It was in the year 1867 that a Massachusetts man who was traveling from Omaha to Denver by stage described the region from Fort Kearney to Denver as "four hundred miles of uninhabitable space." Just forty years have passed since what is now the granary of the world was noticed in such uncomplimentary terms. Herds of cattle graze the pasture of the vanished buffalo, sage brush and buffalo grass have given place to fields of waving grain. The white man on his journey to the setting sun has built huge cities where Indians, a generation ago, pitched their frail tepees.
In the western half of this region of erstwhile "uninhabitable space" lie the Plains of Colorado. Rising almost imperceptibly from ten to twenty feet a mile, with rolling prairies broken by a chain of sandhills and bordered by ribbons of flowing water, they form an inclined plane extending to the foothills of the Rockies. Situated in the extreme eastern part of Colorado, in the Plains Country, and adjoining the state lines of Kansas and Nebraska, is Yuma County.
This County is forty miles wide east and west, sixty miles long north and south, and contains 1,532,760 acres of land. It has three streams: the North Fork of the Republican, the Arikaree or Middle Fork, and the South Fork, all fed by springs and furnishing water the year around. Besides these there are also innumerable small streams.
The first settlers in the country, after the Indians, were the cattlemen. Large companies took possession of the streams, and the unwritten law of the Plains allowed each outfit ten miles of open water and the valley adjoining it, and from the stream half way to the nearest open water on some other stream. In the early '80s the tally books of the various outfits of cattle which ranged eastern Colorado made a total of nearly half a million head.
The first cattle company to locate in this region was the 21 outfit which came from Corpus Christi, Texas, in 1873. The company had three camps: one on the Dry Willow, near the present location of J. H. Rosencrans' ranch; one in 21 gulch, which is the first gulch west of the Nebraska line just south of Thomas Ashton's and one at the head of Chief creek. This creek in early days was called Papoose, from the fact that a papoose had been found buried there, wrapped in buffalo hides and placed on a scaffold, according to Indian custom. A few years following saw the entrance of many other outfits.
Ranging the South Fork were the Benkelman's, the Bar T company, and many others. On the Arikaree were located the American Cattle Co., Birmingham, McGavock & Co., the Middy Cattle Co., and various smaller outfits.
In the year 1876 J. W. Bowles located his cattle ranch on the head of the North Fork above Wray. Soon after, W. J. Campbell started the C-C on the same stream near the Nebraska line. Daniel Holden, from Elbert county, located on the same watercourse. These were the pioneer ranches in this vicinity. In 1877-78 I. P. Olive took up a ranch just east of the present town of Wray, near what is now Olive lake.
Following this era came the wave of settlement. The C., B. & Q. railroad, then the B. & M. was built in the summer of 1882. The hard winter of 1885-86 destroyed many cattle on the range. In the same year an order was issued by President Cleveland ordering all fences on public land to he taken down. This, with the incoming rush of settlers, caused most of the large cattle companies to go out of business.
The incoming tide of immigrants reached its height in the spring and summer of 1886 when those who had preempted land the preceding fall now returned with their families, and when many came for the first time to settle. With indomitable courage, men and women from the crowded East built their sod houses on the prairies and started in to make their fortunes from the virgin soil.
There was not much of a settlement at Wray at that time, as a glance at a view taken in the summer of 1886 will show. Pioneers will readily locate the old station, Porter's store, the Rattler office, the Land Office, Hayes' livery barn, George and Fisher's store, and, of course, the Sod Hotel.
Talk with any one of the settlers of the late 80s in this section and ask him how many buildings there were in Wray on his arrival, and it is quite certain his face will break into ripples of a smile as he begins: "Well, there was a sod hotel."
Here it was our pioneers took their first meals, and tradition says they were good meals. From its windows, they surveyed the land they had come to possess. From this point, they made their start. At first it was all sod, but later a frame structure was added. This old hotel exists now only as a memory. The sod being dust, has returned to dust; the frame building is used at present as an office for Klugh & McGinnis. The guests have scattered far and wide, some to their last resting place in the great sod itself. Old things have passed away. Numerous other hotels have been built. We are now planning for an up-to-date brick concern, with electric lights and modern conveniences, but-peace be with the Old Sod Hotel!
At the time of the settlement of the country, the claims were covered with bones of generations of buffalo. These bones were gathered by the carload by the settlers, who sold them for from $5 to $12 per ton, to be converted into buttons, knife handles, combs, and fertilizers.
The land received its first, and practically only, serious setback, in the years 1893 and 1894. The former year is remembered as a time when panic pervaded almost the entire business of the United States. In Yuma County it was a year of drought. The succeeding year was a repetition of the former -- no rain and a complete failure of crops. People left the country by the scores, though hundreds stayed, and many have since returned. From that time to this harvests have been plentiful and the people are prosperous.
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