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A Visit and stay at the Ponderosa Ranch, Nebraska 7/14-15/2016

by Chris Guenzler

I finished up the Black Hill Central Railroad story while having chocolate do-nuts and orange juice. Once we were ready we drove to the first gate, opened it then I drove through and Chris Parker closed it behind us. We drove this road to the lake and parked the car. We then hiked to the picnic bench that overlooks the BNSF Crawford grade line.

Area History

The Pine Ridge Area has often been referred to as the "last frontier", and for a good reason. It was a favorite Indian hunting and camping area for hundreds of years and the Sioux Indians occupied it permanently about 1810. Spaniards from New Mexico where the first fur traders, followed in the 1830's by Americans from St. Louis, who established a regular trail from Fort Laramie to Fort Pierre on the Missouri River. In the 1840's there were two competing fur posts, one on Chadron Creek, about eight miles south of Chadron, the other on Bordeaux Creek, three and a half mile east of Chadron. Red Cloud Indian Agency was moved to the White River in 1873. Camp Robinson was established in 1874 to protect the Agency. It was renamed Fort Robinson in 1878 and was an active military post until 1948. The Agency played an important role in the Indian Wars of the 1870's. Sioux war leader Crazy Horse was killed at Fort Robinson in 1877.

In 1851, Horse Creek Treaty was the largest gathering of Indians ever recorded - and the first treaty to be covered by the media. Some 12,000 Indians along with their 30,000 horses descended on this site to discuss an arrangement - the tribes would allow the government to build roads and forts on their lands. In return, the Army was to protect the Indians from white settlers and pay the tribes $50,000 in goods annually for 50 years. Rather than solve the problems, the treaty began a series of misunderstandings and misdeeds that led to the bloody Indian Wars.

With the removal of the Sioux Indians to South Dakota in 1877, several very large cattle outfits came into the area. Large roundups were conducted annually until the railroads arrived in 1885 and an influx of homesteaders took up most of the available land.

The old Sidney-Deadwood Trail can be viewed when riding on the western part of our ranch. This trail was an important link between Sidney, Nebraska and the Black Hills, where gold had been discovered in 1874. The would-be miners tried to find the shortest route to their new found "fortune". The railroad dropped men and supplies off in Sidney, and from there, they would venture over the 267-mile trail to the Black Hills in search of gold. In 1876 & 1877, hundreds of people arrived and departed Sidney daily in the rush to the Black Hills. From 1875-1881, the trail brought many men to the mining towns of Deadwood and Custer, South Dakota. The trail saw a lot of traffic, mostly in the form of stagecoaches, freight wagons drawn by oxen or mules, herds of cattle, and riders on horseback. It is estimated that from 1878-1879 alone, over 22 million pounds of freight moved over the Trail. Gold shipments, some worth up to $200,000 moved over the Sidney-Deadwood Trail. The Trail's major obstacle was the North Platte River, near Bridgeport, and in 1876, Clarke's Bridge was created to make the traveling easier. By 1880, the railroad reached the Pierre Dakota Territory diverting much of the gold rush traffic away from Sidney.

Just imagine the different characters that probably rode the Sidney-Deadwood Trail - "Buffalo Bill" Cody, was scouting for the military; Calamity Jane, frontierswoman and a rider for the Pony Express; Sam Bass, trail boss who squandered cattle drive money in poker games in Deadwood; Whispering Smith, railroad detective; Doc Middleton, desperado, road agent and bandit; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, bank robbers; Lt. Colonel George Custer, soldier; "Wild Bill" Hickok, expert marksman, stage coach driver & lawman - Hickok died in 1876 - shot in the back of the head in the No. 10 Saloon in Deadwood, South Dakota. He was holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights (fifth card unknown) and in poker to this day such a hand is known as the "Dead Man's Hand."

Lots of different gamblers probably rode over the Trail - Doc Baggs, Jim Bush, Jim Lavine and Rebel George. They had a different idea of how they were going to seek their fortune - at the poker tables in Deadwood!! Dawes County is still cattle country and very much reflects its heritage of Indians, fur traders, cowboys and frontier soldiers.

We got to the picnic table and I started taking my pictures to give you an idea of the views from this area of the Ponderosa Ranch.

The view from our overlook at the picnic bench. The uphill trains sneak up on you here so you must always be prepared for a train. Soon we all heard our first train coming up to our photo location.

BNSF 5921 South. Now we would wait for more trains. It did not take too long!

BNSF 9299 North was the next train, which was followed by another southbound.

BNSF 5857 South climbed Crawford Hill.

BNSF 9222 North a light engine movement.

BNSF 4090 South with a ballast train. We would continue to wait for more trains.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!