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Pioneer Monument and the Smoky Hill Trail

Historic Sites, Monuments, Landmarks, and Public Art ()


The Pioneer Monument on Colfax Avenue near the Civic Center Park pays tribute to the history of emigration from the Missouri River to Denver in the mid-19th century along the Smoky Hill Trail. This monument stands at the very end of the Smoky Hill Trail, which crossed the great plains from Kansas to Denver and served as the principal route for prospectors seeking their fortunes during the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.

Designed by Frederick MacMonnies and unveiled in 1911, this monument is a bronze equestrian statue that features a buckskin-cloaked, steed-mounted depiction of the American frontiersman, Kit Carson. In this depiction, Carson is pointing west to the promised land but looking back at the civilization he left behind.

Surrounding him are three other statues, including a bronze figure depicting The Hunter (a man with a rifle and a dog), the Prospector, and the Pioneer Mother (a woman with a rifle and child). The Pioneer Monument and its position at the end of the Smoky Hill Trail are significant as they emphasize and honor the underlying factors, the bravery, and the dreams of the earliest Denver residents.

Pioneer Monument in Denver
Smoky Hill Trail Historical Marker
Smoky Hill Trail in Eastern Colorado
Cows along the Smoky Hill River in Ellsworth, Kansas. 1867


History of the Smoky Hill Trail

In 1859, prospectors found gold along Cherry Creek in modern-day Denver, and as quick as the word spread, thousands of prospectors began traversing the Rocky Mountains to seek their fortunes. However, there was no official path crossing Kansas, connecting the East to Denver. The westernmost traveling point at that time was in Salina, part of the Oregon Trail. To quicken the route to Denver and make it safer, surveyors and frontiersman began taking the ancient trail along the Smoky Hill River that was used by Native Americans. 

Although the trail was substantially harder and more dangerous than other prairie trails from the Missouri River to the Rockies, thousands of would-be prospectors, homesteaders, and soldiers traveled the Smoky Hill Trail between 1859 and 1865. Among the dangers included attacks by local tribes and scarce water supplies. Many survived the trip nonetheless, traveling in covered wagons or on foot pushing carts and wheelbarrows. Others, however, were not so fortunate. 

Stagecoach transportation to Denver was established by 1865, and during the trail’s heyday, many famous individuals followed its route to Denver, including Wild Bill Hickock, Wyatt Earp, and Buffalo Bill Cody.1

Marker Inscription:

This tablet is the Property of the State of Colorado
Here was the end of the famous
Smoky Hill Trail
Immigrant and stage road extending
from the Missouri River to Denver.
Traversed by pioneers in 1858.
Surveyed by W.G. Russell in 1860.
Route of Butterfield's Overland
Despatch and Wells Fargo Express.
The trail took its human toll -
Death by thirst and Indian raids2.


1.) Clarice Crowle, "Smoky Hill Trail: A History." Dedication for the Smoky Hill High School, 1975. Accessed March 6, 2016, 2.) Light, Christopher. "Smoky Hill Trail." Historic Marker Database. January 11, 2008. Accessed June 20, 2016.

Pioneer Monument Fountain
Denver, Colorado 80202
Phone Number
  • Art and Art Museums
  • Ethnic History and Immigration
  • Western/National Expansion
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This location was created on 2016-03-06 by Daniel Newcomer .   It was last updated on 2016-06-20 by Sara Marian .

This entry has been viewed 2148 times within the past year


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