Historical Details

Hat Creek Station busting with western history

Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 11/20/1991

Niobrara County is fortunate to be the home of one of the most historically significant structures in the state - the Hat Creek Stage Station. The stage stations and military posts at Hat Creek were the first structures built by white men in the area between Fort Laramie and the Black Hills. While this area was still treatied to the Sioux Indians as hunting grounds.

The existing Hat Creek Stage Station is actually the third one built in the immediate area. J.W. Dear built the first one early in 1876. After serving as a "Road Ranche" for travelers on the Cheyenne to Black Hills trail for several months, it was burned by Indians in late June. John "Jack" Bowman then built his station in the late summer and fall of 1876. After the telegraph line arrived, Bowman's Hotel boasted of telegraph and post offices, a brewery, bakery, butcher and blacksmith shops. After Aug. 1, there was also a surgeon and hospital at Camp Hat Creek adjacent to the stage station . These services in addition to lush natural meadows made Hat Creek one of the choice stops on the Cheyenne-Black Hills trail.

The Hat Creek Stage Station building that stand today was built by Tom Swan and John Storrie (Andrew Falconer's brother-in-law), adjacent to "Bowman's Hotel" in 1883-84. This two-story log structure was built of pitch logs from the Hat Creek breaks and is still in relatively good shape after more than a century of service. Restoration of the roof is now nearly complete.

It is difficult to imagine the magnitude of freighting activities served by Hat Creek. In 1876, probably more than 50,000 teams pulling wagons to the Hills stopped there. They carried supplies and people as the lure of gold created the vast rush to the Black Hills. Hat Creek was the last chance for the teamsters and other travelers to stock up on necessary supplies before starting on the most dangerous part of the trip that lay before them as they would soon cross the main Indian trail to the Powder River Country. That was bad news if there were any Indians nearby when they crossed the trail.

There were many attacks by Indians and outlaws on the freight trains and stage coaches. Often the Cavalry troop of Captain Egan and his "Grays" would come to their rescue. Mail carriers, express riders and military couriers were in particular danger. Five of them were killed and scalped near Hat Creek during the summer of 1876. Only two riders were lost on the famous Pony Express covering 2,000 miles in one and one-half years.

The military post at Hat Creek was directly involved in three big good news activities of the Indian wars of 1876-77.

First, on July 17, when the 5th Cavalry with Buffalo Bill Cody as scout stopped 800 Cheyenne Indians from reinforcing hostile Indians in the Powder River Country after Custer's defeat.

Secondly, on Sept. 15, news of the first significant win by General Crook's army, in the battle of Slim Buttes, went on the wire service from Hat Creek on the newly completed telegraph line.

The third big good news was the surrender of Sioux Chief Crazy Horse and about 900 of his followers. They were camped near Hat Creek in early May 1877 when Crazy Horse sent word from Hat Creek to Camp Robinson that he was ready to surrender. Most historians agree that this event essentially ended the Indian wars of 1876-77.

Heavy freight wagon and stage coach traffic continued for the next 10 years over the Cheyenne to Black Hills road. The existing building served the many travelers from 1884 through 1887. After July 1886, when the railroads reached Lusk, the Black Hills freight and passenger traffic slowed and eventually stopped.

Hat Creek, however, remained to serve the big ranches that developed in the 1880's and the homesteaders that followed. The old stage station served them as a post office, general store and meeting place. It was indeed the hub of the community for 50 years.

Andrew Falconer purchased the stage station in 1889 and it was owned by him or his descendants for the next 100 years. His granddaughter, Rosalie Fields, graciously donated it to the Niobrara County Wyoming Centennial Committee and the Niobrara Historical Society so that it may be restored and it's unique historical significance preserved.

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Related/Linked Records

Record Type Name
Obituary Falconer, Andrew (09/18/1856 - 04/18/1922) View Record
Obituary Storrie, John (10/12/1846 - 03/31/1915) View Record
Obituary Fields, Rosalie (07/27/1923 - 08/25/2017) View Record