A collection of historical tidbits about the Pony Express taken mostly from books, except as otherwise noted. This slider cycles through all of the Quick Facts in random order. I will be adding to these as I read through more sources. You can pause a slide by hovering your mouse over the Fact. To find Quick Facts on a particular topic, click on the appropriate tag in the sidebar. All Facts connected with places on the trail also appear under the appropriate state in the Route Reports section.
“One sometimes thinks of the desert as a great expanse of barren, shifting sand, but the Nevada desert is quite different. It is broken by almost a hundred separate mountain chains, all running north and south, and the arid stretches between are dotted with sagebrush and greasewood. It’s few rivers have no outlet to the sea, but spread into great marshes before being swallowed by the thirsty soil. Nearly 500 miles of the Pony Express route lay through this desolate and uninhabited [sic] wilderness.”
“Strong coffee most likely was served always, and the enlightened cook with his coffee pot would waste no time in getting down to the draw for his water supply before the thirsty oxen plunged into the pool. The men endeavored to forget that in all probability another train’s cattle had waded in the water only a few hours before.”
Handcart Migration Disaster
“It is impossible to accurately estimate the handcart system’s total casualties, since Mormon authorities ‘tried to keep the full horror of the disaster from becoming public, especially in England. But it would be safe to estimate the total at well over two hundred, or at least one in five of the last two companies, with many others maimed for life . . . One thing is certain—the handcart disaster of 1856 was the greatest single tragedy in the history of the nation’s move west in the nineteenth century.'”
Mile 996: Split Rock
“Once we stopped on the indefinite summit of a foothill swell to look our last at Split Rock, one of the less known trail landmarks. From this distance, it was merely a small excrescence among other similar bumps on top of Granite Range, different only in the cleft that split it vertically through the middle.”
Mile 937: Avenue of Rocks
“On the high, dry Wyoming plains, the Earth sheds her former grassland modesty and bares her rocky skin, wrinkled by time and mountain upheaval. The beveled edges of bent, tilted strata poke up everywhere as irregular fins and ridges. At Avenue of Rocks, about 20 miles west of present Casper, the trail twists between ghoulish hogbacks cut on upended sandstone beds, looking “like the vertebrae of some great sea serpent.” Edwin Bryant described passing “immense piles of rocks, red and black, sometimes in columnar and sometimes in conical and pyramidal shapes, thrown up by volcanic convulsions. These, with deep ravines and chasms, and widespread sterility and desolation, are the distinguishing features of the landscape.”
The trail passes through the eroded cores of anticlines—huge arching folds of rock strata, like a stack of magazines bowed up in the middle—and through synclines, the reverse of anticlines, where the strata bow down in the middle. Lonesome pump jacks bob gracefully on the sagebrush hills. They are parked over anticlines, sucking up the crude oil trapped in the bowed-up layers. Oil underground percolates upward until it runs into rock that stops it. Rising droplets of oil collect against impermeable rock layers within the arching anticlines, forming caches of black gold. More than anything, oil has put Wyoming on the map. And more than any other rock formation, the Mowry Shale has put the oil in Wyoming. You can’t miss the Mowry. It ranges dusk-gray to nightblack from organic residue and smells faintly of decay.”
“With Fort Bridger as the northeastern anchor, the various units of the [Utah expedition] stretched up Black’s Fork for a number of miles, the entire settlement assuming the name of Camp Scott in honor of the crusty but able general. Since this high mountain region, 6,600 feet above sea level, lacked forage for the expedition’s remaining stock, the mules and other animals were sent with Cooke and six companies of Dragoons to graze on neighboring streams, where they remained until March 1858. . . .
Camp Scott was a busy community, for some 1,800 officers and men of the regular army occupied it during seven snow-bound months. In addition, other volunteers were recruited during this period. Although the contracting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell had hired its teamsters for the trip to Salt Lake City with the promise of employment on the return journey if they chose, these contracts were broken when the trains halted at Fort Bridger. . . . For many of these men the only alternative to unprofitable idleness was enlistment for nine months in the army, with the promise of the same pay, allotments of clothing, and provisions given the regulars.”
The Decision to Emigrate
“It is interesting to look at the decision to emigrate to Oregon or California in the light of the legal model of husbands’ power. In their diaries and recollections many women discussed thew ay in which the decision to move was made. Not one wife initiated the idea; it was always the husband. Less than a quarter of the women writers recorded agreeing with their restless husbands; most of them accepted it as a husband-made decision to which they could only acquiesce. But nearly a third wrote of their objections and how they moved only reluctantly.”
Mormons and the Green River Area
“[T]he uneasy situation in the Green River region worsened. Pursuing the Church’s effort to extend its jurisdiction over the area, at the same time following its established practice of bestowing valuable concessions upon members of the Hierarchy, the Utah legislature granted to the Mormon Daniel Wells a monopoly of ferry transportation on the river. The action so arouse the mountain men and their Snake Indian friends that the commanding officer at Fort Laramie feared ‘bloodshed and disturbance’ as a result.
The focus of excitement in the Green River Basin during the middle part of the decade was old Jim Bridger, trapper, scout, and storyteller now become merchant to the overland pioneers. In the 1840s, with Louis Vasquez, he had opened a post on Black’s Fork. Because of its strategic location and Bridger’s considerable influence with the neighboring Indian tribes, the fort thwarted the Mormons’ plan to control the whole region. As a step preliminary to [Bridger’s] removal in 1853 the Saints established a settlement, Fort Supply, about twelve miles southwest Bridger’s post, under the leadership of Orson Hyde. The Church then moved to eject the mountain man.”
Packing for the Emigration
“Strange paraphernalia gathered in the Bowen barn and the Bowens were preparing a granary that would have seen the family through a famine year. At least two hundred pounds of flour or meal per person, the Guide said, The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California by Lansford W. Hastings, whose arrival in California Jim Clyman had recorded. All the Bowens thumbed that small volume, arguing, checking, refuting. Twenty pounds of sugar, ten pounds of salt . . . everyone will require at least twice as much as he would need at home, since there will be no vegetables . . . some buffalo can be counted on – and along the icebound Sangamon Bill Bowen sees himself riding down a shaggy beast straight out of fable . . . such goods for the Indian trade as beads, tobacco, handkerchiefs, cheap pantaloons, butcher knives, fish hooks – so young Bill and Nancy and Henry Clay and Joe will truly trade fish hooks for moccasins with a feathered topknot beside streams that are also straight out of fable. That topknot looks just like Tecumseh or Pontiac, and the streams of fable, the Platte, the Snake, the Green, are just such known rivers as the Sangamon, the Connecticut, the Maumee. While the north wind howls over the rooftree, it seems impossible that, come summer, Bill and Nancy Bowen will be unyok- Build Thee More Stately Mansions 45 ing the oxen while the “caral” forms on the banks of the Sweetwater, but they will be, for on page 147 Mr. Hastings says so.”
Mile 318: The Platte River
“And now the emigrants (and we after them) looked forward only a few miles to the first view of the great Platte River. Some say it was first known as the Nebrathka, an Otoe word for weeping water, because of the sad tones of its current rushing swiftly among the sandy islands. Later it was called the Platte by the French trappers on account of its gray flatness.”
Mormon's Defense Strategy
“[The Mormon’s] strategy passed through two distinct phases.
The Church’s first course, followed from July to early October 1857, seems to have been one of determined resistance to Buchanan’s expedition. . . . The resistance envisaged by Brigham Young and [Daniel H.] Wells was confined to the burning of grass, stampeding of stock, and other acts designed to slow the advance of the army. Behind this policy lay the belief of the Mormon leaders that if an engagement could be avoided until the arrival of winter, negotiations between the Church and the Government might settle the difficulties existing between them. . . .
The Mormon’s strategy entered another phase in November 1857, when the mood of the Hierarchy began to shift from assurance to concern for the future. There were a number of causes for their depression at this seeming auspicious time. . . .[T]he Administration by January was making preparations to reinforce the army and also to launch an attack from California upon Utah’s indefensible western border. . . .[T]here was no significant Gentile demand for negotiations . . . Among the troops, furthermore, no enervating collapse of morale.
Furthermore, the Hierarchy came to realize early in 1858 that . . . they were woefully unprepared for and encounter with an organized and well-equipped army.Supplies of clothing were low, production of powder completely inadequate, and the territorial arsenal ‘dilapidated.’ This desperation of the position was dramatically revealed with Ferguson recommended the manufacture of bows and arrows for his troops. . . .
With these ominous considerations in mind the high priests began to place their hope of safety in flight from still another country made inhospitable by Gentiles.”
“The casus belli was a lame cow! The Mormons, whose cow had been taken, complained at Fort Laramie, and a rash young officer, Lieutenant John Grattan, rode out [to the Sioux camp] with twenty-eight men and a small cannon.
The soldiers fired the canon and wounded two warriors. This was too much for a proud people, even though they had fallen to the point of scavenging on emigrants. The Sioux charged, and in a few minutes, Lieutenant Grattan had twenty-four arrows in him, and his men had been wiped out.
The fat was in the fire, but the Sioux were not yet capable of waging a real war. (They would learn. Before the story was over, Fetterman, Custer, and others would discover how well Sioux had learned!).”
Jones & Russell
“In May, 1859, Jones, Russell and Company purchased from Hockaday and Liggett the contract for mail transportation from Missouri to Salt Lake City. Hockaday and Liggett had found themselves in a precarious financial condition. The reduction of their service to a semi-monthly basis by Postmaster-general Holt, carrying as it did a reduction in the compensation from $190,000 to $130,000, was sufficient to force them to sell at a sacrifice. Their contract was assigned May 11, 1859 to Jones, Russell and Company for a bonus of $50,000.”
Talk About Slade
“‘I tell you it’s as much as Slade himself wants to do !’
This remark created an entire revolution in my curiosity. I cared nothing now about the Indians, and even lost interest in the murdered driver. There was such magic in that name, Slade ! Day or night, now, I stood always ready to drop any subject in hand, to listen to something new about Slade and his ghastly exploits. Even before we got to Overland City, we had begun to hear about Slade and his ‘division’ (for he was a ‘division-agent’) on the Overland; and from the hour we had left Overland City we had heard drivers and conductors talk about only three things—’Californy,’ the Nevada silver mines, and this desperado Slade. And a deal the most of the talk was about Slade. We had gradually come to have a realizing sense of the fact that Slade was a man whose heart and hands and soul were steeped in the blood of offenders against his dignity; a man who awfully avenged all injuries, affronts, insults or slights, of whatever kind—on the spot if he could, years afterward if lack of earlier opportunity compelled it; a man whose hate tortured him day and night till vengeance appeased it—and not an ordinary vengeance either, but his enemy’s absolute death—nothing less; a man whose face would light up with a terrible joy when he surprised a foe and had him at a disadvantage. A high and efficient servant of the Overland, an outlaw among outlaws and yet their relentless scourge, Slade was at once the most bloody, the most dangerous and the most valuable citizen that inhabited the savage fastnesses of the mountains.”
Short Cut to Cold Springs Station
“After a midday halt, rendered compulsory by the old white mare, we resumed our way along the valley southward, over a mixture of pitch-hole and boulder, which forbids me to forget that day’s journey. At last, after much sticking and kicking on the part of the cattle, and the mental refreshment of abundant bad language, self-adhibited by the men, we made Cold-Springs Station, which, by means of a cut across the hills, could be brought within eight miles of Smith’s Creek.”
Bloodthirsty Slade Story
“The bullwhackers in camp, when there were no wheels to fix, tires to tighten, boxes to wedge, oxen to shoe, or clothes to wash or mend, could sleep, play cards, write letters or tell stories. The stories of one old bullwhacker who had seen much of frontier life were quite interesting. He would tell about the noted stage company boss, Jack Slade, who caught one of his stage tenders listening at a door and who whipped out his bowie knife and cut the listener’s ear off, telling him if he ever caught him doing it again, he would cut his heart out—and hundreds of other such bloodthirsty stories.”
Pony Express Timetable
[T]he regular time for starting the express from St. Joseph soon changed to Friday mornings at nine o’clock. The run from San Francisco to St. Joseph continued to depart at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays . . . The announced time schedule for the Pony Express nationwide was as follows:
- Marysville — 12 hours
- Ft. Kearney — 34 hours
- Ft. Laramie — 80 hours
- Ft. Bridger — 108 hours
- Great Salt Lake — 124 hours
- Camp Floyd — 128 hours
- Carson City — 188 hours
- Placerville — 226 hours
- Sacramento — 232 hours
- San Francisco —240 hours
Constructing a Cache
“‘A proper place being selected, which is usually near the border of some stream, where the bank is high enough to be in no danger of inundation, a round hole two feet in diameter is carried down to a depth of three feet, when it is gradually enlarged, and deepened until it becomes sufficiently capacious to contain whatever is destined to be stored in it.’ They covered the bottom and sides ‘with sticks to prevent the bales from touching the ground, as otherwise they would soon contract moisture, become mouldy, and rot.’ When everything was ‘snugly deposited and stowed in,’ the trappers sealed the cache with ‘valueless skins.’ They covered the surface with beaten earth to prevent the ground from settling or sinking. The displaced soil was ‘carefully gathered up and thrown into the stream, and the cache finally completed, by replacing stones and tufts of grass, so as to present the same uniform appearance.’ Goods stowed in such a cache in a hard clay bluff would ‘keep [for] years without damage’—provided the cache was truly waterproof.”
Significance of the Pony Express
“At this point, any criticism of the Pony Express might be considered by many Americans as unpatriotic to say the least. Nonetheless, an assessment of the significance of the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. has to be made—one that cuts through the myth to reality. In the author’s judgement, the Pony Express played a role in the development of transportation and communication links between the west and the east coasts, but not a very successful one. Plain and simple, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. failed to provide “reliable” mail service across the country as Russell, Majors, and Waddell promised.
“Many unforeseen and known factors, contributed to Russell, Majors, and Waddell’s failure. The primary problem they did not foresee was the Pyramid Lake Indian War, which severely interrupted and then slowed Pony Express service for several months . . .
“Setting Indian depredations aside, unpredictable weather-related events actually defeated the company. Russell, Majors, and Waddell promised speedy reliable service come rain, snow, or sunshine. In good weather, the Pony Express system worked as it was designed. But during the long, hard, stormy winter of 1860-1861, actually the first real test of the system against harsh weather elements, the Pony Express system could not maintain a regular or speedy schedule, even with the help of the extension of the telegraph lines. Due to the severe winter that year, the system broke down delaying the mail for substantial periods of time, much as it had under previous mail contractors, such as George Chorpenning. According to one historian, the average time of the twenty-two midwinter trips between destination points was 13.8 days. On four of these trips, sixteen days were used between telegraph points. Additionally, one trip took seventeen days, and another trip was missed entirely. Like it or not, postmaster general Aaron V. Brown was correct in 1857 when he thought the southern route of the Butterfield Overland Mail Company was superior to the central overland route because of winter travel conditions.
“On another level, the Pony Express failed as a successful business venture. The undertaking of an enterprise on a scale and size of the Pony Express by a private business was not a ‘Great Gamble’ as one author posed, but instead, it simply was an imprudent business venture. Quickly looking at the possible numbers of letters sent versus the cost of the operation, any smart businessman could recognize the disparity. Alexander Majors knew that the amount of business transacted over this line was insufficient to pay one-tenth of the expenses, to say nothing about the amount of capital invested. In Russell, Majors, and Waddell’s defense, some historians argue that the “Pony Express was not an end in itself, but a means to an end,” a legitimate business investment designed to place the firm in a favorable position to compete with the Butterfield line for the next overland mail contract. Russell, Majors, and Waddell knew it would be made obsolete by the telegraph. If this supposition were true, then the Pony Express failed here as well. In March 1861, when the overland mail contract was signed due to the exigencies of the impending Civil War, Russell, Majors, and Waddell were not in a financial position to compete with the Butterfield line, and therefore they lost out on their only chance to obtain a overland mail route contract.
“As the above arguments infer, the Pony Express’ significance in American history does not rest on the company’s capabilities. Instead, its significance is grounded in two different areas: 1) the Pony Express’ basic contribution to transportation and communication history, and 2) its very existence during a critical time period in American history.
“Clearly the Pony Express reduced the communication distance between the east and west coasts, and “speeded up news service to and from the Pacific Coast.” The Pony Express was a benefit to the public for this reason. Contemporary accounts also tend to agree that the Pony Express bound these two distant sections of the Union together before and during the Civil War. The Pony Express also fostered closer communication links between Mormon communities at Salt Lake City, and other Trans-Missouri communities and eastern states.”
The Superhighway of Westward Expansion
“The route from Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie was the superhighway of westward expansion. There were many ‘jumping-off places’ for emigrants along the Missouri River from Independence to Omaha, but all these strands converged at Fort Kearny to become one great migratory, military, and communications route. Fort Kearny was the official end of the prairie lands and the gateway to the Great Plains, with its endless level horizon and strange treelessness; Fort Laramie, with Laramie Peak looming to the westward, marked the transition from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains.”
[N.B. Unsure of the difference between “plains” and “prairie,” I found this on Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Natural vegetation in the Great Plains is dominated by grasses—tallgrass and medium grass prairie in the east and shortgrass and bunchgrass steppes in the west. These [plains] grasslands include forbs and larger plants such as the yucca and the prickly pear cactus in marginal areas, as well as shrubs and some small trees such as the mesquite and the sagebrush.”
Frank as a Bear Hunter
“‘Frank as a bear-hunter” is a proverb in these lands.”
Seeing the Elephant
“To read the diaries of the Gold Rush, one might suppose that elephants flourished [on the Plains] in 1849, but the emigrants weren’t talking about wooly mammoths or genuine circus-type elephants. The were talking about one particular elephant, the Elephant, an imaginary beast of fearsome dimensions which, according to Niles Searls, was ‘but another name for going to California.’ But it was more than that. It was the popular symbol of the Great Adventure, all the wonder and the glory and the shivering thrill of the plunge into the ocean of the prairie and plains, and the brave assault upon mountains and deserts that were gigantic barriers to California gold. It was the poetic imagry of all the deadly perils that threatened a westering emigrant.”
After Buffalo Chips
“And what, we may well ask, did the later travelers use for fuel in the years after the buffalo had been driven from the Platte Valley, especially throughout the treeless two-hundred-mile stretch now ending [after the road entered the Black Hills west of Fort Laramie]? The question has been answered by the veteran stage man and freighter, Alexander Majors, of the famous firm, Majors, Russell & Waddell. he writes: ‘Strange to say the economy of nature was such, in this particular, that the large number of work-animals left at every camping-place fuel sufficient, after being dried by the sun, to supply the necessities of the next caravan or party that traveled along. In this way the fuel supply was inexhaustible while animals traveled and fed upon the grasses. This, however, did not apply to travel east of the Missouri, as the offal from the animals there soon became decomposed and was entirely worthless for fuel purposes.'”
Platte River Water
“The only reliable daily source [of water in the Platte Valley] was the Platte River itself.
Platte river water was obtained in two ways: by scooping it up out of the main stream or its backwaters, or by digging a hole two to four feet deep in sandy soil near river level. The latter method was used by many, and while there was more exertion, by this method ‘most excellent cold pure water can be obtained anywhere. It leaches through the sand from the river and is perfectly filtered.’ Most emigrants disagreed, however; well water was more apt to be warm, dirty, and often alive with tiny creatures. After trial and error, several affirmed that ‘river water is safer.’ Hence, the majority drank water straight out of the Platte.
If river water was deemed safer than well water, it still held few charms for the fastidious. John Wyeth warned that a Platte River cocktail ‘is warm and muddy, causing diarrhoea.’ Celinda Hines observed that this water ‘partakes of the same laxative properties of the Missouri and Mississippi.’ Getting his out of a slue, or backwater, John Dalton called it ‘nasty, filthy stuff.’ D.A. Shaw proclaimed it ‘usable only if filtered and strained’ with a cloth, since this is not a river at all, but “simply moving sand.’ Randall Hewitt came up with another formula for dealing with ‘the mud of a river intent on wearing away half a continent.’ He recommended putting a handful of meal in the bucket, and ‘a few moments time is sufficient to precipitate the silt and render the water very palatable.
Some of the women recommended boiling, not to kill bacteria, which they had never heard of, but to immobilize the wiggle-tails. Tompkins was ahead of his day in believing the ‘secret of boiling water [was] to evaporate the deleterious properties.’ Drinking untreated shallow well water and Platte River water was doubtless a factor in the high mortality rate.”
Fastest Pony Express Time
“Perhaps the greatest feat of the Pony Express service was the delivery of President Lincoln’s inaugural address in record-breaking time. In order to surpass all previous performances, each horse along the line was led out from the different stations, and each traveled a stretch of only about 10 miles. Every precaution being taken to prevent delay, a transit was accomplished in the unprecedented time of seven days and seventeen hours over the 1,950-mile course.”
In the eastern p0rtion of the United States the old-fashioned dug well was common to every home that did not have access to a living spring. It was from eight to thirty feet deep and was curbed with stone or brick or perhaps was without curbing. Water might be drawn from it “hand over hand” but usually it was drawn by means of a pulley suspended over the well by a heavy crossbeam attached to upright timbers. . . .
West of the ninety-eighth meridian comparatively tew such wells are found. The water lies too deep and the soil is too hard. The wells are sunk by drill, a hole six inches in diameter and anywhere from thirty to three hundred feet deep, and walled by sheet-iron casing. The bucket, also of metal, is nearly four feet long and three inches in diameter and is fitted with a float valve in the bottom to admit the water. If anyone ever looked on the water in such a well, he did it by use of a reflecting mirror. Ordinarily the bucket furnishes the only proof of its existence, and in actual practice that proof sometimes fails. Such were the typical wells of the East and the West. In the East they were handmade with pick and shovel; in the West they were bored by itinerant well-drillers, who moved their machines about from place to place as they plied their trade. . . .
It followed from the nature of the wells in the West, particularly their depth, that men had to devise new ways of raising the water to the surface. In the beginning great hope was nourished for the prospect of artesian wells, which were found in certain favored localities in Kansas, Texas, and elsewhere. The excitement over artesian wells ran high for a time, and bonuses were offered for every such well found. Extensive boring revealed that the possibilities of water from such a source were very limited, and men then turned to ground water. Here they were confronted with great depth on the one hand and a slow delivery on the other. It was a task to raise water from fifty to two hundred feet by hand, an almost impossible task where cattle were to be watered. Furthermore, because of the small capacity of the well it was desirable to raise the water as fast as it was available and at all hours. . . .
The windmill was adopted, adapted, and developed until it met all these requirements most admirably. It could be made at a cost ranging from $1.50 up, depending on whether it were home-made or shop-made; it would deliver a small amount of water day and night as long as the wind was blowing. Within a short time after its introduction the windmill became the unmistakable and universal sign of human habitation throughout the Great Plains area. As before stated, it was the windmill that made it possible for the land to be fenced in small areas and for the stockmen to cut their ranges up into pastures.”
Holladay Goads Slade
“‘This is one tough job,” [Slade] remarked to his boss, Ben Halladay, owner of the stage company. ‘Looks like freightin’ is peacefuler.’
‘J. A.,’ replied Halladay, ‘the way to get along is to make folks scared to death of you. Make them so scared they run when they see you. Get that fellow Jules, and let everybody know you got him.'”
Robidoux's Trading Post
“The primary business of the Robidoux clan was to trade with the Indians. . . . [T]he Robidoux eastbound caravans were often observed by emigrants: Howell was told by Robidoux that it was 602 miles from [his trading post near Scott’s Bluff] to St. Joe. But the passage over the California Road of at least 75,000 people in [1849-50] certainly was not to be ignored by a shrewd businessman; so Robidoux made a pig pitch also for the emigrant trade and, being the only entrepreneur around for 300 miles, he prospered. . . .
[Joseph Robidoux] is incontestably the founder of St. Joe.”
“Emerging from the river plain we entered upon another mauvaise terre, with knobs and elevations of clay and green gault, striped and banded with lines of stone and pebbles: it was a barren, desolate spot, the divide between the Green River and its western influent, the shallow and somewhat sluggish Black’s Fork. The name is derived from an old trader: it is called by the Snakes Ongo Ogwe Pa, or ‘Pine-tree Stream;’ it rises in the Bear-River Mountains, drains the swamps and lakelets on the way, and bifurcates in its upper bed, forming two principal branches, Ham’s Fork and Muddy Fork.”
Typical Trail Narratives
“But Wilkins, as we said, differed from most of the diarists, whose experiences seemed almost predictable. 4 Many seem to have read other personal experience accounts of the trail, or had come to know what their audience, aural or literary, would expect. A great deal of individuality remains, of course, but it is often expressed within a framework that rapidly became characteristic of the genre. Certain kinds of episodes are almost certain to be related: the dangers in fording the Platte, for instance, or the awe induced by lightning on the prairie, encounters with Indians, accidents to wagon train members, or the inevitable story of the pioneer who wandered off too far from the train and was lost – for a few days or forever. So regularly do the same motifs appear in the Overland Trail narratives that a composite account can be assembled which typifies the genre, though it will not exactly recapitulate any one account.”
The Army Enters Salt Lake City
“A prerequisite to the establishment of any real peace in the Territory was the entrance of the army and its creation of a military camp without incident. On June 13 Johnston started his command on the road to the Mormon’s capital. Across Muddy Creek and Bear River the men tramped, then down Echo Canyon, its ramparts now deserted, and at last, on June 26, into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, their objective for almost a year. . . . From his hiding place Robert T. Burton saw the first men arrive at ten o’clock in the morning and watched until the rearguard had passed through the empty streets at five-thirty in the afternoon.”
Official Stations List
“The only official list of Pony Express stations and mileages is in the Postmaster General’s Record Book as of March 12, 1861, Records of the Post Office Department, Record Group 28, National Archives and Records Service. The route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Placerville, California, was 1,788 miles, with 138 stations; 3 weremail stops with no remounts. The scheduled time (summer) was 226 hours, making the averages peed 8 miles per hour. The average stat ion interval (pony run) was 13.5 miles, taking 1 hour, 40 minutes. The average rider run was about 75 miles, taking 8-10 hours and using 5-6 horses. Probably 3 riders were available for each rider run, making 72 riders. Service was weekly until July 1860 and semiweekly thereafter: thus all of Cody, claimed riding fell in the period of semiweekly service. These orienting figures do not jibe with a great deal of folklore.”
“The Canadian voyageurs first named it La Platte, the Flat Kiver, discarding, or rather translating after their fashion, the musical and picturesque aboriginal term, ‘Nebraska,’ the ‘shallow stream:’ the word has happily been retained for the Territory.”
“Joseph Robidoux, who established a trading post at the Blacksnake Hills about 1825, was a man of vision. He anticipated not only an influx of settlers, but also the need for a trail to the west which wold join the Blue River and the Platte. Blacksnake Hills had it all over Independence, being substantially closer to the Platte River; two extra days by steamer would save two weeks by ox-team. . . .
St. Joe continued to serve emigrants during the fifties, but was overshadowed by Council Bluffs. In 1859 the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad arrived, and in 1860 the fleet Pony Express began its meteoric career here. After the Civil War, St. Joe became a railroad and agricultural center.”
Mile 1285: Henefer, UT
“From the confluence of the Echo Creek, the Weber flows six miles through velvety meadows starred with wild flowers and then slips into the mouth of a rock-bound canyon where, in trail days, the wagons could not go. . . .
Somewhere in the six-mile stretch preceding the canyon mouth the emigrants had to get across the Weber, and the sooner the better, for it picked up small tributaries along the way. It is definitely a mountain stream, and the early parties—those, for instance, who arrived before the end of June—found it dangerous. . . .
The emigrants left Weber River near the mouth of the unfriendly canyon, and stayed with timid little Henefer Creek its few feeble miles up through the rough hillside.”
Meeting Between Slade and Virginia
“The exact place and date of the meeting between Virginia Slade, nee Virginia Dale, and Jack Slade is not known, but from tracing actual dates of events in Slade’s tempestuous career, we do know that it was sometime in the early part of 1860 that she became known as ‘Mrs. Slade.’ At that time she rescued Jack from a band of his enemies who were holding him captive in a log hut, awaiting the arrival of the gang’s chieftains to decide on the manner of Jack’s death. Jack asked to see his wife, to tell her farewell.
Virginia, who was an expert markswoman, equally handy with revolvers and rifles, arrived on a fast horse. She was wearing a worried look and a voluminous skirt. Jack asked plaintively to ‘see his wife alone.’ The guards granted this request, and she flew to his arms. As he enfolded her caressingly, he felt the comforting bulge of two five-shooters in the pockets of her flowing gown. Jack still had his own two guns. Why the guards had been so careless is a matter of guesswork—maybe they liked the little guy! But anyway, he had them. He and Virginia rushed to the cabin door, each armed with two guns, surprised the guards, whom they kept at gun-point, jumped on Virginia’s fine, fast-moving horse, and dashed away.
Also in 1860, the Slades befriended Widow Bartholomew, whose husband, Dr. Bartholomew, had been murdered by a couple of ruthlesss ruffians.”
Mile 1735 – 1830: Desert Stations
Posted on the Pony Express National Trail Facebook page:
“You may not be able to get out on the Pony Express, so we will bring it to you! Read along to take a virtual visit to five historic station sites across 53 miles.
learn/historyculture/ upload/ Rugged-Men-Rigorous-Rides-5 08.pdf
(Photo/NPS/Exhibit from Garden Pass/Click the link for an accessible pdf version of the full exhibit).”
Comments give more information about access to the mining area where Sulphur Springs Station is located. Note that this station is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route if you take the detour at Mile 1735 to restock at Eureka.
Prairie Post Offices
“Because attrition, traveling company splits, combinations, and recombinations were so common to the overland emigrating experience, the matter of conveying advice, progress reports, and other newsworthy information to relatives, friends, and former traveling companions was extremely important. The ‘roadside telegraph’ which overlanders devised was a crude by surprisingly effective means of communication. Anyone wishing to leave a message wold write a short note and place it conspicuously alongside the trail so that those following behind would be certain not to pass it by . . . The notes were usually of two types, those written on paper and those inscribed on such things as trees, pieces of wood, rocks, and animal bones. . . .Even human skulls were used. With surfaces that had been smoothed and whitened by the elements, these skulls and bones were strikingly visible, especially when hung by a stick by the side of the trail. . . .
While ‘Bone Express’ messages . . . were found along the trail, at certain places so many notes accumulated that these locations came to be known as ‘prairie post offices.’ . . . Someone even carved the words ‘Post-office’ on a rocky ledge near Courthouse Rock . . . but primarily these primitive post offices were found at trial junctions where the road forked and overlanders had a choice of routes to follow.”
Pony Express Operating Deficit
“No expenses had been spared to assure the Pony’s success: it had cost about $100,000 to set up. Yet unlike the Central Overland stage line, the Pony Express had no government mail subsidy; its only revenues came from the $5 fee it charged per letter. This charge brought in only about $500 a day, while the Pony’s expenses were at least twice that amount. Above and beyond its exorbitant startup costs, the Pony Express was losing between $15,000 and $20,000 per month.”
Mile 1299: Big Pass Update
“Pony’s clear from Henefer to at least Ibapah. Can’t vouch for Wyo. Be careful if you decide to take the singletrack off of Big Mtn Pass in Utah. They made the lower reaches by Mtn Dell Reservoir more MTBish.”
“‘Ole Epliraim’ is the mountain-man’s sobriquet for the grizzly bear.”
Early California Mail
“[U]nder Mexican rule, California had depended for mail service upon the irregular arrival of supply vessels and couriers, and the convenience of the commandants. The United States military authorities improved upon this by the. establishment of a regular service between their posts, which was open to the public; and by sending occasional messengers to Washington City.April 17, 1848, the military authorities dispatched ‘Kit’ Carson with the first United States mail ever carried overland from the Pacific to the Atlantic.”
Early Emigrant Messages in St. Joseph
“[Lodisa Frizelle, an emigrant who was supposed to meet her husband] put a letter in the post office for her husband to claim when he should arrive, telling where she might be found. The letter was nailed on the door, and each successive day more letters were nailed on top of it. When Mr. Frizelle finally arrived in St. Joseph there was no one at the post office who knew anything about the mail, and he hunted distractedly through the town, almost from house to house, with out any word of his wife. The next morning in desperation he went to the post office again, saw the collection of epistles nailed to the door, and tore every one off until he came to hers.”
“Tannery was the first technological process introduced into the Mormon Valley: hence all home industry has obtained the sobriquet of ‘Valley Tan.'”
“For two years during their exodus from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons occupied a way-station known generally as Winter Quarters. . . .
“At the time of the Mormon exodus, the federal government was attempting to protect the tribes living in the Missouri Valley from the degrading effects of American expansion, which was just then assuming major significance on the plains. These so-called border tribes inhabited both sides of the Missouri River and were in a delicate position, being located between the expanding settlements to the east and the powerful Plains Indians to the west. On the east bank of the Missouri River near Council Bluffs in western Iowa Territory, resided such tribes as the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa, who had been moved there from Michigan and Illinois in 1837. West of the river, in unorganized country, lived the Oto, Omaha, and Missouri. For the most part these tribes were destitute and on the verge of extinction. Few in number, they were constantly being raided by the Sioux and other hostile tribes and were defrauded by unscrupulous traders and whiskey sellers. . . .
“A number of federal laws existed for the protection of these tribes. Of major significance was the Indian Intercourse Act of June 30, 1834, which was passed in conjunction with the removal policy of the 1830’s. These laws created an Indian barrier by defining the unorganized territory west of the Mississippi as “Indian Country,” where whites were not permitted without passports establishing the length of their stay. . . .
“The Monnons, forced to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, set out in February, 1846, for a new Zion somewhere beyond the Rocky Mountains. Considering the destitute condition of many of the emigrants, a mass exodus in anyone season was manifestly impossible. By the early summer it .became increasingly clear to Brigham Young and the Mormon leadership that the Saints must stop somewhere along the way so that the large group could winter and be resupplied. . . .
“Being wary of other emigrants, many of whom were the hated Missourians who had previously evicted them, the Mormons had chosen to stay north of the established trails. This meant they penetrated previously unspoiled Indian lands where whites were forbidden.”
Day of Rest
“Captain Stansbury is not less scrupulous upon the subject of traveling proprieties. One of his entries is couched as follows: ‘Sunday, June 20 . . . The camp rested: it had been determined, from the commencement of the expedition, to devote this day, whenever practicable, to its legitimate purpose, as an interval of rest for man and beast. I here beg to record, as the result of my experience, derived not only from the present journey, but from the observations of many years spent in the performance of similar duties, that, as a mere matter of pecuniary consideration, apart from all higher obligations, it is wise to keep the Sabbath [Stansbury’s Expedition, ch. i., p. 22.].”
“I have always wondered why it is that all information extant on any given historic spot is always somewhere else and the immediate neighborhood is in complete and blissful ignorance.”
Mile 1411: Rush Valley/Bush Valley/Faust/Doc. Faust's/Meadow Creek Station
“Although identified in the 1861 mail contract as Bush Valley, it is apparently a typographical error or was copied as a result of a misinterpreted hand-written contract. This station was established originally by George Chorpenning in late 1858. Within Utah (present boundaries), Chorpenning had built two relay stations, the one at Rush Valley called Meadow Creek Mail Station and the other at Smith Springs (Fish Springs). There is a question whether the stone building still standing at Rush Valley is the station house. The 1871 survey plat names this building Faust’s House, while the survey notes call it Faust’s Station. This building also has been called the old Fletcher house. We are told the remains of a depression marked the structure known as the station house. It was apparently evident for many years to the east and north of the present structure.
“‘One of ‘Doc’ Faust’s most pleasant remembrances while living at the station was the visit of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who was on a trip across the continent. Knowing that Mr. Greeley would very likely bury himself in books and not wish to carry on conversation, Mr. Faust took great care to see that all the tallow candles were hidden, leaving the house in darkness. Mr. Greeley, unable to read, then made a delightful companion for the remainder of the evening with interesting accounts of his travels.’
“In 1870, Doc Faust moved to Salt Lake City and became engaged in the livery stable business. He later traded his ranch to O.P. Rockwell for 80 head of cattle.
“The field notes (survey records) of A. D. Ferron of October 1869 stated that there were two telegraph lines (from Salt Lake City) meeting at this location, one via Tooele and one via Camp Floyd to California.
“The property, which includes the stone building and a cemetery, is under private ownership and is closed to the public. The monument north of the area, is misplaced and the log structure across the highway to the east is often referred to as ‘the original station.'”
“Two miles beyond the ‘frontier of the state of Missouri’ the westbound travelers came to a mission. the was undoubtedly the Shawnee Mission—still in existence [in the 1940s] and well worth a visit. . . . It was a notable landmark and the missionaries were making a real attempt to mitigate the evils caused by the juxtaposition of negroes, unscrupulous whites, and border Indians who were ‘thick as toads on a mill pond’ and all too often drunk.”
“[W]e have the testimony of physicians of the day that it was the genuine, simon-pure article which filtered up the Mississippi on the river boats from the port of New Orleans. Up the Missouri it traveled, and into the trail outfitting towns, whose cemeteries grew apace. Out to the prairies it marched with the emigrant columns, reserving the full strength of its attack until it struck the Platte Valley, where crowded campsites and polluted wells provided a fertile field for its spread. Here it reigned supreme in its terror, for while it raged the Indians gave the camps wide berth. . . .
The onslaught of cholera was sudden and violent. In extreme cases a traveler might get up as usual in the morning and be buried at the noon stop. It was made more mysterious and dreaded by the utter ignorance of the emigrants as to what caused it. Physicians and thinkers advocated the use of swiftly running water instead of the polluted wells; but the general knowledge of the action of germs was still in the future, and few, if any, consistently boiled their drinking water. Some guidebooks recommended it, and, in reminiscences compiled many years later, a few pioneers have written that they did so; but I suspect that most of them merely made coffee or tea as being more palatable, and that boiling the water was incidental. . .
Some of the travelers worked themselves into such a frenzy of fear that they drove their animals day and night in a growing crescendo of terror. Some grew so callous in their mad flight that they would not stop to give adequate assistance to the dying, but rushed on, carrying them helpless and unattended in the wagons. . . . In other cases the sufferer was simply left behind when the train pulled out in the morning through lack of any one sufficiently concerned to brave the terror of the epidemic by caring for him. . . .
Sheer terror prompted much of the cruelty, necessity the rest; but it was a stark, raving, maniacal period which the emigrants experienced in the plague-smitten Platte Valley.
Turning to softer, but no less moving, aspects of the unhappy visitation, we find records of people who tended and buried the abandoned; carried sick strangers in their wagons, took orphaned children or mothers with families, maintaining them out of their own scanty supplies clear to the Pacific coast. These disconsolate and bereaved families were perhaps the saddest sight that the Overland Trail had to offer; crushed and stupefied by their loss; hurried along willy-nilly in a company of strangers, with their nearest and dearest left for the wolves to dig up and devour.”
Oxen and the Prairie Schooner
“In behalf of these hardy, versatile men who risked fortune and endured hardship along the Santa Fe trail [starting in 1821], it should be noted that they were the ones who developed the technique of prairie travel. They learned how to organize wagon trains and handle them to the best advantage upon the road. These men also adopted oxen in place of mules and horses, after oxen had been introduced by Major Bennett Riley in 1829, and they developed the prairie schooner.”
Emigration Over South Pass
“’From 1812 to 1848 travel up the Platte was only minimal to moderate, historian Merrill J. Mattes observed, ‘with a grand total of around 5,000 to Salt Lake, 10,000 to Oregon, and 2,000 to California.’ Between 1849 and 1852, about 120,000 people—mostly men—would flock to the gold fields over the California Trail, while some 35,000 more men, women, and children would cross South Pass on their way to Oregon or the Great Basin.”
Army of Utah Winter Camp
“On November 3, Colonel Johnson arrived [to join Colonel Alexander at a point three miles below the junction of Ham’s Fork and Black’s Fork] with the rear of the army and a column of Major’s & Russell’s trains. Three days later he broke camp and marched for Fort Bridger to go into winter quarters. . . .At about noon a snowstorm so heavy the bullwhackers could scarcely see their lead teams swept down upon them. The oxen were turned loose to graze, but they could find nothing to eat. What little grass the Mormons had not burned was buried under seven inches of snow. . . .
On the morning of November 8 the thermometer stood at 3º below zero.The night before more than half of Majors & Russell’s remaining oxen some of the army’s mules had died. . . .
Conditions on the march of the 9th were worse than those of the day before. Again Majors & Russell’s oxen died on the road. The Army of Utah was now battling a foe far more dangerous and implacable than Brigham Young’s Mormons. The long, frigid Rocky Mountain winter had set in, animals were dying by the hundreds, the soldiers were exposed in the open to subzero weather, and the danger of losing all the supplies was acute.
The troops remained in camp on November 10 and 11 while Majors & Russell’s trains were being moved forward. Nobody thought of advancing upon Salt Lake City now. Fort Bridger, only a few miles away, was their sole hope of refuge.”
Meaning of "Pah-Ute"
“The Piutes belonged to the Ute band at the time that the original Shoshone tribe broke up through its own weight and unwieldy size. They settled about the lakes—Humboldt, Pyramid, Carson, and Walker—and were therefore called Pah-Utes; that is, water Utes, “pah” being the word that sininifies water among all the Indians of the Great Basin region, Finally, the Utes and Pah-Utes, or “Piutes”—as the name is now generally, though improperly, written—became separate tribes.”
Emigration of 1849
“Before the last of the tired emigrants of ’48 had come stumbling into Lassen’s ranch, the gold fever was raging in the East. An era had ended. In the early years of the the trail a few wagons had moved eastward, across the rolling prairie and among the desert sand hills, as lonely as men left swimming in mid-ocean from a sunken ship. But in ’49 the diarists wrote of continuous trains six miles long. In a single year the numbers so increased that for one person who traveled the trail to California in ’48 fifty traveled it in ’49.”
Steptoe and the Mormons
“Another aggravating development of the period was the arrival of Lt. Col. Edward Jenner Steptoe with a party of 300 soldiers and civilians in 1854. This was no military expedition to occupy a recalcitrant people, for Steptoe had orders to to examine the possibility of constructing a road from Salt Lake City to California. . . .
[Steptoe’s] orders included instructions to investigate a particularly unpleasant murder in Utah the year before. Lt. John W. Gunnison’s second visit to the Basin had been more unfortunate than his first in 1849 . . .Ordered to survey a route between the 38th and 39th parallels for the proposed Central Pacific Railroad, Gunnison had reached Utah with about a dozen men on October 26, 1853. Like the ill-fated Fancher party, victims of the Mountain Meadows Massacre four years later, he had arrived at a bad time, when the Indians had become infuriated by unnecessary acts of cruelty on the part of recent travelers. . . . At the Sevier River on October 28 . . . Indians ambushed the detachment, killing Gunnison and seven of his command.
To defend the prestige of the Government and the security of other troops in the West, the War Department demanded the punishment of this crime. . . . It was Steptoe’s task to investigate the incident.
Through his inquiry into the massacre Steptoe became involved in the thorny issue of the Mormon’s relations with the Indians. Like [Indian Agent] Holeman, he concluded that the Church was tampering with the local tribes in a most reprehensible fashion. . . .
To the Mormons in 1854 and 1855 Edward Jenner Steptoe was more than an army officer whose orders had interjected him into their Indian affairs. before his arrival, Bernhisel had written Willard Richards that President Pierce had resolved to appoint Steptoe governor upon expiration of Young’s first four-year term . . . Steptoe was not objectionable to the Mormons, Young himself having said publicly that if the officer had been given the appointment he would accept this ‘gallant gentleman,’ but the selection of any Gentile for this position of authority was cause for alarm among the Saints, who wished to be ruled only by members of their Church. . . . [T]he Mormons feared that Steptoe, or even [Chief Justice Kinney], would get Pierce’s appointment.
Yet when the agitation had quieted and all the letters and petitions had been filed, Steptoe was on his way to California, Kinney was still only a federal judge in Utah, and Young still occupied the executive seat.”
Forces at Work in 1846
“This text has several times taken an image from astronomy and pken of energies which were drawing the “United States out of shape, as theory tells us the earth swelled out in a lump when the moon was born. They are all in now. From astral space a dispassionate Martian might have seen the First Republic in process of transformation to the Empire by forces which moved within a parallelogram. He would have noted the armies working south, the fissures raveling across Congress, the American System building the factories of Elias Howe and Samuel Colt and Cyrus McCormick, and a long line of now-faded white-tops moving west.”
Mile 48: Kennekuk
“Without changing mules we advanced to Kennekuk, where we halted for an hour’s supper under the auspices of Major Baldwin, whilom Indian agent; the place was clean, and contained at least one charming face. Kennekuk derives its name from a chief of the Kickapoos, in whose reservation we now are.”
Cattle for Utah
“Here William McCarthy, a brother of Frank McCarthy, our assistant boss, met us. He had been sent out by Majors, Russel & Waddell in charge of a herd of eight hundred beef cattle to drive them to Salt Lake. He had eight men, and a team and wagon to haul their supplies. “
Alexander Majors's Bibles
“Speaking of this thorough plainsman [Alexander Majors] reminds me of the lack of religion among some of the boys. Mr. Major[s] was always interested in the moral elevation of the men who worked for him, and sometimes before a train left the Missouri River he would present each man with a neat pocket Testament, the leaves of which, being about the right size out of which to make cigarettes, were used for the same instead of being read.”
— Darley, Reverend G .M., “The End Gate of the Mess Wagon,” The Trail: A Magazine for Colorado, Volumes 1, No. 1 (1908) : 18-19
Mile 2148: Placerville
“And Hangtown—what of it? Built flimsily at a carefree slant on the two sides of a shallow pine-filled canyon, the log-framed, canvas-roofed buildings of ’49 gradually gave way to better arrangements. Men found there was sure money to be made in limber, and small mills hacked out heavy timbers for warmer houses. A crude but effective line of stores centered the rambling elongated town and soon became a recognized goal for gold seekers. It was the third largest city in the state. And, only second to Sacramento, Hangtown symbolized for the overland Argonaut, their arrival in the west. . . .
The settlement started its diversified career under the title Dry Diggings, but was rechristened in honor of its early citizens’ well meant exertions in the cause of justice. Two Frenchmen and a Chileno were hanged on an oak in the center of town in January, 1850.Several other executions followed rapidly—possibly too rapidly. The place was irrevocably dubber Hangtown. When California became a state, later in the same year, the more aesthetic citizenry had its name legally changed to Placerville.. In the spring of ’53, still struggling for less violence, they narrowly prevented another lynching and had the oak cut down. The top was made into souvenirs, but the stump is beneath a building within a few feet of the memorial plaque.”
Pony Express Re-Rides
“[I]n 1923, the first re-ride of the Pony Express was organized. Sixty riders traversed eight states in a celebration commemorating the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. that was formed sixty-three years earlier. Authenticity of the original days of the Pony Express was provided by the dress of the riders, as well as the route of the re-ride.. . .
“In 1935, the Diamond Jubilee of the Pony Express, a second re-ride of the route was made, sponsored by the Oregon Trail Memorial Association. On April 3, the date that the Pony Express began, celebration activities began across the nation. In August, approximately 300 Boy Scouts participated in the re-ride of the Pony Express historic trail. All events ended in late October, which signified the start of the transcontinental telegraph and the end of the Pony Express.”
The Mormon Pony Express
The Mormons also planned a “swift pony express” to carry the mail between Independence and Salt Lake City in twenty days. Stations existed at Fort Supply, and Fort Bridger, and they hoped to establish additional stations . . . Ultimately, Brigham Young planned to build stations with settlements mills, storehouses, and plant cropland approximately every fifty miles or the equivalent of a day’s travel by a team of horses. . . .
Young’s plans never fully materialized. Service was interrupted during the summer of 1857, when the government suddenly cancelled Kimball’s [mail] contract without explanation, and the so-called “Utah War” with the Mormons began.
Free Land Acts
“During the homesteading years that began after the Civil War . . . There was still free land out west, available through a variety of federal programs, but mostly through the Donation Land Act of 1850 and then three separate Homestead Acts passed by Congress in 1862, 1909, and 1916.”
Army and Navy Signal System
“After practicing as a physician for three years, [Albert Myer] sought and obtained a commission as assistant surgeon in the regular army. Lieutenant Myer was soon ordered to New Mexico. It is said that one day, seeing some Comanches making signals to another group of Indians on a neighboring hill by waving their lances, the thought struck him that such motions might be utilized for connecting adjacent military posts, or parts of an army in active operations. So firmly did this idea take possession of the young surgeon that he devoted much of his leisure to its development, and finally devised a system of signals which became the basis of the code or codes used through the war. He came east, explained his system to the authorities, and took out letters patent on his invention.”
Butterfield Wins the Bid
“The victory of advocates of an overland mail to the Pacific Coast, as represented by the passage of the Post Office Appropriation Bill and its amendments in 1857, appeared to offer an opportunity for the express companies not only to rid themselves of the obnoxious steamship monopoly but also to enter into the business of carrying the overland mail. Therefore the great companies, Adams, American, National, and Wells, Fargo & Company pooled their interests to form Butterfield & Company, or, as more commonly known, the Overland Mail Company . . .
Postmaster Aaron V. Brown, a Tennesseean, was strongly in favor of the [southern] route Butterfield named. On September 16, 1857, he awarded the contract to the Overland Mail Company for six years . . .
The line was gotten ready within the required time and service began September 5, 1858. The coaches ran regularly the year round and not great difficulties with Indians were encountered. The line rendered good service on a reasonably well kept schedule. Northern interests, anti-Administration newspapers, and friends of the Central Route, however, maintained an uproar of criticism and ridicule. Since they could find no fault with the efficiency of the service, their main complaint was against distance and time consumed. In reply, friends of the Southern Route, and even Butterfield himself, admitted that the Central Route was shorter but argued that it could not be traveled in winter time.”
Spread of Cholera
“All of these complaints and illnesses of the Great Migration pale into insignificance, however, beside the great killer Asiatic cholera. Variously spelled in diaries colory, chollery, of coleramer, this virulent plague raged intermittently along the Platte River Road and its approaches during the climax years of the California Gold Rush. It was carried by rats on ships from Asiatic ports to New Orleans, thence by river streams to St. Louis and up the Missouri River to emigrant jump-off towns. Most of the fatalities . . . occurred between the Missouri River and Fort Laramie.”
“[D]efinitely undependable were the Pawnee, whose territory extended from the Big Blue Crossing to the forks of the Platte. The Kanzas, the Potawatomi, and the Sac and Fox were semi-civilized, at least to the point that there was some semblance of legality to their extraction of funds from the emigrants. The Pawnee were warriors and buffalo hunters who roamed their vast domain looking for trouble. They found plenty of it in the form of Sioux and Cheyenne to the west; and emigrants who had found themselves in the thick of tribal warfare on the Kansas River might have the experience repeated along the Little Blue and the Platte. . . . For the most part, however, the rumors of battles and massacres [between Pawnee and emigrants] were untrue, and the Pawnee merely threatened and blustered, demanding tribute of some kind for crossing their lands, although they would not be above robbing and sometimes murdering stragglers.”
Mile 437: Cottonwood Station
“Eighty miles west of Fort Kearney the emigrants found a spring surrounded by cottonwoods. Near it the ravines were filled with scrub cedar. It was always a favorite camp and later became an important stage stop with the unimaginative name Cottonwood Spring. The cedar wood was freighted by ox train for a hundred miles in each direction to supply the stations, and the cottonwood logs were cut and hauled for building purposes. When the Indians became troublesome Fort McPherson was established close by; and we saw its flag, high and tiny but unmistakable, long before we arrived in sight of the buildings. The stage station disappeared long ago, but the fort remains, surrounded by the beautifully kept grounds of a national cemetery.”
[N.B. The Fort McPherson marker is just before Mile 435 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.]
“The Spanish ‘chapparal’ means a low oak copse. The word has been naturalized in Texas and New Mexico, and applied to the dense and bushy undergrowth, chiefly of briers and thorns, disposed in patches from a thicket of a hundred yards to the whole flank of a mountain range (especially in the Mexican Tierra Caliente), and so closely entwined that nothing larger than a wolf can force a way through it.”
Mile 137: Marysville, KS
“In 1852 a white man named Marshall squatted on the east bank [of the Blue River] and went into the ferry business on a permanent basis. . . . [He] was still in business in ’54 with a ‘trading house’ . . . This establishment was evidently the beginning of the ‘small settlement’ of Marysville. . . . [which] became the seat of a county named for the enterprising Mr. Marshall, its first settler; it was also a station on the Pony Express.”
Eye Witness Account of Slade's Hanging
“J. M. Venable, mining man of Boise, Idaho, is the only living witness [in 1928] of Slade’s hanging. He knew him well and describes him as weighing about 160 pounds, five feet eight inches with dark red hair and dark hazel eyes.”
“Our cooking utensils consisted of two or three camp-kettles, a frying-pan, skillet (or bake-pan), and a coffee-mill. We had also tin cups and plates, and the above-mentioned knives and forks. Each mess, too, had an axe, a spade, and three or four six-gallon water-kegs. Rations were served out every evening, for each man l lb. of flour, the same of bacon; coffee and sugar in sufficiency: we used to brown all the coffee each evening in the frying pan.”
“He described himself, for instance, as having lately been ‘slightly inebriated;’ but the euphuistic periphrasis concluded with an asseveration that he would be ‘Gord domned’ if he did it again.”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“It is all part and parcel of the unsatisfactory nomenclature of the trail that South Pass is by no means to the south.
The descriptive title was first used by trappers who had moved into the untimbered, Indian-infested prairies along the northern reaches of the Missouri River. In 1823 trouble with the Arikaras closed this route, and a picked group of William Ashley’s mountain men, desirous of reaching the new trapping fields of the Green River, set out to locate the strange, smooth gap through the Rocky Mountains of which they had heard from the Indians. It lay to the south, in the country of the Crows, and they spoke of it as the South or Southern Pass.Directions of a kind were obtained at a Crow village and, after wintering as best they could, the trappers left the headwaters of the Sweetwater River, moving west across the mountains.The country was oddly flat, but sometime in March 1824, they discovered to their joy that the creeks were flowing westward under their sheaths of ice, and knew that they had reached the Pacific watershed. From this date the pass was known and used by white men.
The crossing of the Rockies was not dreaded by the emigrants, who knew from their guidebooks that the grade was easy and the summit flat and unbroken. That there might be exigencies on a mountain top beyond the danger of falling off did not occur to travelers to whom an elevation of seven thousand feet was an unheard-of experience. It was with as few misgivings as the uncertainty of the trail ever permitted that the wagon trains ascended the valley of the Sweetwater on their way to the pass.”
Mile 120: Guittard's Station
“Beyond Guittard’s the prairies bore a burnt-up aspect. Far as the eye could see the tintage was that of the Arabian Desert, sere and tawny as a jackal’s back.”
“This Hastings was a Fremont in miniature. He is an elusive soul, not much can be said about him with certainty. A young man on the make, he was at this moment engaged in a grandiose and still wholly theoretical real-estate enterprise on the golden shore, and he was the local agent of a bigger one managed from Washington which was a kind of gaudy bet on an insider’s guess that there would be war. But he also had speculations – or visions – more gaudily ambitious. He may have meditated another overlordship on the frontier of empire, like the one which Sutter had actually established at New Helvetia. He may have seen himself – he would only have been one of a good many- as a kind of Sam Houston, president of another Lone Star Republic. He may have intended to utilize the opportunities provided for a smart man with nerve – precisely as Fremont did. Rumors connected him.._ loosely – with the Mormons ,md, on grounds that are apparently more substantial, with one of the current revolutionary intrigues. Whatever was in his mind, he did not have quite enough stuff, Put him down as a smart young man who wrote a book – it is not a unique phenomenon in literature – without knowing what he was talking about. As the first head of the California Chamber of Commerce, the first Booster on the golden shore. He went from his home town, Mount Vernon, Ohio, to Oregon in 1842 with Elijah White’s famous caravan. He found no opening for his talents in that sober commonwealth and moved on to California. He liked what he saw, he perceived there were opportunities for smart men, so he wrote a prospectus and took it east in 1844. It was published at Cincinnati in 1845 and Hastings went back to California. Jim Clyman heard of him just when the Bowens and the Smiths and the Does were reading it. And while they were reading it Mr. Hastings formed a new design, one which shifted him from merely mischievous advertising to really dangerous activity. As, farther along, we shall see.”
America's Unpreparedness for the Mexican War
“The President and the nation had a war now, and neither was up to it. This book is to touch briefly on certain campaigns and their backgrounds which are related to our central purpose, but it has space to treat the war only in general terms.
The conquest of a foreign nation was the biggest enterprise on which, up to then, the American people had ever embarked. The war required a large-scale organization and an integrated effort for which no experience had fitted the Americans and which were, as a matter of fact, beyond their current ability. Since Mexico was what it was there was never any danger that the United States would lose the war. But it must infallibly have lost the war if it had been waged against a power of industrial, military, or financial resources even remotely comparable to ours. Our industrial and financial systems were flourishing but wholly unprepared for such a strain as they must now bear, our military system was the worst possible, and our system of government, as events were quickly to make clear, had reached a crisis in which its interior conflicts were making it impotent.
One way to win the war would have been to confide its manage. ment to a board of specialists, chosen for their effectiveness in management and without reference to their politics. Such a conception was altogether alien to the 184o’s, to the stage of American party government then evolved, and in general to the nineteenth century. Feebly approximated in the government of A. Lincoln by 1863, after blood and despair (never approximated in the government of Jefferson Davis), it had to wait for 1917 and Woodrow Wilson. Besides, in 1846, there was , not in America the kind of management required. Neither public nor private enterprise had ever undertaken such a job, and the wonder is not that it was done so badly but that it was done so well. While our narrative centers on other things, the reader should hazard some guess about the resources and organizations required to equip, transport, supply, and maintain blockading fleets in foreign waters and armies not only itivading Mexico from three directions at distances of several thousand miles but also, in several columns, traversing the wilderness of the Great Desert. He should think in round numbers of the components of such an effort- hundreds of ships, tens of thousands of wagons, hundreds of thousands of draft animals and beef cattle, ordnance, small arms, haversacks, hospital supplies, food, blankets, all the goods that make a war. That they were supplied at all is the amazing fact, the demonstration that in the last handful of years the developing industrial system had grown altogether beyond what was currently understood about it. Time after time the extemporized organizations broke down. No army was ever as well equipped or as well supplied as its necessities demanded. Lacks and weaknesses which might have meant defeat if our enemy had not been Mexico repeatedly showed themselves. Millions of dollars were wasted, months were lost, vast if indeterminable hardships that might have been averted were inflicted on troops and citizenry. As always, the republic paid more in suffering and death than it ought to have paid. And yet, for all the ignorance, ineptitude, and delay that stopped the fighting for months at a time, bored and finally frightened the nation, and made the leaders both heartsick and suspicious, a kind of efficiency at last prevailed – and the first modern or industrial war somehow found a pattern and succeeded. As a rehearsal for a deadlier one to come.”
Old Julesburg Crossing
“Near This Place, which I will call Old Julesburg, the river-crossing started in a little east of the station, not very far down the river, and went around in a curve, coming out say a quarter or half a mile farther up the river. There was another crossing farther up the river, that crossed over west of the mouth of Lodgepole ; the two trails went up Lodgepole Creek on opposite sides, until they joined several miles farther up. Those present at that time were in the habit of calling the lower one the ‘California crossing’ and the west one the ‘Mormon crossing’ because it appears that the Mormon trains crossed there and went quite a distance up the west side of Lodgepole.”
Mile 137: Marysville, KS
“Marysville was the direct result of a route surveyed from Fort Leavenworth to Salt Lake City in 1849 by Lieutenant Stansbury. At this point, he was concerned mainly with locating an easy ford across the Big Blue. The town sprang up unbidden; its small board shacks mushroomed amongst the hurly-burly of wagons camped at the crossing, and its first citizens lived by the traffic of the trail.”
[Just above this paragraph is a wonderful description of Marysville in June: “Our first impression on entering Marysville was of a motley assortment of red brick wall broken by a lion-guarded gate crouched at one side of the street whicle, ahead of us, the clock in front of the funeral parlor was suitably dead. There was no need for time today. No one was keeping appointments.”]
“Here at Marysville the travelers from St, Joseph merged with that part of the traffic from Independence, Missouri, which had continued up the east bank of the Big Blue. They all forded at one place in an indistinguishable Mass and went on six miles to the next point of interest, the junction of the St. Jo Road with the one which came swinging up from the Independence Crossing.”
The Slades' Horses
“Another favorite and shared pastime of Virginia and Jack Slade was horse racing, which was a popular Sunday sport in early Virginia City. As both appreciated a fine horse and both owned good horses (Virginia’s a gorgeous black stallion from Kentucky named ‘Billy Boy’ and Slade’s ‘Old Copper-bottom,’ which got his master home, drunk or sober) and were excellent riders, they rarely missed a Sunday race.”
“There was good hunting roundabout.”
” . . . you can always tell the camping-place of an emigrant train, there are the remains of so many small fires; those of other trains are fewer and larger; we never had more than half-a-dozen, and very seldom as many.”
Mile 1915: Cold Springs Station
“[D]uring the Pyramid Lake War, three Pony Express riders were killed by Paiute warriors . . . One of them, Jose Zowgaltz, was Hispanic. He was ambushed as he crossed the thick aspen bottoms of Edwards Creek, north of Nevada’s Cold Springs Station (pictured). Suffering a mortal abdominal wound, Zowgaltz galloped to the station where, upon arrival, he slipped bleeding from his saddle and soon died.”
[N.B. Cold Spring Station is a few miles off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, west of Austin, NV. There are three stations in this area, just north of the Route (starting from a turnoff at about Mile 1885), though there doesn’t appear to be any direct line between them. This is the part of the trail where Jan Bennett took a break from the miles of gravel for a nice paved stretch.]
Failure of Russell, Majors & Waddell
“It has been said again and again that the Pony Express ruined Russell, Majors & Waddell. That is not true. It was a failure as a financial asset from the beginning and made its contribution to the final debacle, but that contribution was both minor and one of many. The Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company which operated it was a failure as a money-making institution. So were most of the other partnerships which which these men were concerned . . . The freighting business appears to be the only one which paid dividends. Had they confined their efforts to that and been reimbursed for their losses in 1857, the story probably would have been different . . . The day Russell decided to organize the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company was a day of doom. That organization and its greater successor did as much to bankrupt the partners as the failure of the government to reimburse them for their losses in 1857.”
“A middle-aged woman from Dover was a curious free-spoken person for a ‘saint,’ and almost put our men to the blush; for a very trifling gratuity she would have (and perhaps did) acted as the procuress of the girls of her people. On common-place subjects she talked sensibly; told me from having delayed so long at Atchison they were already short of provisions, and got only one pound of bacon a week each (perhaps including all the children); complained bitterly that the settler would not sell her any butter, he would keep it all for the ‘captain’s lady’ (the captain of the United States’ troops)—that in a free country !—besides, he had ‘extortionated’ her for other trifles; but—and this she told with immense gusto—she had sold his wife some worsted stockings, and put just as much extra on the price of them.”
Mile 1134 to 1160: Green River to Black's Fork
“From the original Oregon trail crossing [about twenty miles upriver, near present-day Fontanelle], the early wagon trains converged toward what was later known as the Lombard ferry trail. the two routes form a wedge like a slice of pie, of which Green River is the fluted crust and the point is at Black’s Fork. near the point Ham’s Fork cuts diagonally across [at present-day Granger] as if serving the first crooked bite. The whole section of country between the two routes is a broken, barren prairie, covered with sand and gravel. The emigrants often found it difficult. We found it almost impassible: it had recently rained, or perhaps I should say ‘cloudbursted.’ The inefficient roads had been washed over by torrents just strong enough to carry perfectly strange boulders as far as the middle of the wheel tracks, but under no conditions able to take them on across. . . .
This part of the country is seen at its best either at sunrise or sunset. When traveling east we often stay all night at Green River and leave very early in the morning in order to enjoy the really exquisite light effects on the weird castlelike rock formations that are its dominant feature.”
[N.B. at around Mile 1147, the Pony Express Bikepacking Route carries a warning: “Road has multiple dangerous washouts—keep looking ahead.”]
Mile 1160 to 1193: Hams Fork to Fort Bridger
“The wagons had various routes as the years went by, but these all tended to center near the confluence of Hams and Blacks Forks. Both the original trail and the later road from Lombard Ferry crossed Hams Fork first, just above the junction, and then negotiated the more difficult Blacks Fork which curved like a frightened snake as it hastened through the low sage. Its waters were swift, cool, and deep, and the wagons turned and followed up its south bank, sometime close to the stream but oftener out in the hot sage and choking dust. The abumdance of small green willows surprised the sage-accustomed cooks with very little fire and a terrific smudge—which was not without its uses, the mosquitoes being recorded as smaller than hummingbirds but decidedly larger than crickets.”
Mile 475: O'Fallon's Bluffs
“We passed a marker of the site of Bishop’s Station and soon came to the first of the famous trail landmarks south of the river: O’Fallon’s Bluffs. This unspectacular elevation was only remarkable in being the vanguard of the sandstone formations. At its very foot the South Fork lay torpid in the sun, bulged around the contours of Issac Dillon island like a snake that has swallowed a rabbit. We went up and over the flat top of the bluff just as the emigrants had been forced to do. When it was practical to get down into the narrowing valley, the trail descended again, and the battalions of clean-washed little sunflowers turned their faces stead-fastly toward the west with us, for the sun was low.”
[N.B. According to Wikipedia, “Much of O’Fallons Bluff was removed when Interstate 80 was constructed, though remnants of wagon-wheel ruts from the Oregon and California trails still remain. These trail ruts parallel to Interstate 80 ranging from only a few feet (or meters) to about a mile (a little over a kilometer) from it. The remaining ruts that run up and over O’Fallon’s Bluff are marked by iron hoops representing wagon wheels and can be seen close to Interstate 80.”]
End of the Cattle Empire
“In 1862 the Federal Homestead Law was passed; in 1874 the first piece of barbed wire was sold in the United States. These two facts combined to break the even tenor of the cattleman’s way. …
“The story of the effects of barbed wire on human life in the Great Plains is one that has not been and cannot be adequately told. Its effect on the cattleman has been partly told. The advent of barbed wire was an important factor in the decline of the cattle kingdom. It brought about the disappearance of the open, free range and converted the range country into the big-pasture country. It sounded the death knell of the native longhorn and made possible the introduction of blooded stock. With barbed-wire fences the ranchman could isolate his cattle and, through segregation, could introduce blooded stock. Barbed wire put an end to the long drive, made the cattle trail a “crooked lane,” and the cattleman to patronize the railroads whether he would or not. Barbed wire has made stock-farming rather than ranching the dominant occupation on the Great Plains.”
Fort Kearny Military Reservation
“It was customary for the War department to set aside a military resrvation of 100 square miles; here, in addition to the usual rectangular ten miles square, the reservation was extended in a strip downstream for an additional four miles to include more Grand island timber.
Although the boundary was neither fenced nor posted, emigrants camping in the vicinity were often politely informed they were on the reservation and could not camp thereon. The fort was located, not in the center of the rectangle, but at a point two miles from its western boundary, or eight miles from the eastern line. Consequently, the largest camping area was just beyond the western line. The military was not often so fussy about camping to the east, and covered wagon camps would sometimes be strung out in that direction for miles.”
C.O.C. & P.P.Ex.Co.
“In February, 1860, the legislature of Kansas granted a charter to the ‘Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company.’ This newly formed company absorbed the ‘L. & P.P Ex.,'[Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express, owned by Jones, Russell and Company] which had been operating its line to Denver during the preceding year, and thus also obtained the United States mail contract for service to Utah. Soon the George Chorpenning contract for service upon the route from Salt Lake City to Placerville, California, was annulled for alleged failures and a new contract made with William H. Russell for a semi-monthly ‘star’ service. This gave ‘C.O.C. & P.P.Ex.Co.’control of the entire mail service over the central route to the Pacific Coast. . . .
Russell was chosen as president, and B.F. Ficklin, general road agent.”
‘Bunch-grass’ grows on the bleak mountain-sides of Nevada and neighboring territories, and offers excellent feed for stock, even in the dead of winter, wherever the snow is blown aside and exposes it; notwithstanding its unpromising home, bunch-grass is a better and more nutritious diet for cattle and horses than almost any other hay or grass that is known–so stock-men say.”
Mormons and the Courts
“It was in the judicial rather than the political field, however, that non-Mormons felt most keenly the dictatorial authority of the church. . . .At first the Mormons, believing that Gentile courts did not dispense justice, followed the advice of their leaders to use their own ecclesiastical tribunals in settlement of their mutual difficulties. Then the influx of Gentiles brought the Saints into legal entanglements that could be resolved only in territorial courts, other devices were employed to guard the interests of Church members. The legislature, for instance, by enactment in 1852 permitted anyone, with or without legal training, to serve as an attorney in court; two years later a more extensive act declared that only territorial laws, and those of Congress ‘when applicable,’ could be ‘read, argued, cited or adopted as precedent in any trial,’ Thus the Mormons tried to escape all laws, including English common law, that might serve to prejudice their search for autonomy. . . .
Of all the judicial defenses raised by the Church to protect itself, none caused so much trouble as the probate courts. In February 1852 the legislature gave these tribunals such exceptional powers that they came to have jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases. . . .In reply, many Gentiles insisted that thte extravagant augmentation of the probate courts’ authority was obvious proof of the Mormons’ ultimate intention to establish a community effectively independent of all federal control. W. W. Drummond, a federal judge who more than any other man brought about the Mormon War of 1857-58 . . . used this strange legal situation as one of his arguments for the need of an expedition against the Latter-day Saints.”
Young's Hostile Attitude Toward U.S. Troops
“In his correspondence with Colonel Alexander, Young had justified his hostile attitude toward the troops on Ham’s Fork by certain legalistic quibbles. The Organic Act of the Territory, he maintained, gave the governor a term of four years unless he was replaced by a person duly qualified and appointed. Since Young had not been formerly appraised of the expedition, Young . . . could contend that it was a mob, not an army of the United States. On this pretext he used his power as commander in chief of the territorial militia to protect his people from invasion by a gang of irregulars. Obviously delighted with these arguments carelessly provided by the President, the Mormons frequently drew upon them . . .
Although such questionable reasoning was useful to the Mormons in the war of words accompanying the military aspects of the campaign, its comparison of the army to a mob also revealed their actual fears of the soldiers . . .
The Mormon’s unflattering estimate of the troops was accurate to a certain extent. . . . Because of its unpopularity, the army frequently drew its recruits from the less stable elements of society, men who were persuaded to enlist because of desperate poverty or some similarly compelling reason. . . . John W. Phelps found the men in his battery ‘exceedingly stupid,’ ‘naturally defective in intellect,’ so depraved that ‘they would sell their last article of clothing for liquor.’ . . .
Believing the common soldiers of the expedition to be individuals of dangerous passions, the Saints were also convinced that they were commanded by men whose anti-Mormon antipathies were deep-rooted. . . .
The Mormons had not only the expedition’s soldiers to fear. During the summer and early fall contractors Russell, Majors & Waddell had sent 328 ox wagons to Utah; the sutlers and other merchants traveling with the column had another 160 wagons in their trains. When the army reached the Territory, it would therefore bring a great horde of drivers and wagon masters with it, men who had been recruited by advertisements in the barrooms and on the streets of Leavenworth City. . . .
Another fear of the Mormons in 1857 centered upon the newly appointed territorial officers. With a reprehensible indifference the Government had not told the people of Utah who their officers were to be; the Saints knew only that they were Gentiles. Aware of the enmity toward them in the East, they [resumed that these men were antagonistic to the Church and been selected because of the strength of their animosity.”
Spread of the Cattle Kingdom on the Plains
“In this way the cattle kingdom spread from Texas and utilized the Plains area, which would otherwise have lain idle and useless. Abilene offered the market; the market offered inducement to Northern money; Texas furnished the base stock, the original supply, and a method of handling cattle on horseback; the Plains offered free grass. From these conditions and from these elements emerged the range and ranch cattle industry, perhaps the most unique and distinctive institution that America has produced. This spread of the range cattle industry over the Great Plains is the final step in the creation of the cattle kingdom.
The first step was made when the Spaniards and Mexicans established their ranches in the Nueces country of southern Texas, where natural conditions produced a hardy breed of cattle that could grow wild ; the second step occurred when the Texans took over these herds and learned to handle them in the only way they could have been handled – on horse-back; the third step was taken when the cattle were driven northward to market ; the fourth came when a permanent depot was set up at Abilene which enabled trail-driving to become standardized; the fifth took place when the overflow from the trail went west to the free grass of the Great Plains. . . .
The purpose here is to set forth the processes by which civilization came about on the Great Plains. We are well aware that the Texans did not take the first cattle to the northern Plains; the Spaniards, of course, took the first. The Mormons, the Oregon Trailers, the Santa Fe Traders. the Forty-niners, and perhaps others took live stock. But all these took cows, not cattle: domestic stock, not range stock. There were survivals of the old Spanish ranching system in California and in New Mexico. But the process by which the Great Plains were stocked with cattle, by which ranches were set up wherever there was grass, much or little, was essentially as described. All the exceptions may be admitted, are admitted, but the essentials of the story remain the same.
The following, from the Nimmo Report, pp. 95-96, is an account that one commonly finds of how people learned the value of the Northern range. People inferred from the presence of buffalo that the northern range would be suitable for cattle; but the first practical demonstration of the fattening effects of Northern grasses came in the winter of 1864-1865, when E. S. Newman, who was conducting a train of supplies overland to Camp Douglas, was snowed up on the Laramie Plains. He made a winter camp and turned the oxen out to die. Spring found them not only alive, but in much better condition than when turned loose to starve and feed the wolves. This accidental discovery led to the purchase of cattle and the beginning of cattle-raising on the ranges of the Northwest.”
Mile 804: Horseshoe Creek
“That portion of the Platte Valley into which the wagons dropped after leaving the Bitter Cottonwood was a common stretch on the two roads south of the river and afforded the best grass the pioneers had seen since leaving their own planted meadows. With the possible exception of Bear River Valley, Carson Valley, Fort Bridger, and the Fort Hall Bottoms, it was the most luxuriant of the two-thousand mile trek. It extended no doubt from the lovely meadows near Bull’s Bend to Horseshoe Creek and beyond. Men diarists, especially, wrote of it in glowing terms, for it gave the animals a much-needed ‘chirking-up’ right in the middle of the hard grind of the Black Hills.”
[N.B. Bull’s Bend is on the North Platte River (about two miles to the east) at roughly Mile 800 on the Pony express Bikepacking Route]
Delicacies on the Trail
“Though supplementary to breadstuff and bacon, some other articles of food were considered essential: salt, sugar, coffee, and dried fruit. In addition, each family was likely to carry along something in the way of special delicacies—tea, maple sugar, vinegar, pickles, smoked beef. . . .
Though these backwoods people had no knowledge of scientific dietetics, they had folkways which served them well. Aside from actual near-starvation, there seems to have been no dietary trouble in these early years. There is no mention of scurvy. Toward the end of the journey, after the delicacies had been exhausted, the diet was monotonous, and perhaps this is the reason, some emigrants arrived in California with a longing for pickles.”
Mormon Battallion and Winter Quarters
“From the Mormon point of view, the decision to move across the Missouri seemed the most desirable. Two events soon closed the matter. On June 27, Capt. James Allen arrived in camp with a message from President James K. Polk asking for five hundred Mormon volunteers to join Gen. Stephen S. Kearny and the Army of the West marching on Mexican territory now that the war had been declared. Such a request, besides providing the Saints with some desperately needed cash, gave Brigham Young a reason to claim that the loss of five hundred able-bodied men would stall the exodus. Young thus agreed to form a Mormon battalion if he received permission to winter on Omaha and Potawatomi lands. Allen agreed, Young next turned to the Indians for permission to remain. Big Elk, the aging chief of the Omaha, his son StandIng Elk, a half-breed interpreter named Logan Fontenelle, and about eighty tribesmen were called to council by the Saints on August 28. Young put forth his case, intimating government approval, and asked for ‘the privilege of stopping on your lands this winter or untill [sic] we can get ready to go on again.’ In return for this privilege, the Mormons offered to construct a trading house, plant crops, and establish a school. Big Elk accepted the terms largely because the well-armed Saints offered protection from their enemies, the Sioux. The treaty, of course, was extralegal. The Mormons also negotiated a similar agreement with the Potawatomi and then sent both ‘treaties’ to the Office of Indian Affairs and to the President with the request that they be given official permission to remain.
“Brigham Young did not wait for an answer. By the end of August, ‘Winter Quarters of the High Council of the Camp of Israel’ were officially located on Omaha lands. Large groups of Saints moved across the Missouri at a spot about eighteen miles above Bellevue and began laying out a town on the table land just above the river. Other villages were constructed in the same general vicinity, as well as one on Potawatomi lands on the Iowa side. In all areas log houses went up, cattle were put to graze, and a substantial quantity of timber was cut for the coming cold weather.”
Nile 754: Black Hills
“The road leading west from Fort Laramie was anathema to the overloaded Argonauts, for it marked the beginning of the Black Hills, whose low, rough summits shouldered the sky just ahead. The travelers . . . were tired and (in cholera years) badly frightened. Their sense of values had changed. things that had been great treasures when they were carefully packed for transportation to the new land, were now only extra weight wearing out the suddenly precious draught animals. . . .
Excess supplies of food were thrown away here too. The wagon masters had repacked at Fort Laramie, but it took the pressure of actual present necessity to key them up to the wholesale abandonment that was now in progress.
Jim Clyman on Hastings' Cutoff
“The wagon train grew quiet but this one fire was kept blazing – a carmine splash against the blue-velvet night, the desert stars near above it, the white bow of a wagon top behind, and, farther away, the singing of drunken Missourians at the fort and the screaming of drunken Sioux. [Jim] Clyman talked on. He knew Hastings’ plans, he knew what Hastings would tell these innocents near South Pass. And he had just crossed – with Hastings – from the bend of the Humboldt to Fort Bridger by way of the Salt Desert, Great Salt Lake, and the Wasatch Mountains. A Sioux yipped, the barking of coyotes ringed the sleeping caravan, and Jim told his listeners: take the familiar trail, the regular, established trail by way of Soda Springs and Fort Halt. Do not try a cutoff, do not try anything but the known, proved way. “It is barely possible to get through [before the snows] if you follow it-and it may be impossible if you don’t.” Shock and alarm struck the travelers and made them angry, who were still far short of South Pass, whose minds could map that weary angle from Fort Bridger to Fort Hall and back again to the Humboldt. Tense and bellicose, Reed spoke up (Jim records his words), “There is a nigher route, and it is no use to take so much of a roundabout course.” Reference to Lansford Hastings’ book, Jacob Donner’s copy bought at Springfield, back in the States, now scanned by firelight at Fort Bernard, a well-thumbed passage marked with lines. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, page 137: “The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; thence bearing west southwest to the Salt Lake; and then continuing down to the bay of San Francisco. ” Proved. And someone would spit into the fire.
(When Lansford Hastings wrote that passage he had never seen the Humboldt, or Great Salt Lake, or the Wasatch Mountains, or the Salt Desert; neither he nor anyone else had ever taken the trail here blithely imagined by a real-estate man who wanted to be President or mortgagee of California.)
Yes. But Jim has just traveled that route, and if they would save their skins, they will not take it, they will go by way of Fort Hall. “I . . . told him about the great desert and the roughness of the Sierras, and that a straight route might turn out to be impracticable.” Told him about the glare of the salt plain under sun and without water. Told him about the Diggers lurking outside the camps to kill the stock. Told him about the chaos of the Wasatch canyons which Jim Clyman and Lansford Hastings, who were on horseback and had no wagons and so no need of a road, had barely got through.”
Rate of Communication in 1846
“The vote of June 12 was to instruct the President to accept 49°. Three days later Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Pakenham signed the convention that settled the Oregon question forever …. At this point it is wholesome to recall once more the rates of communication, since they governed the management of armies as well as the tidings of peace. The convention was signed on June 15. At once an express left Washington to notify the Oregonians that they were American citizens after all and need not, as some of them were at that moment proposing to do, commit a Bear Flag maneuver against the Hudson’s Bay Company. It went to Vera Cruz and followed in Gillespie’s tracks across enemy soil to Mazatlan. The first boat out was bound to China by way of the Sandwich Islands, and at Honolulu the dispatch was put on board the bark Fawn, which crossed the bar at the mouth of the Columbia on November 12. Five months after the signing of the convention, the Fawn‘s supercargo was rowed to shore with the great news. He was nine days behind unofficial dispatches from Honolulu on the Toulon.
Little Blue River
“The main approach to the Great Platte River Road was along the Little Blue River, which had everything the emigrants needed—wood, water, and a valley going in the right direction. . . .
During the California Gold Rush this route was strictly primitive; there was no significant settlement or habitation of any kind until 1859. In that year events dictated the need for stations to serve freighters, stagecoach passengers, and Pony Express riders.”
Butterfield on the Central Route
“The Butterfield Overland Mail contracted to manage the express operations east of Salt Lake in April 1861. The company launched the first daily overland stage and mail service from St. Joseph, Missouri (and later Atchison, Kansas) to Placerville in July 1861.”
165 Miles a Day
“For the rugged mountains and deserts west of the Rockies, [Russell] had tough mustangs bought, and set the schedule at 165 miles a day. For the prairies riders he had many fast horses purchased, and set the schedule at 220 miles per day.”
Mile 969: Sweetwater River
“It was four miles and more from the end of the alkali stretch to the Sweetwater River—a beautiful mountain stream, swift, clear and full, which received its name from the accidental loss in its waters of a pack containing all the sugar of an early-day trading expedition. Then the travelers had drunk and bathed they went up its bank a mile to Independence Rock, the most famous of all the landmarks—the first and almost the only trail bulletin board of names and addresses that absolutely everybody had to pass. For the first time since leaving home the migration was now in one set of wheel tracks.”
Sir Richard Burton’s City of Saints is often quoted as a primary source for conditions along the emigrant/stagecoach trail in 1860. No one I’ve read, however, remarks on his casual racism, as shown in the following passage:
“The half-breed has a bad name in the land. Like the negro, the Indian belongs to a species, sub-species, or variety whichever the reader pleases that has diverged widely enough from the Indo-European type to cause degeneracy, physical as well as moral, and often, too, sterility in the offspring. These half-breeds are, therefore, like the mulatto, quasi-mules. The men combine the features of both races ; the skin soon becomes coarse and wrinkled, and the eye is black, snaky, and glittering like the Indian’s. The mongrels are short-lived, peculiarly subject to infectious diseases, untrustworthy, and disposed to every villainy. The halfbreed women, in early youth, are sometimes attractive enough, uniting the figure of the mother to the more delicate American face ; a few years, however, deprive them of all litheness, grace, and agility. They are often married by whites, who hold them to be more modest and humble, less capricious and less exacting, than those of the higher type: they make good wives and affectionate mothers, and, like the Quadroons, they are more ‘ambitious,’ that is to say, of warmer temperaments than either of the races from which they are derived. The so-called red is a higher ethnic type than the black man ; so, in the United States, where all admixture of African blood is deemed impure, the aboriginal American entails no disgrace some of the noblest of the land are descended from ‘Indian princesses.’ The half-breed girls resemble their mothers in point of industry, and they barter their embroidered robes and moccasins, and mats and baskets, made of bark and bulrush, in exchange for blankets, calicoes, glass beads an indispensable article of dress mirrors, needles, rings, vermilion, and other luxuries. The children, with their large black eyes, wide mouths, and glittering teeth, flattened heads, and remarkable agility of motion, suggest the idea of little serpents.”
Mile 282: Simonton-Smith Freight Train Gravesite OCTA Marker
A freight train consisting of eight wagons loaded with hardware for Denver, was attacked Sunday morning, August 7, 1864, by a party of Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians. Five men were killed instantly, a sixth was mortally wounded, and the wagons were burned. (Brown, 2007) The bodies and smoking wagons were found by two young couples out for a Sunday morning ride from Thirty-Two Mile Creek station and on Monday morning Overland Stage Line employees from the station arrived. The wounded teamster was able to give a few details of the attack before he died. The men were buried beside the trails 140 yards south of the OCTA marker. This is the only known burial site of white men who met death in Adams County due to hostile Indian activity. The Nova-Color OCTA marker was installed in 1996 on the south side of the road at the edge of a broad and deep ditch. Franzwa’s Maps of the Oregon Trail shows ruts southeast of the markers, but with the installation of a center pivot irrigation system several years ago, they are no longer visible. The next image shows the flat marker indicating the burial site.
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/nH9RrrYcgmxoKiyC8 (about Mile 282.5)
Mile 690 - Robidoux Pass
“The emigrants, however, found certain types of country and certain situations to be laborious or dangerous, and these they therefore avoided. Co-called ‘badlands’ where the terrain was nothing but a maze of ravines, had to be detoured. At Scott’s Bluff, for instance, a stretch of land pushed the trail away from the bank of the Platte, and sent the wagons through Robidoux Pass.
Mile 151: Hollenberg
“Early in the morning, near the town of Hanover, we had our first glimpse of the Little Blue—a small and gentle river, always to be remembered fondly by the westbound families who, except during Indian uprisings, looked forward with happy anticipation to the days in its rolling valley. . . .
After a regular stage line with relay stations had been established from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast, the Little Blue Valley was considered by crew and passengers to be the cream of the whole trip. . .
The home stations along the Little Blue were especially blessed with farm products—eggs, cream, buter, cheese, and vegetables.Nowhere else along the emigrant road, except at Salt Lake City, were these commodities found. The charm of the home-grown viands was somewhat marred for the curious soul who, in wandering about behind the house, saw the chickens roosting for the night on the butchered pig destined to be his morning pork-chops. But hunger was a potent sauce. No doubt he ate the chops and washed them down with coffee, abundant and hot—the unchallenged beverage of the plains.”
[N.B. The Hollenberg Station site is near Hanover, the base of the Little Blue Valley. The Trail follows the Little Blue until near Ayr, NE (Mile 284)]
“There was no government bailout for [Russell, Majors & Waddell]. Some could argue that the government or some officials did the opposite by making sure there were no government contracts for the firm. However, it did succeed in proving the practicality of the central route. And that route was almost instantaneously used by the telegraph, emigrant and freight wagons and much of it later by the Lincoln Highway, the first cross-country auto road in the early twentieth century. It also succeeded in relation to our broader American history regarding the Civil War by keeping California in the Union. These secondary consequences by themselves were actually more important than the success or failure of the firm of Russell, Majors [sic] and Waddell.”
(N.B. Emigrant and freight wagons’ use of the central overland route preceded the Pony Express over the central route, in emigrant’s case, by nearly 2o years)
The Importance of the Pony Express as a Carrier of News to the People of California
“The importance of the Pony Express as a carrier of news to the people of California was heightened by the presidential campaign of 1860. By October of that year there was intense anxiety in that state concerning the result of the Pennsylvania election, which was held a month early, because of its bearing upon the spirited contest in California. When the news arrived by telegraph and Pony Express it created a sensation, making the Republicans exceedingly jubilant and encouraging them to put forth their greatest efforts to carry the state for Lincoln.”
Mile 753: Fort Laramie
“Recorded history of the section immediately west of Scott’s Bluff begins about the year 1818 when Jaques La Ramie, a French Canadian, built a trapper’s cabin near the junction of the North Platte and the Laramie River. He was trapping in the vicinity of Laramie Mountains when the erection of the tiny dwelling established him as the first permanent resident of the section. Four years later the Indians clinched his claim to permanence by leaving his bones to bleach on the headwaters of the river that bears his name. . . .
[In 1834, Robert Campbell and William Sublette stopped to trade at the Laramie River on their way to the rendezvous at Green River.] At Laramie River, the trading was excellent. Sublette left Campbell to hold down the situation and hurried on. Campbell, getting help, built a small trading post consisting of a high stockade of pickets and a. few tiny huts inside. . . .he named the place Fort William, after his partner; but in two years, it evolved into what history knows as Old Fort Laramie. . . .
In 1835 . . .Fort William passed into the hands [of the American Fur Company] and was rechristened Fort John after John B. Sarpy, an officer in the company. . . .In 1836 the American Fur Company deserted the the stockade of Fort John and built a better one a few hundred yards up Laramie River on a small plateau. The name went with it but ‘Fort John on the Laramie’ was soon corrupted to the simple ‘Fort Laramie’ that has remained in use ever since. It was of adobe, copying those forts farther south that had been built with Mexican labor. . . .
By the year 1845 the fur traders dealt mostly in buffalo robes, beaver having passed gradually from its position of importance, and although the other forts did a brisk business, the preeminence and prestige of Fort Laramie was unquestioned. [Francis] Parkman wrote of the American Fur Company at Fort Laramie that they, ‘well-nigh monopolize the Indian trade of this whole region. Here the officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of the United States has little force; for when we were there, the extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the eastward.’ . . .
The lack of governmental protection mentioned by Parkman was felt so keenly that in the summer of ’49 the United States purchased Fort Laramie and garrisoned it for the avowed purpose of giving advice, protection, and the opportunity of buying supplies to the emigrants. It had a monthly mail service, and the marching thousands moved perceptibly faster the last few miles, hoping for a letter from home. Comparatively few were received, for they were apt to be longer en route that the would-be recipients; but the myriads of letters sent eastward fared better, and, if the addressee stayed long enough in one place, they arrived in the fullness of time.”
Virginia Slade's Past
“There has been much speculation but little of actual record concerning the life of this striking, high-spirited woman prior to her marriage to Slade. The conjecture of her contemporaries—and it was not pharisaical, but casual, matter of fact, and therefore tenable by us—was that she had been a dance hall girl (‘hurdy-gurdy’ was yet to come from the Barbary Coast). Other writers of western lore claim that Slade met Virginia when she ran a faro game (it was called ‘bucking the tiger’ in those days) in a gambling house, and that when he got in a shooting scrape, she pulled her guns, ordered everyone out of the gambling establishment, and cared for the wounded Slade until he recovered.”
Mile 1134: Green River
“The trouble with the Green River Desert was not lack of water. There was plenty, but it was all in the Green River—’by far the most formidable stream to be met on this entire journey,’ said William Johnston, whose company was well in the forefront of the gold rush. He found it in full flood, a rushing torrent three hundred to four hundred feet wide and ten to twenty feet deep. . . .
The traders’ caravans and the early wagon trains skirted the desert proper to the southeast, remaining timidly near the Big Sandy until well within the angle of its confluence with the Green an then striking up the east bank of the great river about twenty miles to a crossing near the mouth of Slate creek. Later companies crossed almost at the mouth of the Big Sandy at what was called the Lombard Ferry. . . .
The Green in the month of June is a rare sample of a watercourse born of perpetual snowbanks. Its swollen current, racing down from icebound peaks and crisp and sparkling upland meadows, arrives in the hot sage flats swiftly but ponderously, and as cold as Greenland’s icy mountains.
It is almost unimaginable, but on this torrential sluice ordinary men, butcher, baker, and candlestick maker, launched their wives and young families in wagon beds. Taking such a liberty with the Green was surely the quintessence of something or other—maybe heroism, maybe just foolhardiness. . . .
Later there were ferries, but the earliest pioneers had to do with substitutes: catamaran rafts, made of braced logs dug out to hold the wagon wheels; ordinary rafts constructed hastily of any small timber available; sheet-iron or wooden boats fitted with wheels and previously driven in the caravan as vehicles.; and, most common, wagon beds caulked tight and with the naked bows stripped of canvas. . . .
And then, in the summer of ’47 came the ubiquitous Mormon and his ferryboats. By ’49 several were needed at the main crossings. It was a money-making venture, but the prices were ordinarily fair, ranging from three to four dollars a wagon.
[N.B. The Big Timber Pony Express Station site lies near Mile 1126 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, but is off the route to the southeast. To reach it, it looks like there is a cutoff road at about Mile 1123 that rejoins the Route around Mile 1127.
Mile 708: Horse Creek Station
“This unassuming waterway [Horse Creek] is entwined with the history of the national historic trails. In 1851, it was the location of a historic conference where nearly 10,000 American Indians, representing over a half dozen tribes, met with U.S. government representatives. The result was a treaty that helped to protect emigrants and the trails they used. Later, in 1860, the creek was home to a Pony Express relay station, which was built on its west bank.”
Infinite Wealth of the Land
“The idea that the wealth of the American West was inexhaustible drove prospectors back and forth across the plains, and fostered these legends about the life of the gold-hunters: their luck, their bacchanalias, their mobility. The wealth of the land was infinite! The assumption is with us still: in our attitudes about the cars we drive, the way we heat our homes and our businesses, the way we and our government spend our money. There is always more oil to be found (recently, if only we would give the oil companies more incentive to drill for it), there is always more gold to be discovered. It is an idea and an assumption that has become part of the way we view our world and our destiny in it.”
Mile 1835: Dry Creek Monuments
There are two monuments near the site of Dry Creek Station:
- A Pony Express plaque
- An Central Overland Trail post
The monuments are located at https://goo.gl/maps/M55hvLf5MFaKunwb7.
In addition, various authors state that there are station ruins and a gravestone nearby. I wasn’t able to find them on my scouting trip, but maybe it just takes a little more effort:
“The building ruins are overgrown by sagebrush. The grave of Applegate and Roiser is on the crest of the hill nearby.”
Hill, The Pony Express Trail: Yesterday and Today, p. 224.
A few rock foundations, overgrown with sagebrush, mark the mound above the creek where the station was situated. A rock monument built by the Damele’s in 1960 bearing a brass commemorative plate, distributed as part of the Pony Express Centennial in 1960, sits near the station site. . . . Remains of the Overland Stage Station, a stone structure, sit just off the main gravel road before it turns to go up to the ranch.
“But the methods of punishment are to my mind far more odious and de-grading than the lash; tying a man to a waggon by his thumbs, loading him with a heavy wooden or iron collar (and even in a town like Leavenworth, K.T., making him stand guard in public with it on), chaining a heavy ball to his ancle, &c. ; who can wonder that desertions are numerous, followed now and then by recapture, flogging, branding, and imprisonment? And this, too, when men are but enlisted for five years at a time.”
Russell's Second Mistake
“The launching of [the Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express in 1858] was the second disastrous mistake Russell made. Had he resisted the temptation to join Jones in it and worked solely to repair Russell, Majors & Waddell’s damaged credit [after losses incurred during the Mormon War] the firm might have succeeded. His action further undermined its financial standing, earned for himself the reputation of being a reckless gambler and involving him and his partners in a series of catastrophic events which in the end brought total ruin.”
War Department Communications
“[Californians] thought that the federal government should appreciate the ‘advantages’ of the Pony Express, especially since the War Department used it to send messages to the Commanding General of the Pacific Division concerning troop movements in Oregon.”
Mail Contracts and the Mormon War
[William M.F.] Magraw lost his contract [to provide mail service between Salt Lake City and Independence] in 1856 for unsatisfactory service and was succeeded by a Mormon, Hiram Kimball, the new low bidder. Brigham Young then took over Kimball’s contract, planing a great Mormon commercial enterprise which would carry not only the mails but all goods between the Missouri River and Utah. . . . [T]he contract was summarily annulled in June of 1857, on the pretext that Kimball was late in fulfilling its terms. The charge was true but only because winter blizzards had, as usual, delayed the mails. . . . Magraw’s unhappiness at losing his contract, and Mormon unhappiness at losing theirs, were contributory causes to the ensuing ‘war’ of 1857-58.”
War With Mexico
“During the day [Polk] had signed the bill which recognized (not, as the Diary says, declared) a state of war, and had issued the necessary proclimation. So the United States had its war at last on May 13, 1846, though it had begun in April.”
Fort Bridger to Camp Floyd
“[In 1858] General Johnson first ordered [Captain Simpson of the topographical engineering corps] to ascertain the feasibility of opening a wagon road between Camp Floyd and Fort Bridger by way of the Timpanogos River. Eight years earlier Stansbury had suggested this route as desirable though he had not traversed it; Beckwith explored parts of the valley in making his railroad survey four years earlier . . .
With [Captain Simpson] on his inspection tour was a representative of Russell, Majors & Waddell who was to determine if the company’s freight trains headed for Camp Floyd should be directed to the new road. . . .
[Simpson] reported to General Johnson that his road was not nearly so rough as the usual emigrant, mail, and freight route up Echo Canyon and that more grass and water were available . . . All government trains began traveling over the route immediately, and Russell, Majors & Waddell discovered that its trains routed this way from Fort Bridger to Camp Floyd arrived more quickly than those traveling the old road.”
[N.B. The map of this route is online here.]
“Many young men were seeking a means to earn their their way to the western gold camps, and freighters took advantage of this situation by paying a bonus of ten dollars per month to any teamster who would take his discharge at the far end, thus reducing the payroll. . . . Such empty wagons as were not sold in the West could be hooked in tandem, three to five to a team, for the return trip.”
Cholera Along the Platte
“The swampy drainage of the Platte extended several hundred yards from the main river channels. The expanse of standing pools of brackish water and salty, alkaline mudflats often began just a few steps from the wagon ruts. This created a natural petri dish for the microorganism responsible for causing cholera, and the pioneers were adding fresh host material for bacteria-human waste, animal manure, the carcasses and offal of slaughtered animals-every day. Biologists now know that the alkaline deposits that occurred naturally along the Platte River flats mimicked the salty delta conditions of the bacteria’s native India, encouraging the growth of Vibrio cholerae in the squalid waste piles of the camps. The anarchy of latrines in the camps festered overnight, becoming killers for the next arriving train. When the river rose after storms, cholera traveled downstream several miles in a single night.
“Viewed in this way, the largest land migration in history created a fascinating intersection between human need and biological self-destruction. For 450 miles the Platte offered the pioneers everything they required in an otherwise arid, hostile environment—clear navigation points west, water, fresh game, and timber for cooking fires. But the Platte also provided ideal conditions for disease: warm temperatures, alkali soil, and mud holes that acted as stewpots for organic waste.”
Burton on Slade
“Her husband was the renowned Slade:
‘Of gougers fierce, the eyes that pierce, the fiercest gouger he.’
His was a noted name for ‘deadly strife;’ he had the reputation of having killed his three men; and a few days afterward the grave that concealed one of his murders was pointed out to me.”
Mile 753: Fort Laramie
“Fort Laramie, the American Fur Company’s post near the junction of Laramie Creek and the Platte, was by far the largest and most celebrated post in this region and was only less important to the mountain trade than Bent’s Fort on the Arkansas. The confluence of these creeks was extremely important in the fur trade. It was central in the no man’s land described above, where the plains and mountains meet, at a decisive curve in the route to South Pass, near the immemorial trade route, and within reach of a number of Indian tribes. The Rocky Mountain Fur Company, Astor’s principal rivals, had built a post there, named Fort William after Bill Sublette. It passed to various successors and finally was sold to the American Fur Company, which named it Fort John. Neither name ever stuck – it was always Fort Laramie in the trade. It had recently been torn down and rebuilt on a larger scale a mile or so farther up Laramie Creek, and this later building is the one which our travelers saw, which had become vitally important to emigrants, and which, three years later, was sold to the government as the nucleus of the military establishment that rose on the site.”
“The mustang is the Spanish mesteño. The animal was introduced by the first colonists, and allowed to run at large. Its great variety of coat proves the mustang’s degeneracy from the tame horse; according to travelers, cream-color, skewbald, and piebald being not uncommon. ‘Sparing in diet, a stranger to grain, easily satisfied whether on growing or dead grass, inured to all weathers, and capable of great labor,’ the mustang-pony is a treasure to the prairie-man.”
“Differing from the card-table surfaces of the formation in Illinois and the lands east of the Mississippi, the Western prairies are rarely flat ground. Their elevation above sea-level varies from 1000 to 2500 feet, and the plateau’s aspect impresses the eye with an exaggerated idea of elevation, there being no object of comparison mountain, hill, or sometimes even a tree to give a juster measure. Another peculiarity of the prairie is, in places, its seeming horizontality, whereas it is never level: on an open plain, apparently flat as a man’s palm, you cross a long groundswell which was not perceptible before, and on its farther incline you come upon a chasm wide and deep enough to contain a settlement. The aspect was by no means unprepossessing. . . .
“These prairies are preparing to become the great grazing-grounds which shall supply the unpopulated East with herds of civilized kine, and perhaps with the yak of Tibet, the llama of South America, and the koodoo and other African antelopes.”
“Each train had a box of medicines which was kept in the train-master’s wagon, along with the revolvers and ammunition, which was its proper place. If I remember rightly, the basic matter of the contents was composed of calomel, laudanum and Epsom salts, with a few outlying adjuncts for doing their work.”
Freighter Sleeping Accommodations
“The sleeping accommodations for t he crew varied with different outfits; in fact, the arrangements were left usually for the men to work out for themselves. Some ccarried tents which added considerable comfort, but the surest and driest bed was in a big freight wagon. If it was loaded with coffee, rice or the like , so much the better , for the bed was more even. But the most common practice was to sleep on the ground under the wagons the weather permitting. The ‘bed was mother earth, a rubber blanket and buffalo robe the mattress, two pairs of blankets the covering. Heaven’s canopy the roof; the stars our silent sentinels.'”
“Some of the watercraft drafted into use by the increasing pressure of travel [from St. Louis to Independence on the Missouri River] were old and flimsy, and chugging along upstream, were all too easily sprung open by the great snags, or sawyers, in the river—trees whose heavy butts lay sunk in mud, and whose jagged tops swung down with the current. . . .
River craft, especially if of value, were usually tied up at night—sawyers and the ever shifting sand bars were bad enough to encounter in daylight. In dry seasons, it was no uncommon thing to see all the passengers footing it along the bank while the steamer was jacked over a slightly submerged bar by means of ingeniously arranged poles and cables.”
Mile 1406: Faust Station
“‘We built a log cabin, the roof was dirt, the floor was dirt. A wagon cover made a carpet. The window was glazed with a flour sack. The door was a blanket. The table an endgate of a wagon. The first stage west of Salt Lake brought Mrs. Faust to this stately mansion where she lived nine months without once seeing a woman!’ Henry Faust, station keeper.”
“Faust is a settlement located in central Tooele County, Utah. It was founded by Henry J. Faust (born Heinrich Jacob Faust), a Mormon immigrant from Germany. In 1860 he managed Faust Station on the Pony Express trail. In 1870 Henry Faust and his wife moved to Salt Lake City. Faust has been used by the Union Pacific Railroad to house workers on the site. The area is popular with campers, mountain bikers, off road vehicle enthusiasts, and hikers during the summer months. Henry J. Faust was an ancestor of Mormon apostle James E. Faust.”
Mormons and Native Americans
“The way Latter-day Saints interacted with Native Americans was influenced by their religious beliefs. The Book of Mormon, the main religious text for the Church, prominently features two groups: the Nephites and the Lamanites. At the end of the Book of Mormon the Lamanites rebel against the teachings of Jesus Christ and are considered ‘fallen’ from the light of truth. The Lamanites are believed by Mormons to be ancient ancestors of Native Americans.”
Causes of the Utah War
“On January 27, 1858, the House of Representatives requested President Buchanan to furnish it with information concerning the war in Utah. At the moment the expedition which had been sent to the Territory six months earlier was huddled in tents and other makeshift shelters near Fort Bridger, with the snows and cold of a mountain winter shutting it off from entrance into the Salt Lake Basin or even from reinforcements across the Plains. . . .
In obedience to the congressional mandate cabinet members searched their files, and in due time the President was able to submit a bulky dossier of official correspondence and private communications accusing the Mormons of objectionable activities over a period of many months. The collection was a hodge-podge of both significant and irrelevant material . . .
To exclude extraneous elements from the causes of the Administration’s warlike policy toward Utah, one must first discover when its decision was reached. It is a difficult task, for Buchanan kept his purposes secret as long as he could. . . . [though] it is probably that his decision came on or about May 20 . . . .
Whatever the explanation given after the event, the Administration had unquestionably come to the conclusion in May 1857 that Utah’s defiance of the United States demanded stern measures. . . .
In assessing the factors that led to the ordering of armed forces to Utah, one is well advised to observe the part played by ignorance and misinformation. . . .
The view of Utah’s population in the East during 1857 was of a people oppressed by religious tyranny and kept in submission only by some terroristic arm of the Church. . . .The Saint, these non-Mormons falsely reasoned, would . . . welcome [the army] with open arms . . .
It would not have been difficult for Buchanan to inform himself of the situation in Utah. . . . [but] he had not even inquired into the facts before angrily seeking to punish the people of Utah. As a result he later found himself in the embarrassing position of sending the army in 1857 and a peace commission in 1858, instead of performing these actions in a reverse order.”
Names of the Upper Crossing
“The Upper Crossing of the South Fork of the Platte apparently went by several names including ‘Laramie Crossing,’ ‘Goodale’s Crossing,’ ‘Morrell’s Crossing,’ and later ‘Julesburg’ or ‘Overland City,’ although Julesburg came to be preferred. Julesburg became widely known, the station and stable were then ‘long, one-story, hewed cedar-log buildings; there was also a store and blacksmith, shop. . . . The Pacific telegraph line at this point also crossed the Platte, having been completed through to San Francisco via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake. . . . lt cost ten dollars a wagon to get ferried across the Platte [by rope ferry in 1864 ]. “-Overland Stage, pp. 219, 220”
The Ocean and the Great Plains
“Much evidence of the immediate effects may be found in the reaction of men who came to the Plains. If we again visualize a migrating host suddenly emerging from the forests on an open and boundless plain, we are in position to understand the startled expressions of wonder which involuntarily escaped those who the first time beheld such scenes. The Anglo-American had in his experience no background to pre-pare him for such a far vision. His momentary surprise and wonder were what we might expect of a person fitted with powerful glasses which opened to him a new and hitherto unseen world. . . .
Such quotations could be increased to hundreds. They have these things in common: men expressed surprise, pleasure, and elation, and with one accord they compared the Plains to the sea. This comparison runs throughout the literature from Coronado on. In his Commerce of the Prairies Josiah Gregg speaks of the “grand prairie ocean,” of the caravans “making port” ; he proposed a law based upon maritime law for control of the prairie caravan, and gave the wagons the name of “prairie schooners,” which they have borne ever since. Marcy described the Llano Estacado as an “ocean of desert prairie.” Van Tramp said of the prairies:
There is no describing them. They are like the ocean, in more than one particular; but in none more than in this: the utter impossibility of producing any just impression of them by description. They inspire feelings so unique, so distinct from anything else, so powerful, yet vague and indefinite, as to defy description, while they invite the attempt.”
“Lydia Waters came equipped with lemon extract and sugar and had an epicurean morning among the springs while her company lay over to recruit. She broke off some of the spongy yellowish deposit and took it with her. At first, she said, it had a color and texture like jelly cake; but in a week or so it turned pure white. Others, not prepared for the novelty of soda water, wondered how liquid could boil and not be hot. The very early wagon trains used it successfully in place of yeast.”
[N.B. Soda Springs is a landmark on the Oregon Trail, after the point where the Pony Express route separates and heads south toward Utah.]
“The very word is Spanish, derived from the Arabic —, meaning ‘the brick.’ it is known throughout the West, and is written adobies, and pronounced dobies.”
The Pawnee came under the influence of the missionary frontier after 1833. The Reverend John Dunbar and Samuel Allis served as mis- sionaries to the Pawnee from 1834 to 1846. Their intentions, explicitly stated to the Pawnee in 1834 were “to tell them about God to teach them our religion and to learn their children to talk on paper like the white man does.” . . .
Stereotypically, they praised the Pawnee for their generosity and no- bility, while at the same time condemning them as savages: “they are a kindhearted liberal people,” wrote Dunbar, “but they are heathen, darkminded heathen.”
Mormon Attacks on the Army's Supply Trains
“On October 4 a small band of Mounted Mormons led by Major Lot Smith bypassed the Tenth Infantry and fell upon two of [Russell, Majors & Waddell’s supply] trains camped along the Green River, a very few miles from Colonel Waite’s command [Fifth Infantry]. Secure in the knowledge that the army’s calvary, the Dragoons, was some 700 miles to the east [as it had been ordered to assist keeping order in Bleeding Kansas], Smith burned these trains and the next day surprised and destroyed a third on the Big Sandy.
All told the flames lit by Smith and his few dozen men consumed seventy-two wagons containing 300,000 pounds of food, principally flour and bacon—enough provisions to feed the troops for several months.”
Supply Trains for the Utah Expedition
“[Acting commander Col. Edmund Alexander] was concerned for the column’s supply trains, which at this point spread across the Plains west of [Fort Laramie], some of them beyond his protection. Toward the end of September he sent an order to the train farthest advanced to retrace its steps, but lack of water compelled it to ignore these instructions and to press on to the Green River.”
Sharing a Blanket
“In this connection I might say that at least one of the men is still on earth. I refer to Thomas Crummel, ex-mayor of Auburn. He was my ‘partner’ on that trip, slept with me under the same blankets, and a truer or more loyal fellow never cracked a whip or stole a chicken from a ranchman.”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“The air is so dry out here that it takes forever for wood to rot. Some of these structures have been around for well over 100 years and haven’t been touched. They’re pretty cool to see.”
Great American Desert
“These frequently mentioned fears of overland travel derived in large measure from the commonly accepted geographic concept of the so-called ‘GreatAmerican Desert,’ an area thought to extend westward from approximately the hundredth meridian to the Rocky Mountains. Until the beginning of the Civil War virtually all maps of these regions in school textbooks and governmental reports were labeled the ‘Great American Desert.’ . . . Prompted largely by reports of the western expeditions of Lieutenant Zebulon Pike and Major Stephen L. Long, the myth of the American desert persevered in some quarters until almost 1880, when it was finally replaced with another concept similarly overdrawn—the myth that the western plain was a garden, a veritable agrarian utopia.”
Telling Time by Moons
“The time of these conventions was generally set by a formula; the Indians could not go by the days of the month, so the date was fixed for a certain number of moons ahead, and the time set was ‘when the moon is straight up at sunset. ‘ When the moon was overhead at sunset it gave time for the pow-wow, and then the Indians had a full moon in which they could ride night and day going home.”
Mile 1835: Dry Creek
“[W]hen Streeper was ready to return, two prospectors traveling toward Salt Lake City, asked him if they could accompany him, to which he replied that they could if they were not afraid of Indians. They fared forth and saw no Indians or anything else out of the ordinary until they neared Dry Creek station. They saw no signs of anyone about and a herd of cattle was moving away from it.
Riding on in Streeper dismounted, walked to the door of the station and looked inside. Years later he said that what he saw caused his hair to stand on end. Before him lay the scalped, mutilated body of Ralph Rosier, the station keeper. John Applegate and Lafayette (“Bolly”) Bolwinkle were not there. Later, he learned what had happened.
A day or so before, after he had passed on his westward way, Rosier and Applegate rose early as usual to begin the days work. ‘Bolly’ was enjoying an extra forty winks before joining them. Applegate started to make a fire to get breakfast while Rosier went to the spring for a bucket of water.
Suddenly a rifle shot rang out and Rosier screamed. Applegate leaped to the door, looked out, saw his friend upon the ground dying, and turned back. Another shot, and Applegate fell to the floor, a horrible wound in his hip and groin. A moment later McCandless who was alone in his trading post, dashed across the road and took refuge in the station.
‘Bolly’ leaped from his bed in his stocking feet, and seized his gun. For some minutes he and McCandless worked like beaver piling grain bags in the doorway and making other preparations to defend the place to the last ditch. Applegate, who was suffering intensely, urged them to abandon him to his fate and attempt to reach the next station. When they refused he asked for a revolver. They gave him one, thinking he wished to take a shot at an Indian. Instead he shot himself through the head.
After the first two shots the attackers seem to have remained quiet, for nothing is said about ‘Bolly’ and McCandless having fought them. At length the trader declared they had to make a run of it to the next station. When ‘Bolly’ objected on the grounds that the Indians would certainly cut them down in the open, McCandles assured him such was not the case. They were not after him, he said, and since he had always treated them well they had a friendly feeling for him. If ‘Bolly’ would stay close to him they would nut dare shoot for fear of hitting him.
‘Bolly’ at length agreed co make the attempt. When everything was ready, the grain bags were removed from the door and they leaped outside. As they dashed down the road McCandless kept between ‘Bolly’ and the Indians. A few gave chase on foot, but the fugitives outdistanced them. Being satisfied with the blood they had already shed, they turned hack to loot the station.
‘Bolly’ and McCandless reached the next station in safety where they found three or four men ready to defend it. Having covered the ten or twelve miles without boots ‘Bolly’s’ feet were so cut by stones and filled with cactus thorns that he was laid up for some time.”
Buildings at Julesburg
“At Julesburg–in early staging days one of the most important points along the Platte–were erected the largest buildings of the kind between Fort Kearney and Denver. They were built of cedar logs, hauled from near Cottonwood Springs by oxen, a distance of 105 miles. . . .
https://ponyexpressride.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?post_type=testimonials-widget”Julesburg, located at the Upper (California) Crossing of the Platte (which went by several names), was named after Jules Beni, a pioneer French Indian trader who bad been made station agent by Beverly D. Williams. One of Ficklin’s reforms (1860) was the removal of “Old Jules” for theft and other abuses, and the appointment of Jack Slade as his successor. See Overland Stage, pp. 213-210.”
[quoting from Root and Connelly, Stagecoaching to California]
Mile 1530: Egan's/Deep Creek Station
“Originally named Deep Creek for a creek of the same name in the area, the name was later changed to Ibapah, an anglicized form of the Goshute word Ai-bim-pa or Ai’bĭm-pa which means “White Clay Water.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ibapah,_Utah
“Fourteen miles from Round Station via the original trail.
“Deep Creek was the home of Howard Egan, the division superintendent for service between Salt Lake City, Utah, and Roberts Creek (near Eureka, Nevada). This well-equipped and service functioning facility was the most westerly station located within the present boundaries of Utah. The western boundary of the Utah Territory at this time was the California state line and Genoa the most westerly Utah Territory station.
“Harrison Sevier was the station master. Several photographs exist. Buildings included an adobe station, house, and barn. The telegraph established a repeater station at this location in 1861 with George Ferguson being the telegrapher. The station site is presently on the ranch of Sidney (DeVerl) Nichols, Jr. Incidentally, Joan and Hilda Erikson paid for the last telegraph message to be sent from this station in 1869.”
Mile 315: Buffalo Wallow Water Holes
“Seven miles beyond [Summit station – Mile 311] were the famous (or rather infamous) buffalo-wallow water holes. Theodore Talbot, who was with Frémont in 1843, minced no words in his description of them. ‘These ponds or wallows,’ he wrote, ‘are formed by the buffalo wallowing, an amusement they are very fond of. When any rain falls it is collected in these places and here the buffalo come to drink and stand during the heat of the day, ading their own excrements to the already putrescent waters. This compound warmed for weeks in a blazing sun and alive with animalcules makes a drink palatable to one suffering from intense thirst. Oh! that some over dainty connoisseur might taste of it!’ Emigrants of later years, warned by the numerous guidebooks that flooded the market, carried water for emergencies from the last creek. But very early Oregon-bound travelers, delayed by one accident and another on this, the longest waterless stretch they had to cross, were sometimes forced by the intensity of their need to use this nauseating substitute for water.”
“Emigration Canon is one of the deepest and narrowest of them all; its cliffs are relieved by no beauty of form or colour, they are stern, grim, unpitying ; the snow higher up looks warmer. . .”
Wind on the Plains
“Another climatic feature that has had important economic and perhaps, has the wind done more effective work than in the Great Plains environment is the wind. Nowhere in the world, perhaps, has the wind done more effective work that in the Great Plains. As compared with the humid East, the Great Plains country, particularly the High Plains, is a region of high wind velocity. The level surface and the absence of trees give the air currents free play. On the whole, the wind blows harder and more constantly on the Plains than it does in any other portion of the United States, save on the seashore.
“Normal delivery time was set at ten days for letters and eight for telegrams. However, during the winter months the time was extended to twelve to sixteen days. The fastest delivery was seven days, seventeen hours when the Pony carried Lincoln’s first inaugural address.”
Chorpenning's New Route
“By December 1858, [Chorpenning] removed his stock and coaches to the new road. Passengers who came through spoke in high terms of the road, believing that soon the line would be running between California and Salt Lake City in a week’s time without any difficulty. Chorpenning still had difficulties during the winter months. But when snow blocked the path of the horse coaches, the mail was transferred to horseback or even to the backs of men on snowshoes to see that it was delivered on time.”
Butterfield Moves to the Central Route
On March 2nd [after Confederate troops had destroyed Butterfield’s line in Missouri and Texas] , to solve the contracting predicament with the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. and Overland Mail Company, and to protect communication lines with California, both houses of Congress, with President Buchanan’s approval, modified the Overland Mail Company mail service contract by discontinuing the transportation of mail along the southern route and transferring it to a new central overland route. This new service would originate in St. Joseph, (or Atchison, in Kansas) and provide mail service to Placerville, California, six times a week. In addition to this new route, the contract required that the company ‘run a pony express semi-weekly at a schedule time of ten days . . . charging the public for transportation of letters by said express not exceeding $1 per half ounce’ until the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line. Essentially the federal government turned the western half of the central route mail contract (Salt Lake City to Placerville, California) that the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. previously operated over to the Overland Mail Company. In exchange for giving this segment of the passenger/mail route to the Overland Mail Company, the government promised to indirectly support the Pony Express until the completion of the telegraph.
Mile 1944: Route Detour to Simpson Pass
Just past Sand Springs Station (at Mile 1944), the Pony Express Bikepacking Route stays on US 50 to Fallon, NV. The road at this point heads northwest. The original Pony Express Trail runs west at this point through Simpson Pass to Desert Station (or Hooten Wells Station) where it rejoins the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.
At Sand Springs Station (at Mile 1944) on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route at Ride With GPS, Jan makes a note: “Playa is unrideable.”Jan’s comment (on Facebook):“If one follows the route directly from Salt Lake City to Carson City, for around 500 miles, the only town directly on the route is Austin, NV where resupply consists of a minimally stocked convenience store with somewhat limited hours. Taking the difficulty of the section you rode into account, in addition to the vast distance from prior resupply, I felt that routing through Fallon was the best option. Thanks [Kurstin] for documenting your ride! I’m sure others will want to stick to the route as much as possible so this gives them that option.”Kurstin Gerard Graham scouted the original trail through this section. Kurstin rode it from west to east (opposite to the track of the PX Bikepacking Route) and cut across some of the unrideable terrain just west of Highway 50.
- His route report is here
- The track of Kurstin’s ride is on Ride With GPS here.
- To get to Simpson Pass while riding from east to west, Kurstin posted another map here, which follows dirt roads through the area. The turnoff is about 1/4 before the Sand Springs Station marker. [N.B. The second map does not cover the entire detour, just the western portion which offers a dirt road alternative harder-to-follow route on Kirstin’s original map. Also, FWIW, parts of this route seem hard to trace. Suggest anyone trying it be well stocked and very confident in their riding and navigation skills.]
I scouted the route between Sand Springs and Highway 95 in October 2020. My route reports are here:
Barbed Wire and Windmills
“Barbed wire made the hundred-and-sixty-acre homestead both possible and profitable on the Prairie Plains; it made the homestead possible in the dry plains, but it did not make it profitable. The farmers to the homesteads there, but they did not and could not always hold them. Conditions were still too hard. The companion piece to barbed wire in this invasion was the windmill . . . “
Desipere in Loco
“Unaccustomed, of late years at least, to deal with tales of twice-told travel, I can not but feel, especially when, as in the present case, so much detail has been expended upon the trivialities of a Diary, the want of that freshness and originality which would have helped the reader over a little lengthiness. My best excuse is the following extract from the lexicographer’s “Journey to the Western Islands,” made in company with Mr. Boswell during the year of grace 1773, and upheld even at that late hour as somewhat a feat in the locomotive line.
These diminutive observations seem to take away something from the dignity of writing, and therefore are never communicated but with hesitation, and a little fear of abasement and contempt. But it must be remembered that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures, and we are well or ill at ease as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruptions.
“True! and as the novelist claims his right to elaborate, in the ‘domestic epic,’ the most trivial scenes of household routine, so the traveler may be allowed to enlarge, when copying nature in his humbler way, upon the subject of his little drama, and, not confining himself to the great, the good, and the beautiful, nor suffering himself to be wholly engrossed by the claims of cotton, civilization, and Christianity, useful knowledge and missionary enterprise, to desipere in loco by expatiating upon his bed, his meat, and his drink.”
[Note: “dulce est desipere in loco” = Latin phrase: it is pleasant to be frivolous at the appropriate time.]
Purpose of the Postal System
“The postal system was founded, and form many years was conducted, upon the principle that it should be self-supporting. However, in the fifties there were many Congressmen who did not subscribe to this doctrine. They did not look upon the Post Office Department as a mere business undertaking which must needs be self-supporting. To them the postal service, especially in its western lines, was and should be, primarily a pioneer of civilization; marking the trails and keeping them open to travel, encouraging settlement, and acting as the precursor of the railroad.”
Mile 1215: Needle Rocks and Echo Canyon
“After fording Bear River [At Evanston, Wy?] this part of the land was quite a grave-yard we passed over rough ground, and, descending into a bush, were shown on a ridge to the right a huge Stonehenge, a crown of broken and somewhat lanceolate perpendicular conglomerates or cemented pudding-stones called not inappropriately Needle Rocks. At Egan’s Creek, a tributary of the Yellow Creek, the wild geraniums and the willows flourished despite the six feet of snow which sometimes lies in these bottoms. We then crossed Yellow Creek, a water trending northeastward, and feeding, like those hitherto forded, Bear River: the bottom, a fine broad meadow, was a favorite camping-ground, as the many fire-places proved. Beyond the stream we ascended Yellow-Creek Hill, a steep chain which divides the versant of the Bear River eastward from that of Weber River to the west. The ascent might be avoided, but the view from the summit is a fine panorama. The horizon behind us is girt by a mob of hills, Bridger’s Range, silver-veined upon a dark blue ground ; nearer, mountains and rocks, cones and hog-backs, are scattered about in admirable confusion, divided by shaggy rollers and dark ravines, each with its own little water-course. In front the eye runs down the long bright red line of Echo Kanyon, and rests with astonishment upon its novel and curious features, the sublimity of its broken and jagged peaks, divided by dark abysses, and based upon huge piles of disjointed and scattered rock. On the right, about half a mile north of the road, and near the head of the kanyon, is a place that adds human interest to the scene. Cache Cave is a dark, deep, natural tunnel in the rock, which has sheltered many a hunter and trader from wild weather and wilder men: the wall is probably of marl and earthy limestone, whose whiteness is set off by the ochrish brick-red of the ravine below.”
[Note: Needle Rock Station is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail. It is southwest of Evanston, WY, and would require turning off the Route at about Mile 1215, or, if you want to catch an addition two stations, Mile 1237]
Stagecoach Conditions to Denver, 1860
“With the ‘gentlemanly’ express messenger, J. S. Stephens, and the driver, a total of 11 people rode this coach, including two children. A traveler who arrived at Denver in August, 1860, complained about the crowding of nine or ten passengers into the coach, with carpet sacks and express matter in the bottom ‘until your chin and knees came close enough together to make the one serve as a pillow for the other.’ In addition there were at times two ‘substantial ladies weighing about two hundred pounds avoirdupois, with all the crinoline fixings. . .’ However, the rate of travel was most pleasing. Those not caring for a seven-day-a-week diet of pork and beans, varied by beans and pork–the standard dish at all station houses, should take ‘a few cans of fruit, a few bottles of pickles, and many bottles of Bourbon or Otard [cognac].”
“An incident we occasionally experienced, and which was a pleasing one, was the meeting of the mail stage, or being passed by the same on its western way The vehicle itself was a cumbrous affair, and was known by the ‘Pikers’ as an ‘avalanche,’ which was as near as they could be expected to come to ‘ambulance.’
“The strongest stomachs of the party made tea, and found some milk which was not more than one quarter flies. This succulent meal was followed by the usual douceur. On this road, however mean or wretched the fare, the stationkeeper, who is established by the proprietor of the line, never derogates by lowering his price.”
First Through Coaches on the Central Route
“The first through daily coaches on the Central route left St. Joseph and Placerville simultaneously on July 1, 1861, and both arrived at their destination on July 18, in a few hours over seventeen days-well ahead of the contract schedule of 25 days.”
Mile 1119: Simpson's Hollow and Simpson's Gulch
“One other landmark caught our attention on the trek toward Green River—the graves in the stretch of river bank where the coulee of Simpson Hollow opens out to the Big Sandy. We were on the bridge over Simpson Hollow when we saw, coming up the gulch, a flock of soft dun sheep that blanketed the rolling banks on either side like a spread cloth of nubbly wool. A herder followed . . .Yes, there were graves there—quite a lot, he told us, getting more and more indistinct as years passed until now he only remembered where to find one or two. As a boy he had considered it almost a trail cemetery.
And how did travelers know that it was ahead? Well, word of tomorrow’s travel and what it would bring seems to have sifted throughout the whole line of wagons, probably from those favored trains who had guides or from travelers who had crossed the continent before. So, because of the overwhelming need to leave their dear ones in some place which they might some day find again, they sometimes carried them many miles to be buries at tis accepted spot—where a stretch of hard-baked sage land at the end of a smudgy coulee still holds the now forgotten dead.”
[N.B. There is a marker for Simpson’s Hollow on Route 28 just past Mile 1119 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route. Just past there is a dirt road that seems to lead to Simpson’s Gulch (about 3/4 of a mile to the Gulch)]
Pony Express Geocache Challenge
The Pony Express Geocache Challenge requires that you get one Geocache in each of the eight states of the route, plus two additional, for a total of ten. Each must be near a Pony Express marker or other landmark. Details are here.
Mile 437: Cottonwood Springs
“The next day (13th) we passed by the celebrated ‘Cotton-wood Springs’ where, in the midst of a scattered grove of majestic cotton-woods, a clear stream gushes forth, famed for its coolness and purity. We all stopped to get a drink of the delicious water, which tasted like nectar to us who had for so long quenched thirst with the yellow, tepid water of the Platte, and then moved on, encamping at sunset on the summit of O’Fallon’s Bluffs, whose steep declivities we climbed with difficulty. These bluffs are opposite the junction of the north and south forks of the Platte, and extend to the edge of the river.”
The Element Most Essential to Survival
“It was on the freighting trains that Slade developed a fierce hatred of hose thieves–a characteristic he shared with most frontiersmen. On the plains the element most essential to survival was not a man’s gun but his horse, for a man set afoot in a wilderness infested with hostile Indians was likely as good as dead. In the first makeshift miners’ courts, the theft of a horse was considered the most serious offense. ‘Horse stealing in those days was the greatest crime a man could commit,’ the frontiersman George Beatty recalled. ‘Murder didn’t amount to anything.'”
Fort Kearny Military History
“Fort Kearny was never attacked by Indians, never besieged, and no battle of size was fought within a radius of 100 miles. Its garrison seemed pitifully small in contrast to the emigrant hordes and the savage Sioux and Pawnee bands who prowled up and down the Platte on each others’ trail. Nevertheless, the Fort Kearny soldiers proved equal to their role as guardians of the trail, made innumerable patrols, kept Indians pacified, and provided emigrants with supplies, advice, and the moral support so desperately needed on their 2,000 pilgrimage. Furthermore, this was the assembly point for numerous military expeditions, which, beginning at Fort Leavenworth, here rallied forces for invasion of hostile territory. Fort Kearny was not really a fort. It was a sentinel post, launching platform, and gateway to the hostile Great Plains.”
“We then ran down the river valley, which was here about one mile in breadth, in a smooth flooring of clay, sprinkled with water- rolled pebbles, overgrown in parts with willow, wild cherry, buffalo berries, and quaking asp. Macarthy pointed out in the road-side a rough grave, furnished with the normal tomb-stone, two pieces of wagon-board : it was occupied by one Farren, who had fallen by the revolver of the redoubtable Slade. Presently we came to the store of Michael Martin, an honest Creole.”
[Note: Based on Granville Stewart’s description, this would be near the town of Granger, WY, Mile 1165. Based on Burton’s itinerary, it would be near Simpson’s Hollow, Mile 1119]
Yearly Emigration Schedule
“The exodus each year from the jumping-off places on the Missouri River began on the approximate date when it was agreed that grass would be sufficiently green on the plains to support the animals. . . .
A drouth could delay departures alarmingly, increasing prospects of getting snowbound in California’s mountains in the autumn; but a rainy season could slow things down, too, as wagons mired in the mud before they were well started . . . But give or take a week or two, a good starting target date for departure from any of the jump-offs was April 15, for arrival at (or opposite) Fort Kearny, May 15, at Fort Laramie, June 15, and at South Pass, July 4.
Arrival at a destination in Oregon or California by September 1 was hoped for, but October 1, well ahead of snow in the Sierra Nevadas, was considered satisfactory. An ideal passage would be four months, or 120 days, April 15 to August 15. . . . [F]our and a half months, from April 15 to September 1, was more nearly par for the course, while painful trips of up to six months’ duration have been noted. . . .Most of the really late comers spent a miserable time wintering at Fort Laramie or Salt Lake City.”
Emigrant Impressions of Salt Lake City
“To the Argonauts of ’49, the Mormons were a fascinating enigma. They had declared themselves an independent state and were functioning in that status; but actually the group was a more or less benevolent dictatorship with Brigham Young at the head, and he, partly from the exigencies of the situation and partly from temperament, would not tolerate adverse comments.
To the men of the migration who kept journals (rather a superior group on the whole) this gag rule was the most offensive item encountered. For the kindly and helpful people as a whole they had very little but praise. The Mormons were quite destitute of comforts, but industrious and thrifty. Furthermore they were destined to succeed. What little they had, they shared with those in need of help, and many an invalid remained in Salt Lake City to be nurtured back to health. The chief elders were masters of budget balancing. They carefully trained their people to turn the needs of the migration to good account, and blacksmith shops and vegetable gardens brought marvelous returns. At first they refused coin, which had no value to them, and would only accept articles that were ‘hard to come by.’ Coffee and sugar are most often mentioned, but by 1852 they had sent to France for the sugar beet and had it under cultivation.
To the women of the migration this large settlement of adobe houses was a welcome sight, and the reassuring glimpses of ordinary women like themselves at home in neat kitchens gave them confidence. Of course they had a perfectly human and rather excited curiosity about a community where the men might have all the wives they could support, and where spinsterhood was unknown. Some women of the wagon trains, both young and old, went fo farther west. . . .
Irrefutably, the Mormon doctrines attracted undesirables as naturally and unavoidably as adventurers followed the lure of gold to California, and often it was these low-minded marqueraders who brought contumely upon the whole colony. But, in the main, the people themselves were kindly and well ordered.
“Though Kansas theoretically extends to the mountains, Big Blue is considered the boundary line of the territory, and the great ocean of Indian country; indeed we were not unlike a vessel outward bound, nor our journey unlike a voyage. We struck out hence into a region, considered by our pace of travelling, as boundless, if not as trackless, as an ocean.”
Mile 1193: Fort Bridger
“The majority of the migration arrived at Fort Bridger in the month of July. . . . The valley of Blacks Fork is beautiful out of all reason, like a charming but improbable stage setting, for which the snow-topped Uinta Mountains provide a magnificent backdrop. Apparently from sheer altruism the river divides near the head of the valley and sends its cool waters through this lovely flat land in several clear-flowing channels which unite again some miles below, forming a group of islands. On the westernmost of these we found the fort.
When, in the early forties, Jim Bridger built his first rude cabins at this garden spot and fenced them in with a stockade of small logs, he executed quite a stroke of business. . . .
There is evidence that he had completed something in the way of building by the summer of 1842, because an eccentric minister, Williams by name, returning from Oregon, passed on July 3rd of that year and made mention of reaching Bridger’s fort. . . .
Dirty little log outposts of civilization such as this, chinked with mud and roofed with sod, were the first exponents of a new type of business, the emigrant trade, which rolled merrily along throughout all the years of the migration, amassing fortunes for those who embraced its opportunities. Fort Bridger was the first trading post west of the Missouri built especially to cater to this business, and it was a blow when the opening of Sublette’s Cutoff to wagons drew thousands of prospective customers away. In the summer of 1849 Bridger’s partner, Louis Vasquez, with a retinue of Indians camped at South Pass, trading with the emigrants and trying to persuade them to go by way of Fort Bridger.”
Mile 554: Lodgepole Creek Valley
“Here is the valley of Lodgepole Creek through which passed historic trails, telegraph lines, and railroads. The famed Pony Express followed the valley in 1860-61. “Nine Mile” Pony Express station was located just southeast of present Chappell; “Pole Creek No. 2” station was a few miles west of here. Near Sidney, the Pony Express trail turned northwestward, passing Mud Springs station and Courthouse Rock en route to the North Platte River. In 1861 the first transcontinental telegraph line was built through the valley. Stagecoaches of the Central Overland Route soon followed, carrying passengers and mail. Former Pony express stations continued to serve the stage line, providing lodging and provisions for travelers. When the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad reached here in 1867, wagon and stagecoach travel declined. Today modern highways retrace historic trails through the valley. Two miles east is Chappell, at first only a railroad siding. The townsite was surveyed in 1884 and a post office was established two years later. Chappell became the county seat of Deuel County in 1894.”
Mile 1480: Route Alternate
At Mile 1480 (west side of Fish Springs, UT), the XP Bikepacking continues north on the Pony Express-Overland Stage Trail to go around the north end of the Fish Springs Range. There is a road that leads directly west through the range, labelled “Pony Express Pass Trail,” which rejoins the Pony Express-Overland Stage Trail on the west side of the range. The distance across the pass looks to be about 4 miles (as compared to 8) and have about 1,000 feet of climbing.
I found this entry from a hiker:
Our route today does a horseshoe out and around the tip of a descending ridge that juts out into the desert flats. We decide to take a shortcut, considered by some to also have been a route taken by the Pony Express. It goes directly up and over. For lack of a better name, we’ll call it Boyd’s/Butte Cutoff. The climb up is uneventful, easy enough, just steady, with up and more up. Bart muscles his cart along. At the summit, however, and looking down the other side, a scary situation—the trail drops nearly straight off, down and through a boulder-choked, narrow canyon. We look down, then back in the direction from which we just came. Quick decision; we’re not going back. So over the edge we go! No time at all, Bart must off-load his heavy pack from the cart, and shoulder it in order to control his descent. I work my way down, trying to find a way (other than straight down) through the tangle of brush and the jumble of boulders. How the Pony ever got through here, heaven only knows. I manage; Bart manages, but it takes us awhile, quite awhile, before we finally emerge on a two-track above an old abandoned mine. A most fascinating place. Shafts straight down into the echoing darkness. A rock dropped takes three seconds to hit bottom—how far is that? Some interesting photos. Gotta check them out!
Fremont's First Expedition
“As a stunt to demonstrate the absolute safety of the Oregon Trail, Benton conceived the idea of sending his twelve-year-old son as far as the Continental Divide, with Frémont to write the publicity. To carry out this scheme at government expense, he pushed through Congress an appropriation for ‘mapping the Oregon Trail to the western boundary of the United States,’ then had Frémont assigned to the task.
There was, of course, little reason for mapping the Oregon Trail, since there were no turnoffs and a blind man could have followed the deep wagon ruts. But Frémont arrived in St. Louis in the spring of 1842 with a German topographer and enough scientific and navigational instruments for an exploration of the North Pole.”
“Leavenworth, Kansas, at that time a squatter town on the Delaware Indian Reservation two miles south of the Fort, was chosen [in 1855] as headquarters for the firm [Russell, Majors & Waddell]. . . .
When the last employee was hired the company register bore the names of 1,700 employees. . . . Among the messengers employed to ride back and forth between [freight] trains on the road was ten-year-old William F. Cody, later known to world-wide fame as ‘Buffalo Bill.'”
Army Discharge Description of Slade
“Said Joseph A. Slade was born in Clinton Co in the State of Illinois, is 18 years of age, 5 feet 6 inches high, dark complexion, black eyes, light hair, and by occupation, when enlisted, a farmer.”
“In the buffalo arrows the barbs were fixed fast to the shaft, but in arrows meant for the enemy the barbs were so attached that they would come loose when the shaft was withdrawn, leaving the barb in the wound.”
Mile 321: Dogtown
“In the trail days there was a utilitarian, if ugly, settlement at this junction [of the Nebraska City Road with the Oregon Trail] bearing the vulgar title ‘Dogtown.’ As late as 1865, it was the first town west of Marysville, Kansas, a journey of nearly a hundred fifty miles. It is likely that the name originated in the ‘town’ of ‘village’ of prairie dogs nearby. There were several prairie-dog settlements settlements along the Platte, each of some acres in extent, looking, so the emigrants fancied, like an immense field of sweet potato hills. The dumpy little creatures barked hysterically at the first wagons of each season, but grew more philosophical as the steady processions flowed by them.”
[NB. There appears (on Google Street View) a very small historical marker. It is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, a few hundred feet down Lowell Road. to reach it, continue south on Lowell Road past the turn off to Skeeter Creek Road, just before Mile 321]
Pony Express Schedule
“The time to Fort Kearny was to be 34 hours; Great Salt Lake, 124 hours; Carson City, 188 hours; Placerville, 226 hours; Sacramento City, 234 hours; and San Francisco, 240 hours. Telegraphic dispatches were to go to any place in California. from any point in the East in about 205 hours. . .
“A more complete time table appeared in the Elwood Free Press of April 7, with the following added stations: Marysville, 12 hours; Laramie, 80 hours; Bridger, 108 hours, and Camp Floyd, 128 hours.”
Mile 1432: Simpson Springs
“Simpson’s Springs, which was named after explorer Captain James H. Simpson. Excellent water made this location a great spot for a Pony Express Station. The current station building at the site is a replica built in 1975 by the Future Farmers of America.”
[Addendum: “Simpson’s Springs Pony Express Station is lonely. Located on BLM land in western Utah you have to want to come here. There is a small, rustic BLM campground nearby, but what’s most abundant is solitude.” –Posted on the Pony Express National Historic Trail Facebook page, 3/27/18]
[Addendum 2: “Simpson Springs bears the name of explorer Captain James H. Simpson, a Camp Floyd topographical engineer, who stopped here in 1858 while laying out an overland mail route between Salt Lake City and California. The availability of excellent water made Simpson Springs one of the most prominent stations in the West Desert.” Pony Express National Historic Trail Facebook page, 2/21/20]
“[T]his establishment of Fort Bridger in ’43 may be considered symbolic of new conditions. Jim Bridger was one of the most famous of the mountain-men. He realized, however, that the old days were over, that trapping no longer paid much, and that the emigrant trains offered a new source of income. So, with Louis Vásquez as a partner, he built himself a little stockaded post in a pleasant meadow where Black’s Fork split into several small channels. This was in the country of the Snakes, who were friendly. There was good hunting roundabout. Horses and cattle could pasture on the meadowland.”
Mile 0: The Patee House
“The Patee House was a 140 room luxury hotel that was built in St. Joseph, Missouri in 1858. Beginning in 1860, its first floor served as the eastern terminus of the Pony Express Company. Mail carriers would ride into the building on their horses to receive the westbound mail!”
March to Fort Bridger
“When [Colonel Albert S.] Johnson at last joined the army [at Camp Winfield in November], he saw immediately that its present location would not suffice for winter quarters. Its only hope, he realized, was Fort Bridger, thirty-five miles away.
On November 6  began the desperate race for that sheltered valley before the animals failed completely. Intense cold froze the feet of the Dragoons on patrol and congealed the grease on the caissons axles. . . .The stock . . . died in such great numbers along the road that a soldier who followed the trail of the army in the summer of 1858 found carcasses of mules and oxen at every hundred steps. . . .
As Johnson suffered through this last stage of the 1857 campaign, is methodical nature caused him to investigate the army’s recent losses in order to ascertain its position. Three trains with 300,000 pounds of food, he knew, had been burned by the Mormons a month earlier. He learned also that the daring Porter Rockwell had stolen some 800 head of cattle belonging to Russell,, Majors & Waddell in the third week of October, and that another 300 animals had been run off by the Mormons just before the army left Ham’s Fork . . . [D]uring Alexander’s futile advance up Ham’s Fork and the final march to Fort Bridger, at least 3,000 head of cattle perished of starvation and cold. The military effectiveness of his force was badly impaired, too, for both batteries had only half their requisite number of horses and almost two-thirds of the Dragoons had no mounts at all.”
Greeley on Chorpenning's Route
“It was over the new stage route that Horace Greeley, in July, 1859, traveled in Mr. Chorpenning’s coaches to California, and had his famous ride over the Sierra Nevadas, driven by Hank Monk, one of Chorpenning’s fancy drivers, and which is so humorously described by Artemus Ward in his travels in that country.”
“They had done that, the people of this book: they had brought in that empire and made that war inevitable. The soldiers who followed Kearny to Santa Fe and on to California, Doniphan’s farm boys and . the Mormons slogging along with Cooke under their canopy of dust and miracle, Brigham Young’s dispossessed people, and Owl Russell, Edwin Bryant, Jessy Thornton, the Doriners. The wagon trains pulling out from Independence in· the mud and coming finally to the Willamette or the Sacramento. They had shifted the center of gravity of the nation forever.”
Breaking Wild Mules
“The average freighter could not afford the time to gentle his animals slowly before introducing them to harness; as a result, the breaking of wild mules was a rough process that sometimes ended in the loss of expensive animals. The unbroken mules were roped, snubbed up close to the wagon wheels, and starved for twenty-four hours. Then a team was hitched to a heavy wagon and whipped when they would not pull and whipped even harder when they ran. After an hour or so of bewilderment, plunging, and kicking they became tractable and were ready for work.”
“During the twelve ensuing days the men continued to live on the meat of starved or exhausted horses and mules. As the salt supply ran out they discovered that gunpowder sprinkled on the mule steaks took the place of both salt and pepper.”
Salt Lake City
“I do not know what may be the feeling of emigrants who have left all to come hither, and look, for the first time, upon this their Sion and Promised Land. I recollect my own well: instinctively I rushed up a small eminence to the right, and then turned and gazed. I said nothing, but in my heart shouted, Θάλαττα! θάλαττα! [‘The Sea! The Sea!’]”
Mile 1316: Mountain Dale/Mountain Dell/Big Canyon/Hanks Station
“A vandalized monument in the NW1/4 of the NW1/4 of Section 36 presently marks the location of the assumed station site. . . .
“Upon checking the USGS quad map, it can be seen that Little Mountain Summit is west of the presently marked station site, in section 36. It should be noted that the roads do not go over Little Mountain, but do go over Little Mountain summit. The 1881 survey plat shows the currently marked location as Cook’s house and barn. West of the summit, however, in Section 33 (See Figure 12) the surveyor records a cabin at the mouth of what is now named Freeze Creek. This site, incidently, is about equidistant between the Salt Lake House and Wheaton Springs. It should be also noted the name “Mountain Dale” appears on the 1861 Mail contract. Granted, that Mountain Dale has been a long standing name in its present geographic location, but could Mountain Dale, the name given to the Hanks station site, have been unknowingly changed by later historians and writers?”
Telling Time by the Sun
“The dominant paradigm of farm life was the cycle: the recurrence of the days and seasons; the process of growth and reproduction. Hand-power technology did not deceive men into thinking they could overcome nature; their goal was to harmonize man’s needs with natural forces as best they could. The length of the working day, for example, was largely determined by the hours of sunlight. Candles and grease lamps were common but expensive, and the hearth’s flickering light was too dim for more than a little work after dark. So most work was largely confined to daylight: up and at work by dawn, nights for sleeping. And in keeping with this daily round, midwesterners told time by the movements of the sun, not the clock. There was a variety of time phrases so rich they nearly matched the clock in refinement; the hours before sunrise, for example, were distinguished thus: long before day, just before day, just comin’ day, just about daylight, good light, before sunup, about sunup, and, finally, sunup. Each period of the day was similarly divided.”
“He could only remember my army name, which was ‘Link,’ abbreviated from Lincoln, which I was formerly called, not by way of compliment, but because I was tall and lean. The customary nickname for one who was tall and lean in those days was ‘Shanghai,’ which was abbreviated to ‘Shang,’ but as we had one Shang in the company I was called Lincoln, abbreviated to ‘Link.’ So that when Marsh and I met, and hugged each other there at Camp Shuman, he called me ‘Link” and I called him ‘Shadblow;’ then we explained what our real names were, and got back onto a true personal and military basis.”
Disease and Death
“While the journey up the Platte River Road may have been a joy and tonic for some, far too often it was an ordeal in which, after running the gauntlet of hardships, there arose the sinister threat of disease and death. . . . Again assuming a grand total migration of 350,000 this averages one death for every seventeen persons who started. . . .
the normal precaution was to take along a medicine chest with an assortment of home remedies for everything from baldness to the bubonic plague. Elizabeth Greer’s inventory included ‘a box of physicing pills, a box of castor oil, a quart of best rum, and a vial of peppermint essence.’ The latter ingredient, combined with a glass of brandy, would, according to John King, cure most ills. Catherine Haun’s portable apothecary shop included quinine for malaria, hartshorn for snakebite, citric acid for scurvy and blueness, and opium and whisky for almost everything else. Laudanum, morphine, calomel, and tincture of camphor were other potent drugs frequently resorted to. Among name brands mentioned are Ayer’s Pain Killer, Dover’s Powders, and Jayne’s Caminative Balsam.”
“Captain Marcy outfits his prairie traveler with a ‘little blue mass, quinine, opium, and some cathartic medicine put up in doses for adults.’ I limited myself to the opium, which is invaluable when one expects five consecutive days and nights in a prairie wagon, quinine, and Warburg’s drops, without which no traveler should ever face fever, and a little citric acid, which, with green tea drawn off the moment the leaf has sunk, is perhaps the best substitute for milk and cream. The ‘holy weed Nicotian’ was not forgotten ; cigars must be bought in extraordinary quantities, as the driver either receives or takes the lion’s share . . .”
“Scalping is generally, but falsely, supposed to be a peculiarly American practice. The Abbe Em. Domenech (‘Seven Years’ Residence in the Great Deserts of North America,’ chap, xxxix.) quotes the decalvare of the ancient Germans, the capillos et cutem detrahere of the code of the Visigoths, and the annals of Elude, which prove that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and the Franks still scalped about A.D. 879. And as the modern American practice is traceable to Europe and Asia, so it may be found in Africa, where aught of ferocity is rarely wanting. . . .
“Scalp-taking is a solemn rite. In the good old times braves scrupulously awaited the wounded man’s death before they ‘raised his hair;’ in the laxity of modern days, however, this humane custom is too often disregarded. Properly speaking, the trophy should be taken after fair fight with a hostile warrior; this also is now neglected. ‘When the Indian sees his enemy fall he draws his scalp-knife—the modern is of iron, formerly it was of flint, obsidian, or other hard stone—and twisting the scalp-lock, which is left long for that purpose, and boastfully braided or decorated with some gaudy ribbon or with the war-eagle’s plume, round his left hand, makes with the right two semicircular incisions, with and against the sun, about the part to be removed. The skin is next loosened with the knife-point, if there be time to spare and if there be much scalp to be taken. The operator then sits on the ground, places his feet against the subject’s shoulders by way of leverage, and, holding the scalp-lock with both hands, he applies a strain which soon brings off the spoils with a sound which, I am told, is not unlike ‘flop.’ Without the long lock it would be difficult to remove the scalp; prudent white travelers, therefore, are careful, before setting out through an Indian country, to ‘shingle off’ their hair as closely as possible; the Indian, moreover, hardly cares for a half-fledged scalp. To judge from the long love-locks affected by the hunter and mountaineer, he seems to think lightly of this precaution; to hold it, in fact, a point of honor that the savage should have a fair chance. A few cunning men have surprised their adversaries with wigs. The operation of scalping must be exceedingly painful; the sufferer turns, wriggles, and ‘squirms’ upon the ground like a scotched snake. It is supposed to induce brain fever; many instances, however, are known of men and even women recovering from it, as the former do from a more dreadful infliction in Abyssinia and Galla-land; cases are of course rare, as a disabling wound is generally inflicted before the bloodier work is done.”
Use of Horses for Stagecoaches
“Stagecoaches, pulled by six horses (for speed) or by mules (for endurance), traveled much faster than wagons pulled by an equal number of oxen. A coach could cover about 110 miles in a twenty-two-hour day, compared to only about 15 miles for a loaded freight wagon.”
“The word Brulé, which is a French word, means ‘sun-burnt’ ; it was derived from the Indian name which in the Indian tongue meant ‘burnt-thighs.’ Their thighs exposed to the sun were sunburned in their constant riding on horseback. The words meant more than at first appeared; for, Indians who walked on the ground did not get their thighs burned more than other parts, especially as the Indians went practically naked when the sun was hot. Hence the words ‘burnt-thighs’ meant that the Brule Indians were riders; that they belonged to the cavalry, that is, the Chivalry ; in other words, they were of the equestrian class. The words constituted a boast that they were better than others and were the Rough-Riders of the plains. Such was the tradition of the name.”
The Gratification of Slaying an Enemy
“In his correspondence with Einstein, Freud argued that each of us derives a very basic and profound gratification from slaying an enemy, however imaginary the act, and from viewing him prostrate at our feet. In movies, in Western literary fiction, we are the gunfighter and we ritually slay our adversaries again and again. We are our projected selves who destroy, with an imagined bullet, our frustrations, our obstacles, our guilt, and we slay them with anger, hostility, and relief. The scenario is a simple one, one against one. We can confront the enemy, can meet him face-to-face, and can destroy him in front of us. No long-range shots are necessary. The enemy is slain in front of our eyes, we see the bullet entering his body (or imagine we do) we see the body suddenly and violently hurled backward with the impact of the bullet’s blow, and then we see it crumple to the ground before us. When our frustrations are thus eliminated, we are relieved, our anxieties alleviated, however temporarily.
One of the most appealing parts of this murder is that it is painlessly and simply done. It is a victimless killing. There is no blood and no pain, and yet we derive that great satisfaction of experiencing the obliteration of feelings in ourselves that call for destruction. The experience is cathartic, renewing.”
“Two miles west of Kearny, the setlement of Dobytown sprouted, where entrepreneurs sold goods and liquor at inflated prices to plains travelers, traders, stage and freight drivers, and soldiers. They also provided gambling and ‘soiled doves’ or ‘scarlet women’ for entertainment. . . .
Dee brown , in Wondrous Times on the Frontier, 10 lists a dozen synonyms for frontier prostitutes, including ‘Calico Cats.'”
Mile 520: Diamond Springs and California Hill Detour
At this point, the Pony Express Bikepacking Route is still south of the South Platte River. North of the river are two landmarks. To reach these, you’d have to cross the river into Brule (at about Mile 520), and recross to rejoin the route at about Mile 532 through Big Springs (by taking Highway 138, or by taking the dirt road across Highway 30 from the California Crossing marker).
- Diamond Springs Station landmark (marked on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route)
- California Hill (Not marked on the Route map. A marker stands a few miles west just before the intersection of Road West MF.
“When snugly dry and in order again, the pilgrims left the South Platte for good and all and began to climb the rough, high land between the forks. They called the first steep pull ‘California Hill.’ Deep ascending ruts still mar its surface. A tiny school sits squatly on the rounded hillside like a flea on an elephant [in the 1930s-40s]. Not much else has come to change its look from the days when the drivers cracked their whips like rifle shots to urge the dragging ox trains up the slope.”
“[California Hill] necessitated a climb of 240 feet in just over 1½ miles in order to reach the plateau between the North and South Platte Rivers. Imposing trail ruts are still plainly visible most of the way up the hill. The Nebraska State Historical Society, who owns the resource, invites you to get out of your car and walk in the footsteps of the pioneers. The panoramic views back toward California Crossing are spectacular.”
Selecting a Mule Team
“In selecting a team, there were a number of well-established rules. The largest pair, or span, was selected for the wheelers. This was the span that controlled the direction of the wagon through the wagon tongue and held the wagon back on downgrades. The nimblest and most knowledgeable span were selected for the leaders. It was they who imparted direction to the whole team. On sharp turns, they often had to leave the trail to swing wide and scramble over rocks and bushes. The nigh, or left, leader had to be particularly smart as it was he that received orders from the driver by means of the jerk line and determined the direction for the whole team.”
Green River Buttes
“Throughout the Green River Basin, many “elevated buttes of singular configuration” rise from the rolling plains, sticking up like flat-topped warts on a sagebrush skin. They stand several hundred feet high, with eroded edges that descend in irregular steps. A closer look reveals that the jutting ledges are made of layers of beige sandstone and off-white limestone, while the soft slopes are comprised of tan, green, and rusty-brown mudstone. To Edwin Bryant, the buttes looked like islands. “The plain appears at some geologic era to have been submerged, with the exception of these buttes, which then were islands, overlooking the vast expanse of water.” Bryant was wrong about the islands, but right about the water. The Green River Basin was once the site of an immense lake. The buttes are the eroded remains of once-continuous sedimentary layers that blanketed the lake’s floor.”
Green River Desert
“In ’49, when the laboring, panting, exhausted line of animals and duct-caked humans arrived within ten miles of green River, they found broken country and no definite road. They must push and tug at the heavy wagons in the in the full heat of blazing noonday. Many collapsed and were loaded in the wagons by companions almost in like case. The poor beasts fell, were hastily cut loose, died, and added their bit to the discomfort of next week’s caravans. The only solution possible was to double-team and abandon some of the wagons, and this section of the cutoff was one of the two or three places of the whole overland trail where no one had time or reason to burn them.”
Aid from the Ogallala
“For a time the prospect looked very gloomy, from the fact that our provisions were nearly gone, and there was no possible chance apparently for getting more supplies. About two days after going to our new camp, however, a party of Ogallala Sioux Indians came by with their ponies loaded down with fresh buffalo meat, which they were taking to their camp to dry. The Indians were quite friendly, gave us some fresh meat, and also the information that their camp was but a few miles off, over the bluffs by a spring, at the mouth of another canon opening into the valley of the North Platte River. They invited us to come over and stay at their village, telling us also that the French traders, Dripps and Madret were there; and could possibly let us have some provisions.”
Oregon Trail in 1839
“Each spring [after 1836] an increasing number of small emigrant wagon trains plodded westward from Independence, over the route which had become known as the Oregon Trail. As each train passed, the roughest stretches along the trail were improved; chutes cut into gulch banks, boulders rolled aside, wider openings slashed slashed through woods and thickets, and the roadway along steep hillsides leveled enough so that wagons would not tip over. By 1839, a very passable wagon route exrended from Independence to the present site of Portland.”
Battle of Resaca de la Palma
“The action that followed was a good deal more of a battle. It is known as Resaca de la Palma. It was a fierce, bloody, and obstinate confusion in the underbrush, with the Mexicans fleeing here and charging there, the Americans doing likewise, and no one to do staff work or make order of the attack. Since no one above the platoon leaders could see far enough to exercise command, some pretty local duels developed. For a long time it was a near thing. The Mexicans rushed into the thorn bushes with an admirable fierceness and, less admirably, their cavalry charged artillery – and nearly took it. That seemed a good idea to Taylor and, to the horror of his staff, he ordered Captain May’s Dragoons to charge a Mexican battery. It was his principal contribution to the battle and, alas for the textbooks, it worked. Pretty soon the Mexicans, who had bent at one flank already, broke and ran. Fort Brown was saved and Taylor had won two battles.
Or his army had. Colonel Hitchcock, who was right about their commander, was proved wrong about the troops and they were entitled to the admiration which Lieutenant Grant accorded them. The American soldier had won his first battle against civilized troops since January 8, 1815, by the merits which tradition had emphasized, marksmanship, steadiness under fire, and individual initiative and courage. A good many subalterns who would be general officers in the Civil War had had their first taste of battle. And before the guns were swabbed the newspapermen were sending the news to the folks back home. The two engagements, Grant wrote, “seemed to us engaged as pretty important affairs but we had only a faint conception of their magnitude until they were fought over in the North by the press and the reports came back to us.”
Mile 777: Bitter Cottonwood Creek
“The next important stopping point, according to the diaries, was the Bitter Cottonwood Creek. Maps located it in Wendover, Wyoming, a railroad stop . . . Many miles to the left, Laramie Peak loomed high—the most famous single mountain on the trail. . . .
The name Bitter Cottonwood came, they say, from the narrow-leaved cottonwoods of bitter taste along the banks for the clear, pretty stream. . . . Camping was good, but the fast horse and mule outfits went on to Horseshoe Creek where the feed was better.”
“But this was nothing new in my experience on the plains. The greatest blatherskites in sneering at death and religion, were the most grovelling cravens when the last hour seemed imminent.”
Suckers and Pukes
“Through the magic of the Internet, we managed to find an 1854 volume called History of Illinois From Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1857, penned by “the late Gov. Thomas Ford” which promised a “full account of the Black Hawk War, the rise, progress and fall of Mormonism, the Alton and Lovejoy riots and other important and interesting events.”
It also explains the origin of the nicknames “pukes” and “suckers.”
First the suckers. Back in the late 1820s, migrant workers from southern Illinois began traveling up the Mississippi River in the spring to work in the Galena lead mines and then back down the river to their homes in the fall. This, the late Gov. Ford noted, mirrored the migratory patterns of “the fishy tribe called ‘Suckers.'”
But there’s another, less charitable though more interesting explanation. A “sucker” is a sprout off the main stem of a tobacco plant that sucks off nutrients and has to be plucked off so that the plant will thrive. The southern part of Illinois, the late Gov. Ford explained, was originally settled by poor Southerners who “were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth; and when they removed to Illinois, they were supposed to have stripped themselves off from the stem of the tobacco plant, and gone away to perish like the stem of the tobacco plant.”
As it happened, the Galena mines were full of workers from Missouri, too, and they didn’t get along very well with the miners from southern Illinois. “Analogies always abound with those who wish to be sarcastic,” the late Gov. helpfully notes, and so the Missourians started calling the southern Illinoisans “suckers.” Think of it as a precursor to “hoosier.”
In retaliation, the suckers started calling the hated Missourians “pukes” because…well, let’s let the late Gov. explain because he does a far better job than we can.It had been observed that the lower lead mines in Missouri had sent up to the Galena country whole hoards of uncouth ruffians, from which it was inferred that Missouri had taken a “Puke,” and had vomited forth to the upper lead mines, all her worse population. From thenceforth, the Missourians were called “Pukes;” and by these names of “Suckers” and “Pukes,” the Illinoians and Missourians are likely to be called, amongst the vulgar, forever.
Sadly, when the time came to copyright their slogans, Illinois and Missouri went with the less-colorful Land of Lincoln and Show-Me State (though some of the legends around the Show-Me State nickname still aren’t especially complimentary toward Missourians), and apparently “Suckers” and “Pukes” were too vulgar for college football. The illustration of the puking Missouri pig is still charming, though.
Crossing the South Platte
“From the moment they had passed the junction of the rivers the emigrants were fired with only one thought: to get across the South Platte. The Colorado gold-seekers of ’59, Pikes Peakers as they were called, might remain comfortably on the south bank, but travelers to Oregon and California, and, later, to Montana and Idaho must ford this large watercourse which unaccommodatingly swung too far to the left for their purpose.
Many crossed immediately above the forks, following Frémont’s example. There were also several little-used fords, but the great bulk of the migration crossed four miles above Brule, Nebraska at a spot called the Lower California Crossing, although in the late fifties and the sixties the Upper California Crossing at Julesburg, Colorado, became a rival. . . .
Everything considered, the crossing near Brule was the greatest ford of the Overland trek . . . [T]here were hundreds of wagons each day during the season, which must get through the quicksand of the South Platte ford or give up the journey. it was one of the few dangers of which they had definite advance notice. They could, and did, worry about it from the time they left home . . .
From the days of the first fir trappers, on through the Oregon migration and the California gold rush, it was in everybody’s way.”
Impolite and Emphatic Language
“. . . a dispute arose between two young men. Impolite and emphatic language was used and two guns were drawn. The quarrel resulted in the mortal wounding of the younger participant.”
— Darley, Reverend G .M., “The End Gate of the Mess Wagon,” The Trail: A Magazine for Colorado, Volumes 1, No. 1 (1908) : 18-19
Resupplying the Utah Expedition
“In January 1858 the Government to arrange with Russell, Majors & Waddell to transport approximately sixteen million pounds of freight, most of it destined for Utah. To fulfill this assignment the firm was compelled to acquire 40,000 oxen and 1,000 mules, and to hire more than 4,000 teamsters; altogether the Government ordered the contractors to send to the Territory at least 100 trains, each composed of twenty-six wagons.”
Mile 655: Chimney Rock
“On the north side [of Courthouse Rock], between it and the river, a large area of swampy ground makes the going uncertain, and Chimney Rock, the next famous landmark, looms ahead like a beckoning finger to encourage the traveler. . . .
The very loveliness of the scene made for enthusiasm and exaggeration. Some journals record the height of the Chimney as four hundred or even five hundred feet, but the government report, made by Preuss of the Frémont Expedition in 1842, read . . .’the weather is rapidly diminishing its height, which is now not more than two hundred feet above the river . . .’ Jim Bridger explained this phenomenon by the supposition that it had been struck by lightening . . . Local tradition has it that a company of soldiers once camped near by, and, needing a target for their cannon practice, displayed the excellence of their marksmanship by knocking pff about forty feet of the famous old column.
The Chimney Rock stands just across the valley from Bayard, Nebraska, where a one-way bridge tempts the motorist to cross the island-studded Platte and view this great limestone shaft. Here the recurring cholera epidemics of 1849 and 1850 were at their worst, and the Chimney stands guard over the long chain of hasty graves like Nature’s own monument to their memory, visible for miles, a fit symbol of the wild and throbbing romance of the trail.”
[N.B. There is a Chimney Rock Cemetery dating from emigrant times. It is at the end of the short road which goes straight at Mile 655 of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, where the route makes a right-hand tun. Google Maps shows a trail to Chimney Rock from the cemetery, whereas there is no access from the parking lot at the Chimney Rock National Historic site. Comments on Google Maps note that there is another trail just north of the parking lot. apparently, there are a lot of rattle snakes in the area.]
Pony Express Using Chorpenning's Stations
“Russell, Majors and Waddell’s pony express company became the immediate beneficiary of Chorpenning’s demise. On the same day that Chorpenning’ s service was terminated, William Russell signed a contract with the post office on behalf of Russell & Jones Company, a subsidiary of Russell, Majors and Waddell. Russell agreed to provide the same semi-monthly service at $30,000 per year-$47,000 less than Chorpenning. The new contractor immediately seized the stations, stock, and equipment along Chorpenning’s mail line. From May of 1860 until the termination of the Pony Express in October of 1861, both Russell & Jones and the U.S. mail utilized the stations and route established by the Chorpenning mail between Placerville and Salt Lake City. Subsequently, the Union Telegraph and the Overland Stage Company also adopted the trail blazed by the Chorpenning mail carriers.
“Roy S. Bloss, Pony Express: The Great Gamble (Berkeley, California: Howell-North, 1959), 28, suggests when the Pony Express established its route in February and March of 1860, it ‘borrowed or appropriated’ many of Chorpenning’s stations. In a letter of April 16, 1861 to the Salt Lake City Deseret News, W. H. Shearman of Ruby Valley clearly stated that the Pony Express simply helped itself to Chorpenning’s assets. Shearman’s persuasive and pungent letter is quoted in Journal History, April 16, 1861, LDS Library-Archives.”
Mile 1088-1094: Dry Creek to Parting of the Ways
“From Pacific Creek the modern road parallels the trail to Dry Sandy Creek. This disappointing watercourse is ordinarily all that its name implies; but we, like the Forty-niners, were regarding it in the summer of a wet year, and the hot, sandy bottom between steep banks boasted a string of unappetizing stagnant ponds.
The emigrant ford is right at the bridge, and the trail, continuing north of the road for some time, angles to the south side and meanders through a wide curving gap toward the Little Sandy. In the gap, Sublette’s Cutoff splits from the original trail and wanders down the mountain, keeping to the right. Well within our view as we stood on the mountain it strikes the sage flat, passes the small rocky trail landmark called Haystack Butte and goes on and on interminably through a dreary waste.
We came to the forks and paused there, realizing that the solid unit of trail, which had come up the Sweetwater so heavily burdened with wagons and stock, had again frayed out into loose ends. First the long thread of Lander’s Cutoff had unloosed itself toward the north, and now the main cord was parting into two strands. As we had planned, we bore left with the road to Fort Bridger where the light soil of the mountain side was, in the old days, so pulverized that gusty dust clouds often hid from the bewildered driver all of his team except the wheelers.”
[N.B. Haystack Butte lies to the north of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route near the Little Sandy Station, which is also north of the route at around Mile 1102. More info about Haystack Butte here; More info about Parting of the ways here; More info about Dry Sandy Crossing here; ]
Move from St. Joseph to Atchison
“Beginning in September, 1861, the Post Office Department ordered the dispatch of the overland mail from Atchison rather than St. Joseph, since the Kansas town was 14 miles farther west on an extension of the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad. The terminal of the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company was accordingly moved to the new location, partly because it would be more free from involvement in the Civil War then raging in Missouri.”
“To the chronically thirsty emigrant the most important landmarks were the creeks. Hills and dusty plains, they took in their daily march and forgot if they could. But a creek was a different matter whose delights were only partly counterbalanced by the tragic fact that the barrel containing the luster tea had got loose during the crossing and heaven only knew how much was broken, and that the wall-eyed mule had stepped into the Dutch oven with disastrous results to everything concerned. Indeed fatal accidents often occurred from less contributing causes than that, and very frequently they happened at the crossings. No—they never forgot the creeks.”
Affection for Oxen
“Every family had great affection for their oxen, which were greeted with names like Rouser, Old Bailey, Brindle and Bright, and Old Smut and Snarley; and when, in the extremity of the journey, oxen died of thirst or exhaustion, the owner’s grief was as much for the loss of a valued friend as for being marooned in the wilderness. The joy of the Belle Somers family knew no bounds when ‘the late lamented Snider,’ an ox, reappeared in the desert, having survived only because he stumbled upon a waterhole.”
Mile 1678: Egan's Station
“In the early part of October  a war party of eighty Pah Utes descended upon Egan’s station while Mike Holt station keeper, and a rider by the name of Wilson were at breakfast. Leaping to their feet they grabbed their guns and began firing upon them. The Indians had no guns, but filled with confidence of victory due to overwhelming numbers, they swooped in for the kill. Holton and Wiison fought heroically and kept them at bay until their ammunition was exhausted. Then, as the Indians broke through the door they heard the chief utter the one word ‘bread.’
“Hoping to satisfy them, and thus escape death, the white men piled all the bread in the station on the table. To their dismay the chief remained unsatisfied. Pointing to the sacks of flour piled in one corner he ordered them to build a fire and bake more. Throughout the day Holton and Wilson continued to supply bread to their ravenous, unwelcome guests. As they worked they talked about William Dennis, rider from the west who was due to arrive late in the afternoon. When he did not come they concluded the Indians had killed him.
“About sundown, the stock of flour having been exhausted, the chief ordered Holton and Wilson taken outside and tied to a wagon tongue which had been driven into the ground. Having done this they proceeded to pile sage brush at their feet with the expectation of roasting them alive. Then, they set it afire and began to dance and yell like demons.
“But the Indians had not gotten Dennis. As he approached the station he saw the savages from the distance, whirled his horse around, and raced back the way he had come. They were so busy celebrating the torture of Holton and Wilson they did not see him. About five miles back he had passed Lieutenant Weed and sixty United States dragoons on their way east to Salt Lake City. Upon being informed of what was going on at the station they swept ahead full tilt, roared down upon the scene, and caught the merrymaking savages by surprise in time to prevent injury to the captives. When it was over the Indians had lost eighteen warriors and sixty horses.”
[Note: Other sources give the date of this event as July 15 or 16, 1860. See, e.g., Historic Resource Study, p. 183-84; Burton (p. 169) gives the date as August]
Stage Line and Settlement
“In founding the [Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express] stage line, locating home stations, and opening regular traffic between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, Jones and Russell made an incalculable contribution toward settlement of the wide plains along the route. As had always been the case with the westward creeping frontier, once reasonably dependable transportation was assured, either overland or by water, the people flocked into the area and established new homes. Settlers followed coaches and freight wagons out across Kansas, along the Platte River and its South Fork, down to Denver, and from there out into the mountains to scores of towns and ranches. All of them at first dependent on the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company to keep them in contact with the older sections of the country back East. The proprietors were therefore colonizers although they would have been the last to make that claim for themselves.”
Mile 1020: Icy Slough
“The road continually crossed and recrossed the conspicuous ruts left by the caravans which at this point had saved weary miles by cutting off a bend in the river. Men and women both, and especially children, here had looked forward with a the keenest anticipation to the hour they would spend at Icy Slough.
We have many descriptions of the place, for inevitably it proved a diversion. Delano wrote that they here encountered a ‘morass, perhaps a mile in length by half a mile in breadth. Some of the boys, thinking that water could easily be obtained, took a spade, and going out on the wild grass, commenced digging. About a foot from the surface, instead of water, they struck a beautiful layer of ice, five or six inches in thickness.’ . . .
Companies planned to noon there for the sake of genuine enjoyment afforded. The travelers could use a little diversion; and, as a morale booster, Icy Slough, the last of the trail landmarks that everyone must pass, had few equals.”
“Practice varied as to the disposition of people and livestock in relation to the coral. One would suppose the emigrants, with or without tents, would sleep inside the corral for maximum security and livestock would graze outside, under guard but ready to enter the corral at a moment’s notice. . . . But more often it seems to have been the other way around. . . . ‘The tents were always pitched and the fires built outside the circle of wagons. This was done so that, in case of an attack by Indians, we could get behind the wagons and the firelight would show us the attacking party.’
As a rule the cattle were grazed outside while there was still daylight, then driven into the corral for the night and the ‘gate’ closed. . . . the normal place for horses and mules seems to have been outside the corral. They might be free to graze unfettered in the neighborhood under the watchful eye of the night herders, but more often the stock was hobbled or picketed to reduce the chances of the dreaded stampede.”
Pony Service During the Paiute War
“By the fall of 1860 more than half the Pony Express posts between Carson City and Utah Lake had been destroyed by Paiute ambushes set in every mountain pass along the trail. But except for one short period the mail went through. Never following exactly the same route twice in succession, and avoiding regular mountain passes whenever possible, the riders made their way across the deserts as best they could, depending on the speed of their superior mounts to outrun surprise attacks. But as more and more relay posts were destroyed the advantage of speed was lost, for a horse often had to be ridden a hundred miles to reach a remaining post. Many a rider was wounded bu Indian arrows but, miraculously, only one was killed. The mail was often late, sometimes as much as a week, but no rider ever turned back, and only one refused to make his run.”
Pony Express and Chorpenning's Assets
“Numerous efforts were now began to be made to secure Mr. Chorpenning’s interest and position in the work, but failing in this by direct purchase, influences were brought upon the Post Office Department, and under the most shameful and positively false pretexts his contract, still having over two years to run, and his pay just on the eve of being increased from $190,000 per annum to $400,000, was annulled, and all his life’s earnings, with ten years of most arduous and severe labor, confiscated to him, and absolutely given to persons, who had never been in the country a day, and had never contributed one dollar’s worth of means or labor in its opening and development.”
“On the Morning of July 23, 1864, we left our camp at the mouth of Lodgepole Creek and started up the valley. It was one of the most beautiful mornings that ever was seen in what was then an empty and inhospitable country. The air was so pure and unvitiated that it was a delight to breathe it. It was a blessing to be alive, and be able to start with the cavalcade up Pole Creek valley.”
First Run over the Sierra Nevada
“Critics of the central overland route predicted that weather conditions (especially winter conditions) along the route would cause delays for the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. Perhaps to avoid an unsettling beginning to their new enterprise, Russell, Majors, and Waddell decided to the start the Pony Express in the springtime. Despite the springtime start, the first rider from Sacramento to St. Joseph encountered four-foot-deep snow in crossing the Sierra Nevada, and it looked as though adverse weather conditions would defeat the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. from the outset. Fortunately for the rider, a narrow mule-path created by pack-trains on their way from California to the Washoe mines opened the way for him. The rider was delayed by only a few hours, indicating to many that the Pony Express could conquer the critics of the central overland route.”
“Before starting, the bullwhackers were divided into messes of five or six men each, one of whom served as cook. The others took care of his oxen for him. Each was expected to have a ‘chip sack’ attached to the side of his wagon into which he tossed buffalo chips or other fuel which came his way during the day. Equipment for cooking was simple and limited to a pot or two, a skillet, a coffeepot, and a Dutch oven for baking bread. Each man had an iron knife, spoon, fork, tin cup, and a plate which he washed and scrubbed with sand after each meal.”
Mile 1716: Ruby Valley
“Ruby Valley is a half-way house, about 300 miles from Great Salt Lake City, and at the same distance from Carson Valley. It derives its name from the small precious stones which are found like nuggets of gold in the crevices of primitive rock. . . .
“We were received at the Ruby-Valley Station by Colonel Rogers, better known as ‘Uncle Billy.’ He had served in the troublous days of California as marshal, and has many a hairbreadth escape to relate.”
Note: The location on the XP route map seems to be off. Proper link (according to Expedition Utah and as noted in the POI on the XP Route map) is https://goo.gl/maps/x3zLsuKguS4LQAqaA.
“‘Bacon was the r e l i a b l e meat,’ and flap jacks, beans, crackers, and sour dough fried in a skillet and flooded with molasses was the most regular menu for the cook’s ‘guests.’ . . .
“The breakfast menu varied to the extent of having coffee, and fried bacon sandwiched between thick cornmeal bread covered with syrup.”
Mile 937: Rock Avenue
“We left Poison Spider about the middle of the morning, heading for the next landmark, Rock Avenue. It proved satisfyingly true to its advanced advertising—a hideous stretch of deformed rock strata bursting jaggedly from the torn earth—and formed a real point of interest for the travelers in the midst of the sprawling sage-studded grayness. We left the car to look it over. A pushing wind flowed like swift, deep, warm water across the plateau. Its force on the west side of the upthrust points of rock was surprising. It was difficult to walk or even breathe when facing it. . . .
From Rock Avenue the wagons rumbled down a steep pitch into a six-mile stretch of intermittent alkaline puddles and swamps. The animals were thirsty, and this hodgepodge of impossible water was torture. Steaming marshes alternated with pestilent pits of semifluid that shook and smelled like spoiled neat jelly. Mineral springs of complicated parentage comprised salt, soda, and sulphur exuded warm and indescribable odors. Some, if undisturbed, lay clear and brandy-colored. The loose stock got into these and often died as a result, although the antidotes for alkali poison had the merit of being simple. Gobs of bacon pushed down the gullet with a blunt stick and swigs of vinegar saved many—temporarily at least, for these weakened cattle fell easy victims to the rarified air of the mountains just ahead.”
[N.B. Rock Avenue seems to run between miles 937 and 938. More info and description of the are is here.]
Mile 1382: Dugout/Joes Dugout/Joe Butchers Station
“In conjunction with the Express and stage operation, Joseph Dorton operated a small grocery store. Clients were generally the soldiers from Camp Floyd. He also built a two-room brick home and log barn and provided a dugout for an Indian boy helper. Besides well water (Photo 16), water was hauled from Utah Lake and sold for twenty-five cents per bucket. Use of the station after 1861 is unknown. It may have continued in use as a stage station.
Mile 1544: Route Alternate
Just before Mile 1544, Pleasant Valley Road splits off the XP Route (Hwy 2/White Pine County Road 32) to the south. Shortly after, it crosses a jeep trail (marked on the US Topo Scans and ESRI views) that leads past an XP Marker off the XP Route. By following this route, and a later detour off the route, this road leads to the Tippet Ranch, where there is water available. This is roughly a 10-mile variation on the official route.
Protecting Oxens' Feet
“[In the Black Hills of Wyoming], Lydia Waters wrote: ‘ The hoofs of the cattle became so worn they had to be shod. Now the amateur blacksmiths had to show their skill. George became quite proficient shoeing both horses and oxen—To shoe the cattle a trench the length of the animal and the width of the shovel was dug. The animal was then thrown and rolled over so that its backbone lay in the trench and all four legs were up in the air. In this position it was helpless and the shoes were nailed on readily.’ In very bad cases protectors made of buffalo hide were tied clear up over the hoofs like bags. Even dogs had leather moccasins. A few owners hardened their animals’ hoofs with alcohol and omitted the footwear.”
Climate West of South Pass
“The climate in this part, as indeed every where between the South Pass and the Great Salt Lake Valley, was an exaggeration of the Italian, with hot days, cool nights, and an incomparable purity and tenuity [thinness] of atmosphere.”
“The vehicle was known simply as a ‘wagon’ or a ‘farm wagon,’ and was designated as ‘one-horse’ or ‘two-horse,’ though such description was retrospective, and in the actual journey the wagons were not pulled by horses and and always by more than one or two animals. In addition, the term ‘light’ was generally applied to both sizes of wagons. Such vehicles could carry a ton or more, but three-fourths of a ton was considered enough of a load to start with. Even the romantic name ‘prairie schooner’—almost never used by the emigrants themselves—makes the analogy not with a big three-master, but with a small, maneuverable, and almost homelike vessel. . . .
“At length, the wagons reached ‘the coast of Nebraska.’ Many people have taken this to be a figure of speech continuing the frequent analogy between the prairies and the sea, and such people have ben like to wax eloquent at the thought of the ‘prairie schooners’ approaching the coast. But the phrase is a translation of the French le côte de la Nebraska, in which ‘Nebraska‘ serves as an alternate name for Platte, and ‘côte’ is a term to indicate a line of bluffs along a stream.”
[N.B. For a reference to sighting the “Coast of Nebraska,” see Paden, The Wake of the Prairie Schooner, p. 81]
Freighters on Sighting Indians
“We had not been molested by Indians so far. We had met parties of twenty or thirty at diff erent times, but had been cautious. When they came riding near us, we would double up our train and prepare for them, and they would soon ride away apparently friendly. . . .
Monday morning we moved on. In the afternoon we saw quite a large party of Indians riding toward us. The boss stopped the head team and commenced to corral. The extra men came charging back, ordering us to corral as quickly as possible, for the Indians were coming upon us. Every man hurried his team up, and we got them corralled with the cattle inside. Then every man got his gun, and got inside the corral, ready for them, except Rennick and the mounted men.
But before the Indians got to us they began to slow up. They came up and appeared friendly. Whether it was because we were so well prepared for them or not, we never knew. They chatted awhile with the boss and rode off.”
Political Duties of the Army
“While Stationed at Cottonwood Springs, the post commander had some assumed political duties, and among others he had to act as Justice of the Peace. . . .
“Major O’Brien, the Post Commander, was a good lawyer, and had practiced law, and he knew how to get at things quickly, and knew how far he ought to go. . . .
“The commanding General of our military district, Gen. R. B. Mitchell, of whom I have spoken, was a good lawyer himself, and his adjutant was John Pratt, of Boston, a most accomplished gentleman, also a lawyer. The General made headquarters at Fort Kearney instead of Omaha (as his predecessor had done), and he was very anxious that justice should be dispensed through his district, and that civilized methods should prevail. Although there were no civil officers, General Mitchell worked out the whole scheme through military instrumentalities in very good shape. From time to time he instructed his subordinate post commanders how to carry on their civil functions, and protect life and property. He was a great stickler for protecting property, and if some pilgrim stole a saddle or a lariat, it was his theory that the man should be arrested, and punished, even if a soldier had to chase the man for two weeks and it cost the Government $1,000. Hence it was, that our duties were civil as well as military, and we were obliged to briefly report all civil infractions, decisions and punishment.
Rebuilding Fort Bridger
For a long time [after the Utah War] the troops maintained an uncertain tenancy at Jim Bridger’s old trading post . . . naturally much building was necessary; and, with the fade-out of hostilities, timber was brought in from the Uinta Mountains, and barracks, officers’ quarters, guardhouse, etc., were all constructed around and about a large square parade ground through which flowed one of the most beautiful of the tiny channels of Blacks Forks. Far to one side of these were the stables, used later by the Pony Express. It is the back wall of these stables that the modern traveler sees as he rockets by on the highway. It will richly pay him to stop and go in.
California Gold and the Civil War
“It is a question whether the United States could have stood the shock of the great rebellion of 1861 had the California gold discovery not been made. Bankers and business men of New York in 1864 did not hesitate to admit that but for the gold of California, which monthly poured its five or six millions into that financial center, the bottom would have dropped out of everything. These timely arrivals so strengthened the nerves of trade and stimulated business as to enable the Government to sell its bonds at a time when its credit was its life-blood and the main reliance by which to feed, clothe and maintain its armies …. The hand of Providence so plainly seen in the discovery of gold is no less manifest in the time chosen for its accomplishment.”
Mormon Handcart Migration
“‘We cannot afford to purchase wagons and teams as in times past, I am consequently thrown back to my old plan—to make hand-carts, and let the emigration foot it, and draw upon them the necessary supplies . . . ‘ Brigham Young wrote [late in 1855].”
The view of the Pawnee as a treacherous and predatory people was inculcated in the 1840s with the publication of Fremont’s journals and Hastings’s and Ware’s guidebooks for emigrants. In reality, the Pawnee were less a threat to the migrants than a nuisance, and, while retaining the largely false image of hostility, they earned an added reputation as thieves and beggars. This disparaging reputation persisted into the settlement era.
Mile 777: Bitter Cottonwood Station
“Mystery and murder at Bitter Cottonwood Station in Wyoming!
Pony Express station keepers did not lead an easy life. For most, danger lurked around every corner. And sometimes it came from unexpected sources, such as what happened in eastern Wyoming.
Hod Russell was the station keeper at Bitter Cottonwood station. Like most keepers, he purchased meat from local hunters to keep the station stocked for Pony Express Riders. One of these hunters was Bob Jennings, who hunted for six Pony Express Stations in eastern Wyoming. For reasons now lost to history, Jennings killed Hod Russell. Was there an argument that got heated? Was there dispute over prices and/or goods? Did the two just not like each other, or did Russell do something to provoke the attack? We will never know- Jennings was convicted and hanged for the crime in 1865.”
First Wagons Across the Sierra Nevada
“The first wagons were probably taken across the Sierra Nevada by the Stevens party of 1843. This expedition is of great importance to trail history, for it definitely pioneered and opened the most difficult stretch of the California Trail.”
[N.B. Moody incorrectly places the Stevens-Moody party in 1843. The party emigrated in 1844. John Unruh, The Plains Across, p. 17]
A Dramatic Gesture
“The Post Office Department’s greatest prize—the $600,000-a-year contract held by John Butterfield’s rival California mail operation—still had nearly five years to run. But Russell sensed that opposition to Butterfield’s ‘ox bow’ route was mounting because of its length as well as its southern location. He also sensed that George Chorpenning’s mail contract from Salt Lake to California, which paid $130,00 a year, might be vulnerable. Russell further surmised that his existing stagecoach lines to Denver and Salt Lake City, by themselves, wouldn’t persuade the Post Office Department to cancel Butterfield’s California mail contract and turn it over to Russell. What was needed was some dramatic gesture that would seize the imagination of the public and politicians alike.”
Mark Twain Meets Jack Slade
“The exact time of their [Mark Twain and Jack Slade] meeting has been pinpointed to the morning of August 2, 1861, at Rocky Ridge–two stations east of South Pass.”
“As at St. Joe and in the west bottoms the emigrants had been pestered by ‘dirty looking redskins’ looking for handouts. These were the more shiftless members of the Kickapoo, Sac and Fox tribes who had been settled on the west bank of the Missouri River in the early 1840s. West of Mosquito Creek these tribesmen had more clothing and fewer lice, and their begging assumed more sophisticated forms, of which Lucius Fairchild’s experience was typical: ‘We met two Indians one a Sac and the other a Fox both chiefs with a paper from the Indian Agent saying that these Indians complained of the emigrants burning timber and requested all to pay them something so we gave them half a dollar which satisfied them.’ In 1852 several indignant travelers mentioned the levying of tribute at the rate of 25¢ per team just to cross the reservation.’The tariff,’ wrote Jay Green, ‘Idid refuse to pay as I thought it a skeem of speculation got up by the Indian Agent.'”
Slade's Ravenswood Home
“The Slades lived at the Virginia City Hotel until their first home, a frame house, was completed at Ravenswood, and they ate at the hotel and the Chinese restaurant. Kiskadden often made it a dinner trio, and after the Slades were settled at Ravenswood, where they lived only briefly, he often rode his horse out in the valley to be as dinner guest of his old friend and his striking, brunette wife.”
Mile 395: Cozad, NE
“In 1879 the explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell, later the director of the U.S. Geological Survey, established the 100th meridian as the “moisture line,” often locally called the ‘dry line,’ separating the relatively fertile plains of eastern Nebraska and the arid scrub country to the west. (In Nebraska, an average of twenty-two to twenty-eight inches of rain falls annually east of the 100th meridian; twelve to sixteen inches falls to the west.) Revisions to the Homesteading Act under Theodore Roosevelt—a pro-rancher Republican—allowed settlers west of the 100th meridian to claim a full section of 640 acres instead of the original 160 acres, because the drier land was so much less productive, and this is one reason why eastern Nebraska is cropped, and western Nebraska is mostly cattle country In nearby Cozad there is a historical marker on Route 30 at the 100th meridian, where the Oregon Trail, the Pony Express route, the transcontinental Union Pacific, the Lincoln Highway, and modern interstate Route 80 intersect. The Concord coaches of the Central California & Pikes Peak Express Company, later the Overland Mail Company, ran nearby.”
[Note: Cozad is north of the XP Trail at about Mile 395. The monuments referred to appear to be along a loop of Meridian Avenue that runs just south of Hwy 30, Between Meridian and F Street. There is also a 100th Meridian museum (https://www.cozadhistory.org) and Willow Creek Pony Express Station in Cozad City Park (9th and F Streets).]
“The commerce of the world, the Occidental Press had assured me, is undergoing its grand climacteric: the resources of India and the nearer orient are now well-nigh cleared of ‘loot,’ and our sons, if they would walk in the paths of their papas, must look to Cipangri and the parts about Cathay for their annexations.”
Caches Disguised as Graves
“In 1849 Capt. Stansbury found one marked grave which, ‘instead of containing the mortal remains of a human being, had been a safe receptacle for divers casks of brandy.’ J.G. Bruff understood also that ‘the emigrants had many semblances of graves, which were actually caches of goods.’ He describes one such ‘quondam grave’ which ‘some cute chaps had opened up and emptied.'”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“Ten miles beyond Ford No. 9, hilly miles, ending in a long champaign having some of the characteristics of a rolling prairie . . . led us to the South Pass, the great Wasserscheide between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the frontier points between the territory of Nebraska and the State of Oregon. . . .
“The last part of the ascent is so gentle that it is difficult to distinguish the exact point where the versant lies : a stony band crossing the road on the ridge of the table-land is pointed out as the place, and the position has been fixed at N. lat. 48 19′, and W. long. 108 40′. The northern limit is the noble chain of Les Montagnes Eocheuses, which goes by the name of the Wind River; the southern is called Table Mountain, an insignificant mass of low hills.
A pass it is not : it has some of the features of Thermopylge or the Gorge of Killiecrankie ; of the European St. Bernard or Simplon; of the Alleghany Passes or of the Mexican Barrancas. It is not, as it sounds, a ghaut between lofty mountains, or, as the traveler may expect, a giant gateway, opening through Cyclopean walls of beetling rocks that rise in forbidding grandeur as he passes onward to the Western continent. And yet the word ‘Pass’ has its significancy. In that New World where Nature has worked upon the largest scale, where every feature of scenery, river and lake, swamp and forest, prairie and mountain, dwarf their congeners in the old hemisphere, this majestic level-topped bluff, the highest steppe of the continent, upon whose iron surface there is space enough for the armies of the globe to march over, is the grandest and the most appropriate of avenues.
A water-shed is always exciting to the traveler. What shall I say of this, where, on the topmost point of American travel, you drink within a hundred yards of the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans—that divides the ‘doorways of the west wind from the ‘portals of the sunrise? . . .
It is a suggestive spot, this ‘divortia aquarum:’ it compels Memory to revive past scenes before plunging into the mysterious ‘Lands of the Hereafter,’ which lie before and beneath the feet. The Great Ferry, which steam has now bridged, the palisaded banks of the Hudson, the soft and sunny scenery of the Ohio, and the kingly course of the Upper Mississippi, the terrible beauty of Niagara, and the marvels of that chain of inland seas which winds its watery way from Ontario to Superior; the rich pasture-lands of the North, the plantations of the semi-tropical South, and the broad cornfields of the West; finally, the vast meadow-land and the gloomy desert-waste of sage and saleratus, of clay and mauvaise terre, of red butte and tawny rock, all pass before the mind in rapid array ere they are ihrust into oblivion by the excitement of a new departure.”
The Politics of Mail Service to California
“Like every political question in America in the late 1850s, mail service to California was eclipsed by the slavery question. Although Americans in California, Oregon, and Utah repeatedly pleaded for better mail service, Congressmen couldn’t agree on a transcontinental mail route. Northerners and southerners each insisted on a route through their respective sections in anticipation of the very real prospect that the Union would split. Their stalemate, meanwhile, encouraged another prospect: that without reliable mail, California itself would split off from the Union.”
Mile 1285: Weber/Echo/Bromleys/Hanging Rock Station
“James E. Bromley, division superintendent for the run from Pacific Springs Wyoming to Salt Lake City, settled at the mouth of Echo Canyon in 1854. He did not obtain a cash entry patent, however, until June 20, 1874 (Cert. No. 1127). It is reported that the station house, built at the base of Pulpit Rock, had rock walls 26 inches thick. The authors disagree. Located on the Pete Clark property, in Echo, Figure 7, the visible remains of the foundation of the station house have been located and mapped by the authors. The walls average thickness is much less. The facilities of Weber Station provided the services of a general store, inn, saloon, blacksmith shop and jail. A hotel was built later. . . .
“About two miles west of Weber Station, the mail was transported across Forney’s Bridge on the Weber River. The bridge was constructed prior to June 1858. From this location, the Express riders traveled up Bachelors Canyon to the top of Dixie Hollow. When the crossing was unsafe or the canyons were snowed in, the rider could go on down the valley to the Brimville Emergency Station or Henneforville (SW1/4SE1/4 Sec. 4, T. 3 N., R. 4 E. now Henefer) and around by Little East Canyon to Dixie Hollow. The pioneer immigrants came part way down Dixie Hollow, turned right, crossed the ridge, and then went south into East Canyon. By the time of the Express, the road was built all the way down the hollow to just south of where it opens into East Canyon. The 1858 wagon route map of J. H. Simpson shows East Canyon Creek to be Snyder’s Creek.”
[Note: Bachelor Canyon, now South Henefer Road, runs into private property someplace south of Henefer]
Mile 655: Chimney Rock Landmark
“Chimney Rock was the most famous of all the landmarks on the Great Platte Road. This is not idle rhetoric. . . . Chimney Rock is mentioned of described in 97 percent of [known emigrant journals and guidebooks]. The nearest competitor is Scott’s Bluff, with a figure of 77 per cent. Then comes Independence Rock with 65 per cent, South Pass, 51 per cent, the Court House, 46 per cent, and Ash Hollow, 44 per cent.”
Ports of the Prairie Sea
“Based somewhat on geographical factors but also on the enterprise of the local merchants, the ports of the prairie sea tended to specialize. Kansas City had a practical monopoly of the New Mexico-Chihuahua trade.Leavenworth had the greater part of the Colorado trade, though sharing it with Atchison. The latter town specialized in the Salt Lake trade.”
Traffic on the Platte River Route
“Intermingled with the westering cavalcade of the Great Migration was the shuttle-weave of stagecoaches, freighting trains, mail wagons, fur trade caravans. U.S. Army troops, supply trains, and dispatch riders. There were also occasionally large numbers of cattle and sheep, herded westward to Utah or California markets, and sometimes a horse herd from California to Missouri.
As to emigrant outfits, there were some strange contraptions among the orthodox covered wagons and infrequent packers. Not uncommon on the north side, or Council Bluffs Road, were the Mormon handcart expeditions. . . . In contrast . . . some affluent emigrants [were noted] traveling up the California Road in horse-drawn carriages . . . Perhaps the strangest spectacle in all the procession was the funeral cortege, led by William Keil, that went all the way from Missouri to Oregon with a casket in which were embalmed the mortal remains of his son Willie.”
Hell on Women and Horses
“It was in the West, in consequence, that women had the greatest status.”‘ Both Smith and Bird have borrowed their views from Arthur Calhoun, with whose opinions, in matters of American family history, one has always to contend.
The frontier helped to liberalize the American family . . .Women stood by their husbands’ side and fought for life and little ones against human and other foes. Ladies whose husbands lost everything threw aside ease and luxury and fared boldly into the far West where they endured without complaint toils, danger, sickness and loneliness. Reciprocity in the marriage relation was the logical consequence where woman bore a man’s share in the struggle for existence.
This was hardly the assessment of contemporaries. Emigrant women, in their own evaluation, came much closer to the of the frontier aphorism; “This country is all right for mendogs, but it’s hell on women and horses.” Perhaps not everyone joined in that consensus, but male and female opinion on the question of the status of women conjoined in curious but revealing manner.”
“[Alexander] Majors issued to each man a Bible or Testament, which led to their being nicknamed ‘Bible-backs.'”
Organizing the Pony Express Line
“Ficklin, meanwhile, set about reorganizing the line for the coming Pony Express. The stagecoach route—previously divided into three stagecoach divisions between st. Joseph and Salt Lake City—was now reorganized into five divisions between the Missouri River and Sacramento, each run by a division agent. These five men Ficklin charged with the awesome task of constructing and supplying 190 stations spaced at intervals of 10 or 12 miles—the distance a horse could travel at maximum speed without collapsing—building and repairing the necessary roads, purchasing five hundred of the best horses money could buy, and hiring eighty riders, as well as station keepers and stock tenders—all this within sixty-five days, in the dead of winter.”
Mile 27: Valley Home
“The next settlement, Valley Home, was reached at 6 P.M. Here the long wave of the ocean land broke into shorter seas, and for the first time that day we saw stones, locally called rocks (a Western term embracing every thing between a pebble and a boulder), the produce of nullahs and ravines.”
Mile 48: Kennekuk Station
“After Mosquito Creek the toiling caravans passed, in staging days, an important home station called at first Kickapoo Agency and later Kennekuk Station in honor of chief Kennekuk of the Kickapoo. The military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney joined the Oregon Trail at Kennekuk, and all travelers proceeded together to Wolf Creek where they camped. They found here a rude log bridge floored with poles guarded by the Sac and Fox Indians, and toll was collected by friendly but firm braves who looked (so one woman wrote) ten feet high. The very moderate price was twenty-five cents. Every one used the bridge and begrudged the money verbosely in his or her diary.
Nearby was the old stone mission to the Kickapoo, which cold be seen for miles in all directions and was surrounded by cultivated farm lands. Many of the emigrants blamed their vanished coin on the business acumen of the white missionaries; but others, watching the imperturbable Sac and Fox playing cards in the intervals of collecting two-bit pieces, figured that they were quite capable of thinking it up for themselves.”
[N.B. According to the NPS, “A granite stone west of the marker and across the road indicates the site of the relay station. The stone memorial marker is one-and-one-half miles southeast of present-day Horton, Kansas.” One source located that site on Road 326, between Cheyenne and Chautauqua Roads. To get there from the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail, you’d need to turn off the Trail and onto Cheyenne Road just before Mile 46.]
Growth of Trading Forts
“In 1840 Fort William [at the confluence of the Platte and Laramie Rivers], operated by the American Fur Company, was the lone American enterprise near the trails.
The next year, there were three. One, Fort Platte, still clearly reflected the fur-trade era . . . Constructed within two miles of Fort William, [Fort Platte] specialized in dispensing illicit whiskey to facilitate Indian trading. In response to this challenge, the American Fur Company promptly commenced a new adobe fort to replace the deteriorating Fort William. The proprietors designated the new structure Fort John but almost everyone called it Fort Laramie, by which name it became famous. The third post begun in 1841, Fort Bridger, was the first definite response to the emerging era of overland travel.”
Like the Ascent of Capitol Hill
“Though scattered references to easy passage over the Rockies had been appearing in newspapers for the previous decade, it was explorer John C. Frémont who ignited the South Pass enthusiasm when he explained how the traveler could go through the pass without any “toilsome ascents,” and compared it to the “ascent of the Capitol hill from the avenue, at Washington.”
Mile 1695: Bates's/ Butte/ Robber's Roost Station
“While the Shoshonee is tracking and driving the old mare, we will glance around the “Robber’s Roost,” which will answer for a study of the Western man’s home.
It is about as civilized as the Galway shanty, or the normal dwelling-place in Central Equatorial Africa. A cabin fronting east and west, long walls thirty feet, with port-holes for windows, short ditto fifteen; material, sandstone and bog ironstone slabs compacted with mud, the whole roofed with split cedar trunks, reposing on horizontals which rested on perpendiculars. Behind the house a corral of rails planted in the ground ; the inclosed space a mass of earth, and a mere shed in one corner the only shelter. Outside the door the hingeless and lockless backboard of a wagon, bearing the wounds of bullets and resting on lintels and staples, which also had formed parts of locomotives, a slab acting stepping-stone over a mass of soppy black soil strewed with ashes, gobs of meat offals, and other delicacies. On the right hand a load of wood; on the left a tank formed by damming a dirty pool which had flowed through a corral behind the “Roost.” There was a regular line of drip distilling from the caked and hollowed snow which toppled from the thick thatch above the cedar braces.
The inside reflected the outside. The length was divided by two perpendiculars, the southernmost of which, assisted by a halfway canvas partition, cut the hut into unequal parts. Behind it were two bunks for four men : standing bedsteads of poles planted in the ground, as in Australia and Unyamwezi, and covered with piles of ragged blankets. Beneath the frame-work were heaps of rubbish, saddles, cloths, harness, and straps, sacks of wheat, oats, meal, and potatoes, defended from the ground by underlying logs, and dogs nestled where they found room. The floor, which also frequently represented bedstead, was rough, uneven earth, neither tamped nor swept, and the fine end of a spring oozing through the western wall kept part of it in a state of eternal mud. A redeeming point was the fireplace, which occupied half of the northern short wall: it might have belonged to Guy of Warwick’s great hall; its ingle nooks boasted dimensions which one connects with an idea of hospitality and jollity; while a long hook hanging down it spoke of the bouillon-pot, and the iron oven of hot rolls. Nothing could be more simple than the furniture. The chairs were either posts mounted on four legs spread out for a base, or three-legged stools with reniform seats. The tables were rough-dressed planks, two feet by two, on rickety trestles. One stood in the centre for feeding purposes; the other was placed as buffet in the corner near the fire, with eating apparatus tin coffee-pot and gamelles, rough knives, “pitchforks,” and pewter spoons. The walls were pegged to support spurs and pistols, whips, gloves, and leggins. Over the door, in a niche, stood a broken coffee-mill, for which a flat stone did duty. Near the entrance, on a broad shelf raised about a foot from the ground, lay a tin skillet and its “dipper.” Soap was supplied by a handful of gravel, and evaporation was expected to act towel. Under the board was a pail of water with a floating can, which enabled the inmates to supply the drainage of everlasting chaws. There was no sign of Bible, Shakspeare, or Milton; a Holywell-Street romance or two was the only attempt at literature. En revanche, weapons of the flesh, rifles, guns, and pistols, lay and hung all about the house, carelessly stowed as usual, and tools were not wanting hammers, large borers, axe, saw, and chisel.”
Sand and Alkali
“This report of the eyes is a fact of which I have spoken before. The incessant wind which blew upon the plains, and kept the sand and alkali in circulation, affected the eyes of the men, and there were constantly some of the men who were unable to do much until their eyes were well; and this was so general a matter that all of the ranches kept large spectacles or goggles to sell to the ‘pilgrims,’ and we had a lot in our company to be used by the men when they felt that they were beginning to suffer.”
Oxen on the Trail
Oxen gathered their living entirely from the prairie. Feed had to be transported for horses and mules, but cattle would become stronger and fatter during a summer spent on the trail . They might come out of the winter ‘poor and scrawny,’ but would return t o it ‘fat and hearty’ at the close of the freighting season. If driven properly, oxen would travel 2,000 miles during one season, or an equivalent of making two round trips to Denver from the Missouri River. “
Conquest of Sonoma
“Later, Frémont claimed that he gave the orders for the capture of Sonoma. He thereby outraged some of its conquerors. They acused him of wanting to hog the glory after refusing to take the risk – if any. No matter: thirty-three strong now and including William Todd, the nephew of Mrs. Abraham Lincoln, the American revoltionaries reached Sonoma before dawn on June 14. In the reports which Senator Benton was to trumpet to an admiring nation the town figured as a fortified, garrisoned, and formidably armed presidio. That is what Old Bullion gathered about it from his son-in-law’s letter, but Sonoma was a tiny little cluster of adobe houses and could have been captured by Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. The conquerors found General Vallejo asleep.”
“Titonwan (Teton, ‘Village of the Prairies’), inhabiting the trans-Missourian prairies, and extending westward to the dividing ridge between the Little Missouri and Powder River, and thence south on a line near the 106 meridian. They constitute more than one half of the whole Dakotah nation.”
Mile 1140: Green River
“The Green River is the Rio Verde of the Spaniards, who named it from its timbered shores and grassy islets: it is called by the Yuta Indians Piya Ogwe, or the Great Water; by the other tribes Sitskidiagi, or ‘Prairie-grouse River.’ It was nearly at its lowest when we saw it; the breadth was not more than 330 feet. In the flood-time it widens to 800 feet, and the depth increases from three to six. During the inundation season a ferry is necessary, and when transit is certain the owner sometimes nets $500 a week, which is not unfrequently squandered in a day. The banks are in places thirty feet high, and the bottom may average three miles from side to side. It is a swift-flowing stream, running as if it had no time to lose, and truly it has a long way to go. Its length, volume, and direction entitle it to the honor of being called the head water of the great Rio Colorado, or Colored River, a larger and more important stream than even the Columbia.”
Corralling the Wagon Train
“In coralling the train the lead wagon and half the others were stopped at the right-hand of the camp site in the form of a half circle. The middle wagon swung to the left, and with the remainder behind it formed the other half. In a few minutes the corral was formed with the teams on the inside. By this simple device the train was converted into a closure into which the oxen could be driven when the time came to start again. . . . When far out on upon the plains the corral also served as an excellent means of defense against possible Indian attacks. If necessary the oxen cold be driven inside and the opening at each end closed. Under this arrangement a train could withstand a long siege against vastly superior forces.”
Freight Wagon Dust
“On a clear still day the clouds of dust stirred up by the moving wagons could be seen ‘twenty miles away,’ and there was heard when the wind favored “the pop-popping of the bullwhips for a good two miles. There is a record of one freighter in 1866 that trains, when on a hard trail, could be heard while “three or four miles away.”
Pony Express Schedule
“On paper, the scheduled time from St. Joseph to Fort Kearney to be thirty-four hours; to Salt Lake, 124 hours, to Sacramento, 234 hours. Including a six-hour railroad trip from there to San francisco, a message telegraphed from New York to St. Joseph could reach San Francisco in 240 hours—that is, exactly ten days later.”
Chorpenning's Pony Express
“He [George Chorpenning] projected end put into operation the first ‘Pony Express’ that ever crossed the country, and in December, 1858, delivered President Buchanan’s annual message through to California in seventeen days eight and a half hours. It was this then wonderful feat, and the running through of coaches weekly in thirty days, that demonstrated the practicability of overland communication, and brought, for the first time, Mr. Chorpenning and the great importance of his work before the public.”
“The wise freighter would send or take with his train several extra cattle. In case of lameness or accident to an animal on a team an extra would be used and no delay on the trail was occasioned. An entire cattle train would number from 320 t o 330 animals, including extras.”
Waiting at Ham's Fork
“We passed the Rattlesnake Hills [or Granite Mountains] and Sweetwater Mountains and crossed the Rookies at South Pass.
We drove on the west slope of the mountains till we reached Dry Sandy Creek. Here we had poor water and heavy, sandy roads, and our cattle were getting weak from the long journey. It was slow traveling down this stream, and we would have to double our teams to get through the sandy streaks.
We went from here on down Big Sandy Creek, and across to Green River near where Granger now is.
We had quite a hard time in crossing this stream.
Here we found a sort of trading post, and they had farmed a little. Rennick found some potatoes here and bought some. They were the first vegetables we had had since leaving Leavenworth, and it was a treat to us all.
Here we laid over, as we were in no hurry now. Colonel Van Vliet had gone into Salt Lake City, and Brigham Young refused to allow the soldiers and their supply trains to enter the city. The Mormons had an armed force stationed along the road out, nearly to old Fort Bridger, one hundred miles from Salt Lake City, and they were building fortifications to keep the government trains out. There were twenty-five hundred armed Mormons stationed along this road.
Colonel Van Vliet came back, and when he met the first train, ordered them to turn back to Ham’s Fork and stop till further orders. He left part of his escort with them, exchanged part of his mules, and rode back to Fort Laramie as fast as he could, changing mules at each train and ordering each train to stop at Ham’s Fork.
We were twenty-six miles from the Fork when he met us.
We rested here a while, then drove in and camped near the other trains. There were four trains ahead of us.
There was a fine camping place with plenty of good water and fine grass for our cattle.
Other trains kept coming in every day or two.”
Longest Infantry March in History
“Ira J. Willis was one of the volunteers who made up the Mormon Battalion. With him went his brother, Sidney Willis. The two traveled to California with the battalion, thus making what is conceded to be the longest infantry march in recorded history.”
Dry Season on the Platte
“From Fort Kearney, for many miles up, there was no water in the river. The water seemed to be in The underflow. We not infrequently rode down to the river, and with shovels dug watering-places in the sand of the bed. We always found permanent water within eighteen inches of the top, no matter how dry the sand on top appeared to be. We were told that 75 miles of the river were then dry, and that generally about 125 miles of it were dry in the dryest season. At Frenches ranch the water began to appear on the surface in the shape of damp places and little pools.”
Rivers in the Great Basin
Scattter a few dozen stubby pencils onto a table. Turn each one in place so it points generally north or south. These are the mountain ranges of the
Great Basin. Tempt an ant to find a path westward through the pencils. The ant wanders this way and that, finding a route around the ends of the pencils. This is the meandering westerly route of the Humboldt River, nosing its way west around the ends of the ranges for 350 miles before pooling up in the Humboldt Sink, about 20 miles south of present Lovelock, Nevada. There it dies, swallowed up by thirsty ground and dry air.
The idea that a river could simply end in the desert was an astonishing notion for many emigrants. Hailing mostly from the rainy East and Midwest, these people knew how a proper river should behave. A river got bigger downstream, swelled by the contributions of its tributaries. The Humboldt does the opposite. The river flows west into progressively hotter, drier country. As its tributaries dry up, and as the ground and air continually rob it of water, the river gradually shrinks and becomes more murky and saline. “The stream,” Lewis Beers observed, “begins to grow smaller as fast as we descend . . . towards its mouth or rather towards the place where it runs itself into the ground.”
“As has been said, in 1855, General W. S. Harney, who, whatever may be his faults as a diplomatist, is the most dreaded ‘Minahaska’ in the Indian country, punished the Brulés severely at Ash Hollow . . .
“‘Longknife.’ The whites have enjoyed this title since 1758, when Captain Gibson cut off with his sabre the head of Little Eagle, the great Mingo or Chief, and won the title of Big-Knife Warrior. Savages in America as well as Africa who ignore the sword always look upon that weapon with horror. The Sioux call the Americans Wasichi, or bad men.”
Dogs on the Trail
“The ordinary [emigrant] party was accompanied by a number of dogs. Some of these were pets, and others were valuable for hunting and herding and keeping watch at night. But in addition to these well-trained animals there were the worthless curs, fighting, yapping, and snapping, pestering the cattle and horses by day, and keeping people awake at night with senseless barking and howling. Dogs were often the cause of quarrels among the people, and one company tried to outlaw dogs entirely, decreeing that they should be shot.”
Sound on the Goose
“In those early days there was no law in the city, not even a Vigilance Committee, and the sporting fraternity, holding all together, and being well armed, ruled without question. They were all ‘Sound on the goose,’ or in other words, strong pro-slavery men, and their misdeeds notwithstanding, were in a measure popular with the rest of the community.”
Little Blue Telegraph
“The Little Blue had a telegraph style of its own. Wrote G.A. Smith, ‘Thousands of names are written on trees by emigrants.’ Benjamin Gatton found not only trees ‘skinned and written upon, giving names of individuals and companies,’ but ‘all trees near the road covered with cards, some of paper and some of boards.’ B.R. Biddle was constantly passing by notices written on paper, elk horn, and boards, ‘so that we are appraised of all going on ahead of us.’ Gatton said that these informal ‘postoffices, as they are called, we found at all the crossings.'”
Women's Trail Diaries
“Another important distinction to be made in Overland Trail narrative – almost as significant as that between diary and memoir – is that between narratives written by men and those written by women. When we do read detailed and sensitive descriptions of Western topography, they are likely to have been written by women. Not that females had, particularly, more leisure time than men in which to write their fuller accounts of the trail. Rather, they were, in general, better educated and more inclined as well as better able to depict their experiences in writing. Such also were the observations of Sandra Myers (University of Texas, Arlington) who was at the Huntington Library during the summer of 1979, researching and writing a book on women on the Overland Trail.
Linguist Ann Stewart, examining trail narratives for a forthcoming book on the Western contribution of speech to American English, found the men’s narratives much more interesting than the women’s. The men’s idiosyncratic spelling and folksy syntax give far better clues to the spoken speech of the time; words were spelled the way they sounded to the writer, giving the skilled phonologist a good idea of how the writer spoke. But the women are usually of little help this way; they respect conventions of grammar and spelling. “
Horses Come to the Plains Tribes
“It is generally accepted by anthropologists that these herds originated from the horses lost or abandoned by De Soto about . 1541. Whether they came from De Soto’s horses, or from those of Coronado, or from other explorers is not material; . we know that the Kiowa and Missouri Indians were mounted by 1682; the Pawnee, by 1700; the Comanche, by 1714; the Plains Cree and Arikara, by 1738; the Assiriboin, Crow, Mandan, Snake, and Teton, by 1742; and the most northern tribe, the Sarsi, by 1784. How much earlier these Indians rode horses we do not know; but we can say that the dispersion of horses which began in 1541 was completed over the Plains area by 1784. This dispersion proceeded from south 1b north and occurred in the seventeenth and eizhteenth /centuries. At the same time, horse culture spread in the region east of the Mississippi and west of the Rocky Mountains, but in both cases it was restricted, never developing to any extent north of Virginia or the Ohio on the east, or north of California on the west. In the spread of the horse and horse culture through the whole Plains area, as contrasted with its partial spread both to the east and to the west, we have another example of the cultural unity of the Plains.”
Rebuilding the Nevada Stations
“[After Indian raids destroyed stations along the Pony Express route in May 1860] William W. Finney, the San Francisco company agent, acted as quickly as possible in the crisis. . . . With contributions raised from San Francisco and Sacramento (both cities that had a vested interest in the continued operation of the Pony Express), Finney outfitted and supplied a force of volunteers to secure the stations. During the first week of June, with a company of a twenty or so “well armed” and “tried” men, Finney set out eastward toward Salt Lake City. . . .
While Finney approached from the west, a similar effort was made from Camp Floyd, Utah Territory, going westward. . . .
By the end of June, the two groups completed their mission and met at Sand Springs Station. Afterwards, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. placed at each station along this portion of the route five additional men, who rebuilt and guarded the corrals and stations. They used stone and adobe materials, where available, to fortify the facilities. . . .
[The new] “fortress” stations in the Nevada desert ’60 feet square, with stone walls eight feet high, being designed to serve as forts when necessary.””
The Slade of Western Kansas
“[Wild Bill Hickok] had won considerable notoriety for ‘killing a man,’ having been a Government scout in the Arkansas valley during the war, while along the line of railroad he was known as ‘the Slade of western Kansas.’”
Basin and Range
“The termination Farallon Plate subduction probably made the Basin and Range.
As North America closed like a sliding trapdoor over the Farallon plate, the plate did not go quietly into the mantle night. It raged and raged, first searing vast tracts of the West with fiery volcanic clouds and then stretching the crust to make the Basin and Range. The plate’s death throes began about 43 million years ago, as it started to peel away fromthe base of the North American Plate to end the flat subduction episode that hoisted the Foreland Ranges. Restoring itself to normal subduction mode, the Farallon Plate began once again to crank out magma. The result was a maelstrom of volcanism that would rival even that of the later calderas of the Snake River Plain-to-Yellowstone tract. Between 43 and 21 million years ago, calderas opened fire all across what would become the Basin and Range. Incandescent clouds of volcanic ash incinerated the landscape—and every living thing on it—time and again before settling, crackling hot, to weld into layers of volcanic tuff. You can see these tuff layers today stacked up hundreds of feet thick throughout the ranges of the Basin and Range, painting the mountainsides with lovely bands of pink, ochre, and gold.”
Mile 890: Deer Creek Ferry
“From the time that the wagons left the Black Hills behind until they had either crossed the North Platte or had been bested in the attempt, the emigration was really functioning on all sixteen cylinders. Progress was faster, and the sure-footed oxen were urged to more miles per bushel as the wagon masters speeded up for the ferries.
They encountered the first doddering specimen near Deer Creek [present-day Glenrock] . . . It was a poor affair, too small for its burdens, creaking and rheumatic. It staggered painfully across troubled waters broken out in an eczema of froth and foam, but the travelers were incomprehensibly optimistic. They either inserted themselves, complete with vehicles, into the confines of the river, or dared the dirty gray flood in their own, just calked wagon. . . .
“C.A. Kirkpatrick arrived at the mouth of Deer Creek in June of ’49 and was horrified at the setup. ‘Already within our hearing today,’ he wrote, ‘twelve men have found a watery grave while crossing with their stock and effects; and yet this makes no impression on the survivors. . . .
It was a commonly accepted premise among the emigrants that the well-to-do trains ignored the Deer Creek ferry and, trekking two more days upstream, crossed at the Mormon or Upper Ferry. Sometimes large and efficient companies built their own rafts, afterward leaving them behind for general use; and yet, at the peak of the traffic, wagons poured so fast along the overlnd road that there was a complete stoppage of two or three days at any ferry with a hundred or so wagons and their attendant stock around each landing place. No wonder, with the grass gone and a score of dead cattle lying here and there to greet the newcomers, that worried captains took a chance on ferrying in their wagon beds.”
“It was not the river alone which demanded its pound of flesh. ‘The Elephant’—that fantastic name for the heaped-up terror of the trail—took its share as well. the horror of cholera, fear of Indians, dread of the deserts and quicksands, dangerous currents, and precipitous bluffs—these did terrible things to a man’s nervous system. Add the gradual wearing down of resistance through overexertion and lack of proper diet, and the deadening, hardening effect of the constant sight of agony—deserted and dying animals, bereft wives and orphaned children, men with shattered outfits unable to care for their families, illness without medicine, amputations without anesthetics—it sickened a man to the very soul.
All this apprehension of suffering, and then its terrible realization, which was what the Argonauts jestingly called ‘seeing the elephant,’ brought out the latent tendencies in any man—unsuspected nobility or lurking meanness. If nobility, then its display was always welcome (and all too often unnoticed). If violence, then even hard-bitten Argonauts sometimes stood aghast at its display.”
Indian Difficulties in the mid-1860s
“Overland staging had met some Indian difficulties previously, but not until the sixties did these become chronic. The isolated depredations of the fifties were but preliminaries of the general uprisings of the middle sixties.”
Mile 1573: Spring Valley Station
“The keeper of . . . Spring Valley was Constant Dubail, a Frenchman. It was here that Elijah N. Wilson was wounded in the head by an arrow. . . .
“In September  Elijah N. Wilson was sent along the line from Schell Creek to Antelope station with a number of horses. He made the trip safely, delivered his charges, and started back the next day. When he reached Spring Valley station he found two young men who invited him to stay for dinner.
“Wilson accepted the invitation and turned his horse loose, thinking it would go to the stable in the corral. Instead it joined some others which were grazing behind the station. A short time later they saw Indians driving all of the horses across a meadow toward a cedar grove a short distance away. They ran after the thieves on foot, but the animals entered the trees before they could be overtaken. As he ran, Wilson fired his revolver, but without effect. Having outdistanced his companions he entered the cedars ahead of them.
“As he ran around a large one, an arrow struck him in the forehead about two inches above the left eye and lodged there. He fell to the ground unconscious. The young men came up and did what they could for him. When they tried to pull the arrow out the shaft came loose leaving the point stuck in his forehead. The Indians got away with all the horses.
“Being certain Wilson would die the young men rolled him into the shade of the cedar and set out for the next station on foot. On the following day they came back with some men to bury him. Finding him still alive they carried him into the station and a messenger was sent to Ruby Valley, a full days ride each way, for a doctor. Upon his arrival he removed the arrow point but there was little else he could do. He cold the young men to keep a wet rag on the wound and went back. For six days Wilson lay fighting for his life with only such rude nursing as his friends could give him.
“No doubt he would have died had not Howard Egan come along, possibly on his way back to Sale Lake City. The Division Superintendent took one look at him, then sent a rider post haste to Ruby Valley to bring the doctor back. For twelve days longer Wilson lay in a stupor, hovering between life and death. Then to everyone’s delight he began to mend. In a short time he was able to ride again. The wound left such an unsightly scar upon his forehead chat ever after he wore his hat outdoors and indoors to hide it.”
[Note: The Pony Express National Historical Study, and all reports based on it, state that Elijah N. “Uncle Nick” Wilson died as a result of his wound.]
“Having been the mainstay of the Indian for generations, the buffalo, at the last of their career, made one outstanding contribution to the white race. Practically speaking, they made emigration possible. It is hard to see how the overland journey could have been successful in the early years without them. In the Platte Valley, just where herds were thickest, there was a stretch of two hundred miles without one stick of timber—no dry grass, no sage, no anything that would serve as fuel except buffalo chips. Often nearly white with years of exposure, dry to handle, and light as feathers, this age-old deposit of the herds burned like charcoal with little blaze and less smoke. It boiled the night guard’s coffee, warmed the baby’s milk, heartened them all with hot meals night and morning. It was of such importance to the domestic economy of the emigrants that the canny mules learned to pull up and stop hopefully at any spot where the droppings were thick, and even the most finicky of the women vied with one another to collect the driest. . . .
[Emigrants], young and old, carried bags and, no matter what else the did on the long day’s walk, they industriously gathered fuel. Never was manna in the wilderness more truly a godsend than this remarkable substitute for wood, which providentially appeared only where wood was not.”
Lightening the Wagons
“As the emigrants moved up the grade approaching the Rockies, it became obvious that the overloaded wagons had to be lightened, and gradually they discarded materials not essential for survival. Domestic goods, of course, were most easily excluded from the essential category, much to the dismay of the women. “We came across a heavy old fashioned cook stove which some emigrant had hauled all those weary miles mountain and desert, only to discard it at last,” wrote Lavinia Porter. “No doubt some poor forlorn woman was now compelled to do her cooking by the primitive camp fire, perhaps much against her will.” True recalled that by the time hisparty reached the Great Basin all his mother’s camping conveniences had been discarded, greatly adding to her labors and filling her days with anxiety. This anxiety was not only the effect of added work. Books, furniture, knickknacks, chine, daguerreotypes, guitars—the very articles that most helped establish a domestic feel about the camps were the first things be discarded. Lightening the wagons, however necessary, was interpreted by women as a process operating against their interests. In one party a woman “exclaimed over an escritoire of rare workmanship” she had found along the trail “and pitied the poor woman who had to part with it.
“The loss of a sense of home—the inability to ‘keep house’ on the trail—was perhaps the hardest loss to bear, the thing that drove women closest to desperation.”
Mile 1280: Echo City, UT
“Exhibit A is Pulpit Rock, where, so the townspeople told us, Brigham Young stood to preach yo his followers in 1847 on the way to their new home in the Salt Lake Valley.”
[N.B. The historical marker is in the town, less than a mile from the Pony Express marker just before town. Also note, the Pony Express Bikepacking Route left the original Pony Express route around Mile 1232 (just past the Bear River station), and rejoins it in Echo.]
Mile 312: Summit Station
“The trail lay to our left, easily accessible at all times; and on it, near the summit of the ride, the old stages found the last stop before the long waterless drive over to the Platte River. Here stood Summit Station. Perhaps ‘stood’ is not the best word, for the building was only three feet above ground and extended four feet below.”
[N.B. The Pony Express marker is just north of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, on 44 Road (just before Mile 312). Also at this spot is the Susan O’Hale Grave Historical Marker.]
“The 1st of August found us among a range of sand hills which announced our approach to the valley of the Platte. These were a succession of knolls and ridges from thirty to sixty feet high. Amid their defiles our wheels sunk deep in the sand, and we frequently doubled teams in order to get through. From these we came to the broad, level bottom of the river, which was marked by numerous wooded islands. . . .
“Our route was about a mile from the shore, which we were unable to approach nearer on account of numerous ‘sloos,’ as the ‘Pikers’ [Missourians] call marshy creeks, which extended from the river.”
“So I journeyed on, getting over about thirty-five miles a day on an average, and nothing worth recording occurred till Independence, an important town and Indian trading-post on the frontier of Missouri, was reached. There I found the place crowded with Missourians and a goodly sprinkling of men from the Southern States, all full of excitement over the burning question whether the Territory of Kansas, recently opened up for settlement, should be Slave or Free.
The Free State party in the North, managed and worked from Faneuil Hall, Boston, had been sending up men and arms, and had occupied positions defended by light artillery. The Missourians were crossing the river, and volunteers from all the Southern States were marching up to the conflict, which might break out at any moment.
In this scene of seething unrest and wild passion, a stranger was naturally regarded with suspicion until he declared his sympathies. Mine were strongly on the side of the South, and, as soon as I made this known, I was heartily welcomed amongst the ” Border Ruffians,” as the pro-Slavery party was nicknamed by the Free Staters.”
Mile 2126-2148: Pacific House to Placerville
Fifteen miles above Hangtown [Placerville] the teams reached Pacific House, at fourteen, Bullion Bend, where a stage was held up and loot is supposed to be buried; at twelve, Sportsman’s Hall (named from the multitude of card sharks that frequented its tables) where the relay waited for the Pony Express rider on his mad dash. It was the chosen stopping place for teamsters freighting to the Nevada mines and had stable room for several hundred horses. Then they came to Five Mile House and on down to Hangtown Creek with all its water drained out into ditches to feed the big toms.'”
Mile 689: Robidoux Pass
“The river lapped at the very base of Scott’s Bluff. The wagons must go inland. This was the more difficult because the bluff is not an isolated rocky formation, but the end of a line of hills. Several more of less parallel canyons break through, and of these Mitchell’s Pass, used by the highway, is the best and shortest and lies nearest the river; but it was not passable to the early migrations. Probably it was obstructed by fallen rock and debris. Instead the wagons toiled through Robidoux Pass, the next canyon to the south. . . .
Robidoux Canyon or Pass is reached from the town of Gering. One proceeds first over a decided rise and then down into a large circular valley of loose sandy loam. The emigrants’ columns raised storms of dust through which exposure of Scott’s Bluff showed fitfully until they reached the canyon and entered its obscuring walls. The dust was bad for lungs and equally so for eyes. Helen Carpenter’s little dog became entirely blinded and caused her mistress some bad hours by getting lost in the billowing clouds that smothered the teams. Many stated that they suffered more acutely from eyestrain and from cracked and bleeding lips than from any other cause.
Graves grew thick and thicker.They were no longer approached on paths worn smooth by enquiring emigrants who trudged up from the road to read the crude marker and learn who lay below. Now the travelers were too intent upon their own discomfort to bother . . . And still the westbound families camped near and, unless the smell was offensive, even on the graves in stoical disinterest.
The diarists raved about the distant beauty of Scott’s Bluff. It gave off romance in practically visible emanations, but they seldom mention being comfortable there.”
“The Indian women at the squaw camp were catching these grasshoppers, roasting them, drying them, and pounding them up into meal to make bread of during the winter. The Indians seemed to be anxious to utilize all the grasshoppers they could catch, and they made up a great many hundred pounds of them. There was also a berry which grew on the bushes along the broken lands which was called the ‘buffalo-berry,’ not unlike a cherry; these the Indian women usually gathered, and put into parfleches. These berries had a sort of tart flavor something like a cranberry. The Indian women gathered these berries and put them away for winter by the thousand pounds, and it was said that the berries were taken out as good as when they were put in. They did not become dry. I was told that they also mixed with them in the parfleches the fat from deer, antelope and buffalo, and ate the combined fat and berries during the winter. A parfleche was a half-tanned hide of some animal, with the hair all taken off and the inside scoured or scraped down smooth.”
Women on the Plains
“Since practically this whole study has been devoted to the men, they will receive scant attention here. The Great Plains in the early period was strictly a man’s country – more of a man’s country than any other portion of the frontier. Men loved the Plains, or at least those who stayed there did. There was zest to the life, adventure in the air, freedom from restraint; men developed a hardihood which made them insensible to the hardships and lack of refinements. But what of the women? Most of the evidence, such as it is, reveals that the Plains repelled the women as they attracted the men. There was too much of the unknown, too few of the things they loved. If we could get at the truth we should doubtless find that many a family was stopped on the edge of the timber by women who refused to go farther. A student relates that his family migrated from the East to Missouri with a view of going farther into the West, and that when the women caught sight of the Plains they refused to go farther, and the family turned south and settled in the edge of the timbered country, where the children still reside. That family is significant.
Literature is filled with women’s fear and distrust of the Plains. It is all expressed in Beret Hansa’s pathetic exclamation, “Why, there isn’t even a thing that one can hide behind!” No privacy, no friendly tree-nothing but earth, sky, grass, and wind. The loneliness which women endured on the Great Plains must have been such as to crush the soul, provided one did not meet the isolation with an adventurous spirit. The woman who said that she could always tell by sunup whether she should have company during the day is an example. If in the early morning she could detect a cloud of dust, she knew that visitors were coming! Exaggeration, no doubt, but suggestive. The early conditions on the Plains precluded the little luxuries that women love and that are so necessary to them. Imagine a sensitive woman set down on an arid plain to live in a dugout or a pole pen with a dirt floor, without furniture, music, or pictures, with the bare necessities of life! No trees or shrubbery or flowers, little water, plenty of sand and high wind. The wind alone drove some to the verge of insanity and caused others to migrate in time to avert the tragedy. The few women in the cattle kingdom led a lonely life, but one that was not without its compensations. The women were few ; and every man was a self-appointed protector of women who participated in the adventures of the men and escaped much of the drabness and misery of farm life. The life of the farm woman was intolerable, unutterably lonely. If one may judge by fiction, one must conclude that the Plains exerted a peculiarly appalling effect on women. Does this fiction reflect a truth or is it merely the imagining of the authors? One who has lived on the Plains, especially in the pioneer period, must realize that there is much truth in the fiction. The wind, the sand, the drought, the unmitigated sun, and the boundless expanse of a horizon on which danced fantastic images conjured up by the mirages, seemed to overwhelm the women with a sense of desolation, insecurity, and futility, which they did not feel when surrounded with hills and green trees. Who can tell us how the Great Plains affected women, and why?
Midpoint Between the Missouri River and Fort Laramie
“Fort Kearny was the true beginning of the Great Platte River Road, for it was here that various trail strands joined to become one grand highway for the western migrations. . . . Fort Kearny was recognized as the port of call of the Nebraska Coast, the end of the shakedown cruise across the prairie and the beginning of the voyage across the perilous ocean of the Great Plains, a place to pause and reflect, to recuperate, to reorganize, to get your bearings. For the fainthearted it was a good opportunity to change their minds, make a 180-degree turn, and go back where they came from before they became committed to California and later, somewhere out in the Great American Desert, reached the point of no return. . . .
Fort Kearny and the head of Grand Island were nearly synonymous in terms of general location. They were both reckoned at midpoint between St. Joe (the number one jumping-off point on the Missouri River) and Fort Laramie, at a distance of some 600 miles plus. As to the merits of the fort’s location, many elements were considered other than the equidistance from the Missouri River to Fort Laramie, the relative proximity of the 100th meridian (the theoretical dividing line between prairie and plains), or the quantity of timber on Grand Island.
Stagecoaches on Sled Runners
“During the previous winter  the company tried sled runners, the Leavenworth Conservative of February 8 asserting: ‘The Pike’s Peak Express Company made the lost trip from Denver to Leavenworth on runners the whole distance. We believe this bas never been done before.”’
Mile 284: Elm Creek Stage Station Marker
At the stage station marker look west across the small valley of Thirty-Two Mile Creek to the pasture and you will see several parallel swales climbing west out of the valley. Low angle light of early morning or late afternoon places these swales in shadow and they are easier to see. Light snows will make the swales stand out and during a thaw following deeper snows, snow will linger in the swales and one can see them clearly enough to count. Binoculars would be helpful as the “swales” are a half mile distant. This area must have been one of the tougher pulls of the Little Blue/Platte Valley trail segment. The first problem was the steep descent down into the valley. The brake mechanisms on the wagons were not very effective and the weight of the wagons would have pushed hard on the oxen. They could have run a pole through the rear wheels to provide additional braking action. Crossing the creek would have required the first wagon travelers of the season to dig ramps on both banks and perhaps to double team. Re-digging the ramps would be required after periods of high water. Once the pull out of the little valley was accomplished, the going was smooth until the crossing of the West Branch of Thirty-Two Mile Creek. Elm Creek Station was built by the Holladay Stage Line as a replacement for the Lone Tree Station which was burned during the Indian Raid of 1864. The marker was erected by ACHS in 1973. The granite stone came from the foundation of the old Hastings Post Office.
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/egZgmwcawHKbqtF5A.
Mile 1478: Fish Springs/Smith Springs/Fresh Springs Station
“J.H. Simpson placed two mail stations in this area: the one at Fish Springs first used by Chorpenning and another about three and one-quarter miles north at Warm Springs. The station at Warm Springs was apparently abandoned because of bad water.
“The original Chorpenning trail went south and west from Blackrock to where the salt-mud desert could be traversed. The trail then turned north to Fish Springs and passed Devil’s Hole, a local landmark. Later a better route was constructed across the flats on much the same route as the present road. This new route was used by the Express, stage and telegraph. From Fish Springs the Express rider would go over the pass just southwest of the station site, making the distance to Boyd’s Station about nine miles. The stage freight, telegraph and Express (in bad weather) went around the north end of the Fish Springs Range making the trip about 14 miles. Through the years, Fish Springs, being about half-way between Rush Valley and Deep Creek, became a very prominent stop. In the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, John Thomas established a ranch near the station site and continued to serve the public. The Thomas Ranch buildings were torn down in the 1930’s and today only a foundation remains to mark the location of the ranch house. The site is located on the Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.
[Note: Pony Express Trail seems to be the shortcut through the pass. It starts just past Mile 1480. Rideable?]
Mile 1795: Route Alternate
At the Pony Express Monument marked on the XP Route map just past Mile 1794, there are two possible routes.
The first turns southwest and heads more or less straight to Robert’s Station. The distance is about 10 miles. This is the route followed by the official XP Bikepacking Route and marked on the BLM route of the Pony Express Trail (around Mile 67–https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34091538). This is the route the Simpson Expedition took (Jesse G. Petersen, A Route for the Overland Stage, p. 61).
Jan’s “True as accessible” route at Mile 1676 (https://ridewithgps.com/routes/34516845?privacy_code=ESM1W5E3dAJJhaEI) continues straight at this point (northwest on Highway 278 through Garden Pass Canyon) to go north over Mt. Hope before turning southwest to Robert’s Station. This route is 14 miles, and seems to include more climbs than the southern route. It also may offer access to numerous springs, as yet unscouted. This route is marked on the US Topo map as the Pony Express Route.
If Burton’s mileage estimates are reasonably accurate, the historical route seems to go north around Mt. Hope.
Cross Moonshine [Diamond] Valley. After 7 miles a sulphurous spring and grass [future site of Sulphur Springs Station?]. Twelve miles beyond ascend the divide [Sulphur Springs Ridge, according to Peterson]; no water; fuel and bunch-grass plentiful. Then a long divide. After 9 miles, the station on Roberts’ Creek, at the E. end of Sheawit, or Roberts’ Springs Valley [Kobeh Valley]. 28 Miles
Richard Burton, The City of Saints, p. 512
Lexicon: “Simpson indicated that the natives of the area called the stream She-o-wi-te, which he understood to mean Willow Creek, and that is what he decided to call the stream.” It later came to be known as Roberts Creek, after Bolivar Roberts (Jesse G. Petersen, A Route for the Overland Stage, p. 62).
“Hard work had begun to tell upon the temper of the party. The judge, who ever preferred monologue to dialogue, aweary of the rolling prairies and barren plains, the bald and rocky ridges, the muddy flats, saleratus ponds, and sandy wastes, sighed monotonously for the woodland shades and the rustling of living leaves near his Pennsylyanian home. The marshal, with true Afiglo-American impetuosity, could not endure Paddy Kennedy’s ‘slow and shyure’ style of travel; and after a colloquy, in which the holiest of words were freely used as adjectives, participles, and exclamations, offered to fight him by way of quickening his pace.”
Mile 1235-1311: Henefer to Mountain Dell station
“Beyond [Henefer Creek’s] headwaters, the great wagons rolled and thundered through Pratt’s Pass on the summit of a low divide.Down another steep hill the wagons pitched while all hands and the cook held back on ropes and on the wheels; along the bed of the tiny streamlet, crossing and crisscrossing it for two or three miles down to East Canyon with its steep watercourse known variously as Canyon, east canyon, or kenyon Creek. Here they really learned the meaning of ‘trouble.’
Small shallow East Canyon Creek had to be forded ten or more times; the trail was crooked beyond reason and think with amputated willow stubs, testimony to the herculean task accomplished by the Reed-Donner party in forcing a passage through mountains at this point in 1846. The Mormons, traveling in their footsteps a year later, accomplished the thirty-five mile trek from Weber River to Salt Lake Valley in three days; but they recorded that it took the Donner party sixteen days of hard labor to win through the valley. For years the cut willow stubs remained, and the animals baptized them with blood from torn hoofs and gashed legs.
From East Canyon the trail led up a ravine worn down by a narrow and precipitous creek full of bottomless mire and huge boulders ‘over which mules and wagon wheels had to be pulled or lifted constantly.’ . . .
When they reached the top of this four-mile climb the wagons were at the highest elevation of the entire journey so far, and about two thousand feet above the point where they had entered East Canyon. Here, on the fir-crowned summit of Big Mountain, the migrating Mormon columns had their first view of the promised land.
A mile and a half down, and down. No animals were left on on the wagons but the faithful wheelers remaining to hold up the tongues. Every available man held back on a rope. By ’49 the timber had been cut for the building of Salt Lake City and the caravans twisted here and there between the jagged stumps down to a small, sheltered hollow known as Mountain Dell. It was a lovely meadow, but miry. The wagons often celebrated their return to the horizontal by stalling in the mud with promptness and precision, and the tired travelers, admitting that they were sunk, gave it up for the day, camped, and fought mosquitoes.”
“There was no greater crime than to steal a man’s horse, to set him afoot. It was like stealing the sailor’s ship or the wings of the bird. There were no extenuating circumstances , and little time for explanation or prayer. The penalty was death. The cow thief was not nearly so bad in public estimation. A cow was mere property, but a horse was life itself to the plainsman. The code of the West made a strange distinction, one that the East has not understood, between a cow and a maverick. A cow that bore a brand was the private property of the man whose brand it bore; a maverick was public property and belonged to the man that branded it, just as the buffalo hide belonged to the one that killed the buffalo. The fact that the maverick was the calf of the branded cow did not affect the situation very much, especially in the early days. There were few cattlemen who did not brand mavericks; but no cattleman considered himself a thief for having done so.”
Lansford Hastings’ bright, deluded mind was a-boil. He was fresh from helping John Bidwell lay out a theoretical town called Sutterville, which could use buyers. He was the local representative of an even gaudier speculation in real estate. California was ripe to the sickle . . . and rich with rumors. Castro was going to revolt against Pico. Pico was going to make war on Castro. Mexico was going to order all foreigners out. Mexico was going to expropriate the lands it had granted to Americans. Mexico was going to sell California to England – to France – to Russia – in order to prevent the United States from seizing it on the outbreak of war. Great Britain was going to occupy California to use it as a counterweight in the Oregon controversy. Vallejo was going to turn it over to the United States, Pico to England, Castro to France, Prince Henry of Spain was to rule over it. . . . And ten thousand Mormons were coming, either at Sutter’s invitation or in defiance of hirn (and in some rumors at the instigation of Hastings himself), to settle at New Helvetia. And a great, a vast emigration was even now gathering on the Missouri – so vaguely vast that it was pulling Hastings’ mind to the upper strata of fantasy.”
“Tired out and cramped with cold, we were torpid with what the Bedouin calls El Bakl—la Ragle du Désert, when part of the brain sleeps while the rest is wide awake.”
“To make the exhausted oxen pull, some of these drivers would not stop short of breaking a tail, staving in a rib, or even gouging out an eye. I grew sick at their heartless doings, but was powerless to avert them. The thousands of carcasses of oxen which lined our trail showed how hard was their usage.”
Mile 1086: Parting of the Ways
“About 18 miles after travelers on the Oregon Trail crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass, they reached a junction known now as the Parting of the Ways. The right fork went west toward Fort Hall in present southern Idaho, while the left continued southwest toward Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City. The Fort Hall route was a cutoff, opened in 1844. It saved about 46 miles and two and a half days’ travel, but only by crossing a waterless, sagebrush desert.”
[Reported by Jan Bennett in the Bike the Pony Express group, 10/10/19]
Ants on the Prairie
“[Ant] mounds were like inverted mild pans, six to eight feet across and six inches high, and often hels a fair amount of Indian beads about the size of tiny pebbles ordinarily used in the construction of their underground cities, and much easier to carry.
These anthills were an invaluable asset to the plainsman. I quote an inelegant but informative paragraph from ‘The Overland Stage to California:’ ‘It is a notorious fact that many of the overland stage drivers and stock tenders, between three and four decades ago, were inhabited by a species of vermin known as pediculus vestimenti, but on the plains more vulgarly known as “gray-backs.” During the hot weather of midsummer, when the vermin were rapidly multiplying, it was the custom of the boys at the station to take their underclothing and blankets in the morning, spread them out on an ant-hill, and get them late in the afternoon.’ The ants, it seems, solicitously searched out and killed the last socially unmentionable insect. This polite atention, plus the intense sunning thrown in for good measure, constituted the dry cleaning of the plains.”
Mile 312: Sand Hill/Gravesite Markers
The Nebraska Historical Marker explaining the Susan Haile story was erected by the Kenesaw Centennial Committee and the Nebraska State Historical Society. The smaller marker is inscribed, “In Search of Pony Express Station Marker. Sand Hill.” It was dedicated June 8, 2002, by James Stretesky, Adams County Bank, Dorlene and Vern Hunt, Family of Leonard Osler, Pony Express Trails Association, and Joe Nardone, Historian.
The XP Bikepacking Route notes a marker for the Sand Hill Station at the intersection of West 70th Street and 44 Road (Denman Ave) (approximately Mile 312.5). Google Street view puts the marker just north of the XP Route on 44 Road at https://goo.gl/maps/s1h7axVuwxib3HeR6.
Mile 1285: Henefer, UT
“For anyone riding through Utah, be forewarned that the c-store in Henefer is currently dead. There is an ice cream shop attached to it where they’ll refill your bottles.”
[N.B. the note refers to Grump’s Grocery Store, noted on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.]
Slade's Last Christmas
“the story of Slade’s last Christmas, in 1863, was one of disappointment and worry for his wife, according to certain chroniclers, and this Yuletide account sounds very plausible. Virginia planned a festive Christmas party for her husband and young Jemmy, to which Jim Kiskadden and several of Slade’s friends were invited. Her best linen was immaculate; the dinnerware shone. She had trimmed a pine tree with strings of popcorn and festooned with chains of colored paper, and she hung balls of cotton, sprinkled with irridescent powder, on the boughs.”
Mile 1741: Diamond Springs Station
The station site and the Pony Express Monument are in separate locations.
The site is at https://goo.gl/maps/6ecT5eFvKsvLdtXM9. In satellite view, it appears there is a cutoff from the XP Trail just before the trail turns south to Thompson Ranch (at the west end of Telegraph canyon).
According to the US Topo map, the monument is located by the Thompson Ranch approximately at the POI water icon. (“There is a brass Pony Express centennial plaque mounted in a stone and concrete monument near the ranch house just one mile south of the actual station site.”)
One author (Hill, p.222) states (without citation) that Diamond Springs served as a gathering place during the Pauite War.
“Taylor spent a week at Point Isabel building the earthworks he should have finished a month before, then, on May 7, started back to relieve the fort. His West Pointers begged him not to take the massive train, which could be brought up later in complete safety, but he had no patience with textbook soldiers … Well, what did he have? A sound principle: attack. A less valuable one which was to serve him just as well in this war: never retreat. Total ignorance of the art of war. And an instinct, if not for command, at least for leadership. He had been hardened in years of petty frontier duty, he had no nerves and nothing recognizable as intelligence, he was afraid of nothing, and he was too unimaginative to know when he was being licked, which was fortunate since he did not know how to maneuver troops. Add to this a dislike of military forms and procedures and a taste for old clothes and you have a predestinate candidate for the Presidency. The army and even some of the West Pointers worshiped him.”
The South Platte Ford
“The ford at the South Fork was fearsome-looking. The river was reported at different times as anywhere from six hundred yards to a mile and a half in width. To enter the water was like taking your wagon out to sea. Besides, an article of faith among the emigrants was that any wagon which became stalled in the crossing would be swallowed up by quicksand. (Just how they knew this to be true is hard to discover, since there is no record of any wagon ever having been so swallowed.)”
Lodissa Frizell's Last Entry
“‘We are hardly half way. I felt tired and weary. O the luxury of a house, a house! I felt what some one expressed who had traveled this long & tedious journey that, “it tries the soul.” I would have given all my interest in California, to have been seated around my own fireside surrounded by friend & relation. That this journey is tiresome, no one will doubt, that it is perilous, the death of many testify and the heart has a thousand misgivings and the mind is tortured with anxiety, & often as I passed the fresh made graves, I have glanced at the sideboards of the waggon [sic], not knowing how soon it might serve as a coffin for some of us; but thanks for the kind care of Providence we were favored more than some others.'”
Mail to Salt Lake City
“From 1847 to 1850, mail communication between Salt Lake Valley and the outside world was by private, more or less haphazard, methods. . . .For about two years eastbound mail was committed to some trustworthy person who was probably making the journey across the plains for some other reason, and any westbound mail was picked up in Council Bluffs, St. Joseph, or Independence under the same arrangement. . . .
From the first day of settlement in salt Lake Valley, inside pressure among Mormons for regular means of communication with the East and the world was very great. The very nature of things made it inevitable. The pioneers of 1847, most of whom were Americans, wanted to maintain contact with relatives and friends back home. And what was equally important, the church had perfected a worldwide organization and had missionaries not only in the States but also in Europe. Contact with them had to be maintained. As a result of their work a stream of immigrants poured across the Plains at almost all seasons of the year, all of whom wished to keep in touch with that part of the world from whence they came.”
Replacing Animals With Humans
“The [handcart] system resulted in the largest loss of life in the three decades of overland wagon travel on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails, killing in its first year at least five times as many men, women, and children as perished with the Donner party. Ultimately, it was a system that replaced draft animals with human beings and put ‘a few dollars . . . in competition with the lives of human beings.'”
Placerville Becomes the Western Terminus
“On July 1 , Placerville became the western terminus for the Pony Express.”
“The country from Fort Carney [Kearney] for four hundred miles up the Platte river valley and back from the high bluffs, that skirted the river on either side, was one vast rolling plain with no vegetation except a coarse luxuriant growth of grass in the valley near the river and beyond the bluffs; in spots that were not bare grew the prickly pear, and a short crisp grass of lightish color and of two varieties—the bunch and buffalo grasses—which were very nutritious, as the cattle thrived and grew fat on them.”
“It was a rare diarist or letter writer who did not at least once term some phenomenon ‘romantic,’ or ‘the greatest natural curiosity’ ever seen. Most of all, the emigrants viewed the West as larger than life; it was with superlatives that the overlanders reported the West to their countrymen and the world.
The scenery was the grandest they had ever seen, the trees the tallest, the natural roads the finest, the water the best, the grass the most luxuriant, the wind the strongest, the rainstorms the heaviest, the hailstones the largest, the lightning the brightest, the thunder the loudest, the rainbows the most brilliant, the mountains the most spectacular, the grasshoppers the biggest, the meat of the buffalo and the mountain sheep the juiciest, the Indians the handsomest, the rapid temperature changes the most phenomenal—the list is as endless as there were phenomena to describe.”
“As night had closed in, we found some difficulty in choosing a camping-place: at length we pitched upon a prairillon under the lee of a hill, where we had bunch-grass and fuel, but no water. The wind blew sternly through the livelong night, and those who suffered from cramps in cold feet had little to do with the ‘sweet restorer, balmy sleep.'”
[Note: Prairillon: Small prairie, obsolete]
Army of the West on the Plains
“They left the high grass behind and timber with it, so that part of the duty of the soldier was to collect buffalo chips during the last hour of marching. This was another strangeness and some thought the fires stank abominably but others found that they gave a welcome tang to the salt pork and corned beef. So many things were strange: jack rabbits, antelopes, and especially the buffalo, the great legend now gaped at by these rural youths, who tried to hunt it and some times succeeded. The country was unimaginable, plains on a scale they had not dreamed of diminishing one to a dot that seemed to travel on the bottom of a bowl, the vast heave of the swells that seemed like the swells of the ocean they had read about, many miles long. Most of all the sun. Missouri sun is nothing amateurish but the sun of the plains flattened the life in you, filled your eyes with the color of blood, and baked you to the bone with sudden overheated winds and violent dust storms making it worse. The boys kept going and began to stink.”
Daily Freighting Drives
“The first drive in the morning would probably be until ten o’clock, or later, owing to the weather and distance between favorable camping grounds. Cattle were then unyoked and the men got their first meal of the day. The cattle were driven in and yoked for the second drive any time from two to four o’clock, the time of starting being governed by the heat, two drives of about five to seven hours being made each day. The rate of travel was about two miles an hour, or from twenty to twenty-five miles a day, the condition of the roads and the heat governing.”
Origin of the Mormon Battallion
“Just before leaving for the West [January 1846], Brigham Young wrote a letter appointing Jesse C. Little, a Mormon convert living in New Hampshire, to preside over the church’s Eastern States Mission . . .
“[D]uring May 1846, [Little] held church conferences in the major branches of the mission to ‘take into consideration the most expedient measures for the removal and emigration of the saints in the Eastern States to California.’ . . .
“During one of their meetings [between Little and Thomas Kane], Little mentioned that he hoped the government would help them because otherwise they might be forced to seek aid from another country. Kane immediately advised Little that such a threat would be the strongest possible approach in Washington. Because the Mormons were leaving the confines of the United States, they could pose a serious obstacle to the country’s westward expansion if they set up an independent country or joined with either Mexico or Great Britain. The possibility of joining England was heightened by the fact that more than fifteen thousand English had joined the Mormon church by 1846, and of that number almost five thousand had journeyed to Mormon settlements in the United States. . .
“Understandably, the president [Polk] was not eager to alienate a group with over twenty thousand members on the western borders of the country. . . .
“[Polk] wanted a United States force in California before peace negotiations to further the country’s claim to New Mexico and California.
“The battalion provided over $50,000 in cash payments to church members, much of which was used to help the entire church migrate west. . . . Polk was quite candid in his diary about his motives. ‘The main object of taking them into service would be to conciliate them, and prevent them from assuming a hostile attitude towards the U.S. after their arrival in California.”
“A yoke of milch cows was often included in the ox team, led behind the wagon, or driven loose with the extra stock. There are records of favorite cows which gave milk clear to Oregon and to the Humboldt Sink in western Nevada. The cows were milked morning and night. The morning’s supply was placed in a covered bucket and swung behind the wagon. At night, without further ado, it was removed in the shape of sweet buttermilk and butter. The night’s milking was used for the evening meal.”
Marcy Expedition Crossing the Rockies
“Marcy offered the [Ute] chief the value of three horses if he would guide the party to Cochetopa Pass, the only feasible route in miles over the continental divide. But the Indian was adamant, indicating that the white men would die if they tried to cross.
“On the 11th of December the ascent of the western slope of the Rockies was commenced. Soon snow began to impede progress and presently became deeper with a crust on the surface which cut the legs of the mules. Deeper and deeper it grew and the order of march was changed. Instead of having the animals break the trail the men were ordered in front and proceeding in single file, tramped down a path. But despite this solicitude for the animals the poor beasts began to weaken. The bitter pine leaves from the evergreens formed their only sustenance and on this unwholesome forage the famished brutes grew thin, weak, and began to die. Burdens must be lightened if the crossing was to be made, and accordingly, all surplus baggage was cached.
“But still the mules continued to perish. One day five were lost, and on the following morning eight others lay stark and rigid on the mountain side. Not only was the pace being greatly reduced but the food supply of the men was becoming alarmingly small. All the beef cattle had been consumed and the bread supply was very limited. To husband the strength of men and animals Marcy now ordered all baggage discarded except arms and ammunition and one blanket for each man.
“The snow, now four feet deep, was so dry and light that the men when walking upright sank to their waists in the fluffy whiteness. Jim Baker decided to try snow-shoes, but found the snow too loose and powdery to sustain them. In breaking trail through the deepest part the men in front now found it necessary to crawl on their hands and knees to pack the snow so that it would bear up the other men and the animals. The leading man was usually able to go about fifty yards before he became exhausted and dropped out into a rear position.
“Rations had been reduced and finally were exhausted before the summit of the divide was reached. The only food now available to the hungry men was the meat of the famished animals.”
Brigham Young and Zion
Brigham Young was a realist. Texas was out of the question; it was square in the path of empire, and if the Saints could not survive among Illini and Missourians, they had still less chance to survive among Texans. California was no better. The notion of settling at or near the mouth of the Colorado (we shall see Cooke suggesting it to the Mormon Battalion) was considered and rejected. Israel would not be a buffer state between the Americans and the Mexicans, though the idea of maintaining an outpost there seems to have developed very early. By 1846 it was clear that northern California was also a Gentile terminus; a large emigration was preparing for it and anti-Christ in person, ex-Governor Boggs, was going to go there. The golden shore, as either an independent republic or a territory of the United States, was certain to fill up with Israel’s enemies, and this fact was quite clear to Young before the migration started. The two hundred and thirty-eight Mormons who sailed with Sam Brannan in the Brooklyn on February 4, the day when the first ferries crossed to Iowa, expected that the main body of the Church would join them west of the Sierra, and many of the Battalion, who started west six months later, shared that belief. But even before the Brooklyn sailed, Young was thinking of its company as only an outpost – which, in the San Joaquin Valley, is what it became.
It may have been Stephen A. Douglas who initiated the idea of Vancouver Island. That was a politician’s happy solution but Young appears not to have taken it seriously, except that another outpost there would be a good thing and it could be colonized with convert, Pillar of Cloud 9I from the British Isles. (As late as November, ’46, the Church was memorializing the British government for help in establishing such a colony. Nothing came of it.) Douglas shifted and recommended Oregon, which the Saints had considered much more seriously. But Oregon also was impossible – whether as the United States or as the Republic of the West which Daniel Webster and so many others envisioned. Young had rejected it before 1846. Oregon also was square in the path of empire, it had ten times as many Americans as California, five times as large an emigration was preparing to go there in ’46, and it would certainly come under the flag.
Mormon legend has it that when, on July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, weak with mountain fever, came jolting in a white-top over the last summit in the road down Emigration Canyon and gazed over the sagebrush flat toward the Dead Sea, he spoke with the power of revelation and said “This is the place.” Brigham, however, held it irreligious to call upon the Lord until you had first exhausted your own resources. Long before that day he had determined on Great Salt Lake Valley. He had, in fact, decided on that general vicinity sometime in 1845.
Throughout 1845 the destination of the Saints was constantly discussed by the leaders who would have to manage the emigration, and they made the most minute study of the available literature. It is not clear that Fremont’s second report was decisive. They used it with exceeding care to rough out an itinerary, but they could get little more from his account of the Great Salt Lake country than that the lake did not have the mysterious whirlpool which legend attributed to it, that its islands were barren, and that the canyons which ran down to it from the east were well timbered. It seems likely that Young knew more details about Zion by the end of 1845 than Fremont had observed there. Certainly he knew much more by the end of 1846.
It is clear that Young had decided on the Great Basin, rather than Oregon or coastal California, by midsummer of 1845. It was an inevitable decision: there was, in fact, nowhere else to go. Israel could survive only if left to itself long enough for Young to organize and develop its institutions. That meant that it must find a place where the migrating Americans would not be tempted to settle. That, in turn, meant the Great Basin. But also, as Young seems to have understood quite clearly, Israel must be near enough the course of empire to sustain itself by trading with the migration. And that meant the northern portion of the Great Basin. It meant, in fact, one of no more than three places, Bear River Valley, Cache 92 The Year of Decision: 18 46 Valley, and Great Salt Lake Valley. All three places seem to have been in his mind in ’45, and there are still references to Bear River Valley late in the autumn of ’46, but the actual choice proved to be between the other two. Later we shall see the choice being made.
In March of 1846, then, Young and the Apostles knew that Zion was to rise somewhere in the Great Basin. They knew that certainly; they were less clear about the site of Zion and still less certain when they could get there. As late as January 1, 1847, at Winter Quarters, Hosea Stout, who was in the confidence of the Twelve, heard that a pioneer company was to push out from the Niobrara River to the headwaters of the Yellowstone to put in a crop. (Faulty information: crops could not be raised there.) Such a pioneer party, to go , ahead of the Church proper and select Zion and put in crops, was discussed throughout 1845 at Nauvoo, and actual preparations for it were made, in the expectation that it could start late that summer. After the Saints began leaving Sugar Creek in March of ’46, another call for such a party was made. ( Actually the company under the unruly individualist Bishop George Miller did pull ahead of the main body with an intention of going all the way, as we shall see.) But neither Brigham nor his counselors could determine, at the beginning, whether any could cross to the mountains this year, or if any could, how many could be spared. It was the principal question to be answered while Israel toiled through the mud.”
Commencement of the Utah War
“[T]he Mormon War began formally on the 18th of July  with the departure of the Tenth Infantry Regiment from Fort Leavenworth. A day later Phelps’ battery of four six-pounders and two twelve-pound howitzers followed from a camp nearby, and shortly thereafter the weary Fifth Infantry started for Utah. . . . In general they followed the trail familiar to overland pioneers: west from Fort Leavenworth to the Big Blue, north on this river, ad then northwest on the Little Blue, its tributary. The troops finally came to the wide, shallow, and lethargic Platte, the vital highway to the Rocky Mountain country.”
Great Plains and the Balance Between North and South
“The Great Plains presented a barrier which arrested for a time the whole westward movement, but the barrier was greater for the South than for the North. The Northern system, founded in individual ownership of land and free labor, was modified when it entered the Great Plains region, but its essential character was not changed. The Southern system, founded on slavery and cotton, was barred by an infrangible law – bounded on the west by aridity just as effectually as it was on the north by cold. Thus did the Great Plains break the balance between the North and the South and turn the advantage to the Northern section, making its ideals, rather than those of the South, national.”
“[I]n 1845, [journalist John] O’Sullivan wrote another essay titled Annexation in the Democratic Review, in which he first used the phrase manifest destiny. In this article he urged the U.S. to annex the Republic of Texas, not only because Texas desired this, but because it was “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions”. Overcoming Whig opposition, Democrats annexed Texas in 1845. O’Sullivan’s first usage of the phrase “manifest destiny” attracted little attention.
O’Sullivan’s second use of the phrase became extremely influential. On December 27, 1845, in his newspaper the New York Morning News, O’Sullivan addressed the ongoing boundary dispute with Britain. O’Sullivan argued that the United States had the right to claim “the whole of Oregon”:
And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.
Mile 333: Dobeytown
“Two miles to the west [of Fort Kearney] we arrived at the spot where once flourished the hamlet called Dobeytown, a squalid settlement of ‘dobe huts whose very mention was next door to an indelicacy. It was the ordinary type of hell-hole that clung to the fringes of any military reservation and, owing to the fact that Fort Kearney was far toward the western edge of its reserve, the group of mud buildings was within a mile or two of barracks. . . .
In staging days a large reserve stable for work stock was erected at Dobeytown, and the name Kearney City was arbitrarily selected in a vain attempt to throw a veil of respectability over the community. The name never ‘took’ with those who knew the place . . .
The permanent population was about two dozen inhabitants, mainly gamblers, saloonkeepers, and loafers who made a good living by running off emigrants’ stock at night, laying it to the Pawnee, and hiring out to find it the next day. Only the most cast-iron type of hard liquor was available at Dobeytown (as beer and wines were considered an unpardonable waste of hauling space), and the thirsty drivers and crews of the bull-drawn freight wagons were frequently drugged and robbed.
‘There was no law in Dobeytown, or at least none that could be enforced.’ The place was a grisly combination of delerium tremens, stale humanity, and dirt.”
[N.B. A map of the marker location is at https://goo.gl/maps/8o6JMBaeJ96FCMxb8]
Butterfield's Pony Express
“So successful did the Pony Express appear during the first few weeks of operation, that it was rumored as early as April 14, 1860, that the Butterfield Overland Mail Company or Overland Mail Company planned on starting their own horse express to compete with Russell, Majors, and Waddell. Reportedly, the Butterfield express proposed covering the 1,500 miles between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Los Angeles in five or six days, and transmitting telegraph messages between these two points. Not to be outdone, C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. agents confidently promised they would compete by establishing a similar enterprise reaching California in four and a half days, whether or not the telegraph was extended further westward from St. Joseph, Missouri.”
Mile 290: Thirty-Two Mile Creek Stage and Pony Express Station
This location is almost exactly in the center of Adams County and the Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station name indicates the distance to Ft. Kearny. Russell, Majors, and Waddell formed the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express company in 1859 and most likely constructed the Thirty-Two Mile Station that year. Samuel Word kept a diary of his 1863 trip across the plains and the following words are from May 28: “We are now 32 miles from Fort Kearny. Am most anxious to reach Kearny for I expect to hear from home. Have just returned from a ranch close by, where immigrants and settlers to the number of 100 are congregated engaged in a genuine old-fashioned back woods dance. . . . The ranche was about 12 by 14 feet square covered with sod. . . . The house had what it would hold, the rest stood outside. . .many of the men were drunk from rifle whisky sold them by the proprietor of the ranche. His grocery was in one corner of the room. I left them dancing.” (Word in Renschler, 1997)
Ted Stutheit (1987) of Nebraska Game and Parks offers the following description: “. . . consisted of one long, low sod building. In 1860 became a Pony Express Station (Nebraska Pony Express Station No. 10). In 1861 it was a ‘Home’ station for the Overland Stage where hot meals were served to travelers.”
“Thirty-Two Mile Station” is the site of another of the series of way-stations established during 1858 and 1859 along the Oregon Trail to serve the growing numbers of stagecoaches and freighter wagons which were joining the emigrant trains along the great roadway west. Named for its distance from Fort Kearny, Thirty-Two Mile Station never consisted of more than one long, low log-building In 1860 it became a Pony Express Station (Nebraska Pony Express Station No. 10). In 1861 it was a “Home” station for the Overland Stage, where hot meals were served to travelers. The station operated by George A. Comstock was abandoned in August of 1864, its proprietors and visitors fleeing to Fort Kearny for safety, and the Indians subsequently burned the station to the ground. 32 Mile Station, site of Pony Express Station (Nebraska No. 10 — Sec. 6, T.6N, R.10W — Adams County) is now in the middle of a plowed field, just off a county road A small marker at the side of the field commemorates the site. This site is on the National Register of Historic Places as an archeological site.
—The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 5
The location is marked on the XP Bikepacking Route map just before Mile 290.
The Great Plains' Effect on American Institutions
“The purpose of this book is to show how this area, with its three dominant characteristics [plane, or level surface; treeless; sub-humid], affected the various peoples, nations as well as individuals, who came to take and occupy it, and was affected by them; for this land, with the unity given it by its three dominant characteristics, has from the beginning worked its inexorable effect upon nature’s children. The historical truth that becomes apparent in the end is that the Great Plains have bent and molded Anglo-American life, have destroyed traditions, and have influenced institutions in a most singular manner. . . .
As one contrasts the civilization of the Great Plains with that of the eastern timberland, one sees what may be called an institutional fault (comparable to a geological fault) running from middle Texas to Illinois or Dakota, roughly following the ninety-eighth meridian. At this fault the ways of life and of living changed. Practically every institution that was carried across it was either broken and remade or else greatly altered. The ways of travel, the weapons, the method of tilling the soil, the plows and other agricultural implements, and even the laws themselves were modified. When people first crossed this line they did not immediately realize the imperceptible change that had taken place in their environment, nor, more is the tragedy, did they foresee the full consequences which that change was to bring in their own characters and in their modes of life. In the new region – level, timberless, and semi-arid – they were thrown by Mother Necessity into the clutch of new circumstances. Their plight has been stated in this way : east of the Mississippi civilization stood on three legs – land, water, and timber; west of the Mississippi not one but two of these legs were withdrawn, – water and timber, – and civilization was left on one leg – land. It is small wonder that it toppled over in temporary failure.”
“It is an imposing monarch of the forest in exquisite miniature, is the ‘sage-brush.’ Its foliage is a grayish green, and gives that tint to desert and mountain. It smells like our domestic sage, and ‘sage-tea’ made from it tastes like the sage tea which all boys are so well acquainted with. The sagebrush is a singularly hardy plant, and grows right in the midst of deep sand, and among barren rocks, where nothing else in the vegetable world would try to grow, except ‘bunchgrass.’ The sage-bushes grow from three to six or seven feet apart, all over the mountains and deserts of the Far West, clear to the borders of California. There is not a tree of any kind in the deserts, for hundreds of miles—there is no vegetation at all in a regular desert, except the sage-brush and its cousin the ‘greasewood,’ which is so much like the sagebrush that the difference amounts to little. Camp-fires and hot suppers in the deserts would be impossible but for the friendly sage-brush. Its trunk is as large as a boy’s wrist (and from that up to a man’s arm), and its crooked branches are half as large as its trunk—all good, sound, hard wood, very like oak.”
The Role of the Traitor
“The traitor-whose presence will be foregrounded if he exists, and invented if he does not-serves at least two purposes. First, he is a foil created to further heighten the noble or at least invincible character of the hero: only a treacherous shot in the back or a deceitfully planned ambush could defeat James/Bonney /Bass. Open and fair fights always end in the hero’s triumph. And then, his character is further glorified by this contrast with the deceitful adversary. The hero gains stature when he defeats enemies of stature; and he is also raised in our esteem when only “dirty little cowards” can gun him down from behind.”
Conquest of New Mexico
“Late in the afternoon [August 18, 1846] the conquerors were ready. Two subofficials had come out to profess submission and, sending his artillery to a hill that commanded the town, Kearny rode back with them and his staff, the army following in column. Bridles jingled and scabbards clanked in the little, twisting, dirty streets, between the brown adobe houses. There was a low wailing behind shuttered windows where women cowered in terror of the rape and branding which the priests had told them the Americans meant to inflict. Soldiers filed into the Plaza of the Constitution, which has always been the center of the town’s life. The infantry stood at parade rest, the tired horses drooped, in the silence one heard the rustle of cottonwoods and the silver music of the creek. The ranks stiffened and the muskets came to present arms, Kearny and his staff raised their sabers, the bugles blared down those empty streets, and the flag went up. As it touched the top of the staff, the artillery on the hilltop boomed its salute, and for the first time in history the Americans had conquered a foreign capital. And they had done exactly what Mr. Polle had instructed them to do: they had taken New Mexico without firing a shot.”
“Besides the injustice to the manes and memories of the dead, this depreciation of the Indians tends to serious practical evils. Those who see the savage lying drunk about stations, or eaten up with disease, expect to beat him out of the field by merely showing their faces ; they fail, and pay the penalty with their lives an event which occurs every year in some parts of America.”
Indians in Trail Narratives
“The Indians couldn’t win. They were the “best light cavalry in the world” as one army officer praised them, but they had to resort to stealth and the cover of night for their depredations. Pilfering and begging was their way of life, if we are to believe the pioneers. Skillful enough in plains warfare to overcome the horse-and-mule train guard in silence, they were clumsy enough to be spotted at night by Luella Dickenson’s greenhorn husband on guard duty, who crept up on two of them without their knowledge. The Indians in the narratives do seem more like creations of the whites’ expectations and fears than real people; very few of the reported incidents of Indian thieving, violence, and cruelty were actually witnessed by the writer. Always the atrocities occur in the other wagon train, the train “in advance of us,” or in a settlement before the writer’s company arrived. Perception of the Indian seems to have been formed east of the Mississippi, and little that happened west of that river changed the minds of many whites, nor was any experience going to be allowed to interfere with formulations already made. Doctor Wayman is one of the few observers who looked at Indians rather than at The Indian: “this afternoon I visited an Indian village,” he wrote in his diary entry of 21 July 1852, “and bought a good pair of Moccasins. They had 7 skin tents and as many families, in the whole, presenting all specimens from the most dirty ragged and filthy creatures up to some very fine looking men and squaws. These are the most noble looking that we have yet seen[.] They are sharp traders.”
Spread of Army Posts
“By the annexation of New Mexico and the regions to the west as far as the Pacific Ocean [in 1848], the United States shouldered the heavy responsibility of keeping in subjection the fierce tribes who inhabited these areas. This task involved the establishment of permanent military posts with year-round garrisons. By 1849 there were seven of these with troops totaling 987. Ten years later the number of posts had risen to sixteen. Every one, situated as they were in barren regions incapable of supporting them, had to be supplied with goods hauled in wagons from the Missouri River.”
“When a little out of sorts or low-spirited, the old professionals would make things worse by telling what became of the teamsters when they died, that is, in this world; for it is pretty easy to tell where most of the ‘bull-whackers’ went, unless orthodox theology is at fault. These Job’s comforters told how the translated unfortunates were buried in scant roadside graves, in boxes made from the sideboards of their wagons.”
South Pass Geography
“Based on the nature of the modern landscape and its historic significance, South Pass extends west from Independence Rock to the Little Sandy Crossing, 122 miles over the old Oregon Trail or about a hundred-mile flight for a crow. . . .
Early travelers considered themselves in South Pass from the Last Crossing of the Sweetwater River until they reached the west-flowing waters of Pacific Springs west of the summit. Twenty-two miles to the northwest, fur traders (and eventually the Lander Cutoff) used an ancient Indian trail to cross the Continental Divide at a small ridge a few yards east of Little Sandy Creek. The Oregon, Mormon Pioneer, California, and Pony Express National Historic Trails crossed the Continental Divide at the southern edge of the gap in the mountains, just west of the magnificent Oregon Buttes and immediately north of Pacific Butte and the broken country of the Jack Morrow Hills.”
Mile 1421: Point Lookout/Lookout Pass/Jackson's Station
“Originally, Lookout Pass was identified by Simpson as General Johnston’s Pass. The mail contract called it Point Lookout. From the top of the pass one can look west into the desert at what was to become known as Piute Hell. In May 1860, the Pah Ute War began, caused apparently because of white encroachment and depredations. For a short time, the Express was completely shut down (June-July). This ‘war’ was finally settled after the Civil War when soldiers were sent west to quell the Indian uprisings.
“An Egan employee, Fredrick W. Hurst, chronicles a station near the pass as being ‘Jackson’s Station’ in Brush Hollow. By 1876, the survey records show the site to be settled by Horace Rockwell (O.P. Rockwell’s brother) and his wife, Libby (See Figure 20). Reportedly in 1885 and since about 1870, the Rockwells occupied a small log house, possibly the old station house. A small cemetery plot, to the south, with iron railings apparently contains the remains of Rockwell’s pet dogs. No other physical remains can be found at the site.”
Effect of Way Stations on Overland Travel
“The most striking new developments [in overland travel] were prompted by the way station requirements of overland stagecoaching (to Denver and the Pike’s Peak country as well as to Salt Lake City and California) and the Pony Express. When coupled with the rapidity of rural and urban settlement west of the Missouri River, east of the traditional California and Oregon destination points, and on all sides of Salt Lake City, the net result was an overland trip which resembled the pioneering ventures of the early 1840s in name only. For in 1859 and 1860 there were, literally, hundreds of supportive facilities en route. Rarely did the emigrant travel more than twenty-five or thirty miles without encountering at least one habitation. Usually there were more. It made no difference whether the overlander began from St. Joseph and traveled via the overland trail on the south side of the Platte River or whether he launched out from Council Bluffs–Omaha on the north side of the Platte—supportive facilities were everywhere.”
Danger of Younger Braves
“‘I guess a traveler in those days wouldn’t have been found dead here, would he?'” Bill ventured.
“‘No, kid,'” said our informant, “‘not dead probably, because the Kansas Indians didn’t do much killing; but if he happened to meet a bunch of young Pawnee braves out on a prowl, he would sure as fate be left afoot, and mebbe naked, to get back as best he could. That was their idea of a joke.'”
But it wasn’t exactly a joke, even to the Indians. Oh, of course, they enjoyed it as an entertaining and profitable incident, but it was really a matter of business. And that, I have since found out, was why a small party of young braves was more dangerous to encounter than a much larger party under an old chief.
They were trying to establish themselves, both financially and in the matter of prestige. A young Indian had nothing to start with. Emphatically he had to bring home his own bacon in order to give suitable presents to his bride’s father and to set up housekeeping. The regular proceeding was to take it away from some other tribe, but a few lone white men were a bonanza. They had better horses, so that it took fewer animals to make a suitable exchange for a nice young squaw. The warpath, for a young Indian, was almost in the nature of a business venture.
We have never been students of Indian customs and are only giving the point of view of the trail journalists; but there there seems to have been a wide gulf the headstrong young fry, who presumably had no dignity to injure, and the wise men, elders, and chieftains. These latter might demand tribute in person, but they are not commonly reported as coming to beg. They often, it is said, counseled good conduct and moderation in dealing with the Americans, and less often enforced it, and a tribe traveling under the personal supervision of its chief always, in peacetime, much safer to meet than a scattered band of young braves.
“As they travelled more or less along with us, and always camped close, one had an opportunity of observing United States troops a little. I can say but little for them; they were a medley of French, English, Germans, and Irish, the last predominating, and with few native Americans among them. As a rule the army is recruited from the riff-raff of foreigners, too stupid or too indolent to get on by industry; whether from this character of the men, or because the army is thought a poor means of advancement in life, or for both reasons, great contempt is felt for soldiers in the States; if one appears in a town he is watched like a dog given to stealing, and treated like a dog; this, almost necessarily, renders the men worse, and so the ball keeps rolling—action and reaction . . .”
“A full-fledged t r a i n for crossing t h e p l a i n s was made up of twenty-five t o twenty-six wagons, or as sometimes stated twenty-five wagons and one mess. At times there was also a reserve mess wagon. There might be one or more provision wagons, an office wagon, and a workshop wagon. The last named unit was stocked with coils of rope, extra tires, jacks, pulleys, wheels, spokes, iron bars, and very often a small forge. A twenty-five wagon train was called a “bull outfit”. A train of less than this number of wagons was simply an ‘outfit.'”
“On August 22  the Missouri Republican correspondent ‘Nebraska’ told of a fiasco ‘of our last Indian war, in which the chivalry of Missouri, yclepted the Oregon Battalion [out of Fort Kearny], was arrayed on one side, and the squaws, pappooses, and decrepit warriors of the Pawnee nation, on the other.'”
“Directly opposite General Mitchell was Shan-tag-a-lisk, which is translated as ‘Spotted Tail.’ He was the greatest warrior in the Sioux nation, said to be the greatest either past or present. He was said to be able to count twenty-six ‘cooz.’ He belonged to the Brule Sioux. On his right was my friend, ‘Bad Wound.’ On the left were ‘Two Strike,’ and ‘Two Crows,’ and the ‘Big Mandan.'”
Mile 974: Devil's Gate
“Devil’s Gate, a 370′ high, 1500′ long cleft, carved over the centuries by the Sweetwater River, was a major landmark on the Oregon Trail. It provided a pleasant change for weary travelers coming across the rough, dry country from the North Platte River, a four-day trek from the east.”
[Reported by Jan Bennett in the Bike the Pony Express group, 10/18/19]
[N.B. “Devil’s Gate is a narrow cleft carved by the Sweetwater River through a ridge called the Sweetwater Rocks – 370 feet deep, 1,500 feet long, and only 50 feet wide in places! The gorge was impassable to wagons and they weren’t about to try to raft it! Though some folks do attempt the whitewater these days, the flow is typically too low. . . So instead, the trail passed to the south of the ridge, but this dark, gloomy canyon intrigued the emigrants. Many camped here, and almost all took the detour to inspect the gorge.” –posted on the Pony Express National Historic Trail Facebook page , 9/26/19.]
“We entered the city again by way of the old residential section. It is lovely in a staid, dignified way, with large dark houses that could only belong to sterling citizens and leafy streets like unceiled tunnels; but we did not linger, for we had promised ourselves to pay our respects to the spring whose existence was the main reason for the selection of the site of Independence.”
Motivations to Emigrate
“Since American scholarship has virtually enshrined the continent-wide westward movement, it is only natural that must of the speculation concerning the overlanders’ motivations has revolved around the so-called ‘pioneer instinct’ of restless frontiersman. . . . Those overlanders who chose to record the stimuli they believed to be impelling them westward, however, usually mentioned such prosaic factors as financial difficulties, the hope of economic improvement in the Far West, the search for better health, or political or patriotic considerations, before admitting to a general restlessness or a desire for adventure. Occasionally noted was also was the desire to get away from the increasingly virulent passions surrounding the Negro and slavery, the wish to flee the artificialities and restraints of society, the possibility of of evading capture for indiscretions ranging from theft to murder, the willingness to undertake missionary work among the Indians, the attempt to forget a romance gone sour. Some even claimed to be moving because of the better fishing reported in Oregon.”
Burr and the Mormons
“The short period between 1852 and 1855 was in general a peaceful interlude in the relations between the Mormons and the nation. Although Steptoe, [Secretary Benjamin G.] Ferris, and [Indian Agent] Holeman had raised brief disturbances, the years were as free of painful incident as any before 1896, when Utah gained statehood. But the harmony, such as it was, soon faded. Within a few months voices more powerful and strident than those heard in the past were demanding federal intervention in the Mormons’ country: and a stormy petrel reached Salt Lake City in the person of David. T. Burr, the newly appointed surveyor general of the Territory.
Almost at once Burr ran into trouble with the inhabitants on the Valley. their title to the land they occupied was tenuous at best, in the absence of an Indian treaty or congressional enactment. Knowing this, they looked upon a survey of their region as a move preliminary to their eviction by the Government. Their fears had some justification, for Burr soon wrote to his superiors that the Church had illegally appropriated areas of the public domain, a reference to the recent introduction of an experiment, tried without success in earlier communities, to persuade the Mormons to deed their properties to the Church.
In alarm, the Saints sought to impede the surveyor general’s labors in every way possible, using intimidation, violence, and their influence over the Indians. . . .Garland Hurt, whoe position as agent brought him into greater difficulties than Holeman had encountered . . . charged that a bishop had stirred up the Indians in southern Utah by circulating the lie that surveyors were really a posse sent in disguise to arrest Gunnison’s murderers. Other Mormons in Fillmore, Hurt added, had stoned a house where Burr and his men had stopped for the night.The surveyor general himself reported the Mormons’ removal of corner posts, the theft of animals, and other obstructive acts, none of which could be prosecuted in the Church-controlled courts.
In the spring of 1857 Burr gave up his work in Utah, offering a number of explanations for his decision. His life was in fanger, for the priesthood was denouncing him from the pulpit. One of his associates . . . had been beaten nearly to death, perhaps permanently crippled, by a grouop of the infamous Danites. . . . and Brigham Young had ominously declared in public that his, Burr’s, work was at an end. In this lawless atmosphere three apostates had been murdered; Burr’s friends predicted the same fate for him if he remained.
As was frequently the case in more significant episodes, the truth about Burr’s clash with the Mormons is not easily found. . . .From the statements of burr, Hurt, Crain, Mogo, Wilson, and Landon it appeared that the people of the territory were, if not actually rebellious, at least ready to impede the work of duly appointed federal representatives.”
First Appropriation for Overland Mail to California
“Bills authorizing an overland mail were introduced in Congress in 1855 and 1856, but they did not pass. On March 3, 1857, the Post Office Appropriations Bill, which bore an amendment authorizing an overland mail to California, became law. It provided $300,000 for a semimonthly service, or $450,000 for a weekly service, or $600,000 for a semi-weekly service.”
Mile 2062-2098: Original Route over Echo Summit
“The Pony Express, in 1860, passed up West Carson Canyon into Hope Valley and then northward through Luther’s Pass, up to Echo Lake by way of Johnson’s pass, at the left of the highway summit, and down over Slippery Ford to Strawberry.”
[N.B. This route was the initial route over the Sierra Nevada. It only lasted five weeks. there is a Pony Express memorial at the site of Woodford’s Station (Junction of Highways 88 and 19): “The station functioned from April 3 to April 28 or 29, 1860. At such time, the route was redirected when Rollin Daggett offered free toll over Daggett Pass in Nevada. Thus, Pony Express riders were able to avoid three remount stations. A California Registered Historical Landmark’s marker identifies the station site, now covered by Highway 88. It reads: ‘During initial five weeks of its operation in 1860, an important remount station of the famous Pony Express was located a few feet from here at Cary’s Barn.'” The Pony Express Bikepacking Route follows the later route over Kingsbury Grade and through South Lake Tahoe.]
“The most abundant plant in the Great Basin is the artemisia, or wild sage, and as it is seen almost everywhere in the valleys and on the mountains, it gives its peculiar bronze color to the general face of nature. Sometimes this all-prevailing color is modified by the more vivid green of the Sarcohatus vcrmlcularis, or greasewood; sometimes by the yellowish light-green of the Lynogris, or rabbit-bush, both of which are found interspersed not infrequently among the artemisia and on the mountains, not infrequently by the dark color of the scrub cedar, and occasionally of the pine and balsam. This plant, the artemisia, I have seen covering probably as much as nine-tenths of the whole country intervening the east base of the Rocky Mountains (longitude 104°) and the east base of the Sierra Nevada (longitude 119° 40′), or over a breadth of more than 800 miles, beyond winch, east or west, it does not grow.”
Mormon Plan in Utah
“Because the majority of the Mormon population was Anglo-American, there were many aspects of Mormonism’s Manifest Destiny that aligned with the traditional American ideology. Taking whatever land they saw fit was certainly one of those, though the Mormons were neither as aggressive nor martial about doing so in comparison to many of their contemporaries. In many respects, they planned to follow the ‘Texas method’ of land acquisition, wherein they would dominate a certain area by sheer numbers in order to gain political power, and then exert their influence once they were strong enough to declare independence. Being the ‘first’ to occupy, cultivate, and improve the land the Mormons to establish a territory of their own where they would be the majority and none could expel them.”
Popskull and Tanglefoot
“There is little doubt that the principle commodity sold here [at Dobytown] was whiskey of a dubious type identified by one victim as ‘popskull.’ Get. William T. Sherman called it ‘tanglefoot,’ and noted that its effects were so damaging that freight train captains sometimes tried to avoid camping nearby for fear of losing some of their help. Birge says that one enterprising merchant sold a bottled concoction known as ‘Hostetter’s Bitters,’ the consumption of which would begin a ‘season of Saturnalia’ among revelers. When George Holliday marched through here with his calvary unit, a small riot took place in this ‘dirt village’ when the thirsty soldiers rebelled against the price of whiskey at 25¢ a glass.”
Atchison Becomes the Eastern Terminus
“[Due to] concern over riots and strong Southern sympathies in St. Joseph as well as with the new ownership and management, Atchison became the eastern terminus of the Pony Express. It was about fifteen miles further west, and by then, it was also served by the railroad and the telegraph.”
[N.B. re: ownership and management: “On April 26 , Russell was asked to resign [as president of California Overland Central and Pike’s Peak], and Bela Hughes became president of the C.O.C & P.P. Hughes was Benjamin Holladay’s cousin.”]
Competing Routes to the West
William Lander, chief engineer on the Lander Cutoff from South Pass to Fort Hall, stationed “an old mountaineer, Charles H. Miller, at the South Pass [for the winter] to make weather observations and direct the earliest immigration to the new road in the spring of 1859. Miller was faithful in the performance of his assignment untilled killed in a gun fight in early March . . .
Lander reached South Pass at the close of June to discover that traders along the old routes to Soda Springs and Salt lake Valley were meeting emigrants and trying to divert them from his new road. Miller’s murder of the previous winter was indirectly attributed to these men, so Lander stationed a former soldier of his party at Gilbert’s Trading Post to inform travelers of the advantages of the federal wagon road and present them with a published guide. Fist fights became weekly occurrences in the bid for the emigrant’s favor, so Lander decided it would be necessary to leave a blacksmith at the pass during the winter to ply his trade and explain the merits of the road.”
[N.B. See also Unruh: “In his reports Landers complained about the ‘designing parties’ (in particular, Mormons and mountaineers) who energetically directed emigrants to travel on the established trail while casting aspersions on the new government route—which bypassed their trading posts and green River ferries.” John D. Unruh, Jr., The Plains Across, p. 300]
“Going over the rolling prairies into the valley of the Platte, the surroundings suddenly change. Spread out before us is the wide but shallow river, running eastward to the Missouri, its banks at intervals fringed with willows and occasional belts of young cottonwood trees; the bottom covered with a rank growth of tall dead grass, presenting a decided contrast when compared with the last thirty or forty miles which we have just gone over in crossing the divide.”
Jerking Buffalo Meat
“To ‘jerk’ buffalo meat, the camp constructed a large rectangle of boughs or wooden strips, like a huge picture frame, and laid poles thickly across it. Then they elevated the sketchy affair on four legs and built a smudge beneath it. Small sections of meat pulled from the carcass were hung over the poles to cure in the smoke. The white man soon improved on the original Indian procedure to the extent of cutting his meat into thin slices, sometimes small, sometimes the size of shingles, but the name ‘jerky’ was always used. A day or two cured it sufficiently to keep indefinitely. The resulting tidbits varied somewhat as to edible qualities, but were always tough and had an unappetizing tendency to retain sections of hairy hide.
Jerky could also be dried by hanging on ropes outside the wagon covers for several days. When it had become hard it was packed, alkali dirt and all, in bags. This, to their sad surprise, many of the women were glad to eat before they reached the Sierras. Large chunks of buffalo meat also kept a surprising length of time—some said weeks—protected by a hard crust formed by the dry air.”
Magraw's Philippic Against the Mormons
“When Buchanan requested his cabinet officers to gather correspondence justifying his policy toward Utah, the Secretary old State, old Lewis Cass, could locate only one document in his files, but it was a dandy. It came from W. M. F. Magraw, whose hatred of the Mormons had been heightened by loss of his mail contract to Hiram Kimball. At considerable length Magraw charged the Saints with crimes against the laws of the nation and humanity. According to his letter the Church had destroyed all non-Mormon courts in the Territory, thus leaving the Gentiles to the mercy of ‘a so-styled ecclesiastical organization, as despotic and damnable, as any ever to exist in any country.’ The result was violence and murder by ‘an organized band of bravos and assassins;’ ‘indiscriminate bloodshed, robbery and rapine’ at midnight or in full daylight.’ . . .
Like many anti-Mormons in these years, Magraw possessed an inenviable character. After the mail contract had been taken from him, he became superintendent of a crew constructing a federal road across the Plains, and while serving in that capacity he was guilty of shady practices, if not outright theft of government property.”
Mile 1948: Sand Springs Station
“Sand Springs Station [is] about 20 miles east of Fallon. This Pony Express Station was built in 1860, yet many of its walls still stand. After the station was abandoned, drifting sand from nearby dunes buried the structure, helping to preserve it. In 1977, archaeologists excavated and stabilized the station. Today, it’s managed by the Bureau of Land Management and open to the public.”
“Several sources identify Sand Springs as a station, including the 1861 mail contract. Like Cold Springs, this station existed due to the construction efforts of Bolivar Roberts, J. G. Kelly, and their crew in March of 1860 for the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. James McNaughton managed station operations for a time. On October 17, 1860, Richard Burton recorded his negative views of the roofless, dirty structure and its staff, stating that it was “roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner, and a table in the centre of an impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust.”  Travelers found a reliable source of water at Sand Springs, but its poor quality often poisoned animals and probably made people ill.
In addition to the Pony Express, other individuals and businesses utilized Sand Springs until World War Two. The telegraph came through the area, and the site served as a freight, milling, and ranching center. Structural ruins from many of these activities still exist around the springs. In 1976, the site was determined eligible for the National Register. By 1981, the station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was structurally stabilized. This source locates the station’s ruins near Sand Mountain, about three-fourths of a mile north of Highway 50.
– From the Pony Express Bikepacking Route info marker, citing the Pony Express Historic Resource Study
Mile 1312: Big Mountain
“Big Mountain lies eighteen miles from the city. The top is a narrow crest, suddenly forming an acute based upon an obtuse angle. From that eyrie, 8000 feet above sea level, the weary pilgrim first sights his shrine, the object of his long wanderings, hardships, and perils, the Happy Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The western horizon, when visible, is bounded by a broken wall of light blue mountain, the Oquirrh, whose northernmost bluff buttresses the southern end of the lake, and whose eastern flank sinks in steps and terraces into a river basin, yellow with the sunlit golden corn, and somewhat pink with its carpeting of heath-like moss.”
“We divided some of the meat with a party of ‘pilgrims’ as they were called, who overtook us going west. Everybody traveling west in those days was called a ‘pilgrim.'”
Removal of Winter Quarters
“When Brigham Young returned from Utah in October after successfully establishing Salt Lake City, he realized that most of the emigrants would be able to move on in 1848. A half-way station would still be needed for those yet to come, but perhaps it would lessen difficulties if they placed it on a legal basis by removing it to the Potawatomi lands [east of the Mississippi]. Thus, the High Council decided in January, 1848, to order the abandonment of Winter Quarters. Citing the heavy losses from Indian depredations as well as other reasons, their leaders told Saints remaining west of the Missouri either to go ahead to Utah in 1848 or to move back across the river. The new forwarding station became known as Kanesville and proved to be the site of present-jay Council Bluffs, Iowa.”
Mile 1078: Pacific Springs
“Pacific Springs is a marshy area just beyond South Pass in Wyoming. Seemingly unassuming, it was the first source of water for riders on the western side of the continental divide. And the Pony Express station that was built here in 1860 was the first station on the Pacific side of the United States encountered by west-bound riders! This station burned to the ground in 1862, but the remains of a cabin built in the late 1800s/ early 1900s marks its general location.”
A Successful Failure
“Today, the Pony Express is often referred to as ‘a successful failure.’ The founders realized that the Pony Express, commonly referred to as ‘the Pony,’ would not be financially successful, but they hoped it would prove the success of the central route, and thus, result in additional government contrasts for them. The reality was that the Pony Express lost money and did not bring the failing Russell, Majors [sic] and Waddell successful contracts. It actually drove them further into debt and brought about the financial collapse of what was once considered the biggest and mightiest freighting empire in the West.”
The Emigrant Train
“These people were greenhorns : what the West came to call tender£ eet. Most of them were schooled in the culture that had served American pioneering up to now. The unfitness for the West of that experience shows at the beginning of the journey. The Oregon and California emigrants had a much harder time of it than they would have had if they had understood the conditions. They did not have to face the cholera that made the Gold Rush and certain later passages hazardous; or the Indian troubles that began in the fifties and lasted as long as there were Indians along the trail. But they experienced hardships, disease, great strain, and aimless suffering of which the greater part was quite unnecessary. The mountain men avoided it almost altogether.
We have already seen them breaking up and without trail discipline. A caravan of mountain men passing this way was an efficient organization. The duties of every member were stated – and attended to in an awareness that both safety and comfort depended on their being done right. The fur caravan was a co-operative unit, the emigrant train an uncohesive assemblage of individualists. The mountain men had mastered the craft of living off the country, finding grass and water, managing the stock, making camp, reading buffalo sign and Indian sign. All such matters were hidden from the emigrants, who besides were tired men at the end of any day and prone to let someone else do the needful tasks. So their wagons were not kept up, horses and oxens strayed, and many hours, counting up to many days, were squandered. This added to the delay and we have already seen them moving much too slowly even at the beginning of the trip. The passage must be made with the greatest possible speed consonant with the good condition of the animals – but the movers dallied, strolling afield to fish or see the country, stopping to stage a debate or a fist fight, or just wandering like vacationists. It was necessary to press forward, not only because the hardest going of the whole journey was toward the western end and would be far worse if they did not pass the mountains before snowfall, but also because every day diminished the food in the wagons, wore down the oxen by so much more, and laid a further increment of strain on man and beast. They lingered. And also, expert as they might be at living healthfully in the oak openings, they did not know how to take care of themselves here. The mountain men suffered bountifully from scalping but you seldom hear of one who is sick, and when you do he is suffering from a hangover or a decayed tooth. Whereas from the first days on, the emigrants are preyed upon by colds, auges, and dysenteries that are their own damned fault . . . All this has its part in the stresses put on human personality by emigration.
The train is moving along the Oregon trail. But the movement must not be thought of as the orderly, almost military procession of spaced wagons in spaced platoons that Hollywood shows us, and the trail must not be thought of as a fixed avenue through the wilds. The better discipline of the freight caravans on the Santa Fe trail did impose a military order of march. On the southern trail wagons moved in something like order ; in single file where the route was narrow, in columns of twos or fours when there was room for such a formation and it was needed for quick formation of the corral in case of Indian attack. Every night they were parked iu a square or circle, the stock was driven inside after feeding, guard duty was enforced on everyone in his turn. Wagons which had led a file OtJ. one day ( and so escaped the dust) dropped back to the end on the riext day and worked their way up again. Regular messes were appointed, with specified duties for everyone. Wood, water, herding, hunting, cooking, and all the routine of travel and camp were systematized and the system was enforced. But that was the profit motive; men with an eye on business returns managed it. And they had no problems of family travel and few of cliques.
Every emigrant train that ever left the settlements expected to conduct itself according to this tested system. None except the Mormons ever did. Brigham Young had a disciplined people and the considerable advantage that his orders rested on the authority of Almighty God – and even so, among a submissive and believing people on the march, he had constantly to deal with quarrels, dissension, rebellions, complaints, and ineffectiveness. Among the emigrants there was no such authority as God’s or Brigham’s. A captain who wanted to camp here rather than there had to make his point by parliamentary procedure and the art of oratory. It remained the precious right of a free American who could always quit his job if he didn’t like the boss, to camp somewhere else at his whim or pleasure – and to establish his priority with his fists if some other freeborn American happened to like the cottonwood where he had parked his wagon. Moreover, why should anyone take his appointed dust when he could turn off the trail? Why should he stand guard on the herd of loose cattle, if he had no cattle in it? . . . They combined readily but with little cohesiveness and subdued themselves to the necessities of travel only after disasters had schooled them. They strung out along the trail aimlessly, at senseless intervals and over as wide a space as the country permitted. So they traveled fewer miles in any day than they might have, traveled them with greater difficulty than they needed to, and wore themselves and the stock down more than was wise. They formed the corral badly, with too great labor and loss of time, or not at all. They quarreled over place and precedence that did not matter. They postponed decisions in order to debate and air the minority view, when they should have accepted any decision that could be acted on. Ready enough to help one another through any emergency or difficulty, they were unwilling to discipline themselves to an orderly and sensible routine.”
Purported Causes of the Utah War
“It is difficult one hundred years after the war to evaluate some of the other factors which were said to have shared in its origin. Partisan controversy had become so bitter that reckless charges against men in political life were made with irresponsible frequency. . . .
Thus in 1858 two newspapers accused Buchanan of being less concerned with the Saints than with the dream of seizing Sonora and other parts of Mexico. . . . [But] by no statement or action did the President at any time display designs on land lying southwest of the nation. . . .
Another explanation of the Mormon War . . . centered upon [Secretary of War] John B. Floyd and concerned the growing rift between the North and South. . . . Fearing a Republican victory in the 1860 election, they were determined, it would seem, to bankrupt the treasury by a costly expedition to Utah and thus leave the North financially incapable of opposing secession. . . . [This explanation] appears to draw its strength from two coincidental circumstances, Floyd’s enthusiastic advocacy of the Utah expedition and his later support of the South in the Civil War. Such reasoning uses guilt by chronological association. . . .
To some observers, Gentile and Mormon, the Utah War was less a secessionists’ plot than a vast boondoggling scheme on the part of John B. Floyd and certain businessmen. Even before the hostilities in utah had been pacifically settled, the incident became known as the ‘Contractors’ War.’ . . .
Another consideration, irrelevant to the formulation of a sound policy toward Utah, may be mentioned as a possible factor in the origins of the Mormon War. . . . Buchanan received a communication from a Southern leader proposing a way to divert the American people from their perilous absorption with slavery. . . .’I believe that we can supersede the Negro-Mania with the almost universal excitements of an Anti-Mormon Crusade.
The intrusion of these irrelevant elements should not becloud the fact that one major cause of the war was the Administration’s conviction of Mormon rebelliousness. The Church’s expulsion of such officers as Burr, Drummond, and Stiles, its efforts to overthrow the federal judicial system, and its Indian policy all seemed evidences of riotous disposition which could not be tolerated without weakening the fabric of the Union.”
“The real menace to the precious grass [in the Platte valley], aside from drouth, was the disastrous prairie fire. . . . According to John Wyeth it was the Indian custom to set fires to the high grass once or twice a year to start the game. James Clyman calculated that most prairie fires were caused by lightening, or ‘electric fluid,’ but there is ample evidence that white travelers did their share of the mischief. Frank Young reported a fire started deliberately by ox-teamsters in a playful mood, while on one occasion stage hands started one at night ‘for illumination.'”
Mile 957: Greasewood Creek
“Greasewood Creek was a welcome sight, a rapid ten-foot stream, midway of the twenty-mile stretch, where the oxen sunk their muzzles deep and drank as they crossed. After a slow five miles more the alkali lakes came into view—paper-flat deposits of a pure fiery-white soda that ate the soles from the shoes of the luckless herder who must go among them after cattle. The biggest one was called Saleratus Lake. here the cooks replenished their supply of cooking soda and sometimes encountered wagons from the Mormon colony at Salt Lake shoveling it up for home consumption.”
[N.B. This area is now near Steamboat Lake, off to the right of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route at Mile 964. More info about Saleratus Lakes is here.]
Pony Express Route Near Austin, NV
“Thanks to research from Joe Nardone, and some sleuthing from Trails staff: ‘As you can see, there’s a lot going on [near Austin]. First, there’s a route that stays north of the Simpson Park Mountains – you can see only part of it on this map. That’s the main route that was used for the entire existence of the PX, except during the Paiute War. Then there’s the route that dips around the south end of the Simpson Park Mountains. His (Joe Nardone’s) note says it was used by the PX from mid-May-Aug 1860, so the riders could avoid the Indians during the Paiute War. He cites a Pony Express rider’s journal for that information. Now look at the bottom of the dip where he’s (Joe Nardone) marked Cape Horn Station. There’s a third route peeling off of that, where he shows the Cape Horn Station. That was a stage station and a stage route used July 9, 1861 to 1864 by the Overland Stage… According to Joe, the Pony riders never went that way.'”
“Much more widely read [than Hastings’ guide], Fremont’s was a much better book. It knew what it was talking about, and when Bill Bowen read that, there was wood or water in a given place, or good soil, or difficult travel, he could count on it. The myth of the Great American Desert went down before this literary man’s examination – and before his vision (like his father-in-law’s) of cities rising in wasteland and the emptiness filling with fat farms. It was filled with solid facts that solid minds could use: it told about the winds, the water, the timber, the soil, the weather. It was extraordinarily seeing and intuitive, remarkably accurate.nIn the book he wrote, Frémont deserves well of the Republic.
“But the book had a much greater importance than this: it fed desire. The wilderness which was so close to Fremont’s heart that he has dignity only when he is traveling it was the core of the nation’s oldest dream. Kit Carson, Tom Fitzpatrick, Alexis Godey, Basil Lajeunesse, his mountain men, were this generation’s embodiment of a wish that ran back beyond Daniel Boone, beyond Jonathan Carver, beyond Christopher Gist, innumerable men in buckskins, forest runners, long hunters, rivermen, gens du nord, the company of gentlemen and adventurers of the far side of the hill. Something older than Myles Standish or Captain John Smith fluttered a reader’s pulse when the mountain men worked their prodigies before Frémont’s admiring eyes. It responded to his exaltation when, pounding his rifle on the saddle to seat a fresh load, he charged through dust clouds at the snorting buffalo. It quickened when he reached the highest peak of the Wind River divide and there pressed between leaves of his notebook a honey bee that was making westward. He went on – across deserts, through untrodden gulches, up slopes of aspen, over the saddle, along the ridge, down the far side. He smelled sagebrush at dawn, he smelled rivers in the evening– alkali in sun-hardened earth when a shower had passed, pines when the pollen fell, roses and sweet peas and larkspur, carrion, sulphur, the coming storm, greasewood, buffalo dung in the smoke of campfires. He saw the Western country with eager eyes – saw it under sun, bent and swollen by mirage, stark, terrible, beautiful to the heart’s longing, snow on the peaks, infinite green and the night stars.”
Assault on Salt Lake Via Bear Valley
“On October 6 , Alexander called a council of war . . . [T]he men debated the best strategy to pursue. they could retreat to the Wind River Mountains, about ninety miles to the northeast [from Camp Winfield, their camp on Ham’s Fork], an excellent site for winter quarters; they could remain at Camp Winfield; or they could struggle into Utah. The majority opinion favored aggressive policy of the third alternative . . . But this decision raised other questions. From Van Vliet, Alexander had learned that the Mormons had fortified Echo Canyon, the shortest avenue into Salt Lake Valley, with formidable defenses. Furthermore, since all forage on this road had been burned, the lives of the animals might be endangered if the army should proceed along it. . . .
[Instead, the] army would move northwest up Ham’s Fork, jump across to join Bear River, and follow this route until it reached the northers border of Utah, where several gentle and unfortified valleys led directly to the settlements of the Mormons. Thuds, with winter near, Alexander and his advisors decided to turn from the most direct entrance into Utah in favor of.a road one hundred miles longer that had few if any real advantages. . . .
At length Alexander decided to plod back [thirty-five miles] to Camp Winfield, which he had left more than a week before. Once again, however, lethargy settled upon him; he permitted his men to remain at their present camp on the upper banks of Ham’s Fork for another eight days. . . .
Painfully, the soldiers and their 4,000 animals struggled down Ham’s Fork to Camp Winfield]. Badly worn, they arrived there on November 2. having gained nothing by their exertions of the past weeks, they had returned to a camp with pitifully inadequate forage and dangerously low temperatures.”
Contracted Mail Service to Salt Lake
“The first attempt on the part of the government to [provide mail service between Salt Lake Valley and the Missouri] was made early in 1850 when a four-year contract . . . was let to Samuel H. Woodson . . .
During the four years of the contract, service between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City was fairly regular and satisfactory. Little and his associates [who sublet the contract from Fort Laramie to Salt Lake City] met and conquered every difficulty an open road through seven hundred miles of virgin, unsettled territory could impose, Indian treachery and raids, inadequate pay, and they concluded their service with credit to themselves.”
An Indian for Breakfast
“‘An Indian for breakfast and a pony to ride’ was their [105 men who volunteered under Major Ormsby after the killings at William’s Station] slogan as the command started across the wastes toward Pyramid Lake.”
The Need for Freight Wagons
“Moreover, no goods were manufactured west of the Mississippi; everything used there had to be shipped from the East. The manufacturing states east of the Mississippi routinely moved goods along navigable rivers, barge canals, and, increasingly, railroads; yet none of these conveniences existed west of the Mississippi. In that whole western expanse, only the Missouri River could be used by steamboats for any great distance, and the Missouri was hazardous as well as indirect. From St. Louis its path meandered 3,175 miles far to the northwest, so that even steamboats capable of braving its unpredictable shallows to its distant headwaters at Fort benton still found themselves at least 1,000 miles north of California or New Mexico or Salt Lake. In effect only one means existed for moving bulk supplies and heave machinery across the Great American desert: the freight wagon.”
The Crowded Trails
“these masses of westering overlanders do not coincide with the popular media image of widely scattered wagon trains traveling in relative isolation. Indeed, particularly between 1843 and 1853, most overlanders longed for privacy instead of the congested trails, crowded campsites, and overgrazed grasses they were experiencing. So many overlanders, for example, set forth from near St. Joseph on the same day in 1852 that teams traveled twelve abreast.”
“Oxen, already worn from the strain of crossing the Green River Basin, died by the dozens on the rough ridges of the Overthrust Belt. “Dead animals all the way up, the stench intolerable,” Byron McKinstry complained in July 1850. He continued:
We have had the road strewed with putrid carcasses ever since we left the Platte. As soon as an ox dies, he bloats as full as the skin will hold (and sometimes bursts), and his legs stick straight out and soon smells horribly …. When they are nearly decayed I think there is frequently three or four bushels of maggots about the carcass. At the top of the steepest pitch this morning lay eleven dead oxen. They pulled up the pitch and died when they stopped to rest …. Thus they lie strewed on every hill and in every valley, thus poisoning the otherwise pure air. The most die after getting over some hard place, or long stretch.
Mile 438: Cottonwood Springs Station
“Usually known as Cottonwood Springs, which by 1863 had a very favorable reputation as a ‘home station,’ and was also a very good camping place for freighters, because of the abundance of cedar.-Ibid., p. 208. This ‘Cottonwood Station is not to be confused with the “Cottonwood Station” in Washington county, Kansas. (See Footnote 803.)”
Pony Express Temporarily Suspended
“On May 7, a band of Paiute Indians attacked a Pony Express station in the Carson Valley west of Salt Lake City, killing seven men and burning down the station house. The attacks spread over the next few weeks, forcing the closing of numerous stations west of Salt Lake City. On June 1 the Pony Express service was temporarily suspended until the route could be properly protected. . . . Eventually, at the request of several Congressmen, Secretary of War Floyd dispatched troops from Camp Floyd in Utah. But only after a bloody month-ling struggle—and an additional outlay of more than $75,000 by the Pony Express—were the Paiutes subdued and service restored on June 22.”
Mile 177: Rock Creek
“A weary drive over a rough and dusty road, through chill night air and clouds of musquetoes, which we were warned would accompany us to the Pacific slope of the Rocky Mountains, placed us about 10 P.M. at Rock, also called Turkey Creek surely a misnomer ; no turkey ever haunted so villainous a spot ! Several passengers began to suffer from fever and nausea; in such travel the second night is usually the crisis, after which a man can endure for an indefinite time.”
Mile 1502: Willow Springs Station
“A great deal of controversy has arisen over the location of the Willow Springs Station. Descriptions given by Nick Wilson (an Express rider) and Sir Richard Burton do not describe the location of the place now claimed to be the station site. A foundation, identified tentatively by the authors as dating to the proper period and similar to the structure depicted in the sketch from an 1868 photograph, has been found at the spot where an 1882 survey plat locates the Willow Springs Stable. This structure, located on the Dorcey Sabey property, is approximately 100 feet northeast of F. J. Kearney’s boarding house. This facility is about 3/4 mile east of the structure popularly known as the station house. Further archaeological investigations are necessary to establish the true location of the station.”
Crossing a Stream
“It was an almost invariable rule with experienced wagonmasters to cross any stream encountered when it came time to make camp for the night. It sometimes happened that a rainstorm miles away would cause a creek to rise during the night, thereby delaying the train for several days. Also the animals would pull better in the evening. In the morning, those with sore shoulders were reluctant to lean into the collar or yoke for a heavy pull until they had warmed to their work. Whenever possible, a trail-wise wagonmaster would pick a campsite on some elevation where the wagons would be safe from flash flood.”
“The pattern of today’s rivers [in Wyoming] only makes sense when we recognize that they inherited their paths from ancestral streams that flowed high above the ridges, in what is now the blue Wyoming sky. In 1875 the great western explorer and geologist John Wesley Powell dubbed this process stream superposition.”
“The name (no relation to South Dakota’s Black Hills) comes from the dark stands of pine, spruce, and cedar that dot the slopes. Travelers on both the north and south sides of the North Platte had to swing away from the river to bypass the impassable canyons. South-side travelers had to pass through the Black Hills. North-side travelers after 1850 could stay on the north side of the river along a route called Child’s Cutoff. Either way was rough.”
Performance of the Butterfield Line
“Even though northern interests continued to criticize the selection of a southern route by postmaster general Brown, mail service on the southern route proved satisfactory, averaging twenty-one to twenty-five days. First-class postage for letters was three cents per half ounce, and each stage carried an average of 170 pounds of letter mail and another 140 pounds of newspapers. By 1860, more mail was carried by Butterfield coaches than by any other means of transportation.”
“And here [along the Humbolt River], if you were going to, you encountered the Diggers, their half-gram brains vibrating with the remembered murders of hundreds of kinsmen and with desire for oxen and other plunder.
“The term “Digger” is an epithet, not a classification. It was properly applied to Indians who, being unskillful hunters or residing in country where game was scarce, lived on roots. But it came to mean certain degenerate bands of various tribes who can be exactly described as the technological unemployed. Unable to stand competition with hardier Indians, they had been pushed into the deserts and, living there on the subsistence level, had lost their culture. Many of them were physically decadent. The weapons of all were crude. Mostly they lived in caves or brush huts. Some had lost the use of fire. Some “Diggers” were Bannack or Shoshoni in origin; those in Great Salt Lake Valley were Paiute and Gosiute; fragments of other neighboring tribes also degenerated, and the Indians who harassed the Donners probably belonged to the Kuyuidika band of the Paviotso. But the whites who used the term meant no particular tribe; they meant only that they hated skulking, theft, and malicious mischief. From Ewing Young and Joseph Walker on, they had massacred Diggers idly, for fun, or in punishment for theft. The Diggers remembered . . . If they had not, they might have succored the Donners in the snow.”
“‘Julesburg Station,’ as it was then called, was situated well down on the flats near where the course of the river then turned, and the main wagon-road ran alongside of the houses. There is a present town Julesburg, but it is on the other side of the river, and several miles farther down. The wood that was used was most of it cedar, hauled from Jack Morrow’s canyon, and the balance of the building material was sod.”
“I was a ‘captain,’ even if it was over a scurvy crew of four. It did to accompany the other fiction that our employers would hire no one who swore or drank. To be sure, the men were clear of drinking — when they could get none. It pleased me to hear how particular our bosses were, and I so wrote; but I never told my parents that my comrades, with few exceptions, swore like pirates and stole what little there was to steal. At first they stole the best oxen from the weaker drivers, when they found their merits and before each one well knew his cattle; then they would steal pipes and tobacco, tinware and bow-keys, as well as the wood, got with so much labor in readiness for cooking breakfast. They were a nice set, take them all around; but there were three or four, I hope the reader will believe, who did not train with the crowd.”
Mile 1437: Simpson Springs
“Passing out of Skull Valley, we crossed the cahues and pitch-holes of a broad bench which rose above the edge of the desert, and after seventeen miles beyond the Pass reached the station which Mormons call Egan’s Springs, anti-Mormons Simpson’s Springs, and Gentiles Lost Springs.
Standing upon the edge of the bench, I could see the Tophet in prospect for us till Carson Valley: a road narrowing in perspective to a point spanned its grisly length, awfully long, and the next mail station had shrunk to a little black knob. All was desert : the bottom could no longer be called basin or valley: it was a thin fine silt, thirsty dust in the dry season, and putty-like mud in the spring and autumnal rains. The hair of this unlovely skin was sage and greasewood : it was warted with sand-heaps ; in places mottled with bald and horrid patches of salt soil, while in others minute crystals of salt, glistening like diamond-dust in the sunlight, covered tracts of moist and oozy mud.”
Mile 1742: Diamond Springs
“We hastened to ascend Chokop’s Pass by a bad, steep dugway: it lies south of ” Railroad Kanyon,” which is said to be nearly flat-soled. A descent led into ‘Moonshine,’ called by the Yutas Pahannap Valley, and we saw with pleasure the bench rising at the foot of the pass. The station is named Diamond Springs, from an eye of warm, but sweet and beautifully clear water bubbling up from the earth. A little below it drains off in a deep rushy ditch, with a gravel bottom, containing equal parts of comminuted shells: we found it an agreeable and opportune bath.”
Winter Delays for the Pony
“Facing its first real test of operating in the winter, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. backed away from its normal operating schedule. The company informed the public that after the 1st of December and during the winter, New York news would be fifteen days in transit to San Francisco and eleven days between telegraph stations. Actually, Russell had hoped to convince Postmaster General Holt that the Pony Express could carry the mail through to California on a daily or a tri-weekly basis that winter. He even offered to bond the service, and if it were delayed or his company failed, he would forfeit these bonds. Holt remained unconvinced. Consequently, out of financial considerations, Russell, Majors, and Waddell reduced their Pony Express schedule during the winter of 1860- 1861.
It was fortunate that Holt had not accepted Russell’s offer. The first full winter for the Pony Express tested the system to the extreme. Significant delays occurred. During December, heavy snows hit the Sierra Nevada region. Fortunately, the roads through the passes of the Sierra Nevadas were made passable by the constant passage of teams to and from the Washoe mines. This constant traffic aided in keeping the route open for the Pony Express. Unfortunately, when these same storms extended to the mountainous portions of the route in the Great Basin, and the trackless desolate regions between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie, they became unbreachable obstacles. Inevitably, as the snows piled up, they delayed the Pony Express. A single horseman could barely break passage through the unbroken winter snowfields. By mid-January, heavy snows covered nearly the entire route from California to Missouri, delaying the passage of the Pony Express by two days. By the end of January, additional bad storms in the mountains caused a four-day delay for the entire operation.
The winter storms proved that the Pony Express could not endure a harsh winter and still maintain a regular schedule. Without a line of stagecoaches daily breaking trail, the snows proved an insurmountable obstacle for the lone horseman.”
Westerners and Government Roads
“Individualism and adaptability characterized all those who participated in America’s westward movement. Frontiersmen evinced this as they sought out new routes toward the West and more convenient means of transport.
Despite this individualism, the Westerner has always sought the aid of the federal government in solving his transportation problems. Such a vast undertaking as the construction of wagon roads from the Mississippi west to the Pacific required more than half a century for completion. Federal sponsorship was essential, since there must be exploring expeditions, reconnaissance of trails, and the survey, building, and improving of roads.”
Logistics of Establishing a Pony Express
“But the logistics of a mail relay stretching 1,966 miles from the Missouri River to Sacramento was so daunting that only an incurable dreamer like Russell would have considered implementing it. . . . The stage line currently maintained stations at 20- to 30-mile intervals where animals could be changed or rested; ponies racing at breakneck speed would need changing every ten miles or less. And west of Salt Lake City, Russell’s stage line had no operations at all.
All told, dozens of new stations would be required between the Missouri River and Sacramento. In the absence of forests, lumber to build the stations and corrals would have to be hauled great distances. Hundreds of high-quality ponies, capable of outrunning the Indians’ swift ponies, would need to be purchased, probably at three or four times the cost of ordinary range-bred horses. And a new breed of employee—young, skinny riders—would need to be hired and trained.
The enterprise would likely cost Russell, Majors & Waddell more than half a million dollars—for a mail service that was likely to be superseded by the telegraph and the railroads within a few years.”
Mile 917: Fort Caspar
“Considered historically, the year 1858 is the beginning of the end of the picturesque extravaganza at the [North Platte] river crossing. First a prosaic military encampment, known as Mormon Ferry Post, appears in the picture. Then, in the winter of 1858-59, a bridge presents itself apologetically for our consideration. . . .
The first name, Mormon Ferry Post, was supplanted naturally enough by Platte Bridge Station; but its final appellation, Fort Caspar, was bestowed after the heroic death of Lieutenant Caspar Collins, and is the one which proudly comes down through history.”
[N.B. The Fort Caspar site is just to the south of the Pony Express Bikepacking Route and Mile 917]
Mile 278: Spring Ranch
“We then resumed our journey over a desert, waterless save after rain, for twenty-three miles; it is the divide between the Little Blue and the Platte rivers, a broken table-land rising gradually toward the west, with, at this season, a barren soil of sand and clay. As the evening approached, a smile from above lit up into absolute beauty the homely features of the world below. The sweet commune with nature in her fairest hours denied to the sons of cities—who must contemplate her charms through a vista of brick wall, or over a foreground of chimney-pots—consoled us amply for all the little hardships of travel. Strata upon strata of cloud-banks, burnished to golden red in the vicinity of the setting sun, and polished to dazzling silvery white above, lay piled half way from the horizon to the zenith, with a distinct strike toward a vanishing point in the west, and dipping into a gateway through which the orb of day slowly retired. Overhead floated in a sea of amber and yellow, pink and green, heavy purple nimbi, apparently turned upside down their convex bulges below, and their horizontal lines high in the air while in the east black and blue were so curiously blended that the eye could not distinguish whether it rested upon darkening air or upon a lowering thunder-cloud. We enjoyed these beauties in silence; not a soul said, ‘Look there!’ or ‘How pretty !’
At 9 P.M., reaching ‘Thirty-two-mile Creek,’ we were pleasantly surprised to find an utter absence of the Irishry.”
Bridge Across the North Platte
“In 1851 Jean Baptiste Richard, a French mountain man, built a log toll bridge over the North Platte. In the spring of 1852, the snowmelt-charged river slapped it aside. Richard came back and built a better bridge, and soon put the Mormon ferries out of business. Richard and his partners had no need to go to California. They found gold in thousands of emigrant pockets right on the banks of the North Platte.”
Mile 1358: Trader's Rest
“Constructed of adobe, the station apparently was only used for a short time. In later years, the structure was covered with wood siding and a false front and re-converted into a business. More recently it served as a garage. . . .
“Trader’s Rest was located on State Street about two miles north-northwest of Union Fort. The area was called Lovendahl’s Corner after Swen Lovendahl, an early settler.”
Mile 120: Guittard's Station
“Going east passengers seldom passed by the house of this Frenchman [Guittard]. He kept one of the best ranches on the whole line and he was known along the overland from Atchison to California by stage passengers and freighters as well as the ‘Delmonico’ is in New York. His was the favorite stopping place for all passengers on the overland, and thousands of freighters and pilgrims hardly ever passed, going east or west without sitting down to the hospitable table that made this ranch so famous. . . .
[quoting from Root and Connelly, Stagecoaching to California]
“In his City of the Saints, Burton, praises very few of the eating places (in 1860), but says that here ‘the house and kitchen were clean, the fences neat; the ham and eggs, the hot rolls and coffee, were fresh and good, and, although drought had killed the salad, we had abundance of peaches and cream, an offering of French to American taste. . . . pp. 27, 28.”
“It took Seventy-five ponies to make the first trip from Missouri to California. The riders of these ponies had ‘shoved a continent behind their hooves,’ and many people recognized this important fact. The crowds cheered ‘Long live the Pony!’ till their throats were sore. When the speeches ended, the bonfires were extinguished, the bells stopped ringing, and the last waltzes were danced, it remained to be seen whether the Pony Express would be a triumph or a failure.”
The Pony Express Was Not an End in Itself
“The Pony Express was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. There had been previous suggestions for the establishment of a fast overland express, and an attempt was made inn Congress in 1855 to provide such a service, but these efforts did not succeed. With the establishment of the overland stage lines a rivalry had arisen between Butterfield and the ‘Central’ routes . . .
During the winter of 1859-60, while Mr. William H. Russell was in Washington, he discussed the overland mail question with Senator Gwin of California. The Senator contended that it was necessary to demonstrate the feasibility of the Central route before he would be able to get from Congress a subsidy to reimburse the firm for the undertaking. The plan appealed to Russell and he agreed to put through the enterprise.”
Geological Age of the Earth
“In 1665, Irish archbishop James Ussher published a painstaking accounting of the age of the Earth deduced from biblical generations. Ussher’s conclusion: God had created the Earth on October 23, 4004 B.C. . . . Geologists have parties that begin on October 22; at midnight they toast the anniversary of the Earth’s formation.”
Mile 568: Nine Mile Station
Nine Mile Station was two miles southeast of Chappell, NE. It’s not marked on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, and I can’t find an exact location for the marker. I’ve found references to a Pony Express Park, but not on Google Maps.
Settlements in the Platte River valley
“The news from Pike’s Peak in 1858 precipitated plans for ranches along the Platte to accommodate the new wave of gold-seekers. There is evidence of a start on such establishments, as well as new mail stations to Salt Lake, late that year. However, as far as overland travelers were concerned, it was not until 1859 that there was any semblance of serious settlement along the Platte except for Fort Kearny itself and two ramshackle trading posts of uncertain vintage, Morrow’s Post at the forks and Beauvais’ post at California, or Ash Hollow, Crossing. Prior to that date the valley was largely an unspoiled wilderness . . .”
Difference Between California and Oregon Emigrants
“Oregonians during the 1850s believed themselves more ‘respectable’ than their Pacific Coast neighbors to the south, expressing the feeling in an arrogant anecdote: ‘At Pacific Springs, one of the crossroads of the western trail, a pile of gold-bearing quartz marked the road to California; the other road had a sign bearing the words “To Oregon.” Those who could read took the Oregon Trail.'”
“The idea behind Fort Kearny had its genesis in the 1844 report of the Secretary of War, recommending the construction of a chain of military posts from the Missouri to the Rockies to protect the Oregon migration. An act of Congress in 1846 authorized such posts and the creation of an Oregon Battalion., the Regiment of Mounted Volunteers. This led to the encampment at Table Creek [on the Missouri River] which soon proved to be a gross error in geographic judgment, and, on June 1, 1847, the War Department directed that an alternate military station be established ‘near Grand Island where the road to California encounters the Platte River.’ . . .
By May 1 Table Creek was abandoned, and by June all officers and men of the Missouri Volunteers had arrived at the ‘Head of Grand Island’ to erecy the ‘1st military station on the route to Oregon.'”
Teamsters in the Utah War
“On this [riverboat from St. Louis to Leavenworth] were bills posted stating that Majors, Russel & Waddell wanted several hundred young men to drive ox teams across the plains to Utah, and would pay $30 per month for the round trip or $40 and take our discharge at Salt Lake City. . . .
We learned that the government was going to establish three military posts in Utah Territory and that Majors, Russel & Waddell had a large contract to deliver their beef cattle and soldiers’ supplies to these posts. That Col. Van Vliet had gone on ahead with an escort of twenty men to hunt out and locate them and be ready to receive the soldiers and supplies when they arrived; and that Majors, Russel & Waddell’s’ contract would require twenty-six trains of twenty-six wagons each and require six yoke of cattle to each wagon. . . .
We went to bed at the outfit house and Monday morning at three o’clock, they called two of us to get up and go to the Company’s store to get our guns and blankets that the Company furnished and charged to us, as every man had to be armed· with a rifle at least. . . . Then we were taken in a wagon four miles out to Salt Creek, from which place we were to start. We got there at day break. . . .
But I had not much of an appetite then for any thing that was in reach, for the overwork and poor “grub” began to tell on me, as I was not used to the kind of food we had-bacon, saleratus bread, boiled rice, and dried apples. . . .
But we told him that they could drive as far as they liked, but we did not drive on a single rod, and that, if we thought he was going to ask us to drive every Sunday, we would unload our traps and stop right here, as this country suited us very, well, and we didn’t hire to drive Sundays nor be dogged about by any body. . . .
In the morning I was considerable better, and Rennick let me have his individual two-gallon keg which the boys filled with this cold spring water. Then they wet a blanket, wrapped the keg in it and put it in the wagon for me. It kept cool all day. . . .
[At Fort Kearny] I succeeded in buying some bottled pickles and a few beans of the soldiers. . . .
We said we were glad to hear that, and that there was a law in regard to a train boss discharging a man over twenty-five miles from a settlement, and that the Company was responsible for the acts of a train boss.”
Mile 1655: Rock Springs Pass
“Now comes the 2,000 foot climb up and over Rock Springs Pass, the highest point along the entire Pony Express Trail, higher even than South Pass in the Rockies, or Carson Pass in the Sierra Nevada. As we climb, and along for a distance, comes the original Lincoln Highway of 1913. When the climb turn steep, the old highway (and the Overland Stage) turns away to skirt the mountain to the south. By two we’re standing in the pass. What a long, uphill pull. It’s hard to imagine how the pony riders managed to climb some of these unbelievable boulder-strewn canyons—let alone, make good time!
“A short downhill and we arrive Rock Springs, a fine little babbling brook that emerges from a rock outcrop just above. We take of the cold, clear water.”
Mile 1804: Roberts Creek Station
“On May 31 , C. H. Ruffin, a Pony Express employee, wrote William W. Finney in San Francisco that he and others had been driven out of Cold Creek Station by an Indian attack on the night of May 29. He also said that the men at Dry Creek had been killed, and it was thought that Roberts Creek Station had been destroyed. Both of these reports were correct.”
Mile 1311-1322: Mountain Dell to Journey's End
“[From Little Mountain] Seven miles yet intervened between these recklessly intermingled people and the City of the Great Salt Lake, most of them in narrow, rock-bound brushy Emigration Canyon.
Between Emigrant Canyon and the city the wagons slowly filed past the spot, now called Journey’ End, where Brigham Young spoke the well remembered words, ‘This is the place.’ Just ahead the ‘City of the Saints’ spread before them, three miles in each direction.”
[N.B. This area is now called “This is the Place Heritage Park.”]
“On the other side of the camp—a curious contrast—guns and ammunition were being distributed, as there were reports of the Pawnees being collected some twelve miles in advance. The Pawnees have the name of being about the meanest and most rascally set of Indians in the whole country; more ready to bully than to fight, and most to pick off stragglers; as a tribe, they are at peace with the United States.”
Expansionism in California
“It is not clear that Polk knew what he meant by it. Expansionism, North or South, included California, but this meant little more than a recognition of Monterey, where the trade in hides centered, and a lively realization of the geographical importance of San Francisco Bay. . . .
“Of all the vast space east of the Sierra it was impossible to know anything except for the records of the fur trade and the few trails scratched across the deserts – and it does not appear that anyone now in official life except Benton knew any useful part of this. Even the great valleys between the Sierra and the sea, even the genial, pastoral, hospitable life of the Californians were little known. As late as ’46 no detailed, dependable map of California existed. There were few trustworthy descriptions, in English, of any part east of the coastal towns. Newspapers published letters from shipmasters or their passengers who touched the coast – romantic, flamboyant, packed with fable and misunderstanding. The War Department had a handful of reports, fragmentary, in great part inaccurate, ignored by everyone but Benton: it is not certain that Polk had ever heard of them. There were half a dozen books: the President had not read them. Lately the State Department had made a shrewd and intelligent merchant, Thomas O. Larkin, consul at Monterey. His reports were the one dependable source of information.”
Mile 2056: Mormon Station/Genoa, NV
“Mormons had established a permanent settlement at Mormon Station, now Genoa, which was a rankling thorn in [the local Native Americans’] flesh. It was, however, a genuine spine-stiffener for the feminine portion of the early-day cavalcades. There were white women there, the first since Salt Lake City, and real houses with vegetable gardebs at the foot of the forested mountain.” . . .
Mormon Station was, to all intents and purposes, a trading post. It maintained a store and a boarding house that served appetizing meals with vegetables and bread. There was even a dinner bell at noon and at sunset. One of the buildings was, in later years, treated to a genteel two-store false front as deceptive as a cheap toupee and as useful, and was the oldest house in Nevada when, quite recently [in the 1940s] it was destroyed by fire.
In the late fifties, after the difficulties between the Mormons and the government were settled, harassed travelers found a United States Indian agent in Genoa. Widows and orphans from Indian massacres were placed in his charge to be returned to their homes when opportunity afforded.”
The End of the Pony Express
The Pony Express, its route drastically shortened and its purpose now virtually eliminated by the telegraph, was quietly discontinued, with none of the fanfare that had launched it, following the completion of its run on October 26. In eighteen tumultuous months it had made 308 runs each way, carrying about 34,753 pieces of mail, yet losing only one mochila in the process. It had captured the world’s imagination and helped keep the West in the Union. But as a business operation the Pony Express had brought in only a tiny fraction of the $500,000 or so that was invested in it.”
Mile 303: Summit/Sand Hill/Summit Springs Station
This area was possibly the driest and windiest section of the pull from the Little Blue to the Platte Valley. Summit Station may have been established in 1860 for use as a Pony Express Station. Joe Nardone (2008) refers to it as an “added station”. The station was abandoned after the Indian raids and never rebuilt. Frank Root in The Overland Stage to California (in Renschler, 1997)wrote:
The distance between thirty-two Mile Creek and the Platte is twenty-five miles. Summit the first station, was twelve miles. It was one of the most lonesome places in Nebraska, located on the divide between the Little Blue and the Platte . . .From its vicinity the waters flow south into the Little Blue and northeast into the west branch of the Big Blue. The surroundings for some distance on either side of the station represented a region of sand-hills with numerous deep ravines or gullies cut by heavy rains or waterspouts and dressed smoothly by the strong winds that have been blowing through them almost ceaselessly for untold centuries. Very little in the way of vegetation was noticeable at Summit or in the vicinity. It was a rather dismal looking spot. . . Necessity compelled the stage men to choose this location however, for the distance from Thirty-two Mile Creek to the Platte, twenty-five miles, was over a somewhat rough and hilly road, and it was too much of a pull for one team.
Because of land leveling for irrigation, the area today appears to be fairly smooth although the pull out of the little valley of the West Branch of Thirty-two Mile Creek would have been hard work.
Summit Station was first marked in 1935 by Hastings Boy Scouts under the direction of A. M. Brooking, Hastings Museum curator. The original marker was cement with a circular bronze plaque. In the 1973 the Adams County Historical Society erected a new marker at the site made from granite from the old Hastings Post Office foundation.
“Sand Hill” was located one and a half miles south of Kenesaw within the (SE corner of NEVi, Sec. 10, T.7N, R.12W), on the crest of the divide between the Little Blue and Platte River drainages. The name refers to the difficult sandy wagon road which called for double-teaming. This station also appears as “Summit Station” (Root and Connelley), “Water-Hole” in (Allen), and “Fairfield” in (Chapman’s interview with William Campbell), In 1863 it was described by Root as “one of the most lonesome places in Nebraska”. This station was another casualty of the Indian Wars of 1864.
—The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 5
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/kHMVZg4XtHRhTyxX6.
Mile 1043: St. Mary's Crossing
“In the flat was a small marker for the site of old St. Mary’s stage station, usually referred to as St. Mary’s Crossing. Two buffalo horns, gray and scaly from long exposure, lay beside it. . . .
There are no evidences remaining of the old station house; but tradition at the Ellis ranch places it in that particular spot, and we saw no reason to doubt the accuracy of the marker.”
Women's Struggle on the Trail
“If we are to trust and respect their revelations in their diaries and recollections, the greatest struggle of women on the trail was the struggle to endure the hardship and suffering without becoming bitter and resentful, without becoming the carping wife, without burdening their marital relationship with the bad feelings that burned inside them. If we are to judge them not by our standards but their own, we will not resurrect and applaud every little act of womanly resistance and mean feminine spirit but examine and attempt to understand the powers of endurance that permitted them to act out the role of good wife through the whole hated experience. The women’s materials give us a penetrating look at the feminine psychology of social dependency.”
“Mark Twain was familiar with all the gun models of that day and stated that Slade used Navy revolvers, as did Mrs. Slade.”
“The transportation of the mails overland before the completion of the railroad was considered impracticable by the Postmaster-general [Joseph Holt, Aaron Brown’s successor] because of their bulk. As dispatched semi-monthly they averaged ten tons. This amount he considered to be too large for overland transmission even when divided into semi-weekly allotments. The overland routes had been demonstrated as available for light mail and could be used in case of foreign war or such emergency, and now there was no further necessity for their extensive employment. He believed that the law of March 3, 1845, announced the proper principle in reference to mail contracts when it provided that contracts were to be tendered to ‘the bidder tendering sufficient guarantees for faithful performance, without other reference to the mode of such transportation than may be necessary to provide for due celerity, certainty, and security of such transportation.’ Inasmuch as this law was still in force, Holt announced that hereafter only ‘Star Bids,’ in conformity with the above law, would be invited. . . .
In the Post office Department files the lines upon which the service was performed with ‘celerity, certainty, and security,’ with no reference to the mode of conveyance, were marked with a star, hence the term ‘Star Bids.'”
“. . . there were as many as two dozen inns or taverns maintained by Mormons in El Dorado County and surrounding areas. Porter Rockwell himself maintained three of them in 1849-50. The most famous of the inns was known as the Mormon Tavern, situated on the Placerville road, about twenty miles west of Hangtown (Placerville). It was the frequent meeting place of Howard Egan, Porter Rockwell (who went under the alias of Brown), Charles C. Rich, and Amasa M. Lyman. Captain Asahel A. Lathrop was the proprietor. A captain of ten in 1847, it was he who had been the spiritual leader of the relief train to the southern settlements in the winter of 1847-48, returning to Utah with cattle and supplies.”
Mile 366: Plum Creek Station
“As the emigrants approached Plum Creek, which was considered as the very center of buffalo country, the wagons lurched squarely across dozens of deep and parallel paths—some scarcely a foot wide but close together, like plowed furrows—which the great beasts had made single-filing over the grassy dunes to the river. The busy wind has left no trace of these characteristic trails, but throughout the emigration they were a major difficulty on the otherwise good Platte road.
In staging days Plum Creek Station was a well known stopping point and was the only station left undestroyed between Fort Kearney and Julesburg in the uprising of ’64—a pleasant circumstance which was supremely unimportant to its dozen or so inhabitants, who were all scalped. Their near-by grave evidently is seldom visited, but in the center of plot stands a massive stone monument inscribed, ‘The Pioneer Men and Women who Lost their Lives by Hostile Indians in the Plum Creek Massacre, Aug. 7, 1864.’
It is no more than right or fitting that their burial place should be signally and outstandingly marked. They paid a heavy price that some of the government services which we take for granted might be firmly established.Had it not been for the communicating stage lines and mail service, our western country might have had a far different history. This connecting chain was composed of many links which must hold fast if it were to endure. The stationmasters and stock tenders with their wives and families were these links. They lived rigorously at best, and often lost their lives at their posts. There can be no doubt that they helped to preserve the Union as surely as any soldier who died at Gettysburg.”
[N.B. The Plum Creek Cemetery had a Pony Express emblem from the Thirties until it was stolen sometime in the 70s. It was replaced, with a new granite marker, in 2018. The marker is at 740 Road and B Road, just about Mile 364 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route map.]
The Rider's Horn
“Billy Campbell commented about another item provided, ‘Each rider at the outset was given a horn to blow as he approached the station. This was to warn the station keeper to have fresh mounts ready. Usually, however, they could hear the hoof-beats of our ponies about as far as they could hear the horn.'”
“Continued population increase and settlement of Oregon, California, and Utah sustained a growing necessity for an east-west mail service. In response to these migrations and population increases, post offices were officially established in San Francisco (1848) and Salt Lake City (1849). Thereafter, the federal government let contracts to companies to provide east-west mail service.
For the next decade or so, vital questions regarding delivery routes (ocean versus overland), frequency of service (monthly or semi-monthly), speed of delivery (number of days for delivery), and costs were answered through pragmatic means—trial and error.”
Mile 760: Mexican Hill
“For the better part of a mile we kept to the edge of the bluffs, separating and spreading over a wide strip of territory as we hunted for the place where our maps showed that a right-hand fork of the trail made its descent to the river bottom. . . .
The men were the first to find the descent, which is merely a steeply washed break in the bluffs. But it bore evidence that the wagons had descended at this point and it is called (we found later) Mexican Hill.
[N.B. The mileage is an approximation. Mexican Hill appears to lie somewhere between the Pony Express Bikepacking Route and the North Platte River off one of the tangential dirt roads. More info here . . .]
“The bones of buffalo whiten the roadside, and their bleached skulls serve in a double way as records of the passers-by. Many are the names and bulletins pencilled on them; and by continually reading one begins to learn the biography of those in front, and feel an interest and a companionship in their progress. Perhaps we catch up another train, we all chat together, names drop out; ‘Oh!’ one answers, ‘I know your name, I read it on a buffalo head three weeks ago; you’re from —, are not you?’ Sometimes one reads short camp anecdotes or accidents, such as, ‘Woman shot to-day by her husband taking his gun loaded into the waggon—not expected to recover:’ then, ‘Woman shot on Thursday, doing well.'”
Mile 969: Independence Rock
“Like the emigrants, we approached the rock from the east side—a lusty monolith, a mile in circumference, and seemingly one solid piece of gray granite. No wonder that this tremulous outpost of the hard-rock country struck sparks from the sandstone-weary migration. For that matter there is nothing frivolous about the Sweetwater Range, or, as the emigrants called it, the Rattlesnake or Granite Mountains—a substantial little item rising in full view to the right and flaunting its nakedness in the teeth of the Rockies. It is a bars ridge of solid rock, and on the occasion of this, our first visit the knuckle ends of its protruding bones were slowly mellowed by reflected light from the vast copper bowl of the gathering sunset to a pale polished coffee color. . . .
Most people know that Independence Rock is called the Great Register of the Desert. Even so, a few facts about it and the thousands of names that at one time appeared upon it, may not come amiss. From earliest days it was noted as a landmark and a camping place for the fur trader’s expeditions. Not a man among them but knew every foot of its surrounding country. Many of the early travelers thought that its name might have been evolved because of its sturdy isolation; but Asahel Munger, a missionary Oregon-bound in 1839, was told by Harris, well known mountain man, that the name Independence was bestowed upon it in 1830 by trappers of the American Fur Company who happened to spend the Fourth of July camped in its shadow.
Until after 1849, the Sweetwater ford was immediately at the rock . . .”
Big Dipper Clock
“The herders and guards knew the hour of the night, when there was a clear sky, by the position of the big dipper; the Great Bear was their only clock.”
[Note: Instructions on telling time by the Big Dipper: https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/tell-time-by-stars.html]
“Our Camp at Pole Creek the night’ of November 4, 1864, was very bleak and dreary. Pole Creek was a vast trough in the plateau. It had a bed wide enough for the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Through this bed the arroyo of the stream ran, a bed of beautiful tawny sand about a hundred yards wide, and cut down from ten to fifteen feet. Sometimes the arroyo was wider, and sometimes narrower, but from Julesburg to the crossing, thirty-five miles, there was nothing, as before stated, in the shape of a tree or bush. It was absolutely devoid of any vegetation except the grass. And above the arroyo the ‘flood plain’ of the stream, if it could be so called, was as level as a floor for distances out of sight. Occasionally in the arroyo there were little clumps of drift roots and brush, sometimes a small, dead, drifted pine. Lodgepole Creek was said to have a well-defined bed for two hundred miles, and to head at the Cheyenne Pass, in the Rocky Mountains.”
Mail between Sacramento and Salt Lake
“George Chorpenning and Absalom Woodward signed [a U.S. mail contract] in February 1851, to carry the mail from [Salt Lake City] to Sacramento, California.This put the United States mail in operation from end to end of the Central Route for the first time. On May 1 of that year Chorpenning left Sacramento with a party of men for the first trip. In the high Sierra they encountered snow so deep that they had to pound it down with wooden mauls so that the animals could travel. Through sixteen days and nights they toiled and camped under those conditions.
When summer came they experienced difficulties with the Indians. In November Woodward by a war party west of the Malad River in Western Utah. In December the carriers were compelled to turn back on account of deep snow. the mail for February 1852, was routed through Feather River Pass and arrived at Salt Lake City in sixty days. The horses had frozen to death in the Goose Creek Mountains and the party had to travel the last two hundred miles on foot. In March the mail was sent by water to San Pedro, and thence through Cajon Pass and up the Mormon Trail to its destination. . . .
In 1854 . . . [t]he route was changed to run from San Diego to Salt Lake City . . .”
Pony Express Stations
“Stations were being built and equipped from bases in Denver, Leavenworth, Salt Lake City, and Sacramento. When all were finished, there were 153 stations on the route. . . .
When a station consisted of one room only it was generally divided by muslin curtains into kitchen, dining room, and living quarters. Upon a strong ridgepole reaching from side to side of the building, smaller poles were placed to make the foundation for a flat roof. Over these was laid a layer of willows, then straw, next dirt, and last of all a coat of coarse gravel to keep the dirt from blowing away. This was the type of building constructed whether of logs, ‘dobe, or sod. Some of them were half dugouts and others stood entirely above the ground. The buildings at Julesburg were the most elaborate along the whole route.”
Waiting to Emigrate
“[Emigrants] had time to be married, to be born, or to die while they waited in camp for the grass to sprout upon the prairie. This was absolutely vital, for, until it was high enough to provide feed for the animals, only those horse and mule teams carrying grain dared to start the journey. . . .
Little as they liked the delay, it was sometimes a good thing. For, unless the emigrant was the provident type who had brought his own teams, he must get them from among the contumacious animals presented for his inspection at the markets of Independence; and in nine cases out of ten, both he and the newly acquired livestock were in for trouble.
Half-broken or, in many instances, totally wild steers and mules were calmly sold to men who might never in their lives have driven anything more dangerous than a buggy mare. . . .
John E. Brown wrote that, after he had found pairs that would not start a fight on sight, it was next to impossible to get four that would tolerate each other. In which case the leaders (having the advantage of position) kicked the wheelers clear out of the harness.”
“From this time [along the Platte River] we began to travel in earnest, sixteen to twenty miles a day—’only,’ one unacquainted with ox-teams might add; but this distance is quite as much as cattle are fit to continue at. Their pace being seldom over two miles an hour, a journey took from morning till night, for small accidents often occur, and a large train is greatly delayed by any bad place in the road, as the foremost waggons cannot go on ahead but must wait for the rest to come up.
Desertion having made drivers scarce, I again had a team; three yoke, being new cattle, were only unchained, not unyoked, at night for some time.”
Utah Gets News of Coming War
“On July 24, 1857, the Saints held their annual celebration of Pioneers’ Day at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, some twenty-five miles southeast of Salt Lake City and 10,000 feet above sea level. . . . Suddenly four travel-worn men, one of whom had ridden the long road from Eastern Kansas, rushed upon the scene with the information that a new governor, with a large military escort, was on his way to establish Gentile rule over Utah. . . .the grimmy couriers, it would seem, had played the part of Pheidippides before the battle of Marathon. . . .
Whatever warning the Saints may have had, the fact remains that after seven turbulent years relations between the Territory and the nation seemed about to dissolve in civil war.”
Texas or Cherokee Oxen
“The oxen were not, in general, the massive beasts bred in the northeast but were range cattle from Texas or the Cherokee country. While they should be large and at least four years old for best performance, they actually varied greatly. One man said that they were ‘of every character and description—some of them very small, but having horns of immense size, that we boys used to say that the meat of the steer could be packed in its horns.’ . . . According to a merchant of Nebraska City who had done some freighting, the Texas steer made the best leader; quick on his feet, he could, and at times did, outrun a horse.”
Edible Buffalo Parts
“Conscientious meat hunters could use the greater part of a young buffalo (by remaining in camp a day to make jerky), but the great delicacies were the hump, the tongue, the tenderloin, and the marrow bones.
The tongue was taken by setting the animal’s head with the nose in the air and horns deep in the ground to steady it; a large slit under the jaw was then cut, through which the desired member might easily be removed.
Marrowbones, buried in coals of buffalo chips for an hour, were considered to to be especially rich and delicious. The treat may seem a trifle concentrated to us; but then, we are not living on beans and biscuit.”
Raids on Butterfield Stations in Texas
“Texas’s secession vote in February 1861 prompted Congress a few weeks later to move the overland mail service from the southern route to a central route through the country’s midsection, far away from the southern states. The Overland Mail Company agreed to switch operations to the central route, and on March 12, 1861, Postmaster General Montgomery Blair officially ordered the change. . . .
In mid-May , [Butterfield /Superintendent Owen] Tully sold all of Butterfield’s Trans-Pecos stations and equipment to San Antonio mail contractor George Giddings. Giddings continued mail service to El Paso and Mesilla until August 1862, when Texas and the Confederacy abandoned the Trans-Pecos to the Union Army, which occupied it for the duration of the war.
Before selling Butterfield’s Trans-Pecos properties to Giddings, Superintendent Tuller had to contend with a series of raids on his stage stops. Ironically, the marauders were not Comanches or Apaches but Texas Rangers. The principals involved included John Robert Baylor and his sidekick Harris A. Hamner, leaders of Texas’s Indian reservation was in 1859 and the gang responsible for the assassination of federal Indian superintendent Robert Neighbors. . . .
In February 1861, Tuller complained to Governor Sam Houston that Rangers were pillaging his company’s mail stations at Belknap and Clear Fork of the Brazos. The superintendent said that a party of armed men commanded by Captain Hamner had stolen a load of grain from Belknap Station. When Tuller arrived at Clear Fork Station abourd a Butterfield coach on February 10, he discovered four hundred armed men camping around the stage stop. The Rangers had looted the Overland building of all its grain and hay. . . .
While Johnson and Hamner were threatening Tuller, other Texas rangers were detaining overland stages and interfering with mail line operations. . . . Around February 19, a Butterfield stage conductor and his passengers reported ‘outrages by secessionists’ at Fort Chadbourne, including the seizure ‘of the coach, . . . its mail, . . . [and] the property of the company at Chadbourne Station. . .
Another Butterfield conductor told the St. Louis newspaper that while traveling through Texas with a ‘considerable amount of money’ during this time when ‘Secessionist Rangers’ were looting various mail stations, he pulled his coach off the road, deeming ‘it prudent to lie over till the Rangers had departed, lest the coin should be confiscated to the public benefit.’
On Friday, April 5, 1861 the postmaster of San Francisco announced, ‘The Overland Mail by the Butterfield route did not leave this city today for St. Louis as usual and will be discontinued hereafter.’ Effective June 1, Overland Mail Company stages would go from Missouri to California via the new Central Overland Route.”
National Pony Express Association
“In 1966, the National Pony Express Association (NPEA) was founded. This organization, with 700 current members, incorporated in 1978. Outside the United States, members also come from Germany, England, and the Czech Republic. In the past, NPEA’s chief involvement with the trail was their national reride, with the first occurring in 1980. The organization has become much more active in recent years, most notably with their efforts to have the trail authorized as the Pony Express National Historic Trail under P.L. 102-328 (August 3, 1992). This organization also worked very closely with the National Park Service to prepare the Eligibility I Feasibility Study and Environmental Assessment for the California and Pony Express Trails (1986).”
“The mountain region westward of the sage and saleratus desert, extending between the 105th and 111th meridian (G.) a little more than 400 miles will in time become sparsely peopled. Though in many parts arid and sterile, dreary and desolate, the long bunch grass (Festuca), the short curly buffalo grass (Sisleria dactyloides), the mesquit grass (Stipa spata), and the Gramma, or rather, as it should be called, ‘Gamma’ grass (Chondrosium fcenum) which clothe the slopes west of Fort Laramie, will enable it to rear an abundance of stock.”
Army Civilian Court
“Almost every day appeals were made to the post for the settlement of disputes, quarrels and bets. We did the best we could, came as near to doing justice in each case as we knew how, and let the matter go at that. It was the only court that could enforce its decrees. I always thought the people had confidence in it, and that it was a good thing, because there were many disputes over matters that people did not want to kill each other for. Shortly after that there was a killing in a wagon train going down from Denver. One man shot another about fifteen miles west of our post. We arrested and held the man up, and finally sent him down to Fort Kearney, in confinement.”
Sage Brush Camp Fire
“When a party camps, the first thing to be done is to cut sage-brush; and in a few minutes there is an opulent pile of it ready for use. A hole a foot wide, two feet deep, and two feet long, is dug, and sage-brush chopped up and burned in it till it is full to the brim with glowing coals. Then the cooking begins, and there is no smoke, and consequently no swearing. Such a fire will keep all night, with very little replenishing; and it makes a very sociable camp-fire, and one around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”
Shooting of Ferrin
“In April  we moved from Henry’s Fork to the mouth of Ham’s Fork, where we remained for a month . . .
“While camped here a mule train of sixteen wagons loaded with freight for Salt Lake City camped a short distance above us on the stream. In a few minutes we heard a shot fired and as there seemed to be some excitement we walked up to the wagons, and were shocked to see one of the drivers lying on the ground, shot through the heart. The wagon boss had gotten drunk at Green river, about fifteen miles back, was cussing the driver about some trifle, the driver had talked back and the ‘boss’ who was J. A. Slade, drew his revolver and shot the man dead. Later the teamsters dug a grave by the roadside, wrapped the dead man in his blankets and buried him. The train went on to Salt Lake and nothing was done about the murder.”
“By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assoil!) there was never anything on this earth like it !”
[assoil (archaic): absolve, pardon]
Holladay Operates the Stage Lines
“Holladay now managed the firm as the Overland Stage Line, although he continued its operation under the Kansas charter of the ‘C. O. C.’ until February, 1866, when be obtained a new charter from the territory of Colorado, under the name of the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company.”
“But we knew afterward that it was something he had been drinking. It was the exclusively Mormon refresher,’valley tan.’ Valley tan (or, at least, one form of valley tan) is a kind of whisky, or first cousin to it; is of Mormon invention and manufactured only in Utah. Tradition says it is made of (imported) fire and brimstone. If I remember rightly no public drinking saloons were allowed in the kingdom by Brigham Young, and no private drinking permitted among the faithful, except they confined themselves to ‘valley tan.'”
Gives Vent to His Spleen
“” A mean streak will come out in the Plains.’ N.A. Cagwin cautions a man when he ‘gives vent to his spleen’ or ‘fans the spirit of discord.'”
Mochilas Were a Later Innovation
“The mochilla [sic] system developed out of necessity—an adaptation made to problems encountered in the daily operation of the Pony Express. There is no indication that these special pouches were ordered and used before the first run of the Pony Express in April 1860. Evidently, they were not put in use until after late 1860, for when the English traveller Richard Burton passed along the route at that time, he mentioned that letters were carried in leathern bags, and that they were “thrown about carelessly” when the saddle was changed between horses.39 Given the Spanish nomenclature, it may have been adapted from similar pouches in use in California.”
The Coast of Nebraska
“The Platte River dominates Nebraska geography, and its dominant characteristic is its flatness. ‘Nebraska’ is the approximate Omaha Indian equivalent for ‘flat water,’ and the French word ‘Platte’ is synonymous. The earliest explorers and emigrants sometimes used ‘Nebraska’ to refer to the river and not the territory. Thus, ‘Coast of Nebraska’ and ‘Coast of the Platte’ were interchangeable. It is not known who invented the term, but it was used by the explorers John C. Fremont and Howard Stansbury and appears in occasional emigrant journals and in late-period travelogues. It was not widely used, but it expresses beautifully the impact upon the emigrants of this strange river which made possible a road which would take them to the Continental Divide and California. The term is particularly poetic in its imagery, for the vast shimmering flatness of the Platte valley, at the edge of the sand dunes, did have a remarkable resemblance to the seashore of the Atlantic Ocean. It was prophetic that this first exposure to the Platte produced an eerie, unearthly (or at least unfamiliar) atmosphere that created an aura for the remaining journey.”
“The ‘ripper,’ or driver, who is bound to the gold regions of Pike’s Peak, is a queer specimen of humanity. He usually hails from one of the old Atlantic cities in fact, from settled America and, like the civilized man generally, he betrays a remarkable aptitude for facile descent into savagery. His dress is a harlequinade, typical of his disposition. Eschewing the chimney-pot or stove-pipe tile of the bourgeois, he affects the ‘Kossuth,’ an Anglo-American version of the sombrero, which converts felt into every shape and form, from the jaunty little head-covering of the modern sailor to the tall steeple-crown of the old Puritan. He disregards the trichotomy of St. Paul, and emulates St. Anthony and the American aborigines in the length of his locks, whose ends are curled inward, with a fascinating sausage-like roll not unlike the Cockney ‘aggrawator.’ If a young hand, he is probably in the buckskin mania, which may pass into the squaw mania, a disease which knows no cure: the symptoms are, a leather coat and overalls to match, embroidered if possible, and finished along the arms and legs with fringes cut as long as possible, while a pair of gaudy moccasins, resplendent with red and blue porcelain beads, fits his feet tightly as silken hose. I have heard of coats worth $250, vests $100, and pants $150 : indeed, the poorest of buckskin suits will cost $75, and if hard-worked it must be renewed every six months. The successful miner or the gambler in these lands the word is confined to the profession will add $10 gold buttons to the attractions of his attire. The older hand prefers to buckskin a ” wamba” or round-about, a red or rainbow-colored flannel over a check cotton shirt; his lower garments, garnished a tergo with leather, are turned into Hessians by being thrust inside his cow-hide Wellingtons; and, when in riding gear, he wraps below each knee a fold of deer, antelope, or cow skin, with edges scalloped where they fall over the feet, and gartered tightly against thorns and stirrup thongs, thus effecting that graceful elephantine bulge of the lower leg for which “Jack ashore” is justly celebrated. Those who suffer from sore eyes wear huge green goggles, which give a crab-like air to the physiognomy, and those who can not procure them line the circumorbital region with lampblack, which is supposed to act like the surma or kohl of the Orient. A broad leather belt supports on the right a revolver, generally Colt’s Navy or medium size (when Indian fighting is expected, the large dragoon pistol is universally preferred); and on the left, in a plain black sheath, or sometimes in the more ornamental Spanish scabbard, is a buck-horn or ivory-handled bowie-knife.”
Romance of Freighting
“At Kearney Finlay left me. Since the train started he had been as sick of his profession as the traditional dog of the proverbial broth. He could see no romance in “hollering” at and beating oxen all day and herding them on alternate nights, and was disgusted with his associates.”
Dogtown and Dobytown
“Beginning in 1858 there were two famous—or infamous—appendages of Fort Kearny, primitive communities which supplied vital needs for civilians and soldiers alike. Eight miles to the east, just off the reservation line, was Valley City, or Dogtown. Just beyond the western line, two miles away and therefore a much bigger and livelier place, was Kearney City, or Dobytown. . . .
Monthly mail between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City, Utah, began in the summer of 1850. In 1858 mail service went on a weekly basis, and with this began the systematic transportation of passengers, first by mail wagon, later by the famous Concord coaches. To facilitate this service, the company built stage stations at intervals of town or twelve miles. This was the actual beginning of Valley City and Kearney City. The former was related to a ‘swing station’ where horses were changed; the latter evolved from a ‘home station’ where drivers were changed and meals offered the passengers. . . .
The Pony Express of 1860-1861, operated by Russell, Majors & Waddell, of freighting fame, shared most of its stations with the Holladay company along the main Platte; accordingly, there were Pony Express stations at Valley City and in the Fort Kearny vicinity. Contrary to widespread impression, the Pony Express riders did not gallop up to Moses Sydenham’s sod [sutler] post near the Fort Kearny parade ground; they kept right on going to the log station west of the fort, and mail by stage or Pony Express was carried back to the fort from there.”
“the whip was the teamster’s badge of office. The muleskinner from his post astride the nigh-wheeler, with the top of the wagon close behind him, was restricted to a ‘blacksnake’ some eight to ten feet in length. The bullwhacker from his post on the ground alongside the nigh-wheeler had room in which to swing a more magnificent instrument— a three-to four-foot stock of hickory or other tough wood, and an eighteen- to twenty- foot lash of braided rawhide, tipped with a six- or eight-inch popper of rawhide.”
“Fremont . . . was worse than a fool, he was an opportunist, an adventurer, and a blunderer on a truly dangerous scale. He was foisted on the Republic in the hour of its peril by the power of publicity, the reputation erected on his career in California during ’46 and ’47. That was the career of a military adventurer, a filibuster, and an officer of the United States Army committing mutiny. In the Civil War, as in California, he made a play for every opportunity that would serve John Charles Fremont, regardless of its effect on the United States. Then, as in California, he created spectacle but bungled what he had started out to do. Only, in the Civil War he came into the keeping of men with stronger intelligences and clearer understanding of the forces at work who could use the symbol John Charles Fremont for their private purposes. Their purposes were not pretty and Fremont did nothing to inconvenience them. That they did not destroy the United States was not their fault. Neither was it Fremont’s. (It was in part the responsibility of a major general who in February of ’47 arrived in California as a lieutenant of artillery, William Tecumseh Sherman.) Technically and in the light of his own conscience, he was not a traitor to the United States in 1864. That this was not for lack of the raw stuff out of which treason is made was clear in ’64 – and was clear in ’47.
God and events were against Fremont. He tried to be a great man but something always happened.”
A Downgrade, a Flying Coach
“And it was comfort in those succeeding days to sit up and contemplate the majestic panorama of mountains and valleys spread out below us and eat ham and hard boiled while our spiritual natures revelled alternately in rainbows, thunderstorms, and peerless sunsets. Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs. Ham and eggs, and after these a pipe—an old, rank, delicious pipe—ham and eggs and scenery, a ‘down grade,’ a flying coach, a fragrant pipe and a contented heart—these make happiness. It is what all the ages have struggled for.”
“The wind seemed to blow constantly from the time that we left Fort Kearney. The road was a broad, smooth, beaten track, fully three hundred feet wide, swept clean by the wind, and along the sides for some distance the grass was pretty well eaten out. . . .
“There was some very good grass down near the river. Mr. French had been keeping everybody off from grazing on it, and endeavored to keep us off, but it was Government land, and we were in the service of the Government, and we did not recognize bis sovereignty over the broad country. Mr. French became very boisterous, and we had some words with him. Afterwards we were told that he was a Confederate deserter from a Southern regiment, and was not very fond of blue uniforms, and felt inclined to be as disagreeable as possible.”
Brief History of Mormon Settlement in Utah
“At the time the Mormons chose their new homeland on the Great Salt Lake and settled down to farm, their colony was in Mexican domain several hundred miles beyond the jurisdiction of the United states, while Bridger and Vasquez held their lands, totaling nine-square miles, under a grant from the Mexican government. Within a few months [February, 1848] the terms of peace at the close of the Mexican War threw them all into United States territory. . . .
As soon as [the Mormons] found themselves living once again in United States territory, they held a meeting, revowed allegiance to the Constitution and organized their own independent state, calling it Deseret. his was in 1849, so it will be readily understood with what curiosity the gold-seekers visited the Mormon colony. In 1850, Congress (which had ignored the state of Deseret) created the territory of Utah, cleverly appointing Brigham Young its governor. He accepted and took oath February 3, 1851.”
“The complex of sites around Kansas City is the best known, partly because this area was the principal jump-off for the Oregon migration, partly because it was in the business of outfitting explorers, fur traders, and emigrants longer than any of its rivals. Kansas City was important because of a simple accident of geography. It was located as the point where the Missouri River, after its westward course through the state of Missouri, makes a sharp bend northward to Nebraska; hence the seemingly logical point to get out of a boat and pursue westward objectives overland. . . . there were once four focal points of emigration.
The earliest of these was Fort Osage, a government post established in 1808 at a point recommended by William Clark several miles downstream from present Kansas City . . .Next came Cyprian Chouteau’s trading post in 1821, below the mouth of the Kansas, or Kaw, River . . .In time Chouteau’s Landing, moved frequently because of floods, evolved into historically obscure settlements variously tagged Kanzas, Kansasmouth, Kanzasville, Westport, and Westport Landing.
Independence became the third and most important point of overland departure. . . .Since Independence was a few miles inland, it was served by various steamboat landings rearranged annually by Missouri River floods.In 1849 there were two: old Independence Landing, and a new excrescence of shacks by the glorified name of Wayne City. . . .D. Jagger refers to this as the Independence Upper Landing.
The town of Westport [the fourth point of departure] was on the uplands between Turkey Creek and Bush Creek, a few miles north of Westport Landing and just inside the state line. . . .Westport and Westport Landing eventually merged to become the metropolis of Kansas City; but like Independence, after 1849 they also yielded to towns upriver as primary jumping-off places for the Platte.”
Wagons Across the North Platte
“There were those [at the North Platte Crossing], as at any ferry, who could not or would not pay the price and who used self-constructed substitutes. To these novices the strong west wind was an additional hazard—a twin current flowing above the river. It caught the rumbled in the capacious bellies of the white-topped wagons, swelling them into sails that flung the rafts downstream. Pulling men were dragged into the current. Ropes snapped. Rafts capsized. . . .One experience was enough to teach everyone present to remove the wagon tops during a ferry trip in a windstorm; but the next playful breeze, sneaking up after a two- or three-day calm, would catch a new group unprepared.”
“Though we all rose up early, packed, and were ready to proceed, there was an unusual vis inerlice on the part of the driver: Indians were about; the mules, of course, had bolted; but that did not suffice as explanation. Presently the ‘wonder leaked out:’ our companions were transferred from their comfortable vehicle to a real ‘shandridan,’ a Rocky-Mountain bone-setter. They were civil enough to the exceedingly drunken youth a runaway New Yorker who did us the honor of driving us . . .”
[Note: Shandrydan, n. A jocosely depreciative name for a vehicle. [Ireland]
Fort Kearny Mail
“‘We arrived at Fort Kearny after noon [May 8, 1849]. Here we had an opportunity of sending letters to our friends. The officers are going to send a mail to the States in the morning and kindly offered to transmit any letters we wished to send.’ . . .
The Fort Kearny post office, which apparently was operated by, or in conjunction with, the post sutler, was another favorite haunt for emigrants . . . As a result of the vagaries of the mail service, particularly in early years, most enquiring emigrants came away disappointed; only a few would emerge triumphant with missives from loved ones. Thousands of letters, scribbled on packing boxes by candlelight, were mailed at Fort Kearny; only a dozen or so have survived.
The occasional heroic efforts of ‘north-siders’ [emigrants north of the Platte] to reach Fort Kearny for their mail have been noted, this being their only chance to communicate with home until Fort Laramie was reached.”
Senator Gwin's Motivation
“It was sometime in December 1859 or early January 1860 that William H. Russell, one of the partners in the firm Russell, Majors and [sic] Waddell, and California Senator William M. Gwin met to discuss the need to improve communications between California and the East and how it could best be achieved . . . Gwin hoped to gain favor politically. Even though he was a southern sympathizer [and thus, a supporter of Butterfield’s southern ox bow route], he believed that bringing in mail service over the shorter central route would increase his popularity and ensure his chance of re-election or higher office.”
Mile 2098: Strawberry, CA
“[The hostelry at Strawberry] belonged to a man named Berry who sold straw under the name of hay and received the unflattering sobriquet old Straw Berry.”
Crossings of the South Platte
Prior to 1859, there were three crossings of the South Platte.
“These were commonly known as the Lower, Middle, and Upper crossings (or fords). Their respective locations would be roughly (1) a few miles west of the city of North Platte, in the vicinity of Fremont Springs, opposite Hershey, (2) a few miles east of Ogalala, and (3) a few miles west of Brule, Nebraska.
The one most heavily used was the Upper Crossing, otherwise variously known as Kearney’s Ford (from the 1845 expedition), Beauvais’ Crossing (from the nearby trading post), Laramie Crossing, Ash Hollow Crossing, or California Crossing. After 1859, with a new California Crossing at Julesburg, this became the Old California Crossing. (The terms Lower California Crossing and Upper California Crossing used by some latter-day historians to differentiate between the Ash Hollow Crossing and the Julesburg Crossing are nowhere to be found in emigrant journals and have resulted only in confusion. Frank Root seems to have invented this usage in his reminiscences.”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“The Sweetwater Valley took the emigrants smoothly uphill 1oo miles to the Continental Divide at South Pass. This fortuitous gap in the Rockies exists because of geologic happenstance. A Wind River-sized mountain range—the Sweetwater Range—once filled the east-west gap where the Sweetwater Valley is now. Several million years ago, it foundered to form the valley, thus opening the way west to South Pass. The Sweetwater Hills represent the exposed ridgeline of this buried range. These granite hills include two of the most famous landmarks on the Oregon-California Trail: Independence Rock and Devils Gate.”
Forks of the Platte
“The Platte River divides at N. lat. 40 05′ 05″, and W. long. (G.) 101 21′ 24″. The northern, by virtue of dimensions, claims to be the main stream. The southern, which is also called in obsolete maps Padouca, from the Pawnee name for the iatans, whom the Spaniards term Comanches, averages 600 yards, about 100 less than its rival in breadth, and, according to the prairie people, affords the best drinking.”
Freight Wagon Load
“Western merchants were happy to pay ten dollars per hundred pounds, and each wagon could carry a five-thousand-pound load . . . In some cases the cost of shipping an item exceeded the value of the item itself.”
The Independence Road
“That section of the Oregon-California Trail commonly known in emigrant days as the Independence Road was first used by trading expeditions out of the Kansas City area in the 1830s. . . While trees are plentiful today, they were scarce in 1849 as the result of frequent prairie fires. The lack of wood and the numerous stream crossings were the biggest problems faced by the emigrants. . . .
The prairie road itself, ever winding to take advantage of contours, led Richard Hickman to explain, “A more crooked road never marked this green footstool.”
Slow Communications With Taylor
“Taylor sat under his grapevine at Matamor6s and could not have had a better press. Clearly the country appreciated his victories but the administration sent no official praise. The holy cause of Whiggery, about which Taylor had no clear ideas, was probably being degraded by the Democrats. Taylor cultivated his acquaintance with Congressional Whigs in letters which show Bliss’s editing. The President and the War Department kept annoying him with incomprehensible demands for information. They wanted to know what the country around him was like; he made no effort to find out. They wanted to know what ideas for further conquest the commanding general in the field was working out; he wasn’t working any out. The administration’s jgnorance and the commander’s stupidity interacted, and the confusion was increased by the sloth of communication. It took between three and four weeks to deliver a dispatch, but neither headquarters thought of establishing a courier service. (Polk usually heard of developments in the war from the British embassy before reports came through from the army.) But for that matter, neither headquarters thought to put its dispatches into cipher.”
Winter Resupply for the Utah Expedition
The “Mormon War” broke in 1857. . . . ‘l’he aspen leaves were already flashing a brilliant yellow and the chill of autumn was abroad when the little army reached the Green River valley in present western Wyoming. . . . Lot Smith, clever and elusive, captured several of the trains of supplies which were in the rear of the troops. . . .
“The army found itself in a rather hazardous position. With supplies greatly reduced, winter snows already falling, and with one hundred miles of bleak mountains separating them from the Mormon metropolis beside the Great Salt Lake, it was decided to forstall plans of conquest for the present season and establish winter quarters. New supplies in quantity must be had and the nearest source was at Fort Union, New Mexico. To that depot a detachment must be sent for succor. Albert S. Johnston (later killed as a Confederate general in the Civil War) was in command of the United States troops at Fort Bridger. He ordered Captain R. B. Marcy to lead the expedition to New Mexico.”
“[T]he revision of the protective tariff of 1842, the re-establishment of the independent treasury, the settlement of the Oregon question, and the acquisition of California.”
“The wagons used were of special design and construction, and built for ‘the plains transportation business.’ The tires were wide and heavy; the boxes, high and tight, were made of the beat seasoned wood. Over these curved the huge bows. The most common makes of wagons were the Murphy and Espenshied, built in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Studebaker, built at South Bend, Indiana. The Studebaker was considered the easiest running, but more Murphy wagons were used than either of the other makes.
“These great, cumbersome wagons weighing at least fifteen hundred pounds each, were of the thimble skein type. The axles were wooden, but had iron thimbles on the ends which fit into the iron thimbles of the wheel hubs. The wheels were held in place by big linchpins fastened into the ends of the axles. Tar was used for lubricant.
“The amount of freight which one of these wagons carried would vary, of course, according to the type of merchandise. But they were made to haul six thousand pounds or more, and they night be loaded with ten thousand pounds.”
Mile 1363: Rockwell's Station
“Rockwell’s Station was named after the operator Orin Porter Rockwell. Rockwell earlier served as Brigham Young’s bodyguard (1830’s) and was a Danite (member of the Mormon protection group, organized in Missouri to protect against terrorist activities). On September 9, 1850, Rockwell was appointed Territorial Marshall. The 1856 survey plat shows the old road missing the location thought by some to be the station (just across from the prison). It plats a house and springs about three quarters of a mile south. This had been the location of Rockwell’s Station.”
“To reduce weight, protect the mail, and speed up relays, Mr. Russell had special Pony Express saddles and mochilas made. The saddle was only a light wooden frame, with horn, cantle, stirrups, and bellyband. The mochila (pronounced ‘mo-chee’-la’), or mantle was an easily removable leather cover that fitted over the saddle, with openings to let the horn and cantle stick through. At each corner of the mochila was a cantina, or pouch, for carrying mail. These were fitted with locks, and the keys would be kept only at Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and St. Joseph.
Each mochila would be carried the full length of the line, being moved from pony to pony as relays were made. Since the rider would be sitting on it, it could not be lost or stolen while he was mounted. If he were to be thrown or killed during his run, the mochila would remain on the saddle and, no doubt, be carried on to the next relay station by the riderless pony.”
Hockaday and the Salt Lake Mail
“[John] Hockaday, Magraw’s former partner, bid for the Utah mail contract in June 1857 but lost to Stephen B. Miles of Delaware, who took on the difficult task for only $32,000 per annum. Miles failed, and Hockaday and his associates won the St. Joseph–Salt Lake mail contract in May 1858 to provide weekly service until November 1860. . . .
Hockaday created the first dependable mail service between Utah and Missouri, eventually establishing thirty-six stations, each of which was entitled to preempt 320 acres of public land.”
Cholera in Independence, MO
“The Asiatic cholera brought along by steamboat passengers from St. Louis was particularly deadly around Independence, and graves multiplied. This, coupled with the rivalry of neighboring Westport and the advantages of going farther upriver by steamer, led to the decline of Independence in the fifties as a significant jump-off.”
“The ‘cow column,’ the first migration to Oregon, consisting of near 1,000 persons, passed by [Fort Laramie] in 1843. Thereafter, the white-topped emigrant wagons became a familiar sight in May and June of each year.”
Mile 1455: Dugway/Dugout Station
“Water for Dugway Station had to be hauled from Simpson’s Springs. Although three wells were dug over several years, one reaching a depth of 120 feet, no water was found. Noted as a “substation” by Horace Greeley, nothing very permanent was ever constructed at the site. In 1860 a shelter was placed over a dugout and an adobe chimney installed. In the 1890’s, the location was utilized as a halfway stop by the Walters and Mulliner Stage Co. on the route between Fairfield and Ibapah. A monument is located at the site today (See Photo 28). Physical evidence at the station site is limited to a disturbed area containing poorly preserved metal objects (possibly from a corral or blacksmithing area north of the wash) and some concentrated stone.”
Mile 890: Deer Creek
“After ten miles of the usual number of creeks, ‘Deep,’ ‘Small,’ ‘Snow,’ ‘Muddy,’ etc., and heavy descents, we reached at 10 A.M. Deer Creek, a stream about thirty feet wide, said to abound in fish. The station boasts of an Indian agent, Major Twiss, a post-office, a store, and of course a grog-shop. M. Bissonette, the owner of the two latter and an old Indian trader, was the usual Creole, speaking a French not unlike that of the Channel Islands, and wide awake to the advantages derivable from travelers: the large straggling establishment seemed to produce in abundance large squaws and little half-breeds. Fortunately stimulants are not much required on the plains: I wish my enemy no more terrible fate than to drink excessively with M. Bissonette of M. Bissonette’s liquor. The good Creole, when asked to join us, naively refused: he reminded me pf certain wine-merchants in more civilized lands, who, when dining with their pratique, sensibly prefer small-beer to their own concoctions.’
“He [the stagecoach driver] can do nothing without whisky, which he loves to call tarantula juice, strychnine, red-eye, corn juice, Jersey lightning, leg-stretcher, ‘tangleleg,’ (for instance, ‘whisky is now tested by the distance a man can walk after tasting it. The new liquor called ‘Tangle-leg’ is said to be made of diluted alcohol, nitric acid, pepper, and tobacco, and will upset a man at a distance of 400 yards from the demijohn.’), and many other hard and grotesque name; he chews tobacco like a horse; he becomes heavier ‘on the shoulder’ or ‘ on the shyoot,’ as, with the course of empire, he makes his way westward; and he frequently indulges in a “spree,” which in these lands means four acts of drinking-bout, with a fifth of rough-andtumble. Briefly, he is a post-wagon driver exaggerated.”
First Overland Mail to Oregon
“We may consider that ’48 established a ‘first.’ Some three hundred letters, addressed to people in Oregon, had piled up at Independence, but there was no mail service. The postmaster arranged with an emigrant named Bayley to transport these letters, with the understanding that he could collect forty cents apiece from each person to whom he delivered one. (This would seem to be part of the Oregon story, but it worked out differently.) . . .
[T]he mail had got through. Bayley had finally decided to come to California. He carefully kept the letters. Once arrived, he found that large numbers of men from Oregon had come to California after gold. They were so eager for letters that they gladly paid the postman two dollars apiece for their safe delivery.”
Causes of Death for Emigrants
“[T]he actual dangers of the overland venture have been considerably misrepresented by the myth-makers’ overemphasis on Indian treachery. The less than 400 emigrants killed by Indians during the antebellum era represent a mere 4 percent of the estimated 10,000 or more emigrant deaths. It follows that disease and trail accidents were far more to be feared by the prospective overlander than were the native inhabitants of the West.
Disease was far and away the number one killer, accounting for nine out of every ten deaths. Although the emigrant was never completely safe from the scourge of epidemic disease, the initial portion of the trail to Fort Laramie, otherwise the easiest segment of the journey, occasioned the most disease-induced deaths. . . .Diarrhea, tuberculosis, smallpox, mumps, and a host of other illnesses downed travelers, but the chief afflictions were cholera, mountain fever, and scurvy. . . .
[C]arelessness was second only to disease as a hazard of cross-country travel. . . . One of the most unexpected facets of the ‘overland’ journey was that death by water claimed almost as many victims during the antebellum era as did the much-feared Indians—perhaps as many as 300, at least 90 in 1850 alone. . . .
After drownings the commonest cause of fatal accidents was careless handling of the fantastic arsenal of firearms the overlanders carried wist with them.
600-Mile spread of Emigration
“[James] Clyman continued eastward [in 1846], meeting wagons for ten days, recording their numbers, and making additional notes. His is thus an unusual picture—the migration as seen from west to east. From his record the total spread can be calculated as nearly six hundred miles, that is, when he met the first emigrants some miles west of the crossing of the North Fork, the last emigrants still had five or six days to go to reach the crossing of the South Fork.”
[N.B. For an interesting article on ferries and bridges at the North Platte ford, see this article on the Wyoming History website.]
“The kingpin of the whole freighting operation was the wagonmaster, and quite a man he must have been. He had full responsibility for $18,000 to $30,000 worth of wagons, livestock, and accessories that belonged to someone else . . . He had the responsibility for $25,000 to $250,000 worth of goods that did not belong to him. . . .
He had to be a farrier able to shoe oxen and mules and a wheelwright able to repair wagons with the simplest of tools. He had to know how to get wagons out of bog holes, up and down steep hills, and across rivers. He had to know where water and grass were to be found for the noon halt and the night camp. He was expected to be a physician to his men and a veterinarian to his animals. He had to be a hunter to provide fresh game as a relief from the usual sowbelly. He had to have the magic ability to be everywhere at one and the same time—riding out a mile or so ahead, scouting for campsites or bad places in the road, watching out for Indians . . . or looking up and down the lines of wagons stretched over a mile or more of prairie.”
Oxen as Spare Tires
“A yoke of oxen is two animals leashed together by a yoke: a crossbar of carved wood fastened to their necks with oxbows. Two or three yoke (four to six animals) pulled a typical emigrant wagon. Most emigrants brought along several additional animals—the nineteenth-century equivalent of spare tires. Of oxen, mules, and horses (the three animal engines of the westward migration) oxen were by far the most common. Although slow, oxen were relatively inexpensive, immensely strong, less likely than horses or mules to be stolen by Indians, and could subsist reasonably well on available grass.”
Emigrants' Daily Menu
“Charles M. Tuttle describes the daily menu of a typical emigrant: ‘for breakfast, coffee, bacon, dry or pilot bread; for dinner, coffee, cold beans, bacon or buffalo meat; for supper, tea, boiled rice., and dried beef or codfish.’ With this Spartan fare, he says, ‘Out appetites are good, our digestive organs strong, our sleep sweet.'”
“After the [Mexican-American] war he [Jack Slade] married a beautiful girl by the name of Virginia, whom he called ‘Molly,’ and engaged in the freighting business.”
Delivering Mail Over the Sierra Nevada
“Also in late 1858, Chorpenning attempted to dispel the prevalent attitude among congressmen and the postmaster general that scheduled service was impossible over the Sierra Nevada in winter. Accordingly, he negotiated a $2,000 contract with John A. ‘Snowshoe’ Thompson to maintain the road through the Genoa-Placerville passes. A longtime associate of Chorpenning, Thompson had carried mail to Carson Valley between 1854 and 1858. In 1858-59, he used snowplows and sleighs to conduct regular weekly crossings of the Sierra Nevada. When storms closed the passes to sleighs, ski couriers carried the mail across the mountains. To the surprise and disappointment of Chorpenning’s rivals, the Sierra Nevada posed no insurmountable obstacle during a particularly miserable winter.”
Freighting in Mud
“Road, properly speaking, there was none, only a track some quarter of a mile wide, made by successive trains. It was usually easy enough going over the prairie, especially as there was a bitter frost [in the fall], and the ground was hard frozen. But every now and then a deep creek would have to be crossed, with a muddy bottom, and the whole lot of wagons must be hauled through, one by one, with perhaps three or four teams to each.
The long line of cattle would be yoked on, and stretched to right or left (“haw” or “gee,” it was called), nearly at right angles to the wagon; the drivers with their whips then swung the cattle over to left or right, as the case might be, and the wagon was bound to come out by the sheer weight of the teams, unless, as sometimes happened, the tongue drew out of the body.”