Friday, June 9, 2017

The Smoky Hill River

 By Kathryn Albright

Oak Grove is a fictional town in western Kansas along the Smoky Hill River. Laurie Robinson and I are writing a new book series set there and the first one has just been released.
Laurie has the fortunate circumstance of having lived for several years in the area she is writing about. Having never been to Kansas, I had some research to do. I found these beautiful pictures that started all sorts of ideas going in my head.

The river plays an integral part in the three stories that I am setting in the Smoky Hill region of northwestern Kansas. It originates in eastern Colorado and its waters flow east all the way to the Mississippi River. The area was a rich hunting grounds for the Plains Indians before they were forced onto reservations. A big grove of cottonwoods along the river on the Kansas/Colorado border was the impetus for the river’s name. From across the plains, the grove looked like a billow of smoke.

Along the river are several towns, the largest being Salina. There are also several forts that the Army established along the river to protect travelers. Oak Grove is situated nearest to and east of Fort Wallace, but it is still an hour or so to ride there on horseback.

At the time of the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in Colorado (1858), an Indian trail along the river known as the Smoky Hill Trail, was the fastest route across Kansas. Then in 1865, the Butterfield Overland Despatch, a stage coach route ran for a short time. Then in 1870, the Kansas-Pacific Railway took over as the best way to travel across Kansas.

The river at my fictional town of Oak Grove is three feet deep and two hundred feet wide, except during the spring rainy season when flooding over the low banks occurs and extends out over the plains. The weather I learned, is sunny most of the time and arid. And much of what I read about was about the unrelenting, and constant wind.

There is more research I did—types of crops, types of fish, buffalo wallows and cattle drives… Research always gives me lots of ideas for plotting for my stories and all these facts that I have presented about the Smoky Hill River come up in my books. As much as Oak Grove and the characters are fictional, everything else in my books are factual – at least as much as I can make it so through research.

You can find more pictures of inspiration for all my stories at

I hope that you will join Laurie and me as we tell you all about Oak Grove and its wonderful inhabitants!  Our first book, kicking off the new series is Mail-Order Brides of Oak Grove. Laurie wrote Mary's story and I wrote Maggie's and intertwined them throughout the book which was challenging and fun.

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  1. A great post as usual. Thank you for adding to the story of our country. Wishing you continued success. Doris

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