The C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society (Cockeyed Old West Band Of Yahoos Society) was formed in 1996 to preserve the history of the Kansas Cowboy. Over the years we have dug out a LOT of stories about Cowboys and related frontier tales. One of our favorite subjects is the Smoky Hill Trail. Like most early trails the Smoky Hill had its beginnings in the routes taken by early Indians traveling for various reasons across the plains.
The gold rush to Colorado in the late 1850s brought about a popular interest in the route because it was quite a few miles shorter than the Santa Fe Trail or the California/Oregon Trail. The trouble with the Smoky Hill Trail was that is was not well marked and the western reaches of Kansas were often scarce of a commodity more precious than gold: WATER. Folks lost there way, ran out of food and water and most generally experienced great misery before reaching Denver City, if they reached it at all. Western stretches of the trail were widely known as the Starvation Trail.
In 1865, David Butterfield established a well surveyed route creating the Butterfield Overland Despatch, a stage and freighting company. The trail became commonly known as the B.O. D. The B.O.D. operated in legendary times and almost anything that has been shown in the movies about the West occurred along the glorious B.O. D.
Each year a handful of C.O.W.B.O.Y.S. head out onto the trail for a few days of discovery. Its the inspiration of Dave Zerfas, Cowboy singer known far and wide as Zerf. The annual event has come to be known as Zerfari. The spirit of the prairie is ever with us and seems to guide us often revealing nearly forgotten wonders along the way.
We found many wonders over the two and one half days. Not all of it is on the B.O.D. but also along the early development of the Union Pacific Eastern Division that was built in 1867 1869, eventually becoming the famous Kansas Pacific. It always helps to run onto the right people along the way, and we made sure to stop at WaKeeney to visit with Jim Cleland of Cleland Drugs. He still has the old fashioned soda fountain in the store and he is also VERY interested in the B.O.D.
During the conversation Cleland mentioned a study that local, Ken Hacker was doing on an early railroad stop known as Parks Fort. Soon, we were talking with Ken. The story goes that Mr. Park was in charge of a large railroad crew and their camp became the railroad stop. While hunting buffalo to feed the crew the hunters, including Park, were attacked by Indians. The running fight is described in an article written by one of the participants. Three men eventually were forced to stand off the Indians with a large rock bluff to their backs. Park was finally killed by a falling bolder that the Indians pried loose above him. He fought so bravely that his body and all his possessions were left untouched. A buffalo soldier was the sole survivor of the fight.
Look for the full story in the September/October 2004, Kansas Cowboy. If yer interested in this, or Zerfari, or more great frontier history just click Join The C.O.W.B.O.Y. Society at the side of the page.
Check back here, too. I plan to tell more of the latest Zerfari along the way.