1865 – 1866
After the Civil War, traffic over the trail returned to its prewar pattern. The trail began or ended in Kansas City and most traffic used the Cimarron Route. The trail length from Kansas City to Santa Fe via the Cimarron Route was 788 miles.
In 1865 Richens Lacy “Uncle Dick” Wootton built a 27-mile toll road over Raton Pass, with a tollgate just north of the Colorado State line. The Colorado Territorial Legislature passed an act to incorporate the Trinidad and Raton Mountain Wagon Road Company on February 20, 1865. Until Wootton built the road, the route across the pass had been in very bad condition and it took five days to travel the 27 miles. The road made 18 steep crossings of Raton Creek.
1866 – 1867
Though the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad began to be built west from the Kansas City area in 1863, the rails didn’t reach Junction City and Fort Riley until June 1866. When it did, he, long wagon trains that had previously formed at Council Grove now formed at Junction City and moved westward over the Smoky Hill route. The Stage Company moved its entire outfit from Council Grove to Junction City. The caravans moved west to Fort Ellsworth; then southwest on a connecting road to Fort Zarah (Great Bend, Kansas); where they resumed the main trail. The long-distance Santa Fe Trail traffic east of Fort Zarah slowed to a trickle. The trail length from Junction City to Santa Fe was 699 miles — 76 miles from Junction City to Fort Ellsworth, 40 miles from Fort Ellsworth to Fort Zarah, and 583 miles from Fort Zarah to Santa Fe. Over the next few years, as the railroad continued to expand westward, the Santa Fe Trail would continue to shorten at its eastern end. Between 1866 and 1867, a cholera epidemic decimated many U.S. cities. About 200 a day died in St. Louis, Missouri during the height of the epidemic.
In 1866, Barlow & Sanderson’s Southern Overland Mail & Express Co. received the mail contract and started running stage service between Kansas City and Santa Fe on a weekly schedule. Home and swing stations were built and the trip took 13 days. The following stage stops along the Mountain Branch were made in the Raton and Springer area of New Mexico:
- Willow Spring – Water stop and emergency station.
- Clifton House (Stockton Station, Red River Station) – Home station (where the passengers got food and lodging for the night), corrals, and blacksmith shop.
- Crow Creek – Swing station (where the stock tenders changed the horses).
- Verrnejo – Swing station.
- Cimarron – Home station, stables.
- Rayado – Swing (?) station, a seven-room hotel lay on the west side of Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail on the south side of Ocate Creek near present Calhoun Cemetery. Wild Bill Hickok reportedly drove a stagecoach over Raton Pass for Barlow, Sanderson & Co. The company ran stages from the end of the track as the railroad was extended westward. fn 1872, the firm’s name was changed o Barlow and Sanderson Co. The freighting business also was forced to gradually move westward from the end of the track. After the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad reached the east end of the Cimarron Cutoff in western Kansas in 1872, the cutoff was no longer used and the Aubrey Route or the Mountain Branch was used. Probably about this same time, Mathias Heck opened a stage station and store at the crossing of Sweetwater Creek on the Mountain Branch south of Rayado.
The Union Pacific Railroad reached Fort Harker, Kansas (near Fort Ellsworth) in June 1867. For the next several months, most Santa Fe bound travelers began their trail trips at this point. The trail length from Fort Harker to Santa Fe was 623 miles – 40 miles from Fort Harker to Fort Zarah and 583 miles from Fort Zarah to Santa Fe.
1867 – 1868
The Union Pacific Railroad reached Hays City (near Fort Hays) in October 1867, after which, wagons and stagecoaches used this point to begin their westward trips. Most long-distance trail traffic stopped east of Fort Dodge, Kansas. The trail length from Hays to Santa Fe was 568 miles: 75 miles from Hays to Fort Dodge and 493 miles from Fort Dodge to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Beginning in the fall of 1867, Barlow, Sanderson and Co. ran stages from Hays City, Kansas to Santa Fe.
1868 – 1870
The Union Pacific Railroad tracks reached the town of Sheridan, Kansas in June 1868, and then westbound freight headed southwest over a wagon road to Fort Lyon, Colorado on the main trail. The Cimarron Route was abandoned after June 1868, and most long-distance Mountain Route traffic ceased east of Fort Lyon. The trail length from Sheridan to Santa Fe was 428 miles — 120 miles from Sheridan to Fort Lyon and 308 miles from Fort Lyon to Santa Fe.
In 1869 Barlow, Sanderson & Co.. began running a connecting stage line from Denver, Pueblo, and Trinidad, Colorado. ln June 1869, the Southern Overland Mail Co. started tri-weekly service to Santa Fe, New Mexico.