Caves - arcticle contributed by Betty Mahlberg
Early Homesteaders of Cheyenne County

Links to other sites with Cheyenne County History information:
Infoplease: Colorado History, Geography, Population and State Facts
Colorado: The Official State Web Portal. Facts and History
Town of Cheyenne Wells

Background by Karla Mahlberg, copyright 1998-2008
Karla Mahlberg Copyright (c) 1998-2008
URL: http://www.cogenweb.com/cheyenne/cheyhist.htm