On the western end of the remains of the Golden Belt Route is the little town of Clifford. Of the three towns along the roadway, Clifford is the smallest. There are still a couple of buildings still there, the schoolhouse and the Wards house. What makes Clifford so interesting are the myths associated with it. The buried gold treasure, the Indian battles, stage stops and the family that perished riding the train and they were buried at Clifford.
Clifford is just south of US 40 and can be seen from the highway if one looks closely. Rolling down the country road towards the creek, one passes the one room country schoolhouse. It sits in a pasture, dealing with the elements of time. It is pretty much like it was over 100years ago. Out back is the coal house with attached out houses. Over the years some people have vandalized it, tearing screens off to get in or…. But it hangs in there.
Going on south one can see the depressions in the pasture where the rest of the town had been. At the railroad tracks, there are the foundations and footers for the railroad buildings and water tank. On south of the tracks, behind locked gate in the ranchers pasture, is the mail order house. Huge rambling building that may have been a rooming house. The porches have caved in, the windows are gone and with some imagination one can see the ghosts floating around the weather beaten house.
The east edge of town is Coon Creek, the Mirage stage station had been here. The Indians had also used the creek for a sweat lodge. Through here Coon Creek is a pretty good sized steam, 10-15 feet deep and 20-30 feet across. Looking to the north, about 6 miles are the grove of trees that mark Coon Springs, a stage stop on the Smoky Hill Trail. Next to the railroad tracks is the small graveyard. These three elements make for farfetched stories that probably have basis in fact.
The spring of 1864 an Army payroll wagon was robbed by 3 men near Coon Springs. They were not very successful in their getaway. The troopers were after them and catching up with them the robbers ducked into a gully. Here they put the gold coins into dutch ovens and buried the gold, using stones to mark the spot. They figured they would spend their time in jail, then return and dig up their loot. One was killed in a gun fight after getting out of jail, another went back to jail after another robbery and the third disappeared. So the legend of the buried gold grew and people would go out on the gullies looking for the buried treasure.
Even a gentleman from England traveled to Clifford to search. He spent over 6 months roaming the area looking for the buried gold. One day he went to the train depot and very quietly left Clifford with his baggage. Now if you found the gold, would you shout it from the rooftops or quietly go into the night?
When gold was discovered in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Hill Trail became a busy place and water on the prairie was important to the gold seekers and other travelers. Coon Springs became an important stop and this did not set well with the Indians. Then when the stage stop was established there, the Indians became more enraged and over the decade there were a variety of Indian raids on the station and on the travelers.
The spring of 1870 the railroad began building across East Central Colorado. The Mirage stage station was built along the banks of Coon Creek, upsetting the Indians more. The spring of 1870, the RR construction crews were building across the plains. A camp was built near Mirage for the workers and it was a pretty lively place. That summer the Indians launched a series of raids on the workers and stage stations, from Lake Station to Kit Carson. Numerous workers were killed and many more wounded and the crews fled back to Kit Carson. The Indians had stopped RR construction for a short time. The attacks also brought more army troopers. General Custer was reinstated and assigned to protect the railroad from Kit Carson to Denver. The Indians, they turned north and headed to Wyoming to meet up with Custer on another day.
With Coon Creek and good water, the railroad built a small station near Mirage and called it Clifford. Clifford never was a big town, maybe a 100 folks dwelled there. There was a depot, water facilities and section houses for the RR workers. Some stores were opened, a saloon and a few homes were built. Ranchers in the area used for shipping cattle and travel to the neighboring towns.
The summer of 1896 a young family was traveling by rail from back east to join her husband in Denver. Along the way the family had become sick, a mother and two daughters. By the time they arrived in Clifford, the family had died. The bodies were taken off the train and left at the train station. Somebody took the effort to bury them. A short distance from the depot graves were dug next to the rails and the family was placed in their final resting place. There were other graves and today it is surrounded by a fence.
There were the buffalo hunters that would visit. There were the cowboys and their six shooters and the bar fly’s that traveled through the little town. And… oh yes…. There are locals who still believe that the gold is still buried somewhere in the area.