Cherokee Trail

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Cherokee Trail near Fort Collins, Colorado, from a sketch taken 7 June 1859.

The Cherokee Trail was a historic overland trail through the present-day U.S. states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming 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 of Cherokee;[1] when the train formed in Indian Territory, Lewis Evans of Evansville, Arkansas, was elected Captain. Thus, this expedition is sometimes written as the Evans/Cherokee Train.[2]

According to one source, "Neither the number of wagons nor the number of people that eventually used this road to cross the Sierra Madres makes this trail significant. What makes this road unique is that Native Americans and their traveling companions did not just cross the Continental Divide; they made a path over the mountains and through the Wyoming Basin." [3]

The trail was also known as the Trappers' Trail, but the Trapper's Trail from 1820 in Colorado often varied from Cherokee Trail and took a different route in Wyoming. It also went to Taos, New Mexico.

Route Description[edit]

The route of the trail ran from the Grand River near present-day Salina, Oklahoma,[a] northwest to strike the Santa Fe Trail at McPherson, Kansas.

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 Larimer County.

From Laporte, the wagon road was built north past present-day Livermore Stage Station to the Laramie Plains by way of a broad "park", now called Cherokee Park, in honor of their passing; the route emerged in southeastern Wyoming near Tie Siding and on across the Laramie Basin. 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 1854, 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 trails.

Parts of the 1854 trail can be seen on Bureau of Land Management land in Wyoming, California. In Sweetwater County the trail on BLM sections is marked with 4-foot-high (1.2 m) concrete posts.


Parts of this trail had been traveled and reported earlier in the 19th Century. According to Gardner, General William Ashley had used part of this route as early as 1824. Gardner also mentions that emigrants heading for Oregon wrote about the routes in and out of Browns Park in 1839.[b] By 1849, three routes suitable for crossing the Continental Divide had been identified: Twin Groves, Wyoming, an unnamed location near present day Rawlings, Wyoming and Bridger's Pass; the Cherokee Trail followed the Twin Groves route.[3] [c]

In 1849, 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 with Captain Lewis Evans and Lieutenant Captain Peter Mankins, with 2nd Lieutenant George Van Hoose leading the expedition 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.

The outlaw L. H. Musgrove traveled on the Cherokee Trail from Colorado into Wyoming during the 1860s. A native of Mississippi, he came to California at the time of the Gold Rush. Apparently deciding that crime was more profitable than panning for gold, he was arrested and charged with murder in Fort Halleck, Wyoming, during 1863. Taken to Denver for trial, he was released on an unexplained technicality, and returned to a life of crime. Musgrove assembled a network of horse thieves known as the Musgrove Gang, who raided government posts and wagon trains along the Colorado Front Range, following the Cherokee Trail. Musgrove was finally captured and taken to jail in Denver, he started a rumor from his cell that friends were planning to help him escape, and that the citizens could not prevent this. Instead, a group of vigilantes demanded that the guards release Musgrove to them; the guards offered no resistance, so the vigilantes took possession of the prisoner. Quickly they moved him to the Larimer Street bridge and ended his criminal career by hanging him beneath the bridge on November 23, 1868.[6][7]


  1. ^ Some sources say the origin was in the area of Fort Gibson and Talequah, (then in Indian Territory, but now in the state of Oklahoma) and extended over 900 miles (1,400 km) to Fort Bridger, Wyoming.[4]
  2. ^ Browns Park, also called "Browns Hole," is an isolated valley on the Utah-Colorado border near the extreme northwestern border of present-day Colorado. It seems to have served as a landmark in several accounts describing the Cherokee Trail.
  3. ^ According to the Topozone website, Twin Groves is now the site of Twin Groves Reservoir in Carbon County, Wyoming (Coordinates 41.3591276°N, -107.164776°W).[5]


  1. ^ Foreman, Grant. Early Trails Through Oklahoma, Oklahoma Chronicles 3:2 (June 1925) 99-119 (retrieved August 18, 2006)
  2. ^ "Fletcher, Dr. Jack E. and Patricia K. A. "Pioneering the Trail." Undated. Accessed January 21, 2018.
  3. ^ a b Gardner, A. Dudley. "Wyoming History: The Cherokee Trail - Part I." Western Wyoming Community College. Rev. 2002. Accessed November 18, 2016
  4. ^ Fletcher, Jack and Pat. "The Cherokee Trail." Undated. Accessed January 17, 2018.
  5. ^ "Twin Groves (historical) Information." Topozone. Accessed January 17, 2018.
  6. ^ "The Musgrove Gang." Overland Trail. Undated. Accessed January 20, 2018.
  7. ^ [ Correa, Tom. "Little Known Old West Gunmen & Outlaws - Part Four: L. H. Musgrove." The American Cowboy Chronicles. August 28, 2015.] Accessed January 21, 2018.


  • Fletcher, Patricia K. A., Jack E. Fletcher, Lee Whiteley, "Cherokee Trail Diaries New Routes to the California Gold Rush Vol 1 1849, Vol II 1850." Sequim, WA Fletcher Family Trust, 1999.
  • Fletcher, Dr. Jack E., Patricia K.A. Fletcher, "Cherokee Trail Diaries Emigrants, Goldseekers, Cattle Drives and Outlaws 1851-1900, Vol III" Sequim, WA Fletcher Family Trust, 2001.
  • Marcy, Randolph B., Capt. US Army. The Prairie Traveler. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1859. (retrieved from The Kansas Collection August 18, 2006).
  • Dictionary of American History by James Truslow Adams, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940
  • Whiteley, Lee. The Cherokee Trail: Bent's Old Fort to Fort Bridger
  • Gehling, Richard. "Colorado's Cherokee Trail'.

External links[edit]