The Upper California Crossing, where Lodgepole Creek joins the South Platte River near Julesburg, Colorado, served wagon train travelers as the principal place to cross from the south to the north side of the wide stream that bisected the Overland Trail. In Eagle Talons, The Iron Horse Chronicles–Book One, Will Braddock rides his Morgan horse, Buck, across the river at this point after helping Jenny McNabb and her family repair a broken wheel on their covered wagon. Noted artist William H. Jackson produced this famous painting from a sketch he made in 1867, the very year Braddock crossed the river.
Here is how I describe Will’s view of the crossing in Chapter 12 of Eagle Talons:
“The undulations of the prairie ended and Will looked down a long slope to the meandering, muddy river. The banks on either side were denuded–just stumps remained. The thousands of immigrants crossing here had chopped down every tree for firewood.”
The Hell on Wheel’s town of Julesburg and the approaching Union Pacific Railroad are off to the right on the far bank and out of sight in Jackson’s painting.
Fort Sedgwick, named for a Union general killed during the Civil War, is off to the right of the painting on this side of the river, the south side. This is what Will would have seen when he approached the Upper California Crossing, with the exception that when he crossed there was no wagon train fording the river. The town of Julesburg used to be on the south side of the river, also; but when the railroad decided to build down the north side, the residents dismantled the town and moved everything across the river. Fort Sedgwick remained alone on the south side of the river.
Today, nothing remains of Fort Sedgwick except this marker, which reads in part: “Fort Sedgwick, established in September 1864 as a United States Army post, called Camp Rankin and Post Julesburg, name changed in November 1865 to honor General John Sedgwick, who was killed at Spottsylvania May 9, 1864. The fort protected the stage line and emigrant trains from Indians. Abandoned in May 1871.”
Today, a highway bridge crosses the South Platte River at the location of the Upper California Crossing. It is difficult to visualize what Will Braddock would have seen.