WHAT IS HERE: County Formation
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.
Carson (N), Lincoln
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
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
1870 - Greenwood County formed with the town of
Kit Carson as the county seat.
See: 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,
Carson, Lincoln, Otero and Prowers formed from portions of Elbert and
"Old Military Trail"
This trail connected Fort Wallace (on the
Smoky Hill River in Kansas) to Fort Lyon (on the
Arkansas River in Colorado).
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
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
Texas-Montana Cattle Trail
This trail was used during the Civil War. It
ran south to north across Cheyenne county through Big
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
"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
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."
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.
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 -
March 3, 1870 - Cheyenne
Wells, the community at "Old Cheyenne Wells" (a stage
station) moved 5 miles to meet the railroad at the
March 10, 1870 - First
March 28, 1870 - Kit Carson,
county seat of Greenwood County and a stage
June 16, 1870 - Wild
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 -
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
The First Five
Years of the Railroad Era in Colorado by E.
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.
Early Homesteaders of Cheyenne
County - a growing list of early
homesteaders in Cheyenne County
Homestead Act of 1862
Cheyenne County Courthouse, 51 South
First Street, Cheyenne Wells. Built in 1908. National
Register of Historic Places. National Register: 07/27/89,
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
Plains Hotel, Cheyenne Wells. Built in
1919. Still used as a hotel.
Mountain States Telephone & Telegraph Building.
15170 Fifth Street, Cheyenne Wells. State Register
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,
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,
Wild Horse School, 8513 State Hwy. 40/287, Wild
Horse. Built in 1912. State Register 12/11/96, 5CH122
- MORE HISTORY LINKS
More Cheyenne County History
History Map of Cheyenne
County With towns, trails, railroads, etc
Caves - arcticle
contributed by Betty Mahlberg
Early Homesteaders of Cheyenne County
Links to other sites with Cheyenne County History
Infoplease: Colorado History, Geography, Population and State Facts
Colorado: The Official State Web Portal. Facts and History
Town of Cheyenne