The Raynesford Papers: Biography

Biography of Howard Raynesford

     Howard Raynesford was born August 13, 1876 in Ellis, Kansas. He was a farmer, operated a dairy, had a wife and sons. It is for his "hobby" that he is now remembered. Howard was an historian, Director of the Kansas State Historical Society, and tireless expert on the Smoky Hill Trail and the Butterfield Overland Despatch stagecoach line that ran over the trail. Raynesford painstakingly mapped the route of this trail. In his spare time he walked over 200 miles following the trail and locating many of the stagecoach stations. In 1963 the Kansas Legislature granted permission (no funding) for him to place stone-post markers on the right-of-way where the trail crossed major highways. 138 markers were placed.

     Following Raynesford's death on March 2, 1967 many of his papers were donated to the Hays Public Library. They now reside in the Kansas Room there.

     Howard Raynesford explained his fascination with the Smoky Hill Trail in this way:

"Old trails have always had a great fascination for me. In Connecticut and Virginia I have been on the old Appalachian Trail which ran along the highest elevations from Mt. Kadahdin in Maine to Stone Mountain in Georgia. I have been on the old stage route from St. Louis through Arkansas, Indian Territory and Texas to El Paso and then along the southern borders of New Mexico and Arizona to Yuma and up to Los Angeles and San Francisco, which had to be abandoned when the Civil War broke out. I have been on the Santa Fe and Oregon trails at various places, but none held a greater fascination for me than this historic old Smoky Hill Trail.

Back in the first decade of the century, two men advertising a correspondence school rented window display space in Nicholson's store where I was working as a clerk. I got pretty well acquainted with them, especially the older one, whom I learned had been the youngest trooper in Custer's famous 7th Cavalry, a mere boy in his late teens, and was familiarly known in that organization as "Chic". When asked if he was in the Little Big Horn fight, he said he had been kicked by a horse and was in the hospital with a broken leg when the regiment left on that fatal expedition. As soon as he could travel he had started for the front but the conveyance in which he was traveling tipped over in crossing a stream, hurting his leg again, with the result that he did not get on the battlefield until a week after the massacre. In talking of Custer's activities in this vacinity I mentioned the Smoky Hill Trail. He looked at me in a queer sort of way and asked if it would be possible to get down on this trail while he was here. It was arranged and as we walked out from our car to the trail which at this particular point near Ft. Downer is very wide and plain, he walked out ahead of us onto the trail, removed his hat and knelt down. This seemed rather strange conduct to us, and he gave this explanation. He said his father was the discoverer of gold at the mouth of Cherry Creek in present Denver, that the creek was given his name, that when Denver had become a going town his father had sent for his wife and young son and that he, being that son, had traveled by stagecoach over this trail with his mother to join his father.

And when I think of the many celebrities who have traversed this Trail such as Grant, Sheridan, Sherman, Custer, Forsyth, Beecher, Stanley and many others, and of the hopes and fears engendered by its prospects and dangers, as I have been engaged in searching it out by walking it, I must confess that I have had somewhat the same feeling for it that Mr. Cherry had."

     What follows are a number of Howard Raynesfords notes and writings. They are as he wrote them. Raynesford often interchanged the Butterfield Overland Despatch for the trail it went over, the Smoky Hill, so do not be confused by that. Many of these are from talks he gave, newspaper articles he wrote, and notes he made to himself. They are typed as well as hand-written and every effort to transmit his words accurately has been taken.

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