On the Pecos Trail, Part III (Maybe?)

Posted by on Aug 15, 2013 in cattle drive | 3 comments

It’s taken me a while to get to writing this portion of the trail because I keep hoping for a breakthrough, but as yet have not had one.

One of the problems with following the Pecos/Goodnight/Goodnight-Loving Trail through Colorado is that there were several trails used over the years. In 1867, when Oliver Loving pushed ahead from Fort Sumner to Denver while Charles Goodnight returned to Texas to buy another herd, that year the trail came up through Raton Pass and basically followed I-25 to Denver. The next year Goodnight himself came through Raton Pass and pushed north from there, perhaps following the trail I mention below. The following drive was when he discovered the new way through Trinchera Pass and laid yet another trail through Colorado. Later on, the trail moved again and again, making it ever more difficult to pinpoint any one of the trails.

When I started mapping this section of the trail, these were the directions I had (as noted by J. Evetts Haley):

“Down the North Trinchera the trail emerged from the mountains, pointed northwest to the Cola del Burro, Frijoles Arroyo, the Picketwire, Hole in the Rock, and on to the Apishapa.”

I use Benchmark Road and Recreation Atlases, and they are marvelous for this kind of research work. However, due to copyright issues, I can’t just scan and share my scribbled-over pages with you, so the best I can give you is a hand-drawn sketch (and I do apologize for its roughness–there will be a better map included in the book once it’s completed).


  • Trinchera Creek is easy to find. It flows out of the Raton Mountains in New Mexico into Las Animas County, CO. It’s in the lower right of my sketch.

south at trincheraI’m pretty certain that’s Trinchera Pass there to the south, but since all the property between US 160 and the Raton Mountains were owned by gas and oil companies, I wasn’t about to go off-roading to find out for sure.


  • Heading to the northwest, Frijole Creek is still on modern maps, but I’m unsure where the trail crossed it because I can’t find Cola del Burro anywhere. I’ve checked old maps on-line, tried to find other mentions in older documents, even asked some locals. My only guess is that Cola del Burro can be roughly translated to “Tail of the Donkey”, and that San Francisco Creek looks somewhat like a donkey’s tail from the air. But that’s a total straw-grasping guess.
  • Then the trail crosses the Purgatoire River (a.k.a. the Picketwire) somewhere between Frijole Creek and Trinidad. I did find record of Loving’s trail to Denver crossing near the city, but no records of where Goodnight crossed. There are two modern-day crossings marked on my map. These are Patterson and Fishers. Unfortunately, both are on private property and completely inaccessible to random researchers such as I.

picketwireThis is the Purgatoire River as it flows through Trinidad. The city has a beautiful riverwalk along it, and all the cottonwoods were in full bloom. However, the Purgatoire too has been dammed further upstream, so it’s likely the river was much larger and more dangerous a crossing than it seems today.

  • Hole in the Rock is a rather famous watering hole on the Santa Fe Trail. It’s about 25 miles north of Patterson Crossing and a couple miles north of modern-day Thatcher on US 350. Timpas Creek crossed the trail there, and both emigrants on the Santa Fe and cattle on the Goodnight Trail would stop to rest. Unfortunately, the railroad also used it as a watering stop, and destroyed the hole permanently.

near hole in the rock This picture is looking towards where Hole in the Rock would be today, were it still there.




The only other landmarks mentioned are The Hogback–which some sources list it as coming before Hole in the Rock and others after–and the Apishapa River, which is where Goodnight established a “swing station” for his cattle. He’d bring them up there from Texas and then send the herds out from there to the different buyers.

All of my sources agreed on the landmarks as far as the Apishapa River. However, my cattle drive does not end at the Apishapa, it continues on to Cheyenne, and I have had an even more difficult time mapping a trail for this final leg than I did the southern sections.

Early on I found a source that had the trail crossing the Arkansas River outside of Pueblo, then following Fountain Creek to Colorado Springs. North of Colorado Springs, it followed Cherry Creek (approximately CO 83) to Denver, then to the South Platte to where Crow Creek joined it. From there, Crow Creek brings you directly into Cheyenne. This sounds very like the route taken by Loving up to Denver in 1867. Goodnight may have also used it a few times after the death of his partner. This was the route I was looking at when I went out West. But I realized that by the 1880s (the time period of my book), this area would have been fairly settled, and likely the locals would not want Texas longhorns (and their dreaded Texas fever) traveling so close to them: I decided not use this particular version of the trail.

However, here’s a picture of the scenery off of CO 83, just because it’s pretty 🙂83 to denver

Still another source said only that the trail used in later years was 50-60 miles east of the original trail. As that is far too vague to be of much use, and I did need some access to cities by my characters, this route wouldn’t work either.

Finally, a month after returning home, I found a new source, one that didn’t just cut and paste from the Haley text (which is what most books and sites on the Goodnight-Loving Trail do). This one said that the trail ran from Hole in the Rock to:

“the Apishapa River, then to the Huerfano River, then crossed the Arkansas River below Pueblo, then took Chico Creek north to Wild Horse Springs, crossed the Arkansas-Platte divide to Bijou Creek, and crossed the South Platte River to the mouth of Crow Creek.”

This already sounds much more promising, and will likely be the route I will have my poor drovers follow. Part of me wishes I had had the chance to look over the area while out there. I keep telling myself it’s not that big a deal. Firstly, there are few to no roads through that section of the state. So even if I had found this particular source previously, I doubt I could have traveled much of it. Secondly, the plot line shifts away from the cattle drive shortly after Hole in the Rock, so having my locations exactly correct will not be as important to the story.

Still, it does irk me a bit.

Well, I think that’s about all I have on mapping the Pecos Trail. I hope you’ve found my little research project as fascinating as I have. If you have question or comments or more information to add (oh please! Let there be someone out there who knows where/what Cola del Burro is! It’s driving me nuts!), I welcome your input!

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  1. I’m really impressed by the depth of research you put into your books! It’s part of what makes them come alive. (I’m partway through your first one, though it’s regrettably on hold while I deal with a backlog of ARCs.) In this case, I think you’ll do fine even without tracking down every ford and stopping place. As you say, a lot of it isn’t accessible, so as long as you’re correct in the major stuff and convey the feel of the land and climate and so on, no one should quibble.

  2. I have seen the Cola del Burro (Tail of the Burro) mentioned on the Historical Trail Map of the Trinidad 1×2 Quadrangle, Southern Colorado. I believe you can buy a copy at the Federal Center here in Denver.

    • Hello Marsha!

      Thanks for commenting! You are indeed correct–the Cola del Burro is mentioned in that particular quadrangle map. I managed to find it online a while back. The description reads:

      “In the spring of 1868 Goodnight drove a herd of cattle up South Trinchera Creek, then over Trinchera Pass, which lay east of Raton Pass, then down North Trinchera Creek, then northwest out of the mountains to the Cola del Burro (Tail of the Burro), Frijoles Arroyo, the Picketwire, Hole-in-the-Rock, and past a prominent hogback to the Apishapa River, then to the Huerfano River, then crossed the Arkansas River below Pueblo, then took Chico Creek north to Wild Horse Springs, crossed the Arkansas-Platte divide to Bijou Creek, and crossed the South Platte River to the mouth of Crow Creek.”

      The issue I found was that the quadrangle map only shows the original trail that went through Raton Pass, not Trinchera. Trinchera Pass is about 15 miles east of the Raton Pass, almost directly north of Capulin Volcano. But once you find Trinchera Pass on a modern map and follow Trinchera Creek out of the mountains, there is nothing remotely close in name to Cola del Burro 🙁 Even on the earliest topo map I can find (USGS Historical maps, 1954), there’s no mention of a Cola del Burro. Likely the old name has been lost over the years.

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