Willow Springs to North Platte

Along the Overland Trail

WILLOW SPRINGS The Overland Stage road left the Virginia Dale station and entered Dakota Territory, now Wyoming. Willow Springs, the first swing station in Wyoming also used to be called "Dirty Woman." Originally consisting of a small log structure and corral, it was raided and burned several times by the Indians. Willow springs was located on the prairie near a grove of willow trees, next to a spring. There is a disagreement by several historians over the exact location of the Willow Springs Station. There are no remains of the station, but the site was pretty much pinpointed by some debris a mile or so to the west and south of Tie Siding. Local logs were used in the construction of the station buildings.

The busiest period in Willow Springs' history was when large numbers of workers for the new Transcontinental Railroad cut logs for railroad ties to the south and west of the station during the years 1866 to 1868. The site of Tie Siding remains--another typical "spot on the map" on US Highway 287, just north of the Colorado/Wyoming border.

Leaving the Willow Springs station, the trail went pretty much in a straight, northwest line, crossing the Laramie Plains, one of the largest and finest cattle range and haylands in the West. Big Laramie, a home station on the Laramie River, was located about 15 miles north and west of Willow Springs.

After leaving the Big Laramie Station, the stages and wagons crossed an area on the prairie called "Big Hollow." Early maps called it "The Sinks"--and for good reason. It was quite a depression where alkaline water collected. Several diaries mention the large alkali deposits which had built up there, and that animals who drank the water would eventually die. The remedy of the day was to put lard or grease into the stomach of the affected animals.

LITTLE LARAMIE About 20 miles downstream at the confluence of the Laramie River and Brown's Creek, stood the first Little Laramie Station. A second site for the station was about 1 1/2 miles to the south where the ranch manager bought and traded livestock from the emigrants. It was perhaps moved yet another time a bit to the west. Again, this station, consisting of log buildings, was burned and destroyed by the Indians in 1865. At one time there was a blacksmith shop. Also living in this area was a rancher who offered fresh deer, elk, and antelope meat for sale to the travelers.

COOPER CREEK Ruts of the Overland Trail can still be seen in the median strip along Interstate I-80, just west of Cooper Cove Valley. The Cooper Creek Station was located right on the present Albany-Carbon County line, on Cooper Creek. It too saw it's share of Indian problems, being sacked and pillaged a number of times. In a 1863 diary by Sarah Herndon, mention is made of a bullet-ridden stage coach near the station.

ROCK CREEK The Rock Creek Station, also known as Arlington or Rock Dale, was built in 1860. An emigrant in 1865 wrote that Rock Creek had the appearance of a small town, with the station buildings, a store, and several houses. One of the original buildings still standing on Main Street is a large two-story blockhouse. The lower level housed a blacksmith shop, with the upper floor serving over the years as a bunkhouse, saloon, dancehall, even a school. Rock Creek, a swift moving deep creek, had a log toll bridge which emigrant wagons had to pay $.75 to cross.

The Rock Creek Station is near where the Fletcher family was attacked by Cheyennes and Arapahoes. They killed the mother, wounded the brother and father, and abducted the two little daughters--Mary, 13, and Lizzie, 2. Mary was found and bought back by a white trader a short time later who returned her to her family, but Lizzie was not found until 30 or so years later when she was seen in Caspar, Wyoming, and recognized as a white lady. She spoke no English, refused to be reunited with her sister, who had settled in Iowa, and remained on the Wind River Reservation until her death. A number of diaries and news articles tell of continuing Indian raids on the Rock Creek Station and of attacks on wagons and stages in the general area.

ELK MOUNTAIN The Elk Mountain Station, right at the base of Elk Mountain, was a long log building with stables for livestock on one end, a center alley way with room for hay and grain, and the living quarters for the stocktenders on the other end. A tunnel, reached via a trap door inside the building, was dug from the station to a near by fort, used during the numerous Indian attacks. The Elk Mountain Station, located on the banks of the Medicine Bow River, was succeptible to Indian attack because of the thick cover of willows and cottonwoods making it easy for the Indians to sneak into the stable, steal the horses, and quickly slip away.

Fort Halleck, named after the Civil War hero, Major General Henry Wager Halleck, was established at the base of Elk Mountain by the 11th Ohio Volunteer Cavalry in 1862 to protect the Overland Trail Stage Route.

PASS CREEK The Pass Creek Station was reached by traveling through Rattlesnake Canyon, a narrow trail with high hills on both sides. Diarists have noted that this was a favorite place for Indians to hide and ambush. Nothing remains of the station, and the exact location is also disputed.

The North Platte River Crossing: both an oasis in the dry, sandy sage brush country, and a crossing which was often looked upon with with fear.

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