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8/31/2004

Thompson Creek

Our little journey through Ellsworth history has taken us from the distant past of the earth-lodge people through exploration by The Pathfinder, John C. Fremont. The prairie is still unbroken. An ocean of grass stretches from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains.  
What a paradise it must have been! The great herds of buffalo (particular folks like to call ‘em bison, I’ll stick with frontier terminology) roamed the plains at will. Not only buffalo, but Elk could be found in abundant numbers. Wolves, black bears, and even grizzley bears were all native to the Kansas prairies. Deer and antelope played while wily coyotes looked on. Beaver and porcupines made their homes along the watercourses that held cat fish of unbelievable size.  
Into this paradise came a team of hunters headed up by P. M. Thompson. Their main camp was along the Smoky Hill River near present-day Marquette, Kansas. Thompson knew the Smoky better than any man alive and became identified with the river as Smoky Hill Thompson. Indians paid a visit to Thompson’s camp while he and his men were hunting. Upon their return they found everything of value gone or destroyed. In anger, Thompson swore he would not leave the plains until he had recovered his losses.  
With that, he moved onto a small tributary of the Smoky Hill River in what is southeastern Ellsworth County today. There, the team built dugouts to prepare for winter. Six years earlier a military survey team had crossed the territory laying out a supply route from Fort Riley to the southwest. Thompson’s dugouts looked out upon the little used trail. It was sometimes used to haul salt from the surface mines along the Smoky Hill Trail to the road ranches of the Santa Fe Trail, so the trail had become known as the Salt Road.  
Thompson was a bigger than life sort of character with stories of wrestling grizzley bears and harnessing buffalo to plow corn fields. What ever the truth is about his life one thing is for certain. He saw a world that we can only imagine when the Kansas plains were magnificent beyond all description. They would soon change, but for Smoky Hill Thompson Heaven was a little road ranch on a tributary that would forever be known as Thompson Creek. 
So Long, 
The Cowboy 

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