Hugo is one of many little towns that dot the plains of eastern Colorado. Sitting on the old Smoky Hill Trail, Hugo is loaded with all types of little treasures. Being the county seat it is a long ways from being a town of ghosts. Instead it has lots of early day pioneer settler ghosts that hang out in the little frontier town.
When one rolls down the hill into town they are greeted by an early day gas station, built around 1910. Today it is a boutique, gift shop and flower store. There have been some additions over the years but its distinctive roof line is still there. On the east side of town one is greeted by the World Champion cowboy, Kid Fletcher at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds are also the site of Willow Springs. Here the Butterfield Overland Dispatch (BOD) Stage Lines established a relay stage station at the springs. Standing near the spring, one can look to the hillside to the east and see the ruts of the stage route and Smoky Hill Trail descending the hill into Willow Springs.
Willow Springs is not the only stage stop near Hugo. To the northwest was the Hogan stage station and to the southwest was Cap Barron’s stage stop. Both sit on private land out in the pasture. Hogan station was used by the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Stage line and freighting company. It was on this stage line that Horace Greeley rode went he went west to Colorado in 1860. After the stage service was discontinued, the freight wagons continued to roll across this area on their way to the Rocky Mountain goldfields. When the BOD began operations, they selected the spring at Cap Barron’s. Because of distances between stations, it did not last long and the stop was changed to Willow Springs.
These stage stops were often the targets of Indian raids, killing the agent and driving off the mules. 1870 the Kansas Pacific Railroad began construction through the area. The spring of that year, the Indians launched coordinated raids on the railroad camps, workers and stage stations, killing and wounding numerous workers, burning anything and everything they could. Workers retreated to Kit Carson for protection and work was shut down for a few weeks until the army could send troops out to patrol the rail line construction.
Today people find arrow heads in the Hugo area and occasionally spent shells from the battles. After these raids, the Indians fled north and most of the Indian problem was gone. The railroad went back to building and in the summer of 1870 the rails reached Willow Springs. That summer the town of Hugo was founded to the west of the stage station and became a division point on the rail line. A depot was built, along with a roundhouse and hotel with restaurant plus some homes.
In 1874 John Dickinson, a railroad engineer, rancher and politician, built his house just south of the tracks. Today that home still stands and is still used as a residence. Some years ago a family bought the home and began to restore it. The home was brought back to its original looks and could be a doctor’s home of pioneer days. There is the picket fence, small lawn, flowers and tall stately trees standing to give shade in the heat of summer. And yes, a doctor does walk out of the front door. It is now owned by the local veterinarian. In Colorado, it is probably one of the oldest homes still in continued use as a residence.
There are other old houses like this scattered around Hugo from the 1870’s and 80’s. The Hedlund House, sits just north of downtown a couple of blocks. It was built in 1877 and today it is a museum. It has been maintained by the town and has numerous exhibits from local history. Peter Hedlund was a land man and had a company in Hugo recording many of the patents for homesteaders. The company he started still bears his name, Hedlund Abstract and is still doing business. Over the years the little museum, that the Hedlund’s donated, has seen changes and additions yet it still reflects life on the prairie. It is open on weekends through the summer or opened by request. Here one can step back in time, seen many original furnishings and dream of what it would have been like living on the plains over a century ago.
There is the little Brown Church, built in the 1880’s. it is wooden church that still stands and serves a congregation, holding services on Sunday’s.
Hugo also features a Boot Hill. To the north of town, out in the pasture is a cemetery. Until someone fenced it off, livestock grazed through the graves and some of the head stones have been knocked over and or broken. There are numerous unmarked graves and many large elaborate fenced plots. A few wooden crosses lie on the ground and mysteries float over the ground. There probably a few souls resting here that met their demise at the end of a six shooter or maybe at the end of a rope. There were train robberies in the area, wild and wooly nights at the many saloons and other assorted altercations. Hugo was a wild and western railroad town. Some of the headstones in the cemetery read, born in _______ England, buried in Hugo ….. or born in ______ Michigan, died in Hugo, Co. There are the sad ones showing a baby or child and there were the diseases.
Doc Coulson, did not make it to the old cemetery. The residents of Hugo at the time gave him his own personal graveyard. On a ridge overlooking the valley lays the fearless frontier doctor. In 1890, smallpox broke out in Hugo, creating fear and panic. A local rancher caught the disease and no one would care for him. Doc Coulson agreed to care for him and nursed the rancher back to health. The Doc did not survive though, he caught the smallpox and perished in 1891. Today he sits on the ridge looking out over the land below. The town built a trail up there and named the park after the good doctor. The Doc Coulson Trail is in the northwest corner of town.
A small quite town on the prairie that is not s ghost town but is full of ghosts. There were the buffalo hunters that visited, the Calvary that rode past, the Indian relics, buffalo wallers and tall tales of yesterday.
An ancient railroad roundhouse is on the southwest side of town. It is slowly being rebuilt and restored. Built in 1909, it served the railroad many decades before being vacated, then sold to a hardware and implement dealer. Then a junker got it and stored his junk in it. Eventually the county was able to buy it and the Union Pacific donated the land it was on to the county.
Today the town of Hugo is on the Ports to Plains expressway and a few pause to look at the village. The old depot sits in a park that houses some of the old courthouse memorabilia. Few will stop and look at the sign showing the nearby Texas Montana Cattle Trail and the Smokey Hill Trail. City Park has an area where truckers on occasion spend the night. There a couple of shops on main street downtown in the old business district. Occasionally it gets exciting when the turkey parade crosses the highway and the truckers lay on their horns.
No longer do the cowboys ride into town for the weekend, riding up to the saloon, riding their horse in the door, getting their whisky, riding out the back door and BS’ing with the other cowpokes. No longer do the trains stop and change crews. The old hotel where the train crews stayed, is now a memory. Out at the fairgrounds, there are still rodeos and the cowboys now ride up in their pick-up pulling a trailer.