High-Five Plains Towns
Watkins, Bennett, Strasburg, Byers, Peoria, Deer Trail, Agate, Godfrey, Cedar Point, Riverbend—most of these Colorado high plains towns were founded around the time when the Kansas Pacific Railroad arrived in 1870. Five of these towns, Watkins, Bennett, Strasburg, Byers, and Deer Trail, all became busy agricultural shipping centers. Through the first half of the twentieth century these five communities, now along the east I-70 corridor, were the very picture of Main Street, USA—rural, self-sufficient, and distinctive, with strong local identities. But maintaining those identities became increasingly difficult after World War II, as Denver's steady advance threatened to wipe out the line between town and country. In November 1996, the five time-tested communities launched the High Five Plains Foundation, a joint initiative to promote local economies, manage growth, and preserve the region's traditions and quality of life. By integrating their past into the future, the High Five communities hope to keep an important part of Colorado's history alive.
Photo of turn-of-the-century Bennett:
(Caption) Bennett, early 1900s. Bennett grew up near the junction of the Smoky Hill Trail North and the Fort Morgan Cut-Off of the South Platte Trail.Courtesy Comanche Crossing Museum
Photo of Strasburg:
(Caption) Strasburg, 1916. On August 15, 1870, workers drove the last spike of the Kansas Pacific Railroad at Comanche Crossing in present-day Strasburg.Courtesy Comanche Crossing Museum
Photo of Byers:
(Caption) Byers, 1900. Originally called Bijou, Byers started out as a station and settlement on the Kansas Pacific Railroad. The town's first postmaster, Oliver Wiggins, changed the name to Byers in honor of William N. Byers, founder of the Rocky Mountain News.Courtesy Comanche Crossing Museum
Photo of Watkins:
(Caption) Watkins, early 1900s. Situated on the Boxelder Creek, Watkins developed around a Kansas Pacific station called Box Elder. It was later renamed Watkins in honor of a local rancher.Courtesy Deer Trail Tribune
Photo of Deer Trail:
(Caption) Deer Trail, 1919. Deer Trial is acknowledged by the Pro Rodeo Association and the Colorado State Assembly as "The Home of the World's First Rodeo."Courtesy Deer Trail Pioneer Historical Society
Ten Miles a Day
Kansas Pacific RailroadIt is no coincidence that the West blossomed just after the Kansas Pacific Railroad's completion in 1870. The next generation witnessed the heyday of the cattle culture, which depended on Kansas Pacific railheads from Denver to Dodge City; the rush of prairie homesteaders, who shipped their produce to market in its boxcars; and the rise of industrial mines, whose ores rode the line to eastern factories. Even as it helped construct a new frontier empire, the Kansas Pacific weakened the old one. The railroad ran through the heart of the Plains Indian nations, dividing their buffalo herds and expediting wars against them. As an economic pipeline and an engine of conquest, the Kansas Pacific played a central role in the transformation of the West.
August 15, 1870, was perhaps the greatest single day of railroad building in history. The Kansas Pacific tracks had surged to within fifty miles of Denver; a second construction team, advancing eastward from the city, stood just over ten miles distant. At dawn on this notable day an American flag and a keg of whiskey were placed halfway between the two crews, and the rhythmic calls of the gandy dancers commenced. By three in the afternoon the workers had bridged the gap; they laid ten miles of track in ten hours, a feat not matched before or since. Moreover, the Kansas Pacific made it possible to ride coast to coast without ever leaving the rails——the Union Pacific still lacked a bridge over the Missouri River and required passengers to be ferried across at Omaha.
Photo of track being completed:
(Caption) Laying the trackColorado Historical Society
Railroad map:Colorado Historical Society
Photo of locomotive:
(Caption) Kansas Pacific engine No. 51 was lost near this location in the Kiowa Creek flood of May 21, 1878. It was identical to KP No. 68, the Baldwin 4-4-0 pictured here.
Courtesy DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University, Ag 82.86.40