The Cherokee Trail
The Cherokee Trail (also known as the Trappers' Trail) was a
historic overland trail through the present-day U.S. states of
Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana that was used
from the late 1840s up through the early 1890s. The route was
established in 1849 by a wagon train headed to the gold fields
in California. Among the members of the expedition were a group
The route of
the trail ran from the Grand River near present day Salina,
Oklahoma, northwest to strike the Santa Fe Trail at McPherson.
From there it followed the Santa Fe Trail west, then turned
north along the base of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains
over the Arkansas/Platte River divide and descended along Cherry
Creek (Colorado) into the valley of the South Platte River. The
original 1849 trail followed the east side of the South Platte
River to present-day Greeley then west via a wagon road to
Laporte in Laramier County. From Laporte, the wagon road was
built north past present-day Virginia Dale Stage Station to the
Laramie Plains in southeastern Wyoming. The trail was then
blazed westward and northward around the Medicine Bow Range
crossing the North Platte River then turning north to present
day Rawlins. The trail proceeded west along the route of present
Interstate 80 finally joining the Oregon, California and Mormon
trails near Granger, Wyoming.
In 1850, an
additional route was blazed on the west side of the South Platte
River, crossing the Cache la Poudre River, and then to the
Laramie Plains. There the trail turned west near present day Tie
Siding, and proceeded along the Colorado/Wyoming border to Green
River and to Fort Bridger where it struck the other emigrant
Parts of the 1850 trail can be seen on
Bureau of Land Management land in Wyoming. In Sweetwater County
the trail on BLM sections is marked with four foot high concrete
In Colorado parts of the trail are
still visible and walkable in Arapahoe, Douglas and Larimer
counties. An approximation of the route can be driven on State
Highway 83 from Parker near Denver to Colorado Springs.
Lieutenant Abraham Buford, escorting the mail from Santa Fe to
the east, turned south at McPherson, Kansas, to follow the
recently blazed Evans/Cherokee Trail to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma,
and then connected with another trail to nearby Fort Smith,
Arkansas. Starting in 1850 the trail was used continuously by
gold seekers, emigrants and cattle drovers from Arkansas, Texas,
Missouri, and the Cherokee Nation.
In 1850, a
member of a wagon train en route to California discovered gold
in Ralston Creek, a tributary of Clear Creek north of present
day Denver. Stories of this discovery led to further expeditions
in 1858, and the subsequent 1859 Colorado Gold Rush.
In the 1860s
portions of the trail from northern Colorado to Fort Bridger in
Wyoming were incorporated as part of the Overland Trail and
stage route between Kansas and Salt Lake City, Utah.
L.H. Musgrove traveled on the Cherokee Trail from Colorado into
Wyoming during the 1860s.
CHEROKEE AND OVERLAND TRAILS CORRIDOR IN COLORADO
40.40056ᵒ, Longitude W 105.12433ᵒ (GPS WGS84)
(Located on private property—Please respect)
The Cherokee and
Overland Trails crossed the Big Thompson River ½ mile north of
segments of the main trail were re-routed as communities
developed, the north-south trail corridor hugged the piedmont,
or the eastern base, of the Rocky Mountains.
In 1858 a
frontiersman as noted then as were Jim Bridger, Jim Baker,
Elbridge Gerry and Kit Carson settled on the Big Thompson.
Trapper, trader, guide and Army scout Mariano Medina
brought his wife Tacanecy (a member of the Flathead tribe),
their four children, and several Spanish and Indian followers to
this river crossing on the only connecting “road” between the
Santa Fe Trail to the south and the Oregon-California Trail to
the north. With the
discovery that same year of gold near where Denver lies today,
Mariano wisely anticipated heavy trail traffic.
His settlement, first called Miraville, then Mariano’s
Crossing, Big Thompson Station, and finally Namaqua, thrived
until after his death in 1878.
In 1861 the
Overland Mail Company bought a failing stage line running from
Kansas City to California, following the old emigrant trails up
the North Platte River through Nebraska and Wyoming.
The next year, because of Indian troubles, the route
changed to ascend the South Platte River into Colorado, but only
as far as Latham Station, where it followed the Cache La Poudre
River. Denver City
pressed to be included, and in September 1862, as a result of
another route change, it succeeded. The Overland was authorized
to use most of the old Cherokee Trail, segments of which had
also been known as The Trappers’ Trail, Bridger’s Road, Taos
Trail and Old Laramie Road.
Wisely, a month
before the Denver route change, Mariano and his stepson Louie
Papa received a permit from the Colorado Territorial Legislature
to “keep a toll bridge at the crossing of the Big Thompson on
the Cherokee Trail” 65 miles north of Denver.
From Denver the trail
continued north to Mariano’s Crossing (later Namaqua Station),
and then to Laporte, where it crossed the Cache La Poudre River
before heading into today’s Wyoming and on west over Bridger’s
Pass to Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Overland Mail
Company required station proprietors to build and maintain
bridges at their own expense, and the legal contract bound the
company to put its stage coaches across them, paying the
Mariano’s bridge was located 200 ft. upriver, or west, of the
current Namaqua Avenue bridge.
His sturdy toll bridge withstood several floods and
provided a lucrative income.
Mariano also fattened and traded trail-worn livestock,
irrigated and sold grass hay, kept a general mercantile store,
raised potatoes, and boarded stage passengers.
designated a home station on the Overland stage route and
entertained a multitude of travelers overnight, among them
frontiersman Kit Carson and Army Generals Grant, Sherman and
Phillip H. Sheridan.
between the trails, the Mariano Medina Family Cemetery was one
of several “firsts” with which the pioneer was credited,
including the first settlement in the valley, first school and
The trail’s legacy
as a main transportation corridor along the foot of the Rockies
continues in modern times.
U. S. Highway 287 closely follows it.
The trail has evolved to become Interstate 25, connecting
towns and cities today as it did settlements in the early days,
and as it has done since the first Native American followed a
faint game trail north or south.
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