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.
Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express
Ever since 1879, when William Cody first published his life story, this childhood saga has been a favorite of the American public. The Wild West show reprised it over and over again, the high-speed Pony Express scene in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West inscribing an almost indelible bond between young America and the child Will Cody. The pony was featured in the show’s debut in 1883, and audiences from Omaha to New York, Sarasota to Paris, thrilled to the display every year thereafter until the show ended in 1916.
Mile 1113: Big Sandy
“After a long stage of twenty-nine miles we made Big Sandy Creek, an important influent of the Green River; the stream, then shrunken, was in breadth not less than five rods, each = 16.5 feet, running with a clear, swift current through a pretty little prairillon, bright with the blue lupine, the delicate pink malvacea, the golden helianthus, purple aster acting daisy, the white mountain heath, and the green Asclepias tuberosa, a weed common throughout Utah Territory. The Indians, in their picturesque way, term this stream Wagahongopa, or the Glistening Gravel Water.
[Note: Asclepias tuberosa, “Locally called milkweed. The whites use the silky cotton of the pods, as in Arabia, for bed-stuffings, and the Sioux Indians of the Upper Platte boil and eat the young pods with their buffalo flesh. Colonel Fremont asserts that he never saw this plant without remarking ‘on the flower a large butterfly, so nearly resembling it in color as to be distinguishable at a little distance only by the motion of its wings.'”
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.
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.”
See how the towns are about fifty miles apart? Doug points out. When the Pony Express was replaced by the telegraph, that was the distance a battery could send a charge.
“Cold Springs was located between Troy and Kennekuk. Burton [in The City of Saints] has twisted the order of stations here, which should read: Troy, Cold Spring, Syracuse and Kennekuk.”
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.”
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.
First Settlement West of the Alleghenies
Two years later , following hard upon the “Intolerable Acts” that undertook to punish an already rebellious Massachusetts, the policy thus formulated became law in the Quebec Act. . . . Ratifying the Proclamation of 1763, it decreed the persistence of Yesterday in an era already warm with Tomorrow’s sun. It committed the British Empire to the support of furs as opposed to land, it triply sealed the West to settlement and to speculation, and it legislated mercantilism as the reef on which colonial expansion would be shattered. Great Britain undertook to confine the colonies east of the mountains. That was precisely the policy that had forced Great Britain to erase the French Empire from the map of North America.
The Quebec Act was a decree that the motion of the stars should cease. In its final form it passed the Lords in June 1774. In that same month a Pennsylvanian named James Harrod at the head of thirty men went up the Kentucky River, crossed over toward the head of Salt River, and began to build the stockade and cabins of the first settlement west of the mountains. The ghost of La Salle need no longer revisit the glimpses of the moon: the people who were to fulfill his imperial dream had reached the Great Valley. All the way across the continent there would be an advance screen of long hunters and mountain men, but the wealth the Americans were to create would not come from furs. These were settlers, farmers, builders of communities. Throughout the war that now broke out they kept following where Harrod (and Henderson, Boone, and Logan) had led. The war splashed their wilderness stations with their blood but they kept coming, mostly to Kentucky, and at least twenty-five thousand of them were settled west of the mountains when it ended.
Mormons as Principal Settlers of the West
They built a commonwealth, or as they would have put it, a Kingdom. But the story of their migration is more than the story of the founding of Utah. In their hegira they opened up southern Iowa from Locust Creek to the Missouri, made the first roads, built the first bridges, established the first communities. They transformed Introduction: The Way to the Kingdom 7 the Missouri at Council Bluffs from a trading post and an Indian agency into an outpost of civilization, founded settlements on both sides of the river and made Winter Quarters (now Florence, a suburb of Omaha) and later Kanesville (now Council Bluffs) into outfitting points that rivaled Independence, Westport, and St. Joseph. They defined the road up the north side of the Platte that is now the route of both U.S. 30 and the Union Pacific Railroad. Their guide books and !rail markers, their bridges and ferries, though made for the Saints scheduled to come later, served also for the Gentiles: according to Irene Paden in The Wake of the Prairie Schooner, a third of the California and Oregon travel from 1849 on followed the Mormon Trail.
That is to say, the Mormons were one of the principal forces in the settlement of the West.
Post Office Monopoly
The post had either broken even or generated small surpluses until its expansion in the 1820s, when it generally began to report progressively greater losses. By 1844, the department was losing so much business to competitors that a reluctant Congress, fearing the political consequences of either cutting mail service or paying to support it, was forced to act, despite southern politicians’ suspicion of costly federal schemes that called for tax increases and strengthened Washington’s hand. As it is wont to do in such situations, Congress created a special commission to assess the crisis and make recommendations for fixing it. This group of experts took the high road, concluding that the post had not been created to generate revenue but for “elevating our people in the scale of civilization and bringing them together in patriotic affection,” as well as to “render the citizen worthy, by proper knowledge and enlightenment, of his important privileges as a sovereign constituent of his government.” Accordingly, starting with the Post Office Act of 1845 and continuing through 1851, Congress passed a series of reforms that would stimulate the full flowering of what the historian Wayne Fuller called “the people’s post office.”
The government finally abandoned the hoary principle that the post must support itself, even as it was extending all the way to the Pacific. The institution was explicitly defined as a public service that, like the military, deserved financial support, and after the Post Office Act of 1851 deficits would be accepted as a matter of course. Congress shored up the post’s finances in other important ways, especially by passing legislation that reinforced its poorly defended monopoly. Known as the Private Express Statutes, these laws made it a crime for other carriers to transport mail in places served by the post, which soon put the independent competitors out of business.
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 true continuity is not offenses of the Americans but the character of the Blackfeet, who were an extreme specialization of savage life. Of the Plains tribes only the Comanches had a comparable ferocity and only these two tribes practiced prolonged torture. The Blackfeet refused to observe even the mild conventions of formal, temporary truce that most tribes felt bound by. Their allies and their enemies alike called them treacherous. As tough Indians, who knew and told everyone that they were tough, they not only found murder the cheapest form of trade relations but enjoyed it beyond most Indians. They were no more hostile to Americans than they were to the Flatheads, the Snakes, the Crows, and nearly everyone else.
Government Road Building
“In places, the Lander Cutoff was a steep up-and-down ride, but the route offered cooler, high terrain and plentiful water, an advantage over the scorching desert of the main ruts to the south. Eventually an estimated 100,000 pioneers took this route, and the 230-mile Lander Cutoff was considered an engineering marvel of its time.
“This model of government support for a major development project became popular and was accepted as the new norm for western growth. Each new phase of frontier growth-the railroads, ranching, mining-was also supported by either outright government subsidies, land giveaways, or federally supported irrigation and bridge-building projects. That was the tradition established by the Oregon Trail and it has always amused me that the myth of ‘rugged individualism’ still plays such a large role in western folklore and American values. In fact, our vaunted rugged individualism was financed by huge government largesse.”
Reasons for Pony's Popularity
Pony Express riders symbolized not only rugged strength and courage, but the anachronism of organic workers—animals and people—and their heroic endurance as they prepared the ground for the machine. . . . As the nineteenth century rolled on, ever more laborers were replaced by an ever wider array of machines, and the horseman as harbinger of technological revolution became ever more apt a symbol for Americans, especially in cities where the Wild West show played to packed stands. . . .
But there was another, surprising reason behind the pony’s popularity, one which drew on Cody’s experience of boyhood even more directly: the Pony Express represented national unity, in profoundly familial terms. Many were the scribes who evoked the glories of western annexation prior to the war with Mexico, with John O’Sullivan’s call to “manifest destiny” being only the most famous. But in reality, the acquisition of the Far West blew the nation apart. The U.S.-Mexican War began the year William Cody was born and ended when he was two. Its most immediate result was the annexation of California and the Far West, but following fast on the heels of that event was the gathering storm over slavery in the new western territories, the fight which took Isaac Cody’s life and finally ended only at Appomattox in 1865. . . .
The gold rush began in 1848, and California’s stunning growth made it a state in 1850. But if statehood signified a legal and republican unity, California was very much a place apart, separated from the rest of the nation by 1,500 miles of plain and desert. . . .
The journey was all the more fearful because, in most cases, the routes to California pulled families apart. Men went ahead intending to send for families or merely to return rich. Husbands and wives took their kids, pulled up stakes, and left their beloved extended kin behind. Letters took at least three weeks to travel the long stagecoach routes between California and eastern states. If they went by sea, they could go unread for six months.
By the mid-185os, the growing threat of a southern secession made the chasm between California and her sister states seem all the more dangerous. Californians numbered half a million by that time, and they were most conscious of the urgent need for closer bonds with nation and family. . . .
Thus, when they remembered the Pony Express, Americans—especially Californians—recalled it as a reassuring sign amid rumblings of civil war, as the entity that sealed the bond of union between West and East. To ride the Pony Express was to heal the nation’s troublesome rift, to bring desolate and broken families together through the fragile connection of correspondence.. . .
The stature of the Pony Express increased through its association with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, where the union of man and horse headed west with the mail came to symbolize not only the last redoubt of organic labor before ascendant technology and the reunited family and nation, but also the grafting of the Far West onto America. . . .
In no small way, the Pony Express rider embodied this hybrid conjunction of wilderness and civilization. The young white man barely in control of the beast beneath him represented America joined to the West’s untamed promise and peril. Thus, contemporaries hailed the Pony Express not only as a fast mail service, not just as a man on a horse, but as a horse-man, and sometimes a hippogriff, a mythical beast with the body of a horse, the head of a lion, and the wings of an eagle.
The Pacific Republic
One way, however, in which secession sentiment found expression at the opening of the war was in the advocacy of a Pacific Republic. The “copperheads” (Northern men with Southern principles) especially favored the formation of a new government on the Pacific Coast. Governor Weber was not opposed to the idea. In fact, he said: “If the wild spirit of fanaticism which now pervades the land should destroy the magnificent confederacy-which God forbid-she (California) will not go with the south or north, but here upon the shores of the Pacific, found a mighty republic, which may in the end prove the greatest of all.”
“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.”
Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express
It is highly unlikely that the Pony Express would be so well remembered had not Buffalo Bill so glamorized it; in common opinion Buffalo Bill and the Pony Express are indissolubly linked.
-DON RUSSELL, THE LIVES AND LEGENDS OF BUFFALO BILL, 1960
First Premier of All Western Gunmen
“While [Slade] was a controversial figure in the early West, nobody can discount his contribution to the development of our country—in the transportation of passengers and supplies by the Overland stage coaches and freights lines, his efforts on behalf of national communications by Pony Express and telegraph, his rigorous suppression of outlaw activity on the main traveled highway to the West. He was the first premier of all western gunmen.”
Origin of the Paiute War
Nevada historians agree that the events at Williams Station on May 7 were the trigger for the so-called Pyramid Lake Indian War, which is variously called the Paiute Indian War, the Pyramid Lake Uprising, or the Washoe Indian War. The early Nevada historian Myron T. Angel, writing in 1881, makes no explanation as to why the Indians would descend on Williams Station and slaughter its occupants. The next history of Nevada, published in 1904, makes no attempt, either. But subsequent versions of territorial history fill in the blanks. . . .
The killings and burning of Williams Station were the result of what DeQuille decorously describes as an incident when someone at Williams Station took several Indian women hostage and kept them in a cave for several days. DeQuille, an associate of Mark Twain’s on the Territorial Enterprise, was the source of much of this information about the Paiute Indian War was living in the territory at the time; his knowledge of early Nevada was encyclopedic.
An attempt by one of the Indian women’s husbands to rescue them was unsuccessful. This Indian went for help, and his comrades killed the occupants of Williams Station and burned it down. The presumption here must be that the women were raped and the Paiutes—who had suffered a bad winter, were short on food, and were tiring of the increasing presence of whites in their country—had reached their limit. Later versions claim that the Indian women were mere girls who had been out gathering pinion nuts (a food staple for the Paiutes) when they were abducted and held in a root cellar under a barn at Williams Station. . . .
Major Frederick Dodge, Indian agent for the Paiutes, left no doubt in the matter, reporting to the government that “to intruders on the reserve and their gross outrages on Indian women lie one great cause of the present trouble.”
The questions of guilt, observed Tennessee, had not been conclusively established. But there were theories that the correspondent of the Herald noted. One rumor making the rounds, according to Tennessee, was that “a well-known but disreputable and worthless fellow named ‘Yank,’ with perhaps one or two of his equally worthless companions, went to Williams’ and engaged in gambling-a pastime that seems to be much in vogue at that place. This fellow, it is related, lost all his money, and afterwards his animals, playing with those at the house.”
Tennessee reported the rumor that Yank thought he had been cheated and committed the murders to recover his money, then set
the fire to cover his tracks. Tennessee also introduced the theory that James O. Williams was away on the evening in question consorting with “a certain Spanish woman” and thus escaped the fate of his brothers.
Tennessee’s dispatches in the San Francisco Herald argued forcefully that the events leading up to the Pyramid Lake Indian War had little or nothing to do with Indians. It was really the work of grogshop rascals and the hysteria of mob rule. “How humiliating to look back over the work of the past five days, and see what disaster to business, what disgrace to our national character, what widespread prejudice to our interests and honor, if not danger to our citizens, are sure to ensue when timid, untruthful and inexperienced men get control of, and give direction to public affairs!”
Mile 937: Avenue of Rocks
About nine miles west of Emigrant Gap, the Oregon Trail wound through a narrow gap between two ragged ridges of sandstone and shale rocks, upended strata we now would call hogbacks.
British travel writer Sir Richard Burton, traveling by stagecoach to Utah in 1860 to interview Mormon leader Brigham Young, called the formation “the Devil’s Backbone.”
“It is a jagged, broken ridge,” Burton wrote, “of huge sandstone boulders, tilted up edgeways, and running in a line over the crest of a long roll of land … like the vertebrae of some great sea-serpent or other long crawling animal; and, on a nearer view, the several pieces resolve themselves into sphinxes, veiled nuns, Lot’s pillars, and other freakish objects.”
More common were the names “Rock Avenue,” “Avenue of Rocks” and “Rock Lane.” The pioneer Mormon companies of 1847, first to make the trek to the Salt Lake Valley, seem to have been the ones who coined “Rock Avenue.”
“[T]here is a steep descent from a bluff and at the foot there is a high ridge of sharp pointed rocks running parallel with the road for near a quarter of a mile, leaving only sufficient space for wagons to pass,” official Mormon diarist William Clayton, traveling with the first of those companies, wrote June 19 of that year. “At the sought [south] point there is a very large rock lying close to where the road makes a bend, making it somewhat difficult to get by without striking it. The road is also very rough with cobble stones.”
The following year Clayton condensed his description when he published it in his guidebook: “Rock avenue and steep descent. The road here passes between high rocks, forming a kind of avenue or gateway, for a quarter of a mile.”
In these stretches, the road was generally good, “though rather too hard and gravelly for the cattle,” wrote another diarist, Israel Lord, in July 1849. The country was dry in all directions, and what little water the travelers found was potentially deadly.
“Passed through a very singular defile, called ‘Rock Avenue,’ wrote J. Goldsborough Bruff July 23, 1849. Bruff, with 25,000 other forty-niners, was headed to the gold fields of California that year of extremely heavy traffic on the trails. “After emerging from the Defile, the road descended a very steep hill (had to double lock the wheels), here a wagon broke the fore-axle, and 4 of the mules exhausted, so they had to camp on a barren waste until morning, without feed or water. At base of these hills was the ‘Alkali Swamp & Spring,’ 2 miles from the Defile, and 7 1/2 from the Mineral Spring.” Bruff here is using the place names from Clayton’s Mormon Guide, as it was generally known, thus his use of quotation marks. Its more formal title was The Latter-Day Saints’ Emigrants’ Guide.
“The water here—strong alkali was the color of coffee,” Bruff continued. “And piled around were hundreds of dead animals, chiefly oxen.”
A month earlier diarist Jonas Hittle had noted, “It is very warm. We moved on and passed several oxen given out. We passed through Rock Lane which is two lines of Rocks rising perpendicular out of the ground … They are about 40 yards apart. At the far end of this I cut my name dated June The 24th 1849.”
The Hittle inscription no longer exists, though his was one of a great many that once existed along this stretch of trail. Unfortunately, many were lost when portions of the rock formation were blasted away in the 1960s to upgrade the county road. The entire left-hand section of the ridge, or wall, was obliterated. Several miles of pristine trail ruts were destroyed by pipeline construction around the same time.
Trails historian Aubrey Haines called the destruction “calculated vandalism,” in a report he wrote for the National Park Service in 1972. More recently, road graders knocked off the end of the right-hand bluff near the road, taking most of the remaining inscriptions with it.
Nonetheless, sections of the county road, following closely the route of the older trail, still offer a glimpse into the past uncluttered by modern visual intrusions.
The River Towns
“The river towns, as they developed, were all much alike. At the river’s edge was a levee, sometimes macadamized for all-weather use. Between the levee and the bluffs was the business district, running back for two or three blocks. Here were the warehouses and stores of the ‘outfitters’ and the forwarding and commission merchants. Behind the business district and up the gullies that gave access to the tops of the bluffs were the small stores, saloons, and dance halls. On top of the bluffs was the residential section. Beyond the residential section were the wagon parks and corrals of the freighters who sent their wagons into town in small groups to load at the warehouse.”
“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.”
Reason for the Founding of the Pony Express
At this point in his career Russell revealed the fact that he possessed a keen instinct for advertising values and methods. In this he was at least half a century ahead of his time. To him it was clear that something more was necessary than the mere organization of a new company to take over the assets and assume the liabilities of the defunct Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company, however much news of the new firm might be trumpeted abroad. In fact, something had to be done to offset the effect of the failure of that concern on Congress and the public mind. The device he adopted was the Pony Express. On January 28, 1860, he announced the inauguration of Pony Express service from the Missouri River to Sacramento, California, in ten days. More than a year later, when the going had become rough, he explained to Waddell why he founded the institution. “I was compelled,” he said, “to build a world-wide reputation, even at some considerable expense … ” The implication here is plain. Through the operation of the Pony Express he meant to gain prestige for himself, advertise and popularize the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company, prove that the Central Route was suitable for use the year round, and wrest the great mail contract away from Butterfield’s Overland Mail Company. The reason for the founding of the Pony Express was that simple. Today it would be called an intensive national advertising campaign to influence the public and Congress. It was a plain, legitimate business proposition from first to last. Patriotic motives, which some writers ascribe to the promoters, had nothing to do with it. The partners meant to faithfully render a needed public service, but in so doing they intended also to preserve their own legitimate interests.
Army Freighters to Santa Fe
When the war with Mexico broke out Col. S. W. Kearny was ordered to lead a small army of 1,701 officers and men on a forced march across the Great Plains and capture Santa Fe, 873 miles away, before reinforcements could be sent from Chihuahua. To supply Kearny’s troops with food, clothing, equipment, and munitions on the unprecedented march and for a year after their arrival at their destination, required 900 wagons, 10,000 oxen and mules, and 1,000 teamsters. Under the time-honored method, the government pro-vided the wagons and animals and hired civilian drivers. During the fiscal year 1846-1847, 459 horses, 3,658 mules, 14,904 oxen, 1,556 wagons, and 516 packsaddles were used in supplying Kearny’s army and reinforcements sent out to New Mexico under Col. Sterling Price.
Although the customary method of transporting military stores for the army had always given satisfaction elsewhere, it proved almost a total failure in supplying the troops in New Mexico in 1846-1847. The principal reasons were lack of experience in han-dling wagon trains on the part of officers in the quartermaster’s de-partment, the ignorance of drivers, Indian depredations, and the hard fact that freighting upon the Santa Fe trail was entirely dif-ferent from anything the army had ever undertaken. While the officers in that department struggled heroically to perform an impossible task they observed that the traders’ caravans left the Missouri river on schedule, rolled along successfully day after day, had little trouble with the Indians, and arrived safely at their destination.
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.”
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.”
Panic of 1836
The bitterest money war in American history and the wildest speculation of the nineteenth century had precipitated the first national depression. The final Specie Circular, Andrew Jackson’s broadside at the money trust, had gone into effect in August of 1836. Requiring hard-money payments for government lands, it had brought down the whole fantastic structure of speculation and with it the whole system of wildcat banking – that is to say, most of the American banking system and all the Western banks. Foreign investors had dumped their American securities, trade had all but halted, unemployment had spread across the country. It had been a bad winter for the United States, with bread riots in most cities and the unvarying gutlessness of financiers producing a mass despair not unlike the panic of the Mandans when the smallpox struck. It was a worse spring as Mr. Van Buren took office, specie disappeared, and doomsday seemed at hand.
Tissue Paper for Mail
“For the Pony special thin paper was used, especially for the newspapers in order to keep the weight down. [Alexander] Majors noted the cantinas ‘were filled with important business letters and press dispatches from eastern cities and San Francisco, printed upon tissue paper, and thus especially adapted by their weight for this mode of transportation.'”
Stewart may have had many motives for coming to the United States, but probably foremost among them was a desire to experience what seems to have been the finest of all sports on this continent, perhaps the finest sport hunters have enjoyed anywhere. Every variety of big game, from elephants to grizzlies, has its own devotees, but everyone who ever hunted buffalo on horseback in the West (except the skeptical Richard Dodge) found it the consummation of the sportsman’s life. This was not because the buffalo was cunning or crafty, for it was the stupidest of mammals, nor because it was hard to come by, for it existed in far greater masses than any other large animal on earth, nor because it was dangerous in itself. What gave the hunt an emotion equivalent to ecstasy was the excitement, the speed, the thundering noise, the awe-inspiring bulk of the huge animal in motion, the fury of its death, and the implicit danger of the chase. Since for forty years this was a notable and unique American experience, we may pause to describe the sportsman’s way of hunting buffalo.
[Detailed description follows for pages]
“From West of Casper, WY to outside of Sacramento, CA free camping on public lands can happen almost anywhere you can find a place to put your sleeping bag down. I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a hammock as there aren’t very many tall things to tie off to out in the high desert.
- Here’s a link to information about camping on Bureau of Land Management land (BLM)
- Check out the interactive map to see a trace of the Pony Express route on top of a layer that shows public lands”
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.”
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.”
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.”
First Pony Arrives in Sacramento
For all the celebration, there were only eight letters for Sacramento, two for the Daily Union, one for Governor John G. Downey. But that hardly mattered to the crowds in front of the telegraph office that spring afternoon. . . .
The San Francisco Herald described the citizens as “electrified” by the arrival of the Pony Express, which had brought twenty-five letters across the continent to recipients in the bay city.
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.”
Government's Strategy Toward Utah
“The Government’s strategy was to put a Gentile in Utah’s executive office and to support him against a possible Mormon insurrection by a strong detachment of men, acting as posse comitatus. But this plan required that the governor accompany the soldiers to Utah. If the army should arrive first, without civil officers, the Mormons could with some reason claim that they were being invaded by a hostile force sent solely to destroy them, and war, not a pleasant possibility to Buchanan, might ensue. Therefore, final preparations for the campaign could not be made until the new governor had been appointed. The search for a candidate consumed precious weeks, since the job was not especially attractive. . . .
At last, in the second week of June, the Government found a suitable candidate in Alfred Cumming. Even he had refused the appointment at one time, but after a change of heart had come to Washington armed with the effective sponsorship of the omnipresent Thomas L. Kane. Yet Cumming’s initial acceptance was apparently conditional, for he journeyed to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, presumably to inspect their preparations for the campaign, before finally agreeing to take the position. Secretary of State Cass did not send him his commission until July 13, when the days were growing shorter and the nights a bit cooler in the country beyond South Pass.”
Ethics in Writing About American Indians
Different schools of thought like the Germ theory and Turner thesis have encouraged historians to ignore the original inhabitants of the entire western hemisphere. Why did this happen, if a scholar’s professional responsibility is to be objective in researching historical topics? These approaches described the “white experience,” as if Indians did not exist. To write a history of the Anglo- American experience is not wrong, but to claim that it represents the entire history of the American experience is a gross mistake.
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.”
Mail Call in San Francisco
“As early as the 1840s President Polk had acknowledged that mail service between the East and California was ‘indispensable for the diffusion of information, for the binding together [of] the different portions of our extended Confederacy.’ This hunger for mail was almost palpable in the early 1850s. When the monthly steamer arrived from Panama bearing mail from the East, a canon was fired on San Francisco’s Telegraph Hill., followed by bedlam throughout the city.
The physician William S. McCollumn, writing in 1850, described men waiting in line for days; men paying other men to stand in line for them; miners paying with gold dust to but places in line from other men; men who expected no mail but stood in line anyway, to sell their position to someone else; men sleeping overnight in blanket rolls, all to hold their place in the hope of news from home.”
The Vehicle of Liminality
“The train had other dramatic possibilities for use in folk and popular culture. It seems to have been for some observers in the nineteenth century in many ways like the passenger airliner is for us today. The train is the vehicle of liminality; once aboard, passengers pass through geography that seems to have little relevance to their immediate condition. One leaves a portion of one’s life behind and moves on to another. But between, one lives, for the moment, on the train – or plane. Few novels of the period, and no folklore that I know of, have exploited the dramatic possibilities of the situation – passengers removed from their home environment and society and cast into a terrestrial limbo. The train becomes, for the length of the journey, the world for its passengers.”
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.'”
Risk from Indians in 1846
“The risks were now that stragglers might be killed for their arms and equipment, that venturesome young bucks might raid the horse herd for glory, or that the antic Indian humor might stampede the oxen. Indians did not covet the ungainly tamed buffalo that drew the white-tops, but it was fun to see them run, especially with some arrows sticking in them.”
First Overland Mail from St. Joseph
“Residents of Sacramento celebrated the arrival of the first overland mail from St. Joseph on July 20, 1858.”
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]
Ancient Pony Express
Some four thousand years ago, Middle Eastern monarchs established the first postal systems, which were designed to transport official government communications. Herodotus famously praised the ambitious 1,600-mile-long system of the Persian emperor Darius I (r. 522-486 BCE), which used “post riders,” or mounted couriers, to carry communiques etched on clay tablets: “It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed [italics added].” Centuries later, the network established by the Roman emperor Augustus (27 BCE-14 CE) was similarly reserved for officials, who often traveled in carts along with the mail on the post roads that also helped to spread imperial hegemony and civilization. Indeed, Rome’s post was called the cursus publicus, or “public road.”
“While isolated graves were the rule, there would be ‘many places with 12 to 15 graves in a row,’ and Ezra Meeker once counted 57 at one campground. Such clusters of graves—virtual cemeteries—wold most likely be at points of concentration such as the crossings of the Big Blue and the South Platte and the mouth of Ash Hollow. . . . Thissell reports one further example of California trailcraft: six corpses buried in a common grave.”
Pony Express Mail Too Expensive for Newspapers
While the California newspapers were eager for the Pony Express, they griped about the high price of news from the East. “We regret that the prices of telegraphic dispatches of news by this line has been placed at so high a figure as to preclude our publishing them … No paper without a fortune to back it, can afford the attending expense,” complained the Daily Appeal in Marysville. Rates were four dollars per hundred words, according to the Daily Appeal, and the average cost of messages from the East would be about a hundred dollars. Small newspapers could not pay those fees.
“On August 18  a lame cow wandered away from Mormon emigrants hurrying westward. When the stray cow reached the Sioux encampment it was quickly butchered. From this trivial occurrence ensued a tragic series of errors for which fort [Laramie] commander Hugh B. Fleming and Lieutenant John L. Grattan bore almost complete responsibility.
Although the Sioux chief offered generous payment—a horse—for the emigrant animal, somehow the circumstances were utilized to force a major confrontation the next day. Grattan, a firm believer in severely punishing Indians for all their mistakes, demanded the arrest of the offending Miniconjou Sioux brave—who was a guest at the Brulé village. Grattan ineptly attempted a show of force with his contingent of twenty-eight men, refusing a mule as compensation for the now-important cow. A few shots were fired and an Indian was wounded, but the chiefs cautioned their wariors not to return the fire, hoping the whites had now had their vengeance.
But Grattan was not to be denied, and he ordered another volley in which the Sioux chief was killed. Reprisal came swiftly. All twenty-one soldiers and their interpreter were killed; their bodies, especially Grattan’s were badly mutilated. The enraged Sioux raided trading posts around the fort and that fall made a series of attacks on mail carriers, killing at least three.”
Mile 197: Big Sandy Station
“A little after midnight we resumed our way, and in the state which Mohammed described when he made his famous night journey to heaven—bayni ‘Z naumi wa ‘I yakzan—we crossed the deep shingles, the shallow streams, and the heavy vegetation of the Little Sandy, and five miles beyond it we forded the Big Sandy. About early dawn we found ourselves at another station, better than the last only as the hour was more propitious. The colony of Patlanders rose from their beds without a dream of ablution, and clearing the while their lungs of Cork brogue, prepared a neat dejeuner a la fourchette by hacking “fids” off half a sheep suspended from the ceiling, and frying them in melted tallow. Had the action occurred in Central Africa, among the Es quimaux, or the Araucanians, it would not have excited my attention: mere barbarism rarely disgusts; it is the unnatural cohabitation of civilization with savagery that makes the traveler’s gorge rise.
Issuing from Big Sandy Station at 6 30 A.M., and resuming our route over the divide that still separated the valleys of the Big Blue and the Little Blue, we presently fell into the line of the latter, and were called upon by the conductor to admire it. It is pretty, but its beauties require the cosmetic which is said to act unfailingly in the case of fairer things the viewer should have lately spent three months at sea, out of sight of rivers and women.”
First Mileposts on the Emigrant Trail
“They arrived in time and were turned over to Parley’s brother, the Apostle Orson Pratt. Orson was the best educated of the Saints and one of the principal intelligences, a remarkable man who had been the faculty of the putative Nauvoo University as he was to be the faculty of the University of Deseret. He determined the latitude and longitude of the camp whenever observation was possible, and examined the terrain for all conceivable information. He soon found that his observations were more precise than those of Fremont, whose map they were using. Therefore, in collaboration with Willard Richards and William Clayton, two other trained minds, he proposed to make a new map. Eventually the data they assembled were digested by Clayton in The Latter-Day Saints Emigrant’s Guide. Published the next year, it was the most accurate study of the trail before Stansbury’s. Clayton, who had been detailed to compute distances, grew bored with counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel – 36o to the mile – and so Orson Pratt invented an odometer. Appleton , Harmon carved its gears from planking and thereafter the distances were exactly known. At intervals a kind of logbook of the pioneers, together with all relevant information and the counsel of the Twelve, was deposited in a slotted board and set up where the next company would see it. They dotted the route with such “prairie postoffices” and occasionally set up signboards giving the total distance from Winter Quarters and other landmarks. These were the first mileposts ever erected on the Oregon trail. The pioneers also sent back letters and counsel by everyone whom they met coming down the trail.”
Move to Nebraska City
Since the volume of goods to be delivered in Utah in 1858 was too great for Leavenworth facilities, Nebraska City was chosen as another loading and starting point. Alexander Majors moved his family and retinue of slaves there from Westport, and Russell closed his home in Lexington to build a bigger one in Leavenworth.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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. “
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.”
When Ford demonstrates the historical method for yoking a well-trained team, he places his oxen—in this example, Thor and Zeus—side by side in the driving position. Standing beside the team, he tells the ox on the left, or nigh side, “Move your head, Thor,” and Thor responds by swinging and holding his head far to the left. With the nigh ox’s head out of the way, Ford steps in front and places the beam over the neck of Zeus, who is standing on the right, or of side. He lifts the other end of the yoke up over the nigh ox’s neck and tells him, “Move your head, Thor,” and Thor returns his head to the natural forward position. The beam now rests on the team’s necks. Ford fts the bow under the neck of the of ox, Zeus, and secures it with a pin, then repeats the process with Thor. “This process is done very quickly and is very spectacular for the novice to watch,” he says, “since it shows the degree of exact obedience the properly trained ox team has, and it is done with a surprisingly small amount of effort on the part of the drover.”
Clayton's Emigrant's Guide
The data William Clayton] had gathered would be published in St. Louis, in time for the emigration of the next season, as THE LATTER-DAY SAINTS’ EMIGRANTS’ GUIDE, Being a Table of Distances, Showing All the Springs, Creeks, Rivers, Hills, Mountains, Camping Places, and All Other Notable Places, from Council Bluffs to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, also, the Latitudes, Longitudes, and Altitudes of the Prominent Points on the Route, together with Remarks on the Nature of the Land, Timber, Grass, &c. The Whole Route Having Been Carefully Measured by a Roadometer, and the Distance from Point to Point, in English Miles, Accurately Shown. By W. Clayton. It was the most complete and reliable guide available for any strand of the Overland Trail, including that section between Fort Laramie and the Dry Sandy where all the strands fused. Appreciated or not by Clayton’s companions, it would be valued by thousands, both Mormon and Gentile, in the years to come—though actually more by Gentile than by Mormon, for the Saints, sheep guided by careful shepherds, had no need of a guidebook except to satisfy their curiosity about where they were. The copyright was in Clayton’s name.
Pony Express News Delivery
The Bulletin and Union had no sooner put their new system into working order than a further improvement in communication with the East made it more or less obsolete. This was the beginning of the pony express on April 3, 1860. The important dispatches were now rushed through by pony in eight to ten days, although the bulkier matter such as the eastern papers and the long letters from the New York and Washington correspondents containing background material largely, continued to be sent by the overland mail or the Panama steamers. It became necessary for the Bulletin and the papers associated with it to maintain a correspondent at Carson City, the terminus of the telegraph line from California. This correspondent received the dispatches from the pony express traveling west and telegraphed them to Sacramento and San Francisco. These telegraphic dispatches were usually headed by the description: “Per Telegraphic Dispatch to St. Louis; Thence to St. Joseph, Mo.; Thence by Overland Pony Express to Carson City, U .T.; Thence by Telegraph to San Francisco.
On July 12., 1843, apparently as a way of quieting opposition, including that of his first wife Emma, Joseph dictated to William Clayton the revelation on celestial marriage, but he had been taking plural wives well before, as had others of the hierarchy. In the last three or four years of his life, if Mrs. Brodie’s count is accurate, Joseph had taken forty-eight wives besides Emma. And though the doctrine of celestial marriage stressed responsibility and duty and greater glory in Heaven and even a sort of eugenics as its justifications, and though many of the priesthood, including Brigham Young, entered into it in anguish of spirit and only because it was God’s commandment, there is little evidence that to the full-blooded prophet polygamy was especially puritan.
“The red color soon mottles and the bowl clogs if smoked with tobacco; in fact, it is fit for nothing but the “kinnikinik” of the Indians.”
[Note: “Kinnikinnick is a Native American and First Nations herbal smoking mixture, made from a traditional combination of leaves or barks. Recipes for the mixture vary, as do the uses, from social, to spiritual to medicinal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinnikinnick.]
“I was glad to drink off the brim of my ‘wide-awake.'”
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.
We found Leo Nickels’ Ranch on the spot where many a foolish traveler lost his last cent–if not his life. The causal tourist may recognize it by a row of evergreens along the fence line instead of the more common cottonwoods whose silky fluff everywhere fills the air.
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]
Mormon Trail through the Wasach
“The Mormons were the first after the Donner party to take the [Hastings] cutoff route from Fort Bridger, but their experiences were quite different. Beyond the Weber River Canyon they found that the panicked Donner party had hacked its way blindly. Camp was pitched, and a thorough survey of the mountains made, in which the route that is now Highway 30S was discovered. The entire battalion set to work, and within less than a week had opened a clear passage to Salt Lake.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
Post Rider Description
One job description for the position ordered that “in the selection of riders you must always take persons of integrity, sound health, firmness, perseverance and high ambition, and pride of character. Among these a preference is due to young men, the less the size the better.” One such was James S. Totten, fourteen, who took the job when General David Sutton, his grandfather and guardian, died and left him penniless. The plucky, jockey-weight boy supported himself on his weekly route’s eight-dollar monthly salary and later become a prominent local politician.
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?]
“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 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.)”
Contemplation on the Trail
“Hours of contemplation, however, are not wanting to any traveller, and so far these would not be different from many nights at sea; but this whole period was one in which, if ever, one might feel the truth of the poet’s ‘suave mari magno,’ &c., as I have often felt its falsity. One seemed cut off from all the din and turmoil of the world, and the hopes and fears of a life in it, as much as if one had been a denizen of the happy valley. There was the daily work to do and the daily bread to eat (bad luck on it, there was no fresh buffalo meat!); so it was yesterday, so it would be to-morrow . . .
“At any rate, it is neither unpleasant nor uninstructive to have a few such months, like the small space of blue sky that often appears between the clouds that have passed and those that are coming up, and seems the very ideal of tranquillity. True this life was not to last very long, but while it did last one looked upon the future as through a wall of glass very thick.”
[“‘suave mari magno”–http://wiki.hmssurprise.org/phase3/index.php/Lexicon:Suave_mare_magno]
“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 as Instrument of Empire
As soon as the idea of the overland stage was suggested, the postal feature of it became subsidiary to other interests. The Senate Committee in 1849 recognized then that here was a scheme for stimulating the movement of population into the West. The overland stage would promote emigration by establishing a safe line of travel; it would lead to the development of the resources of the West; it would bind California to the Union, socially and politically, by affording quick communication between coast and coast; its stations would become the nuclei of settlements; and, above all, it would prepare the way for the much-talked-of Pacific railroad.
Feramorz Little's Mules
His initial trip was a farcical epic. Fort Bridger, 124 miles distant, was the nearest speck of civilization east of Salt Lake City; beyond were 400 lonely miles to Fort Laramie. Years later, Little wrote that he and Hanks reached Fort Laramie nine days out of the Mormon town. When they arrived the animals were so used up that they were unfit for the return trip. So the two men importuned the owner of a nearby ranch and obtained five wild, unbroken mules, the only stock available. These they wrestled to the ground, bound them and tied on blindfolds. Four of them they managed to work into a harness, and on the fifth one Ephriam Hanks put a saddle. All was ready, the blindfolds were yanked off and the bindings cut. A lively performance commenced. Hanks took the lead, trying to assist in keeping the wagon on the road, but his mount “was guilty of all the antics that a wild Mexican mule is considered capable of performing under the circumstances.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“‘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 1557: Route Alternate
According to one source (William Hill, p. 214), the road over Rock Springs Pass was a summer shortcut. Winters, the route ran around the south of the Antelope Mountains. According to Richard Burton (quoted in Hill, p. 213), “Beyond Antelope Springs was Shell Creek, distant thirty miles by long road and eighteen by short cut.”
A detour along this route would continue southeast on White Pine County Road 32 to Twelvemile Summit, then turn northwest over Tippett Pass on White Pine County Road 34 to Hwy 893 (White Pine County Road 31) and rejoin the route at the site of Spring Valley Station.
Note: water is marked as available at Rock Springs on the summer route. No water sources are marked on the alternate.
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.”
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.”
Killing Shoshone Indians in Nevada
One of the earliest contacts between whites and Indians of Nevada occurred in August, 1832. The greeting was a rifle ball. Milton Sublette, with a company of trappers, had reached the headwaters of the Humboldt. There a cousin-by-marriage of President-to-be James K. Polk displayed a peculiar brand of heroism. Joe Meek, a free-trapper member of the party, coolly fired at and killed a Shoshone. N. J. Wyeth, a Yankee mountaineer accompanying the group, questioned Meek about the incident, according to an account in Mrs. F. F. Victor’s story, The River of the West.
Meek told him that he had killed the native “as a hint to keep the Indians from stealing our traps.”
“Had he stolen any?” Wyeth asked.
“No,” replied Meek, “but he looked as if he was going to.”
Death of the Pony Express
I take the twisted wires and they’re as valuable to me as gold. It fills me with excitement and mystery that in my hands I hold a piece of this country’s history. It makes me just a bit sad, though, that the “lightning wires” meant the death of the Pony Express, with its daredevil riders. It’s a typical but curious twist of human nature that Americans got so used to getting the mail across the country in ten days on the Pony Express that they began to want to get it faster and faster This gave increased momentum to stretching telegraph wires across the Great American Desert.
“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 . . .”
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.”
“[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.
“The ‘bull whacker’ had his own style of dress. He wore a broad brimmed hat which usually had some strange device attached to the crown. The flannel shirts were bright red and blue in color; the pants ran down the inside of heavy, high-legged boots, and sticking into the top of one of these would be a sheath or bowie-knife. The knife might be stuck under the belt , per choice. A well-fitted belt of cartridges encircled the waist from which hung one or two large ‘c o l t type’ revolvers always in trim. Aside from the heavy pistol at the hip a shotgun or rifle made up the balance of the ‘bull whacker’s’ ordnance.”
Inactivity of Pro-Union Public in California
The main danger in regard to the Pacific Republic movement was the inactivity of the loyal element of the population. General Sumner in April, 1861, wrote to the War Department that there was a strong Union feeling in the state, but that “the secessionists are much the more active and zealous party, which gives them more influence than they ought to have from their numbers.” The State Legislature, however, promptly and emphatically condemned the project to form a Pacific Republic—both branches adopting the following resolution, May 17, 1861: “Resolved by the Senate, the Assembly concurring, that the people of California are devoted to the Constitution and Union now in the hour of trial and peril. That California is ready to maintain the rights and honor of the national government at home and abroad, and at all times to respond to any requisition that may be made upon her to defend the republic against foreign or domestic foes,” Each latest arrival of intelligence from the East added fresh impetus to the feeling of loyalty for the Union, so that within a few months after the outbreak of the war, all discussions of a Pacific Republic ceased. “So it was that this digging, delving, half-foreign, rich young state was not after all able to keep out of the quarrel between the North and South. As the mails brought the reports of the disunion speeches of proslavery senators, and the disloyal acts of the Southern people, her nerves tingled and her blood was up. Disunion? Never! A Pacific Republic? Never.”
Mail Restrictions and Destroying the Press
As early as 1862, Brigadier-General Wright (who was commanding the Department of the Pacific after Sumner was called back to the active scenes of the war in October, 1861) requested the postal agent on the coast to forbid the transmission through the mails and express offices of certain newspapers, as the Los Angeles Star, Stockton Argus, Stockton Democrat, Visalia Post, etc.—traitorous and disloyal sheets constantly denouncing the Government and all its acts, and tending to discourage enlistments and give aid and comfort to rebels. The result of this step was beneficial,—so much so that the restrictions were removed in 1863.
(Captain McLaughlin (of the Second Cavalry, California Volunteers) arrested the editors, L. P. Hall and L. J. Garrison of the Equal Rights Expositor on the charge of publishing pbjectlonable articles; and when one of the editors refused to take the oath of loyalty, he was held In close confinement for some time. On March 5th of the same year, Major O’Neill (of the Second Cavalry, California Volunteers), exasperated by the continued support given by the Expositor to the rebellion, went to Visalia and completely destroyed the office of the Expositor, breaking the doors and windows of the building, breaking the press and throwing the type, paper and ink into the street. A strong force then patrolled the town to prevent disorder, and one citizen was arrested for incHing a riot by ch11ering for “Jeff” Davis.)
In San Francisco at the time of Lincoln’s assassination, five news-papers, virulent copperhead sheets, which had outraged the loyal element in the community for some time by abusing the President and the administration, were destroyed by a mob. It is significant that public opinion did not condemn the proceeding. In fact, to prevent bloodshed, it was necessary to call out troops
The Gilman brothers had left the family homestead in Bartlett, New Hampshire, in 1854 and drifted west, stopping first in Iowa and then moving on to Nebraska. In the early summer of 1859, at the height of the Pike’s Peak gold rush, they were hauling merchandise to sell to the miners in the Rocky Mountains: drugs, goods, clothing, whiskey, ammunition, iron pipes, wheelbarrows, tools, and one luxury item—”a fine red, iron pump … A sign of affluence on the frontier where a windlass and bucket were the usual means of getting water from the well.”
About eighty miles west of Fort Kearny, nearly to the Colorado border, the Gilman brothers had the good fortune to break a wagon axle. They were about seventeen miles east of Cottonwood Springs, a well-established stop for travelers along the Oregon Trail (it would become the site of Fort McPherson). Unable to go forward to Colorado or retreat back to Nebraska City, John and Jeremiah Gilman settled where the wagon gave out. Within days they were trading their goods with nearby Sioux and Cheyenne Indians for buffalo robes. Emigrants headed west in wagon trains soon stopped, too. The Gilman brothers decided to grow where fate had planted them. The first sign of their permanence was that they dug a well, lined it with cedar posts, and installed the red iron pump, a landmark for travelers into the West that would become beloved in Nebraska folklore.
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.”
The West's Contribution to the Union
“[Abraham Lincoln] viewed the region and its mineral wealth as vital to the Union cause. It was a keen insight, and during the war California’s mines contributed $185 million to help finance the war, with Nevada adding another $45 million.
One of Lincoln’s forgotten achievements was ‘to organize the entire West into viable political units, each with a government that was loyal to the Union.’ This led to the creation of Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada territories in 1861, Idaho in 1862, Arizona in 1863, and Montana in 1864. These territories, Lincoln said in 1864, would soon be prosperous enough to be admitted to the Union as states.”
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.”
Mile 890: BYX and Other Historical Facts
MORMAN SETTLEMENT: Anxious to obtain better mail service from the States, Hyrum Kimball, acting as agent for the Mormon BYX operation headquarters at Salt Lake City, was low bidder for a U.S. Postal contract to carry mail between western Missouri and that city. The contract was formally awarded October 9, 1856. Notice was not delivered until the following spring. Construction of a “Mail Station” at Deer Creek, south of present day Glenrock, began the following spring. Elder John Taylor reported on the progress on July 24, 1857 as fifteen acres of planted crop, a corral of 150 feet square made of logs 12.5 feet long with their ends dovetailed together near the top, a stack-yard of the same dimensions nearly completed and a fort of 320 feet square with a stockade enclosing 42 houses not yet completed. A survey plat prepared by Thomas D. Brown for the Mormons, dated July 11, 1857 showed the Trading Station, known as “Bissonette’s Trading Post, to be 3.5 miles to the north on the Oregon Trail. The project was never finished due to the U.S. Government issuing federal troops to march against Utah that very summer acting on rumors of a Mormon insurrection. Upon learning of Col. Albert Johnson’s advancing army, the Mormons withdrew from Deer Creek and returned to the sanctuary of the Salt Lake Valley.
TWISS INDIAN AGENCY: A major influence in shaping the decision of President Buchanan was a letter written by Major Thomas S. Twiss, Indian Agent for the Upper Platte District located at Fort Laramie. It read, “On the 25th May, 1857, a large Mormon colony took possession of the valley of Deer Creek, one hundred miles west of Fort Laramie, and drove away a band of Sioux Indians whom I had settled there in April.” He estimated the settlement contained “houses sufficient for the accomodation of five hundred persons…. He summed up by saying, “I am powerless to control this matter, for the Mormons obey no laws enacted by Congress.” No sooner had the Mormons left, than Agent Twiss penned a letter to Washington dated November 7, 1857, showing his return address as: “Indian Agency of the Upper Platte, Re: Deer Creek”. It began, “I have the honor to report that I have arrived at this post on the 29th and shall remain here for the present.” And remain, he did, conducting all the Indian Affairs business from his Deer Creek headquarters for several years thereafter, including the distribution of yearly annuities to various Indian tribes and entering into a treaty which would have made the Deer Creek Valley into an Indian Reservation had the treaty been ratified by Congress.
LUTHERAN INDIAN MISSION: Sharing the Twiss Agency were several missionaries who established an Indian Mission within its stockades, later building five structures 1.5 miles above the old fort. History records that these missionaries conducted the first formal Christmas ceremony in 1859 in what would later become Wyoming. Their efforts enjoyed only limited success and the mission was officially closed in 1867.
The Big Blue
“Except under abnormal conditions the camp site under these old trees [by the Big Blue] was an oasis, comfortable and even luxurious with fresh-water clams from the river, berries from the woods and even wild honey from an occasional bee tree.Given the added fillip of a pretty girl or two, it became a treasured memory to the ‘army of boys’ who traveled west. It may well be stressed, just here, that the bulk of the gold migration was young,–splendidly, adventurously, pitifully, young, the average age being estimated as less than twenty-five years; and nothing short of a comprehensive avalanche could have prevented a certain amount of love-making.
Here at the Big Bluewhere the evening camps smelled pungently of wood smoke; where the declining sun distilled the nostalgic fragrance of wild grape, renewing memories and fostering hope; where the prying moon rose two hours high before it got so much as a peep at the camps within the perfume=med woods–here romance flourished. Many and many a lifelong comradeship was blossoming by the time the river was crossed at last and the wagons moved on into the shimmering distances ahead.
Paucity of Written Record
For of all the notable episodes in United States history, few have been so scantily annotated as the horseback mail, the trail of which has been indelibly—but only grossly—etched in the panorama of American pioneering. Even the parade of Caesars, or the Gallic Wars, or our own Revolution-all in the days when historical narration lacked the incentive of the common man’s literacy-even these events have been better documented and more accurately interpreted than the relatively recent Pony Express. . . .
Seemingly, few records of the 19-month mail service were then (or now, as a matter of fact) still extant. The living participants, pressed for their recollections, occasionally resorted to colorful embellishment or a self-serving memory. In several instances, the inexorable wear and tear of time caused buncombe to be offered as gospel.
Black Population in the West
Exactly how many blacks traversed the continent is unclear, but they were only a tiny fraction of the entire emigration. In 1860, California’s population was 379,994, of which 200,335 traveled overland. There is no record revealing how many of the mere 4,086 blacks enumerated there made the journey by land or sea. One hundred twenty-eight blacks lived in Oregon, thirty-nine in Washington, and fifty-nine in Utah.
“This hideous growth, which is to weary our eyes as far as central valleys of the Sierra Nevada, will require a few words of notice.
The artemisia, absinthe, or wild sage differs much from the panacea concerning which the Salernitan school rhymed: “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto.” [“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”] Yet it fills the air with a smell that caricatures the odor of the garden-plant, causing the traveler to look round in astonishment; and when used for cooking it taints the food with a taste between camphor and turpentine. It is of two kinds. The smaller or white species (A. filifolia) rarely grows higher than a foot. Its fetor is less rank, and at times of scarcity it forms tolerable fodder for animals. The Western men have made of it, as of the “red root,” a tea, which must be pronounced decidedly inferior to corn coffee. The Indians smoke it, but they are not particular about what they inhale: like that perverse p—n of Ludlow, who smoked the bell-ropes rather than not smoke at all, or like school-boys who break themselves in upon ratan, they use even the larger sage as well as a variety of other graveolent growths.
The second kind (A. tridentatd) is to the family of shrubs what the prairie cedar is to the trees a gnarled, crooked, rough-barked deformity. It has no pretensions to beauty except in earliest youth, and in the dewy hours when the breeze turns up its leaves that glitter like silver in the sun; and its constant presence in the worst and most desert tracts teaches one to regard it, like the mangrove in Asia and Africa, with aversion. In size it greatly varies ; in some places it is but little larger than the white species; near the Red Buttes its woody stem often attains the height of a man and the thickness of his waist. As many as fifty rings have been counted in one wood, which, according to the normal calculation, would bring its age up to half a century. After its first year, stock will eat it only when threatened with starvation. It has, however, its use; the traveler, despite its ugliness, hails the appearance of its stiff, wiry clumps at the evening halt: it is easily uprooted, and by virtue of its essential oil it makes a hot and lasting fire, and ashes over. According to Colonel Fremont, ‘it has a small fly accompanying it through every change of elevation and latitude.’ The same eminent authority also suggests that the respiration of air so highly impregnated with aromatic plants may partly account for the favorable effect of the climate upon consumption.”
“[Godard Bailey, a clerk in the Interior Department, whose wife was related to Secretary of War Floyd] confessed [to Russell] that the bonds he had given Russell belonged to the Indian Trust Fund of the Department of the Interior of which he was merely a custodian . . . In plain, everyday terms, Bailey was an embezzler in the amount of $150,000. . . .
One who has followed Russell’s unique, colorful and sometimes brilliant business career from the beginning regrets to face the remainder of the story concerning the bond transactions. Next day Bailey . . . delivered $387,000 worth of Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida Trust Fund bonds to Russell . . . By this act Russell fully shared Bailey’s guilt. Whether he was morally guilty in the first instance might be debatable, but certainly not in the second. By his own frank, straightforward confession he convicts himself of receiving and using for his own purposes property he knew was stolen.”
Russell Purchases Hockaday's Mail Route
While the stage line was being gotten into operation Russell branched out in a new direction to assume another heavy liability. On May 11, 1859, he bought the contract of J. M. Hockaday & Company to carry United States mail from St. Joseph, Mo., to Salt Lake City by way of Forts Kearny and Laramie. This transaction, also mostly upon credit, was made for the Stage company in the name of Russell and Jones. The purchase price was $144,000.00. After the initial trip the stage route to Denver was changed to run by way of Fort Kearny, the Upper California Crossing on the Platte River, along that stream, and thus to its destination via St. Vrains Fort. . . .
It required only about six months for the Express Company’s sands to run out. Notes were falling due and Russell had no money with which to pay them. It had cost about $1,000.00 per day to operate, and the concern within that time had succeeded in piling up debts to the amount of $525,532.” It owed Russell, Majors & Waddell $190,269. Its assets, figured on a generous basis, amounted to only $423,690.
Mile 1328-1396: Salt Lake City to Callao, Utah
“A little video I made of the first two days on the Pony Express trail from Salt Lake City to Callao, Utah. Unfortunately, due to time constraints that were too tightened for comfort by weather I had to call my ride to Sacramento on Ibapah, UT, right at the Nevada border.
I had hoped to document via video the whole route from Salt Lake to Sacramento and scout some more challenging options for the route. I am planning another trip later this summer, so I might still get that chance.”
Russell's Pike's Peak Venture
As one cons the history of Russell and Waddell and the record of their vast undertakings he is impressed again and again by the fact that many of their decisions, especially those made by Russell himself, were premature. The first and most conspicuous example of this was the organization of the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Ex-press Co., in the winter of 1858. Russell and John S. Jones, the promoters, invited Alexander Majors to join them in the under-taking, but he declined to do so. The development of the Rocky Mountain country at that time, he said, was such that a line of stage coaches from Leavenworth to Denver would not be a paying proposition. Waddell agreed with him. Jones and Russell dis-regarded their opinion and put the concern into operation at a cost of about $79,000, most of which was borrowed money. Majors & Waddell were right, and by November 1, 1859, the new company was in debt $525,582. Russell, Majors & Waddell took over the bankrupt concern, assumed its debts, and incorporated it in a new, and also premature stage and express company, called the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co. David A. Butter-field organized a stage line to Denver six years later with no better success. There were other mistakes in judgment and premature investments, but these suffice to indicate one of the fundamental reasons for their failure.
Mile 804-841: Horseshoe Creek to La Bonte
“From Horseshoe Creek to La Bonte (sometimes called Big Timber Creek) was fifteen and a half miles by the Mormon’s roadameter. The casual estimate was two to three miles longer, and the road varied from year to year . . .
The rocks of this section were particularly vicious and abrasive. They wore the animal’s hoofs to the quick, cut and otherwise lamed them. So far the road had been full of large ragged chunks, but the last five or six miles before reaching La Bonte were packed hard and smooth, ‘equal to McAdam roads’ or, as some said, like pounded glass. Arrival at La Bonte were equivalent to a victory. The worst pulls of the Black Hills were now behind. But, in the heavy years of travel, the grass supply as not adequate and many drove on to greener pastures or camped sketchily only to move on at daylight.
Women's Need for Privacy on the Trail
In some measure, women were distressed at losing the daily exchanges, the comfonable conversation. and the sharing of chores with female kin and frtends. But the need of women for other women on the Overland ‘frail was also more critical. So simple a matter as bodily functions on a terrain that provided no shelter could make daily life an agony of embarrassment when there was no other woman to make of her extended skirt a curtain. Excretion and evacuation could become unspeakable problems without another woman or women to make a curtain of modesty. Resistance to the appearance of bloomers on the frontier becomes more understandable when one conslders that the reduced skins had implications beyond fashion. Long and full skirts on the lrail were soon begrimed and muddy, but they were worn because of their properties as curtains. Two women together, long skirts extended, lent privacy to a third; and even one woman could provide a measure of propriety to a sister on the ‘frail. But a woman alone, where could she hide from the eyes of the men? There was periodic menstruation-and the lack of water. There was periodic dysentery–and the lack of water. There was occasional childbirth-and the lack of water. And all of these functions were comphcated by the absence of shelter and by a lack of privacy. Only In contemplating the utter emptiness of some of the terrain the emigrants crossed can one comprehend the panic felt by women at the prospect of being alone among men. There were days when the horizon was not broken by a tree or hill. There were just miles of flat land. Somehow it seemed as if every vicissitude of the road might be borne as long as a woman could preserve the pale of modesty and privacy. When these were stripped away, those aspects of life that came under the heaviest taboos of society-the bodily functions of excretion and childbirth-were exposed to the eyes of men. The need women felt to travel beside at least one other woman was hardly neurotic; it was a reflection of the very real and and essential services. The daily services women performed for each other.
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.”
“[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.”
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]
Cholera During the Gold Rush
The secret enemy of the gold-seekers was cholera. It had appeared initially in the United States in 1832-34, dissipated, and then burst again in the winter of 1848-49. From 1849 until 1854, there was no period when the dreaded disease did not appear somewhere in the country· Like revolution, cholera had swept through Europe. In July 1847, it was in Astrakhan, a year later, in Berlin; early in October of 1848 it appeared in London. When the packet New York settled into its berth in New York on December 1, 1848, it was placed in quarantine, but seven immigrants on the ship had already died below deck. The disease was uncontainanable
First Army Contract
Russell got his monoply on military freighting under a two year contract for 1855 and 1856. An office was opened in Leavenworth, at that time a mere squatter village on the Delaware Indian Reservation. Charles R. Morehead, Russell’s nephew, was installed as Manager and John W. Russell, his eldest son, as bookkeeper. They spent $15,000.00 for warehouses and other buildings, opened a lumber yard, a packing plant to supply meat to the trains, built a sawmill, and opened two stores.
The Plains as an Obstacle
“If it is borne in mind that the objective of most of these exploring parties was the Pacific coast or the Rocky Mountains, it is easy to understand how the Plains themselves, with their aridity and their nomadic Indians, assumed at once the character of an obstacle blocking the path of the explorer intent on what lay beyond.”
Mile 947: Prospect Hill
“Another mile [from Willow Springs] brought the emigrants to the summit of Prospect ill. Often they had spent the night near Willow Springs and climbed the hill in the early morning, thus getting their first view of Sweetwater Mountains, the vanguard of the Rockies, by the optimistic rosy light of dawn. A full twenty miles still separated them from the Sweetwater River, and they could catch no glimpse of it.”
[N.B. The Bureau of Land Management maintains a lookout at the top of Prospect Hill, between Mile 947 and Mile 948 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route. The area is about 1/4 mile off the Route. More info about the lookout and Prospect Hill here.]
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.”
"Buffalo Bill" Cody
“William ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody claims to have been a Pony Express rider around the Julesburg area, but this is unlikely. In Alexander Major’s autobiography (one of the Pony Express’s founders), Cody is only mentioned as being a messenger for Majors. And evidence shows Cody was in school in Leavenworth during the Pony Express’s operation. What Buffalo Bill did do was showcase the Pony Express in his Wild West Show, popularizing its legend and cementing its legacy.”
[N.B. Cody was 14-years old when the Pony Express started. In his autobiography, He claims not only to have been a Pony Express rider, but to one have ridden 320 miles in less than 24 hours:
“One day I galloped into the station at Three Crossings to find that my relief had been killed in a drunken row the night before. There was no one to take his place. His route was eighty five miles across country to the west. I had no time to think it over. Selecting a good pony out of the stables I was soon on my way. I arrived at Rocky Ridge, the end of the new route, on schedule time, and turning back came on to Red Buttes, my starting-place. The round trip was 320 miles, and I made it in twenty-one hours and forty minutes.” Buffalo Bill’s Life Story, p. 47
No other record of this record-breaking ride exists.]
“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.”
Russell's Stagecoach to Denver
The rumored and realized riches from the Rocky Mountains not only piqued the interests of gold seekers, but it captivated entrepreneurs foreseeing goods and services necessary for the emigrants’ livelihood. Denver City town promoter General William H. Larimer, Jr. aimed to attract essential enterprises to Denver City drawing business away from its larger, more established rival, Auraria Town Company, located on the opposite side of Cherry Creek. Larimer realized the leverage and influence a stage line generated to an infant communfry. He discussed a proposition of running a stage line from Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, to Denver City with William Hepburn Russell, a veteran freighter. Larimer enhanced the proposition by offering fifty-three Denver City lots to the freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell express company (a freight line of which William Russell was a principal) and six lots to William H. Russell, if Russell agreed.
Additionally, Larimer gave the stage line two city lots strategically located in the heart of Denver City. William H. Russell, known to embark on “new and profitless” enterprises, joined with John S. Jones, a pioneer government contractor of the West, to organize the first passenger service from the states to Denver City. They called their stage line the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company (L & PPE). Russell and Jones invited Alexander Majors and William Bradford Waddell to join them in the new venture. However, both Majors and Waddell agreed that engaging in a stage line was premature and risky in an undeveloped area with an unknown future. Russell, Majors and Waddell provided the L & PPE a ninety-day loan for most of its origination costs, which were nearly $79,000.
Frémont on Gavilan
“At the beginning of March, Fremont was continuing his northward progress toward Oregon by moving west over the Santa Cruz Mountains and south toward Monterey. In violation of his agreement and in defiance of the authorities. They now took action. On March 5, at the Hartnell ranch near Salinas, an officer of the California militia rode into his camp and gave him letters from the prefect and the comandante. Both directed him to take his force out of the department at once. The hero worked on a hair trigger. He ordered the lieutenant out of camp with a red-fire message for his superiors, moved hastily into the hills, set up a breastwork of logs on tlie top of Gavilan Peak, nailed Old Glory to a pole, and prepared to b~ sacrificed. “If we are unjustly attacked,” he wrote to Larkin, “we will fight to extremity and .refuse quarter, trusting our country to avenge our death. . . . If we are hemmed in and assaulted here, we will die, every man of us, under the flag of our country.” … He had been told to get out, on the ground that he had broken faith with the officials, lied about his instructions and intentions, broken the law, defied the courts, and condoned the misbehavior of his men. There had been no thought of killing him.
Nobody was ready to confer martyrdom on him, and though his mountain men were hot for a go with the greasers he got nothing for his brave words except an artist’s pleasure in the style. Consul Larkin found so little intelligence in his actions that he supposed Fremont could not have understood the official orders and wrote explaining them – meanwhile asking Don Jose Castro not to get rough but to talk things over with the hero in simple language. Also, seeing his patient intrigue alt but ruined by this dramaturgy, he hastily asked for a man-of-war at Monterey, to persuade alt parties to dampen their powder. As for Don Jose, he mustered what militia he could, circularized an already agitated countryside with proclamations, and paraded his forces under the spyglasses trained on them from Gavilan Peak. That was the traditional way of using force in California.
It worked. In his lofty fortress Fremont reverberated with the most dramatic emotions but his position was impossible in both law and tactics, as he realized when the McGuffey phase had passed. He was here without the slightest authority of his government, which could only disavow him, and the Californians had ordered him out on sufficient grounds and altogether within their rights. They were unlikely to attack him on the Gavilan and, if they had attacked, his mountain men could have shot them to pieces. But they must eventually have starved him out and then ridden him down with the long lances that were to win them San Pascual. However stirring his compositions and however humiliating the retreat, no great deed was possible and he had to get out. After three days of Hollywood fantasy, his flagpole fell down and he told his men that this showed they had done enough for honor. He moved out, most slow and dignified.”
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.”
Chorpenning's Pony Express
“He [George Chorpenning] projected and 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.”
Nine proposals for the contract were received by Postmaster General Aaron V. Brown. Being a southerner from Tennessee, he placed the hand of favor on the bid submitted by John Butterfield for a southern route from St. Louis, via El Paso; in fact, practically dictated to the politically wise contractor this “voluntary” choice of route. Butterfield’s firm, the Overland Mail Company, was the creation of the country’s four leading express companies-Adams, American, National and Wells Fargo. They held hopes of breaking the grip of the steamship lines on the bulk of passenger and mail traffic to the Paci.fie Coast.
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 were mail stops with no remounts. The scheduled time (summer) was 226 hours, making the average speed 8 miles per hour. The average station 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.”
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.”
Mountain Men Entrepreneurs
“The success of the overland emigrations was due in large measure to their timely coincidence with the decline of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Many seasoned western mountaineers, no longer needed for such outmoded ventures as the rendezvous system, were attracted by the related activity of furnishing supportive services to greenhorn overland travelers. Throughout the 1840s and 1850s emigrants benefitted immensely from trading posts adjacent to the trails and from the geographic knowledge and trail savvy of mountain men. . . .[M]ost of the canny entrpreneurs who anticipated the profit potential in catering to the many needs of overland travelers were former mountaineers.”
Pro-Union Forces in California
Turning now to the forces, moral, military, and political, that were working to save California—first there was a loyal newspaper press, which saw and followed its duty with unflinching devotion. It firmly held before the people the loyal responsibility of the state and declared that the ties of union were too sacred to be broken. It was the moral duty of the people to remain loyal. It truthfully asserted that California’s influence in the Federal Union should be an example for other states to follow. If the idea of a Pacific Republic were repudiated by their own citizens, such action would discourage secession elsewhere and be a great moral handicap to that movement. And the press further pointed out with convincing clearness, that should the Union be dissolved, the project for a Pacific Railroad with which the future of the Commonwealth was inevitably committed, would likely fail. (All parties in California were unanimous in their desire for a transcontinental railroad. No political faction there could receive any support unless it strongly endorsed this project.)
Aroused by the moral importance of its position, the state legislature, early in the winter of 186o-1861, had passed a resolution of fidelity to the Union, in which it declared “That California is ready to maintain the rights and honor of the National Government at home and abroad, and at all times to respond to any requisitions that may be made upon her to def end the Republic against foreign or domestic foes.” Succeeding events proved the genuineness of this resolve.
Ideally the lumber should have satisfied a wagonmaker’s specifications: hickory for axles, elm for hubs, white oak for spokes and rims, ash for shafts and box, and all of it well seasoned. In practise, an especially later in the summer as time and supplies both ran sho the carts were made of whatever could be found, most of it oak an hickory and a lot of it green. Here, as in other aspects of the handcart experiment, an original over-optimism was complicated by unforeseen difficulties of organization and supply. Economy or no economy, those carts should never have been designed without iron axles and iron tires, and should never under any circumstances have been built with green lumber. The shrinking aridity beyond the 98th meridian, the sand of the Platte valley, the rocky Black Hills, were all so familiar to the authors of the scheme that they should have known. And no matter what they were made of, it was a fatal miscalculation that the carts were not ready when the first converts arrived. The delay, merely awkward for the Saints from the Enoch Train and the S. Curling, was progressive; it became disastrous for the emigrants from the Thornton and the Horizon.
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.”
“First roads on the frontier were often known locally as military roads. More important for western development, these routes became migratory wagon roads for settlers, and when a community was occupied they were quickly used for commercial purposes. Many roads built by the War Department in the western territories, politically justified on the basis of national defense, were of much greater significance in facilitating access to the public lands.
“Mose Wright described the Indian arrow-poison. The rattlesnake the copperhead and the moccasin he ignored is caught with a forked stick planted over its neck, and is allowed to fix its fangs in an antelope’s liver. The meat, which turns green, is carried upon a skewer when wanted for use: the flint-head of an arrow, made purposely to break in the wound, is thrust into the poison, and when withdrawn is covered with a thin coat of glue. Ammonia is considered a cure for it, and the Indians treat snakebites with the actual cautery. “
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.]
Whites and Indians
Though frontier race relations were complex and even free African Americans were unarguably second-class citizens in comparison to whites, many people ultimately recognized only two kinds of people: “whites” and Indians. The white category included Caucasians of European origin, blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. Indians regarded them all with antipathy, just as blacks and whites often feared and hated various aboriginal peoples with equal vigor regardless of tribal or band affiliation. African American pioneers, whether free or slave, were part of, not distinct from, the Euro American or white cultural front engaged in conquering the landscape and native inhabitants of the American West. Though the Rock Ranch slave’s skin was black, as far as the Sioux and Cheyenne were concerned, he was white, and he was an enemy.
Mile 636: Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock
“Late in the afternoon, when the evening sky was lemon-colored and placid, we distinguished the dark bulk of Courthouse Rock outlined against the sunset and knew that this day’s journey was ending, as hundreds had ended in years past, within sight of the first great monument of the Oregon Trail. Tomorrow we would imitate the thousands of encamped travelers who took time out for a jaunt to ‘the courthouse’ intending to see for them selves how far away in the deceptive prairie distance it might be. No well conducted tour of the Emigrant Trail, either now or one hundred years ago, would be complete without the inclusion of a pleasure excursion on the side to Courthouse Rock.”
Mile 1792: Sulphur Springs Station
“Sulphur Springs is commonly listed as a Pony Express Station. However, it could not have been one of the original stations built in the spring of 1860. In reviewing the literature, there is no mention of this station prior to the Overland Stage and Mail Express maps of 1863. Sulphur Springs was probably built in July of 1861 to facilitate the opening of the Overland Stage. Since it was on, or at least near, the Pony Express Route it was probably used as a way station for horse changes from the time of the station’s inception to the demise of the Pony. It was used as an Overland stop until 1869.
“At Sulphur Springs, which is now fenced in, and across the road there are several types of ruins. There is one remnant of a log wall, several stone foundations, and many pieces of old artifacts. This is possibly the site of the Overland Stage Station. The site is 1-2 miles N of the Pony Express Trail and about 2 miles S of the Sulphur Springs Ranch which has since been renamed the Diamond Star Ranch. The site is on private land owned by John Trowbridge.”
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.
“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.”
Americans love anniversaries, and as 1960 approached, the country rediscovered the legacy of the Pony Express. A century made it possible for a whole new level of enthusiasm. By the time the centennial was planned, there was no one alive who had been there, and the celebrants were relying on memories and a very odd collection of books. Previous celebrations to honor the memory of the Pony Express—1935 was the seventy-fifth birthday—had been odd affairs. In 1954, a group of riders at the behest of the National Junior Chamber of Commerce reenacted the days of the Pony Express by racing day and night from Ogden, Utah, to Colorado Springs, nowhere near the actual route.
As the centennial approached, Waddell F. Smith, grandson of William Bradford Waddell, and the greatest professional Pony Express promoter of modern times, made himself known. Smith operated the Russell, Majors & Waddell Pony Express Foundation and Pony Express History and Art Gallery out of his home in San Rafael, California. In 1960, he produced The Story of the Pony Express: Official 1960 Centennial Edition. He called himself the editor, but the book is none other than Glenn Danford Bradley’s little tome reissued- and annotated-with an index by Smith. . . .
The actual observation of the centennial was as comic as the debate in California. One of the reriders staging the cross-country mail run accidentally shot another. The low point occurred when the reriders were unable to bring the mail overland on time and their tired horses had to be put on a truck. When they finally showed up in Old Sac, the mail pouch had been accidentally left behind.
First Trip Along the Platte River
In order to reach the interior West, the last untouched fur country in the United States, William Ashley had revolutionized the trade when the Arikaras and Blackfeet forced him away from the Missouri. His successors — we are concerned with the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, who trapped fur, and Sublette & Campbell, who supplied them — retained the methods he had pioneered. They used land transportation, taking out goods and bringing back furs by pack train up the valley of the Platte River and through South Pass.
Shorter Route for Telegraph
While the [telegraph] lines were under construction the Pony Express operated as usual. Letters and newspapers were carried the entire length of the line from St. Joseph to Sacramento, but telegrams only between the rapidly advancing wire ends.
Pony Express Bible
Among Joe Nardone’s gifts to the Library is an original “Pony Express Bible.” It is 5–7/8 inches high, 4 inches wide, and 2–1/8 inches thick, and exceedingly rare. Two thousand of these Bibles were ordered from the American Bible Society in New York. Today, there are only twenty-two of them known to be in existence. The scroll work on the leather covers as well as the lettering are in gold gilt. Printed on the spine are the words HOLY BIBLE and on the front cover:
RUSSELL, MAJORS, & WADDELL
If the Pony Express wasn’t started until 1860, why does this Bible have the date 1858 written on it? The three founders of the Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell were operating a very large freighting business. “They had a big contract with the federal government to supply all the western forts,” Nardone said. “Russell was the president. Waddell was in many ways the bookkeeper of the company. So Majors was the one who hired everyone, and he was a devout Christian.” In 1858–1859, Majors hired 5,000 men. He had each new employee take the oath described above, and then according to Nardone, “He would hand the men a Bible as a gift.”
However, it is Nardone’s feeling that few, if any, Pony Express riders got one when hired in 1860–1861. Majors conducted his business from his farm in Nebraska City, Nebraska, 150 miles north of the Pony Express Trail, and his original order of Bibles was insufficient to give copies to every one of the company’s newly hired men. Majors did order 300 more Bibles in 1860 that were received in 1861. “But it is a totally different Bible in size, in text, and in style,” Nardone said (6).
In his opinion, Nardone believes Bibles like the one now on view in the State Library’s California History Room should have been called the “Alexander Majors Transportation Bible.” Whatever it is called, this Bible speaks to the nature of the company that distributed it and calls to mind powerful associations with the history of the period.
Ficklin and Russell
Shortly after Ficklin departed, Russell penned some derogatory statements about him to Joseph Roberson of the firm’s St. Joseph office. Ficklin chanced to read them and fired a telegram to Russell: “Send a man for my place damned quick.”
Angered and unappreciative of the rudeness, Russell took him at his word and told his partners to put J. H. Clute in the job. The feud now blazed merrily. Russell’s instructions were ignored, so he asked for a board of directors meeting, to take Ficklin’s resignation. Waddell said no, for the company couldn’t get along without him. To this Russell replied that it was either Ficklin or himself, and in the latter event would his partners please arrange to sell his stock?
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]
“The politeness of the savages did not throw us off our guard; the Dakotah of these regions are expert and daring kleptomaniacs; they only laughed, however, a little knowingly as we raised the rear curtain, and they left us after begging pertinaciously—bakhshish [baksheesh] is an institution here as on the banks of the Nile—for tobacco, gunpowder, ball, copper caps, lucifers, and what not.”
” . . . our fires henceforth during several weeks were entirely of buffalo-chips, which are thickly strewn over any pasture on which you care to camp, and in a quarter of an hour with an old coffee-sack one could gather up enough for a cooking; when dry they make admirable fuel, indeed, for baking, preferable to wood, as they keep up a more even heat. At first the idea and the smell were a little unpleasant, but very soon one was only too glad to put a slice of buffalo-steak to broil on the coals, and it tasted none the worse for a sprinkling of the ashes—rather hard though upon the buffalo, that he should supply the very fuel for himself to be cooked upon.”
The Enigma Begins
The enigma begins at St. Joseph. In all the huzzas and hurlyburly that accompanied the send-off, no one apparently thought to record for posterity exactly the place in the city where the grand race began, or the identity of the expressman who had the distinguished honor of carrying the initial mochila.
Pony Express Route Shortened
From the Leavenworth Daily Times, August 29, 1861. St. Joseph, Aug. 26.—
The Pony Express has been abandoned between St. Joseph and a station 110 miles west [Marysville]. Letters will be obliged to go by stage from here to reach the Pony at that starting point.
Oxen Pulled Freight Wagons
“[O]xen were strong, inexpensive, and—as one early Santa Fe trader discovered in 1851—served three useful purposes: ‘1st, drawing wagons; the Indians weill not steal them as they would horses and mules; and 3rdly, in case of necessity part of the oxen will answer for provisions.'”
Fugitive Slave Law in California
Just after the State was admitted into the Union, a fugitive slave law was passed authorizing the extradition of slaves brought into the State voluntarily by their masters. Also, the legislature of 1852 enacted a law against negroes (which the legislatures of 1853, 1854, and 1855 re-enacted), the intention being to “legalize the kidnapping of free negroes, as well as the arrest of fugitives.” The Supreme Court in California in 1852 said that slavery was still a legal institution, i. e., that slaves brought to California before 1849 were still slaves when California was admitted to the Union. (In this “Andy Slave Case” decision of 1852, Judge Murray enunciated the same doctrine relating to the status of an African that Chief Justice Taney afterwards set forth In the Dred Scott decision.) But in 1859, a case was decided reversing the former decision, and stating that only travelers or temporary visitors could lawfully hold slaves in California. Laws and judicial decisions, however, were not sufficient to prevent either the introduction or continuance of the institution ; and they did not by any means abate the aggressive sentiment of the active and able pro-slavery minority in California, which dominated the politics of the State for the first decade of its existence, and which preached the delusive doctrine of Popular Sovereignty whenever opportunity offered.
(In the Charleston Democratic Convention in April, 1860, California and Oregon were the only free States that voted for the majority report (on the platform) in which this doctrine was enunciated: "Congress has no power to abolish slavery In the Territories. . . . The Territorial Legislature has no power to abolish slavery in any Territory, nor to prohibit the introduction of slaves therein, nor any power to exclude slavery therefrom, nor any power to destroy or impair the right of property In slaves by any legislation whatever.)
Russell Admits the Firm is Weak
Russell’s “great faith” in winning the coveted mail contract was obviously from a more modest viewpoint than as the reigning lord of the Central. A few days after Godard Bailey broke confidence and shattered his world of financial sophistry, he [Russell] conceded to Waddell that a through mail line to the Pacific Coast was beyond the company’s means—”the whole line will require too much additional capital and we have it not.” Such a doleful admission of failure! So that flamboyant gesture, the great wager that sent scores of young lads racing across the prairies, had come to naught. What now was he thinking of the gloried Pony Express? How ironical that his pains to prove the Central Route feasible should benefit an arch rival!
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.”
Food via Brigham Young's YX Express
In the snow, which was from eighteen inches to three feet deep, hunting on foot was an exhausting grind, for they wallowed, were easily spotted by the game, and as of ten as not missed out of sheer nervousness or exhaustion when they did get a shot at something. The wolves had killed three of their four saddle ponies. Jones judged that none of the men, unless possibly himself, was strong enough to make a desperation dash to the Platte bridge to see if there might be help there. He was just about to try what would have been a very desperate chance indeed when the Lord intervened again. This time His messengers were the Danite Bill Hickman, later notorious as a strong-arm man and self-confessed murderer second only to Porter Rockwell, and several companions. They were bringing through the first installment of mail for Brigham Young’s new Y.X. Express, which had obtained a contract to carry the mail between Salt Lake City and Independence. The Devil’s Gate boys had just put the pack saddle on to simmer, but seeing meat on the, express men’s pack mules, they took it out of the pot and consented to drink buffalo broth instead. Hickman and the other express men were a long time getting over that dinner they saw on the fire. For years they called Dan Jones the man that ate the pack saddle. He always denied it, but admitted that if they hadn’t arrived just when they did he might have been talked into taking a wing or a leg.
” . . . 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.”
ln 1847, a delighted America got its first stamps: tiny receipts that turn letters and parcels into official mail. (Some “postmaster provisionals” had appeared a few years before, but they could only be used locally.) Just as Great Britain had put Qyeen Victoria on the world’s first postage stamp in 1840, the United States honored Franklin and Washington (based on the Gilbert Stuart portrait) on its five- and ten-cent issues, respectively. At first, the new stamps were mostly available at the larger post offices, but as more were issued, their sales soared along with the volume ofletters and the department’s revenue.
Mail Rescue at Devil's Gate
That afternoon a visitor dropped in; for a moment it looked as if he might be bringing the clean supper they aspired to. But he turned out to be an Indian as empty-handed and hungry as they, and instead of getting anything from him they had to offer him their last piece of boiled rawhide. He took it gratefully, indicating by signs that he’d eaten it plenty of times before. Nobody was able to talk to him except in signs. Jones tried him on Spanish and Ute and concluded he was a Snake. He did not offhand appear to be a messenger of Providence.
Then they heard a noise outside, and hushed. Human voices. “Here comes our supper!” yelled Joseph Heywood, and led the rush to the door. The McGraw mail coach, making a second try to get through, was stuck in the snow. The noise they had heard was a French Canadian swearing at the mules, a music that needed no interpreter. Jesse Jones, the mail carrier, was glad to see them, for down at the Platte bridge they had concluded that the whole Devil’s Gate crowd must by now be dead. But he was astonished at how happy they seemed to see him, and inquired the cause of their excessive friendliness. Because you are bringing us our supper according to the Lord’s promise, they told him, and would not take no for an answer. Almost his entire stock of provisions, calculated to last to Fort Bridger, went into the pot, and the twenty-six of them left just enough for a skimpy breakfast.
Nothing in such a basic western plot as this is wasted. The French driver knew Shoshone, and could talk to the Indian, who said that his band was camped a day upriver, out of meat and hungry, but that he thought he could find game if some of them would come along to protect him from the Crows. The mail outfit, now without provisions to go on, had no choice but to lie over to see if the Indian could prove his brag. He did. He took ten men out and brought them back after dark with their mules laden with buffalo meat.
“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.”
Pony Express Stations
Stations had already been provided from Leavenworth to Denver by the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company. These were used by the Pony Express as far as Julesburg at the California Crossing.
When completed there were 119 stations on the route from St. Joseph to Sacramento, California. These consisted of two types, “Home Stations,” where families sometimes lived and where meals were served, and “Swing Stations,” where horses were merely changed and a crude shelter was built for stocktenders.
Mile 1732: Jacob's Well Station
“Today nothing remains but a few old stones from which the old well has long since caved in with rock and dirt. It was not only was a change station for the Pony Express until its demise as well as the Overland Stage Line until 1869, but it later served the Hill Beachy Road to Hamilton and the White Pine Mines.”
Upper California 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 building; there was also a store and blacksmith, shop. . . . The Pacific telegraph line at this point also crossed tho Platte, having been completed through to San Francisco via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake. . . . lt cost ten dollars a wagon t.o get ferried across the Platte [by rope ferry in 1864]. —Overland Stage, pp. 219, 220. Julesburg was named after Jules Beni. (See Footnote 291.)
“The valley of the Platte from Fort Kearney to the South Crossing has an average width of six or eight miles, closed in N. and S. by low bluffs from 200 to 300 feet high; while the river divides the level between pretty evenly, having itself a width of little less than a mile. Cedar-wood is sprinkled thinly over the bluffs, and now and then (but rarely), you may find a copse on the river-side, half impervious through the tangled masses of the wild vine; their grapes, though small and acid, are wholesome and refreshing, and an excellent remedy for either hunger or thirst.”
The Great Venture of Leavenworth
“Horace Greeley wrote while on his way to Denver in 1859:
‘Russell, Majors and Waddell’s transportation establishment is the great feature of Leavenworth. Such acres of wagons! such pyramids of extra axletrees! such herds of oxen! such regiments of drivers and other employees!No one who does not see can realize how vast a business this is, nor how immense are its outlays as well as its income. I presume this great firm has at this hour two millions of dollars invested in stock, mainly oxen, mules and wagons. (They last year employed six thousand teamsters, and worked 45,000 oxen).'”
In 1992, several members of the Riverton, Wyo., stake of the LDS Church reminded the church leaders in Utah that many essential church rituals had never been performed for the people who had perished in the Willie and Martin companies. In Mormon doctrine, these ceremonies, including baptism and so-called sealings of departed souls to those of a spouse, or to ancestors or descendants, can be performed at any time. They must be performed in a Mormon temple, however, and the nearest temple to Riverton at the time was in Ogden, Utah, a six-hour drive away.
Volunteers traveled from Riverton to the Ogden temple for the ceremonies. The new interest came to be called the Second Rescue, and stories about it began appearing in the Deseret News and other church publications.
Diseases on the Trail
“The gamut of contagious diseases associated associated with childhood are indicated as causes of adult death on the Trail: whooping cough, measles or vareloid, mumps, and smallpox. Other serious conditions often reported are ‘pneumonia or lung fever’ and malaria, identified also as ‘fever and ague.’ The common cold or it symptoms were much in evidence, but the most common non-fatal afflictions were internal disorders variously identified as ‘derangements of the liver or kidney,’ ‘bilious complaints,’ ‘inflammation of the bowels,’ summer complaints,’ ‘the ailment incidental to travel on the Plains,’ or just plain dysentery or diarrhea (spelled, of course, at least fifteen different ways). . . . Philura Vanderburgh’s father had a standard remedy for this condition: ‘Fill a saucer with brandy, sugar and mutton tallow.’
Among miscellaneous sicknesses reported are ‘congestion of the brain,’ delirium tremens,’ hydrophobia, bloody flux, intestinal inertia, inflammatory rheumatism, vertigo, and mountain fever, the last probably a western variant of dysentery. The agony of tootjache, sometimes relieved by opium or amateur extractions, was another frequent phenomenon pf the prairies.”
Mile 546: Devil’s Dive
” Elston and a detachment were sent down ahead of the train to where it would pass a very bad piece of road, a few miles east of Julesburg ; there was at this point a very bad arroyo coming in from the south, and the hills of the plateau protruded north to the river-bed, obliterating the valley at that point. This place at the arroyo went by the name of ‘The Devil’s Dive.’ When the train had passed that, it reached open country, and could see where it was going.”
Coronado on the Plains
Under the burning-glass July sun they went on across the green, rolling land-ocean under the unbounded sky, past the Great Bend of the Arkansas, left the river, traveled northeast till they reached the Smoky Hill River, and came to a Quivira village. A hunting camp, its palaces the grass huts of the eastern culture from which the Wichitas had migrated, it was singularly barren of kings and gold plate. It was in McPherson County, Kansas, near the village called Lindsborg, and here Coronado 9in 1540] ended his penetration of Quivira.
All this crossing of the plains had meant new landscapes, new experiences, new peoples, and they were all strange. “The land is the shape of a ball,” the annalist says, the first man who ever wrote the thought so many have had since, “wherever a man stands he is surrounded by the sky at the distance of a crossbow shot.” Everywhere the sun mocked the eye with unearthly distortions. Seared eyes could find no trees for solace except the willows and cottonwoods that marked watercourses and sometimes a small, hidden ravine choked with smaller stuff.
Only the earth and the sun and the arch of the sky, buffalo grass everywhere and then taller grasses. Ahead of them the grass bent as the wind trod it; the line of horsemen bent it too as they crossed; it rose again from wind and hoof and closed behind them and no sign of their passing had been left. Scouts, stragglers, the column itself might get lost in the tranced emptiness except that they piled stacks of buffalo chips to mark the way. Those same chips were the only fuel; their punk-like pungency for the first time prickled the noses of white men cooking supper.
“While all is green and fresh on the summits of the mountains, in the surrounding deserts all is salt, alkali, sterility, and desolation. In the early days, when thousands on thousands of persons were annually crossing the Plains to California and Oregon, hundreds perished because they did not understand the country through which they were passing. In looking for water they always went to the lowest places they could find, as they were in the habit of doing at home in the Eastern and Western States, whereas they should have left the desert valleys and climbed to the tops of the highest of the surrounding hills.
“On all of the mountain ranges springs of excellent water are found, and in places, small brooks; but the water sinks in the beds of the ravines and is lost long before it reaches the level of the deserts. The Indians always travel along the tops of the mountain ranges in summer. On their trails are put up signs that tell where springs can be found. These are small monuments of rock, capped with a stone, the longest part of which points in the direction of the nearest spring.
“Toward this spring are turned the long points of all the cap-stones on the monuments, until it is reached. Passing by the spring, the index-stones all point back to it until there is a nearer spring ahead, when the pointers are all turned in that direction.
“On finding the first monument, after striking the Indian trail, one may thus know which end of it to take to the nearest water. In traveling along a dry canon, where all was parched and dusty, I have sometimes seen upon one of its steep banks a monument, and, climbing up to it, have found the index pointing directly up the hill, where all seemed as dry as in the ravine below. But taking the direction indicated, it would not be long before a bunch of willows would be seen, and among these a spring was sure to be found. Not knowing the meaning of these little stone monuments, the early prospectors made a business of kicking them over wherever they found them, and so destroyed what would have been a useful thing to them had they understood it.”
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.”
“In the centre of the bottom flows the brownish stream, about twenty yards wide, between two dense lines of tall sweet cottonwood. The tree which was fated to become familiar to us during our wanderings is a species of poplar (P. monilifera), called by the Americo-Spaniards, and by the people of Texas and New Mexico, ‘Alamo: resembling the European aspen, without its silver lining, the color of the leaf, in places, appears of a dull burnished hue, in others bright and refreshingly green. Its trivial name is derived, according to some, from the fibrous quality of the bark, which, as in Norway, is converted into food for cattle and even ma ; according to others, from the cotton-like substance surrounding the seeds. It is termed ‘sweet’ to distinguish it from a different tree with a bitter, bark, also called a cotton-wood or narrow-leaved cotton-wood (Populus angustifolia), and by the Canadians liard amere. The timber is soft and easily cut; it is in many places the only material for building and burning, and the recklessness of the squatters has already shortened the supply.”
Post Office and Spoils System
Jackson took it to a new level by institutionalizing postal patronage and making it the financial engine of America’s two-party system. For nearly a century and a half, the government would effectively underwrite much of the country’s politics by enabling the camp that won the White House to reward tens of thousands of its supporters with postal jobs (although, as Lincoln would later observe, there were always too many pigs for the tits). The spoils system’s political impact was amplified by the fact that many of the postmasters appointed were the editors of their local newspapers, who were thus rewarded for their partisan electioneering in print. These new officials were supposed to quit journalism while in office, but they had the consolations of a federal position, the franking privilege, exemption from military and jury service, and insider access to lucrative government publishing jobs.
1860 Mail Appropriation
In the next try during the spring of 1860 Russell nearly squeaked through with his gamble on the Pony Express. While applause for the equine mail was still ringing in the nation’s press, not quite drowning out the threatening crescendo of Indian attacks, the Senate fought out and finally passed Senator Hale’s bill. It provided for a daily service on the Central Route, weekly departures on a proposed northern line between St. Paul and The Dalles, Oregon, and a temporary ocean mail contract. But the bill reached the House in the last hour of June 25th, the final day of the session, and that body flatly refused to consider the measure on such brief notice.
Most of the emigrants shared certain characteristics as a group: they were men and women who had already made one or more moves before in a restless search for better lands. They were children of parents who themselves had moved to new lands. If ever a people could be said to have been “prepared” for the adventure of the Overland Trail, it would have to be these men and women. They possessed the assortment of skills needed to make the journey and start again. They had owned land before, had cleared land before, and were prepared to clear and own land again. And they were young. Most of the population that moved across half the continent were between sixteen and thirty-five years of age.
” The name of the stream [White Man] is from the Sioux language. In that language Wah-seecha means ‘white man.’ ‘Seecha’ means ‘bad’ and ‘Wah’ means medicine; therefore a white man was, in Indian parlance, ‘bad medicine.'”
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.”
Safety of Travel Through Utah Under Brigham Young
“Most emigrants seemed blissfully unaware of Brigham Young’s pacifying influence with area Indians, another notable Mormon contribution to overland travel. Perhaps overlanders did not acknowledge Young’s important role because his overarching commitment to Mormon interests embroiled him in a great deal of controversy with Gentile Indian agents, or because a number of emigrants suspected that the Mormons occasionally directed Indian depredations against Gentile passersby. Yet Young’s maxim that ‘It is cheaper to feed the Indians than to fight them’ is well known and reflected his policies as ex officio superintendent of India affairs and governor of Utah Territory. And there is no gainsaying the fact that emigrants trailed through the Mormon domain with greater safety from Indian attack than elsewhere along the overland trail.”
“[E]arly in 1846, the advance guard of Mormon refugees from Illinois straggled down Indian Creek and Mosquito Creek into the Missouri River bottom below the old jesuit mission and knocked together the first log cabins, which they dubbed Millersville or Miller’s Hollow. By June several thousand of the Saints were camped here. Anxious to get beyond the reach of the unsympathetic Gentiles by circumventing the law against settling on Indian lands, Brigham Young made a deal with the Omaha to protect them against the Pawnee and promptly ferried his sizable flock across the Missouri. He erected a log and dugout village where his people died like flies during the following winter, but which, in 1847, became the base for his triumphant journey to the great Salt Lake. This so-called Winter Quarters, sacred in Mormon history, later became the townsite of Florence, now annexed to Omaha.
The Mormon occupation of Winter Quarters was illegal, for settlers were forbidden on Indian lands. Brigham Young was induced by Thomas H. Harvey, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. to evacuate his site . . . [T]he 1848 season was devoted to the evacuation of Winter Quarters. In May and June . . . Young and his apostles led nearly 2,500 people and nearly 1,000 wagons to the new Zion in Utah. The remainder, mainly the poor who had no outfits, were shuttled back across the Missouri and downstream once more to Miller’s Hollow, where they populated a town which they called Kanesville in honor of Tomas Leper Kane, a Gentile friend. . . .
In 153 the Mormons made their final official exodus from Iowa, and in one great spasm over 3,000 of the faithful migrated to Salt Lake, abandoning Kanesville. The empty houses and barns were soon appropriated by Gentiles who decided to linger before going to California; and from this time on the name Kanesville rapidly gave way to Council Bluffs, although it would remain a few more years.”
Clean Out of Cash & Poor Pay
” Russell, Majors & Waddell had been surviving on loans made against its government contracts for handling most of the Utah Expedition’s freighting operations since 1858. The government failed to pay its enormous debts to the company, so the operation was essentially bankrupt when it launched the Pony Express. (This helps explain why many riders said C.O.C.&P.P. stood for ‘Clean Out of Cash & Poor Pay.’)”
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. “
Lure of the Trail for Men
“The male camaraderie of country life, in fact, was exaggerated by the dangers and excitements of the trail. “Men drawn together on the plains as in every day walks of life,” William Thompson remembered, “only the bonds were closer and far more enduring. The very dangers through which passed together rendered the ties more lasting.”
This chance for an exaggerated and extended occasion masculine good times lured men to the trail. Truly one of the great attractions of the trip was the notion of spending entire spring and summer “in the rough” with the boys, away routines of farm work. Trail work was hard, to be sure, but farm drudgery held none of this romantic allure. The idea of an overland emigration struck romantic chords deep within the male breast. One midwestern visitor reported that men “spoke of ‘Old Kentuck’ and ‘Old Virginny’ in a tone that sounded like deep emotion,” and Indiana farmers “related with glowing eyes” tales of how their fathers had emigrated from the valleys of Appalachia. William Oliver told of how the men at an inn along the National Road in Manhattan, Indiana, listened almost reverently as a gnarled old frontiersman recounted his adventures, supposedly at the side of Daniel Boone, hunting ‘Injuns.’ On the trail men could live out collective fantasies that some had experienced in the early days of the midwestern frontier but most had only dreamed of on their staid and settled farms. Here on the trail was an opportunity to bring to life that male self-image. The project of Oregon and California settlement itself included a male vision of life in a time and place where men played a man’s role with long rifle and hunting knife as well as plough and cradle.
Hunting has continually recurred as a theme in these pages of the importance it assumed for emigrant men. It was in this context of male fantasy and the measurement of masculine identity against the standard of earlier, heroic generation of men that hunting took on its meaning. At home the rifle had retained its symbolic if not practical place as the key instrument of male activity. As such, the rifle was the object around which men organized their conception of the trip. By insisting that their rifles would again become the means of securing nourishment for their families, men allowed their own projections to set the form and the content of the journey. Matthew Field captured something of this with a description of the emigrants passing through Westport, men to the front, “rifles on their shoulders, … looking as if they were already watching around the corners of the streets for game.” Hunting, of course, supplied very little of the actual nourishment for the overland travelers, and experienced observers, from the beginning, advised against wasting valuable time on the hunt.But the men nonetheless insisted on approaching the trip as at least a hunting expedition.”
Tracking the Sign of an Indian
” The feet, being more used than the other extremities, and unconfined by boot or shoe, are somewhat splay, spreading out immediately behind the toes, while the heel is remarkably narrow. In consequence of being carried straight to the fore the only easy position for walking through grass they tread, like the ant-eater, more heavily on the outer than on the inner edge. The sign of the Indian is readily recognized by the least experienced tracker.”
“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.”
Mile 1678: Egan’s Station
“The rider carrying the August 1 westbound mail just missed an Indian attack on Egan Canyon station, which turned into a fierce battle between the Indians and the U.S. mounted cavalry commanded by Lieut. Weed. This battle occurred on August 11, based on the journal kept by Private Scott and, more definitively, the official report from Lieut. Weed dated August 12, 1860 (U.S. Senate Documents).
Lieut. Weed’s report and Private Scott’s journal entry agree on the basic facts. On August 11, shortly before 5 p.m., Lieut. Weed led three non-commissioned officers and 24 privates east from their depot in Ruby Valley toward Antelope Springs on a mission to “chastise certain Indians in that vicinity for depredations recently committed,” according to Lieut. Weed. A short distance before reaching Egan Canyon Station, a Pony Express rider heading east passed Lieut. Weed’s slow-moving convoy. As the rider approached Egan Canyon Station, he saw a large group of armed Indians surrounding the station and engaging in hostile acts. The rider turned around and quickly rode west to alert Lieut. Weed of the attack.
Leaving a non-commissioned officer with seven men to guard the two wagons, Lieut. Weed and 20 mounted cavalrymen galloped toward Egan Canyon Station. There they encountered 75 to 100 Indians around the station and a somewhat larger number 500 to 800 yards away in the surrounding mountains. The Indians had taken the station’s supplies and were holding the station keeper and another man captive. Lieut. Weed ordered his men to surround the Indians near the station, but before the soldiers could completely encircle them, two or three soldiers “fired prematurely, thus alerting the Indians, and leaving an opportunity for them to retreat…”
A firefight ensued, but the Indians were able to work their way up the sides of the mountains south and east of the station, where they were protected from the soldiers’ fire. Faced with the Indians’ superior position, Lieut. Weed ordered his men to withdraw from the pursuit, allowing the Indians to flee. Three of Lieut. Weed’s men were wounded, one of whom died two days later. One Indian was killed and four wounded. Lieut. Weed reported that two other Indians had fallen—mortally wounded, according to him—but they had been picked up and carried away.”
Mile 178: Rock Creek Station
“Rock Creek station was established along the Oregon-California Trail in 1858 to sell supplies and other services to the emigrants. The station subsequently served as a relay station for the Pony Express, and finally as a stage station for the Overland stage. To the northwest of the old station site is the finest stretch of pristine trail ruts in southeastern Nebraska. These ruts, which cover 1600 feet, are quite dramatic in appearance.”
Mile 151: Hollenberg Pony Express Station State Historic Site
“The Hollenberg Pony Express Station State Historic Site has been painstakingly restored and is open for visits from March 14th – October 13th.
Be sure to make a quick stop and take a walk inside. It’s a pretty incredible experience so early on the trail.”
[N.B. More info about the station here.]
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).
Russell Purchases Hockaday
Through this maelstrom of congressional bickering and administrative ill-will, seemingly only W. H. Russell, the great opportunist, had a clear eye to the future. A month after Postmaster General Holt crippled Hockaday by his order to halve the service, Russell acquired the outfit, lock, stock and barrel. The deal was an entrepreneur’s dream. Russell put up no cash, allowing Hockaday to keep the current quarter’s contract payment, and gave the financially and physically ailing operator promissory notes totaling $120,250 for the balance.
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.””
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.'”
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.”
Federal Troops in California Cities
In several towns during the Civil War, the secessionists caused trouble to such an extent that the presence of federal troops was imperative at various times. Visalia, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles were among such cities . . .
During the entire war it was found necessary to have soldiers in Los Angeles to keep down the hostile, bold, defiant sentiment of secessionists, which flared up with brilliance after every Confederate victory in the East . . .
San Bernardino, as was mentioned, also had difficulty in fighting secession sentiment throughout the war. The character of the population there at that time explains most of the trouble. Major Carleton tells us that two-thirds of the people were Mormons, who at heart hated the United States troops and cause; and the remainder were principally outlaws and English Jews (who controlled the business of the town)—neither of whom cherished any love for the United States. Only a few respectable Americans really feit anything like patriotism.
Two Weeks' Hard Going Through the Snowbound Sierra
What does “two weeks” hard going mean?
“The first week of May, 1851, George Chorpenning, with a party of seven picked up 200 pounds of sacked mail at the Sacramento office and started east. The initial mail was delivered without incident. After two weeks’ hard going through the snowbound Sierra Nevada, Chorpenning arrived in Carson Valley.”
“It took [Chorpenning’s party] sixteen days to make their way to Carson Valley having had to beat down the snow with wooden mauls to open a trail for their animals over the Sierras. They left May 1 1851 from Sacramento. On the third day they encountered snow drifts in the Sierra Nevadas some fifteen miles above Placerville. It was on the 22nd day that they reached Carson Valley (about 180 miles on the then traveled route). When they reached the snow line, they dismounted put part of the mail from the mules on their own horses and walked for about two weeks. They trampled and beat the snow for the animals—traveling two, six to eight miles per day. For sixteen days they traveled and camped on deep snow.” (quoted in Ralph L. McBride, Utah Mail Service Before the Coming of the Railroad, 1869″ (M. A. thesis, Brigham Young University), p. 20)
The party again had to resort to “forcing paths through deep snowfields in the Goose Creek Mountains,” before reaching Salt Lake City on June 5, 1851.
Subsidized Delivery of Newspapers
After the Revolution, America needed a central nervous system to circulate news throughout the new body politic. Like mail service, knowledge of public affairs had always been limited to an elite, but George Washington, James Madison, and especially Dr. Benjamin Rush (a terrible physician but a wonderful political philosopher) were determined to provide the people of their democratic republic with both. Their novel, uniquely American post didn’t just carry letters for the few. It also subsidized the delivery of newspapers to the entire population, which created an informed electorate, spurred the fledgling market economy, and bound thirteen fractious erstwhile colonies into the United States. For more than two centuries, the founders’ grandly envisaged postal commons has endured as one of the few American institutions, public or private, in which we, the people, are treated as equals.
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.”]
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.”
Territories Reserved for the White Race
Westering Americans believed that overspreading the continent with their yearly multiplying millions was a God-given right, perhaps even pre-ordained. They envisioned a nation of white people extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Renowned newspaperman Horace Greeley, who made famous the exhortation, “Go West, young man!” “hoped the territories [would] be reserved for the benefit of the white race.” Abraham Lincoln and many other influential people also had concerns about black migration and competition with whites for land and jobs. Some of those potentially affected took steps to try and ensure whites-only development. In 1843, emigrants in the first large Oregonbound wagon train established a pattern others would follow. Their charter stated that, “No Black or Mulatto person shall, in any case or any circumstance whatever, be admitted into this Society [wagon train], or be permitted to emigrate with it.”
In spite of such prohibitions, a few thousand free and enslaved African Americans traveled the Oregon- California-Mormon Trail.
“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.'”
Mile 137: Marysville
“Passing by Marysville, in old maps Palmetto City, a county town which thrives by selling whisky to ruffians of all descriptions, we forded before sunset the ‘Big Blue,’ a well-known tributary of the Kansas River. It is a pretty little stream, brisk and clear as crystal, about forty or fifty yards wide by 50 feet deep at the ford. The soil is sandy and solid, but the banks are too precipitous to be pleasant when a very drunken driver hangs on by the lines of four very weary mules. We then stretched once more over the ‘divide’—the ground, generally rough or rolling, between the fork or junction of two streams, in fact, the Indian Doab—separating the Big Blue from its tributary the Little Blue.”
Majors' Freighting Experience
Among the freighters of civilian goods to Santa Fe in 1848 was Alexander Majors making his first trip over the Santa Fe trail with six wagons loaded with merchandise, 30 or 40 oxen, and ten or twelve men. A small beginning indeed for a man who in less than ten years would estimate the number of great Conestoga and Murphy prairie schooners under his command by the acre, count his oxen by the thousands, and employ several regiments of bull-whackers. In 1849 his business required about the same number of wagons as in 1848. In 1850, however, it had grown until ten wagons and 180 oxen were used.
Upon returning home in the fall of 1850 Majors learned that Q. M. Maj. E. A. Ogden at Fort Leavenworth wished to send 20 wagon loads of supplies to Fort Mann at the Cimarron crossing on the Arkansas river, 400 miles down the Santa Fe trail. Although the time for starting on a journey of that kind was long past he took the contract and reached his destination without difficulty. Before leaving for home he hired his train at Fort Mann to the commandant of the fort, which was under construction, to haul logs from a creek 25 miles away. He returned home in time to celebrate Christmas with his family. In 1851 Majors was again on the Santa Fe trail with 25 wagons loaded with merchandise. When he returned he corraled his wagons, sold his oxen to California immigrants, and remained at home in 1852. The following year he bought a new outfit of oxen for his train, hired some 80 bullwhackers, and freighted civilian goods to Santa Fe. Again he returned home in time to make a second trip to Fort Union, N. M. In 1854 he freighted no mer-chandise, but transported 100 wagon loads of military supplies to New Mexico. This work required 1,200 oxen and about 120 men,** a creditable showing indeed for a man who only six years before owned only six wagons and employed a dozen men or so. This, in brief, is the story of the rise of the man who became the partner of Waddell and Russell in 1854.
Russell, Majors & Waddell Get the Army Monopoly
On March 27 of the same year  he [Russell] and his partners, under the name of Majors & Russell, signed a two-year contract with Q. M. Maj. E. S. Sibley at Fort Leavenworth to transport all of the military stores to all of the army posts in the West and Southwest. This gave them a monopoly upon that class of freighting business, which enviable position they held until 1860.
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.”
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.”
Russell's Freighting Expands
While Majors was expanding his freighting business in the latter 1840’s and early 1850’s Waddell and Russell were reaching out in various directions at Lexington and elsewhere. In 1850 Russell, James Brown, and John S. Jones formed a partnership, called Brown, Russell & Company, and contracted to deliver at least 600,000 pounds of military stores in Santa Fe for 14% cents per pound. This was the largest contract for the transportation of government sup-plies ever let at Fort Leavenworth up to that time. In addition Brown also sent out 30 wagons of his own loaded with military stores. From September 14 to October 2, more than three months past the usual starting time, Brown, Russell & Company put four trains of 25 wagons each and one of 15 on the road to Santa Fe. These were organized into two caravans, with Brown himself in charge of the one in the lead. In the latter part of November this train ar-rived at the old Pecos pueblo, 45 or 50 miles from Santa Fe. Here it was stalled by a heavy mountain blizzard. Since they could not travel Brown rode into Santa Fe to report the situation to the commandant of the garrison and ask permission to lay over until better conditions prevailed. Immediately after arriving he suffered a severe attack of typhoid fever and erysipelas from which he died on December 5.
When he did not return at the time he said he would, his assistant, Charles O. Jones, brother of John S. Jones, rode into Santa Fe to ascertain the cause of the delay. He made the same request that Brown did, but was refused. Moreover, the commandant delivered an ultimatum that unless the caravan moved immediately he would bring it in himself at the contractor’s expense. There being no alternative Jones returned to the camp to do his best. He forced the caravan through to Santa Fe, but with the loss of most of the oxen. Forage alone for the animals cost the firm $14,000. Russell presented to congress a claim for losses amounting to $39,800, but it was several years before it was paid. The other two trains wintered in the neighborhood of Bent’s fort and went on to their destination in the spring. In 1851 Russell and John S. Jones, under the name of Jones & Russell, got a two-year contract to deliver government stores in New Mexico. This was the first time contracts for more than one year were given.
Russell's First Business Failure
In 1838 he resigned his position at Aull’s, and in partnership with James S. Allen and William Early opened a retail store under the name of Allen, Russell & Company. Whether this was in “Old Town” or the new addition is not known, although it probably was the former. . . .
The only thing which seems to have marred this period of prosperity [1838-1845] was the failure of Allen, Russell & Company in 1845. This was his first experience in that sort of thing, but it was by no means his last.
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.”
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.”
Mile 841-878: La Bonte to Box Elder Station
“[We] headed for the succession of creeks which the pioneers had crossed in the next three days’ journey.
The first was Wagonhound [near Mile 844]. Few knew the name, but none ever forgot the creek, and it could always be identified by description, for it was red. The soil and the rock were almost audibly red, from the burnt hue of Mexican pottery to the clear vivd tone of a madrone trunk. . . . One woman was impressed by the lurid color and the general look of drastic upheaval that she painfully crawled to the top of one of the ‘mountains of red stone’ and inscribed upon it, ‘Remember me in mercy O Lord.’ . . .
A stream just beyond Grindstone Butte, modernly called Bed Tick Creek, was apparently nameless to the emigrants; but it furnished water and a little much-needed grass. Next came La Prelle, the first large stream after Le Bonte Creek, boasting a natural bridge of rock.
After La Prelle came Little and then Big Box Elder. . . .
Through all the years it was a great moment for the throngs of emigrants as they struggled over the last elevation [near Box Elder Creek]. Behind them, low ridge after low ridge, in serried order, marched the Black Hills. Ahead, the Platte twisted through the lowland, gleaming silvery on the curves: a strange river, blurred gray and untrustworthy . . .”
[N.B. There were Pony Express stations at La Prelle and Box Elder. Both sites, however, are off the Pony Express Bikepacking route]
St. Joseph Contract
In consideration of these things the C.O.C. & P.P. got a block of twelve lots in Pattee Addition, eighteen in the town of Elwood, Kansas, the use of a building for an office, free passage over the Roseport & Palmetto Railroad for express packages, officers and employees of the Company for twelve months and free ferriage across the Missouri River for express coaches, wagons, etc., for two years.
The most significant and important concession the Express Company got was the exclusive privilege of carrying express matter over the Roseport & Palmetto Railroad and extensions thereof for 20 years. It was also agreed that the railroad would withold all connections from any other road running west to Denver which did not grant the same privileges.
By this contract Russell paved the way for the C.O.C. & P.P. to engage in the railway express business. He, as well as everyone else, knew that the day when steel rails would span the prairies and mountains to reach the Pacific Ocean was not far distant. Both he and the people of St. Joseph fully expected that the infant Roseport & Palmetto Railroad would be extended to Denver and eventually to the Pacific Coast.
Million Dollar Mail Contract
“During the Congressional short session of 1860-61, advocates of the Central route renewed their efforts for an adequately subsidized mail service on their favorite line. They at last succeeded and the law of March 2, 1861, provided for a daily overland mail on the Central route and a semi-weekly Pony Express, the compensation for the joint undertaking to be $1,000,000 per annum.”
“[The secession of of seven states] perhaps helped Congress to decide the features embodied in the above law, but the Civil War was not responsible for the establishment of the daily overland mail on the Central route. As noted above, Hale’s bill in 1860 provided for such a daily service. The defeat of all overland mail legislation during the first session only stimulated greater effort in the next.
The feature of this legislation of March2, 1861, that was affected, if not produced by the secession and its probable consequences, was the provision for the transfer of the Butterfield line to the Central route.”
Mile 1508: Willow Creek Station
“The authors do not necessarily support the idea that a station was located here but the following evidence, from excerpts of Nick Wilson’s story in ‘Utah and the Pony Express’ presents a favorable case.”
Peter Neece, our home station keeper, was a big strong man and a good rider. He was put to breaking some of these wild mustangs for the boys to ride. Generally, just as soon as the hostler could lead them in and out of the stable without getting his head knocked off, they were considered tame, and very likely they had been handled enough to make them mean.
My home station was Shell Creek (Nevada). I rode from Shell Creek to Deep Creek (Utah), and one day the Indians killed the rider out on the desert, and when I was to meet him at Deep Creek, he was not there. I went to the next station, Willow Creek, the first station over the mountain, and there I found out that he had been killed. My horse was about jaded by this time, so I had to stay there to let him rest I would have had to start back in the night as soon as the horse got so he could travel, if those Indians had not come upon us. About four a ‘clock in the afternoon, seven Indians rode up to the station and asked for something to eat. Peter Neece picked up a sack with about twenty pounds of flour in it and offered it to them, but they would not have that little bit, they wanted a sack of flour apiece. Then he threw it back into the house and told them to get out, and that he wouldn’t give them a thing. This made them pretty mad, and as they passed a shed about four or five rods from the house, they each shot an arrow into a poor, old lame cow, that was standing under the shed. When Neece saw them do that, it made him mad, too, and he jerked out a couple of pistols and commenced shooting at them. He killed two of the Indians and they fell off their horse there. The others ran. He said, ‘Now boys, we will have a time of it tonight. There are about thirty of those Indians camped in the canyon there and they will be upon us as soon as it gets dark, and we will have a fight.’ A man by the name of Lynch happened to be there at the time. He had bragged a good deal about what he would do and we looked upon him as a sort of desperado and a very brave man. I felt pretty safe until he weakened and commenced to cry, then I wanted all of us to get on our horses and skip for the next station, but Pete said, ‘No, we will load up all the old guns that are around here and be ready for them when they come. There are four of us and we can stand off the whole bunch of them. Well, just a little before dark, we could see a big dust over toward the mouth of the canyon, and we knew they were coming. It was bout six miles from the canyon to the station.
Pete thought it would be a good thing to go out a hundred yards or so and lie down in the brush and surprise them as they came up. When we got out there he had us lie down about four or five feet apart. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘when you fire, jump out to one side, so if they shoot at the blaze of your gun, you will not be there.’ We all took our places, and you bet, I lay close to the ground. Pretty soon we could hear their horses feet striking the ground, and it seemed to me as if there were thousands of them, and such yells as they let out, I never heard before. The sounds were coming straight towards us, and I thought they were going to run right over us. It was sandy where we lay, with little humps. Finally the Indians got close enough for us to shoot. Pete shot and jumped to one side. I had two pistols, one in each hand, cocked all ready to pull the trigger, and was crawling on my elbows and knees. Each time he would shoot, I saw him jump. Soon they were all shooting and each time they shot, I would jump. I never shot at all. After I had jumped a good many times, I happened to land in a little wash or ravine. I guess my back came pretty nearly level with the top of it. Anyhow, I pressed myself down so I could get in. I don’t know how I felt, I was so scared. I lay there and listened until I could hear no more shooting, but I thought I could hear the horses’ hoofs beating on the hard ground near me until I found out it was only my heart beating. After a while, I raised my head a little and looked off towards the desert and I could see those humps of sand covered with greese-woods. They looked exactly like Indians on horses, and I could see several of them near the wash.
I crouched down again and lay there for a long time, maybe two hours. Finally everything was very still, so I thought I would go around and see if my horse was where I had staked him, and if he was, I would go back to my station in Deep Creek and tell them that the boys were all killed and I was the only one that had got away. Well, as I went crawling around the house on my elbows and knees, just as easily as I could, with both pistols ready, I saw a light shinning between the logs in the back part of the house. I thought the house must be full of Indians, so I decided to lie there a while and see what they were doing. I lay there for some time listening and watching and then I heard one of the men speak. ‘Did you find anything of him?’ Another answered, ‘No, I guess he is gone.’ Then I knew it was the boys, but I lay there until I heard the door shut, then I slipped up and peeped through the crack and saw that all three of them were there all right. I was too much ashamed to go in but finally I went around and opened the door. When I stepped in Pete called out, ‘Hello! Here he is. How far did you chase them? I knew you would stay with them. I told the fellows here you would bring back at least half a dozen of them.’ I think they killed five Indians that night.
[Note: Also retold in Settle and Settle, Saddles and Spurs, p. 156-157
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.”
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.”
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.”
While Xerxes was doing thus, he sent a messenger to the Persians, to announce the calamity which had come upon them. Now there is nothing mortal which accomplishes a journey with more speed than these messengers, so skilfully has this been invented by the Persians: for they say that according to the number of the days of which the entire journey consists, so many horses and men are set at intervals, each man and horse appointed for a day’s journey. These neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness of night prevents from accomplishing each one the task proposed to him, with the very utmost speed. The first then rides and delivers the message with which he is charged to the second, and the second to the third; and after that it goes through them handed from one to the other, as in the torch-race among the Hellenes, which they perform for Hephaistos. This kind of running of their horses the Persians call angareion.
“The riders were exclusively in the service of the Great King and the network allowed for messages to be transported from Susa to Sardis (2699 km) in nine days; the journey took ninety days on foot. (Kia, Mehrdad (2016). The Persian Empire: A Historical Encyclopedia. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. p. 127.)(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angarium)
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.]
“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.”
Hurt and the Mormons
“More important than Burr’s encounters with the Saints in Utah was the concurrent reappearance of the quarrel over the Church’s policy toward the Indians. Previous agents, especially Jacob Holeman, had collided with Young on this matter and had helped broadcast the conviction that the people of Utah were seeking to subvert the Indians. Garland Hurt, the new agent, brought this situation to a head. . . .His opposition to their Indian policy was more determined than that of any other man in this period, and he further antagonized the Church by winning a wide influence among the tribes under his jurisdiction. In addition, unlike many federal officers, he did not react in panic to the anathemas of the Saints’ leaders; instead he continued his work after his Gentile colleagues had fled the Territory in 1857 and left only when the emotions of the excited populace seemed to threatend his life. . . .
Until June 1857 Hurt experienced no great difficulty in the territory and remained after the departure of Drummond, Burr, and the other officials . . . But when [the Mormons] learned that President Buchanan had ordered an expedition to Utah, the Mormons resolved that Gentiles in their settlements should not be allowed to remain in a position to weaken them at a time when they faced invasion.”
Nez Perces and Missionaries
They are generally well clothed in their stile …. ‘ So every white man who ever wrote about the Nez Perces till it was time to steal their lands. They were superior Indians, they made no trouble, they liked and admired white men.
Their desire for instruction in the mysteries was genuine and paramount, as clean as the desire of these Christians to give them what they wanted. Both desires were simple and altogether hopeless. The heritage of nineteen hundred years of thought and practice was at the disposal of the Christians, proved accurate to the minutest subdivision of a mil scale. The first step, the step on which all subsequent ones depended, was to bring souls to God. Teach the Flatheads and Nez Perces God, Jesus, immortality, primordial guilt, the history of the Jewish monotheists, redemption, transfiguration and crucifixion and resurrection, the majestic poem in which western man has embodied his understanding of how his fate works out. Teach them baptism, repentance, the seeking, the knowledge of God’s presence, the wish for oneness, the sacrament of God’s body and blood, misericordia and magnanimity, the metaphor and symbolism in which western man has expressed his understanding of what life means. That was the step on which all others must be added.
The Indians receiving instruction were men of the age of polished stone. Their minds had a metabolism, a systole and diastole, circuits of afference and efference and affect, which had come down a long evolution quite incomparable to the aggregate which we whites have chosen to call the consciousness of western man. Their poems and metaphors and symbolisms, their myths of awe and wonder and man’s aloneness and the immensity of the universe and the soul groping for meaning in the night watches – had no impress that came down from the herdsmen of Asia Minor through a long refinement to worshipers in fourteenth-century cathedrals and on to John Calvin, whose vicars were now on Green River. When they were told about Jesus they must think of Him as, say, one of the young men who for many tribes come up a vine through the hole in the earth and start looking, through the wars and sorceries of the world, for their father the sun. Grace abounding or the consciousness of God’s presence, or sin, or contrition, or charity, or what you will, could reach them as idea only by reference to concepts which had been painfully integrated in the thinking of a different kind of man, a man whose intelligence had a different content and a different functioning, and at that a savage.
They tried, both Indians and whites. There they stood, the seekers and the bearers of truth. Marcus Whitman, this moment taking his first step down the path whose end he reached on November 29, 1847, has the full charge of irony implicit in the nature of men’s relationships. We must not diminish it by forgetting in the intricacy of Christian thought that what these Indians wanted was the philosopher’s stone, and that what they expected of it was guns and scalping knives and blankets and glass beads and metal tools.
“As a channel evolves into ever more extreme loops, eventually two separate bends may approach one another and join. When this occurs, the river takes the shortcut and establishes a new channel, bypassing the cutoff loop. The abandoned channels, which may be miles long on large rivers, record the curve of the channel like a letter C or U. Geologists call such abandoned channels oxbows because their curves are reminiscent of the U-shaped pieces of wood that fasten the yokes onto the necks of oxen (see fig. 2.3). The emigrants-despite handling real oxbows every day-didn’t use that term. They called the abandoned channels sloughs.
When they first form, oxbows contain standing water—a haven for mosquito larvae. Over time, with no moving water to keep them scoured, these stagnant ponds fill in to become low, swampy depressions. Emigrants along the Humboldt saw oxbows at all stages, from fresh ones holding several feet of water to ones that had progressed to the swampy stage. You can see the same thing along the river today. And if you want a “period rush,” as history buffs call it—meaning that you want to transcend time and touch the past in a personal way—then wait for dusk on a summer evening along the banks of the Humboldt River. As the sun slides below the horizon, the keening mosquito hordes emerge from the thickets, proboscises armed and ready. That’s when any spark of romance that you might still feel about the westward journey winks out, and you feel only profound gratitude for living in an age of sealed windows and insect repellant.”
Highly Dangerous Work
Whatever the pay rate for riders, carrying the mail was highly dangerous work. They worked in a hard unsafe environment, where many of them suffered and/or were even killed by accidental occurrences along the route. One Pony Express rider that left San Francisco for St. Joseph on April 18, 1860, met such a fatal accident. Traveling at a great speed at night, the rider’s horse “stumbled over an ox lying in the road, throwing the rider, and the horse fell upon him, so badly crushing him that it was feared he would soon die,” which unfortunately he did. 23 In July 1860, another rider was thrown from his horse and killed while crossing the Platte River. The mailbags he carried were never recovered. A month later, in August 1860, east of Carson City, another rider was thrown from his horse and presumed dead when his horse arrived at the station riderless. In addition to these accidents, there were other misfortunes. In December 1860,an inexperienced rider of German ancestry lost his way near Ft. Kearney and froze to death. Other less serious accidents occurred as well. For instance, in November 1860, five miles west of Camp Floyd, a Pony rider’s horse fell and broke its neck. The rider escaped serious injury in the incident, but he had to pack the express to Camp Floyd on foot.
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.”
Feeding Oxen Without Grass
“The oxen were unyoked, fed and watered out of supplies carried in the wagons. Grass here [before the Bear River on Sublette’s Cutoff] was nonexistent, and the normal amount at the Big Sandy had been stripped so bare that it took a man all day to gather a sackful. The resourceful emigrants got around this emergency by feeding their animals flour and water or even baked bread—a grain product which they were able to digest.”
Changing Attitude Toward Cholera Victims
“While families might grieve, the attitude of emigrants generally toward their fallen associates underwent gradual change as they moved westward. If death occurred during the first few weeks out, as along the Blue River, there might be full-dress funeral services . . . but as the migration moved out along the Platte, and emigrants began to die in wholesale lots, the ‘spirit of gloom’ gave way to a sense of panic with the realization that ‘Sierra snows were waiting,’ and burials and funeral services were performed perfunctorily, sometimes with indecent haste.
Sometimes a company would encamp waiting for a stricken member to die; more often he would be carried along in a wagon, suffering with every jolt, ‘gradually yielding to the embrace of the monster.’ When death seemed imminent, some trains left ‘watchers’ to wait for the end and provide burial; others simply abandoned hopeless cases along the roadside. Carlisle Abbott and Lucy Cooke cite cases of men digging raves within sight of a dying companion, while Elisha Brooks makes the horrible accusation that ‘come were buried before life was extinct.’ Helen Carpenter, herself a highly sensitive person, suggests that there was a numbing process of dehumanization in which emigrants along the Platte were ‘robbed of all sentiment.'”
The Great American Desert
“The language of the maps shows that the Great American Desert existed in the records from 1820 until 1858. The popular concept of the desert had existed in the written records for two hundred and eighty years before that time, i1 and in published accounts and in the public mind it continued to live until after the Civil War. The fiction of. the Great American Desert was founded by the first explorers, was confirmed by scientific investigators and military reports, and was popularized by travelers and newspapers.”
Mile 1948: Sand Springs Station
“While some Pony Express stations were located in pre-existing buildings (on ranches, in stage stations, etc.), others had to be built from the ground up. What was it like to build a Pony Express Station in the 1860s?
For workers hired to build stations in Western Nevada, easy would not be a word to describe it! They built corduroy roads of willows in Carson Sink, fought hordes of mosquitoes, and erected station houses with adobe bricks. In preparing the bricks, they tramped the mud with their bare feet (to ensure proper consistency). This required at least a week of time and when they were through, the skin had peeled from the soles of their feet! One of these workers, J.G. Kelley, would eventually become assistant station keeper at one of the stations he built, Sand Springs.”
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.'”
“And as [the emigrants] got to thinner air they encountered a new malady, a prostrating seizure of nausea and violent headaches, frequently complicated by still another kind of dysentery. Bryant, who was stricken with it, attributed it to excessive drinking of milk from cows which had been made unhealthy by overwork and had drunk alkali water and eaten noxious weeds. But it was really “mountain fever,” a process of adjustment to diminished oxygen which most people repeat today when they go to high altitudes.”
Stegner's Stance on Mormonism
Since the stance from which I have written will surely strike some as being just as biased as anything in the library of Mormonism and anti-Mormonism, I may as well define it. I write as a non-Mormon but not a Mormon-hater. Except as it affected the actions of the people I write of, I do not deal with the Mormon faith: I do not believe it, but I do not quarrel with it either. For the Church organization, historically and in modern times, I have a high respect. Of the hierarchy, historically and in modern times, I am somewhat suspicious, in the way I am suspicious of any very large and very powerful commercial and industrial corporation. For the everyday virtues of the Mormons as a people I have a warm admiration, and hundreds of individual Mormons have been my good friends for forty years. If I have a home town, a place where a part of my heart is, it is Salt Lake City, and the part of western history that seems most personal and real to me is Mormon history. Nevertheless, I write as an outsider, and I make no attempt to whitewash the Mormon tribal crimes, which were as grievous as their wrongs.
“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.”
Historic Examples of Pony Express
The idea of a courier carrying messages on horseback over long distances was old when Columbus pointed the prows of his tiny vessels toward the Wes tern Hemisphere. In the 12th century Genghis Khan, Mongolian conquerer of Northern China and Central Asia, organized a vast, empire-wide network of military communication lines over which relays of fast riding horsemen sped messages to the capital. The idea was not new, even with him, for horses in the West and camels in the East had been employed in travel and communication since time immemorial.
Post roads were common is England and on the Continent long before the Pilgrims exiled themselves in Holland in 1608. At Scrooby, where the band of expatriates originated, William Brewster, like his father before him, was keeper of the inn, and supplied horses for both stage coaches and post riders on the London-York road. Postmen with relays of horses were known in America as early as 1692, when Thomas Neale was authorized to take charge of the colonial postal business. During the Revolution, military expresses rode continually between the various armies in the field and Congress in Philadelphia. As the frontier moved westward, postmen on horseback rode the wilderness trails farther and farther west.
In 1825, David Hale, a New York newspaper editor, used fast horsemen to carry news from various parts of the state, and five years later Richard Haughton, of the New York Journal of Commerce, used them to collect election returns. James Watson Webb, of the New York Courier and Enquirer, in 1832, established a pony express between Washington and New York.
During the War with Mexico, expresses regularly traveled the nine hun· dred miles along the Santa Fe Trail between Fort Leavenworth and Santa Fe, and Colonel Alexander W. Doniphan sent at least one back from Chi· huahua. He also sent another from that city to General Zachary Taylor at Monterey seven hundred miles to the south. In 1848 Francis X. Aubry made the first of his four famous rides from Santa Fe to Independence, Missouri. On the last of these he covered the distance in five days and sixteen hours, using relays of horses. Alexander Majors, who saw him on o.ne of these rides, said those long journeys greatly influenced him and his partners in founding the Pony Express. In 1853, when an important Presidential message reached San Francisco by steamer, the Adams and Wells Fargo Express Companies agreed to make a race of delivering it to Oregon by relays of fast riding horsemen. The Adams Company won the race.
During the Mormon War in Utah, express men carrying reports by General A. S. Johnston regularly rode the twelve hundred miles between Camp Scott and Camp Floyd, and Fort Leavenworth. As previously shown, Morehead and Rupe made the trip in midwinter of 1857-58, and Majors himself rode to Utah and back in the latter year, arriving at Nebraska early in January, 1859. Travel over the Central Route was so common there was not the slightest doubt in Russell’s mind or the minds of his partners that a pony express could be successfully operated the year round. Majors and Waddell never questioned the possibility of that. They did, however, doubt that it would be a money-making enterprise.
The experiment of carrying the mail from the Pacific Coast to Salt Lake City by muleback was made by George Chorpenning with his “Jackass Mail” in 1851-58. Throughout the venture he simply loaded the pouches onto the backs of mules and made the trips without relays. In 1858 he arranged for swift riders, perhaps also mounted upon mules, to carry President Buchanan’s annual message to Congress in as short a time as possible. This was done in midwinter, and the document was delivered in California in seventeen days, eight and one half hours. It should be observed that this feat, which at that time was regarded as amazing, was accomplished at about the time that Morehead and Rupe were bucking the snow on their way to Fort Leavenworth, and more than a year and a half before Colonel Bee went to Washington. Both Russell and his Salt Lake City associates no doubt heard about it.
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.”
“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.”
“[Leavenworth City] was on the Delaware reserve, and was not open for settlement; indeed the U.S. Government had warned all squatters off it by proclamation, under heavy penalties. But these were ‘paper penalties’ only, i.e. never enforced, and were treated as non-existent ; especially as it was known that nearly the whole of the reserve would be thrown open in the fall.
“In 1855 the “city,” now a great centre of the rich wheat-growing district in which it stands, consisted of a few frame buildings, two or three small stores, and the ‘hotel’ I put up at. The Leavenworth Democrat represented the majesty of the ‘Fourth Estate,’ and was edited, printed, and published in a small shanty under a big cottonwood-tree by Major Euston, an out-and-out Southerner, and a typical specimen of the South-western fighting editor. He was the quickest man with his six-shooter I ever saw, even in a country where it behoved every one to be on the alert.
“The little place was full of gamblers, as all frontier settlements were in those days.”
Description of Native Americans
“The braves were armed with small tomahawks or iron hatchets, which they carried with the powder-horn, in the belt, on the right side, while the long tobacco-pouch of antelope skin hung by the left. Over their shoulders were leather targes, bows and arrows, and some few had rifles; both weapons were defended from damp in deer-skin cases, and quivers with the inevitable bead-work, and the fringes which every savage seems to love. These articles reminded me of those in use among the Bedouins of El Hejaz.”
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.
“Whatever her past, she was by unanimous account the most handsome woman in all the northern Rocky Mountain camps; she was tall, taller than the roly-poly Slade, ‘Junoesque,’ according to all descriptions, which means that she probably weighed a solid, busty 160 pounds or so, had ‘flashing black eyes” and deep-dark hair, and usually dressed her hair in ringlets, framing her arrogant face.
“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.”
Emigrants and Indians
The emigrants’ fear of the Indians was equaled only by their ignorance of the Indians’ ways. They seldom knew, for example. that it was common custom among many tribes to offer strangers a token of hospitality, and Indians often expected such tokens from those who were traveling through their lands. Emigrants almost always wrote of the Indians who came up “begging” to their wagons, and they found the habit “disgusting.”
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.”
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.]
Virginia Slade Waiting
“We can imagine Virginia Slade waiting for jack. As the twilight closed in on Meadow Valley, she lit the candles. She knew that complete, velvety black darkness was not far-off and she hoped desperately that Jack was not far-off either, but galloping home on his faithful horse, ‘Old Copper-bottom.’ Jemmy, their thirteen-year old adopted boy, brought in wood for the cook stove, then he sat quietly reading, asking his ‘mother’ words now and then. Virginia peeled potatoes, put them on to boil; made a venison stew; cut the still warm bread she’d baked that day; filled a white jug with milk.
Outwardly calm, inwardly deeply upset, she went on waiting. Finally, she fed Jemmy and pushed the remainder of the food to the back of the stove to keep warm. She seated herself in a chair with some sewing, listening for the hoof beats of ‘Old Copper-bottom.’ Many an anxious evening wore on for the dark beauty in her still, lonely stone house.”
“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.'”
Rugged Individualism and Manifest Destiny
“Over the summer, we camped at small-town public parks and the public corrals dozens of times, across two thousand miles of America. We lived on the public space established by the pioneers. Rugged individualism and manifest destiny, for which the West is still celebrated, are fine things to believe in, but they never existed as abstractions. People were desperate and they needed free land and free places to camp, which government decided to supply, and still does. This national legacy was one of the best discoveries of crossing the Oregon Trail, but we never would have found it without detaching ourselves from the umbiclical cord of the interstates and the motel chains, forcing ourselves to forage every night for a place to stay.”
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.”
Snow Interruption of Pony Express
Cleve then went on to recount riding in late January or early February 1861 during a raging blizzard that was so bad there had been no Pony Express or stages from the East for four or five days because of waist-deep snow. . . .
Winter was the enemy of the Pony Express. It often doubled the time to move the mochila across the country. William F. Fisher, who immigrated to Utah from the county of Kent in England as a fifteen year-old boy, recalled riding the winter snows between Camp Floyd and Salt Lake City. “I was lost … in a blizzard for 20 hours … Pretty badly exhausted, as I was fighting the storm all the way.”
Russell and Brown
James Brown was the first to sign a contract under the new plan. Being one of the best plainsmen and freighters on the trails he delivered his consignment on schedule and in good order. This was something the army had never been able to do.
Russell, having already engaged in the business, and being fascinated by it, saw the possibilities for making money in the field of military freighting. With characteristic energy he set out to make the most of them. Consequently he formed a partnership with Brown in 1850, under the name of Brown, Russell & Company, to deliver 600,000 pounds of supplies at Santa Fe. Another partnership was formed the same year with John S. Jones to transport goods to Fort Hall on the Snake River, in the present state of Idaho. Brown accompanied the trains to Santa Fe, became ill, and died there in December of that year.
“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.'”
California Mail in 1859
“By the late 1850s the gold rush had transformed California into the richest state in the Union, if not the world, and nearly 400,000 people had flocked there from all over the globe. Yet it took three weeks for a letter to reach California from the East Coast.”
“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.”
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.”
Brigham Young's Kingdom
The “Kingdom” had once been projected from the crest of the Rockies to the crest of the Sierra Nevada, and a number of anchor points had been settled: Fort Limhi on the Salmon River in Idaho, Genoa in the Carson Valley in Nevada, San Bernardino in California, Las Vegas on the Spanish Trail in the Nevada desert, and Fort Supply, once Fort Bridger, on the Overland Trail. If the original plans had matured, the Gathering would shortly have had a second route—or rather a third, since it was already possible to go by ship to San Francisco and cross the desert backward on the California Trail—by sea to San Diego and inland by San Bernardino and Las Vegas and the Southern Utah settlements.
The war stopped that, and stopped it for good. San Bernardino, founded by Amasa Lyman and Charles Coulson Rich, was abamdoned and its settlers recalled to Zion. The same thing happened to Genoa in the Carson Valley, and to the other Genoa far to the east on the Loup Fork, which had been hopefully colonized as a major supply station on the Mormon Trail, and to all the more ephemeral posts set up to serve the Y.X. Express. Deer Creek, Pacific Creek, Big Sandy, Fort Bridger and its close neighbor Fort Supply were evacuated ahead of the expeditionary force, and Bridger and Supply were burned to the ground to prevent their being put to use by the enemy.
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.]
Slavery and California Boundaries
The slavery question played a distinct part in the settlement of the boundaries of California in the constitutional convention of 1849, and in attempted divisions of the State later. In 1849, “the southern faction led by Gwin made the eastern boundary of the inchoate state the crest of the Rocky Mountains. Gwin’s plan was to make the area of the state so large that Congress would refuse to admit it as one state, and would divide it into two states on the line of the Missouri Compromise 36 degrees 30 minutes. The Northern men in the convention discovered Gwin’s scheme and defeated it by a reconsideration of the boundary section at the very close of the convention.” Up to the Civil War, the question of the State division repeatedly aroused the pro-slavery element, who ”reasoned that if a new state could be cut off from the southern portion, it could be made slave territory. Many pro-slavery men had settled in that section, and although slave labor might not be profitable, the accession of two pro-slavery senators would help to maintain the balance of power to the South in the Senate.”
Mile 1403: East Rush Valley/Pass/Five Mile Pass Station
The first Pony Express station in Tooele County, UT, is located in Rush Valley while heading west from Utah County toward Faust on Faust Road, which is also the original Pony Express Trail. Faust Road begins at Five Mile Pass on the county line between Tooele and Utah Counties, and ends at Faust near Vernon. East Rush Valley Station, built as a dugout, was listed by Howard Egan as being very active even though it is not identified as a contract station. The military road ran just to the south of the station, toward Vernon, and is still quite visible today.
Also called “No Name” or Five Mile Pass, this station’s stone monument out on the flats at the site is typical of those found at the location of Pony Express Stations all across western Utah. Not much is known about the structure which was here or its use. It was not listed as a Pony Express contract station. The monuments were constructed in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the workers were stationed at a CCC camp at Simpson Springs, and left a legacy of monuments, trails, and other improvements around the region. Each monument featured two bronze plaques. One was a circular Pony Express Rider plaque, sculpted by A. Phimster Proctor. The other was rectangular, and gave information describing the nearby station. The plaques were provided by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association. Most of the bronze plaques have been stolen, but in recent years the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association has been working with the BLM to maintain these markers and to replace the round horse-and-rider plaques. . . .
Fike and Headley locate this dugout station ten miles southwest of Camp Floyd. Although the 1861 mail contract did not identify East Rush Valley as a station, it apparently received a lot of travelers from the military road just south of the site. Local people also knew the station as Pass and Five Mile Pass. In 1979, a depression identified the site where the dugout stood. Several other sources also list East Rush Valley as Pass Station, the Pass, and Five Mile Pass, located between Camp Floyd (or Fort Crittenden) and Rush Valley. In 1965, a monument with a plaque donated by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers marked the station site. http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/poex/hrs/hrs7a.htm#110
Jason Lee and Oregon in 1834
He met the Flatheads and Nez Perces at Ham’s Fork. There is no way of knowing whether disgust or despair moved him chiefly, there is no way of knowing how conscious he was of the instantaneous discharge of his mind’s potential. But the cerebellum and the spinal cord knew. You could not make Christians of Indians. First you had to make white men of them.
And of course Jason Lee was right. The story of civilizing the Indian is only a story of degrading him. The massacre of the Whitmans and all the failures of godly men who were twiceborn, as Lee was not, proved only what the carrier of the timespirit had known instantly on being confronted by the Indians who had stretched out their hands in supplication. First they must be white men. So he wasted no time. On his way here he had learned enough to know that you could not make them white men in such country as this. Therefore he went straight to a place where he thought the experiment had a chance to succeed. To the western side of the Cascades, the magnificent valley with its rivers and rainfall, its rich soil and its waterpower, its promise of the farms and villages and neighborliness in which his personal culture had been formed. To Indians whom forty years of lay effort had already made into white men about as much as was possible, which is to say they were degenerate, debauched, diseased, despairing, and about to die. There he would set up his mission and serve God by making farmers, carpenters, herdsmen, users of soap, teetotalers, hymn-singers, monogamists, and newspaper- readers of whatsoever Indians he might find there. This, he realized, would be at best a small fraction of the universal hopes that had sent him West. But it would be a beginning and at least there was some hope, as assuredly there was no hope at all in the mountains, that it might succeed. That it could succeed only by means of the greatest cruelty men can inflict on other men, only by breaking down the culture that made them men – this mattered not at all, it was the end in view. Thus Lee’s decision at Ham’s Fork.
The importance of this decision to the United States will not escape attention. Mr. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., has persuasively argued that the fires of revived religion which marked the eighteen-thirties served the propertied interests as backfires against the radical democracy that was crowding them hard. Well, the missions which the revival sent to foreign lands served those interests in a different way – and other interests too. Shall we instance the opening of China to American goods or Herman Melville’s observations on expansion in the Marquesas? Shall we remember by what steps the Pearl of the Orient became American? The land, Mr. MacLeish has said, was waiting for its westward people. Certainly its people were at this moment ceasing to wait for the westward land. The mountain fur trade had made it known, opened it up, blazed the trails, located the water and the grass, named the rivers, triangulated the peaks, learned how to traverse the Great American Desert. There remained only for this knowledge to be disseminated. The ore was now being mined out of which the wagon tires, the trace-chains, and the plowshares would be forged. For the westward people it would be expedient to have the British Empire stopped in Oregon … and to have the Indians made into white men at the loss of their power. The time-spirit, it has been remarked, ran in Jason Lee’s veins so clearly that it can be seen throbbing in his pulse. History has no accidents: Jason Lee and Hall J. Kelley, the prophet of Oregon colonization and the first American known to have proposed that the Indians of the Northwest coast be christianized, reached Oregon in a dead heat. Thereafter Jason Lee, in a devotion of spirit which cannot be questioned for a moment, served Christian salvation in ways indistinguishable from the promotion of real estate. The Missionary to the Flatheads labored to build the City of God as a colonizer of the Willamette Valley.
He was, that is, like the mountain men and Nathaniel Wyeth, an instrument of the national will. It was Jason Lee who, on July 4, 1834, at Ham’s Fork, Wyoming, directed his assistants to pack up the outfit and prepare, not to travel with the Flatheads to Montana, but to go on to the Columbia with Wyeth. It was Jason Lee who gave the orders but it was Manifest Destiny that cast the vote.
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.”
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.”
Mile 238: The Narrows
“According to our maps, “the Narrows” was the next place of interest. It is mainly notable because, at this point on the Little Blue, the emigrants seemed to forget all their hard-learned rules of Indian strategy and crowded their wagons into a bottleneck between the river and encroaching bluffs.”
West of the Great Bend
“West of the Great Bend [of the Arkansas River], there was, and still is, a marked change in the appearance of the countryside: the green fields gave way to great reaches of short brown grass and small prickly pear. Here the summer temperature of one hundred or more degrees and the dry wind bore hard on the traveler. In his report to the Chief of Topographical Engineera, United States Army, made in 1846, Lieutenant William H. Emory noted that beyond Pawnee Fork he had entered on ‘that portion of the prairie that well deserves to be considered part of the great desert.”
Bond Scandal Witnesses
“The various complications of the ‘Great Robbery’ led to numerous articles and dispatches
for several months. Jerome B. Simpoon, vice-president of the ‘C. O. C.’ and in general charge of the New York office of the Pony Express, who had carried on the marketing of the bonds on the New York curb, quickly disappeared, and could not be located. Several witnesses later testified that he had gone to Europe ‘for his health.'”
Mormon Movements in the Midwest
Kirtland became the Mormon headquarters after January, 1831; the Independence colony was established six months later. Years before the panic of 1837 and the collapse of Joseph’s “anti-bank” broke up the Kirtland community, Joseph had prophesied the ultimate removal of all the Saints to the frontiers. . .
Independence, the site of the Garden of Eden, where revelation had said would one day be built “the chief city of the Western Hemisphere” (it turned out to be Kansas City) turned hostile almost at once. The Saints were driven from it into more northerly and less-settled counties in 1833 . . .
Thrown out of Jackson County, the Saints settled in Caldwell and Daviess Counties, in the towns of Far West (now Kerr, Missouri) and Adam-ondi-Ahman. The first, said Joseph when he arrived there from the debacle of Kirtland in the spring of 1838, was the exact spot where Cain had killed Abel; the second was the place where Adam and Eve had lived after their expulsion from the Garden near Independence. Holy ground, and rich, and free from Gentile interference—for a time.
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.”
Mormon Ferry on the North Platte
“In 1847 the well organized Mormon migration faced the river. They built light pine-pole rafts capable of carrying an empty wagon, and went, hammer and tongs, at the task of getting across. By afternoon of the fourth day, when they were all on the north bank, it was brought to their attention that two wagon trains from Missouri had arrived at the crossing. A bargain was struck by which the Mormons ferried the Missourians for $1.50 per load and the privilege of buying provisions at Missouri prices. The workability of this infant enterprise was not lost on the Mormon leaders.Several of the brethren were left at the spot to ‘keep a fey until the next company of Saints came up, by which means they hoped to make enough to supply a large company with provisions.’ By these simple beginnings the businesslike Mormons established a system of ferries, profitable to both them and to the coast-bound emigrants.”
Mountains and Desert
“Mr. Street’s contract was a vast work, every way one looked at it; and yet to comprehend what the vague words ‘eight hundred miles of rugged mountains and dismal deserts’ mean, one must go over the ground in person—pen and ink descriptions cannot convey the dreary reality to the reader.”
Oxen in a Freight Train
“We aimed to get two good Missouri oxen for wheelers and leaders, size being required for the former and intelligence for the latter. The next grade were the ‘pointers,’ which were hooked next the tongue. Between these and the leaders were the ‘swing,’ composed of the ‘scallawags’ —the weak, lazy and unbroken. To show how few stood the twelve hundred miles journey, I will state that but two of my twelve got through, the rest having died or given out from time to time. They were replaced by others from returning trains, or by the best in what we called our ” calf yard,” or loose cattle. This was a corruption of the Spanish word caballada, although the ‘Pikers’ did not know it, and, in fact, did not bother themselves about its origin, as ” calf yard ” seemed the natural term for a troop of oxen.”
Mile 642: Bridgeport
“After Bridgeport, Nebraska, the landscape changed dramatically, from grasslands to spare, dry sagebrush country, and the soil turned from sandy brown to pink. We were entering the magic, pastel geology of western Nebraska that was celebrated by the pioneers and became familiar to Americans through the paintings of William Henry Jackson and Albert Bierstadt. Today the only route along the south banks of the Platte is the two-lane Highway 92, a prime example of the Oregon Trail adapted for modern use by paving the ruts with asphalt, but I was delighted to see that the prospect from the wagon seat was virtually unchanged.”
“[The emigrants] started in good weather, of course. The sun shone upon a ‘grand and beautiful prairie which can be compared to nothing but the mighty ocean.’ A succession of rich, shining green swells was star-dusted with small frail blossoms and splashed with hardier varieties like great spillings of calcimine powders. here a patch of mountain pink, here spiderwort—while ahead, a spreading of purple over a sunny slope proved, on closer acquaintance, to be larkspur. Bobolinks sang where currant bushes lined the meandering watercourses, and the line of white wagon tops stretched like a shining ribbon across the curving velvet breast of the prairie.”
News in 17 Days
The two papers combined their resources to maintain correspondents in the more important cities of the East who were to wire important news to the telegraph point farthest west on the overland mail route, at that time near Springfield, Missouri. Here the mail coaches traveling west were to pick up the telegraphic dispatches, thus getting news from two to three days after the mail left St. Louis, giving the two papers that much advantage over their competitors. On the California end of the mail route the two papers aided in financing a telegraph line running 161 miles south from San Francisco to Firebaugh’s Ferry, near Fresno. For this financial assistance they obtained the exclusive right to telegraphic news dispatches over the line, and thereby secured another one to two days’ advantage over their rivals.” By the middle of January, 1860, the Bulletin and Union were receiving news from the East only seventeen days old, several days in advance of the other California papers.
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.”
Slade at Hockaday
Under the Hockaday regime Joeeph A. Slade hnd served as agent of the division from the Upper Crossing of the Platte to South Pass. When the “C. O. C.” was organized Benjamin F. Ficklin made him head of the smaller Sweetwater division, running northwest from Julesburg to Rocky Ridge, in which capacity he was untiring in his efforts to rid the line of incompetence. He found Jules Beni, agent at Julesburg, to be a thief and scoundrel, and forced bun to settle with the company. Jules wounded Slade, and Ficklin then ordered the execution of “Old Jules.” Juleo and Slade finally “had it out” and the Frenchman went to his death. It was said that thereafter Slade wore one of Jules’ ears as a watch charm. Slade was the terror of evildoers on the line, but took to drink, and later became the head of a gsng of highway robbers and desperadoes. He was finally executed by the vigilantes of Virginia City, Mont.
Burton referred to Slade as: “Of gougers fierce the eyea that pierce, the fiercest gouger be.” He met him in August 1, 1860, at Horseshoe Station, west of Fort Laramie, living with two ladies of disagreeable mien, one bis wife. Slade already bad the reputation of having killed three men. Burton complained of his treatment by the “ladies,” who forced him to sleep in the barn with the drunks.
Difficulties Faced by Chorpenning
“The actual difficulties to be surmounted, and the dangers, real and fancied, that beset the whole line, are too numerous to recount, and beyond the powers of imagination to correctly paint. In the winter, upon that portion of the route which passes over the Sierra, the snow fell from fifteen to twenty feet on a level, and in the cañons and mountain gorges drifted to the depth of forty or fifty feet. In the spring the Carson and Humboldt Valley’s were sometimes flooded, and swimming was the only means of passage, as there were no bridges. From Stone-house Station, east, the whole country was infested by bands of hostile Indians.”
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.]
Mile 1115: Farson and the Green River Basin
“Crossing the Green River Basin redefines monotony. The plains roll on endlessly, blanketed by the same wearisome mantle of sagebrush and greasewood. Outside of the river bottoms and the few towns, there is not a tree in sight. Scabby buttes, eroded from the stacked limestone and shale layers of an ancient lakebed, pop up here and there across the plains. The landscape is riven with ravines, most of them bone-dry in summer. The scenery has hardly changed since emigrant days. For Edwin Bryant, it was “scarcely possible to conceive a scene of more forbidding dreariness and desolation than was presented to our view on all sides.” Only the wind seems happy in the Green River Basin. It shrieks with glee across the plains, sweeping up wraithlike clouds of grit. “It has
been windy, and there is nothing but sand—sand all around us, which is drifting constantly, filling our eyes and ears, as well as the frying pan,” A. J. McCall groused, adding, “It is not strange that it affects the temper of the men—marring all good fellowship.”
After a day of pummeling by Wyoming’s biggest bully, I can vouch that nothing is more welcome than a building-shelter!—even if it is a run-down gas station in a run-down town like Farson, a forlorn little hamlet marooned in the sagebrush wilderness of the Green River Basin. I sipped burnt coffee there one afternoon,
hiding from the wind, while leaves, newspapers, and other flotsam flew past the windows. Was this typical? Oh yes, the attendant sighed. The windows appeared cloudy. A closer look showed that they had been etched by windborne sand. Merciless wind and winter beat up the small rural towns of Wyoming. The results are evident as potholes, peeling paint, broken roofs, leaking pipes, and plywood windows. Yards spill over with rusted cars, wrecked parts, writhing heaps of hose and pipe, and tires-many, many tires. Anything that might be useful, might a save a few dollars one day, joins the heap. But local folk brim with friendship and conversation, a pleasant upshot of life with so much open space and so few people to fill it.”
Early Pony Express Films
Colonel William Lightfoot Visscher was still doing research at the Chicago Press Club’s bar when the first film about the Pony Express was made in 1907. A second short, silent film followed in 1909 and two others in 1911 and 1912. The first film to capture this romantic bit of western history had preceded even the first book on the subject. Hollywood had discovered the Pony Express. . . .
Hollywood relied on the Pony Express at the very birth of the western. The story had everything a good western needed: fearless young men on galloping horses, a two-thousand-mile race against time across a vast wilderness, heroics, danger, Indians, desperadoes, blizzards, swollen rivers, and even some genuine celebrities from the days of “saddles and spurs” like Buffalo Bill Cody and Wild Bill Hickok.
Confederate Sympathy in California
Now to turn once more to the potential dangers that made the California crisis a reality. About three-eighths of the population were of southern descent and solidly united in sympathy for the Confederate states. This vigorous minority included upwards of sixteen thousand Knights of the Golden Circle, a pro-Confederate secret organization that was active and dangerous; in all the doubtful states in winning over to the southern cause those who feebly protested loyalty to the Union but who opposed war. Many of these ” knights ” were prosperous and substantial citizens who, working under the guise of their local respectability, exerted a profound influence. Here then, at the outset, was a vigorous and not a small minority, whose influence was greatly out of proportion to their numbers because of their zeal; and who would have seized the balance of power unless held in check by an aroused Union sentiment and military intimidation.
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).”
Mormon Exodus to Far West, MO
At Far West began the first attempt at the City of Enoch, the New Jerusalem, and to Far West the faithful began to gather. From apostasy-riddled Kirtland, on July 6, 1838 started a caravan composed of fifty-eight wagons and 515 people and hundreds of cattle, sheep, swine-the first of the villages on wheels that would rock through Mormon history. Like most of those later caravans it was fleeing trouble and hunting sanctuary. Unfortunately, on July 4, two days before it set out, Joseph’s counselor Sidney Rigdon had made a fire-eating speech at Far West, daring the Gentiles to come on and threatening what would happen to them if they did. The Lord three days later sent a sign, ambiguous and troubling, by blasting the flagpole in the square of Far West with a thunderbolt. Rumors of Rigdon’s words and rumors of the Mormon secret avengers who called themselves the Sons of Dan spread through Gentile Missouri growing more fearsome with each repeating, and all Missouri that was not already in arms to harass the Mormons flew to arms to repel them, When the Kirtland company dragged wearily in on October 4 they found not sanctuary but bloody crisis. Missourians and Danites were raiding each other and burning farms and looting. On October 26 they clashed at the Battle of Crooked River, with casualties on both sides. Three days later two hundred men, either militiamen or mobbers ( the Mormons saw no reason to make a distinction), burst upon a little group of Mormon families gathered for safety at Haun’s Mill. They killed several at the first fire. The women and children ran screaming for the woods, men and boys dove for shelter into the blacksmith shop. The mobbers put their guns to the cracks and shot them as they huddled together or tried to hide behind the forge. When the women crept back later they found seventeen dead and fifteen others shot to bi~s but still living. Stiff with horror, terrified for their own lives if the mob should return, they dragged the bodies of their husbands and sons across the yard and dumped them into the well, and with their wounded escaped to Far West.
Creation of the Post Office
Finally, however, they saw that the war’s outcome would depend on a secure network that could both sustain popular support and allow communications between politicians and the military. On July 26, 1775, the Continental Congress voted to transform the short-lived but crucial Constitutional Post into the Post Office Department of the United States-a nation rooted in a communications network that promoted the free exchange of ideas.
Political minefields notwithstanding, Congress finally rose to the president’s challenge. After much heated argument, the legislators passed the comprehensive Post Office Act of 1792, which laid down important policies that would affect the country’s political, social, and physical development for generations to come and help expand the founders’ provincial East Coast into the transcontinental United States. Just as the republic truly came into its own with the signing of the Constitution, the post assumed its permanent status and open-ended, truly American character with this landmark legislation. . . .
Modern Americans take for granted the “universal-service mandate,” which says that all citizens everywhere are entitled to mail access for the same price, but this principle was rarely discussed in such absolute terms until the twentieth century. The act didn’t make it a basic right, like freedom of speech or religion, but it fostered the idea that if a group of citizens could establish their need for postal service, they could reasonably hope that the government would provide it.
Another thing he insisted upon was resting on the Sabbath day, not only because to do so was Divinely commanded, but because his trains made better time in the long run than those which traveled seven days a week without rest. The bullwhackers liked it too.
Colonies' Purpose is to Serve the Fur Trade
The Lord Commissioners for Trade and Plantations formally represented to the ministry: that “the great object of colonizing upon the continent of North America has been to improve and extend the commerce, navigation, and manufactures of this kingdom.” They pointed out that His Majesty’s Proclamation of 1763, to which certain moot questions might properly be referred, was intended to keep the colonies in subordination to and dependence on the mother country and to make sure that settlement should extend no farther west than the kingdom’s trade should reach. No one could have more completely or more justly summarized the mercantilist principle that had opened a cleavage line across the British Empire in North America. The Commissioners proceeded to exemplify the insensitiveness to colonial realities that characterized the government of Great Britain in good King George’s glorious days. They took judicial notice that there was important capital in Montreal and a rich trade in the Indian country. So, “the extension of the fur trade depends entirely upon the Indians being undisturbed in the possession of their hunting grounds and … all colonizing does in its nature, and must in its consequences, operate to the prejudice of that branch of commerce.”
The colonial agent in London, Benjamin Franklin, preparing to take the scalp of the Commissioner who wrote the report, must have felt that the Lord had delivered his adversary into his hands when he read the further admonition, “Were they (the Indians] driven from their forests, the peltry trade would 263 264 • Prime Meridian  decrease and it is not impossible that worse savages would take refuge in them.” Colonial savages.
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.”
Brigham Young Express Company
“[A]s early as February  meetings were held in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle for the purpose of organizing a company to transport mail and freight. In one meeting Brigham Young offered to take stock in the concern and equip three hundred miles of the line himself. Others became interested and Brigham Young Express Company was launched. One important item in the plan was to form settlements along the line where reserve animals could be kept, and weary travelers could rest if they wished to do so. To the Mormons these stations would have been of incalculable benefit, for the tide of immigration to Salt Lake Valley was running high at that time. Plans for all these things were pushed with vigor until the severe winter of 1856 compelled a halt to the work. It was begun again in 1857 but was terminated by the forwarding of United States troops to Utah.”
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.”
The American Antelope
“The American antelope, or pronghorn, is the purest type of Plains animal, and seems to have developed only in the Great Plains of North America. It is not a member of the antelope family of Europe and Asia. Its true common name is pronghorn, and its scientific name is Antilocapra americana. It seems to occupy an intermediate position between the goat and the deer. Its horns are hollow, like those of cattle or goats ; yet it sheds them like the deer. It has the caution and timidity of the deer and the curiosity of the goat. The habitat of the pronghorn extends from Saskatchewan to Mexico and from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, and in the north to the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington. It bas its abode solely in the Plains country, and has a special antipathy for the woods and canons.
The antelope is peculiarly well fitted for its chosen environment. First, its sense of sight is such that it can” detect danger at an immense distance.” Secondly, it is the swiftest runner among the wild animals on this continent and can be pulled down only by the greyhound. But with the antelope, curiosity and caution are strangely mingled. It wants to observe any unusual object, and this makes it a mark for hunters. In the primitive state of nature this characteristic led to no fatal results, but with the advent of man and the high-powered rifles it became disastrous.2 Thirdly, the antelope is equipped with a signal system which enables it to communicate danger at great distances. This is the white patch on the rump, lighter in color than the body. When frightened or interested in anything unusual the antelope contracts its muscles and the patch becomes a flare of white. . . .
Fourthly, the antelope, like all Plains animals, possesses a great vitality. Dodge says that “antelope will carry off more lead in proportion to their size than any other animal.”
“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.”
Development of the Trail by 1860
By the winter of 1856-57, when Little and Hanks were again briefly carrying the mail in the interval between the abrogation of the McGraw contract and the signing of the contract with the Y.X. Express, the route between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie could count on the use of trader cabins on the Big Sandy, at Pacific Springs, at Devil’s Gate, at Independence Rock, and at the Platte bridge, and the great surge of hauling that accompanied the Utah War made those places into permanent stage stations. In 1860, when Richard Burton made his celebrated trip to Zion to study, among other things, the sex habits of the Mormons, he found Ward’s Station two hours out of Fort Laramie on the Black Hills road; Horseshoe Station, run by Jack Slade, on Horseshoe Creek; a station “in the building” on the La Bonte; Wheeler’s Station on Box Elder Creek; a Sioux agency and station on Deer Creek; a station on Little Muddy Creek; and the station of Louis Guenot, the bridge owner, near the Last Crossing. Beyond Last Crossing his stage stopped at Red Buttes Station, Willow Springs Station, Plante’s station above Devil’s Gate, the ranch of Luis Silva below the Three Crossings of the Sweetwater, the Three Crossings station itself, the Foot of the Ridge Station, a ranch run by two Canadians at Willow Creek, Pacific Springs Station, Big Sandy Station, McCarthy’s station on the Green, Michael Martin’s store farther down the Green, Ham’s Fork Station, Holmes’ station at “Millersville” on the Smith Fork, and finally Fort Bridger. Reported us and omniscient style, it seems a populous road.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
Mile 1165: Ham's Fork
“At midday we reached Ham’s Fork, the northwestern influent of Green River, and there we found a station. The pleasant little stream is called by the Indians Turugempa, the “Blackfoot Water.”
“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.'”
“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.”
An Idea Whose Time Had Come
“By the fall of 1859, though, the ‘Pony Express’ increasingly looked like an idea whose time had come. The opening of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad that February brought the rails across the state of Missouri as far as the Missouri River. The telegraph, invented just fifteen years earlier by Samuel F.B. Morse, now also reached St. Joseph. But west of St’ Joseph there were neither railroads nor telegraph lines. It was understood that both would be extended eventually; but in the meantime the need to speed communication to California was urgent.”
“Since tongues, spokes, and axles were subject to breakage, spare parts were carried whenever possible, slung under the wagon bed. Grease buckets, water barrels (or india rubber bags), whips or goads, heavy rope, and chains completed the running gear accessories. If grease was not applied liberally to wheel bearings, a ‘hotbox’ developed. When store-bought grease was exhausted, boiled buffalo of wolf grease served.”
Mile 1502: Willow Springs Station
“Early in June  Elijah N. Wilson set out from Schell Creek to make his regular run to Deep Creek [Ibapah]. When he reached his destination he found that the rider who was to take the mochilla on was not there. Pushing on to Willow Spring he learned that the man had been killed on his run. Since his horse was worn out he had to, stop and let him rest a while.
“About four o’clock in the afternoon seven Indians rode in to demand that Peter Neece, the station keeper, give them something to eat. Neece offered them a twenty-four pound sack of flour, which was indignantly refused. They wanted a sack each instead. At that he tossed the flour back into the station and ordered them to clear out. He would give them nothing. This so angered them that as they passed the corral they filled an old, lame cow with arrows. Seeing this act of wanton cruelty Neece drew his revolver and killed two of them.
“Knowing that about thirty of them were camped not far off, and that an attack would almost certainly be made, they loaded all the empty guns they had and prepared to defend themselves. Just before dark they saw a cloud of dust in the distance which advertised the fact that the Indians were coming. Adopting the strategy of lying down upon the ground in the sagebrush they waited.
“Soon the Indians arrived and were greeted by gunfire from outside the station. This so confused them that they milled about in more or less confusion. Some of them attempted to return the fire by aiming at the gun flashes. This however, was not effective, for each time one of the defenders fired he instantly leaped to one side. Many years later Wilson said that although he had two revolvers he did little except jump from spot to spot. Finally he landed in a small ravine where he remained until the Indians rode off in disgust. When he joined his companions they praised him for his part in the affair but he would have none of it. Credit for the victory, he said, belonged entirely to them.”
Fort Laramie Mail
“A Fort Laramie postmarked letter in existence today is worth a small fortune to collectors. This was the last chance to mail anything this side of California without detouring to Salt Lake City, and the emigrants made the most of it, often swimming the North Platte for the privilege. The post office was not a separate building; it was part of the sutler’s store. . . . Woodson, Magraw, and Hockaday, the regular mail carriers from Salt Lake City to the Missouri, took turns at attempting to run monthly mails, though frequently interrupted by weather and Indians. Sometimes emigrant mail was accepted for delivery by army messengers. . . .
Although the mail normally ran in just two directions, east and west along the Platte, Fort Laramie also served briefly as the mail contact point for two distant gold rush communities, south and north. In 1858-1859, before more direct routes were established, mail from the Denver area was routed to the states through Fort Laramie; and for a few years beginning in 1876 Fort Laramie was a major stage and mail route on the Cheyenne-Deadwood Trail to the Black Hills of South Dakota.”
Mormon Stations Along the Trail
But Brigham did not, as he had intended, send Jones back to manage the Y.X. Express station now established at Devil’s Gate. He said he guessed Dan had had about enough of Devil’s Gate for any one man. And anyway, by that time it was midsummer, and by midsummer all of the stations ambitiously projected to give the Saints substantial control of the trail from the Missouri to the mountains would have seemed precarious. A few, particularly those at Fort Bridger, at Deer Creek, and at Genoa, a Mormon colony deliberately planted on the Loup Fork as a permanent way station on the model of Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, were already well established, along with others of a more tentative kind.
South Pass 1836
the last tangential touch of the Sweetwater, in the greenery of its shallow gully where it comes down out of the hills, and we know that it camped for the night of July 4 at Pacific Spring or at the little Sandy. From camp to camp this was a tremendous day for any westering party – any party, that is, which had newcomers in it, for it was just a day’s drive, and a dry one, to veterans. But it crossed the parting of the waters, the fundamental divide of the continent, and it marked the end of the United States. From water to water was twelve miles and somewhere in that stretch you left home behind and came to Oregon. Fremont, who had Kit Carson to help him, found the true height of land only with great difficulty and no doubt incorrectly, for he had no instruments sensitive enough to make sure. He estimated that the final rise where the continent parted and fell away on both sides was about equal ‘to the ascent of the Capitol hill from the Avenue at Washington.’ But it was enough for any traveler that somewhere in that twelve-mile stretch of dun and olive sagebrush he crossed the fundamental watershed and the frontier of fable. No one ever more momentously than some of those who crossed it with Fitzpatrick on Independence Day of 1836.
Larimer, Russell, and Denver Stagecoach
One Sunday afternoon General William Larimer, professional promoter and town organizer, called upon Russell to seek advice on plains travel. He was organizing a party of prospectors and meant to lay out a town on Cherry Creek. Among other things they discussed was the possibility of operating a stage line to the new diggings. Before the interview was over it was understood that Russell should have one share in the town company. This gave him about thirty acres in the heart of what was later known as Denver, Colorado.
Water in Utah and Nevada
“This last July I went back through Utah and Nevada to secure water for riders at the ranches along the route. The ranch owners are happy to let you access water on their properties, they just request that you let them know that you are there and on their property.
Also, in order to ride through the Pathfinder ranch properties in Wyoming, to the west of Casper, you will need to request permission and sign a waiver. They are happy to have riders pass through.”
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.”
Russell Starts New Companies Instead of Paying Debts
Fortune favored them in 1855 and 1856, and their profits from freighting military supplies those two years amounted to about $300,000. That was the only period of unbroken prosperity they would ever know. The year 1857 began auspiciously. By the time it ended, 14 entire trains, including 1,906 oxen, which had hauled supplies to Utah for Gen. Albert S. Johnston’s army were destroyed. This disaster cost Russell, Majors & Waddell $230,208.20. Additional cost for agents and teamsters who had to spend the winter in Utah amounted to $35,167.15 making a total of $265,375.35. Russell prepared a claim against the United States, which included $228,378.26 extra compensation for trans-porting supplies to Utah over and above that for which their con-tract called. The total amount of the claim was $493,772.61. It was presented to congress in February, 1860, but none of it was ever paid. All the financial troubles Russell, Majors & Waddell encountered from 1857 on had their roots in the losses in Utah and the failure of the government to reimburse them.
Russell made many mistakes in his career, but the one which proved fatal in the end was that instead of paying the firm’s debts he used whatever funds were available to launch new and profitless enterprises. Chief among these were the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Co., the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co., Miller, Russell & Co., and the Pony Express. In fact the only concern which made a profit after 1855 was the freighting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell. It not only more than paid its own way, but also financed the undertakings which proved to be nothing more than liabilities. Waddell and Majors saw the folly of Russell’s policy and protested again and again, but he never aban-doned it. Being inextricably bound to him by business ties, and moved by a misguided sense of loyalty, they followed him in a course that could only lead to ruin.
” . . . stuffed into my bag as many of the former as I could, including some simple medicines, a “Deane and Adams [revolver],” and a Bible—not a ‘Beecher’s Bible’ (i. e. Sharp’s rifle), as the collocation might suggest . . .”
Beecher’s Bible entry on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beecher%27s_Bible.
“Perhaps one of the most recognized ‘documents’ of the Pony Express is the advertisement for riders with ‘orphans preferred.’ It is the basis for comments by writers how orphans were sought and preferred. However, it appears that the ad is more ‘folklore’ than fact. No evidence of the ad has been found from 1860.”
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.”
Mile 1045: Rocky Ridge
“Rocky Ridge. Yes, the trail goes up this ridge. Climbing over 700 feet in less than 2 miles, this ridge caused a lot of problems for pioneer hand carts and wagons alike.
In 1856, the rescue of the Mormon Willie and Martin Handcart companies crossed this ridge. From the base of Rocky Ridge to Rock Creek took the parties over 27 hours to travel the roughly 15 miles, partially due to a winter blizzard and a lack of adequate clothing. The hand carts companies had to be rescued before this point as 21 individuals perished in the valley below.
This section of the trail is known as the “Trail of Blood.” While I would say it’s possible to traverse the entire South Pass section, from Sweetwater station to Farson, in a single day, it’s not a trek to be taken lightly. Be sure to have a water filter and/or treatment with you and keep an eye to the sky. The weather can change quickly as you’re around 7,000 feet of elevation and at the foot of the Wind River mountain range, which is the edge of the Teton mountains. Oh, and pack plenty of food. You may find yourself out there a little longer than you plan initially.”
[N.B. There are two markers: Rocky Ridge Lower Marker and Rocky Ridge Upper Marker. These are not on the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail. To see these, take a turnoff at about Mile 1045 1/32. The detour rejoins the Bikepacking trail just past Mile 1049.]
Army Assurance for Pay
Russell had had experience trying to collect losses from the government and was not optimistic. He finally agreed, with the understanding that in the event of loss Captain Brent would assist him in making out a claim and presenting it to Congress. He said later that President Buchanan assured Quartermaster General Thomas S. Jesup that Majors & Russell would not be neglected.
“Fort Bridger was quite a gay rendezvous on the Sunday we reached it, for besides ourselves and two companion trains, the place was enlivened by a score or two of mountaineers, and a band of Indians with ponies for sale; the ‘sell’ being usually completed by the ponies disappearing the next night.”
“On the South Side of the South Platte, perhaps about a mile east of the mouth of ‘Lodgepole Creek,’ a Frenchman by the name of Jules had started a trading-post. The place was a great Cheyenne crossing-ground going north and south, and a frequent place of Cheyenne rendezvous. It was also much used by the Sioux. The Cheyennes had a great liking for the country on the South Platte at the mouth of Lodgepole, and had had camps there for many years. Jules was said to be a half-breed French-and-Indian trader, and to have established this post for the purpose of trading with the Cheyenne Indians. It was said his name was Jules Beni, but everybody called him ‘Jules.” He was a man of keen native shrewdness, an exceedingly dangerous man, with a peppery, fierce disposition. He had killed several persons, and had become a great deal of a character in the country. A man who had known him several years told me that Jules once killed two persons of local celebrity, cut off their ears, dried them, and carried these four ears in his pockets. That every once in a while he would take them out and show them to somebody. They were great trophies, as he thought. He kept supplies for the pilgrims, and at one time had a large stock. . . . He got to be so bad and dangerous that Slade, the superintendent of the stage company, had to kill him.”
Mile 1: Kansas
“Landing in Bleeding Kansas—she still bleeds—we fell at once into ‘Emigration Road,’ a great thoroughfare, broad and well worn as a European turnpike or a roman military route, and undoubtedly the best and the longest natural highway in the world.
“For five miles the line bisected a bottom formed by a bend in the river, with about a mile’s diameter at the neck. The scene was of a luxuriant vegetation. A deep tangled wood rather a thicket or a jungle than a forest of oaks and elms., hickory, basswood, and black walnut, poplar and hackberry (Celtis crassifolia) box elder, and the common willow (Salix longifolia), clad and festooned, bound and anchored by wild vines, creepers, and huge llianas, and sheltering an undergrowth of white alder and red sumach, whose pyramidal flowers were about to fall, rested upon a basis of deep black mire, strongly suggestive of chills fever and ague. After an hour of burning sun and sickly damp, the effects of the late storms, we emerged from the waste of vegetation, passed through a straggling ‘neck o’ the woods,’ whose yellow inmates reminded me of Mississippian descriptions in the days gone by, and after spanning some very rough ground we bade adieu to the valley of the Missouri, and emerged upon the region of the Grand Prairie which we will pronounce ‘perrairey.'”
Brigham Young's Plans for the Desert
“Brigham Young’s plans for the desert mecca were ambitious, extending even to the acquisition of a seaport on the Pacific Coast. Initial explorations into the surrounding area were quickly followed by colonizing missions. Passing emigrants thus found not only an impressive city by the lake but also clusters of small communities presumably located to defend the ‘inner core of settlements’ and to sustain the all-weather route to San Diego along the ‘Mormon Corridor.’
Within ten years of their arrival at Salt Lake, Mormon pioneer-missionaries under Young’s close supervision had established ninety-six separate settlements. Outposts fanned out from the Salt Lake City axis in all directions: southwest along the corridor to San Bernardino, California, southeast to Moab, Utah, northeast to Forts Bridger and Supply, north to the Fort Lemhi mission on Idaho’s Salmon River, and westward to Mormon Station in the Carson Valley. An impressive testament to both Young’s aspirations and abilities, this extensive domain initially spanned some 1,000 miles from its northernmost to southernmost point and 800 miles from east to west. It incorporated one-sixth of the territory of the United States.”
“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.”
Mile 1707: Mountain Springs Station
“This station is very well signed, very easy to find and see.” Note that this is a short distance off the Pony Express route. Jan reports a cattle trough at the site of Mountain Springs.
Government Role in Emigrant Experience
“Most pre-Civil War overlanders found the U.S. government, through its armed forces, military installations, Indian agents, explorers, surveyors, road builders, physicians, and mail carriers, to be an impressively potent and helpful force.
Statistically, frontier soldiers were the most significant dimension of the western federal presence. Throughout the 1850s up to 90 percent of the U.S. Army was deployed at the seventy-nine posts dotting the trans-Mississippi west. In 1860 this meant that 7.090 enlisted men and officers were stationed at the forts and camps of the four army departments whose geographic area of responsibility incorporated the South Pass overland trails.”
Purpose of Pony Express
In the spring of 1860, W. H. Russell established his Pony Express in order to demonstrate once for all the superiority of the South Pass route.
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.”
Change to Fifteen Day Schedule
From the Leavenworth Daily Times, December 1, 1860. PONY EXPRESS! CHANGE OF SCHEDULE. ON and after the first day of December next, the Schedule Time of the Express will be changed and run as follows: Fifteen days between St. Joe and San Francisco; eleven days between Fort Riley and outer telegraph station Utah. This Schedule will be continued running as new semi-weekly trips during the winter, or until] Congress shall provide for a tri-weekly Mail Service, which alone will enable the Company to return to present or a shorter schedule, the present mail service between Julesburg and Placerville being only semi-weekly, which is not sufficient to keep the route open during winter. Wo. Russet, Secretary
William Russell's Motivation for Starting the Pony Express
“Some historians of the Pony Express attribute [Russell’s] action to patriotism, writing that he considered war inevitable and feared that California would swing to the cause of the South unless kept in close and rapid communication with the North. This might have been true, but it hardly squares with his action in other matters, and he is not known to have made any statement as to his reason. It seems more likely that he had set his ambition doggedly upon securing a million-dollar mail contract, and that, as in all his other promotions, he was determined to attain his goal by any means available, regardless of how injurious his action might be to his associates and creditors.
Apparently, all of Russell’s business decisions were actuated by wishful desire and oversanguine expectation instead of reasoned judgment.”
Rock Creek Station
“The overland road entered Nebraska at the dividing line between Gage and Jefferson counties, one-time land of the Otoes, self-styled ‘brothers of the whites.’ We kept about two miles north of the river, stopping now and then to explore some exceptionally deep wheel ruts, when some two miles north of Endicott, came to Rock Creek and the site of the Rock Creek Station.
Here we took a referee’s time out for consideration of a famous quarrel and to look curiously at the setting of a historic gunfight between Dave McCanles, owner of the log station building leased to the stage company, and handsome Wild Bill Hickock.”
[N.B. Ms. Paden also talks about inscriptions by Frémont and Reed (Donner party) among others in a nearby sandstone shelf. The rangers at Rock Creek Station provided this info: “Unfortunately the sandstone ledge was undercut into the creek in the 1970s and was removed around 1984. The original location is on private property and not accessible to the public. Fortunately, there is a brass casting of the carving just outside the Visitor Center at Rock Creek Station State Historical Park.”]
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 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.”
” He proved himself a first-rate wilderness commander, learning his new trade from two of its masters, Kit Carson and Tom Fitzpatrick. He traveled little country that his instructors had not had by heart for twenty years, blazed no trails, though the Republicans were to run him for the Presidency as the Pathfinder, and did little of importance beyond determining the latitude and longitude of many sites which the mountain men knew only by experience and habit. But he learned mountain and desert skills well, was tireless in survey and analysis, and enormously enjoyed himself.”
“‘The road from Independence to Fort Laramie is a graveyard,’ McCollum wrote, and he put the number of burials at 1,500 to 2,000, which would be an overall mortality rate of 6 per cent. But some large trains lost two0thirds of their number, and several instances are found of children orphaned of entire families wiped out, their wagons abandoned like ships without rudders.
The scourge was repeated in 1850. Langworthy places the number of cholera victims that year at ‘more than 1,000,’ while Ezra Meeker conjectures 5,000. Accepting a figure of 2,500 an average of four graves to a mile between St. Joe and Fort Laramie gives credence to the assertion of Abraham Sortore that along the Platte he was ‘scarcely out of sight of grave diggers.’ . . .
In 1851 casualties were light . . . but in 1852 the Asiatic cholera was loose again. J.H. Clark ‘passed camps every day waiting for someone to die.’ West of Ash Hollow he found three men returning who were the only ones left out of a party of seventeen.”
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.”
[Fort Laramie] was one of the great fixed points of the later fur trade, in the heart of the Sioux country, on the way to the Shoshone country, linked to Bent’s Fort (Pueblo) by a well-traveled trail along the Laramie Fork and the Chugwater, linked to the lower Missouri posts by the great highway of the Platte valley.
Established in 1835 by William Sublette, it was first called Fort William for its builder. In 1841 the log fort was rebuilt of adobes on almost the same site and renamed Fort John, for John Sarpy, whom the Mormons knew as the friendly bourgeois of the American Fur Company post at Bellevue, below Winter Quarters. But not everyone called it Fort John. Most knew it as Fort Laramie, and literally everyone who traveled the Overland Trail knew it. Whether bound for Oregon, California, or the valleys of the mountains, whether traveling south bank or north, they had to come up the trough of the North Platte, and just at the bottleneck where the river emerged from rough country into the comparative open, there sat the fort on its barren gravel flat within a bright swift curve of the Laramie Fork, two miles above its junction with the North Platte.
Emigrants coming up the south bank forded the Laramie Fork to reach the fort, those coming up the North Platte forded or ferried the North Platte, depending on the season and the stage of water. From Fort Laramie onward to beyond South Pass, a distance of three hundred miles, the country cramped the several streams of the emigration into a single channel, at least at first. After 1850, when a way was opened along the north bank of the North Platte between the mouth of the Laramie Fork and the so-called Last Crossing (modern Casper, Wyoming), some trains, especially Mormon trains, elected to by-pass Fort Laramie. Their reasons were various—hurry because of lateness on the trail, fear of contamination by Gentile companies, unwillingness to pay bridge or ferry charges, or plain well-organized bull-headed self-sufficiency. But most, after weeks of plodding up the hot, dusty, treeless, brain-baking Platte valley, found the attractions of companionship, news, trail information, gossip, trade, repairs, and Taos Lightning more than mortal flesh cold resist even if it wanted to.
“Some operators, seeking to reduce the size of their payroll, eliminated the extra hands and extra oxen and required the regular drivers to perform the night guard duties. Night herd was the most heartily detested duty a teamster could be called on to perform. One of them said, “It is impossible for anyone who has never had the experience, to realize the overpowering sense of sleepiness that comes over one after midnight, particularly after a strenuous day of yoking and unyoking the animals of his team, driving them to water, and walking beside them on the road when the train was moving.’ . . .
An experienced man on night herd would pick out a reliable old ox and lie down against him; thus, anything that disturbed the animal would rouse the man. On a cold night the body heat of the ox kept the man comfortable.”
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.”
Bridger and Vasquez acted on the indications. In the valley of Black’s Fork, Uinta County, the southwestern corner of Wyoming, a day’s ride from the sites of many rendezvous, on the natural route from the Sandy, a route which they foresaw would prove a better one for wagons coming out of South Pass than the routes by which they had taken pack trains westward – in the valley of Black’s Fork they built a new post, Fort Bridger. They established it not as a headquarters for beaver hunters and not as a depot for the trade with Indians, but as a supply station for emigrant trains. It was built (apparently in the summer of 1842) in time to serve the first really big wave, the one which the texts call the Great Migration, the emigration of 1843, and the history of the West through the next fifteen years could be intelligently written along radii that center here. With the establishment of Fort Bridger, General Chittenden is content to say, the era of the mountain man ended.
End of the Pony Express
But Indian resistance and financial woes, serious as they were, did not bury the Pony Express. Technology did. About two months after the first mochila left St. Joseph, Congress authorized funding to build a transcontinental telegraph. Crews from Nebraska and what is now western Nevada began working toward each other, erecting poles and stringing wire along the Pony Express route. The lines met on Salt Lake City’s Main Street. On October 24, 1861, Western Union ceremoniously linked the two segments and made near instantaneous, coast-to-coast communications a reality. Two days later the now-obsolete Pony Express closed its doors. Mail that was already underway continued to its destination, with the last mochila arriving in San Francisco on November 20, 1861. The Pony’s parent company, the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co., soon fell into bankruptcy and was acquired by “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay. That operation continued under a new name, the Overland Stage Company.
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.”
Brigham Young Express
Brigham Young hoped to use the federal mail contract he won late in 1856 using Hiram S. Kimball, a merchant who acted as his agent, to build a major overland freighting company. The venture began as a private business initially proposed in January 1856 to compete directly with the government mail service. Later that month, the Utah Territorial Assembly incorporated the Deseret Express and Road Company. The first of two mass meetings in Salt Lake revealed the proposed corporation’s expansive vision of ‘establishing a daily express and passenger communication between the western States and California, or, more extendedly, between Europe and China.’ Both Mormon and non-Mormon leaders in Utah supported the proposal. . . .
The government terminated Brigham Young’s mail contract shortly after it ordered troops to Utah. Like Burnt Ranch, all the buildings of the Y.X. Express went up in smoke. ‘Nearly $200,000 was expended during the winter of 1856–57 to establish way stations, purchase teams and wagons, hire help, and to buy equipment and other supplies,’ historian Leonard Arrington wrote. ‘The resources of the Church were almost exhausted in this venture.’ Brigham Young would not be the last entrepreneur to lose a fortune trying to dominate western trade and transportation.”
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
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).]
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.
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.”
“[George] Chorpenning and his men left Sacramento May 1, 1851, with the first mail. They had great difficulty in reaching Carson valley, having had to beat down the snow with wooden mauls to open a trail for their animals over the Sierras. For sixteen days and nights they struggled through and camped upon deep snow. Upon reaching Carson valley, Chorpenning staked off in the usual western manner, a quarter section of land and arranged to establish a mail station. The town of Genoa, Nevada, grew up on the site.”
First Western Mail Service
“The Mormons’ [who’d settled the Salt Lake area in summer 1847] need to maintain contact with their missionary organizations in the States and Europe provided the impetus for America’s first Western mail service.”
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.”
Miller’s paintings of Scott’s Bluff and Chimney Rock are reproduced in our plates. The convention of Western books requires me to remind the reader that the former were named for a Smith, Jackson & Sublette man who fell ill at Laramie Creek, more than fifty miles to the west, was abandoned by the trappers left to care for him, and in his delirium wandered and crawled this far toward home before dying. His bones were found at the foot of the bluffs the next year by the same party on its way back to the mountains. The story was first told by Irving. Some distance west of Ash Hollow, where the trail usually reached the North Platte, was Brady’s Island, supposed to have taken its name from a similar incident. Two trappers of a party who were taking furs down the Platte by boat quarreled and one of them, Brady, was killed by the other while the two were alone in camp. The murderer reported that Brady’s own gun had been accidentally discharged and killed him. Farther along the trail he accidentally shot himself and confessed his crime before dying. Rufus Sage says that the deaths took place ‘some eight years ago,’ which would make the date 1833, Stewart’s first year in the West. In 1838, Myra Eells, spelling the name ‘Brada,’ makes the date 1827.
No-One Remembers Russell, Majors & Waddell
In the spring of 1860, following Greeley’s overland adventure, with the nation perched on the brink of civil war, Russell, Majors & Waddell established a subsidiary business, a privately financed gamble designed to prove that mail could be moved quickly—in ten days or less across nearly two thousand miles of still-wild North America. To do this, they would use a relay system of experienced riders and the best horses money could buy. No one today remembers the names Russell, Majors & Waddell or the vast freighting empire they presided over in the good years before the Civil War. No one remembers their rolling armada of tens of thousands of oxen, vast fleets of oxen, vast fleets of wagons, or armies of bullwhackers—the greatest such venture of its kind ever assembled. Their legacy would be the most obscure of footnotes in the history of the opening of the American West but for the little venture into which they poured their fates and fortunes. They spun the business off their stage line operations linking the Missouri with Denver and Salt Lake City, calling it the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company. The name was too long-even its initials, COC&PPEC, were too cumbersome—and so it was called simply the Pony Express.
Mile 1392: Camp Floyd
“The station was located within John Carson’s Inn in Fairfield and saw use for both the Express and stage travel. The adobe building was built in 1858. It is still standing, has a wooden facade, and is open to the public as a Utah State Park. It was operated by the family until 1947. Such personages as Horace Greeley, Mark Twain, Sir Richard Burton, Porter Rockwell, Bill Hickman, and General (then Colonel) Albert Johnston stopped at the inn.
“In 1885, John Carson and his brothers, along with John Williams, William Beardshall and John Clegg, established Fairfield and Cedar City Fort. The latter was constructed as a private protective compound. It was adjacent to Fairfield that Camp Floyd, named for Secretary of War John B. Floyd, was established in November of 1858. Camp Floyd was the second military establishment in Utah and was commanded by Colonel Albert Johnston. (The first military reservation in Utah was established in Rush Valley, near present day Stockton, in 1853, by Colonel Steptoe. Its objective was to establish a military route to California and to investigate the Gunnison Massacre.)
“Captain Simpson, Senior Engineering Officer at Camp Floyd, designed the overland stage route from Salt Lake City to San Francisco.
“With a population of 7,000 — 3,000 of which were soldiers — Fairfield was the third largest city in the territory. Boasting 17 saloons, wild Fairfield catered to soldiers and the army payroll.”
Attack by Lot Smith
“After we had been here about a week, Oct. 4, I think it was, Lot Smith, a Mormon captain with two hundred mounted men came riding into camp, stopped awhile, then rode off toward Green River. About seven miles out, he met one of the Company’s trains. He stopped them and ordered them to go back. The boss, seeing that they had the advantage of him, said that his cattle were nearly worn out, and that he would have to rest them before he could go far. Smith allowed them to camp and rest up, and then he and his men rode on. When he was out of sight they yoked up and came on to Ham’s Fork.
Smith reached Green River just as another train had unyoked, and drew their guns and demanded their arms. The boss, seeing they had no show, surrendered. Smith’s men set fire to their train. The boss plead for their private property-clothing, bedding, guns-and the mess wagon with their provisions which they finally allowed them, but burned the twenty-five wagons of government goods before their eyes. Smith then ordered the men to take good care of the cattle till he came back after them.
He and his men went from here to the Sandy and came upon two trains close together, camped for dinner, the next day, and burned the wagons, allowing the men their private property and mess wagons and cattle to haul them back to the States. They drove the rest of the cattle back to Green River, where the others were, and left them there. The boss of the Green River train, with his assistant, came to Ham’s Fork the next day.”
“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.”
Taking-off Points of Emigration
“While the Hastings and Applegate parties were coming east [in spring 1846], the emigrants had mustered, chiefly in the vicinity of Independence. One party, however, was preparing to cross the Missouri about 40 miles south of Council Bluffs and to use what was later called the Nebraska City road. Thus, as early as ’46, there were four possible places of take-off—Council Bluffs, the as yet unnamed point, St. Joseph, and Independence. There was also a military road leading westward from Fort Leavenworth, but this had little influence on the migration. All this plains country was, in fact, so level and open that a wagon could be taken across it almost anywhere. There was even some advantage in being the first. Once the passage of many wagons had broken through the sod, the road was likely to alternate between mudholes and deep dust.”
The Finger of God
“Medical missionary Samuel Parker traveled overland to Oregon in 1835, and in his Journal of an Exploring tour beyond the Rocky Mountains intimated that if an elderly minister of the gospel could make it to Oregon, anyone could. When reviewing Parker’s book, the American Biblical Repository rejoiced in the knowledge that there was indeed an easy road to Oregon ‘excavated by the finger of God.'”
“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.”
Strange to say, this stalwart Union senator afterward entered the Confederacy, lost his prestige and large fortune, and, at the close of the war, drifted into Mexico and the service of the unfortunate Maximilian, by whom, in 1866, he was made Duke of Sonora.
Misnaming Plains Animals
“A further fact worth remembering about the Plains animals is that most of those peculiar to the Plains have been popularly misnamed. The buffalo is the bison, the prairie dog is a marmot, the rabbit is a true hare. This is suggestive of what happened when a people having their background in a humid, forested region came out into a new environment. The point is not important except as a symptom of the Easterner’s misunderstanding of the West.”
1849 Stage to California
“At least one Independence firm, Hansford and Peacock, and one St. Louis firm, Turner and Allen, planned passenger trains to California in 1849. . . .Whether Hansford and Peacock’s train ever departed is not known, but Turner and Allen’s venture received such an enthusiastic response that two California-bound trains were dispatched, even though only one had been initially advertised. . . .
[E]ager forty-niners willingly paid the 200-dollar fee. For this they were promised a ride to California in spring wagons carrying six passengers each, food rations for the entire trip, and the transportation of 160 pounds of baggage. . . . Further, while the trip was optimistically projected for sixty days, enough provisions would be carried for a hundred days . . .
The experiment had been an interesting one, but the surviving passengers, especially from the first train, were in anything but a friendly mood after their agonizing trip mercifully ended in long-awaited California. . . .When D.T. McCollum finally reached Sacramento, he calculated that 159 days had passed since the sixty-day train had left Independence.”
“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.”
Like Narcissa and Eliza the women were casting the lines that emigrant wives were to follow – botanizing, collecting curious pebbles, gaping at the scenery, putting on their nightgowns and frantically scrubbing all their other clothes when they got a chance, growing used to buffalo chips for fuel, laboring to bake and roast and contrive variations on the staple diet. Thousands of wives to come find a voice when after a night in the rain the party reaches the Platte from the Blue and Myra Eells writes, ‘I am so strongly reminded of bygone days that I cannot refrain from weeping.’ From now on the Platte will be acquainted with women’s tears. Mary Walker put it more forcibly a month later: ‘I cried to think how comfortable father’s hogs were.’ The Pawnees, though they behaved unusually well, frightened the women and the fear of Indians, whose souls they were undertaking to save after all, was with them from then on. Everyone was exhausted all the time, the men from the management of the herd and awkwardness at prairie travel, the women mostly from sidesaddles. (Gray has sensibly recommended buckskin ‘drawers,’ which was more than Narcissa and Eliza had been favored with, but no one had courage or sense enough to tell the girls to admit their legs and fork their horses.) They were sick in rotation and in groups – colds, rheumatisms, the unspecified ‘fevers’ which medicine of the time took note of and differentiated from the ‘vapors’ which most of them were. For one must see here symptoms that would be widespread and constant as soon as the greenhorns began to come in force. There are dreads and melancholies specific to the tenderfoot in the plains and mountains, a true neurosis, usually mild but sometimes severe, and in fact a neurosis that sometimes, with the right pressure or the right inner weakness, becomes a psychosis. It is the effect on the ego of loneliness in infinite space, emptiness, barrenness, and the inescapable sun.
“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 1311: Mountain Dell Station
“Pony express stations were usually not just Pony stations. Such as was the case with Mountain Dell Station, near the head of today’s Little Dell Reservoir. It served as a trading post, mailstation, and inn. The station was run by Ephraim Hanks, a jovial, sandy haired frontiersman with a grizzled beard and smiling mustache. Ephraim’s stepson worked as a Pony rider and his “plural wives” served meals (on at least one occasion, boiled badger) to well heeled stage passengers!”
[N.B. “The exact location of which has been much debated. It stood a distance up the slope from Little Dell Reservoir, but neither study of contemporary accounts nor an extensive archeological dig conducted by researchers from Brigham Young University has answered the question of the actual station site. . . . Ephraim Hanks [who ran the station] was also reported to be a leading figure among the Mormon Danites, or Destroying Angels. More info about hanks and the station here.]
Tents on the Trail
“A few tents might be seen, polka-dotted sparingly in the bold pattern made by white wagon tops against the dark green background of the rolling valley. There were not so many used as one might, at first thought, imagine; and we have record that, in at least one of the river outfitting towns, there were none for sale and the tent-minded emigrant had to buy material and make his own.
Weather conditions had a good deal to do with the situation. An energetic prairie storm could cover fairly high ground ‘shoelatch-deep’ with running water, and low land promptly assumed the aspect of a storm-tossed lake. In fact, as one man wrote, ‘theare [sic] was not much chance to sleep without you could fancy wet blankets and a torrent of water running under you.’ . . .
Those who owned wagons slept in them, and those who did not rolled their blankets underneath as a slight precaution against being stepped on if a stampede should start.”
Mile 1113: Big Sandy Station
“It was here [Big Sandy Station, Farson, WY], in 1847, that mountain man Jim Bridger gave Brigham Young advice on leading the first Mormon trains into Salt Lake. In the 1860s, Mark Twain, Horace Greeley, and Sir Richard Burton stopped here on their stagecoach trips west.”
Pony Express War Dispatches to California
Throughout this crisis, news was received twice a week by the Pony Express, and, be it remembered, in less than half the time required by the old stage coach. Of its services then, no better words can be used than those of Hubert Howe Bancroft.
It was the pony to which every one looked for deliverance; men prayed for the safety of the little beast, and trembled lest the service should be discontinued. Telegraphic dispatches from Washington and New York were sent to St. Louis and thence to Fort Kearney, whence the pony brought them to Sacramento where they were telegraphed to San Francisco. Great was the relief of the people when Hole’s bill for a daily mail service was passed and the service changed from the Southern to the Central route, as it was early in thesummer. • • • Yet after all, it was to the flying pony that all eyes and hearts were turned.
The Pony Express was a real factor in the preservation of California to the Union.
Early California Mail
More pertinent, geographically, are the relay express services of Governor Stephen W. Kearny of California and of Major Chorpenning. General Kearny, as military governor of the new territory freshly wrested from Mexico, established a horse courier service of two soldiers, one at San Francisco and the other at San Diego. Starting on alternate Mondays, they kept a semimonthly schedule, exchanging mail sacks at a convenient halfway point. Kearny’s postal service gave transportation to both official communications and private letters without charge.
Crossing the 98th Meridian
They did not know it, and their journals reflect it only in half-comprehended observations, but they had come into the West. Their crossing of the Loup Fork was almost directly on the 98th meridian, that all-but-mystical line at which begins another climate, another flora and fauna, another ecology, another light, another palette, another air, another order of being. The “poor and sandy” country they had just crossed, the antelope that Woodruff shot on April 17, the first prairie dog town and the first lizards, the increasing number of wolves-these were all symptoms, So was the tendency of the dry wind “to make sore lips, parched up and feverish.” So was the general “shrinking up” that they noticed; even Clayton’s portable writing desk was splitting with the dryness. As they turned upriver on an Indian trail that showed occasional tracks of wagons, with Grand Island on their left, bluffy with timber, across the braiding channels of water and sand, they passed their first alkali flats and tasted that bitter dust, and saw the white rumps of many antelope coasting away ahead. Westward there was no timber at all except on the island. The grass now was a variety new to them, the short curly kind they called buffalo grass.
The First Leg of the Emigrant Trail
“It was one of the great American experiences, this first stage of the trail in the prairie May. It formed the symbols we have inherited. The ladies knitted or sewed patchwork quilts. They extemporized bake ovens for bread, made spiced pickles of the “prairie peas” and experimented with probably edible roots, gathered wild strawberries to serve with fresh cream. They shook down into little cliques, with a chatter of sewing circles, missionary talk, and no charity for any nubile wench who might catch a son’s eye. Tamsen Donner wrote home – there was a pause for letter writing whenever someone moving eastward was encountered – that linsey proved the best wear for children. They put a strain on clothes – this was a fairy tale for children: the absorbing train, the more absorbing country, bluffs to scale, coyote pups to catch and tame, the fabulous prairie dogs, the rich, exciting strangeness of a new life with school dismissed. The sight of the twisting file of white-tops from any hill realized all the dreams of last winter along the Sangamon, and the night camp was a deeper gratification still. The wagons formed their clumsy circle, within reach of wood and water. Children whooped out to the creek or the nearest hill. The squealing oxen were watered in an oath-filled chaos, then herded out to graze. Tents went up outside the wagons and fires blazed beside them – the campfire that has ritual significance to Americans. The children crowded back to stand in the perfume of broiling meat. The most Methody of them were singing hymns – Parkman walked into a search party who were settling the question of regeneration while they hunted their oxen. Glee clubs sang profaner songs, sometimes organized by the most meticulous choirmasters. An incurable Yankeeness extemporized debates, political forums, and lectures on the flora of the new country or the manifest destiny of the American nation. Oratory pulsed against the prairie sky. Be sure that nature was served also and the matrons who distrusted the unmarried girls had cause. This was the village on wheels, and the mind and habit of the village inclosed it, beside those carmine fires which Hollywood need only show us against white canvas to awaken our past. The fires lapsed, the oxen came grumping into the inclosure, and one fell asleep hearing the wolves in endless space. . . . This is what the grandfathers remembered when they told us stories.”
Mabel Loving and the Pony Express Riders
The year after Pony Bob died in a cold-water flat in Chicago, a St. Joseph, Missouri, housewife with little formal education began one of the most enterprising efforts on behalf of the memory of the Pony Express. Her name was Mabel Loving and she was an amateur poet. She was an amateur historian, too, who in the end unearthed some of the most valuable information about the Pony Express. Mrs. Loving started tracking down the surviving riders. No one had actually thought to do this.
“In the space of twenty years, 1848-1868, twelve huge territories were created, and, as the process went on, each territory was changed, divided, and subdivided ad infinitum. . . .
Oregon (1848), Utah (1850), Washington (1853), Kansas (1854), Nebraska (1854), North Dakota and South Dakota (1861), Nevada (1861), Colorado (1861), Idaho (1863), Montana (1864), and Wyoming (1868).”
Mile 294: US 6 Oregon Trail Historical Marker and Pony Express Marker
The trail moves from southeast to northwest on gentle ground between two branches of Thirty-Two Mile Creek. Soon the travelers will descend to Muddy Station on the West Branch of Thirty-Two Mile Creek. The inscription on the historical marker reads:
The most traveled of the overland routes passed this point on its way to the great Platte valley highway to the west. The Oregon Trail started from Independence, followed the Kansas River west, and then the Little Blue north into Nebraska. It crossed the divide to reach the Platte near Fort Kearny.
In the 1830s trappers and missionaries recognized the Platte valley as a natural roadway. The first wagon train followed the 2,000 mile trail to Oregon in 1842.
An estimated quarter of a million travelers used this route in the twenty-five years after those first wagons. Moving slowly, only 10 to 20 miles a day, for the three-month trip, thousands of hooves, shoes and wheels pounded a wide trail into the prairie.
Oregon was an early goal. The ’49ers went through to California. Settlers, stage coaches, freight wagons, Pony Express riders and
military expeditions all used this prairie highway.
With completion of the Union Pacific Railroad this route fell into disuse, but the Oregon Trail has earned a permanent place in our history.
This marker was erected in May, 1963, by Nebraska Historical Markers Council and the Nebraska Roads Department. The National Pony Express Centennial marker, a granite stone with bronze plaques, was dedicated in May, 1966, by the Adams County Historical Society. In mid February of 2006, thieves pried off one of the bronze plaques and a few days later, with the investigation underway, the second plaque disappeared. Plans are underway by ACHS to replace the missing markers.
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/h6gvQ2audvbFWEg56. Note: This is just of the XP Bikepacking Route. If you want to visit this memorial, turn left onto US 6 (County Rod 73) just past Mile 294. the marker is just west of Roseland Ave. Turn north on South Prosser Ave. to rejoin the XP Trail (about one mile up).
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.”
“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.”
[Note: Long disparaging description follows.]
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.”
“The very early fur traders’ parties and the exploring expeditions had their own method of crossing which was entirely useless to wagon caravans. They made bullboats. The rules were like the old recipe for rabbit stew which began, ‘First you catch your rabbit.’ The main essential was fresh, or ‘green’ buffalo hides, which necessitated first catching a few buffalo bulls—the bigger the better. The green hides were sewed together and put, while still soft, over the bed of a cart (if they had one along) or a framework of green willow poles, conveniently bent by driving both ends in the ground. The hides were then allowed to dry and shrink. This process supplied a large strong boat that would carry several men and their dunnage, and drew only a few inches of water.”
“Refreshed by breakfast and the intoxicating air, brisk as a bottle of veuve Clicquot—it is this that gives one the ‘prairie fever’—we bade glad adieu to Seneca, and prepared for another long stretch of twenty-four hours.”
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.'”
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.”
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].”
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.”
Russell as Postmaster
In 1840 Russell was appointed treasurer for Lafayette county to succeed his old employer James Aull. He was also appointed postmaster at Lexington by Pres. John Tyler on June 16, 1841, which office he filled until January 31, 1845.
Russell's Status at 45
In March, 1857, Russell and Limrick, as trustees, sold the re-mainder of the tracts, 3,881 acres, to Waddell. After holding the lands for a short time Waddell sold them to Russell for $25,000.° This transaction undoubtedly made Russell one of the largest land owners in Lafayette county. Now at the age of 45 he possessed the credentials—land, a big house, money, and slaves—to admit him into the inner fellowship of very important people in the busi-ness and social circles of the town.
History of the Mormon Trail
From the Missouri west, despite the assertion of many journals and many histories that the Mormons were breaking a new road, the trail was known and traveled before they came. Both sides of the Platte valley, that almost inescapable level highway into the West, had been an Indian travel route for generations. Traders between Fort Laramie and the Missouri River posts had sometimes traveled the north bank. The missionaries who in 1844 built a mission to the Pawnee on Loup Fork had used it. The Stevens Party of 1844 had gone that way. According to George R. Stewart, there had been wagons up the north bank as early as 1835.
Pony Express in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show
Just as the show always began with “The Star Spangled Banner,” it included prominently the Pony Express. And no one, from penniless orphans in Chicago and London, allowed in free because Buffalo Bill had a good heart, to kings and kaisers and presidents, ever left Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World without seeing this one irreplaceable fixture of the Old West. The Pony Express was as well known and revered as Buffalo Bill himself, or the legendary Deadwood stagecoach. For decades the program note never varied; it read simply, “Pony Express. A former Pony Post-Rider will show how the letters and telegrams of the Republic were distributed across the immense Continent previous to the building of railways and telegraphs.” It made a powerful impact on the American and European spectator. No one could ever forget it.
Mile 304: Oregon Trail Marker One Mile South of Kenesaw Cemetery
Just west of Kenesaw the trail jogged sharply west and then north to avoid a lagoon that is hardly visible today. John Klusman, while taking a break from planting in May, 2008, explained that the land had been leveled and drained in such a way that the lagoon that had previously been so prominent was no longer visible. The writer jogged this section of the trail in the late 1970s and recalls a large lagoon that obviously would have caused the wagons to detour. The goal was to get to Ft. Kearny with as little wear and tear on stock and equipment as possible; they were not going to get bogged down in a lagoon to save a mile. This marker was erected by the State of Nebraska in 1914.
The location is at https://goo.gl/maps/NDVHDwQT6f9278jh6. Note: The XP Bikepacking Trail passes .2 miles north of this marker. To see it, turn left (south) on Smith Lane (Hwy 1A) for .2 miles.
Loess is a unique type of silt, usually containing some clay and in some cases fine sand, which has the propeny of being easily worked, yet being so cohesive that deep cuts with venical walls may be made in it. The cohesiveness appears to be the result of its being composed of exceptionally fine particles so that molecular attraction acts in part as a bond as well as the fact that the particles are angular and tend to interlock. A third factor may be the presence of plant roots or the filling of the voids left when plant roots rotted. These voids were filled by calcite, a form of calcium carbonate, which forms natural reinforcing rods. Loess of the Midwest was derived from outwash, deposited by meltwater from glaciers during the Ice Age in environments where this meltwater-deposited material was filling up major stream valleys so rapidly that plant growth did not have time to get stanrted and thus anchor it. In addition, cold weather near the margin of the glacier inhibited plant growth. Strong winds picked up this material and deposited it in dune-like hills on the downwind side of major valleys and as a flatter blanket extending many miles downwind from the hills.
End of the Handcart Era
So the conclusion must be—and Mormon practise indicates that it was the conclusion of the hierarchy too—that handcarts were a perfectly feasible means of bringing the harvest to the valleys of Ephraim, if: if they started on time, if their carts were well-made, if they did not try to hurry, if they had relief supplies somewhere west of Fort Laramie, if they had enough wagons to carry food and to relieve the sick or feeble, and if the priesthood didn’t get overzealous about testing their charges. But just about the time when these conditions began to be acknowledged and met, the pattern of the emigration was abruptly changed. After 1860 there were no more handcarts, and very few of the old-fashioned kind of wagontrains.
Everything on the trail was changing. The tenth handcart company, during its eighty days in transit, several times met or was passed by the overland stage carrying mail and passengers behind four good and frequently changed horses, and periodically the Pony Express riders scoured by their carts at a furious gallop. Both Pony Express and Overland Stage looked lovely and fast and comfortable from down in the roadside dust, but as the swift changes of the 186o’s developed, neither was to last much longer than the handcarts. The Pony Express, that most brilliant and romantic of mail services, came and went like the clatter of advancing and then receding hoofs: it was dead the moment Edward Creighton carried his Overland Telegraph through to the West Coast from Omaha. The Overland Stage would die of an overdose of railroad in 1 869. But until then, it would share the trail with the final form of Mormon transport, the so-called Church Trains.
“Our fuel, if we are fortunate enough to camp by timber, is the dryest branches we can find, but in certain districts we used ‘buffalo chips.’ This last was not repulsive, only by association, and I have seen ‘Pikers’ roasting hoe cakes in their embers, with mouths a-water. ‘Pikers’ and Missourians were synonymous.”
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.”
Winter in South Pass
“Two of Caspar Collins’s men froze at South Pass in early spring 1865, ‘though not very seriously,’ he wrote. ‘I have just returned from that abominable section of country. Dr. Rich and I went up together. We were two days getting twenty-five miles, and then had to leave our horses on account of the snow and walk in.’”
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.”
“Our next obstacle was the Walnut Creek, which we found, however, provided with a corduroy bridge; formerly it was a dangerous ford, rolling down heavy streams of melted snow, and then crossed by means of the ‘bouco’ or coracle, two hides sewed together, distended like a leather tub with willow rods, and poled or paddled.”
Listening to the inner voice, Jason Lee entered on his mission, a long way from Flathead Lake, and consecrated the Lord’s house. It was built in the Willamette Valley, one of the great valleys of the world. When the missionaries reached French Prairie, so named because superannuated voyageurs of the Hudson’s Bay Company had settled there and made farms, they recognized a leading. They began to fell trees, hew puncheons, and split clapboards. Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin – beside hundreds of creeks thousands of movers were doing just the same, a brotherhood of axe and adze and frow who supply an American symbol. The little cabin they built beside the Willamette sixty-odd miles up from its mouth was just any cabin in any clearing – except that it was raised in Oregon and the American empire would form round it like a pool. McLoughlin approved the decision from a tangle of conflicting values, desires, company policies, and blunders. He had them out of the mountains, he had them south of the Columbia, and if the end was foreseeable, why, he had new friends to talk to. He sold them seed and cattle and all the material and supplies they needed. They drove an American furrow in Oregon soil and began to think of starting a school and preaching to the Indians. Some Indian boys and girls came in and asked to stay – dirty, lousy, and so nearly naked that clothes had to be made for them at once. A special providence of God had given some of this handful of rice-Christians pointed heads, like those which William Walker had not seen. They were Chinooks: providence had furnished the mission some broken-spirited novices who would be docile. That attended to, Lee opened the solicitation of his Mission Board that was to last for years. Send us families, send us females, send us laymen – send us farmers, mechanics, workmen – send us machinery and plows and fruit trees and seed. Send us ‘temporals’ – we have enough divines. Send us colonizers, empire-builders, a population. This is the richest land in the world.
The Nebraska City Road
“The most underrated and least understood approach to the Platte was that from Old Fort Kearney at Table Creek, which became Nebraska City in 1854. . . .[T]his was a major route for Russell, Majors and Waddell and other freighting outfits which served the military posts, Denver, and Salt Lake.”
Crossroads of the West
The state’s southern red rock country serves as a cinematic backdrop for movies about 19th century cattle drives, crime and justice, and cultural conflicts that play out in California, Wyoming, Arizona, and Texas, but almost never in Utah. Few fans of the Old West realize that outlaw Butch Cassidy, leader of the infamous Wild Bunch and subject of a popular 1969 movie, was the Utah-born son of Mormon handcart pioneers. The grand themes and iconic images of the West — covered wagons on the windblown prairie, thundering buffalo herds, bluecoats and plains warriors, frontier forts, wild and woolly boomtowns—touch on other places, not here. Utah’s most legendary names, native peoples, and core stories, even the astonishing account of Brigham Young going toe-to-toe with the U.S. Army, are little known beyond state boundaries.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
“Near Dallas, almost on the Missouri-Kansas state line, stands the settlement known in trail days as Little Santa Fe. The dragging bull trains returning from the summer trade in Mexico reached it a full day before arriving at Independence; and the thirsty packers sought relief without too much regard as to whether they drank real liquor or the pink-elephant mixture of new whisky and molasses known as skull varnish.”
Literalness of Mormon Belief
No responsible historian can afford to underestimate the literalness of Mormon belief. These emigrants were convinced that they went not merely to a new country and a new life, but to a new Dispensation, to the literal Kingdom of God on earth. In the years between Joseph’s vision and its fulfillment, persecution and hardship discouraged many, and others fell away into apostasy, but what might be called the hard core of Mormonism took persecution and suffering in stride, as God’s way of trying their faith. Signs and wonders accompanied them, their way was cleared by divine inter: entions. Rivers opportunely froze over to permit passage of their wagons, quail fell among their exhausted and starving camps as miraculously as manna ever fell upon the camps of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh, the sick (even sick horses) upon whom the elders laid their hands rose up rejoicing in health, the wolves that dug up Oregonian and Californian graves and scattered Gentile bones across the prairies did not touch the graves of the Lord’s people. If they were blessed with an easy passage, they praised God for His favor if their way was a via dolorosa milestoned with the cairns of the dead, they told themselves they were being tested, and hearkened to counsel, and endured.
This letter, mailed in Denver on June 19, 1960, was canceled at St. Joseph, Missouri, seven days and approximately seven hundred miles later. At the time it was carried, the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company operated a daily stage from the Missouri River to Denver, K. T. (then Kansas Territory), a semiweekly stage to Salt Lake City, and a semimonthly stage to California, in addition to running a semiweekly Pony Express from the Missouri River to California.
Women's Recording of Gravesites
There is a kind of murderous precision in the women’s recounting of mishap. Surely, the accounts must be viewed as a reflection of the continuing anxieties they felt. But the more one reads these diaries, the more one comes to feel the passionate indictment, the bitter appraisal by the women of the men’s determination to make the journey. However bravely the women started, however they mustered their strength to meet the demands of each day, however they rallied to appreciate the splendors of the scenery, the women were intimately affected by the journey’s dreadful toll. Their responses depended upon whether their own lives were placed within the processes of childbearing and childrearing, or whether they were still in their girlhood years. Buoyant spirits are almost always in the diaries of unmarried girls and young wives. Accounts shade and darken in the pages of women whose energies were spent nursing and caring for infants and small children.
The Pony's Load
“[Russell, Majors & Waddell] immediately set to work, making careful plans for speeding and safeguarding the Pony Mail. They believed that both depended on the swiftness and endurance of relay ponies, since a single rider could not fight off Indian attacks and would have to escape them by running away. For this reason, a pony’s load must be no more than 165 pounds. Only riders weighing 120 pounds or less would be hired, equipment must weigh no more than 25 pounds, and each rider’s mail load would be limited to 20 pounds.”
Cause of the Paiute War
“The latter author points out that the real cause of this attack [The May 7 attack by Paiute Indians on the station of J. O. Williams, in which seven men were killed and the house burned] is not definitely known, but two stories exist, both of which blame tho occupants of William’ station. One account charges that they seized several young Bannock squaws (allies of the Pah-Utes), leading to a punitive expedition by the red men, and another that the station keeper, J. O. Williams, himself stole a horse of a Pah-Ute leading to retribution on this score. Even before this attack it was reported that 30 horses belonging to the Pony Express had been stolen by the Indians (San Francisco dispatch, April 27, in New York Daily Tribune, May 8, 1860). William B. Russell replied that inasmuch as the Express still operated, there could be no foundation for the rumor.—Leavenworth Daily Times, May 10, 1860.”
“[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.”
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.”
“[By 1842, the California emigrants] had gained some valuable geographic knowledge—for instance, the desert country was passable, even with wagons, because there was never a stretch of more than thirty-five or forty miles without water and grass. Such dry drives—called ‘jornadas,’ as people were beginning to call them, using the Spanish term—though hard on teams, were not impossible.”
Sublette and the Oregon Trail
“To Milton Sublette belongs the honor of first having used commercial wagons on what has been later entitled the ‘Oregon Trail.’ He began the journey near the mouth of the Kansas River, followed up the Little Blue to the Platte, and thence up the south side of the Platte and North Platte to the Wind River Mountains in Wyoming. This was in 1830. He returned the same year t o St. Louis with ten wagon loads of furs.”
Wagon Road to California
“[S]ome [rumors] that there was a movement afoot [in California] for outright secession and forming a separate nation.There was no possibility of breaking the transcontinental railway deadlock, but in December, 1855, California’s Senator Weller took advantage of the rumors to secure a temporary alternative. He introduced a bill authorizing construction of two bridged and fortified wagon roads to California; one from Independence, Missouri, to San Francisco by way of South Pass, Salt Lake City, and the Humboldt River; the other from El Paso to Los Angeles over the Gila Trail.”
Papers Stealing News Stories
One of the greatest problems of the Bulletin and associated newspapers at this time was how to prevent the less prosperous and less enterprising papers from stealing their costly news dispatches. The pony express was forced to charge a high price for its service. The Bulletin stated that its pony dispatches telegraphed in from Carson City on May 7 and 8, 1860, cost “not less than $250, a comparatively high price for a frontier newspaper of only 6,000 to 7 ,ooo daily circulation to pay for its wire news alone. The great bulk of its news, of course, was gathered locally or came by overland mail. The smaller San Francisco papers were unable to maintain the same news facilities as the Bulletin and the Alta California and quite often lifted dispatches from those papers without even bothering to give credit.
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.”
The Prairie Night Clock
“The stars of the Great Bear—the prairie night-clock—first began to pale without any seeming cause, till presently a faint streak of pale light dum i gurg, or the wolf’s tail, as it is called by the Persian began to shimmer upon the eastern verge of heaven. It grew and grew through the dark blue air . . .”
“A day or two later, [the train] was joined by three men with a small wagon . . . They asked leave to travel with the company until they should reach safer country.”
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.”
The advance reached Fort Bridger on the 16th or 17th of November, having consumed ten days in moving thirty-five miles. Fortunately for the Army, the Mormons, after seizing the place the preceding May, had enclosed the original structure in a stone wall 15 feet high. Attached to this was another enclosure 100 x 80 feet with walls seven and a half feet high. As the wagons were unloaded the boxes were knocked to pieces, which, together with their sheets, were used in making shelters against the stone walls for their stores. Tents were pitched around the Fort and the place was called Camp Scott.
Union Sentiment in California
The beginning of actual hostilities indeed changed many a wavering person into a strong Union advocate. When news reached California in April, 1861, that Sumter had been fired upon, the feeling against secession was intensified, and the Union sentiment of the great majority of the people became strong and demanded expression. Monster mass meetings were held throughout the State. In San Francisco in February, 1861, nearly 12,000 persons assembled at a Union meeting. In May, 1861, 25,000 were in attendance at a similar meeting, which “was the largest and most complete and emphatic public demonstration that had ever been held on the Pacific Coast.”
(News that Sumter was fired upon reached California “per telegraph to St. Louis; thence by telegraph to Fort Kearny; thence by pony express to Fort Churchill: thence by telegraph to San Francisco.” San Francisco Evening Bulletin, April 24, 1861.)
Green River Crossing
“Whether they crossed the Green River Basin by the Sublette Cutoff or the trail to Fort Bridger, the Green River—several hundred feet wide and dangerously swift—lay as a barrier across the emigrants’ path. The Green would be the last large river that California-bound emigrants would have to cross. (Those headed for Oregon would still have to contend with crossing the Snake River.) The challenge of crossing the Green varied with the time of year and the annual snowpack in the Wind River Range. Emigrants arriving at the river in August, after much of the winter snow had melted, sometimes found it low enough to ford. Most arrived earlier, though, in late June or early July, and saw it as Margaret Frink did—running “high, deep, swift, blue, and cold as ice.” At such high water, a ferry was the only safe way to cross. By 1847 several ferrying operations, run by mountain men or Mormons from Salt Lake City, lay scattered up and down the Green River at the common crossing points. Emigrants forked over tolls ranging from $3 to $16 per wagon (roughly $60 to $320 in today’s dollars), depending on demand and river level.”
Van Vliet's Mission
“After the first elements of the [Utah] expedition had left Fort Leavenworth in July the Adjutant General’s office ordered [General William] Harney to send ‘a discreet staff officer’ to the Territory on a special mission. By July 28, [Stewart] Van Vliet, an assistant quartermaster in the army, had received his instructions. With a small detail he was to hurry past the column already on the road to Utah and to go ‘with utmost dispatch’ to Salt Lake City, where he was to make arrangements with the Mormons for the arrival and provisioning of the army. . . .
[Van Vliet] left Utah a sober man, greatly concerned for the safety of the army. . . .The Mormons, he wrote [to Harney], would resist the entry of the army into Utah to the death, although they would probably confine their campaign as long as possible to the burning of grass and other bloodless harassments. If confronted with superior forces, they would destroy everything, and using three years’ supplies of food already cached would hide in the mountains, where they could annihilate any force sent against them. In light of this ominous situation, ad because of the lateness of the season and the nature of the terrain, Van Vliet urged Harney to consider the possibility of ordering the troops to winter near Fort Bridger.”
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.”
Crossing South Pass
“The amount of earth and sky in view at once was rather appalling. Something familiar about the situation kept ringing a bell in my memory, and suddenly I audibly recalled the ‘tiny moving speck of humanity in the great, rolling waste of sage,’ without which no self-respecting western novel can get past its first page. Thus oriented into the picture, we went on slowly in approved style. . . .
In spite of its easy grades, the Rock Mountain chain at South Pass is quite a hurdle to cross. To the emigrants it was also a symbol, and many an Argonaut forgot his quest for gold and only remembered in these las few miles of the Atlantic watershed that the backbone of the continent would soon divide him from his family, perhaps forever.
As the teams drew near the top it became increasingly cold, and men shivered around the insufficient sagebrush fires at night thinking wishfully of the extra blankets they had thrown away. The encampment of Shoshones which the gold-seekers found near the top of the mountain got many requests for buffalo robes. . . .
Far to our left, on the rim of the pass, the Oregon Buttes raised their rugged crests. The name, when given, was descriptive, for in early trail days all the shaggy wilderness that lay between the mountain top and the mouth of the Columbia was Oregon. Before us, through the flat sage land, the great emigration road unrolled in an enormous ribbon one hundred feet wide. We paralleled its resistless onward sweep. The omnipotent Artist who created this mighty picture used bold stokes. The swelling summits on each side are too huge for detail . . .
So muc earth; so terrifically much sky; and so close together! The first few wagon trains across the God-given pass feel that they are squeezing between the two.”
1861 Mail Appropriation
Despite all the sound and fury, however, the Post Route Bill enjoyed surprisingly good progress and early in February reached the upper house. In it was a provision for daily mail between California and the Missouri River for which the government would pay not over $800,000 per year. Russell’s optimism flew high. His inquisition by the Select Committee was ended, the inquiry having been closed February 8th, and he had already cleared the indictment hurdle. In a letter to Waddell he expressed “great faith in getting the mail contract, all right.”
Hardly had the Senate begun deliberations when sobering advice reached the capital: Confederate forces had cut the Butterfield line near Fort Chadbourne, its stages had been stopped and the movement of mail halted. As it eventually turned out, the accused Texas Rangers actually hadn’t stopped stages but merely had appropriated a large amount of the company’s grain and several horses. The mail delay had taken place coincidentally, when Indians swooped down on the line in the treacherous Apache Pass.
But the first word, coming at the climax of national tension, gave Washington the jitters. The danger was all too apparent. Prominent voices in California had been loudly sympathetic with the southern cause. The Golden State’s strategic location and Midas-like mineral wealth were rich prizes for both secessionists and loyalists-prizes the Union could ill afford to lose on default, for lack of an unbroken line of communication.
Black Emigrants Noted in Diaries
The presence of black emigrants who traveled west before the Civil War was an oddity occasionally noted in emigrants’ diaries. Anna Maria Goodell, for example, commented in 1854, “There is a darkey in the company.” She added that he encountered the same troubles all the other emigrants experienced when, “He got his cattle in a mud hole and had a fine time getting them out.” Another diarist in the train wrote later that, “The darkies had a dance.”
Fear of Jack Slade
“In 1859 Slade was employed by the Overland stage lines to bring peace and quiet to the stagecoach divisions stretching along the south border of present-day Wyoming. This he did in the most effective way, with gun and rope, suppressing Indian predators and highway robbers in a manner which offered the miscreants neither time nor opportunity to reform into good citizens.All agree, outlaws came to fear Jack Slade more than they feared the Almighty. . . .
“Jack Slade was a man of scrupulous honesty, unflinching courage and herculean energy. Although he was a reputed gunman and was reported to have killed twenty-six men, he was never accused of murder or robbery, and was himself a member of the Montana Vigilantes. Whiskey alone was his undoing.”
Pony's Bob's Account of His Ride
“Pony Bob” Haslam’s Account of the May 18 Express and Indian Attacks
The following account was provided by Robert “Pony Bob” Haslam in Seventy Years on the Frontier, the memoirs of Alexander Majors. Haslam carried the May 18 mail from Friday’s Station—on the southwest shore of Lake Tahoe—to Smith’s Creek Station, a distance of approximately 160 miles, then returned with the May 13 westbound mail from St. Joseph. Dates and estimated times—based on arrival/departure times reported in newspapers, speed of 10-12mph on horseback and Haslam’s remarks—are inserted in brackets to provide an approximate chronology of events.
[The trip started at Friday’s Station, Sat. May 19 6pm] From the city [Carson City] the signal fires of the Indians could be seen on every mountain peak, and all available men and horses were pressed into service to repel the impending assault of the savages. When I reached Reed’s Station [aka Miller’s Station, Sat. May 19 10pm], on the Carson River, I found no change of horses, as all those at the station had been seized by the whites to take part in the approaching battle. I fed the animal that I rode, and started for the next station, called Buckland’s, afterward known as Fort Churchill, fifteen miles farther down the river [Sat. May 19 11pm]. This point was to have been the termination of my journey (as I had been changed from my old route to this one, in which I had had many narrow escapes and been twice wounded by Indians), as I had ridden seventy-five miles, but to my great astonishment, the other rider refused to go on. The superintendent, W. C. Marley, was at the station, but all his persuasion could not prevail on the rider, Johnnie Richardson, to take the road. Turning then to me, Marley said, ‘Bob, I will give you $50 if you make this ride.’ I replied: ‘I will go you once.’
Within ten minutes, when I had adjusted my Spencer rifle—a seven-shooter—and my Colt’s revolver, with two cylinders ready for use in case of an emergency, I started. From the station onward was a lonely and dangerous ride of thirty-five miles, without a change, to the Sink of the Carson. I arrived there all right [Sun. May 20 2am], however, and pushed on to Sand’s Spring, through an alkali bottom and sand-hills, thirty miles farther, without a drop of water all along the route [Sun. May 20 4am]. At Sand’s Springs I changed horses, and continued on to Cold Springs, a distance of thirty-seven miles [Sun. May 20 6am]. Another change, and a ride of thirty miles more, brought me to Smith’s Creek [Sun. May 20 8am]. Here I was relieved by J. G. Kelley. I had ridden 185 miles, stopping only to eat and change horses.
After remaining at Smith’s Creek about nine hours [Sun. May 20 5pm], I started to retrace my journey with the return express. When I arrived at Cold Springs [Sun. May 20 7pm], to my horror I found that the station had been attacked by Indians, and the keeper killed and all the horses taken away. What course to pursue I decided in a moment — I would go on. I watered my horse — having ridden him thirty miles on time, he was pretty tired — and started for Sand Springs, thirty-seven miles away. It was growing dark [sunset around 8pm on May 20], and my road lay through heavy sage-brush, high enough in some places to conceal a horse. I kept a bright lookout, and closely watched every motion of my poor horse’s ears, which is a signal for danger in an Indian country. I was prepared for a fight, but the stillness of the night and the howling of the wolves and coyotes made cold chills run through me at times, but I reached Sand Springs in safety and reported what had happened [Sun. May 20 9pm]. Before leaving I advised the station-keeper to come with me to the Sink of the Carson, for I was sure the Indians would be upon him the next day. He took my advice, and so probably saved his life, for the following morning Smith’s Creek was attacked [Mon. morning, May 21]. The whites, however, were well protected in the shelter of a stone house, from which they fought the Indians for four days [Mon.-Thu. May 21-24]. At the end of that time [Thu. May 24] they were relieved by the appearance of about fifty volunteers from Cold Springs. These men reported that they had buried John Williams, the brave station-keeper of that station, but not before he had been nearly devoured by wolves.
When I arrived at the Sink of the Carson [Mon. May 21 12am], I found the station men badly frightened, for they had seen some fifty warriors, decked out in their war-paint and reconnoitering the station. There were fifteen white men here, well armed and ready for a fight. The station was built of adobe, and was large enough for the men and ten or fifteen horses, with a fine spring of water within ten feet of it. I rested here an hour, and after dark started for Buckland’s, where I arrived without a mishap and only three and a half hours behind the schedule time [Mon. May 21 4am]. I found Mr. Marley at Buckland’s, and when I related to him the story of the Cold Springs tragedy and my success, he raised his previous offer of $50 for my ride to $100. I was rather tired, but the excitement of the trip had braced me up to withstand the fatigue of the journey. After the rest of one and one-half hours [Mon. May 21 5:30am], I proceeded over my own route, from Buckland’s to Friday’s Station [passed Carson City at 8:30am per newspaper reports], crossing the western summit of the Sierra Nevada [arriving Friday’s Station Mon. May 21 10:30am]. I had traveled 380 miles [actually 320] within a few hours of schedule time, and surrounded by perils on every hand.
Now the Vigilantes—and Slade was one of them—struck. They struck by night, fastening a piece of paper bearing the cryptic 3-7-77 to the cabin doors of those given last warning to leave Montana, dragging from theor beds those to die.
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 with them.
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.”
“‘Mormon’ had in fact become a word of fear; the Gentiles looked upon the Latter-Day Saints much as our crusading ancestors regarded the ‘Hashshashiyun,’ [Hashshashin, Order of Assassins]whose name, indeed, was almost enough to frighten them. Mr. Brigham Young was the Shaykh-el-Jebel, the Old Man of the Hill redivivus, Messrs. Kimball and Wells were the chief of his Fidawin, and ‘Zion on the tops of the mountains’ formed a fair representation of Alamut [region in Iran]. ‘Going among the Mormons!’ said Mr. M— to me at New Orleans; ‘they are shooting and cutting one another in all directions; how can you expect to escape?'”
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.”
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.
Overland Mail and the Confederacy
“‘Paul Jones,’ a correspondent writing from St. Joseph, October 17, lo the Missouri. Democrat (October 22, 1861), berated [CCO & PP President] Hughes as a rascal secessionist, and charged that the destruction of the Platte river bridge had ‘jarred the festering treason from his soul, or the fear of losing his salary of $5,000 per annum, causes him to be a thorough Union man. . . . While located in this city, that company were very careful that not a dollar of Uncle Sam’s money went into a loyal man’s pocket . . . . Why is Mr. Slade kept in their employ? . . a division agent . . . having charge of the entire route from the crossing of the South Platte to the Pacific Springs. He is a vile-mouthed, rabid secessionist. . . .'”
California Petition for a Wagon Road
The agitation worked itself in the formidable wagon road movement which, in 1856, culminated in a monster petition signed by 75,000 Californians who wanted a wagon road constructed over, and an overland mail placed upon, the South Pass route.
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.”
Adjusting to the West
“It was the end of August, and the skies were cloudless and the weather superb. In two or three weeks I had grown wonderfully fascinated with the curious new country, and concluded to put off my return to ‘the States’ awhile. I had grown well accustomed to wearing a damaged slouch hat, blue woolen shirt, and pants crammed into boot-tops, and gloried in the absence of coat, vest and braces. I felt rowdy-ish and ‘bully,’ (as the historian Josephus phrases it, in his fine chapter upon the destruction of the Temple). It seemed to me that nothing could be so fine and so romantic.”
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.”]
Routes to the Pacific Coast
“From 1849 through 1860 approximately two-thirds of travelers bound for the Pacific Coast chose some other route than that through South Pass. Some 9,000 forty-niners and lesser numbers in subsequent years traveled over the co-called southwestern trails to California, a term incorporating such routes as the Santa Fe, Gila, and Spanish Trails. Farther south were several gold rush routes across Mexico. Approximately 15,000 argonauts toiled across these trails in 1849 and again in 1850; by then the hardships of the route had been sufficiently publicized so that relatively few followed in later years.
Still farther south were the well-traveled isthmian crossings of Nicaragua and Panama. In the mid-1850s, the Nicaraguan route almost superseded the Panamanian route in popularity, but entrepreneurial competitions and William Walker’s ill-advised filibustering expedition closed the route in 1857 after 56,811 westbound travelers had crossed since its 1851 opening. A mere 335 travelers inaugurated the Panama crossing in 1848, but by 1860, 195,639 had traveled to san Francisco via panama, only a few thousand less than had traveled over the California Trail during the same period.
The other major route option—in 1849 the most popular choice next to the South Pass overland trail—was the long sea voyage around Cape Horn. Nearly 16,000 gold seekers reached San Francisco by this route in 1849, almost 12,000 in 1850, and declining numbers in subsequent years.”
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 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.”
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.”
Mail to Denver
With the L & PPE’s regular mail service, Auraria and Denver City residents anxiously waited in line for a letter from the states six to seven days old. Previously, Fort Laramie was the closest United States mail connection to Auraria and Denver City. Jim Saunders created the first express line from Denver City to Fort Laramie in November 1858, retrieving the newly formed communities’ mail, often six weeks old, and sending mail for the townspeople. He charged fifty cents for letters and twenty-five cents for newspapers; this was in addition to the three cents United States postage for a letter. Since the L & PPE was not an official United States mail carrier, it too charged a private carrier fee of twenty-five cents for letters and ten cents for newspapers. Although these were steep prices, the recipients and senders willingly paid the price to communicate with the states. By the spring of 1860, Auraria Town Company merged with Denver City creating one town called Denver.
“Hockaday could hardly have chosen a worse year to launch his enterprise than 1858. The storms that fall ‘in the neighborhood of the South Pass and the Sweetwater are pronounced by old mountaineers the most terrible ever experienced in that vicinity,’ Kirk Anderson reported from Salt Lake. It began storming ‘almost incessantly’ on November 20, and the old veterans swore the blizzard that roared through South Pass during the first three days of December was ‘the severest known in these parts for the last ten years.’”
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.”
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.”
The Hundredth Meridian
“The hundredth meridian of west longitude, a geographer’s symbol of the true beginning of the West (meaning the point beyond which the annual rainfall is less than twenty inches), strikes the Platte near the present town of Cozad, Nebraska, well east of the Forks. The trail up the North Platte moved mainly west or a little north of west to a point opposite the present town of Ogaliala, Nebraska, where it took the due northwest bearing it would maintain for hundreds of miles. And between the sites of the present towns of Broadwater and Bridgeport, Nebraska, it struck the Wildcat Range. Here the scattered buttes and bluffs which had been growing common for a considerable distance became a true badlands. The scenery was spectacular but spectacle was only a momentary solace to the emigrants, who had now reached truly tough going – with cumulative fatigue, anxiety, and mental conflict piling up. In early June the desert still had the miraculous brief carpeting of flowers that delights travelers to this day, but it was late June when the emigrants got there, a wholly different season, and ’46 was now a drouth year. The slow-pitch of the continent which they had been climbing toward the ridgepole so slowly that they seldom felt the grade here lost its monotony. The gentle hills that bordered the valley of the Platte, known as the Coast of the Nebraska, suddenly became eroded monstrosities. Jail Rock, Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Scott’s Bluff, were individual items in creation’s slag heap that had got named, but the whole formation was fantastic. The learned Thornton called it Tadmor of the Desert and sketched a gift-book description of ruined cities, defeated armies, and ancient peoples put to the sword. (But exactly opposite Chimney Rock one of his hubs locked for want of grease and he had to interrupt his poetry.) Even such prosy diarists as Joel Palmer and Overton Johnson were startled into rhetoric, the realistic Bryant saw Scott’s Bluff against the green and purple murk of an oncoming storm and committed phrases like “ruins of some vast city erected by a race of giants, contemporaries of the Megatherii and the Icthyosaurii,” and Fremont composed a resounding tutti passage about “The City of the Desert.”
Cost of Pony Express Mail
The firm’s high rates for carrying a half-ounce letter-initially $5 (perhaps $75 today), later $1, attest to the demand for the service, but its revenues couldn’t begin to cover the $700,ooo start-up costs. Everything depended on the Pony’s success in winning the government’s overland mail contract.
“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]
Mile 890: Billboard on the Emigrant Trail
“[In 1847] at Deer Creek, you saw a billboard! Of course, it was a poor thing compared those magnificent ones now lining our highways over the mountains and across the deserts, giving our city-dwelling drivers a feeling of comfort and security. Still, great oaks can only grow from little acorns, and this beginning at Deer Creek stood thus:
The the ferry 28 ms the ferry
good and safe, maned by experienced
men, black smithing, horse and ox
shoing done al so a wheel right
This was the Mormon ferry, near the site of present Casper, Wyoming, established by order of Brigham Young on June 18, thus to turn an honest penny for the benefit of the Saints.
[N.B. Deer Creek Station later became a home station for the Pony Express. It is located in present-day Glenrock, WO, at about Mile 890 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route]
“[T]ravelers found that, at times, it was necessary to sink headless barrels in the river bed to get water. Captain Howard Stansbury found ‘innumerable’ small wells dug in the sand of the river two to four feet deep that yielded good clean water. Concerning its potability, there were a number of standard quips, including; including, “It was good drinking water if you threw it out and filled the cup with whiskey” and “It was water you had to chew.”
Raveled Ends of the Cord
The old Overland Trail, taken as a whole, is rightly spoken of as the cord that held the East and West together during the troubled years before the Civil War. It is composed of several strands which are united as a complete, intermingled thread only for the passage of the Rocky Mountains [through South Pass], springing widely apart at either end. On the eastern terminus these strands, in turn, ravel out into a confusion of small roads—feeders from the frontier towns.
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 1850: Simpson Park Station
“At Simpson’s Park [on May 20, 1860], James Alcott was killed, the station burned, and the stock driven off during the Pah Ute War. Two Indians were employed here to herd the stock. Another of the employees was Giovanni Brutisch.”
“When [William H.] Streeper reached Simpson’s Park he found the station burned, the stock gone, and the keeper, James Alcott dead. Hurrying on he met the east bound mule mail carrier who upon learning what had happened at Simpson’s Park, refused to go any further. Instead, he turned back with Streeper to Smith’s Creek.”
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.]
“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.”
Post Route as Future Railroad Route
[Benton] had his eye on the Pacific railroad, which he thought he was about to establish on his central route. The overland mail, he said, “will give the Central route a development, a notoriety, and a prominence which will protect its character and bear down all opposition. * * * * The post route and the branches are a skeleton of the future railroad.”
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.”
“Guard duty at night was now [crossing Kansas] a necessity. No one liked it, and very few were efficient, but nevertheless the hours were divided into watches and each able-bodied man took his turn. This was never an idle precaution. Even when the Pawnees were friendliest, they manifested a guileless interest in their white brothers’ horseflesh resulting in an occasional nocturnal raid. At one of these crises the safety of the entire wagon train rested with the guard who was watching the horses, and he—poor man—was only too apt to be a peaceful soul who had never been used to firearms. As uneasy night followed weary day, each unwilling watcher with the grazing horses found himself the only waking soul within speaking distance. Except during the gold-rush years he was practically alone in the limitless prairie night. ‘A few glimmering fires around the camps of distant emigrants, and the almost incessant howl of wolves, were the only things which showed aught living upon the ocean of grass.'”
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.]
The Buffalo Horse
The Indians had horses for all purposes. The buffalo horse was merely a trained cow pony; he bore a special mark or nick in his ear to distinguish him. He had to be alert, intelligent, willing to follow the game and press close to the side of the running animal, yet able to detect its intention and swerve from it so as not to become entangled, and all with no more guidance than the Indian exerted by pressure of his knees. The war horse and the buffalo horse were renowned for their speed, intelligence, and endurance. They were prize possessions and were valued above all else.
Mile 0: St. Joseph Founding
“In the beginning St. Joseph was the pet project of Joseph Robidoux, one of the six Robidoux brothers of pioneer and fur-trading fame. He commissioned two men to submit plans for the city. One of them presented a drawing which he had titled St. Joseph after the patron saint of his employer. Both plan and name appealed to Robidoux—and St. Joseph it became. It was only natural that it should be a favorite take-off for the overland trail, for it lay a full two-day steamer journey from Independence, up the Missouri toward the mouth of the Platte, every mile of which was an advantage. In addition it was considered to be seventy miles farther west—or about four day’s steady travel by ox team.”
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.”
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.”
Claiming Oregon for America
So [Robert Gray in 1792] gave the United States a claim recognized by the polity of nations. Discovery and entrance of a river mouth gave the discovering nation sovereignty over the valley and watershed of the river and over the adjacent coast. The two empires that were pushing westward in the interior toward this same perimeter had met on the Pacific shore. Inland Great Britain was far in the lead – but the Americans had reached Oregon [Columbia River] first. . . .
In September, after sailing round his island, Vancouver was back at Nootka, where Gray had meanwhile put in after a profitable trip up the coast. The Spanish commandant, Bodega y Cuadra, told Vancouver that Gray had found a river at Deception Bay after all and gave him a copy of Gray’s chart. He sailed south to investigate, though sure that the Yankee could have found only a small river at best. The Columbia confirmed him a little in that the water at the bar which caused the breakers was not as deep as it had been in the spring flood. He sent Lieutenant Broughton in the brig Chatham over the bar on October 19 1792 but found no channel he thought it safe to take the Discovery into and two days later sailed for California. Broughton found that it could not be called a small river and decided that Gray had not entered it. Gray’s chart showed that he had gone thirty-six miles upstream. By triangulation, computation, and divination Broughton scaled this down to fifteen miles and decided that up to here the river had not narrowed enough to be called anything but a sound. A fresh-water sound that opened on the ocean would be unusually interesting geography but it would do to peg down an imperial claim. Broughton anchored in what he took to be one of Gray’s anchorages and went on by small boat to a total of a hundred miles above the bar, almost to the mountains an~ with the river shoaling to three fathoms. That ought to do it and the names he gave to peaks and other landmarks ought t stick. He claimed for Great Britain the river Gray had named all its watershed, and the adjacent coast. Vancouver accepted his findings, “having every reason to believe that the subjects of no other civilized nation or state had ever entered this river before.” So did British diplomacy down to 1846. Two expanding empires had now made claim to the Columbia River and the unknown area it drained. For both of them the immediate value was the trade in sea otter furs, the maritime Northwest trade.
[Lewis and Clark] left various rosters and announcements in the hands of various Indians to be shown to traders when they should appear. They carved and branded trees and affixed notices to …J them, recounting their achievement. (No one said so but in ;- the polity of nations this was ritual to buttress the claim which the United States had to the Columbia drainage through Robert Gray’s discovery. The ritual announced that they had traversed the country and had occupied it.) Then in some of the dugouts they had made at the Clearwater and two of the much better seafaring canoes of the Columbia River tribes, they abandoned Fort Clatsop on March 23 1806.
“The Wind had very much Freshened, and as we got down into the valley, which was here two or three miles wide on each wide of the stream, Captain O’Brien started to light a cigar. This was a great feat for anyone to do, in such a wind, on horseback. But the Captain from his former service in the army claimed that he could light a cigar in a tornado. The Captain did light a cigar and threw the match away, which he thought had gone out. In a flash a blaze started up in a northerly course toward the river. The grass was fine and silky; the ‘prairie-grass ‘ had not got in that country at that time, and there was only short, matted buffalo-grass.”
Missourians and Mormons on the Trail
Their second day out, June 5, they crawled up over the bluffs west of modern Guernsey, Wyoming, where today’s tourist may see the trail rutted nearly four feet deep in the soft rock, and as they were nooning at the warm spring which Fremont had noted, they were passed by an Oregon company that had left Independence on April 12 and was pushing to stay ahead of everything on the road. Next morning another Oregon train passed them, and there were murmurs and dark looks for in this company were some recognized Missourians. But segregation was impossible, for water and camping sites were scarce, and at Cottonwood Creek (the Hermann Ranch) the Saints found themselves corralling only a little beyond this second Oregon company. For all their mutual suspicion, there was some hobnobbing. Some of the Missourians had heard about the roadometer, and came over to inspect it. Burr Frost, one of the Mormon blacksmiths, got some credit in heaven by setting up his forge and repairing a carriage spring for one of them.
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.”
St. Joseph and Aunt Jemimah
The World’s Columbian Exposition introduced the midway and the Ferris wheel to the American lexicon, and it featured, too, everything from Scott Joplin’s ragtime to the compositions of Antonin Dvorak and the marches of John Philip Sousa. The dancer Little Egypt was on hand. Aunt Jemima, the pancake mix, made its debut there (like the Pony Express, born in St. Joseph). The largest demonstration of electricity in the nineteenth century took place.
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.]
Russell, Majors, and Waddell's Support of Slavery
From the very beginning of the vicious, bloody struggle to determine the status of Kansas as a free or slave state, Russell, Majors & Waddell, being slave owners in Missouri, threw their weight as the most influential capitalists in the territory on the side of slavery. Majors and Waddell do not seem to have actively participated in the battle, but Russell did. When David R. Atchison of Platte City, Mo., former United States senator, standard bearer, and chief rabble rouser of the Proslavery element on both sides of the border, formed an association to make Kansas a slave state Russell became treasurer of it.”
He also became a member of the “Law and Order Party” when it was organized in 1856. He and five other members of the organization were appointed to prepare a fervent appeal to the South for Proslavery immigrants and money. On July 2 of that year it was announced the “Majors, Russell & Company will receive money for proslavery immigrants to Kansas.” In Columbia, Mo., on July 28, in a meeting called to raise money to promote the interests of slavery in Kansas, Russell made a speech. A correspondent for the New York Tribune wrote that the Russell, Majors & Waddell warehouse in Leavenworth was used as a depot for selling rifles, stores, and agricultural implements which had been seized from Free-State immigrants.
The fact that Russell was appointed postmaster at Lexington in 1841 would appear to indicate he was a Whig in politics. Waddell probably was also. When that party lost power and disintegrated, Russell, like many other men in western Missouri and the nation, formed ties with the Democrats. The town of Leavenworth, laid out by a town company organized in Democratic, violently pro- Southern Platte county, was headquarters for the proslavery faction which was dedicated to making Kansas a slave state. When Russell, Majors & Waddell established its business there in 1855 Russell not only identified himself with that faction, but as previously shown, became something of a leader in it. When he went to Washington about that time to attend to the business of the freight-ing firm he cultivated the Southern Democratic members of the administration from the president on down.
Unlike horses and mules, oxen are not directly controlled with bridle, bit, and reins handled by a driver seated in the wagon behind them. Instead, the drover walks to the left of his teams while giving direction with voice, body language, and the whip. “The drover does not follow the oxen, as some writers seem to think,” Ford points out. “The oxen go where they think the drover wants them to go. They know they are expected to give him the room he needs to maneuver by watching the direction of his travel, his whip signals, or his silent body language, such as turning or changing pace. A properly trained nigh ox knows he must keep pace with and stay at arm’s length from the drover on his left side.” And those are just the requirements for the “undergraduate” ox degree.
Sioux Move to the Laramie Plain
This was momentous: the Sioux were moving into Laramie Plain. It is said, on evidence not quite conclusive, that they were moved to do so by an invitation of Sublette & Campbell’s to migrate here, the preceding summer. The idea was to entice as many Company customers as possible from the established, very profitable Sioux post on the Missouri, Fort Pierre, and attach them to the Opposition’s Fort Laramie. But Fort Laramie had passed to the Company a month or so before Parker and Whitman got there, so if the Opposition really were responsible for the Oglala migration they had merely redistributed some of the trust’s trade. But there were Sioux on the Platte now and they would never abandon it. And this destroyed the structure of international relationships, producing a turbulence which was to last till the tribes were no longer capable of making war. Their inveterate enemies, the Pawnees, were now straight east of them, their inveterate enemies, the Crows, straight north. The reaches where Fontenelle met them were traditionally Cheyenne and Arapaho country. But the country just to the west – Laramie Plain, with its vast buffalo herds and its crossroads, the Laramie Mountains, the Medicine Bow mountains – had always been a kind oJ Kentucky or Rhineland. No tribe quite claimed it, no tribe dominated it, many tribes came there to hunt. Snakes and Bannocks from the west, Utes from the southwest, Cheyennes and Arapahos, Crows, Pawnees hunted buffalo here, raided one an• other, and made prairie truces so that they could trade. Now the Sioux, a populous, arrogant, and bellicose people, were going to try to establish a protectorate over it. In the service of orderly government and a peaceful condominium they warred here with nearly everyone for a generation. The Reverend Mr. Parker found
Freighting delays in 1860
The contract for freighting supplies on the New Mexico Route in 1860-61 provided for loading and starting at the usual time, in May or June. Russell, Majors & Waddell, as usual, bought wagons, oxen, and equipment with drafts due in 60, 90 or 120 days, expecting to pay them out of earnings. Week after week passed without being notified of goods ready to go. For some reason the quartermaster’s department was exceedingly slow in making consignments to the military posts of the southwest.
Meanwhile idle bullwhackers, stock tenders and other employees had to be paid. Drafts which should have been taken up went to protest. The bulk of supplies were ordered out in August and September, almost six months after some of the obligations were incurred.
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:
Mile 1332: Salt Lake House
“This station, similar in construction to Brigham Young’s Beehive House, stood where the Salt Lake Tribune Building now stands, at 143 South Main. Because of recent street beautification, the monument has been moved to the south. According to Sir Richard Burton, the station was one of the better facilities along the Overland Trail for food and lodging. Horace Greeley and Mark Twain were among the guests.”
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.”
Mormons and the Federal Judges
“Although after 1854 the Mormons reckoned on the hostility of two if their federal judges [W. W. Drummond and George P. Stiles], they accepted the third, John F. Kinney, as decidedly favorable to them. . . . Both the Mormons and their critics, however, erred greatly in their evaluation of Kinney: his outward behavior in utah, as well as his offer in 1858 to ‘render essential service’ to the Church during its crisis with the nation, were acts of duplicity. Like Hurt and Burr, e sent angry dispatches to the Government. He condemned Utah’s probate courts as devices to deny justice to the Gentile, and he spoke of his fear of ‘personal violence at the hands of some of these assassins.’ . . .
The Mormons had no cause to misunderstand the nature of Judge W. W. Drummond, who became to them as much an object of execration as Col Robert Ingersoll to the Fundamentalists. In the first thirty lines of an editorial in the Millennial Star, the Church’s publication in England, Drummond was branded an ‘infamous scoundrel and dastardly wretch,’ ‘a ‘beastly criminal,’ ‘horrible monster,’ ‘black-hearted judge,’ ‘poor wretch,’ ‘lying, adulterous, murderous fiend,’ ‘loathsome specimen of humanity,’ ‘and a number of additional names falling into various categories of iniquity. . . .
[T]he judge was as unsavory as any man appointed to office in Utah by a thoughtless Administration. . . . On going to Utah he deserted his wife and children and took with him a prostitute from Washington, whom he occasionally seated beside him during court sessions. It seemed equally certain that he bragged of his great desire for money and highly probable that he used his position to make it by unscrupulous methods. . . .
The third member of the supreme court . . . was George P. Stiles. In earlier days he had been prominent in the Church . . . More recently, however, he had turned away from the faith and had been excommunicated. Like the appointment of a profligate [i.e. Drummond] to high office in Utah, the selection of an apostate as United states judge could only increase political strife in Utah. . . .
Several [Mormon] lawyers, with the usually even-tempered James Ferguson as their leader, entered Stiles’ court and threatened him with physical harm if he should continue his offensive behavior. . . On the night of December 29, 1856, a mob broke into stiles’ office . . . The raider removed everything. When stiles, Hurt and others arrived on the scene they found what seemed to be the entire contents of the office burning in the backyard privy. . . . He promptly left for Washington, where with Drummond he offered these occurrences as proof that the people of Utah were in open rebellion against the United States. . . .
Now the people of Utah had engaged in an activity close to rebellon. In doing so they had given their enemies in the East, and the Administration as well, a suitable pretext for armed intervention in Utah.”
Noisome Lunch Spot
“Going five miles more [along the Lassen Trail in 1849] the company nooned at a place where others had done the same. One may wonder why, in a country thus lacking in water and shade, people should customarily pass the noon hour at the same spot. Possibly it is merely another illustration of the gregariousness of man. This particular place was noisome. Around and about it lay the carcasses of sixty-six oxen and a mule. The oxen, Bruff noted, often lay in groups close to an abandoned wagon, as if still in hope that men would care for them.”
Semi-Arid and Sub-Humid Climate
“There has been a tendency on the part of writers to mix a good deal of sentiment with their history of the West. Because of the peculiar difficulties to be overcome there, the West has been a land of adventure, of hardship, ar.d of novel experience. There is a glamour about it that is hard to dispel, that eludes analysis and simple statement. It does not make a writer popular to speak of the shortcomings and deficiencies of a country, and to do so is to bring down upon one a local storm of adverse criticism. Even the scientist has to apologize for designating certain regions as arid or semi-arid, and some of them have used the term u sub-humid” in order to shield themselves from the local critics.
Major J. W. Powell says he adopted the term “sub-humid” to keep from offending those who object to the terms “semi-arid” and “arid.”
Pony Express and the St. Joe Road
“The main emigrant road meandered west about 150 miles, back and forth across present U.S. 36 from St. Joseph to Marysville, Kansas (which route is not to be confused with the later Pony Express route, joining the Fort Leavenworth Road, further south).”
Type of Mail Carried
“It is assumed by many that the mail carried by the Pony Express was comprised of letters from ordinary people to their friends and loved ones. That is not accurate. That’s not to say that it never happened, it is just that it was generally too expensive for most people. When it began, rates were $10.00 per ounce or $5.00 for a half ounce or less. For that reason, even business communications were generally short. Later, rates were lowered to $2.00 per ounce and $1.00 for a half ounce or less, but they were still expensive for ordinary people . . . The charge for letters sent by sea or by stage cost much less, only ten cents per half ounce, the cost of the stamp.”
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!
Provisional State of Deseret
“When the Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Basin, their plans for their New Zion envisaged the creation of a vast empire in the West, with a number of far-flung settlements radiating from the central hub of Salt Lake City. Thus their ProvisionalState of Deseret encompassed in its boundaries all of present-day Utah and most of New Mexico, Nevada, and California, with some of Wyoming and the Pacific Northwest included. Although Congress severely reduced this domain when it delineated the Territory of Utah, the Church established colonies at San Bernardino, Carson Valley, and Limhi, on the Salmon River. These missions were placed at strategic locations on the western and northern approaches to the Valley, but the eastern route of travel, through what is now southern Wyoming, still lay open.”
Miles Wide and Inches Deep
“The Platte resembled no river any of the emigrants had ever seen before, contradicting their idea of a ‘normal’ stream. It was miles wide and inches deep; thanks to Indian-set prairie fires and grazing buffalo, no timber grew on its banks; and it seemed to flow almost higher than the surrounding country . . . ‘The river is a perfect curiosity, it is so different from any of our streams that it is hard to realize that a river should be running so near the top of the ground without any timber, and no bank at all.”
Mile 1834: Route Alternatives
At Mile 1834, you have the option of:
- Staying on the Pony Express Trail to Dry Creek Station, through Simpson Park Mountains, to Simpson Park Station. This route takes Streep’s Cutoff, also called Streeper’s Cutoff, after the rider William Streeper, or Fool’s Cutoff, due to its unsuitability for wagons. It goes west over a pass just south of Eagle Butte.
- Turning south to US 50 and following Simpson’s route around Cape Horn Station (of the Overland Stagecoach).
‘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.”
Women Did Not Initiate Emigration
“The historian John Faragher, based on comparative research of men’s and women’s accounts of the westward journey, has concluded that “not one wife initiated the idea [of emigrating to Oregon or California]; 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” (Faragher:1979, p. 163).
First Mormon Mail Contract
The first government mail service between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City was supplied by Samuel Woodson, who 1850 took the contract for four years. But well before that there had been a private Mormon service whose carriers were Porter Rockwell, Almon Babbitt, and others, and when Woodson after a little more than a year had to have help, Feramorz Little took over the route from Salt Lake City to Fort Laramie for the last two years and eleven months of Woodson’s contract. From August 1, 1851 to April, 1853, Little and his helpers Eph Hanks and C. F. Decker rode that lonely and dangerous five hundred miles of mountains with no station and no change of animals except at Fort Bridger and, toward the end of their contract, at Devil’s Gate.
The plan was to meet the carrier from Independence at Fort Laramie, as near as possible to the fifteenth of each month, to exchange mail sacks, and to ride back at once. It was a route, like any mail route, but it meant a thousand-mile round-trip every thirty days. Often they picked up travelers who for safety’s sake wanted to ride with them, sometimes they were held up as much as three weeks by snow, once or twice they barely got through alive, several times they had encounters with the Crows, who were accustomed to “pick” small parties anywhere between Fort Laramie and Devil’s Gate.
Delivering the Utah Mail in 1849
“Mr. Babbitt [who held the mail contract between Missouri and Utah] certainly deserves our thanks and praise for his perseverance in swimming rivers and towing over his wagon on rafts made with a hatchet and tied together with larriatts [sic]. It cannot be a very pleasant job to freight a rude sort of raft with a wagon and push off into a rapid current and poll [sic] out about one quarter of the distance across then take one end of a rope in your teeth while the other end is attached to the raft and plunge into the stream like a spaniel and swim over with craft and cargo in tow being swept down stream over snags and sawyers for a quarter or half mile as Mr. Babbitt informs us has been his lot in two or three instances.”
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.].”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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]
Climate of the Great Plains
“The distinguishing climatic characteristic of the Great Plains environment from the ninety-eighth meridian to the Pacific slope is a deficiency in the most essential climatic element – water. Within this area there are humid spots due to local causes of elevation, but there is a deficiency in the average amount of rainfall for the entire region. This deficiency accounts for many of the peculiar ways of life in the rr West. It conditions plant life, animal life, and human life and institutions. In this deficiency is found the key to what may be called the Plains civilization. It is the feature that makes the whole aspect of life west of the ninety-eighth meridian such a contrast to life east of that line.”
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.”
Call for Troops via Pony Express
The first call for troops, made by the War Department, was sent out by the Pony Express on July 24, 1861, and was for one regiment of infantry and five companies of cavalry to guard the overland mail route from Carson Citv to Salt Cake and Fort Laramie.
“Our cattle were soon driven into corral for us to yoke.
Our train crew of a wagon boss, by the name of Chatham Rennick-a big, six foot two inch man, an assistant wagon boss, twenty-six teamsters, and two extra hands, malring thirty men in all. But we had ten extra men to help us get the train started.
We went into the corral with three lasso ropes to catch our cattle and fasten them to a wagon wheel to put their yokes on, as they were so wild it was the only way we could get them yoked. We would then chain this one to a wheel till we got another and so on till each team was yoked. Then to get them hitched to a wagon tongue was another big job, but at two o’clock in the afternoon we succeeded in getting them all hitched on and started to break corral, and a lively time we had. Now the fun began, not for the teamsters, but for the lookers on. It was life work for us to keep our wagons right side up. Twentysix teams of nearly all wild cattle going in every direction -three hundred and twelve head of crazy steers pitching and bellowing and trying to get loose or get away fr:om the wagon, and teamsters working for dear life to herd them and keep from upsetting or breaking their wagons; and every. now and then a wagon upsetting, tongues breaking, and teams getting loose on the prairie.
It kept every extra man on the jump to keep the cattle moving in the right direction.
Fourteen men on horseback and twenty-six teamsters had a lively experience that afternoon and evening, and finally, at nine o’clock that night had succeeded in getting nine wagons two miles from starting point and getting the cattle loose from the wagons in a demoralized condition. Some of the teams had one or two steers loose from the yoke, and the others were dragging the yokes. Everything was in confusion.”
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.”
“The second [Pony Express] departure for California would be Friday, April 13, and regularly thereafter on Friday, to avoid a delay over the Sabbath of letters from New York and the East. . . .
“Letters would be received up to 3 o’clock Monday afternoon of each week, at the company office, Room No. 8, Continental Bank Bldg., and telegrams up to 7 o’clock Thursday evening at the office of the American Telegraph Co., 2 ó Wall St.”
Cooke's March to Fort Bridger
“Although the expedition’s desperate march to [Fort Bridger on] Black’s Fork had brought it to a satisfactory haven for the winter, Johnson’s command was still not safely united. One detachment of calvary under Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke remained on the snowy road east of the new camp.
After their tour if duty in Kansas, during which time Governor Walker had called upon them only once, the Second Dragoons had hastily assembled at Leavenworth in mid-September preparatory to joining the rest of the Utah army. This force was needed not only to protect the expedition from the raids of the Mormons but also to provide an escort for the corpulent person of the Territory’s new governor, Alfred Cumming, and his charming, if loquacious, wife. . . .
From the first, Cooke’s party had experienced difficulty on its trek to Mormon country. At the end of the first four days it had traveled only twenty-two miles, the condition of the animals and the poorness of the road impeding its progress. y the time the Dragoons reached Fort Kearney, seventy-seven soldiers had deserted. West of Kearney the command met its first rain, then eleven days of snow and sleet, which decimated its horses, already weakened by the absence of sufficient forage. . . . Cooke’s orders would have permitted him to winter at Fort Laramie, but the conscientious officer had learned of the army’s need for calvary and pressed on.
This final march was an ordeal for everyone. Early in November a savage snowstorm scattered the troops and their stock near Devil’s Gate. On November 8, when the thermometer reached 44 degrees below zero, Cooke abandoned five of his wagons, hoping that thus unimpeded he could make more rapid progress, and struggled on through two feet of snow. On November 15 the severe cold inflicted serious damage when thirty-six soldiers and teamsters were frostbitten. Maddened by cold and lack of food, the mules destroyed the wagon-tongues to which they were tied, ate away their ropes, and attacked the camp’s tents, dying in great numbers. . . .
[O]f the 144 horses in his original command, 130 lay dead on the thousand miles of Plains behind him.”
“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.”
Chorpenning Moves Back to the Central Route
“In June of  Captain Simpson, of the United States Topographical Engineers, surveyed a new route from Camp Floyd to Genoa, which it was claimed would shorten the distance about 300 miles. The distance from Camp Floyd, by the old Humboldt route to Genoa, was reported to be 854 miles, by the Chorpening route through Ruby Valley about 709 miles, and by the Simpson survey 565 miles.
In September the company cut hay and made the necessary preparations to move down on to the Central or Simpson route, which they did the winter following.”
Speed, Endurance, Commitment
“Though the range of these [Pony Express] stories is narrow, and the variants few, they are expressive of the public’s perception of the Pony Express. Speed, endurance, commitment. Tales of the Pony Express are dramatizations of what newspapers were writing explicitly in 1860.”
Mile 554: Lodgepole Creek Road
“The Lodgepole Creek Road was unknown until 1857 and was used very little until ’61, when the government routed the new mail stages that way. Within a year or two the Indians grew so belligerent that the mail was rerouted to avoid the Sioux country along the North Platte . . . and the Pole Creek Road stepped out of the staging limelight as abruptly as it had stepped in. In its few years of intense activity, running the gamut of Civil War drama, romance of the mail coach, swarming tumult of the emigrant trail, and the horror of Indian warfare, have won for it a permanent place in history.”
[N.B. The Lodgepole Trail runs (roughly from Ovid (at Mile 554) to Bridgeport (Mile 642) where it rejoins the Ash Hollow Road up from the South California Crossing. (Paten, pg. 145]
“[F]or the most part along the Platte a camp fire developed from the ubiquitous dried droppings of the buffalo, sometimes called dung or manure, but more commonly called ‘buffalo chips.’
The reaction of easterners, particularly the ladies, was predictable. At first they found the chips nauseous, but they rapidly learned to accept, the welcome, this aromatic fuel of the Plains. The stuff would not burn when wet, of course, but when perfectly dry, W. McBride found it resembled rotten wood, making a clear, hot fire. Since it burned rapidly, it took two or three bushels of chips to heat a meal, and Cramer found that the chief objection to its use, therefore, was ‘the vast amount of ashes which it deposits.’ Often an unusual concentration of chips would dictate the selection of a camp; more often, a camper had to cover a lot of teritory, as Lavinia Porter says, to get a supply.”
Russell's Reason for Starting the Pony Express
The motive which prompted Russell to organize and operate the Pony Express has often been misstated. Briefly, it was an advertising proposition to fix public and Congressional attention upon the Central Route, with the result that the lucrative contract for carrying the mail overland to California would be given to the C.O.C. & P.P. H This cold, business-like purpose detracts in no manner whatever from the romance of the undertaking. He hoped the Pony Express would make money, but he was not fully convinced it would. In fact, his contract with the St. Joseph citizens permitted him to discontinue it after six months if it did not pay. Neither Majors nor Waddell thought it would, but they went along with him anyway.
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.”
“While I was in this open-minded condition, we saw a man in a shady farmyard with his feet in a pan of water.
‘There’s the most sensible person I’ve seen all day, exclaimed my husband as he punctiliously parked the car with its nose to the hitching rack. ‘Let’s go talk to him.’
We didn’t discommode him in the least. In fact, we didn’t even cause a splash in the pan when we leaned over his fence in an earnest, questioning row and listened to his laconic statements.”
Mile 432: Cottonwood Springs
“Cottonwood Springs was merely a seep in a gully which had been an old bed of the river, and which had curved up towards Cottonwood Canyon. The water-bed of the river being largely composed of gravel, the water came down in the underflow, and seeped out at a place down in the bank where there had grown a large cottonwood tree. This spring had been dug out, and was the only spring as far as then known along the Platte for two hundred miles. It was at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon that we were to build our military post. The place was a great crossing for the Indians going north and south. The valley here was several miles wide. There was a large island in the river of several thousand acres, upon which grew the finest grass to be found in the country, and there were some scrubby willows and cottonwoods; so that the Indians coming from the north found it a good stopping-place to feed their ponies either in summer or winter, because in the winter the ponies could eat the cottonwood brush. In addition to this, Cottonwood Canyon gave a fine passage to the south. A road went up on the floor of the canyon, between the trees, until it rose onto the tableland twenty miles south. The canyon furnished fuel and protection. It was for the purpose of breaking up this Indian run-way that we were ordered to build a post at the mouth of the canyon. We arrived there at eleven o’clock in the morning of October 11, 1863.”
[N.B. The historical (i.e., now non-existant) site of Cotton Springs is at https://goo.gl/maps/861MJvmkDvYy5pvX9. The nearby Pony Express marker, at Mile 429, looks as if the identifying plaque has been removed. the Cottonwood Springs Station historical marker is near Mile 437.]
“Early in March, 1861, congress passed a law (essentially Hale’s bill) providing for a daily mail by the Central route to California and a semiweekly Pony Express, at a total annual compensation of $1,000,000. The Butterfield mail line was to be moved north to the Central route, to function thereafter as the Overland Mail Company, with a government contract. This firm entered into a subcontract with the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company to run a daily mail and Pony Express from the Missouri river to Salt Lake City, while the Butterfield firm, now better known as Wells, Fargo & Company was to continue the service from Salt Lake to Sacramento.”
San Buenaventura River
Escalante could have reached [Great Salt Lake] in less than two days’ travel and that he did not make the journey is inexplicable. It is all the more so because, as Miera’s report makes certain, the Indians said, or were understood to say, that a very large and navigable river flowed west from it, and surely their first duty was to explore any such river as a possible route to Monterey. Miera thought it must be the Tizon, which he believed Ofiate had discovered and named; but Tizon was Melchior Diaz’s name for the Colorado. When he drew his map he showed it flowing west from the larger lake—and so created a cartographer’s myth, for later maps would show just such a river flowing out of Great Salt Lake to the Pacific and would give it the name that Escalante had given Green River, the San Buenaventura.