Timeline Tuesday: Mud Springs

Mud Springs is located in south-central Morrill County, Nebraska, near present-day Dalton. According to Paul Henderson’s article on the well-known Overland Trail site in the June 1951 issue of Nebraska History, it evidently derived its name from the springs that come to the surface at the mouth of a long canyon between the Lodgepole Creek and North Platte River valleys. When the pioneers arrived at these springs after a long drive over the high, dusty plateau they often found the springs muddy from the trampling feet of buffalo. Archeological evidence found at Mud Springs and the surrounding area suggests that Native Americans have occupied the region for centuries. Mud Springs later served travelers on the Julesburg “cutoff” connecting Lodgepole Creek to the main Oregon Trail. It was first a stage station for coaches carrying passengers, freight, and mail. A stage passenger in the 1860s referred to the place as a “dirty hovel, serving tough antelope steaks, fried on a filthy stove, with wooden boxes serving as chairs at a bench like table.”

Map drawing of the Mud Springs Station.

Mud Springs served the Pony Express as a home station.

The buildings at Mud Springs were erected of sod in 1859, the roofs constructed of poles, brush, and earth with a layer of coarse gravel sprinkled over all to keep the wind from blowing the earth and brush away. These original structures served the stage line and after 1860, the Pony Express, for which it served as a home station providing meals, lodging, and fresh horses. In August 1861 the last Pony Express rider to leave Mud Springs took messages from the telegraph wire, which had then reached that site. Probably the most colorful incident connected with Mud Springs was a Feburary 6-7, 1865, attack by hostile Sioux and Cheyenne on employees of the station until troops from Fort Laramie and Fort Mitchell arrived. Afterward Mud Springs continued to serve as a telegraph station and outpost until the completion of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1869. Bypassed by trails to the Black Hills gold strikes in 1876, the springs at the old station later became a watering hole for herds of longhorn Texas cattle brought north into the prairie country of Nebraska. In 1896 Mr. and Mrs. J. N. Scherer purchased the property surrounding the Mud Springs site. In 1939 Mrs. Scherer donated the station site to the Nebraska State Historical Society. The site is now on the National Register of Historic Places, the nation’s inventory of properties deemed worthy of preservation.

(Updated 7/20/2023)

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