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Colorado Trail

I have a new album out! Here are some details about the song "Colorado Trail" the Eighth track from the new release Trade Songs: American West. 


I grew up in Platte County, Wyoming in the southeastern part of the state. The North Platte River flows through that area which was the route west for folks traveling on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Settlers in that era would follow the North Platte River up to its confluence with the Sweetwater River (what is now Pathfinder Reservoir). From there they would follow the Sweetwater up to South Pass, where they would cross the continental divide and head their separate ways to their final destinations. Almost all the travelers who made their way west overland followed this route until the Transcontinental Railroad replaced it in 1869 (which also went through Wyoming, but further to the south.)

When I was seventeen, a road worker near Glendo, Wyoming was driving a road-grader working on one of the many dirt roads in the area and uncovered a human skull. It turned out to be a grave-site from the 1860s of a boy or young man named Jesse Cole. We know his name because there was a very weathered stone nearby with his name etched into the rock. He was buried there and the folks in his party moved on down the trail. Two other graves were found nearby over the years, one was a young woman, and another was an older woman who historians are fairly certain is Ann Roelosfson, a mother of twelve children who died in 1852 at the age of 40. I have heard that often people would bury their relatives near other grave sites so they wouldn’t have to be alone. I’m not sure if they know who was buried there first, but they were not buried there at the same time. The site is called Box Elder Springs.

I knew this song before Jesse Cole’s grave was found. I learned it sometime early in high school, but over the years I have thought about it in context with the discovery of those grave sites. There are probably thousands of rough burials and makeshift grave-sites along the trails west. Some of them have been found and preserved, such as the grave of Lucindy Williams who died in 1849 and was buried next to the North Platte River near the town of Guernsey, Wyoming (also in Platte County.) Some of them have been exhumed by archeologists to be studied, which leads to debates about what to do with the remains. I’m sure many of them are still out there, or have disappeared over the century-plus of decay and erosion.

As a parent, I don’t know how someone could find the strength to bury their child in the broad nowhere, and then move on. If it were me, I might have just decided to stay there.

This song was part of Carl Sandburg’s great collection titled The American Songbag. Apparently he learned it from a doctor named T.L. Chapman who treated a horse wrangler suffering from injuries sustained during a stunt riding accident. Dr. Chapman said the wrangler sang this song often while he recovered in the hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. It’s on page 462 of the 1990 edition of The American Songbag.

P.S. Jesse Cole, Ann Roelosfson, and the other young woman have been re-interred near Glendo, Wyoming.


Colorado Trail - Lyrics

Eyes like the morning star

cheeks like the rose

Laura was a pretty girl

God Almighty knows

Weep, all ye little rains

Wail, winds, wail

All along, along, along

the Colorado Trail

Laura was a laughing girl

joyful in the day

Laura was my darling girl

Now she's gone away

Weep, all ye little rains

Wail, winds, wail

All along, along, along

the Colorado Trail

Sixteen years she graced the Earth

and all of life was good

Now my life lies buried

'neath a cross of wood

Weep, all ye little rains

Wail, winds, wail

All along, along, along

the Colorado Trail

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