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.
Mile 437: Cottonwood Station
“Eighty miles west of Fort Kearney the emigrants found a spring surrounded by cottonwoods. Near it the ravines were filled with scrub cedar. It was always a favorite camp and later became an important stage stop with the unimaginative name Cottonwood Spring. The cedar wood was freighted by ox train for a hundred miles in each direction to supply the stations, and the cottonwood logs were cut and hauled for building purposes. When the Indians became troublesome Fort McPherson was established close by; and we saw its flag, high and tiny but unmistakable, long before we arrived in sight of the buildings. The stage station disappeared long ago, but the fort remains, surrounded by the beautifully kept grounds of a national cemetery.”
[N.B. The Fort McPherson marker is just before Mile 435 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.]
First Overland Mail to California
“In 1850 the government contracted with Samuel Woodson, a lawyer in Independence, Missouri, to serve the route between his frontier outpost and Salt Lake City once a month for $19,500 per year. The following year Absalom Woodward and George Chorpenning contracted with the post office to provide mail service along the remaining segment, between Salt Lake City and California, monthly for a mere $14,000 per annum. The contracts specified thirty-day service each way on each segment, so theoretically a letter could be delivered from Independence to San Francisco in sixty days. But harsh weather conditions and periodic Indian raids meant that the 750-mile trip on the Western segment took not the contracted thirty days but fifty-four; and on one trip Woodward himself was killed by Shoshone Indians. Some carriers along this primitive route were known to turn back and send the mail by sea, having concluded that mail from California could reach Salt Lake faster by steamship through New Orleans and up the Mississippi River and then by Woodson’s Missouri to Salt Lake mule service.”
Climate West of South Pass
“The climate in this part, as indeed every where between the South Pass and the Great Salt Lake Valley, was an exaggeration of the Italian, with hot days, cool nights, and an incomparable purity and tenuity [thinness] of atmosphere.”
“On the other side of the camp—a curious contrast—guns and ammunition were being distributed, as there were reports of the Pawnees being collected some twelve miles in advance. The Pawnees have the name of being about the meanest and most rascally set of Indians in the whole country; more ready to bully than to fight, and most to pick off stragglers; as a tribe, they are at peace with the United States.”
“Hard work had begun to tell upon the temper of the party. The judge, who ever preferred monologue to dialogue, aweary of the rolling prairies and barren plains, the bald and rocky ridges, the muddy flats, saleratus ponds, and sandy wastes, sighed monotonously for the woodland shades and the rustling of living leaves near his Pennsylyanian home. The marshal, with true Afiglo-American impetuosity, could not endure Paddy Kennedy’s ‘slow and shyure’ style of travel; and after a colloquy, in which the holiest of words were freely used as adjectives, participles, and exclamations, offered to fight him by way of quickening his pace.”
Mile 1677: Egan Canyon
“Special recognition is given to this canyon simply because it is given so much notice by the literature. Egan Canyon was named for Howard Egan who pioneered Chorpenning’s mail service through there in the l850’s.
When Simpson passed through the canyon on May 15, 1859 he was impressed by its ruggedness.
Egan Canyon we found quite narrow, and somewhat remarkable on account of the rocks which wall it in on either side. These rocks are tremendously massive, and rise sheer to a height in one place of about 1,000 feet.
Egan Canyon was the site of many ambushes by the Indians since it was an ideal location. . . .
“Today a good county road criss crosses the creek as it runs up the canyon. Despite the absence of threatening Indians, if you travel the canyon at dusk, the rock cliffs and high walls arouse the same awesome, closed-in feeling today as they did when Simpson, Burton and all the Pony` Express riders passed through them.”
“The Pilgrim Whisky of That Day was a bad compound. Owing to the distance which it had to be carried, alcohol was substituted for whisky, and when a person out in that country got a barrel of alcohol, he would take a quart of it and mix it with a quart of water, and stir in molasses and a touch of red pepper, and it made a compound that would bring out all the bad qualities of the consumer. This was the kind of whisky that the Indians would get from traders.”
“Among the several branches of the Pawnee was one called the ‘Republican,’ because when they were visited near their village near present Red Cloud by early Spaniards, followed by Zebulon Pike in 1806, it seemed to these explorers that the Pawnee had a re[publican form of government. The river on which the pawnee village of Pike’s visit was located thus came to be called the Republican. This joins the Smoky Hill near present Junction City, Kansas, to form the Kaw (Kansas) River, and the Big Blue flows into the Kaw a few miles below at Manhattan.”A
“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.”
“Crude rafts and hollowed-out cottonwoods were not suitable for commercial loads. The fur traders first attempted a modification of the circular Indian bullboat. This was an ingenious contrivance, resembling an enormous oval basket yp to twenty-five feet in length. The framework was composed of long and pliable poles from green aspen or willow. This was covered with dressed buffalo hides sewn together and then soaked. The shrinkage produced a tight covering, the seams of which were made water-tight by a mixture of buffalo fat and ashes. This resulted in a craft of extreme buoyancy which could transport up to three tons without displacing more than ten inches of water. The bullboat could be quickly and easily manufactured, but it would as easily be wrecked by snags and hidden bars in shallow water, and in deeper water would readily capsize.”
Logistics of Establishing a Pony Express
“But the logistics of a mail relay stretching 1,966 miles from the Missouri River to Sacramento was so daunting that only an incurable dreamer like Russell would have considered implementing it. . . . The stage line currently maintained stations at 20- to 30-mile intervals where animals could be changed or rested; ponies racing at breakneck speed would need changing every ten miles or less. And west of Salt Lake City, Russell’s stage line had no operations at all.
All told, dozens of new stations would be required between the Missouri River and Sacramento. In the absence of forests, lumber to build the stations and corrals would have to be hauled great distances. Hundreds of high-quality ponies, capable of outrunning the Indians’ swift ponies, would need to be purchased, probably at three or four times the cost of ordinary range-bred horses. And a new breed of employee—young, skinny riders—would need to be hired and trained.
The enterprise would likely cost Russell, Majors & Waddell more than half a million dollars—for a mail service that was likely to be superseded by the telegraph and the railroads within a few years.”
Mile 177: Rock Creek
“A weary drive over a rough and dusty road, through chill night air and clouds of musquetoes, which we were warned would accompany us to the Pacific slope of the Rocky Mountains, placed us about 10 P.M. at Rock, also called Turkey Creek surely a misnomer ; no turkey ever haunted so villainous a spot ! Several passengers began to suffer from fever and nausea; in such travel the second night is usually the crisis, after which a man can endure for an indefinite time.”
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 2207: Western Terminus
“Great Place to visit the Pony Express Trail and discover its history- Old Town Sacramento! The Pony Express Terminal, also known as the B. F. Hastings Bank Building, was one of the end points of the Pony Express. This building was completed in 1853 and today is part of Old Sacramento State Historic Park.”
[N.B. There is a Pony Express memorial across the street from the bank. This is the western terminus of the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail.]
Mile 1735 – 1830: Desert Stations
Posted on the Pony Express National Trail Facebook page:
“You may not be able to get out on the Pony Express, so we will bring it to you! Read along to take a virtual visit to five historic station sites across 53 miles.
learn/historyculture/ upload/ Rugged-Men-Rigorous-Rides-5 08.pdf
(Photo/NPS/Exhibit from Garden Pass/Click the link for an accessible pdf version of the full exhibit).”
Comments give more information about access to the mining area where Sulphur Springs Station is located. Note that this station is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route if you take the detour at Mile 1735 to restock at Eureka.
“He could only remember my army name, which was ‘Link,’ abbreviated from Lincoln, which I was formerly called, not by way of compliment, but because I was tall and lean. The customary nickname for one who was tall and lean in those days was ‘Shanghai,’ which was abbreviated to ‘Shang,’ but as we had one Shang in the company I was called Lincoln, abbreviated to ‘Link.’ So that when Marsh and I met, and hugged each other there at Camp Shuman, he called me ‘Link” and I called him ‘Shadblow;’ then we explained what our real names were, and got back onto a true personal and military basis.”
Mile 1285: Henefer, UT
“For anyone riding through Utah, be forewarned that the c-store in Henefer is currently dead. There is an ice cream shop attached to it where they’ll refill your bottles.”
[N.B. the note refers to Grump’s Grocery Store, noted on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.]
Mile 1544: Route Alternate
Just before Mile 1544, Pleasant Valley Road splits off the XP Route (Hwy 2/White Pine County Road 32) to the south. Shortly after, it crosses a jeep trail (marked on the US Topo Scans and ESRI views) that leads past an XP Marker off the XP Route. By following this route, and a later detour off the route, this road leads to the Tippet Ranch, where there is water available. This is roughly a 10-mile variation on the official route.
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.”
“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 stage-coach traveled about a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five miles a day (twentyfour hours), the pony-rider about two hundred and fifty.”
“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.”
Establishing Camp Floyd
“Upon their arrival in Cedar Valley on July 8  the officers and men of the expedition established a military post which they appropriately called Camp Floyd, in honor of the War Department’s foremost Mormon-hater. The little valley was strategically located, for it was of approximately equal distance from the Territory’s largest towns, Salt Lake City and Provo. It had the further advantage, in this semidesert climate, of a modest creek. . . .
[T]he monotonous routine of the cantonment, seven hours away from the nearest towns, soon began to erode the morale of the troops. The camp itself offered few opportunities for relaxation . . . When they had the opportunity, the enlisted men crept out of Camp Floyd by night to nearby ‘Frogtown,’ [present-day Fairfield, UT] where a few shanty saloons dispensed an alcoholic drink that tasted vile but at least did not blind.
None of these official or extracurricular diversions dulled the misery for long. . . .According to Captain Tracy, ‘life in this camp gives one the feeling of convicts in prison for life clamoring to be let out and hung by way of relief.'”
Twain's Description of Slade
“He was so friendly and so gentle-spoken that I warmed to him in spite of his awful history. It was hardly possible to realize that this pleasant person was the pitiless scourge of the outlaws, the raw-head-and-bloody-bones the nursing mothers of the fountains terrified their children with. And to this day I can remember nothing remarkable about Slade except that his face was rather broad across the cheek bones, and that the cheek bones were low and the lips peculiarly thin and straight.”
“We had now [at the forks pf the Platte] entered upon the outskirts of the American wilderness, which has not one feature in common with the deserts of the Old World. In Arabia and Africa there is majesty in its monotony: those awful wastes so brightly sunburnished that the air above them appears by contrast black; one vast and burning floor, variegated only by the mirage-reek, with nothing below the firmament to relieve or correct the eye. Here it is a brown smooth space, insensibly curving out of sight, wholly wanting ‘second distance,’ and scarcely suggesting the idea of immensity; we seem, in fact, to be traveling for twenty miles over a convex, treeless hill-top.”
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.
“White man never hated red man with more than a mule’s hatred; and keen, indeed, must be his ear, and quick his voice, who would discover the approach and give the alarm of Indians, earlier than the scent, and snort, and struggles of the hybrid : oxen and horses show the same dislike, but in a less degree.”
Alexander Majors' Oath
“This oath was the creation of Majors, who was a very pious and rigid disciplinarian; he tried hard to enforce it, but how great was his failure it is needless to say. It would have been equally profitable had the old gentleman read the riot act to a herd of stampeded buffaloes. And he believes it himself now.”
Freight Train Crossing the Platte
“We hitched on to about one-third of our wagons with fifteen yoke of cattle to each wagon, but started into the river with only three wagons.
Mr. Rennick had ridden across the river to see how the ford was, and found the river was full of holes, some a foot deep and others seven or eight feet deep. Unless we zigzagged from one sand drift to another, it would be impossible to cross, as the whole bed of the river was a shifting bed of sand.
We had driven but a few rods before we stalled, with our wagons in four or five feet of water. We swung our cattle up and down several times and tried to make a start, but it was of no use, as the sand began to settle around our wagon wheels. So we sent out and got six yoke of cattle more for each wagon. By the time we got them hitched on for another pull, the sand had drifted around our wagons till they were hub deep in the sand, and the cattle were knee deep. The men would have been in the same fix had they not kept stepping around.
We swung our cattle and made a pull but we were fast and could not move. We had to get our shovels and shovel around the wheels and oxen. Then we took another pull and this time got the wagons on the move, but only for a short distance, when we stalled again. It was such hard pulling, the cattle could go but a little way at a time. Every stop the sand would gather as before, and it was almost impossible to get another start. Occasionally a chain would break and we would have to get another or repair it with a link made on purpose. It was impossible to get more than eight or ten rods in an hour. Some of our cattle began to get discouraged which made it still worse. The river is about eighty rods wide at this point.
We finally succeeded in getting three wagons across and our cattle back to the balance of the train by nine o’clock that night. . . .
In the morning we drove all our cattle into the corral and yoked three teams of eighteen yoke each, of the oldest and best cattle and started across. As we had zigzagged across the river for several rods up and down in crossing the day before, we had learned the best route. We got across with these wagons without much difficulty. In the course of the day we got the balance of the train across and made a short drive and camped.”
Pony Express Timetable
[T]he regular time for starting the express from St. Joseph soon changed to Friday mornings at nine o’clock. The run from San Francisco to St. Joseph continued to depart at 5 p.m. on Tuesdays . . . The announced time schedule for the Pony Express nationwide was as follows:
- Marysville — 12 hours
- Ft. Kearney — 34 hours
- Ft. Laramie — 80 hours
- Ft. Bridger — 108 hours
- Great Salt Lake — 124 hours
- Camp Floyd — 128 hours
- Carson City — 188 hours
- Placerville — 226 hours
- Sacramento — 232 hours
- San Francisco —240 hours
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.”
“The casus belli was a lame cow! The Mormons, whose cow had been taken, complained at Fort Laramie, and a rash young officer, Lieutenant John Grattan, rode out [to the Sioux camp] with twenty-eight men and a small cannon.
The soldiers fired the canon and wounded two warriors. This was too much for a proud people, even though they had fallen to the point of scavenging on emigrants. The Sioux charged, and in a few minutes, Lieutenant Grattan had twenty-four arrows in him, and his men had been wiped out.
The fat was in the fire, but the Sioux were not yet capable of waging a real war. (They would learn. Before the story was over, Fetterman, Custer, and others would discover how well Sioux had learned!).”
“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.”
“[W]e have the testimony of physicians of the day that it was the genuine, simon-pure article which filtered up the Mississippi on the river boats from the port of New Orleans. Up the Missouri it traveled, and into the trail outfitting towns, whose cemeteries grew apace. Out to the prairies it marched with the emigrant columns, reserving the full strength of its attack until it struck the Platte Valley, where crowded campsites and polluted wells provided a fertile field for its spread. Here it reigned supreme in its terror, for while it raged the Indians gave the camps wide berth. . . .
The onslaught of cholera was sudden and violent. In extreme cases a traveler might get up as usual in the morning and be buried at the noon stop. It was made more mysterious and dreaded by the utter ignorance of the emigrants as to what caused it. Physicians and thinkers advocated the use of swiftly running water instead of the polluted wells; but the general knowledge of the action of germs was still in the future, and few, if any, consistently boiled their drinking water. Some guidebooks recommended it, and, in reminiscences compiled many years later, a few pioneers have written that they did so; but I suspect that most of them merely made coffee or tea as being more palatable, and that boiling the water was incidental. . .
Some of the travelers worked themselves into such a frenzy of fear that they drove their animals day and night in a growing crescendo of terror. Some grew so callous in their mad flight that they would not stop to give adequate assistance to the dying, but rushed on, carrying them helpless and unattended in the wagons. . . . In other cases the sufferer was simply left behind when the train pulled out in the morning through lack of any one sufficiently concerned to brave the terror of the epidemic by caring for him. . . .
Sheer terror prompted much of the cruelty, necessity the rest; but it was a stark, raving, maniacal period which the emigrants experienced in the plague-smitten Platte Valley.
Turning to softer, but no less moving, aspects of the unhappy visitation, we find records of people who tended and buried the abandoned; carried sick strangers in their wagons, took orphaned children or mothers with families, maintaining them out of their own scanty supplies clear to the Pacific coast. These disconsolate and bereaved families were perhaps the saddest sight that the Overland Trail had to offer; crushed and stupefied by their loss; hurried along willy-nilly in a company of strangers, with their nearest and dearest left for the wolves to dig up and devour.”
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.
“Scalping is generally, but falsely, supposed to be a peculiarly American practice. The Abbe Em. Domenech (‘Seven Years’ Residence in the Great Deserts of North America,’ chap, xxxix.) quotes the decalvare of the ancient Germans, the capillos et cutem detrahere of the code of the Visigoths, and the annals of Elude, which prove that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ and the Franks still scalped about A.D. 879. And as the modern American practice is traceable to Europe and Asia, so it may be found in Africa, where aught of ferocity is rarely wanting. . . .
“Scalp-taking is a solemn rite. In the good old times braves scrupulously awaited the wounded man’s death before they ‘raised his hair;’ in the laxity of modern days, however, this humane custom is too often disregarded. Properly speaking, the trophy should be taken after fair fight with a hostile warrior; this also is now neglected. ‘When the Indian sees his enemy fall he draws his scalp-knife—the modern is of iron, formerly it was of flint, obsidian, or other hard stone—and twisting the scalp-lock, which is left long for that purpose, and boastfully braided or decorated with some gaudy ribbon or with the war-eagle’s plume, round his left hand, makes with the right two semicircular incisions, with and against the sun, about the part to be removed. The skin is next loosened with the knife-point, if there be time to spare and if there be much scalp to be taken. The operator then sits on the ground, places his feet against the subject’s shoulders by way of leverage, and, holding the scalp-lock with both hands, he applies a strain which soon brings off the spoils with a sound which, I am told, is not unlike ‘flop.’ Without the long lock it would be difficult to remove the scalp; prudent white travelers, therefore, are careful, before setting out through an Indian country, to ‘shingle off’ their hair as closely as possible; the Indian, moreover, hardly cares for a half-fledged scalp. To judge from the long love-locks affected by the hunter and mountaineer, he seems to think lightly of this precaution; to hold it, in fact, a point of honor that the savage should have a fair chance. A few cunning men have surprised their adversaries with wigs. The operation of scalping must be exceedingly painful; the sufferer turns, wriggles, and ‘squirms’ upon the ground like a scotched snake. It is supposed to induce brain fever; many instances, however, are known of men and even women recovering from it, as the former do from a more dreadful infliction in Abyssinia and Galla-land; cases are of course rare, as a disabling wound is generally inflicted before the bloodier work is done.”
Chorpenning's Pony Express
“He [George Chorpenning] projected end put into operation the first ‘Pony Express’ that ever crossed the country, and in December, 1858, delivered President Buchanan’s annual message through to California in seventeen days eight and a half hours. It was this then wonderful feat, and the running through of coaches weekly in thirty days, that demonstrated the practicability of overland communication, and brought, for the first time, Mr. Chorpenning and the great importance of his work before the public.”
“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.”
“The Canadian voyageurs first named it La Platte, the Flat Kiver, discarding, or rather translating after their fashion, the musical and picturesque aboriginal term, ‘Nebraska,’ the ‘shallow stream:’ the word has happily been retained for the Territory.”
Five-Hundred Dollars Per Round Trip
“Whether from patriotism or in hope that it would lead to the coveted mail subsidy, William Russell stepped forward with an astounding offer: By using swift saddle horses in short relays, his firm would supply semiweekly ten-day mail service between St. Joseph and San Francisco for five hundred dollars a round trip.”
Longest Infantry March in History
“Ira J. Willis was one of the volunteers who made up the Mormon Battalion. With him went his brother, Sidney Willis. The two traveled to California with the battalion, thus making what is conceded to be the longest infantry march in recorded history.”
Mile 290: Thirty-Two Mile Creek Stage and Pony Express Station
This location is almost exactly in the center of Adams County and the Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station name indicates the distance to Ft. Kearny. Russell, Majors, and Waddell formed the Leavenworth and Pikes Peak Express company in 1859 and most likely constructed the Thirty-Two Mile Station that year. Samuel Word kept a diary of his 1863 trip across the plains and the following words are from May 28: “We are now 32 miles from Fort Kearny. Am most anxious to reach Kearny for I expect to hear from home. Have just returned from a ranch close by, where immigrants and settlers to the number of 100 are congregated engaged in a genuine old-fashioned back woods dance. . . . The ranche was about 12 by 14 feet square covered with sod. . . . The house had what it would hold, the rest stood outside. . .many of the men were drunk from rifle whisky sold them by the proprietor of the ranche. His grocery was in one corner of the room. I left them dancing.” (Word in Renschler, 1997)
Ted Stutheit (1987) of Nebraska Game and Parks offers the following description: “. . . consisted of one long, low sod building. In 1860 became a Pony Express Station (Nebraska Pony Express Station No. 10). In 1861 it was a ‘Home’ station for the Overland Stage where hot meals were served to travelers.”
“Thirty-Two Mile Station” is the site of another of the series of way-stations established during 1858 and 1859 along the Oregon Trail to serve the growing numbers of stagecoaches and freighter wagons which were joining the emigrant trains along the great roadway west. Named for its distance from Fort Kearny, Thirty-Two Mile Station never consisted of more than one long, low log-building In 1860 it became a Pony Express Station (Nebraska Pony Express Station No. 10). In 1861 it was a “Home” station for the Overland Stage, where hot meals were served to travelers. The station operated by George A. Comstock was abandoned in August of 1864, its proprietors and visitors fleeing to Fort Kearny for safety, and the Indians subsequently burned the station to the ground. 32 Mile Station, site of Pony Express Station (Nebraska No. 10 — Sec. 6, T.6N, R.10W — Adams County) is now in the middle of a plowed field, just off a county road A small marker at the side of the field commemorates the site. This site is on the National Register of Historic Places as an archeological site.
—The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 5
The location is marked on the XP Bikepacking Route map just before Mile 290.
“[N]o man wold be entrusted to carry the mail until he had signed this pledge:
I do hereby swear, before the Great and Living God,that during my engagement, and while I am an employee of Russell, Majors & Waddell, I will, under no circumstances, use profane language; that I will conduct myself honestly, be faithful to my duties, and so direct all my acts as to win the confidence of my employers. So help me God.
As each rider was hired, he was given a lightweight rifle, a Colt revolver, and bright red flanel shirt, blue trousers, a horn, and a Bible.”
Old Julesburg Crossing
“Near This Place, which I will call Old Julesburg, the river-crossing started in a little east of the station, not very far down the river, and went around in a curve, coming out say a quarter or half a mile farther up the river. There was another crossing farther up the river, that crossed over west of the mouth of Lodgepole ; the two trails went up Lodgepole Creek on opposite sides, until they joined several miles farther up. Those present at that time were in the habit of calling the lower one the ‘California crossing’ and the west one the ‘Mormon crossing’ because it appears that the Mormon trains crossed there and went quite a distance up the west side of Lodgepole.”
Mile 1900: Smith Creek Station
“Before 8 A.M. we were under way, bound for Smith’s Creek. Our path stretched over the remainder of Reese’s River Valley, an expanse of white sage and large rabbit-bush which affords fuel even when green. After a long and peculiarly rough divide [Smith Creek Summit], we sighted the place of our destination. It lay beyond a broad plain or valley [Smith Creek Valley], like a huge white “splotch” in the centre, set in dirty brown vegetation, backed by bare and rugged hills, which are snow-topped only on the north; presently we reached the ‘splotch,’ which changed its aspect from that of a muddy pool to a yellow floor of earth so hard that the wheels scarcely made a dent, except where a later inundation had caused the mud to cake, flake, and curl—smooth as ice without being slippery. Beyond that point, guided by streams meandering through willow thickets, we entered a kanyon—all are now wearying of the name—and presently sighted the station deep in a hollow. It had a good stone corral and the usual haystack, which fires on the hilltops seemed to menace.”
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.’”
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.”
First Mail from California
“On the 1st day of May, 1851, Mr. Chorpenning left Sacramento City in charge of the first United States mail that ever crossed the country between the States and the Pacific. On the morning of the 5th the party left Johnston’s Ranch, six miles east of Placerville, which was the last white man’s habitation in California, and found no settlement whatever from there to Salt Lake, a distance of over 700 miles.”
Hockaday and the Salt Lake Mail
“[John] Hockaday, Magraw’s former partner, bid for the Utah mail contract in June 1857 but lost to Stephen B. Miles of Delaware, who took on the difficult task for only $32,000 per annum. Miles failed, and Hockaday and his associates won the St. Joseph–Salt Lake mail contract in May 1858 to provide weekly service until November 1860. . . .
Hockaday created the first dependable mail service between Utah and Missouri, eventually establishing thirty-six stations, each of which was entitled to preempt 320 acres of public land.”
Cholera Symptoms and Treatment
“Although some who contracted the disease lingered for many days, it usually struck suddenly, and often the victim was dead within hours, usually after ‘great agony.’ Diarrhea was such a common forerunner of cholera that many emigrants speak of death by cholera of diarrhea as if they were synonymous. Sore throat, vomiting, and bowel discharge seemed to be the most common symptoms. . . . An illuminating account of cholera symptoms and treatment is given by Dr. Lord of New York:
The cholera is a rapidly fatal disease, when suffered to run its course unrestrained, & more easily controlled then most diseases when met in time. . . . It commences with diarrhoea in every case. A single dose of laudunum, with pepper, camphor, musk, ammonia, peppermint or other stimulants usually effect a cure in a few minutes. If pain in the bowels was present, another dose was required. If cramp in the calves of the legs had supervened, a larger dose was given. If skin had become cold, and covered with sweat (which did not happen unless the disease had run several hours or days) the doses were frequently repeated until warmth was restored. The medicines were aided by friction, mustard plasters, and other external applications. If to all these symptoms vomiting was added, there was no more to be done. Vomiting was the worst symptom, and every case proved fatal where vomiting, purging, cramp and cold sweating skin were present . . . ‘”
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]
“This country was quite different from that we had passed over. From Leavenworth across to where we struck the Platte River near Fort Kearny, it was a fine, beautiful country mostly prairie, with an occasional belt of timber along the streams. But up the South Platte it was comparatively a level, grassy plain from the river back to the sand hills, with no timber, and here we had to substitute buffalo chips for fuel. After reaching Ash Hollow we began to get some scrubby wood.
The whole appearance of the country had changed. It began to be more wavy and rocky, and occasionally there were some scrub cedars, scattered among the rocky hills. The tops of the waves were covered with rock in all the shapes the imagination of man can picture.
After leaving our eamp near Chimney Rock, we travelled in the midst of this grand and beautiful scenery a few days, undisturbed by Indians, much to our relief. We now came to Fort Laramie.
The country along the North Platte was nearly the same all the way, although it changed a little as we neared the Laramie range of mountains. There were more of the scrub cedars on the rocky bluffs.
The Laramie Mountains were quite bald, there being little timber except in the canyons.’
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:
“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.”
Government Strategies in the West
“And so the issue was drawn: a series of permanent posts from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean or periodic campaigns along the trails to impress and, when necessary, chastise the Indians. . . .
Ultimately, governmental authorities resorted to a number of strategies, often simultaneously, in an attempt to neutralize the Indian threat to overland travel: treaties were negotiated, presents distributed, reservations established, awe-inspiring and/or punitive military expeditions dispatched, roving patrols instituted, military escorts provided. But initially, most persons concerned with this problem shared [the] outlook that a series of military forts was the best approach.”
Mile 1382: Dugout/Joes Dugout/Joe Butchers Station
“In conjunction with the Express and stage operation, Joseph Dorton operated a small grocery store. Clients were generally the soldiers from Camp Floyd. He also built a two-room brick home and log barn and provided a dugout for an Indian boy helper. Besides well water (Photo 16), water was hauled from Utah Lake and sold for twenty-five cents per bucket. Use of the station after 1861 is unknown. It may have continued in use as a stage station.
“With Fort Bridger as the northeastern anchor, the various units of the [Utah expedition] stretched up Black’s Fork for a number of miles, the entire settlement assuming the name of Camp Scott in honor of the crusty but able general. Since this high mountain region, 6,600 feet above sea level, lacked forage for the expedition’s remaining stock, the mules and other animals were sent with Cooke and six companies of Dragoons to graze on neighboring streams, where they remained until March 1858. . . .
Camp Scott was a busy community, for some 1,800 officers and men of the regular army occupied it during seven snow-bound months. In addition, other volunteers were recruited during this period. Although the contracting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell had hired its teamsters for the trip to Salt Lake City with the promise of employment on the return journey if they chose, these contracts were broken when the trains halted at Fort Bridger. . . . For many of these men the only alternative to unprofitable idleness was enlistment for nine months in the army, with the promise of the same pay, allotments of clothing, and provisions given the regulars.”
Mile 2135: Sportsman's Hall
“Sportsman’s Hall was California’s only Home Station. It was frequently called the Twelve Mile House and sometimes simply referred to as ‘The Hall.’ It was opened in 1852 by Scotland immigrants John and James Blair. Sportsmans Hall was one of the most popular and most important places on the trail. No other inn approached its size or the quality of its accommodations. . . Originally it was a hotel, restaurant, and a stage stop that could accommodate 500 horses, with extensive corrals. It has burned to the ground and been rebuilt twice. Part of the original structure still exists, and if you look carefully, you will see the beams, hand hewed, that hold the roof up.”
“A number of sources list Sportsman’s Hall as a station, which also appeared on a contract station. Herbert Ralph Cross identifies Sportsman’s Hall as a “rider relay” or home station, fifty-six miles from Sacramento and twelve miles east of Placerville. A California Registered Historical Landmark’s plaque at the site reads:
This was the site of Sportsman’s Hall, also known as the Twelve-Mile House. The hotel operated in the late 1850’s and 1860’s by John and James Blair. A stopping place for stages and teams of the Comstock, it became a relay station of the central overland Pony Express. Here, at 7:40 a.m., April 4, 1860, Pony rider William (Sam) Hamilton, riding in from Placerville, handed the Express mail to Warren Upson who, two minutes later, sped on his way eastward.
– From the Pony Express Bikepacking Route info marker, citing the Pony Express Historic Resource Study
Army of Utah at South Pass
“On May 28, 1857, a small army . . .was ordered to assemble at Fort Leavenworth to march to Utah with the old Indian fighter, General S. W. Harney, in command. . . .
General Harney, being familiar with the country west of the Missouri River, was opposed to marching for Utah two months past the usual time for starting. He felt the journey should not be made until early in 1858. An over-eager administration in Washington ruled otherwise, however. This threw the Army of Utah and Majors & Russell’s trains so far behind the usual season for travel that by the time South Pass was crossed winter was setting in.”
Overland Stagecoach Mornings
“We resumed undress uniform, climbed a-top of the flying coach, dangled our legs over the side, shouted occasionally at our frantic mules, merely to see them lay their ears back and scamper faster, tied our hats on to keep our hair from blowing away, and leveled an outlook over the world-wide carpet about us for things new and strange to gaze at. Even at this day it thrills me through and through to think of the life, the gladness and the wild sense of freedom that used to make the blood dance in my veins on those fine overland mornings!”
Mile 2148: Placerville
“And Hangtown—what of it? Built flimsily at a carefree slant on the two sides of a shallow pine-filled canyon, the log-framed, canvas-roofed buildings of ’49 gradually gave way to better arrangements. Men found there was sure money to be made in limber, and small mills hacked out heavy timbers for warmer houses. A crude but effective line of stores centered the rambling elongated town and soon became a recognized goal for gold seekers. It was the third largest city in the state. And, only second to Sacramento, Hangtown symbolized for the overland Argonaut, their arrival in the west. . . .
The settlement started its diversified career under the title Dry Diggings, but was rechristened in honor of its early citizens’ well meant exertions in the cause of justice. Two Frenchmen and a Chileno were hanged on an oak in the center of town in January, 1850.Several other executions followed rapidly—possibly too rapidly. The place was irrevocably dubber Hangtown. When California became a state, later in the same year, the more aesthetic citizenry had its name legally changed to Placerville.. In the spring of ’53, still struggling for less violence, they narrowly prevented another lynching and had the oak cut down. The top was made into souvenirs, but the stump is beneath a building within a few feet of the memorial plaque.”
'Tis Better Thus
“Perhaps, as the lady journalists of the fifties would have phrased it, ‘Tis better thus.’ If the hundreds of persons who kept trail diaries could have an inkling of the erudite institutions that would some day cherish them in fireproof vaults, nine-tenths of them would have forestalled the attention by personally burning the diaries in the last campfire.”
” 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.'”
Platte River Water
“The only reliable daily source [of water in the Platte Valley] was the Platte River itself.
Platte river water was obtained in two ways: by scooping it up out of the main stream or its backwaters, or by digging a hole two to four feet deep in sandy soil near river level. The latter method was used by many, and while there was more exertion, by this method ‘most excellent cold pure water can be obtained anywhere. It leaches through the sand from the river and is perfectly filtered.’ Most emigrants disagreed, however; well water was more apt to be warm, dirty, and often alive with tiny creatures. After trial and error, several affirmed that ‘river water is safer.’ Hence, the majority drank water straight out of the Platte.
If river water was deemed safer than well water, it still held few charms for the fastidious. John Wyeth warned that a Platte River cocktail ‘is warm and muddy, causing diarrhoea.’ Celinda Hines observed that this water ‘partakes of the same laxative properties of the Missouri and Mississippi.’ Getting his out of a slue, or backwater, John Dalton called it ‘nasty, filthy stuff.’ D.A. Shaw proclaimed it ‘usable only if filtered and strained’ with a cloth, since this is not a river at all, but “simply moving sand.’ Randall Hewitt came up with another formula for dealing with ‘the mud of a river intent on wearing away half a continent.’ He recommended putting a handful of meal in the bucket, and ‘a few moments time is sufficient to precipitate the silt and render the water very palatable.
Some of the women recommended boiling, not to kill bacteria, which they had never heard of, but to immobilize the wiggle-tails. Tompkins was ahead of his day in believing the ‘secret of boiling water [was] to evaporate the deleterious properties.’ Drinking untreated shallow well water and Platte River water was doubtless a factor in the high mortality rate.”
"Finding" Missing Stock
“[A] number of overlanders ruefully discovered that even when a horse trade had been accomplished they could not be absolutely certain that the horse was definitely theirs, since a fellow emigrant, from whom the horse had initially been stolen, occasionally came up to claim his property. . . .
There was also a profitable variation on this deceitful tactic. Indians would steal horses or other stock, make an arrangement on a certain price for ‘finding’ the animas with the emigrants from whom they had stolen them, and then quickly appear with the animals to claim the reward. Overlanders suspected Indians of employing this strategem as early as 1843.”
“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.”
“As night had closed in, we found some difficulty in choosing a camping-place: at length we pitched upon a prairillon under the lee of a hill, where we had bunch-grass and fuel, but no water. The wind blew sternly through the livelong night, and those who suffered from cramps in cold feet had little to do with the ‘sweet restorer, balmy sleep.'”
[Note: Prairillon: Small prairie, obsolete]
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.”
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 Union League
“Shortly Before Our Arrival in Omaha [in 1863] I had met and been introduced to a man who was a national organizer of the Union League. It was called the ‘National Loyal Union League.’ Only such officers were let into it as were of known loyalty. The army was so honeycombed with disloyal men and Rebel sympathizers that it was difficult to know always whom to trust. These were to be weeded out, and the obligation of the Loyal League was administered only to those of whom the organization was dead sure.
It was a strange thing to me to be approached by one whom I did not know, and be talked to upon the subject. He said there were persons in my regiment who were Rebels, and who were disloyal; that he was authorized to give me admission to the order. This was before we reached Omaha. He said it cost nothing, but it must be kept profoundly a secret. He said that it had a civil branch, and a military branch ; that the obligations were different, and the object different; but that any officer or soldier who belonged to the military order could make himself known, and could be admitted, and visit a lodge of civilians.
I expressed a thorough appreciation of the plan, and he took an hour, and put me through a verbal drill, and gave me some signs, and passwords. The day before marching into Omaha, while riding on the road with my company, a farmer with a load of hay alongside of the road gave the hailing-sign. I stopped, and talked with him a few moments, and he told me that near where we were stopping that night was a large Union League organization that had arrested and put in jail a gang of Confederate deserters, and that they would be glad to see me present. When our command went into camp, I rode that night into the village, and I had gone but a short distance before I got the ‘hailing-sign,’ in both instances given in the same way. I found out where there was to be a meeting of the lodge that night, and I went up, and attended it.
The hailing-sign was a remarkable invention. It was ‘two and two.’ In any way that two and two could be designated, the hailing-sign was made. For instance, if the hand should be held up and the four fingers divided in the middle, two on each side. With a bugle it was two short notes, then an interval, and two short notes. It could be made almost any way; two fingers to the chin. The persons who hailed me, as stated, put two of their fingers in their vest pockets, leaving their other two fingers out.
Nobody in the regiment that I know of, was initiated when I was, and I was told where to make reports in case I had something to communicate. I did not know whether there were any persons in the regiment, when I got to Omaha, who belonged to the Loyal League. But the third day while I was there, I was lying down in the tent, late in the afternoon, with my feet near the mess-chest. My Captain came in, and as he was a warm-hearted, true-blue Union officer of great gallantry, and great courage, it occurred to me that he might belong to the Loyal League, so with my foot I tapped on the mess-chest two couplets of raps. Captain O^Brien looked up at me and said, ‘What sort of a sign is that?’ and I said, ‘How do you know it is a sign?’ And he said, ‘When did you join?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? Join what?’ Then he put out his hand and gave me the grip, to which I responded. The grip was a two-and-two grip. I had been recently promoted into the company. Thereupon he told me who belonged to the Union League in our regiment, and told me who was suspected.”
Mail between Sacramento and Salt Lake
“George Chorpenning and Absalom Woodward signed [a U.S. mail contract] in February 1851, to carry the mail from [Salt Lake City] to Sacramento, California.This put the United States mail in operation from end to end of the Central Route for the first time. On May 1 of that year Chorpenning left Sacramento with a party of men for the first trip. In the high Sierra they encountered snow so deep that they had to pound it down with wooden mauls so that the animals could travel. Through sixteen days and nights they toiled and camped under those conditions.
When summer came they experienced difficulties with the Indians. In November Woodward by a war party west of the Malad River in Western Utah. In December the carriers were compelled to turn back on account of deep snow. the mail for February 1852, was routed through Feather River Pass and arrived at Salt Lake City in sixty days. The horses had frozen to death in the Goose Creek Mountains and the party had to travel the last two hundred miles on foot. In March the mail was sent by water to San Pedro, and thence through Cajon Pass and up the Mormon Trail to its destination. . . .
In 1854 . . . [t]he route was changed to run from San Diego to Salt Lake City . . .”
“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.”
The Politics of Mail Service to California
“Like every political question in America in the late 1850s, mail service to California was eclipsed by the slavery question. Although Americans in California, Oregon, and Utah repeatedly pleaded for better mail service, Congressmen couldn’t agree on a transcontinental mail route. Northerners and southerners each insisted on a route through their respective sections in anticipation of the very real prospect that the Union would split. Their stalemate, meanwhile, encouraged another prospect: that without reliable mail, California itself would split off from the Union.”
Wagons Across the North Platte
“There were those [at the North Platte Crossing], as at any ferry, who could not or would not pay the price and who used self-constructed substitutes. To these novices the strong west wind was an additional hazard—a twin current flowing above the river. It caught the rumbled in the capacious bellies of the white-topped wagons, swelling them into sails that flung the rafts downstream. Pulling men were dragged into the current. Ropes snapped. Rafts capsized. . . .One experience was enough to teach everyone present to remove the wagon tops during a ferry trip in a windstorm; but the next playful breeze, sneaking up after a two- or three-day calm, would catch a new group unprepared.”
Mormon Interference with the Mail
“In November [1852, Indian Gent Jacob Holman] was prepared to draw up a broad indictment of the Saints, touching upon a number of general causes of Gentile-Mormon friction. With the Runaways, he believed that the Church was defiant of the Government’s authority and was planing resistance to it. The mails, he further stated, were no longer safe for the communication of important messages, since the Mormons opened and read everything.”
“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.”
Butterfield Moves to the Central Route
On March 2nd [after Confederate troops had destroyed Butterfield’s line in Missouri and Texas] , to solve the contracting predicament with the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. and Overland Mail Company, and to protect communication lines with California, both houses of Congress, with President Buchanan’s approval, modified the Overland Mail Company mail service contract by discontinuing the transportation of mail along the southern route and transferring it to a new central overland route. This new service would originate in St. Joseph, (or Atchison, in Kansas) and provide mail service to Placerville, California, six times a week. In addition to this new route, the contract required that the company ‘run a pony express semi-weekly at a schedule time of ten days . . . charging the public for transportation of letters by said express not exceeding $1 per half ounce’ until the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line. Essentially the federal government turned the western half of the central route mail contract (Salt Lake City to Placerville, California) that the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. previously operated over to the Overland Mail Company. In exchange for giving this segment of the passenger/mail route to the Overland Mail Company, the government promised to indirectly support the Pony Express until the completion of the telegraph.
Mile 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.
“[After the difficulty of delivering mail over the Sierra Nevada the first winter of the contract], [p]ermission was obtained from the special agent in San Francisco to send the March mail down the coast to San Pedro and thence by Cajon Pass and the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake City. . . .
With the interruption by bad weather of the mail service east of Salt Lake City, the mail was sent westward to San Pedro, where it was transmitted by steamer to the Atlantic seaboard.
During the first three years (1851-4) the Utah-California mail was carried, except in winter, by the old emigrant route. In the lettings of 1854, the Utah-California mail route was changed to run from Salt Lake City over the Mormon trail to San Diego. . . .
The service [of the second four-year contract with Chorpenning] began July 1, 1854, and was to continue for four years. The mail was carried on horseback or packmules . . .
During the four years of the duration of the contract (until July 1, 1858), the mail was carried with fair regularity, and often in less than scheduled time.
before the termination of the contract on this [Mormon trail] route the policy of extensive increases in western mail lines were inaugurated, and partisans of the “Central Route via Salt Lake City and across northern Nevada were demanding service upon that more direct route to San Francisco. Accordingly, in 1858, this Los Angeles-to-Salt Lake City route was discontinued and the original route of 1851 was re-established and put on an improved basis.”
Central Overland's Mail Monopoly
“The effect of the Pony Express on Washington was immediate and profound. Five weeks after the Pony was launched, a special Congressional committee recommended building a railroad along the Platte River route to Salt Lake City. On May 11, also just five weeks after the Pony Express got under way, Postmaster General Holt abruptly annulled George Chorpenning’s semi-monthly mail contract between California and Salt Lake and awarded the annual $83,241 fee to the Central Overland instead. For the first time, William Russell’s company help a monopoly on U.S. mail service over the entire central route, enabling it to compete head-to-head with Butterfield’s southern route for the primary transcontinental federal mail contract.”
“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.”
“By the slaughtered body of St. Parley Pratt (whom God assoil!) there was never anything on this earth like it !”
[assoil (archaic): absolve, pardon]
“After the [Mexican-American] war he [Jack Slade] married a beautiful girl by the name of Virginia, whom he called ‘Molly,’ and engaged in the freighting business.”
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.”
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. . . .'”
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.”
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.”
Fort Bridger to Camp Floyd
“[In 1858] General Johnson first ordered [Captain Simpson of the topographical engineering corps] to ascertain the feasibility of opening a wagon road between Camp Floyd and Fort Bridger by way of the Timpanogos River. Eight years earlier Stansbury had suggested this route as desirable though he had not traversed it; Beckwith explored parts of the valley in making his railroad survey four years earlier . . .
With [Captain Simpson] on his inspection tour was a representative of Russell, Majors & Waddell who was to determine if the company’s freight trains headed for Camp Floyd should be directed to the new road. . . .
[Simpson] reported to General Johnson that his road was not nearly so rough as the usual emigrant, mail, and freight route up Echo Canyon and that more grass and water were available . . . All government trains began traveling over the route immediately, and Russell, Majors & Waddell discovered that its trains routed this way from Fort Bridger to Camp Floyd arrived more quickly than those traveling the old road.”
[N.B. The map of this route is online here.]
“The commerce of the world, the Occidental Press had assured me, is undergoing its grand climacteric: the resources of India and the nearer orient are now well-nigh cleared of ‘loot,’ and our sons, if they would walk in the paths of their papas, must look to Cipangri and the parts about Cathay for their annexations.”
” . . . 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.
“Gilbert L. Cole told of a shocking incident that happened on the prairie not far from where we now stood [Wakarusa River, Kansas]. His wagon company had been forced to cross a slough: an ordinary slough, no doubt—they crossed lots of them, planless ditches holding unambitious water. They were miserable things to ford, having no dependable bottom and offering most of the difficulties of a creek with none of its luxury.”
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.
First Westbound Mail on the Pony
“Forty-nine letters wrapped in oiled silk to exclude moisture, five telegrams, and a few special editions of New York newspapers for Salt Lake City, Sacramento, and San Francisco made up the mail for this first trip. When the pouch containing it reached Hannibal it was placed upon the first railroad mail car ever built in the United States.”
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.”
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).
Mochilas Were a Later Innovation
“The mochilla [sic] system developed out of necessity—an adaptation made to problems encountered in the daily operation of the Pony Express. There is no indication that these special pouches were ordered and used before the first run of the Pony Express in April 1860. Evidently, they were not put in use until after late 1860, for when the English traveller Richard Burton passed along the route at that time, he mentioned that letters were carried in leathern bags, and that they were “thrown about carelessly” when the saddle was changed between horses.39 Given the Spanish nomenclature, it may have been adapted from similar pouches in use in California.”
“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.”
Mile 1792: Sulphur Springs Station
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
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.'”
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.”
Political Duties of the Army
“While Stationed at Cottonwood Springs, the post commander had some assumed political duties, and among others he had to act as Justice of the Peace. . . .
“Major O’Brien, the Post Commander, was a good lawyer, and had practiced law, and he knew how to get at things quickly, and knew how far he ought to go. . . .
“The commanding General of our military district, Gen. R. B. Mitchell, of whom I have spoken, was a good lawyer himself, and his adjutant was John Pratt, of Boston, a most accomplished gentleman, also a lawyer. The General made headquarters at Fort Kearney instead of Omaha (as his predecessor had done), and he was very anxious that justice should be dispensed through his district, and that civilized methods should prevail. Although there were no civil officers, General Mitchell worked out the whole scheme through military instrumentalities in very good shape. From time to time he instructed his subordinate post commanders how to carry on their civil functions, and protect life and property. He was a great stickler for protecting property, and if some pilgrim stole a saddle or a lariat, it was his theory that the man should be arrested, and punished, even if a soldier had to chase the man for two weeks and it cost the Government $1,000. Hence it was, that our duties were civil as well as military, and we were obliged to briefly report all civil infractions, decisions and punishment.
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.”
“‘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?'”
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.”
Doby Town in 1863
“‘There were no streets, and people built their houses wherever preference or caprice dictated. The townspeople were mostly frontiersmen who settled there for the sole purpose of . . . preying upon those who travelled the Oregon Trail. The population consisted chiefly of men; about two dozen permanent inhabitants, mostly gamblers and saloon-keepers, some loafers . . . and a few women of well-known reputation.
When immigrants put their herds out to graze these fellows would sneak them away at night and run them off a few miles around a bend in the river, reporting that the Indians had taken them. . . . In a conveniently short time a suitable reward was offered, the vagrant would go out and bring in the stock, deliver it to the owner, and get from the latter a liberal reward in cash and gratitude.'”
Mile 291: Oregon Trail Marker on Juniata Road
This section of the trail falls between branches of Thirty-Two Mile Creek and is very smooth. The inscription on the granite stone reads, “Oregon Trail Marked by the State of Nebraska 1912.” Scout troop 192 helped erect this marker.
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/uLX6HFid7PJHAMkV6. Note: The XP Bikepacking Route goes north of this marker. I you want to see it, sty on Oak Ridge to Junaita, then turn right. It rejoins the XP Trail about one mile up, just past the marker.
Telling Time by Moons
“The time of these conventions was generally set by a formula; the Indians could not go by the days of the month, so the date was fixed for a certain number of moons ahead, and the time set was ‘when the moon is straight up at sunset. ‘ When the moon was overhead at sunset it gave time for the pow-wow, and then the Indians had a full moon in which they could ride night and day going home.”
The Importance of the Pony Express as a Carrier of News to the People of California
“The importance of the Pony Express as a carrier of news to the people of California was heightened by the presidential campaign of 1860. By October of that year there was intense anxiety in that state concerning the result of the Pennsylvania election, which was held a month early, because of its bearing upon the spirited contest in California. When the news arrived by telegraph and Pony Express it created a sensation, making the Republicans exceedingly jubilant and encouraging them to put forth their greatest efforts to carry the state for Lincoln.”
Mile 1948: Sand Springs Station
“Sand Springs Station [is] about 20 miles east of Fallon. This Pony Express Station was built in 1860, yet many of its walls still stand. After the station was abandoned, drifting sand from nearby dunes buried the structure, helping to preserve it. In 1977, archaeologists excavated and stabilized the station. Today, it’s managed by the Bureau of Land Management and open to the public.”
“Several sources identify Sand Springs as a station, including the 1861 mail contract. Like Cold Springs, this station existed due to the construction efforts of Bolivar Roberts, J. G. Kelly, and their crew in March of 1860 for the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. James McNaughton managed station operations for a time. On October 17, 1860, Richard Burton recorded his negative views of the roofless, dirty structure and its staff, stating that it was “roofless and chairless, filthy and squalid, with a smoky fire in one corner, and a table in the centre of an impure floor, the walls open to every wind, and the interior full of dust.”  Travelers found a reliable source of water at Sand Springs, but its poor quality often poisoned animals and probably made people ill.
In addition to the Pony Express, other individuals and businesses utilized Sand Springs until World War Two. The telegraph came through the area, and the site served as a freight, milling, and ranching center. Structural ruins from many of these activities still exist around the springs. In 1976, the site was determined eligible for the National Register. By 1981, the station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was structurally stabilized. This source locates the station’s ruins near Sand Mountain, about three-fourths of a mile north of Highway 50.
– From the Pony Express Bikepacking Route info marker, citing the Pony Express Historic Resource Study
Mile 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.”
Route Between Fort Laramie and Horse Creek
“That day we marched thirty-seven miles, passing the ranch of Beauvais, five miles from Fort Laramie ; Bordeaux ranch, ten miles from Fort Laramie; the ‘First Ruins,” so called, eighteen miles; and the Woc-a-pom-any agency, twenty-eight miles. We camped at the mouth of Horse Creek, which was thirty-seven miles from Fort Laramie. This Horse Creek was the scene of a celebrated ancient treaty with the Indians [Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851], but which was no longer observed or recognized. But there had been heretofore many provisions in it which were referred to as the provisions of the ‘Horse Creek Treaty.”
“The ruins, first and second, were ruins of stone stations which had been put up by ranchmen for the overland express company running through to Salt Lake; but the express company, for the time being, was knocked out of existence, so that there was at the time of which I speak no mail, stage or express carried over the road except by soldiers. There was also a pile of stone about two feet high and ten feet square, where the celebrated Gratton massacre had taken place. This has been written of so often that I will not refer to it, except to say that a lieutenant with a few men was sent to deal with some Indians, several years before, and make them surrender some property, and having a piece of artillery, the Indians being obstinate, he fired over the heads of the Indians to scare them, and the Indians immediately massacred the whole detachment. . . .
“The road from Fort Laramie to Horse Creek, almost the entire distance, was sandhills and deep dust. The dust was almost insufferable. There was but little air stirring, and the long line of horsemen kept the dust in the air so that it was very difficult to breathe.”
“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.”
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.'”
Number of Stations
Over the years historians and writers have provided different figures for the number of Pony Express stations. While that may be troubling, arriving at a particular calculation is very difficult. The Pony Express enterprise was in an almost constant state of flux. Stations were often being added, some as replacements, some as new ones. Stations were destroyed and some abandoned. Sometimes those events occurred at the same time . . . The number of stations cited by the National Parks is eighty-six when it began and 147 by mid-1861. By the end of the express, the number could have grown to between 190 and 200, but some may not have been used.”
[N.B. Moody states that “when they had finished their work 153 way stations and relay posts stood along the 1966-mile route between St. Joseph and Sacramento.” Moody, Stagecoaching West, p. 183.]
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.”
“It was immediately clear that after nearly a thousand miles of travel across the trail we had found the one asshole in a hundred who lacked the hospitality we had found everywhere else. The protocols for crossing the vast rangeland across the West are quite flexible, and for a good reason. Most ranches spread out from a relatively small parcel of deeded land along a source of water to the much larger leased grazing parcels owned by the BLM. This patchwork of ownership often makes it impossible for outsiders to recognize the boundaries between private and public land, and the BLM discourages private property owners from denying access between its allotments, which would make them landlocked and thus of little use. This is particularly important along the National Historic Trail route we were following, because the BLM and the park service are also charged with guaranteeing access to valuable historic sites.”
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.'”
The Idea of a Pony Express
“Russell was hardly the first dreamer to conceive a horseback relay system for delivering mail across distances: Marco Polo found a similar system in thirteenth-century China, operating with ‘post stations twenty-five miles apart, and stations for foot carriers three miles apart, on the chief routes through his dominion.’ . . .
The idea of a cross-country express appears to have been first conceived by Ben Ficklin, who planted the idea with California’s U.S. Senator, William M. M. Gwin, while the two men traveled across the continent on horseback in 1854. . . . Russell himself came up with a similar idea in the winter of 1857-58 while traveling across the plains to Utah to deliver supplies to Albert Sidney Johnston’s army there, and he subsequently broached the ides in Washington to Secretary of War Floyd and various senators and congressmen.”
First Order of Business
“The first order of business in pursuit of Russell’s dream [the Pony Express] was revamping the stagecoach line’s existing operations. The trusting general superintendent Beverly Williams was replaced by the energetic Ben Ficklin, who was instructed to ‘clean up the line.’ That meant, above all, replacing Jules Beni as stationmaster at Julesburg. But Jules was a proud and volatile man who would not go quietly. The man who dismissed him might be murdered. And even if Jules did accept his dismissal, he essentially owned the town and would remain on the scene as proprietor of his ranch there. He might have to be driven away or even killed.”
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.”
“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.”
Mile 48: Kennekuk
“Without changing mules we advanced to Kennekuk, where we halted for an hour’s supper under the auspices of Major Baldwin, whilom Indian agent; the place was clean, and contained at least one charming face. Kennekuk derives its name from a chief of the Kickapoos, in whose reservation we now are.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 568: Nine Mile Station
Nine Mile Station was two miles southeast of Chappell, NE. It’s not marked on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, and I can’t find an exact location for the marker. I’ve found references to a Pony Express Park, but not on Google Maps.
Stagecoach Rate of Travel
“The rate of travel on an average is five miles an hour; six is good; between seven and eight is the maximum, which sinks in hilly countries to three or four. I have made behind a good pair, in a light wagon, forty consecutive miles at the rate of nine per hour, and in California a mule is little thought of if it can not accomplish 250 miles in forty-eight hours.”
“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.”
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 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.”
Annual Mail to Oregon in the 1830s
“This terrible inaccessibility is perhaps bet illustrated by the communications that passed back and forth between Narcissa [Whitman] and her family during the years just following the birth of her daughter and the little girl’s death by drowning at the age of twenty-seven months. By the first travelers’ caravan Narcissa sent word of her birth; months later, by another caravan, she sent for several pairs of little shoes. Then tragedy struck, and the baby girl was buried. The next westbound traders’ party brought congratulations, and the following year the shoes arrived. The grief-stricken mother was forced to wait until a third season for her letters of condolence.”
After Buffalo Chips
“And what, we may well ask, did the later travelers use for fuel in the years after the buffalo had been driven from the Platte Valley, especially throughout the treeless two-hundred-mile stretch now ending [after the road entered the Black Hills west of Fort Laramie]? The question has been answered by the veteran stage man and freighter, Alexander Majors, of the famous firm, Majors, Russell & Waddell. he writes: ‘Strange to say the economy of nature was such, in this particular, that the large number of work-animals left at every camping-place fuel sufficient, after being dried by the sun, to supply the necessities of the next caravan or party that traveled along. In this way the fuel supply was inexhaustible while animals traveled and fed upon the grasses. This, however, did not apply to travel east of the Missouri, as the offal from the animals there soon became decomposed and was entirely worthless for fuel purposes.'”
Mile 1403: East Rush Valley/Pass/Five Mile Pass/No Name Station
“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. When in early 1861 Colonel Johnston left the Union to fight for the Confederacy, Colonel Phillip St. George Cook became the new post commander [at Fort Floyd]. The name was changed to Ft. Crittenden, but by May of 1861 the Fort was abandoned and ordered destroyed. By September of that year, Fairfield’s population had dwindled to about 18 families.”
Holladay Goads Slade
“‘This is one tough job,” [Slade] remarked to his boss, Ben Halladay, owner of the stage company. ‘Looks like freightin’ is peacefuler.’
‘J. A.,’ replied Halladay, ‘the way to get along is to make folks scared to death of you. Make them so scared they run when they see you. Get that fellow Jules, and let everybody know you got him.'”
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.]
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.”
“The 1st of August found us among a range of sand hills which announced our approach to the valley of the Platte. These were a succession of knolls and ridges from thirty to sixty feet high. Amid their defiles our wheels sunk deep in the sand, and we frequently doubled teams in order to get through. From these we came to the broad, level bottom of the river, which was marked by numerous wooded islands. . . .
“Our route was about a mile from the shore, which we were unable to approach nearer on account of numerous ‘sloos,’ as the ‘Pikers’ [Missourians] call marshy creeks, which extended from the river.”
Nile 754: Black Hills
“The road leading west from Fort Laramie was anathema to the overloaded Argonauts, for it marked the beginning of the Black Hills, whose low, rough summits shouldered the sky just ahead. The travelers . . . were tired and (in cholera years) badly frightened. Their sense of values had changed. things that had been great treasures when they were carefully packed for transportation to the new land, were now only extra weight wearing out the suddenly precious draught animals. . . .
Excess supplies of food were thrown away here too. The wagon masters had repacked at Fort Laramie, but it took the pressure of actual present necessity to key them up to the wholesale abandonment that was now in progress.
Disease and Death
“While the journey up the Platte River Road may have been a joy and tonic for some, far too often it was an ordeal in which, after running the gauntlet of hardships, there arose the sinister threat of disease and death. . . . Again assuming a grand total migration of 350,000 this averages one death for every seventeen persons who started. . . .
the normal precaution was to take along a medicine chest with an assortment of home remedies for everything from baldness to the bubonic plague. Elizabeth Greer’s inventory included ‘a box of physicing pills, a box of castor oil, a quart of best rum, and a vial of peppermint essence.’ The latter ingredient, combined with a glass of brandy, would, according to John King, cure most ills. Catherine Haun’s portable apothecary shop included quinine for malaria, hartshorn for snakebite, citric acid for scurvy and blueness, and opium and whisky for almost everything else. Laudanum, morphine, calomel, and tincture of camphor were other potent drugs frequently resorted to. Among name brands mentioned are Ayer’s Pain Killer, Dover’s Powders, and Jayne’s Caminative Balsam.”
Utah Gets News of Coming War
“On July 24, 1857, the Saints held their annual celebration of Pioneers’ Day at the head of Big Cottonwood Canyon, some twenty-five miles southeast of Salt Lake City and 10,000 feet above sea level. . . . Suddenly four travel-worn men, one of whom had ridden the long road from Eastern Kansas, rushed upon the scene with the information that a new governor, with a large military escort, was on his way to establish Gentile rule over Utah. . . .the grimmy couriers, it would seem, had played the part of Pheidippides before the battle of Marathon. . . .
Whatever warning the Saints may have had, the fact remains that after seven turbulent years relations between the Territory and the nation seemed about to dissolve in civil war.”
Winter Resupply for the Utah Expedition
The “Mormon War” broke in 1857. . . . ‘l’he aspen leaves were already flashing a brilliant yellow and the chill of autumn was abroad when the little army reached the Green River valley in present western Wyoming. . . . Lot Smith, clever and elusive, captured several of the trains of supplies which were in the rear of the troops. . . .
“The army found itself in a rather hazardous position. With supplies greatly reduced, winter snows already falling, and with one hundred miles of bleak mountains separating them from the Mormon metropolis beside the Great Salt Lake, it was decided to forstall plans of conquest for the present season and establish winter quarters. New supplies in quantity must be had and the nearest source was at Fort Union, New Mexico. To that depot a detachment must be sent for succor. Albert S. Johnston (later killed as a Confederate general in the Civil War) was in command of the United States troops at Fort Bridger. He ordered Captain R. B. Marcy to lead the expedition to New Mexico.”
Mile 1078: Pacific Springs Station
“All the time that my brain was wandering in this pleasant fog of confused ideas, my feet were carrying me out of the troubled times of ’49 and into the comparative luxury of the sixties (for the log houses, toward which my gregarious husband started some time ago, date from the original staging days, when they constituted the important Pony Express and stage station called Pacific Spring). There are four buildings—two on each side of the old road—widely spaced so that they form the four corners of a rough rectangle. The house faces the old store and bar. The blacksmith shop stares across at the stables. It is now the John Hays horse ranch, and the buildings are in everyday use.”
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.”
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.”
“Going over the rolling prairies into the valley of the Platte, the surroundings suddenly change. Spread out before us is the wide but shallow river, running eastward to the Missouri, its banks at intervals fringed with willows and occasional belts of young cottonwood trees; the bottom covered with a rank growth of tall dead grass, presenting a decided contrast when compared with the last thirty or forty miles which we have just gone over in crossing the divide.”
Mile 1835: Dry Creek
“[W]hen Streeper was ready to return, two prospectors traveling toward Salt Lake City, asked him if they could accompany him, to which he replied that they could if they were not afraid of Indians. They fared forth and saw no Indians or anything else out of the ordinary until they neared Dry Creek station. They saw no signs of anyone about and a herd of cattle was moving away from it.
Riding on in Streeper dismounted, walked to the door of the station and looked inside. Years later he said that what he saw caused his hair to stand on end. Before him lay the scalped, mutilated body of Ralph Rosier, the station keeper. John Applegate and Lafayette (“Bolly”) Bolwinkle were not there. Later, he learned what had happened.
A day or so before, after he had passed on his westward way, Rosier and Applegate rose early as usual to begin the days work. ‘Bolly’ was enjoying an extra forty winks before joining them. Applegate started to make a fire to get breakfast while Rosier went to the spring for a bucket of water.
Suddenly a rifle shot rang out and Rosier screamed. Applegate leaped to the door, looked out, saw his friend upon the ground dying, and turned back. Another shot, and Applegate fell to the floor, a horrible wound in his hip and groin. A moment later McCandless who was alone in his trading post, dashed across the road and took refuge in the station.
‘Bolly’ leaped from his bed in his stocking feet, and seized his gun. For some minutes he and McCandless worked like beaver piling grain bags in the doorway and making other preparations to defend the place to the last ditch. Applegate, who was suffering intensely, urged them to abandon him to his fate and attempt to reach the next station. When they refused he asked for a revolver. They gave him one, thinking he wished to take a shot at an Indian. Instead he shot himself through the head.
After the first two shots the attackers seem to have remained quiet, for nothing is said about ‘Bolly’ and McCandless having fought them. At length the trader declared they had to make a run of it to the next station. When ‘Bolly’ objected on the grounds that the Indians would certainly cut them down in the open, McCandles assured him such was not the case. They were not after him, he said, and since he had always treated them well they had a friendly feeling for him. If ‘Bolly’ would stay close to him they would nut dare shoot for fear of hitting him.
‘Bolly’ at length agreed co make the attempt. When everything was ready, the grain bags were removed from the door and they leaped outside. As they dashed down the road McCandless kept between ‘Bolly’ and the Indians. A few gave chase on foot, but the fugitives outdistanced them. Being satisfied with the blood they had already shed, they turned hack to loot the station.
‘Bolly’ and McCandless reached the next station in safety where they found three or four men ready to defend it. Having covered the ten or twelve miles without boots ‘Bolly’s’ feet were so cut by stones and filled with cactus thorns that he was laid up for some time.”
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.'”
Names of the Upper Crossing
“The Upper Crossing of the South Fork of the Platte apparently went by several names including ‘Laramie Crossing,’ ‘Goodale’s Crossing,’ ‘Morrell’s Crossing,’ and later ‘Julesburg’ or ‘Overland City,’ although Julesburg came to be preferred. Julesburg became widely known, the station and stable were then ‘long, one-story, hewed cedar-log buildings; there was also a store and blacksmith, shop. . . . The Pacific telegraph line at this point also crossed the Platte, having been completed through to San Francisco via Fort Bridger and Salt Lake. . . . lt cost ten dollars a wagon to get ferried across the Platte [by rope ferry in 1864 ]. “-Overland Stage, pp. 219, 220”
Westerners and Government Roads
“Individualism and adaptability characterized all those who participated in America’s westward movement. Frontiersmen evinced this as they sought out new routes toward the West and more convenient means of transport.
Despite this individualism, the Westerner has always sought the aid of the federal government in solving his transportation problems. Such a vast undertaking as the construction of wagon roads from the Mississippi west to the Pacific required more than half a century for completion. Federal sponsorship was essential, since there must be exploring expeditions, reconnaissance of trails, and the survey, building, and improving of roads.”
The view of the Pawnee as a treacherous and predatory people was inculcated in the 1840s with the publication of Fremont’s journals and Hastings’s and Ware’s guidebooks for emigrants. In reality, the Pawnee were less a threat to the migrants than a nuisance, and, while retaining the largely false image of hostility, they earned an added reputation as thieves and beggars. This disparaging reputation persisted into the settlement era.
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.’)”
Sand and Alkali
“This report of the eyes is a fact of which I have spoken before. The incessant wind which blew upon the plains, and kept the sand and alkali in circulation, affected the eyes of the men, and there were constantly some of the men who were unable to do much until their eyes were well; and this was so general a matter that all of the ranches kept large spectacles or goggles to sell to the ‘pilgrims,’ and we had a lot in our company to be used by the men when they felt that they were beginning to suffer.”
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.]
Mile 1134 to 1160: Green River to Black's Fork
“From the original Oregon trail crossing [about twenty miles upriver, near present-day Fontanelle], the early wagon trains converged toward what was later known as the Lombard ferry trail. the two routes form a wedge like a slice of pie, of which Green River is the fluted crust and the point is at Black’s Fork. near the point Ham’s Fork cuts diagonally across [at present-day Granger] as if serving the first crooked bite. The whole section of country between the two routes is a broken, barren prairie, covered with sand and gravel. The emigrants often found it difficult. We found it almost impassible: it had recently rained, or perhaps I should say ‘cloudbursted.’ The inefficient roads had been washed over by torrents just strong enough to carry perfectly strange boulders as far as the middle of the wheel tracks, but under no conditions able to take them on across. . . .
This part of the country is seen at its best either at sunrise or sunset. When traveling east we often stay all night at Green River and leave very early in the morning in order to enjoy the really exquisite light effects on the weird castlelike rock formations that are its dominant feature.”
[N.B. at around Mile 1147, the Pony Express Bikepacking Route carries a warning: “Road has multiple dangerous washouts—keep looking ahead.”]
“On August 22  the Missouri Republican correspondent ‘Nebraska’ told of a fiasco ‘of our last Indian war, in which the chivalry of Missouri, yclepted the Oregon Battalion [out of Fort Kearny], was arrayed on one side, and the squaws, pappooses, and decrepit warriors of the Pawnee nation, on the other.'”
“The Canadian voyageurs have translated the name Sweetwater from the Indian Pina Pa; but the term is here more applicable in a metaphorical than in a literal point of view. . . . There is a something in the Sweetwater which appeals to the feelings of rugged men: even the drivers and the station-keepers speak of ” her” with a bearish affection.”
“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.”
The Element Most Essential to Survival
“It was on the freighting trains that Slade developed a fierce hatred of hose thieves–a characteristic he shared with most frontiersmen. On the plains the element most essential to survival was not a man’s gun but his horse, for a man set afoot in a wilderness infested with hostile Indians was likely as good as dead. In the first makeshift miners’ courts, the theft of a horse was considered the most serious offense. ‘Horse stealing in those days was the greatest crime a man could commit,’ the frontiersman George Beatty recalled. ‘Murder didn’t amount to anything.'”
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.”
“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.]
Woodward Delivers the California–Salt Lake City Mail
“Also in July , Woodward [co-partner with George Chorpenning in Woodward and Co., which held the mail contract between Sacramento and Salt Lake City starting in 1851] made his first passage over the trail packing mail to Utah. On July 18 he was attacked in Thousand Spring Valley by two well-armed and mounted Indians. . . . Following his narrow escape, Woodward arrived safely with the mail at Salt Lake City before the end of July.
The return to Sacramento in August was even more hazardous. Woodward and a nine-man escort apparently left Salt Lake City on August 1, and followed the Salt Lake Cutoff, via Granite Goose Creek, to the Humboldt. On August 10, two of the escort were fired on by six or eight mounted Indians between wells and Elko, Nevada. Two days later, near Carlin, Nevada, the party was awakened at dawn by rifle fire from the willows along the river as Indians attempted to stampede the stock. One man and three animals were wounded when the carriers hitched up fought a slow retreat up Emigrant Pass. In the broken summit of the pass, a second band of Indians ambushed the mail party but failed to prevent its escape southwest toward Gravelly Ford.
On August 15, Woodward met a courier named Henderson with the August 1 mail from Sacramento. Henderson had been the target of several long-range attacks on the previous day. Doubting that Henderson could fight through to Salt Lake City, Woodward ordered him to accompany the westbound mail to Carson Valley. Enroute, the combined mail parties were joined by six survivors of a fourteen-man emigrant train that had also been attacked by Indians. Woodward left Henderson at Carson Valley and brought the Utah mail into Sacramento on August 31. . . .
Despite the Indian menace, Woodward & Company’s initial trips to and from Utah indicated possible profit in express and coach service. Within a week of Woodward’s return to Sacramento at the end of August, he and Chorpenning bought seventy-five pack animals and expanded their business to include freight and passengers.”
Mile 2126-2148: Pacific House to Placerville
Fifteen miles above Hangtown [Placerville] the teams reached Pacific House, at fourteen, Bullion Bend, where a stage was held up and loot is supposed to be buried; at twelve, Sportsman’s Hall (named from the multitude of card sharks that frequented its tables) where the relay waited for the Pony Express rider on his mad dash. It was the chosen stopping place for teamsters freighting to the Nevada mines and had stable room for several hundred horses. Then they came to Five Mile House and on down to Hangtown Creek with all its water drained out into ditches to feed the big toms.'”
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.”
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.”
“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).”
Signs for Tribes
” . . . and spoke of the loss of the Sioux [at Ash Hollow], making the sign of that nation—rather an unpleasant one, the hand drawn edgewise across the throat. The sign of the Crows is the fore-finger jerked about in the air peculiarly; of the Snakes making an undulating line with the finger pointing to the ground; and so of other nations or tribes.”
Free Land Acts
“During the homesteading years that began after the Civil War . . . There was still free land out west, available through a variety of federal programs, but mostly through the Donation Land Act of 1850 and then three separate Homestead Acts passed by Congress in 1862, 1909, and 1916.”
Pony Express Using Chorpenning's Stations
“Russell, Majors and Waddell’s pony express company became the immediate beneficiary of Chorpenning’s demise. On the same day that Chorpenning’ s service was terminated, William Russell signed a contract with the post office on behalf of Russell & Jones Company, a subsidiary of Russell, Majors and Waddell. Russell agreed to provide the same semi-monthly service at $30,000 per year-$47,000 less than Chorpenning. The new contractor immediately seized the stations, stock, and equipment along Chorpenning’s mail line. From May of 1860 until the termination of the Pony Express in October of 1861, both Russell & Jones and the U.S. mail utilized the stations and route established by the Chorpenning mail between Placerville and Salt Lake City. Subsequently, the Union Telegraph and the Overland Stage Company also adopted the trail blazed by the Chorpenning mail carriers.
“Roy S. Bloss, Pony Express: The Great Gamble (Berkeley, California: Howell-North, 1959), 28, suggests when the Pony Express established its route in February and March of 1860, it ‘borrowed or appropriated’ many of Chorpenning’s stations. In a letter of April 16, 1861 to the Salt Lake City Deseret News, W. H. Shearman of Ruby Valley clearly stated that the Pony Express simply helped itself to Chorpenning’s assets. Shearman’s persuasive and pungent letter is quoted in Journal History, April 16, 1861, LDS Library-Archives.”
Mile 680: Scott's Bluff
“The third of the soft stone landmarks is Scott’s Bluff, slightly more than twenty miles from the Chimney. Scott’s Bluff owes its name to an incident of the fur-trapping days. Scott, it seems, was employed by the American Fur Company, and fell sick on his way home from the mountains. . . . [I]n order to make speed, the leader of Scott’s group went ahead with his men, leaving only two to bring Scott down the North Platte in a bullboat. It was agreed to meet at this distinctive bluff.
The boat was wrecked, and there was no way to take Scott along. The two men deserted him, expecting that he would obligingly die quietly where they left him. In fact they reported to their party that he had done so, and the entire company left the bluff and returned to civilization.nThe unfortunate Scott, meanwhile, struggled along toward the assigned meeting place, a distance of some sixty miles. After untold agony of body and mind he arrived to find unmistakable evidence of their departure. Hope was gone. He relinquished his soul to its maker and his outraged body to the wolves; but his bones remained—his bones and some identifying trifles by which they were recognized the next summer anf the whole sordid story was exposed. A memorial tablet has been erected near the spring where he spent his last hours.”
Young's Hostile Attitude Toward U.S. Troops
“In his correspondence with Colonel Alexander, Young had justified his hostile attitude toward the troops on Ham’s Fork by certain legalistic quibbles. The Organic Act of the Territory, he maintained, gave the governor a term of four years unless he was replaced by a person duly qualified and appointed. Since Young had not been formerly appraised of the expedition, Young . . . could contend that it was a mob, not an army of the United States. On this pretext he used his power as commander in chief of the territorial militia to protect his people from invasion by a gang of irregulars. Obviously delighted with these arguments carelessly provided by the President, the Mormons frequently drew upon them . . .
Although such questionable reasoning was useful to the Mormons in the war of words accompanying the military aspects of the campaign, its comparison of the army to a mob also revealed their actual fears of the soldiers . . .
The Mormon’s unflattering estimate of the troops was accurate to a certain extent. . . . Because of its unpopularity, the army frequently drew its recruits from the less stable elements of society, men who were persuaded to enlist because of desperate poverty or some similarly compelling reason. . . . John W. Phelps found the men in his battery ‘exceedingly stupid,’ ‘naturally defective in intellect,’ so depraved that ‘they would sell their last article of clothing for liquor.’ . . .
Believing the common soldiers of the expedition to be individuals of dangerous passions, the Saints were also convinced that they were commanded by men whose anti-Mormon antipathies were deep-rooted. . . .
The Mormons had not only the expedition’s soldiers to fear. During the summer and early fall contractors Russell, Majors & Waddell had sent 328 ox wagons to Utah; the sutlers and other merchants traveling with the column had another 160 wagons in their trains. When the army reached the Territory, it would therefore bring a great horde of drivers and wagon masters with it, men who had been recruited by advertisements in the barrooms and on the streets of Leavenworth City. . . .
Another fear of the Mormons in 1857 centered upon the newly appointed territorial officers. With a reprehensible indifference the Government had not told the people of Utah who their officers were to be; the Saints knew only that they were Gentiles. Aware of the enmity toward them in the East, they [resumed that these men were antagonistic to the Church and been selected because of the strength of their animosity.”
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.”
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 . . .”
Pony Bob Halsam's Ride
“The first Pony Express rider going east after the attack upon Williams Station was “Pony Bob” Haslam, who set out for [from?] Friday’s Station on May 9. If he was not aware of the outbreak when he started, he quickly learned about it when he arrived in Carson City. Since the volunteers had taken all the horses to chase the Pah Utes, there was no change for him. Scores of men were frantically at work fortifying Penrod Hotel and everybody was armed. After feeding his own mount he rode on to Buckland’s, 75 miles away. When he arrived he found W. C. Marley, the station keeper, and Johnson Richardson, the rider who was to relieve him, in something of a panic.
Richardson refused to take the mochila on and Marley offered Haslam $50 to continue with it. This he agreed to do not because of the bonus, but because he felt it was his duty to do so. Changing horses he pounded on to Sand Springs where he changed again. Making still another change at Cold Spring he arrived safely at Smith’s Creek, having covered 190 miles without a rest.
Jay G. Kelley took the mochila and raced eastward with the news of the tragedy at William’s Station. He made his regular changes along the way, briefly told his story, and pushed on to Ruby Valley, his home station. From there both mochila and news were rushed eastward. Every rider along the route, knowing the necessity for both reaching Salt Lake City at the earliest possible moment, outdid himself in an effort to make the best possible time.
Eight hours after arriving at Smith’s Creek, Haslam turned back with the west bound mochila, possibly on May 12, the day of the battle at Pyramid Lake. At Cold Spring he found that the station had been burnt, the station keeper killed, and the horses driven off. After watering and feeding his own horse, he rode on. Upon reaching Sand Springs he found only the stock tender there whom he persuaded to accompany him for fear he would be killed if left alone.
At Carson Sink he found fifteen men, probably the most of them survivors of the battle at Pyramid Lake, barricaded in the station. Leaving them to hold the place he rode on to Buckland’s, arriving only three and a half hours late.
Marley was so overjoyed to see him back alive that he doubled the bonus promised him. After resting an hour and a half he sped on to Carson City, which he found a city of mourning for those slain at Pyramid Lake. He reported to Bolivar Roberts, then rode on to Friday’s Station. When he arrived he had covered 380 miles and had been in the saddle thirty-six hours.
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.”
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.”
“[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.”
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.'”
Causes of Friction Between Mormons and Gentiles
“One basic cause of the difficulties [between Mormons and Gentiles] during [the 1850s], and indeed in later years, was the existence of a public opinion extremely hostile to the Mormons and prepared to seize upon any pretext, whether valid or not, to renew the attack upon the Church. . . .
A second cause of trouble between the Mormons in Utah and the Government was the selection of inferior men to fill the Territory’s offices. . . .
Another irritant, of lesser importance than some mentioned here, was the question of land ownership. . . Before the Saints could claim the land as their own . . . certain procedures established by Congress had to be followed, among them disposal of Indian rights and a survey of the area. . . .
For their part, the Mormon’s characteristics and activities were as conductive to strife as the temper and policies of their opponents. . . . After their experiences with inflamed Gentile mobs, the Mormons were quick to look for new attacks in Utah, an attitude that times became unjustified truculence. Furthermore, their continual insistence upon the superiority of their faith under divine sanction proved most objectionable to other Christians. . . .”
Mile 753: Fort Laramie Ferry
“Robert Campbell [who built the original fort that became Fort Laramie] had cannily built his picketed stockade in the angle of the two rivers [Laramie and North Platte], so that all who approached from the east must either ford the Laramie or ferry the North Platte. Both projects provided plenty of exercise and some risk. Thos companies who had attained the west bank of the Missouri River at Independence, St. Joseph, Nebraska City, or nearby ferries, and who consequently traveled south of the Platte must now ford the Laramie. And the Laramie was deep, swift-flowing, and ice-cold. Those who ferried the Missouri at Kanesville or Council Bluffs, and remained north of the Platte were now faced with the thankless job of ferrying to the south side only to cross back again just west of the Black Hills, where the river swung too far south for their purpose, and the road left it definitely and forever. The did so up to and including the year 1849. . . .
There was no necessity, as it later proved, for any man to risk (and sometimes lose) his life in ferrying the Platte at Fort Laramie: there was an easy route on the north side. The officers [at Fort Laramie] were suspected of giving out misleading information to induce the emigrants to cross—at first, on account of the profit they could make from selling supplies at exhorbitant prices, and later because they ran a government ferry at five dollars per wagon and had unlimited opportunity to line their pockets.”
Tobacco and Soap
“Great disappointment was felt at our not staying there [Fort Kearney] at least a few hours to buy some of the articles we most needed; tobacco and soap were very scarce in camp, and on the plains are of equal necessity. Our cattle evidently sympathised with us, as the main of them turned back that night, and were found near the fort. We, however, lay camped by the broad channel of the Platte, in which at this season a few shallow streams of water hardly make their way through sand and shingle.”
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 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.”
Young Native American Fun
“It now appeared that the condition of the country as to Indian troubles was that the Indians as tribes would not participate in the war, and that the whole Indian strength was not in the war ; but that a large amount of trouble was made by individual young bucks who were bent on mischief, and on having what they considered fun; which was, the scalping of white men and women, and the getting of horses and plunder.”
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.”
Dogtown and Dobytown
“Beginning in 1858 there were two famous—or infamous—appendages of Fort Kearny, primitive communities which supplied vital needs for civilians and soldiers alike. Eight miles to the east, just off the reservation line, was Valley City, or Dogtown. Just beyond the western line, two miles away and therefore a much bigger and livelier place, was Kearney City, or Dobytown. . . .
Monthly mail between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City, Utah, began in the summer of 1850. In 1858 mail service went on a weekly basis, and with this began the systematic transportation of passengers, first by mail wagon, later by the famous Concord coaches. To facilitate this service, the company built stage stations at intervals of town or twelve miles. This was the actual beginning of Valley City and Kearney City. The former was related to a ‘swing station’ where horses were changed; the latter evolved from a ‘home station’ where drivers were changed and meals offered the passengers. . . .
The Pony Express of 1860-1861, operated by Russell, Majors & Waddell, of freighting fame, shared most of its stations with the Holladay company along the main Platte; accordingly, there were Pony Express stations at Valley City and in the Fort Kearny vicinity. Contrary to widespread impression, the Pony Express riders did not gallop up to Moses Sydenham’s sod [sutler] post near the Fort Kearny parade ground; they kept right on going to the log station west of the fort, and mail by stage or Pony Express was carried back to the fort from there.”
Sharing a Blanket
“In this connection I might say that at least one of the men is still on earth. I refer to Thomas Crummel, ex-mayor of Auburn. He was my ‘partner’ on that trip, slept with me under the same blankets, and a truer or more loyal fellow never cracked a whip or stole a chicken from a ranchman.”
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.”
“I saw a light in the sutler’s store, went there to get the cigar, and found a party of officers, all of whom I knew, engaged in a poker game. I was most enthusiastically received, and was asked to sit in the game, or, to use the language of the period, to ‘take some of the chicken pie.”’
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]
The Mormon Pony Express
The Mormons also planned a “swift pony express” to carry the mail between Independence and Salt Lake City in twenty days. Stations existed at Fort Supply, and Fort Bridger, and they hoped to establish additional stations . . . Ultimately, Brigham Young planned to build stations with settlements mills, storehouses, and plant cropland approximately every fifty miles or the equivalent of a day’s travel by a team of horses. . . .
Young’s plans never fully materialized. Service was interrupted during the summer of 1857, when the government suddenly cancelled Kimball’s [mail] contract without explanation, and the so-called “Utah War” with the Mormons began.
Mile 1429: Government Creek/Davis Station/Government Well Station
“There is some doubt as to whether the structures at this location were used by the Pony Express. There is record of the army digging a well here for an outpost, and it was mentioned in an interview with one of the stage drivers in the Salt Lake Tribune. A telegraph station was established here in late 1861 and operated by David E. (Pegleg) Davis. Its location is reflected on the 1875 cadastral plat. The transcontinental telegraph was in operation through this area until 1869 when it was moved north to parallel the new transcontinental railroad.
“Government Creek Station is neither mentioned in the 1861 contract nor in Egan’s book. Until appropriate investigations are complete, questions will remain to plague the researcher. Why is there such a gap between Point Lookout and Simpson Springs when a mountain pass exists and on either side; stations are spaced about eight miles apart? Why build a telegraph station here when a spur line could have been built to O.P. Rockwell’s (Porter Rockwell’s ranch was just a short distance to the south and a similar spur was used at Deep Creek to Egan’s Ranch)? Why was a telegraph station built here when at Point Lookout or Simpson Springs conditions for grounding the single wire were better (more moist the soil the better the ground).
The logic of building a telegraph station at Government Creek bears a closer look. A single wire telegraph would carry as far as 250 miles (with enough batteries) so that booster stations in between were not necessary. Davis Station is about 80 miles from Salt Lake and about 100 miles from Deep Creek. Therefore, technically, placement at this location was not necessary. Also telegraph stations could be spliced in anywhere along the line with the use of a lead wire from the main line to a sounder, two batteries, a key, and a ground wire. Was there any reason for establishing a telegraph station here at all unless the buildings were already present? This suggests, therefore, that the buildings were already there and possibly used by the Express. The foundations of two structures remain evident at the site.”
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.”
“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.”
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.””
“During the twelve ensuing days the men continued to live on the meat of starved or exhausted horses and mules. As the salt supply ran out they discovered that gunpowder sprinkled on the mule steaks took the place of both salt and pepper.”
Russell, Majors, and Waddell's Contributions
“[Russell, Majors, and Waddells’] contribution to the settlement of the Rocky Mountain region in the form of transportation, express and Mail facilities, and the freighting of supplies was incalculable. They, more than any other individual or group, bridged the wide gap between the Missouri River and the broad West in those few important years between the Mexica War and the Civil War.
The fact that they suffered bankruptcy and that the limitless empire on wheels they built, at tremendous expenditure of energy and money, passed to the control of others, in no wise detracts from the credit due them. On the day they relinquished control of [the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Company], the chug of the steam locomotive and the click of the telegraph instrument were heard west of the Missouri River.”
“Our cooking utensils consisted of two or three camp-kettles, a frying-pan, skillet (or bake-pan), and a coffee-mill. We had also tin cups and plates, and the above-mentioned knives and forks. Each mess, too, had an axe, a spade, and three or four six-gallon water-kegs. Rations were served out every evening, for each man l lb. of flour, the same of bacon; coffee and sugar in sufficiency: we used to brown all the coffee each evening in the frying pan.”
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.”
Greater Numbers of Emigrants
“As gold rushers raced across the plains and mountains in unprecedented numbers, it was little wonder that writers were caught up in ‘adventurist’ euphoria. Nor was it surprising that the nay-sayers offered gloomy prophecies about what those overlanders might expect. More persons, after all, ventured out on the overland trip in 1849 alone than had made the continental crossing in all the previous years combined. Still greater numbers crowded the trails in 1850 and 1852. No one really knew what might happen.”
Mile 1316: Mountain Dale/Mountain Dell/Big Canyon/Hanks Station
“A vandalized monument in the NW1/4 of the NW1/4 of Section 36 presently marks the location of the assumed station site. . . .
“Upon checking the USGS quad map, it can be seen that Little Mountain Summit is west of the presently marked station site, in section 36. It should be noted that the roads do not go over Little Mountain, but do go over Little Mountain summit. The 1881 survey plat shows the currently marked location as Cook’s house and barn. West of the summit, however, in Section 33 (See Figure 12) the surveyor records a cabin at the mouth of what is now named Freeze Creek. This site, incidently, is about equidistant between the Salt Lake House and Wheaton Springs. It should be also noted the name “Mountain Dale” appears on the 1861 Mail contract. Granted, that Mountain Dale has been a long standing name in its present geographic location, but could Mountain Dale, the name given to the Hanks station site, have been unknowingly changed by later historians and writers?”
“A grave placed below on a small circular rising ground at a bend of Echo Canon struck me perhaps more: wistfully one reads these records of the dead; one may people the castles on the cliffs with aerial warriors from faery land, but human sympathies, and something more than idle curiosities, group around these lonely tombs. Here, for instance, is one but a week old, that tells us the emigrant train was just so far ahead of us. The name is Cadoret, a Frenchman, I suppose; my companion reads with interest the name of his countryman, and tells me it is a Breton name; we both wonder why he joined the Mormons, and came hither.
“Side by side is another grave: read that slab; “aged 76 :” were there no graves in Egypt, that the old man came out to perish in the wilderness? Was it zeal for a faith adopted late in life, or the intenser thirst for-the gold of California, that brought him to the mouth of Echo Canon, and to the side of the rapid Weber, and within a day’s walk of the valley in the mountains?
“Look at this one more: Bewick might have chosen it as the subject of a vignette; the slab of wood is neatly carved, and tells us a woman was buried here; her place of birth, her age, and whose wife she was, we can read; but the ground was soft and the grave shallow, and the wolves have torn up the body—perhaps before the first night’s dew settled on the tombstone, or the cheek of the mourner was dry. But we have stayed too long; the waggons are almost out of sight, and the Frenchman, satiated with the beauty of the red cliffs, is eager to drive on the straggling invalids of our herd.”
“At noon on the fifth day out, we arrived at the ‘Crossing of the South Platte,’ alias ‘Julesburg,’ alias ‘Overland City,’ four hundred and seventy miles from St. Joseph—the strangest, quaintest, funniest frontier town that our untraveled eyes had ever stared at and been astonished with.”
First Overland Mail to Oregon
“We may consider that ’48 established a ‘first.’ Some three hundred letters, addressed to people in Oregon, had piled up at Independence, but there was no mail service. The postmaster arranged with an emigrant named Bayley to transport these letters, with the understanding that he could collect forty cents apiece from each person to whom he delivered one. (This would seem to be part of the Oregon story, but it worked out differently.) . . .
[T]he mail had got through. Bayley had finally decided to come to California. He carefully kept the letters. Once arrived, he found that large numbers of men from Oregon had come to California after gold. They were so eager for letters that they gladly paid the postman two dollars apiece for their safe delivery.”
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.”
Move from St. Joseph to Atchison
“Beginning in September, 1861, the Post Office Department ordered the dispatch of the overland mail from Atchison rather than St. Joseph, since the Kansas town was 14 miles farther west on an extension of the Hannibal and St. Joseph railroad. The terminal of the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company was accordingly moved to the new location, partly because it would be more free from involvement in the Civil War then raging in Missouri.”
Big Dipper Clock
“The herders and guards knew the hour of the night, when there was a clear sky, by the position of the big dipper; the Great Bear was their only clock.”
[Note: Instructions on telling time by the Big Dipper: https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/tell-time-by-stars.html]
Mile 82: Log Chain Station
“David M. Locknane’s station (Log Chain of later accounts) was located on a branch of the Grasshopper river, and was termed by Burton ‘Big Muddy Station.’ It is said that an early settler who lived nearby made good money during the spring months by renting his log chains to freighters whose vehicles became mired in the mud of this cr0ssing (interviews of George A. Root with old settlers). This was the home of “Old Bob Ridley” (Robert Sewell), a very popular stage driver on the eastern division between Atchison and Fort Kearny.–Overland Stage, pp. 193-195.”
Seeing the Elephant
“To read the diaries of the Gold Rush, one might suppose that elephants flourished [on the Plains] in 1849, but the emigrants weren’t talking about wooly mammoths or genuine circus-type elephants. The were talking about one particular elephant, the Elephant, an imaginary beast of fearsome dimensions which, according to Niles Searls, was ‘but another name for going to California.’ But it was more than that. It was the popular symbol of the Great Adventure, all the wonder and the glory and the shivering thrill of the plunge into the ocean of the prairie and plains, and the brave assault upon mountains and deserts that were gigantic barriers to California gold. It was the poetic imagry of all the deadly perils that threatened a westering emigrant.”
Choice of St. Joseph Terminal
“The next issue of the St. Joseph Weekly West announced the location of the eastern terminal at that place, rather than Leavenworth, a decision which appears to have been forced upon Russell because of the fact that St. Joseph enjoyed a direct railroad connection with the East, even though he personally favored Leavenworth.”
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.”
Mile 1900: Smith Creek Station
“One story about Smith’s Creek was reported in the August 1860 Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. ‘One day last week H. Trumbo, station keeper at Smith’s Creek, got into a difficulty with Montgomery Maze, one of the Pony Express Riders, during which Trumbo snapped a pistol at Maze several times. The next day the fracas was renewed when Maze shot Trumbo with a rifle, the ball entering a little above the hip and inflicting a dangerous wound. Maze has since arrived at this place (Carson City) bringing with him a certificate signed by various parties, exonerating him from blame in the affair and setting forth that Trumbo had provoked the attack.’
In another incident, two riders, William Carr and Bernard Chessy, got into an argument. Carr later shot and killed Chessy. Carr was arrested, found guilty, and had the dubious distinction of being the first man legally hanged in the Nevada Territory in Carson City.
“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.”
Stations Attacked During the Paiute War
“A San Francisco dispatch of June 4, in New York Daily Tribune, June 26, 1860, reported the stations abandoned beyond Sand Springs toward Salt Lake. The station at Simpson Park was burned, and tho horses driven off; the station keeper at Dry creek was murdered. . . .
“For some time Ruby Valley station, 300 miles west of Salt Lake was the one farthest west (this side of the trouble sone) not interfered with by the Indians. At this time it was announced that the Pony Express would begin semiweekly trips from St. Joseph (apparently to take care of the emergency).”
Mile 764: Register Cliffs
“Later investigation proved that the jutting points of the bluffs all had initials, and sometimes full name and address and date, carved upon the soft stone surfaces. They are called Register Cliffs, and lie directly across the river from Guernsey, Wyoming. Until very recently [in the mid-1930s] they have received little publicity but are among the best of the ‘guest-book’ rocks of the overland road. It may be fittingly remarked, just here, that the hurrying, tired travelers who passed this way did not spend their time carving names for the fun of it, nor risk their necks to put their carving in the most conspicuous place possible for the thrill. The imperfect hieroglyphics gave reassurance to the friends and relatives who came, possibly, a few weeks later. Finding the one beloved name meant that its owner had reached this stage of the journey alive, and preumably well. It was one of the surging joys of the anxious journey.”
[N.B. This spot is noted on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route as the site of the Sand Point Stage, and notes that there is a Pony Express marker here as well. Irene Paden notes, “Near one of the great rounded points of the cliff a group of forgotten pioneers sleep in unmarked graves. We passed them on our way to the ranch house for information. Farther along, and out in the open, is a large Pony Express marker. No name is given on the plaque, but it commemorates the old Point of Rocks station.” (Wake of the Prairie Schooner at 174). I believe Ms. Paden is mistaken; there is a Point of Rocks station in western Wyoming.]
“A composite picture of a wagonmaster, drawn from contemporary writings and reminiscences, would show a man about six feet tall, raw boned and powerfully built, with steady eyes, and a face bronzed by long exposure to the elements, scarred by youthful brawls, decorated with a drooping mustache, and framed in shoulder-length hair. He wore the usual rough trousers, shirt, and high boots of the frontier, donning a coat only in extremely cold weather. At his belt hung two revolvers and a large knife, Mexican spurs jangled at his heels as he walked, and his head was covered by a broad-brimmed hat or Mexican sombrero. Across the pommel of his saddle, or in a scabbard under his thigh, was a rifle. His customary mount was a good saddle mule, though he sometimes preferred horses.”
Emigration of 1849
“Before the last of the tired emigrants of ’48 had come stumbling into Lassen’s ranch, the gold fever was raging in the East. An era had ended. In the early years of the the trail a few wagons had moved eastward, across the rolling prairie and among the desert sand hills, as lonely as men left swimming in mid-ocean from a sunken ship. But in ’49 the diarists wrote of continuous trains six miles long. In a single year the numbers so increased that for one person who traveled the trail to California in ’48 fifty traveled it in ’49.”
Emigrants and Cattle
“The wagon-train emigrants remained for months cheek by jowl with more cattle than they had ever seen before; rode behind them; walked ahead of them; took their dust; drank milk from their tired cows; ate beef from the lame oxen butchered to get the last ounce of use from their faithful carcasses; slept on stormy nights with them tied restlessly to the wagon wheels while their horns poked bulges in the canvas tops; desperately kept themselves and their children from under stampeding hooves—or sometimes despairingly failed; endured cow hair on their clothes and in their food; drank water sullied by cattle and by buffalo; cooked with their droppings; and everlastingly—day and night—lived with the noise and smell of cattle.”
Mile 311: Susan Haile Grave Site
The following lines rely extensively on the article by Randy Brown in the Spring, 2007, issue of Overland Journal, titled The Grave of Susan C. Haile. When I first visited this area in the late 1960s with Boy Scouts, it was generally known as the “Lone Grave.” Randy Brown writes, “Most assuredly, however, when Susan Haile died in 1852 hers was not a lone grave. This was in the midst of the ‘cholera corridor’, . . . .” Most likely there were dozens even hundreds of graves along the Thirty-two Mile Creek/Platte River Valley stretch, but we know only the Susan Haile grave location. We know of the Haile grave because of the existence of a headstone. Intriguing legends and questions accompany the Haile story. Who was she? How did she die? How was a gravestone transported to the spot?
Often extended family units or clans moved from Virginia and Pennsylvania to Tennessee and Kentucky and then again to Missouri. The Seawells, Susan’s grandparents followed this pattern and eventually settled in Missouri. Susan and R. C. Haile were married in 1836 when she was almost 19. Randy Brown searched for accounts of the journey but concludes, “Unfortunately, there is no contemporary account of the journey. They probably left the Missouri River in the Kansas City area, or they could well have headed northwest . . . to St. Joseph, one of the major outfitting towns of the time. . . . All that is known of the journey is that when they reached the Platte River in south-central Nebraska, Susan C. Haile died.” The legend of the “Lone Grave” began when settlers in the late 1860s discovered the engraved stone marker.
The legends explaining her death are interesting and can be found in many sources. According to the legend, they secured water from the government well approximately six miles southeast of the grave (see images 23, 24, 25). It has been suggested that this water had been poisoned by Indians and thus caused the death of Susan Haile. Scholars take issue with this explanation for several reasons: 1) the Pawnees who traveled in the area were not warlike or hostile, 2) the Pawnees would have used the water themselves, and 3) the Pawnees did not have a poison effective in a well. 1852 was the height of the cholera epidemic on the trail. It is more likely that Susan Haile drank contaminated water that infected her with cholera, a violent intestinal disorder that led to rapid dehydration and then death sometimes in less than a day.
The next part of the legend suggests that the grieving husband returned to St. Joseph and purchased a granite marker which he brought back to the gravesite in a wheel-barrow. Catherine Renschler and Randy Brown have read many sources and conclude that it is most unlikely that R. C. Haile pushed a stone 250 miles across the prairie in a wheel-barrow. But Brown asserts, “Part of the legend may be true. Richard Haile marked his wife’s grave with a headboard and could have returned to the settlements to get a proper marble headstone.. . .The wheelbarrow aspect, however, is undoubtedly an embellishment added in later years by local people.”
Bill Sole (1972) wrote about the “Lone Grave” for the Adams County Centennial Year Publication in 1972. The first marker was, he writes, “. . .chipped to pieces by travelers and relic hunters.” In 1900 children of Waterhouse Sunday School raised funds for a new marker and this one fell victim to souvenir hunters as well. The present stone was dedicated July 30, 1933, by members of the Hastings Outdoor Club.
Following communication with the descendants of Susan Haile and extensive research by Randy Brown and the Oregon California Trails Association, a new OCTA Plaque was installed and the Adams County Historical Society organized a program in Kenesaw followed by a dedication of the OCTA plaque at the grave site.
In addition to the gravesite, this site is important for other reasons. Susan Hail is buried at the precise spot where the Oregon Trail broke over a small rise and came in view of the Platte River. The Nebraska City-Fort Kearny road passed north of this site about a mile and a half, joining the main Oregon Trail a little more than six miles west, There were several alternate roads in this vicinity. This was one of the great moments in the experience of the emigrants, for the first leg of the journey was now almost complete. Arrival at the Platte River meant that they were within striking distance of Fort Kearny, the first sign of civilization in this remote country. The Platte River was broad and flat, with little or no timber, quite unlike its appearance today. Perhaps because the broad flat treeless valley during spring flood once resembled a sandy seashore, early travelers called this spot “The Coast of Nebraska”. (Also it is noted some writers of the day wrote about the white canvas topped wagons moving through the deep prairie grass resembling “Ships at Sea” as they moved across miles of waving grasses).
Both northwest and southeast of the Susan Hail grave (Sections 18 and 19) are fairly extensive grassed over Oregon Trail traces, made by the passage of thousands of animals and wagons as they descended the low sandy hill towards the river.
Note: It has been recommended as early as 1975 by Historian Merrill Mattes and as recently as a March 1981 comprehensive report on historic sites and trail segment status by the National Park Service, United States Department of Interior, that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission should seek adequate funding to purchase approximately thirty acres of pasture land. This site which would be an unmanned park administered from Fort Kearny State Historical Park, fifteen miles to the west would be called “Coast of Nebraska” as proposed by Merrill Mattes and the National Park Service.
—The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 6
The site is marked on the XP Bikepacking Route map.
Mile 600: Pole Creek Station
“Life at most of the Pony Express Stations was not exactly luxurious. Sir Richard Burton wrote the following about Pole Creek Station based on his 1862 visit:
‘The hovel fronting the creek was built like an Irish shanty, or a Beloch hut, against a hill side, to save one wall, and it presented a fresh phase of squalor and wretchedness. The mud walls were partly papered with “Harper’s Magazine,” “Frank Leslie,” and the “New York Illustrated News;” the ceiling was a fine festoon-work of soot, and the floor was much like the ground outside, only not nearly so clean.'”
Mile 275: "Snow's Corner" Oregon Trail Stone Marker
Sometimes this stretch is referred to as “Nine Mile Ridge.” The stone marker was erected by the State of Nebraska in 1912. Located at https://goo.gl/maps/EHArEhZmXwpZRR4EA.
Mile 996: Split Rock
“Once we stopped on the indefinite summit of a foothill swell to look our last at Split Rock, one of the less known trail landmarks. From this distance, it was merely a small excrescence among other similar bumps on top of Granite Range, different only in the cleft that split it vertically through the middle.”
Old Isis Bargee
“At Saint Joseph (Mo.), better known by the somewhat irreverent abbreviation of St. Jo, I was introduced to Mr. Alexander Majors, formerly one of the contractors for supplying the army in Utah a veteran mountaineer, familiar with life on the prairies. His meritorious efforts to reform the morals of the land have not yet put forth even the bud of promise. He forbade his drivers and employees to drink, gamble, curse, and travel on Sundays; he desired them to peruse Bibles distributed to them gratis; and though he refrained from a lengthy proclamation commanding his lieges to be good boys and girls, he did not the less expect it of them. Results : I scarcely ever saw a sober driver; as for profanity the Western equivalent for hard swearing they would make the blush of shame crimson the cheek of the old Isis bargee; and, rare exceptions to the rule of the United States, they are not to be deterred from evil talking even by the dread presence of a ‘lady.'”
[“Old Isis bargee” = Thames river pilot, Isis being an alternate name for the Thames]
“Shortly after the Captain Reassumed Command of the Post, he and I were invited to the stage station, one day, for dinner. There was a long table with about ten on each side. They were the drivers of the stage line, about as rough and jolly a lot of men as I ever saw. They were talking about the Indian scare, and the probabilities of an Indian outbreak, and how General P. Edward Connor was coming through from Salt Lake to take charge. And the whole dinner was a loud and uproarious occasion. The profanity was pyrotechnic.”
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.”
Bill Dictating the End of the Pony Express
“On June 16 , Congress passed a bill authorizing bids to establish a telegraph to be completed no later than July 1, 1862. It also provided for the end of the Pony Express once the telegraph was completed.”
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.”
Prairie Post Offices
“Because attrition, traveling company splits, combinations, and recombinations were so common to the overland emigrating experience, the matter of conveying advice, progress reports, and other newsworthy information to relatives, friends, and former traveling companions was extremely important. The ‘roadside telegraph’ which overlanders devised was a crude by surprisingly effective means of communication. Anyone wishing to leave a message wold write a short note and place it conspicuously alongside the trail so that those following behind would be certain not to pass it by . . . The notes were usually of two types, those written on paper and those inscribed on such things as trees, pieces of wood, rocks, and animal bones. . . .Even human skulls were used. With surfaces that had been smoothed and whitened by the elements, these skulls and bones were strikingly visible, especially when hung by a stick by the side of the trail. . . .
While ‘Bone Express’ messages . . . were found along the trail, at certain places so many notes accumulated that these locations came to be known as ‘prairie post offices.’ . . . Someone even carved the words ‘Post-office’ on a rocky ledge near Courthouse Rock . . . but primarily these primitive post offices were found at trial junctions where the road forked and overlanders had a choice of routes to follow.”
Rebuilding Fort Bridger
For a long time [after the Utah War] the troops maintained an uncertain tenancy at Jim Bridger’s old trading post . . . naturally much building was necessary; and, with the fade-out of hostilities, timber was brought in from the Uinta Mountains, and barracks, officers’ quarters, guardhouse, etc., were all constructed around and about a large square parade ground through which flowed one of the most beautiful of the tiny channels of Blacks Forks. Far to one side of these were the stables, used later by the Pony Express. It is the back wall of these stables that the modern traveler sees as he rockets by on the highway. It will richly pay him to stop and go in.
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.”]
“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.”
Overland Mail Road Improvements
“The year following the establishment of the Pony Express, the Southern Daily Overland Mail, which had been established in 1859 through northern Texas to California was transferred to the Central or Simpson route, its regular trips commencing on the first of July, 1861. . . .
From the date of the removal of the Southern Overland Mail to the Central route, and the establishment of the Daily Stage line, the mail facilities and means of transportation into and through the Territory began to improve rapidly. New roads were constructed and the old ones were improved, so that heavy loads of merchandise could be transported and faster time made over them. Two toll-roads were built across the Sierra; one called the Placerville, and the other the Dutch Flat, or Donner Lake route. These were wide enough so that teams could pass in the narrowest places. The overland stage ran with great regularity, and its business was conducted with promptness and dispatch.”
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.”
Mile 975: Devil's Gate
“The route . . . lay along the southwest bank of the Sweetwater for some five miles after leaving the rock [from Independence Rock]. Here [the emigrants] must negotiate a passage through the Sweetwater Range. For the Indians and the emigrants this was not difficult. Even the prairie schooners moved up into the low unimpressive pass without stress or strain. But the river made heavy going of it and chose a near-by gap in the range, so tremendous and so narrow that it seemed to have been jacked through the low mountains with two strokes of a giant cleaver. The inadequate opening and the damming cliffs lashed the water to a raging frenzy, as wild as it was short-lived. The shining segment of western sky, visible through the narrow gorge, extended in a slim wedge to the very base of the sold granite mountain. The emigrants saw this slit in the horizon—fourteen miles away, or so they said—and commented on it with interest, for Devil’s Gate was one of the major landmarks of the trail.
Most of the pioneers took it for granted that the gate itself was impassable and let it go at that—it was not of the slightest importance; but to the dare-alls of the migrations it was a continuous challenge.”
Staples of the Emigrant Diet
“The two great staples of ordinary diet were ‘sowbelly’ and ‘biscuits’—which, being translated, meant bacon and hot bread baked in a Dutch oven. In a camp exclusively masculine this was not varied much. Sometimes they had beans or ‘slam-johns’ (the current slang for flapjacks) with occasional game and a pickle now and then as a precaution against scurvy.”
“Practice varied as to the disposition of people and livestock in relation to the coral. One would suppose the emigrants, with or without tents, would sleep inside the corral for maximum security and livestock would graze outside, under guard but ready to enter the corral at a moment’s notice. . . . But more often it seems to have been the other way around. . . . ‘The tents were always pitched and the fires built outside the circle of wagons. This was done so that, in case of an attack by Indians, we could get behind the wagons and the firelight would show us the attacking party.’
As a rule the cattle were grazed outside while there was still daylight, then driven into the corral for the night and the ‘gate’ closed. . . . the normal place for horses and mules seems to have been outside the corral. They might be free to graze unfettered in the neighborhood under the watchful eye of the night herders, but more often the stock was hobbled or picketed to reduce the chances of the dreaded stampede.”
Whiskey in the Emigrant Train
“It would be inappropriate to omit reference to one more item in the emigrants’ bill of fare—whiskey. This was brought along in casks or barrels, and it was an important item. Furniture, mattresses, stoves, anvils, or even fine linen and silver might be discarded, but never whiskey. Not all trains carried this commodity, of course, but a high percentage of the journalists mentioned its use. . . . The emigrants used it on very special occasions, as on the Fourth of July or to celebrate a birthday or arrival at a milestone like Fort Laramie, but their original intention was that it be purely medicinal, to combat colds of cholera, or to restore flagging energy and spirits after moments of crisis, such as punishing hailstorms or dangerous river crossings.
Addison Crane mentions another use: ‘Most emigrants take five to ten gallons of whiskey to a wagon under the notion that by mixing it with the bad water it becomes in some mysterious way healthy and purified.’ Cagwin says that molasses was used as an extender, and the resultant combination was known as ‘skull varnish.'”
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?]
“As they travelled more or less along with us, and always camped close, one had an opportunity of observing United States troops a little. I can say but little for them; they were a medley of French, English, Germans, and Irish, the last predominating, and with few native Americans among them. As a rule the army is recruited from the riff-raff of foreigners, too stupid or too indolent to get on by industry; whether from this character of the men, or because the army is thought a poor means of advancement in life, or for both reasons, great contempt is felt for soldiers in the States; if one appears in a town he is watched like a dog given to stealing, and treated like a dog; this, almost necessarily, renders the men worse, and so the ball keeps rolling—action and reaction . . .”
Mile 1565: Rock Springs
“Another station, Rock Springs was added on the shortcut or summer express route. It cut over the southern tip of the Antelope Mountains with the intent of reducing distance and time. Nothing remains of Rock Springs or Spring Valley Station.”
Mile 2056: Mormon Station/Genoa, NV
“Mormons had established a permanent settlement at Mormon Station, now Genoa, which was a rankling thorn in [the local Native Americans’] flesh. It was, however, a genuine spine-stiffener for the feminine portion of the early-day cavalcades. There were white women there, the first since Salt Lake City, and real houses with vegetable gardebs at the foot of the forested mountain.” . . .
Mormon Station was, to all intents and purposes, a trading post. It maintained a store and a boarding house that served appetizing meals with vegetables and bread. There was even a dinner bell at noon and at sunset. One of the buildings was, in later years, treated to a genteel two-store false front as deceptive as a cheap toupee and as useful, and was the oldest house in Nevada when, quite recently [in the 1940s] it was destroyed by fire.
In the late fifties, after the difficulties between the Mormons and the government were settled, harassed travelers found a United States Indian agent in Genoa. Widows and orphans from Indian massacres were placed in his charge to be returned to their homes when opportunity afforded.”
Indian Difficulties in the mid-1860s
“Overland staging had met some Indian difficulties previously, but not until the sixties did these become chronic. The isolated depredations of the fifties were but preliminaries of the general uprisings of the middle sixties.”
Mile 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]
Mile 2062-2098: Original Route over Echo Summit
“The Pony Express, in 1860, passed up West Carson Canyon into Hope Valley and then northward through Luther’s Pass, up to Echo Lake by way of Johnson’s pass, at the left of the highway summit, and down over Slippery Ford to Strawberry.”
[N.B. This route was the initial route over the Sierra Nevada. It only lasted five weeks. there is a Pony Express memorial at the site of Woodford’s Station (Junction of Highways 88 and 19): “The station functioned from April 3 to April 28 or 29, 1860. At such time, the route was redirected when Rollin Daggett offered free toll over Daggett Pass in Nevada. Thus, Pony Express riders were able to avoid three remount stations. A California Registered Historical Landmark’s marker identifies the station site, now covered by Highway 88. It reads: ‘During initial five weeks of its operation in 1860, an important remount station of the famous Pony Express was located a few feet from here at Cary’s Barn.'” The Pony Express Bikepacking Route follows the later route over Kingsbury Grade and through South Lake Tahoe.]
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.'”
Crossing a Stream
“It was an almost invariable rule with experienced wagonmasters to cross any stream encountered when it came time to make camp for the night. It sometimes happened that a rainstorm miles away would cause a creek to rise during the night, thereby delaying the train for several days. Also the animals would pull better in the evening. In the morning, those with sore shoulders were reluctant to lean into the collar or yoke for a heavy pull until they had warmed to their work. Whenever possible, a trail-wise wagonmaster would pick a campsite on some elevation where the wagons would be safe from flash flood.”
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.].”
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.”
North vs. South and Land vs. Ocean
“By the end of 1858, United States mail was transmitted from the East to West by six different routes. The four overland lines in operation were:
- Central route by “joint venture” of Chorpenning-Hockaday Company. They provided weekly mail-passenger service from Missouri to California, via Salt Lake City.
- South-central route by Jacob Hall;, who provided monthly mail and limited passenger service from Kansas City to Stockton, California, via Santa Fe.
- Southern route by the famous Butterfield line, which provided semi-weekly mail/passsenger service from St. Louis to San Francisco, via El Paso, Texas.
- Southern extreme route operated by James E. Birch, who provided semi-weekly mail/passenger service from San Antonio, Texas to San Diego, California, via El Paso and Fort Yuma.
In addition to these overland routes, in 1858, there were two ocean mail-passenger routes. They were:
- Atlantic route from New York City to San Francisco operated by three companies, the United States Mail Steamship Company, the Panama Railroad Company, and the Pacific Mail Steamship Company. This line ran a semi-monthly mail-passenger service via the Isthmus of Panama.
- Gulf of Mexico route from New Orleans to San Francisco via Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This route was operated by the Louisiana Tehuantepec Company, which ran a semi-monthly mail/passenger service.
With all the routes taken together, the postal outlay for the six different routes amounted to $4.14 for each person, whereas elsewhere in the nation, the postal expenses reached only $.41 for each person.”
Mile 690 - Robidoux Pass
“The emigrants, however, found certain types of country and certain situations to be laborious or dangerous, and these they therefore avoided. Co-called ‘badlands’ where the terrain was nothing but a maze of ravines, had to be detoured. At Scott’s Bluff, for instance, a stretch of land pushed the trail away from the bank of the Platte, and sent the wagons through Robidoux Pass.
Lower and Upper California Crossings
“Between Fort Kearny and Fort Laramie there were only two divergences that are noteworthy; both pertain to the late period of the trail. Until 1859 all travel on the south bank of the Platte crossed the south fork of the river west of its junction with the north fork. The trail then moved northwest up the ‘peninsula’ between the south and north forks of the river and through Ash Hollow before reaching the valley of the North Platte. It then continued up the south bank to Fort Laramie. The discovery of gold in Colorado let to the Pike’s Peak trail southwestward up the South Platte and another connecting trail northward to the North Platte via Courthouse Rock, for which Julesburg, Colorado, became the new junction point.”
[N.B. The first crossing became known as the Lower California Crossing, and the later crossing near Julesburg was the North California Crossing. The Pony Express used the North California Crossing. Julesburg was the most problematic station at the opening of the Pony Express.]
“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.”
The Shooting of Ferrin
“In April we moved from Henry’s fork to the mouth of Ham’s fork, where we remained for a month . . .
“While camped here a mule train of sixteen wagons loaded with freight for Salt Lake City camped a short distance above us on the stream. In a few minutes we heard a shot fired and as there seemed to be some excitement we walked up to the wagons, and were shocked to see one of the drivers lying on the ground, shot through the heart. The wagon boss had gotten drunk at Green river, about fifteen miles back, was cussing the driver about some trifle, the driver had talked back and the ‘boss’ who was J. A. Slade, drew his revolver and shot the man dead. Later the teamsters dug a grave by the roadside, wrapped the dead man in his blankets and buried him. The train went to Salt Lake and nothing was done about the murder.”
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).”
Mile 1491: Boyd/Butte/Desert Station
“Fourteen miles from Fish Springs Station, via a road around the north end of the Fish Springs Range and nine miles over the pass to the west of the station. Although Boyd Station is not identified in the 1861 mail contract, it was named by Howard Egan as an Express Station. The structure was small, built of stone and contained gun-ports. Boyd Station survives as one of the best preserved Express Stations in Utah. This preservation is probably due to the fact that Bid Boyd, station master, continued to occupy the site into the current century.
“Limited excavations and structural stabilization were undertaken at the site in 1974 and 1975. The site is interpreted on the ground by the Bureau of Land Management.
“At this juncture the Express diverted from the old Chorpenning trail and headed straight west to Callao and Willow Springs Station. Chorpenning had gone south into Pleasant Valley and then around the south end of the Deep Creek Mountains.”
Purchasing Provisions at Fort Kearny
“The most important items to be obtained from the commissary were grain (when available), bacon, pickled pork, and flour, the price of which fluctuated wildly . . .
After the quartermaster, the most important suppliers of goods and services were the post blacksmith and the post sutler. As the result of inferior materials or accident much of the gear, especially the wheels, reached the fort in a weakened condition, and animals needed to be re-shod. . . .
The post sutler, being a businessman and not a philanthropist, was frequently the cause of complaints about ‘prices extragavantly high.’ . . .Capt. Stansbury noted that ‘the sutler’s store will supply travellers with groceries, cloths, and many useful articles.'”
“[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.”
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.
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]
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.'”
Mile 1742: Diamond Springs
“We hastened to ascend Chokop’s Pass by a bad, steep dugway: it lies south of ” Railroad Kanyon,” which is said to be nearly flat-soled. A descent led into ‘Moonshine,’ called by the Yutas Pahannap Valley, and we saw with pleasure the bench rising at the foot of the pass. The station is named Diamond Springs, from an eye of warm, but sweet and beautifully clear water bubbling up from the earth. A little below it drains off in a deep rushy ditch, with a gravel bottom, containing equal parts of comminuted shells: we found it an agreeable and opportune bath.”
Simpson's Route to California
“In midwinter [1858-59] Simpson requested the Secretary of War, through the Bureau in Washington, to authorize a program of exploration for the spring which included a wagon-road survey from Camp Floyd to California by way of Carson Lake, to be followed by a an eastern trip to seek a shorter, better route from Camp Floyd to Fort Leavenworth . . . Secretary Floyd approved the project, and through General Johnson gave Simpson a carte blanche to organize the expedition. . . .
At Camp Floyd [after the exploration], Captain Simpson dispatched Lieutenant Kirby Smith with a small detachment to return over the last 100 miles of the route to straighten sections and mark them with stakes and guide posts. Wooden troughs were to be built at the springs in the desert to collect and save the water. . . .
Several days after Simpson’s return, California emigrants started west over the new route. One party with seven wagons and another with thirty were supplied with an itinerary. The same information was given to Russell, Majors & Waddell who planned to drive a thousand head of cattle over the road to California. . . .
The Pony Express, which began running between San Francisco and Salt Lake City in April 1860, used [Simpson’s] northern [outbound] route over the 300-mile course between Genoa and Hastings’ Pass, and after continuing along the 175 miles of Chorpenning’s extension of Simpson’s route as far as Short Cut Pass, it traveled along [Simpson’s] road to Camp Floyd on the way to the Mormon capital. . . .
According to General Johnson, emigrants passed daily over the new route to California, many driving large herds of stock, so that in a single season the road was well marked.
Mile 1235-1311: Henefer to Mountain Dell station
“Beyond [Henefer Creek’s] headwaters, the great wagons rolled and thundered through Pratt’s Pass on the summit of a low divide.Down another steep hill the wagons pitched while all hands and the cook held back on ropes and on the wheels; along the bed of the tiny streamlet, crossing and crisscrossing it for two or three miles down to East Canyon with its steep watercourse known variously as Canyon, east canyon, or kenyon Creek. Here they really learned the meaning of ‘trouble.’
Small shallow East Canyon Creek had to be forded ten or more times; the trail was crooked beyond reason and think with amputated willow stubs, testimony to the herculean task accomplished by the Reed-Donner party in forcing a passage through mountains at this point in 1846. The Mormons, traveling in their footsteps a year later, accomplished the thirty-five mile trek from Weber River to Salt Lake Valley in three days; but they recorded that it took the Donner party sixteen days of hard labor to win through the valley. For years the cut willow stubs remained, and the animals baptized them with blood from torn hoofs and gashed legs.
From East Canyon the trail led up a ravine worn down by a narrow and precipitous creek full of bottomless mire and huge boulders ‘over which mules and wagon wheels had to be pulled or lifted constantly.’ . . .
When they reached the top of this four-mile climb the wagons were at the highest elevation of the entire journey so far, and about two thousand feet above the point where they had entered East Canyon. Here, on the fir-crowned summit of Big Mountain, the migrating Mormon columns had their first view of the promised land.
A mile and a half down, and down. No animals were left on on the wagons but the faithful wheelers remaining to hold up the tongues. Every available man held back on a rope. By ’49 the timber had been cut for the building of Salt Lake City and the caravans twisted here and there between the jagged stumps down to a small, sheltered hollow known as Mountain Dell. It was a lovely meadow, but miry. The wagons often celebrated their return to the horizontal by stalling in the mud with promptness and precision, and the tired travelers, admitting that they were sunk, gave it up for the day, camped, and fought mosquitoes.”
Mile 554: Lodgepole Creek Valley
“Here is the valley of Lodgepole Creek through which passed historic trails, telegraph lines, and railroads. The famed Pony Express followed the valley in 1860-61. “Nine Mile” Pony Express station was located just southeast of present Chappell; “Pole Creek No. 2” station was a few miles west of here. Near Sidney, the Pony Express trail turned northwestward, passing Mud Springs station and Courthouse Rock en route to the North Platte River. In 1861 the first transcontinental telegraph line was built through the valley. Stagecoaches of the Central Overland Route soon followed, carrying passengers and mail. Former Pony express stations continued to serve the stage line, providing lodging and provisions for travelers. When the tracks of the Union Pacific Railroad reached here in 1867, wagon and stagecoach travel declined. Today modern highways retrace historic trails through the valley. Two miles east is Chappell, at first only a railroad siding. The townsite was surveyed in 1884 and a post office was established two years later. Chappell became the county seat of Deuel County in 1894.”
“But sagely thus reflecting that ‘dangers which loom large from afar generally lose size as one draws near;’ that rumors of wars might have arisen, as they are wont to do, from the political necessity for another ‘Indian botheration,’ as editors call it . . .
Mile 1915: Cold Springs Station
“[D]uring the Pyramid Lake War, three Pony Express riders were killed by Paiute warriors . . . One of them, Jose Zowgaltz, was Hispanic. He was ambushed as he crossed the thick aspen bottoms of Edwards Creek, north of Nevada’s Cold Springs Station (pictured). Suffering a mortal abdominal wound, Zowgaltz galloped to the station where, upon arrival, he slipped bleeding from his saddle and soon died.”
[N.B. Cold Spring Station is a few miles off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, west of Austin, NV. There are three stations in this area, just north of the Route (starting from a turnoff at about Mile 1885), though there doesn’t appear to be any direct line between them. This is the part of the trail where Jan Bennett took a break from the miles of gravel for a nice paved stretch.]
Yearly Emigration Schedule
“The exodus each year from the jumping-off places on the Missouri River began on the approximate date when it was agreed that grass would be sufficiently green on the plains to support the animals. . . .
A drouth could delay departures alarmingly, increasing prospects of getting snowbound in California’s mountains in the autumn; but a rainy season could slow things down, too, as wagons mired in the mud before they were well started . . . But give or take a week or two, a good starting target date for departure from any of the jump-offs was April 15, for arrival at (or opposite) Fort Kearny, May 15, at Fort Laramie, June 15, and at South Pass, July 4.
Arrival at a destination in Oregon or California by September 1 was hoped for, but October 1, well ahead of snow in the Sierra Nevadas, was considered satisfactory. An ideal passage would be four months, or 120 days, April 15 to August 15. . . . [F]our and a half months, from April 15 to September 1, was more nearly par for the course, while painful trips of up to six months’ duration have been noted. . . .Most of the really late comers spent a miserable time wintering at Fort Laramie or Salt Lake City.”
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.”
Mile 997: Split Rock
“Split Rock, in the distance, was one of the geographic markers that the Pony Express riders and the pioneers used to help navigate the trail. All along the way you can still find historic buildings still standing.”
Easterners' View of Mormons
“If some causes of the Mormon War are only dimly visible today, the part played by eastern public opinion is not. throughout the 1850s, hostility toward the Latter-day Saints had increased until it approached unreasoning frenzy by mid-1857. . . .
there is no doubt that the Saints’ practice of polygamy was another potent force inflaming Gentiles against Mormonism. . . the Church’s explanation of ‘the Principle,’ as plural marriage came to be called, was an intricate one. . . .
To eastern minds the Mormons were guilty of more than immoral conduct; they also formed a society of conspirators against the national government. . . There was even greater concern among anti-Mormon Gentiles that Young might seek the more treasonable goal of complete separation from the Union. . . .
Agents Holeman and Hurt, supported by other federal officials, accused the Mormons of tempering with the tribes of their region, seeking to entice them from their dutiful allegiance to the country. . . .
The conceptions of the eastern Gentiles, then, pictured the Saints as libidinous villains, eager to terminate their relation with the country and prepared to transgress every standard of moral behavior by forming alliances with the hated Indian. On the other side of the anti-Mormon stereotype the leaders of the Church were held guilty of innumerable murders, indeed had a powerful secret society of assassins to commit their infamous deeds.
Mile 1285: Weber/Echo/Bromleys/Hanging Rock Station
“James E. Bromley, division superintendent for the run from Pacific Springs Wyoming to Salt Lake City, settled at the mouth of Echo Canyon in 1854. He did not obtain a cash entry patent, however, until June 20, 1874 (Cert. No. 1127). It is reported that the station house, built at the base of Pulpit Rock, had rock walls 26 inches thick. The authors disagree. Located on the Pete Clark property, in Echo, Figure 7, the visible remains of the foundation of the station house have been located and mapped by the authors. The walls average thickness is much less. The facilities of Weber Station provided the services of a general store, inn, saloon, blacksmith shop and jail. A hotel was built later. . . .
“About two miles west of Weber Station, the mail was transported across Forney’s Bridge on the Weber River. The bridge was constructed prior to June 1858. From this location, the Express riders traveled up Bachelors Canyon to the top of Dixie Hollow. When the crossing was unsafe or the canyons were snowed in, the rider could go on down the valley to the Brimville Emergency Station or Henneforville (SW1/4SE1/4 Sec. 4, T. 3 N., R. 4 E. now Henefer) and around by Little East Canyon to Dixie Hollow. The pioneer immigrants came part way down Dixie Hollow, turned right, crossed the ridge, and then went south into East Canyon. By the time of the Express, the road was built all the way down the hollow to just south of where it opens into East Canyon. The 1858 wagon route map of J. H. Simpson shows East Canyon Creek to be Snyder’s Creek.”
[Note: Bachelor Canyon, now South Henefer Road, runs into private property someplace south of Henefer]
” . . .and though ‘Jimsen weed’ overruns the land, he [Native Americans] neglected its valuable intoxicating properties. . . .
“Properly Jamestown weed, the Datura stramonium, the English thorn-apple, unprettily called in the Northern States of America ‘stinkweed’ It found its way into the higher latitudes from Jamestown (Virginia), where it was first observed springing on heaps of ballast and other rubbish discharged from vessels. According to Beverly (‘History of Virginia,’ book ii., quoted by Mr. Bartlett), it is ‘one of the greatest coolers in the world;’ and in some young soldiers who ate plentifully of it as a salad, to pacify the troubles of bacon, the effect was ‘a very pleasant remedy, for they turned natural fools upon it for several days.'”
“[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.”
Mile 27: Valley Home
“The next settlement, Valley Home, was reached at 6 P.M. Here the long wave of the ocean land broke into shorter seas, and for the first time that day we saw stones, locally called rocks (a Western term embracing every thing between a pebble and a boulder), the produce of nullahs and ravines.”
Magraw and the Survey of Fort Kearny, South Pass, and Honey Lake Wagon Road
“[In] 1857 Congress passed the Pacific Wagon Road Act. The act appropriated three hundred thousand dollars to survey and construct the ‘Fort Kearney, South Pass, and Honey Lake Wagon Road.’ Having bitterly alienated the people of Utah while mismanaging the federal mail contract for the territory, William M.F. Magraw [sometimes spelled ‘McGraw’] used his immaculate political connections [i.e., his friendship with President Buchanan] to win appointment as the project’s superintendent.. . .
A notorious alcoholic, Magraw managed to squander much of the appropriation before leaving the frontier. With Tim Goodale, the expedition’s guide and interpreter, he smuggled more than three tons of liquor to Fort Laramie in government wagons. As a disgusted military officer wrote the survey’s officers concluded Magraw was ‘an ignorant blackguard, totally unfit for the head of such an expedition, while the chief engineer [William Lander] is.”
[N.B. “Goodale and Magraw could not come to terms [regarding the alcohol] at jouney’s end. Although the guide pulled the superintendent’s beard and tromped on his feet to invoke a fight as a means of settling the matter in true mountain style, the dispute had to be adjudicated by the officers at Fort Laramie. Five days were lost as a result of the altercation.” W. Turrentine Jackson, Wagon Roads West, p. 197]
“It was a rare diarist or letter writer who did not at least once term some phenomenon ‘romantic,’ or ‘the greatest natural curiosity’ ever seen. Most of all, the emigrants viewed the West as larger than life; it was with superlatives that the overlanders reported the West to their countrymen and the world.
The scenery was the grandest they had ever seen, the trees the tallest, the natural roads the finest, the water the best, the grass the most luxuriant, the wind the strongest, the rainstorms the heaviest, the hailstones the largest, the lightning the brightest, the thunder the loudest, the rainbows the most brilliant, the mountains the most spectacular, the grasshoppers the biggest, the meat of the buffalo and the mountain sheep the juiciest, the Indians the handsomest, the rapid temperature changes the most phenomenal—the list is as endless as there were phenomena to describe.”
Mile 1804: Robert's Creek
“A long divide, with many ascents and descents, at length placed in front of us a view of the normal ‘distance’—heaps of hills, white as bridal cakes, and, nearer, a sand-like plain, somewhat more yellow than the average of those salt-bottoms: instinct told us that there lay the station-house. From the hills rose the smokes of Indian fires : the lands belong to the Tusawichya, or White-Knives, a band of the Shoshonees under an independent chief. This depression is known to the Yutas as Sheawit, or Willow Creek: the whites call it, from Mr. Bolivar Roberts, the Western agent, ‘Roberts’ Springs Valley.’ It lies 286 miles from Camp Floyd: from this point ‘Simpson’s Eoad’ strikes off to the S.E., and as Mr. Howard Egan’s rule here terminates, it is considered the latter end of Mormondom. Like all the stations to the westward, that is to say, those now before us, it was burned down in the late Indian troubles, and has only been partially rebuilt.”
Mail Service Beginnings
“[Emigrants’] persistent demand was for a rapid, reliable, and regular overland mail to supplement the sea mail, the various private enterprises which periodically were attempted, and the army couriers, who transported military and emigrant mail between Laramie, Kearny, and the resulting outfitting towns in 1849 and subsequent years. The ultimate result—a governmentally financed but extremely irregular overland service on the South Pass route—was yet another federal development of the 1850s with significant ramifications for overland emigrants. . . .
The beginnings were modest. Salt Lake City was the hub of the mail system, a government post office having been established there during the winter of 1849.”
“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.”
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.”
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. “
Salt Lake City
“I do not know what may be the feeling of emigrants who have left all to come hither, and look, for the first time, upon this their Sion and Promised Land. I recollect my own well: instinctively I rushed up a small eminence to the right, and then turned and gazed. I said nothing, but in my heart shouted, Θάλαττα! θάλαττα! [‘The Sea! The Sea!’]”
Mile 760: Mexican Hill
“For the better part of a mile we kept to the edge of the bluffs, separating and spreading over a wide strip of territory as we hunted for the place where our maps showed that a right-hand fork of the trail made its descent to the river bottom. . . .
The men were the first to find the descent, which is merely a steeply washed break in the bluffs. But it bore evidence that the wagons had descended at this point and it is called (we found later) Mexican Hill.
[N.B. The mileage is an approximation. Mexican Hill appears to lie somewhere between the Pony Express Bikepacking Route and the North Platte River off one of the tangential dirt roads. More info here . . .]
“There was no government bailout for [Russell, Majors & Waddell]. Some could argue that the government or some officials did the opposite by making sure there were no government contracts for the firm. However, it did succeed in proving the practicality of the central route. And that route was almost instantaneously used by the telegraph, emigrant and freight wagons and much of it later by the Lincoln Highway, the first cross-country auto road in the early twentieth century. It also succeeded in relation to our broader American history regarding the Civil War by keeping California in the Union. These secondary consequences by themselves were actually more important than the success or failure of the firm of Russell, Majors [sic] and Waddell.”
(N.B. Emigrant and freight wagons’ use of the central overland route preceded the Pony Express over the central route, in emigrant’s case, by nearly 2o years)
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.”
“A short mile’s walk brought one to camp on a slope of the glorious ‘rolling prairie,’ the finest descriptive name Americans have invented; ‘undulating’ is a poor puny word, but ‘rolling’ breathes poetry, as of a wind that swept over the earth’s surface, while it was yet a liquid globe.”
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.”
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.
Waiting to Emigrate
“[Emigrants] had time to be married, to be born, or to die while they waited in camp for the grass to sprout upon the prairie. This was absolutely vital, for, until it was high enough to provide feed for the animals, only those horse and mule teams carrying grain dared to start the journey. . . .
Little as they liked the delay, it was sometimes a good thing. For, unless the emigrant was the provident type who had brought his own teams, he must get them from among the contumacious animals presented for his inspection at the markets of Independence; and in nine cases out of ten, both he and the newly acquired livestock were in for trouble.
Half-broken or, in many instances, totally wild steers and mules were calmly sold to men who might never in their lives have driven anything more dangerous than a buggy mare. . . .
John E. Brown wrote that, after he had found pairs that would not start a fight on sight, it was next to impossible to get four that would tolerate each other. In which case the leaders (having the advantage of position) kicked the wheelers clear out of the harness.”
“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.”
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.”
Buildings at Julesburg
“At Julesburg–in early staging days one of the most important points along the Platte–were erected the largest buildings of the kind between Fort Kearney and Denver. They were built of cedar logs, hauled from near Cottonwood Springs by oxen, a distance of 105 miles. . . .
https://ponyexpressride.com/wp-admin/post-new.php?post_type=testimonials-widget”Julesburg, located at the Upper (California) Crossing of the Platte (which went by several names), was named after Jules Beni, a pioneer French Indian trader who bad been made station agent by Beverly D. Williams. One of Ficklin’s reforms (1860) was the removal of “Old Jules” for theft and other abuses, and the appointment of Jack Slade as his successor. See Overland Stage, pp. 213-210.”
[quoting from Root and Connelly, Stagecoaching to California]
“A level valley, miles in width; a broad river, full of wooded islands, and shallows, and rippling currents ; in the far distance low ranges of interminable hills; a circle of white covered wagons, with the embers of campfires dimly glowing in their midst. This is the scene, but the central object, our camp, only is visible, for the light of morning has not yet come.
It is the dawn of a warm summer’s day. Between the hard bed, the heat and musquitoes, a restless night has been passed, tired and needful of repose as you have been ; but as daylight approaches, a deep sleep comes over you. Suddenly you hear a thumping on the side of the sheeted wagon, accompanied with cries of ‘Roll out ! Roll out !’ and words unmentionable added thereto. This is the reveille of the plains, and the performer is the assistant wagon-master of the train; the musical instruments are his lungs and a detached ox-bow. The sounds travel around the circle of wagons until not a driver is slighted. Drowsily you roll on your bed of hard bags of flour and try to think you imagine the sounds and can sleep longer, but no, they are reality.”
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 interpreter told me that the Indian’s name was O-way-see’-cha, accent on the third syllable. This word means in the Sioux dialect ‘bad wound,’ ‘see-cha” meaning bad. The Sioux, like the French, put their adjectives after the noun. Wahsee-cha means ‘medicine bad,’ i. e., white-man. I was told that he acquired his name from a fight with the Pawnee Indians down north of Fort Kearney several years before; that he was so badly wounded that they carried him off on an Indian litter between two ponies; and he finally recovered to be as well as ever ; and then, Indian fashion he took a new name. He greeted me with an expression which the interpreter said meant that I was ‘his longknife .son'”
Alexander Majors's Bibles
“Speaking of this thorough plainsman [Alexander Majors] reminds me of the lack of religion among some of the boys. Mr. Major[s] was always interested in the moral elevation of the men who worked for him, and sometimes before a train left the Missouri River he would present each man with a neat pocket Testament, the leaves of which, being about the right size out of which to make cigarettes, were used for the same instead of being read.”
— Darley, Reverend G .M., “The End Gate of the Mess Wagon,” The Trail: A Magazine for Colorado, Volumes 1, No. 1 (1908) : 18-19
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 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.”
“‘Ole Epliraim’ is the mountain-man’s sobriquet for the grizzly bear.”
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.”
Alexander and the Soda Springs Route
“We now moved camp every day or two on account of grass.
In about two weeks Colonel Alexander1 came up with one thousand soldiers, but with no orders. The Mormons burned the grass ahead of us for several miles. After the teams had all arrived, Colonel Alexander concluded, as the Mormons had Echo Canyon route so well fortified, he would have to take the Soda Springs route, down Bear River and in by the northern settlements. So he ordered us to move up to Soda Springs, eighty miles north. . . .
We moved on, and in a few days reached Soda Springs. It was now quite cold, and we had some snow before reaching the Springs. In a day or two after eight or ten inches of snow fell and it was very cold weather.
After we had been there about a week an express messenger from Colonel Albert Sydney Johnston came riding into camp with orders for us to move back to the crossing on Ham’s Fork, and stay there till he arrived. We started back. It was very cold and our cattle were weak. We could make but eight or ten miles a day. We left some of our poorest cattle at each camp, they not being able to travel.
We arrived at the crossing in eight days. Two days afterwards Colonel Johnston came in with his men. Some of them rode out to old Fort Bridger, and, after looking it over, came back and ordered us to move on to Bridger, and they would go into winter quarters there. . . .
A company of Dragoons came up to camp before we started. This made about two thousand five hundred men-soldiers and teamsters.
It was a bitter cold day that we started. The train was six miles long. The last of the train did not leave camp till noon, and it was dark when they got into camp that night. It was a very cold night and the herders could not stay with the cattle. In the morning we found we had lost one hundred and sixty head which had strayed off in the storm, and sixty head of government mules had died in camp. This weakened our teams so that we could move only a part of our train at a time, many of the cattle left being too weak to work. We were six days getting this train twenty-six miles to Ford Bridger.”
Oiled Silk Cloth Protection
“Mail from either end of the Pony Express run was wrapped in oiled silk cloth to protect it from rain, mud and water, before it was placed in the pockets of regular mail. Way mail was not.”
Mile 1421: Aunt Libby’s Dog Cemetery
“Burial plot. Enclosing graves (west side) of two men and a child emigrants of the early eighteen sixties.
“Original wall erected in 1888, By Mrs. Horace (Aunt Libby) Rockwell to shelter graves of her beloved dogs. 1. Jenny Lind, 2. Josephine Bonaparte, 3. Bishop, 4. Toby Tyler, Companions in her lonely, childless vigils here about 1866 to 1890.
“Sometime between 1860 and 1870, Horace Rockwell and his wife Elizabeth “Libby” Rockwell moved to Skull Valley, a 40-mile long valley in what is now Tooele County, Utah. They operated the Pony Express station known as Point Lookout then continued living on the property in a log cabin built by stage workers after the station had closed. They became horse and cattle ranchers and garnered a reputation as ‘rough frontiers folk’ and “two strange characters.’ Over time, the pair came to be known affectionately as Uncle Horace and Aunt Libby.”
Mile 946: Willow Springs
“In time [the emigrants] passed. out of the poison-spring region, went over a snappy ridge, and came to Willow Springs at a distance of twenty-six miles from the ferry. In years of little travelit was the perfect oasis, pure water in a tiny willow grove surrounded by untainted grass. During heavy migrations the grass soon disappeared, and the cattle of the poor or improvident man went unfed at the end of a grueling day’s work. The water never failed.”
Mile 284: Elm Creek Stage Station Marker
At the stage station marker look west across the small valley of Thirty-Two Mile Creek to the pasture and you will see several parallel swales climbing west out of the valley. Low angle light of early morning or late afternoon places these swales in shadow and they are easier to see. Light snows will make the swales stand out and during a thaw following deeper snows, snow will linger in the swales and one can see them clearly enough to count. Binoculars would be helpful as the “swales” are a half mile distant. This area must have been one of the tougher pulls of the Little Blue/Platte Valley trail segment. The first problem was the steep descent down into the valley. The brake mechanisms on the wagons were not very effective and the weight of the wagons would have pushed hard on the oxen. They could have run a pole through the rear wheels to provide additional braking action. Crossing the creek would have required the first wagon travelers of the season to dig ramps on both banks and perhaps to double team. Re-digging the ramps would be required after periods of high water. Once the pull out of the little valley was accomplished, the going was smooth until the crossing of the West Branch of Thirty-Two Mile Creek. Elm Creek Station was built by the Holladay Stage Line as a replacement for the Lone Tree Station which was burned during the Indian Raid of 1864. The marker was erected by ACHS in 1973. The granite stone came from the foundation of the old Hastings Post Office.
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/egZgmwcawHKbqtF5A.
“. . . there were as many as two dozen inns or taverns maintained by Mormons in El Dorado County and surrounding areas. Porter Rockwell himself maintained three of them in 1849-50. The most famous of the inns was known as the Mormon Tavern, situated on the Placerville road, about twenty miles west of Hangtown (Placerville). It was the frequent meeting place of Howard Egan, Porter Rockwell (who went under the alias of Brown), Charles C. Rich, and Amasa M. Lyman. Captain Asahel A. Lathrop was the proprietor. A captain of ten in 1847, it was he who had been the spiritual leader of the relief train to the southern settlements in the winter of 1847-48, returning to Utah with cattle and supplies.”
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 1075: South Pass
“Ten miles beyond Ford No. 9, hilly miles, ending in a long champaign having some of the characteristics of a rolling prairie . . . led us to the South Pass, the great Wasserscheide between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and the frontier points between the territory of Nebraska and the State of Oregon. . . .
“The last part of the ascent is so gentle that it is difficult to distinguish the exact point where the versant lies : a stony band crossing the road on the ridge of the table-land is pointed out as the place, and the position has been fixed at N. lat. 48 19′, and W. long. 108 40′. The northern limit is the noble chain of Les Montagnes Eocheuses, which goes by the name of the Wind River; the southern is called Table Mountain, an insignificant mass of low hills.
A pass it is not : it has some of the features of Thermopylge or the Gorge of Killiecrankie ; of the European St. Bernard or Simplon; of the Alleghany Passes or of the Mexican Barrancas. It is not, as it sounds, a ghaut between lofty mountains, or, as the traveler may expect, a giant gateway, opening through Cyclopean walls of beetling rocks that rise in forbidding grandeur as he passes onward to the Western continent. And yet the word ‘Pass’ has its significancy. In that New World where Nature has worked upon the largest scale, where every feature of scenery, river and lake, swamp and forest, prairie and mountain, dwarf their congeners in the old hemisphere, this majestic level-topped bluff, the highest steppe of the continent, upon whose iron surface there is space enough for the armies of the globe to march over, is the grandest and the most appropriate of avenues.
A water-shed is always exciting to the traveler. What shall I say of this, where, on the topmost point of American travel, you drink within a hundred yards of the waters of the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans—that divides the ‘doorways of the west wind from the ‘portals of the sunrise? . . .
It is a suggestive spot, this ‘divortia aquarum:’ it compels Memory to revive past scenes before plunging into the mysterious ‘Lands of the Hereafter,’ which lie before and beneath the feet. The Great Ferry, which steam has now bridged, the palisaded banks of the Hudson, the soft and sunny scenery of the Ohio, and the kingly course of the Upper Mississippi, the terrible beauty of Niagara, and the marvels of that chain of inland seas which winds its watery way from Ontario to Superior; the rich pasture-lands of the North, the plantations of the semi-tropical South, and the broad cornfields of the West; finally, the vast meadow-land and the gloomy desert-waste of sage and saleratus, of clay and mauvaise terre, of red butte and tawny rock, all pass before the mind in rapid array ere they are ihrust into oblivion by the excitement of a new departure.”
“We divided some of the meat with a party of ‘pilgrims’ as they were called, who overtook us going west. Everybody traveling west in those days was called a ‘pilgrim.'”
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.”]
Freighter Sleeping Accommodations
“The sleeping accommodations for t he crew varied with different outfits; in fact, the arrangements were left usually for the men to work out for themselves. Some ccarried tents which added considerable comfort, but the surest and driest bed was in a big freight wagon. If it was loaded with coffee, rice or the like , so much the better , for the bed was more even. But the most common practice was to sleep on the ground under the wagons the weather permitting. The ‘bed was mother earth, a rubber blanket and buffalo robe the mattress, two pairs of blankets the covering. Heaven’s canopy the roof; the stars our silent sentinels.'”
Supplements to the Emigrant Diet
“[T]he emigrants supplemented their diet by what they could get from day to day. A train, in the earlier years, could expect to be in buffalo country for more than a month, and buffalo steak would often be sizzling in the pans, though sometimes at a considerable wearing down of horseflesh [in the chase]. Antelopes were numerous, but they were individually small, and were difficult to approach. Deer, mountain sheep, and bear were bagged occasionally. If the arrival at Humboldt Sink coincided with the southward flight of waterfowl, there was a sudden abundance. The unpalatable jack-rabbit was not altogether despised, and in sufficient emergency almost anything that walked or crawled was eaten.”
“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.”
Platte River Road
“‘Platte River Road’ is an authentic historical term, used by many travelers. It is the most logical term to cover all continental trails up the Platte, from 1830, when Smith, Jackson, and Sublette took the first wagons up its length, to 1866, when the Union Pacific Railroad reached Fort Kearny.
In the popular mind ‘Oregon Trail’ is synonymous with covered wagons, but the historical Oregon Trail ran only from Independence to the Willamette valley, primarily for five years beginning in 1843. It scarcely seems appropriate to talk about California-bound gold seekers on the Oregon Trail. During the big Gold Rush it was called, logically enough, the California Trail, or the California Road . . . But California Road won’t do for those who went to Oregon, Colorado, Montana, or Utah.”
Gives Vent to His Spleen
“” A mean streak will come out in the Plains.’ N.A. Cagwin cautions a man when he ‘gives vent to his spleen’ or ‘fans the spirit of discord.'”
“The very word is Spanish, derived from the Arabic —, meaning ‘the brick.’ it is known throughout the West, and is written adobies, and pronounced dobies.”
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.”
The Slades' Horses
“Another favorite and shared pastime of Virginia and Jack Slade was horse racing, which was a popular Sunday sport in early Virginia City. As both appreciated a fine horse and both owned good horses (Virginia’s a gorgeous black stallion from Kentucky named ‘Billy Boy’ and Slade’s ‘Old Copper-bottom,’ which got his master home, drunk or sober) and were excellent riders, they rarely missed a Sunday race.”
Bloodthirsty Slade Story
“The bullwhackers in camp, when there were no wheels to fix, tires to tighten, boxes to wedge, oxen to shoe, or clothes to wash or mend, could sleep, play cards, write letters or tell stories. The stories of one old bullwhacker who had seen much of frontier life were quite interesting. He would tell about the noted stage company boss, Jack Slade, who caught one of his stage tenders listening at a door and who whipped out his bowie knife and cut the listener’s ear off, telling him if he ever caught him doing it again, he would cut his heart out—and hundreds of other such bloodthirsty stories.”
Mile 1411: Rush Valley/Bush Valley/Faust/Doc. Faust's/Meadow Creek Station
“Although identified in the 1861 mail contract as Bush Valley, it is apparently a typographical error or was copied as a result of a misinterpreted hand-written contract. This station was established originally by George Chorpenning in late 1858. Within Utah (present boundaries), Chorpenning had built two relay stations, the one at Rush Valley called Meadow Creek Mail Station and the other at Smith Springs (Fish Springs). There is a question whether the stone building still standing at Rush Valley is the station house. The 1871 survey plat names this building Faust’s House, while the survey notes call it Faust’s Station. This building also has been called the old Fletcher house. We are told the remains of a depression marked the structure known as the station house. It was apparently evident for many years to the east and north of the present structure.
“‘One of ‘Doc’ Faust’s most pleasant remembrances while living at the station was the visit of Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, who was on a trip across the continent. Knowing that Mr. Greeley would very likely bury himself in books and not wish to carry on conversation, Mr. Faust took great care to see that all the tallow candles were hidden, leaving the house in darkness. Mr. Greeley, unable to read, then made a delightful companion for the remainder of the evening with interesting accounts of his travels.’
“In 1870, Doc Faust moved to Salt Lake City and became engaged in the livery stable business. He later traded his ranch to O.P. Rockwell for 80 head of cattle.
“The field notes (survey records) of A. D. Ferron of October 1869 stated that there were two telegraph lines (from Salt Lake City) meeting at this location, one via Tooele and one via Camp Floyd to California.
“The property, which includes the stone building and a cemetery, is under private ownership and is closed to the public. The monument north of the area, is misplaced and the log structure across the highway to the east is often referred to as ‘the original station.'”
Mile 238: The Narrows
“The regular correspondent of the St. Louis Missouri Democrat went over the line in June, 1861, and wrote from Denver to his paper (issue of July 9): ‘Taking into consideration the distance and the nature of the country through which this Company has located its route, it is without doubt the most convenient and best equipped of any on the continent. The road itself cannot be surpassed; there is but one bad piece in it from St. Joseph to Denver. I allude to what is called the “Narrows,” which are on the [Little] Blue, about two hundred miles from St. Joseph, and are caused by the near approach of the river to the bluffs. . . . This is no doubt a dangerous pass for an inexperienced driver; but none such are employed by the company. . . .
‘In passing the Narrows, our party experienced no little uneasiness . . . and by dark we had fully made up our minds to receive a bath. . . . The moon went down . . . the night became so black that it was impossible to see a foot from the coach, the wind came bowling wildly over the prairie, and the incessant noshes of lightning, together with the sharp peals of thunder, breaking seemingly just overhead. . . . Charley (the driver] lighted the coach lamps, meantime answering indefinitely questions put in agitated tones. We gathered, however that we must get through the Narrows before the rain reached us. . . .
“‘Presently we knew the coach to be entering a gulch, close to one side the lightning revealed the waters of the Blue, on the other the rough sides of the bluff, and as we slowly passed a crevice the bright eyes of a coyote, crouched a few yards from the window, flashed in menacingly upon us. . . . Suddenly there was cry from the box to ‘!ean to the right.’ No set of frightened school boys ever obeyed more quickly the commands of a severe pedagogue. . . . As we moved the coach took on abrupt turn, the lash was vigorously applied to the mules, and the next moment the cheering cry of “all right” relieved us of all further enxiety. In making this turn the near wheels come within a foot of the bank, the road inclines toward the river, so that if the ground happens to be wet there is no way to prevent the conch sliding off into the water, or too short a tum upsetting the institution and its contents . ‘ (A map of the Narrows is given in Root and Connelley, Overland Stage, p. 864.)”
“The vehicle was known simply as a ‘wagon’ or a ‘farm wagon,’ and was designated as ‘one-horse’ or ‘two-horse,’ though such description was retrospective, and in the actual journey the wagons were not pulled by horses and and always by more than one or two animals. In addition, the term ‘light’ was generally applied to both sizes of wagons. Such vehicles could carry a ton or more, but three-fourths of a ton was considered enough of a load to start with. Even the romantic name ‘prairie schooner’—almost never used by the emigrants themselves—makes the analogy not with a big three-master, but with a small, maneuverable, and almost homelike vessel. . . .
“At length, the wagons reached ‘the coast of Nebraska.’ Many people have taken this to be a figure of speech continuing the frequent analogy between the prairies and the sea, and such people have ben like to wax eloquent at the thought of the ‘prairie schooners’ approaching the coast. But the phrase is a translation of the French le côte de la Nebraska, in which ‘Nebraska‘ serves as an alternate name for Platte, and ‘côte’ is a term to indicate a line of bluffs along a stream.”
[N.B. For a reference to sighting the “Coast of Nebraska,” see Paden, The Wake of the Prairie Schooner, p. 81]
Mile 1469: Blackrock/Butte/Desert Station
“The authors have not located the site of Blackrock Station. Reconnaisance and infrared photographs have also failed to produce any evidence. Only a vandalized monument marks its general location. Initially called Butte or Desert Station, the rock structure was constructed as part of trail improvements undertaken by the Overland Mail Company after acquiring the Express in July 1861.
“Informants say the station site lies west and north of the volcanic outcrop known geographically as Blackrock. The old Lincoln Highway (1913-1927) first encountered and utilized the old Overland Route about one-quarter mile east of the monument. This routing was used as an alternate to the main road during wet weather.”
Caches Disguised as Graves
“In 1849 Capt. Stansbury found one marked grave which, ‘instead of containing the mortal remains of a human being, had been a safe receptacle for divers casks of brandy.’ J.G. Bruff understood also that ‘the emigrants had many semblances of graves, which were actually caches of goods.’ He describes one such ‘quondam grave’ which ‘some cute chaps had opened up and emptied.'”
Mile 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.”
“California instils a respect for meum and tuum [mine and thine] ; he had made a ‘pile’ at the diggings—you never meet a man who has been there and has not—and had lost it gambling—I never met but one who had not lost his pile gambling—and then supported himself with his violin—I never met a fiddler whose instrument was not a violin—and here was the violin, like the bricks that proved Jack Cade’s lineage, to testify to the whole story.”
The Cherokee Trail
“But during July  an important change in the overland mail route was effected. This was the transfer of the line from the North Platte road [via South Pass] to the Cherokee Trail. . . .
The Cherokee Trail probably derived its name from a party of Cherokees headed by Captain Evans of Arkansas, who made their way to California via this route, having begun their journey April 20, 1849 . . . This party however was not the first to take this route. General Ashley in going to the Green River rendezvous in 1825 took this trail Stansbury was guided over this trail eastward in 1850 by James Bridger.”
“The mustang is the Spanish mesteño. The animal was introduced by the first colonists, and allowed to run at large. Its great variety of coat proves the mustang’s degeneracy from the tame horse; according to travelers, cream-color, skewbald, and piebald being not uncommon. ‘Sparing in diet, a stranger to grain, easily satisfied whether on growing or dead grass, inured to all weathers, and capable of great labor,’ the mustang-pony is a treasure to the prairie-man.”
The Platte River
“The Platte is a wonderful river. For several hundred miles before it empties into the Missouri it is a very shallow stream, and in many places it has the appearance of being a very sluggish stream. It has a sandy bottom, and the channel frequently shifts from one locality to another. Within sight of Fort Kearney, where the stream ran through the military reservation, there were scores of islands in the early ’60’s. Some called that vicinity ‘The Thousand Islands.’’ In some places the stream is from one to two miles wide, and one can easily wade it except when it is on its annual ‘rise.’
“Along its banks, at intervals of a few miles, in the early days, there were occasional belts of young timber, the cottonwood predominating. There were frequent groves of willows on the islands for hundreds of miles and Willow Island was the name of one of the stage stations about fifty miles west of Fort Kearney. The few resident trappers, pioneers, traders, and ranchmen, followed by the steady march of civilization westward, soon thinned out most of the timber. Farther up the stream, along the north and south forks, was a vigorous growth of sagebrush and cacti, in the early ’60’s, but freighters and pilgrims grubbed out much of the sage-brush for fuel.”
Mile 330: Fort Kearney
“Of the five historic trail ‘forts’—Kearney, Laramie, Hall, Boise, and Bridger—we were now approaching the first in point of geography, last in point of time. It was established in 1848 as a curb to the exuberant habits of the Indians and was the only one of the five actually to be built for the accommodation of soldiers (the other four were originally trading posts and were established much earlier). . . .In accordance with the casual habit of the day, the name was a duplication of an older and already abandoned fort on the Missouri River just below Table Creek.”
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.”
“The next year, 1835, when the traders’ great caravan under Fontenelle came west to the rendezvous, they brought two other famous men, Samuel Parker and the young Marcus Whitman, bot missionaries. Men of the cloth were unwelcome among the rough packers, and at first their resentment took the form of petty annoyances; but cholera struck the party, and Whitman, beside being a man of God, was a doctor. He worked tirelessly, saved several lives, including that of Fontenelle himself, and cemented a lifelong friendship with many of the traders and mountain men. A the rendezvous he made an incision in Jim Bridger’s back and removed an Indian arrowhead which had been embedded in the flesh for some years.”
“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.”
Commencement of the Utah War
“[T]he Mormon War began formally on the 18th of July  with the departure of the Tenth Infantry Regiment from Fort Leavenworth. A day later Phelps’ battery of four six-pounders and two twelve-pound howitzers followed from a camp nearby, and shortly thereafter the weary Fifth Infantry started for Utah. . . . In general they followed the trail familiar to overland pioneers: west from Fort Leavenworth to the Big Blue, north on this river, ad then northwest on the Little Blue, its tributary. The troops finally came to the wide, shallow, and lethargic Platte, the vital highway to the Rocky Mountain country.”
“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.”
Meaning of "Pah-Ute"
“The Piutes belonged to the Ute band at the time that the original Shoshone tribe broke up through its own weight and unwieldy size. They settled about the lakes—Humboldt, Pyramid, Carson, and Walker—and were therefore called Pah-Utes; that is, water Utes, “pah” being the word that sininifies water among all the Indians of the Great Basin region, Finally, the Utes and Pah-Utes, or “Piutes”—as the name is now generally, though improperly, written—became separate tribes.”
“[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.”
Mormon Mail and YX Express
“Another significant prelude to hostilities concerned the carrying of the mails between Utah and the States, a vital matter to a people situated far from the frontier. . . . The Mormons had been displeased with the operation of the [lowest bidder] system, for the mails had often arrived late or had even been lost during the journey. Efficiency had not improved after 1854, when W. M F. Magraw received the new four-year contract, and so unsatisfactory was his work that the Government after two years cancelled his contract.
This event gave the Mormons a chance to remedy the situation: if they could obtain the new contract, they might assure them selves of better service. . . . Hiram Kimball submitted a bid, ostensibly on behalf of himself alone; but when the Church learned that Kimball’s estimate . . . had won governmental approval, it proceeded enthusiastically to support the new project. . . .
Brigham Young’s ambitions, however, had by now outgrown such a modest venture. He dreamed instead of a great, Church-controlled company carrying not only the mail but all goods between Utah and the States. . . .[H]e took over Kimball’s contract and soon had created the ‘Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company’ to accomplish his purposes.
With some of the expenses defrayed by Church funds and the rest borne by private subscription, the great undertaking began. . . .Then, before the ‘Y. X. Carrying Company,’ as it was called, could start its operations, Hiram Kimball received a letter from the second assistant Postmaster in Washington, dated June 10, 1857, anouncing the cancellation of his contract. The great transportation scheme had crashed to the ground.
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.]
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.”
Little Blue River
“The main approach to the Great Platte River Road was along the Little Blue River, which had everything the emigrants needed—wood, water, and a valley going in the right direction. . . .
During the California Gold Rush this route was strictly primitive; there was no significant settlement or habitation of any kind until 1859. In that year events dictated the need for stations to serve freighters, stagecoach passengers, and Pony Express riders.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Mile 1119: Simpson's Hollow and Simpson's Gulch
“One other landmark caught our attention on the trek toward Green River—the graves in the stretch of river bank where the coulee of Simpson Hollow opens out to the Big Sandy. We were on the bridge over Simpson Hollow when we saw, coming up the gulch, a flock of soft dun sheep that blanketed the rolling banks on either side like a spread cloth of nubbly wool. A herder followed . . .Yes, there were graves there—quite a lot, he told us, getting more and more indistinct as years passed until now he only remembered where to find one or two. As a boy he had considered it almost a trail cemetery.
And how did travelers know that it was ahead? Well, word of tomorrow’s travel and what it would bring seems to have sifted throughout the whole line of wagons, probably from those favored trains who had guides or from travelers who had crossed the continent before. So, because of the overwhelming need to leave their dear ones in some place which they might some day find again, they sometimes carried them many miles to be buries at tis accepted spot—where a stretch of hard-baked sage land at the end of a smudgy coulee still holds the now forgotten dead.”
[N.B. There is a marker for Simpson’s Hollow on Route 28 just past Mile 1119 on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route. Just past there is a dirt road that seems to lead to Simpson’s Gulch (about 3/4 of a mile to the Gulch)]
Higher Than Haman
“And if ever another man gives a whistle to a child of mine and I get my hands on him, I will hang him higher than Haman!”
[Haman (also known as Haman the Agagite or Haman the evil) is the main antagonist in the Book of Esther, who according to the Hebrew Bible was a vizier in the Persian empire under King Ahasuerus, commonly identified as Xerxes I. . . .
As described in the Book of Esther, Haman was the son of Hammedatha the Agagite. After Haman was appointed the principal minister of the king Ahasuerus, all of the king’s servants were required to bow down to Haman, but Mordechairefused to. Angered by this, and knowing of Mordechai’s Jewish nationality, Haman convinced Ahasuerus to allow him to have all of the Jews in the Persian empire killed.
The plot was foiled by Queen Esther, the king’s recent wife, who was herself a Jew. Esther invited Haman and the king to two banquets. In the second banquet, she informed the king that Haman was plotting to kill her (and the other Jews). This enraged the king, who was further angered when (after leaving the room briefly and returning) he discovered Haman had fallen on Esther’s couch, intending to beg mercy from Esther, but which the king interpreted as a sexual advance.
On the king’s orders, Haman was hanged from the 50-cubit-high gallows that had originally been built by Haman himself, on the advice of his wife Zeresh, in order to hang Mordechai. The bodies of Haman’s ten sons were also hanged, after they died in battle against the Jews. “All the enemies of the Jews” were additionally killed by the Jews, 75,000 of them.
The apparent purpose of this unusually high gallows can be understood from the geography of Shushan: Haman’s house (where the pole was located) was likely in the city of Shushan (a flat area), while the royal citadel and palace were located on a mound about 15 meters higher than the city. Such a tall pole would have allowed Haman to observe Mordechai’s corpse while dining in the royal palace, had his plans worked as intended.
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.”
“[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.”
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.”
Bond Scandal Fallout
“There is little doubt that this affair, aggravated by the financial difficulties of the time and the accumulated irregularities of the past, virtually destroyed the credit of Russell, Majors & Waddell and made their financial failure a certainty, precisely as Russell had feared. Can there be any wonder that the government declined to give a new contract for the overland mail to a firm which had condoned such practices?”
Mile 437: Cottonwood Springs
“The next day (13th) we passed by the celebrated ‘Cotton-wood Springs’ where, in the midst of a scattered grove of majestic cotton-woods, a clear stream gushes forth, famed for its coolness and purity. We all stopped to get a drink of the delicious water, which tasted like nectar to us who had for so long quenched thirst with the yellow, tepid water of the Platte, and then moved on, encamping at sunset on the summit of O’Fallon’s Bluffs, whose steep declivities we climbed with difficulty. These bluffs are opposite the junction of the north and south forks of the Platte, and extend to the edge of the river.”
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.”
Virginia Dale Persuades Slade to Move
“Slade next took up a ranch not far from Fort Bridger in western Wyoming, and began freighting. He was in the midst of his enemies—without the protection, of the armed stage company employees. Maria never knew what day her man would be brought home full of bullet holes. She persuaded him to seek new territory.
Early in June, 1863, the big gold strike at Alder Gulch on Grasshopper Creek in Idaho Territory was attracting men from far and near. Slade decided to join the rush.”
Dry Season on the Platte
“From Fort Kearney, for many miles up, there was no water in the river. The water seemed to be in The underflow. We not infrequently rode down to the river, and with shovels dug watering-places in the sand of the bed. We always found permanent water within eighteen inches of the top, no matter how dry the sand on top appeared to be. We were told that 75 miles of the river were then dry, and that generally about 125 miles of it were dry in the dryest season. At Frenches ranch the water began to appear on the surface in the shape of damp places and little pools.”
Meeting Between Slade and Virginia
“The exact place and date of the meeting between Virginia Slade, nee Virginia Dale, and Jack Slade is not known, but from tracing actual dates of events in Slade’s tempestuous career, we do know that it was sometime in the early part of 1860 that she became known as ‘Mrs. Slade.’ At that time she rescued Jack from a band of his enemies who were holding him captive in a log hut, awaiting the arrival of the gang’s chieftains to decide on the manner of Jack’s death. Jack asked to see his wife, to tell her farewell.
Virginia, who was an expert markswoman, equally handy with revolvers and rifles, arrived on a fast horse. She was wearing a worried look and a voluminous skirt. Jack asked plaintively to ‘see his wife alone.’ The guards granted this request, and she flew to his arms. As he enfolded her caressingly, he felt the comforting bulge of two five-shooters in the pockets of her flowing gown. Jack still had his own two guns. Why the guards had been so careless is a matter of guesswork—maybe they liked the little guy! But anyway, he had them. He and Virginia rushed to the cabin door, each armed with two guns, surprised the guards, whom they kept at gun-point, jumped on Virginia’s fine, fast-moving horse, and dashed away.
Also in 1860, the Slades befriended Widow Bartholomew, whose husband, Dr. Bartholomew, had been murdered by a couple of ruthlesss ruffians.”
“So I journeyed on, getting over about thirty-five miles a day on an average, and nothing worth recording occurred till Independence, an important town and Indian trading-post on the frontier of Missouri, was reached. There I found the place crowded with Missourians and a goodly sprinkling of men from the Southern States, all full of excitement over the burning question whether the Territory of Kansas, recently opened up for settlement, should be Slave or Free.
The Free State party in the North, managed and worked from Faneuil Hall, Boston, had been sending up men and arms, and had occupied positions defended by light artillery. The Missourians were crossing the river, and volunteers from all the Southern States were marching up to the conflict, which might break out at any moment.
In this scene of seething unrest and wild passion, a stranger was naturally regarded with suspicion until he declared his sympathies. Mine were strongly on the side of the South, and, as soon as I made this known, I was heartily welcomed amongst the ” Border Ruffians,” as the pro-Slavery party was nicknamed by the Free Staters.”
“A middle-aged woman from Dover was a curious free-spoken person for a ‘saint,’ and almost put our men to the blush; for a very trifling gratuity she would have (and perhaps did) acted as the procuress of the girls of her people. On common-place subjects she talked sensibly; told me from having delayed so long at Atchison they were already short of provisions, and got only one pound of bacon a week each (perhaps including all the children); complained bitterly that the settler would not sell her any butter, he would keep it all for the ‘captain’s lady’ (the captain of the United States’ troops)—that in a free country !—besides, he had ‘extortionated’ her for other trifles; but—and this she told with immense gusto—she had sold his wife some worsted stockings, and put just as much extra on the price of them.”
Cattle for Utah
“Here William McCarthy, a brother of Frank McCarthy, our assistant boss, met us. He had been sent out by Majors, Russel & Waddell in charge of a herd of eight hundred beef cattle to drive them to Salt Lake. He had eight men, and a team and wagon to haul their supplies. “
“I have always wondered why it is that all information extant on any given historic spot is always somewhere else and the immediate neighborhood is in complete and blissful ignorance.”
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.”
Mark Twain Meets Jack Slade
“The exact time of their [Mark Twain and Jack Slade] meeting has been pinpointed to the morning of August 2, 1861, at Rocky Ridge–two stations east of South Pass.”
Mile 1086: Parting of the Ways
“About 18 miles after travelers on the Oregon Trail crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass, they reached a junction known now as the Parting of the Ways. The right fork went west toward Fort Hall in present southern Idaho, while the left continued southwest toward Fort Bridger and Salt Lake City. The Fort Hall route was a cutoff, opened in 1844. It saved about 46 miles and two and a half days’ travel, but only by crossing a waterless, sagebrush desert.”
[Reported by Jan Bennett in the Bike the Pony Express group, 10/10/19]
Traffic on the Platte River Route
“Intermingled with the westering cavalcade of the Great Migration was the shuttle-weave of stagecoaches, freighting trains, mail wagons, fur trade caravans. U.S. Army troops, supply trains, and dispatch riders. There were also occasionally large numbers of cattle and sheep, herded westward to Utah or California markets, and sometimes a horse herd from California to Missouri.
As to emigrant outfits, there were some strange contraptions among the orthodox covered wagons and infrequent packers. Not uncommon on the north side, or Council Bluffs Road, were the Mormon handcart expeditions. . . . In contrast . . . some affluent emigrants [were noted] traveling up the California Road in horse-drawn carriages . . . Perhaps the strangest spectacle in all the procession was the funeral cortege, led by William Keil, that went all the way from Missouri to Oregon with a casket in which were embalmed the mortal remains of his son Willie.”
“We then ran down the river valley, which was here about one mile in breadth, in a smooth flooring of clay, sprinkled with water- rolled pebbles, overgrown in parts with willow, wild cherry, buffalo berries, and quaking asp. Macarthy pointed out in the road-side a rough grave, furnished with the normal tomb-stone, two pieces of wagon-board : it was occupied by one Farren, who had fallen by the revolver of the redoubtable Slade. Presently we came to the store of Michael Martin, an honest Creole.”
[Note: Based on Granville Stewart’s description, this would be near the town of Granger, WY, Mile 1165. Based on Burton’s itinerary, it would be near Simpson’s Hollow, Mile 1119]
“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.'”
Like the Ascent of Capitol Hill
“Though scattered references to easy passage over the Rockies had been appearing in newspapers for the previous decade, it was explorer John C. Frémont who ignited the South Pass enthusiasm when he explained how the traveler could go through the pass without any “toilsome ascents,” and compared it to the “ascent of the Capitol hill from the avenue, at Washington.”
Romance of Freighting
“At Kearney Finlay left me. Since the train started he had been as sick of his profession as the traditional dog of the proverbial broth. He could see no romance in “hollering” at and beating oxen all day and herding them on alternate nights, and was disgusted with his associates.”
First Overland Mail from St. Joseph
“Residents of Sacramento celebrated the arrival of the first overland mail from St. Joseph on July 20, 1858.”
Finest Natural Wagon Roads
“Even though the rivers of the high plains did not provide the westering Americans with navigable waterways, the valleys of two of these rivers did provide the world’s finest natural wagon roads. Along a great section of the valley of the Arkansas River ran the Santa Fe Trail, and a branch that led to Denver, Colorado. Along the Platte ran the Overland Trail, also called the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail.”
Pony Express Schedule
“The time to Fort Kearny was to be 34 hours; Great Salt Lake, 124 hours; Carson City, 188 hours; Placerville, 226 hours; Sacramento City, 234 hours; and San Francisco, 240 hours. Telegraphic dispatches were to go to any place in California. from any point in the East in about 205 hours. . .
“A more complete time table appeared in the Elwood Free Press of April 7, with the following added stations: Marysville, 12 hours; Laramie, 80 hours; Bridger, 108 hours, and Camp Floyd, 128 hours.”
Resupplying the Utah Expedition
“In January 1858 the Government to arrange with Russell, Majors & Waddell to transport approximately sixteen million pounds of freight, most of it destined for Utah. To fulfill this assignment the firm was compelled to acquire 40,000 oxen and 1,000 mules, and to hire more than 4,000 teamsters; altogether the Government ordered the contractors to send to the Territory at least 100 trains, each composed of twenty-six wagons.”
“Two miles west of Fort Kearney was the worst place on the entire overland route. A town had been laid out and christened ‘Kearney City. (It was called ‘Dobytown’ for short.) It was a place of perhaps half a dozen sod structures, just outside of the fort reservation limits at the west. The buildings were occupied almost exclusively by the worst kind of dives, and a number of the people were disreputable characters of both sexes. The soldiers quartered at the post who drank bought their whisky at “Dobytown,” and the large numbers of ox and mule drivers going across the plains seldom failed to stop there a few moments, to fill up on ‘tanglefoot,’ thus making it an immensely profitable business for those keeping such places. Freighters (the owners of the freight, especially) were always glad to get out of ‘Doby town’ and did so as soon as possible. There was a great amount of thieving done in the vicinity, and ox and mule drivers and those who had any money and who spent a night there, would be frequently drugged with the vilest liquor, robbed, and often rendered unable to go on westward with their trains the following morning. Hence, freighters would try to arrange their journey so they would never be obliged to camp in the vicinity of that disreputable place.”
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.”
Recall of Mormon Missionaries
“Of greater significance was the closing of two missions in the West, Carson Valley in present-day Nevada and San Bernardino on the Coast. Begun by private individuals in 1849, . . . by 1858 450 people hd settled in [Carson valley, Genoa, or Mormon Station]. Young did not hesitate to break up the colony in August 1857. A similar policy was carried out in San Bernardino. Filling the vital position as the Mormon’s only access to the sea, it had grown rapidly in population and wealth after its founding in 1851, until it had become a town of at least 1,500 people, perhaps even twice that figure. At the end of the summer of 1857, Young instructed the residents to sell their property and return to Salt Lake City.
There is some disagreement over the real purpose of this disruption of settlements established at much expense and labor. According to one interpretation, Young had always opposed the work of colonization, especially in San Bernardino, for he feared that Mormons located too far from the central offices of the Church would lose the earnestness of their faith. . . . A more plausible explanation lies in theMormon’s need for supplies, primary ammunition and weapons. . . .[T’]he Church could acquire desperately needed stores if its people sold their property and with the revenue purchased powder and arms on the West Coast.”
“When a little out of sorts or low-spirited, the old professionals would make things worse by telling what became of the teamsters when they died, that is, in this world; for it is pretty easy to tell where most of the ‘bull-whackers’ went, unless orthodox theology is at fault. These Job’s comforters told how the translated unfortunates were buried in scant roadside graves, in boxes made from the sideboards of their wagons.”
Mile 582: Pole Creek Station No. 2
“Site unidentified, vicinity of Lodgepole, Nebraska. The route was along Lodgepole Creek, future route of the Union Pacific Railroad into Cheyenne.”
[N.B. This location is not on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route. To get here, you’d have to turn west on Road 10 at Mile 566, then north on Road 149 (which becomes Highway 17 F). The marker is located 1 mile south of Lodgepole on Highway 17F between Lodgepole and I-80. According to one source, “Pole Creek No. 2 Station also known as the “Texas” Pony Express Station was not one of the original station sites. This station was put into service in July 1861 when a new mail contract called for twice a week Pony Express and a near daily stagecoach going both east and west. The original stations, were too far apart for the use of a stagecoach and thus the ‘Hughes Ranch’ in the Chappell area and ‘Texas’ sites were added.”]
“Leavenworth, Kansas, at that time a squatter town on the Delaware Indian Reservation two miles south of the Fort, was chosen [in 1855] as headquarters for the firm [Russell, Majors & Waddell]. . . .
When the last employee was hired the company register bore the names of 1,700 employees. . . . Among the messengers employed to ride back and forth between [freight] trains on the road was ten-year-old William F. Cody, later known to world-wide fame as ‘Buffalo Bill.'”
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.”
Mile 804: Horseshoe Creek
“That portion of the Platte Valley into which the wagons dropped after leaving the Bitter Cottonwood was a common stretch on the two roads south of the river and afforded the best grass the pioneers had seen since leaving their own planted meadows. With the possible exception of Bear River Valley, Carson Valley, Fort Bridger, and the Fort Hall Bottoms, it was the most luxuriant of the two-thousand mile trek. It extended no doubt from the lovely meadows near Bull’s Bend to Horseshoe Creek and beyond. Men diarists, especially, wrote of it in glowing terms, for it gave the animals a much-needed ‘chirking-up’ right in the middle of the hard grind of the Black Hills.”
[N.B. Bull’s Bend is on the North Platte River (about two miles to the east) at roughly Mile 800 on the Pony express Bikepacking Route]
Texas or Cherokee Oxen
“The oxen were not, in general, the massive beasts bred in the northeast but were range cattle from Texas or the Cherokee country. While they should be large and at least four years old for best performance, they actually varied greatly. One man said that they were ‘of every character and description—some of them very small, but having horns of immense size, that we boys used to say that the meat of the steer could be packed in its horns.’ . . . According to a merchant of Nebraska City who had done some freighting, the Texas steer made the best leader; quick on his feet, he could, and at times did, outrun a horse.”
“Mat, the other Irishman, I consider in special my comrade; we slept for three months in the same waggon and under the same blankets. I made his acquaintance here by curing him of ague with a dose of quinine, a good deed never forgotten.”
600-Mile spread of Emigration
“[James] Clyman continued eastward [in 1846], meeting wagons for ten days, recording their numbers, and making additional notes. His is thus an unusual picture—the migration as seen from west to east. From his record the total spread can be calculated as nearly six hundred miles, that is, when he met the first emigrants some miles west of the crossing of the North Fork, the last emigrants still had five or six days to go to reach the crossing of the South Fork.”
[N.B. For an interesting article on ferries and bridges at the North Platte ford, see this article on the Wyoming History website.]
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.”
Senator Gwin's Motivation
“It was sometime in December 1859 or early January 1860 that William H. Russell, one of the partners in the firm Russell, Majors and [sic] Waddell, and California Senator William M. Gwin met to discuss the need to improve communications between California and the East and how it could best be achieved . . . Gwin hoped to gain favor politically. Even though he was a southern sympathizer [and thus, a supporter of Butterfield’s southern ox bow route], he believed that bringing in mail service over the shorter central route would increase his popularity and ensure his chance of re-election or higher office.”
First Run over the Sierra Nevada
“Critics of the central overland route predicted that weather conditions (especially winter conditions) along the route would cause delays for the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. Perhaps to avoid an unsettling beginning to their new enterprise, Russell, Majors, and Waddell decided to the start the Pony Express in the springtime. Despite the springtime start, the first rider from Sacramento to St. Joseph encountered four-foot-deep snow in crossing the Sierra Nevada, and it looked as though adverse weather conditions would defeat the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. from the outset. Fortunately for the rider, a narrow mule-path created by pack-trains on their way from California to the Washoe mines opened the way for him. The rider was delayed by only a few hours, indicating to many that the Pony Express could conquer the critics of the central overland route.”
Mile 1835: Dry Creek
“Twenty miles farther led to the west end of the Sheawit Valley, where we found the station on a grassy bench at the foot of low rolling hills. It was a mere shell, with a substantial stone corral behind, and the inmates were speculating upon the possibility of roofing themselves in before the winter. Water is found in tolerable quantities below the station, but the place deserved its name, ‘Dry Creek.’ . . .
“Dry-Creek Station is on the eastern frontier of the western agency; as at Roberts’ Creek, supplies and literature from Great Salt City east and Carson City west are usually exhausted before they reach these final points. After a frugal feed, we inspected a grave for two, which bore the names of Loscier and Applegate, and the date 21st of May. These men, employes of the station, were attacked by Indians Panaks or Shoshonees, or possibly both: the former was killed by the first fire; the latter, when shot in the groin, and unable to proceed, borrowed, under pretext of defense, a revolver, bade good-by to his companions, and put a bullet through his own head: the remainder then escaped. Both these poor fellows remain unavenged. The Anglo-American, who is admirably protected by the officials of his government in Europe, Asia, and Africa, is systematically neglected—teste [witness, for example] Mexico—in America. The double grave, piled up with stones, showed gaps where the wolves had attempted to tunnel, and blue-bottle flies were buzzing over it in expectation. Colonel Totten, at our instance, promised that it should be looked to. . . .
“Shortly after 8 A.M. we were afield, hastening to finish the long divide that separates Roberts’ Creek Valley from its western neighbor, which, as yet unchristened, is known to the b’hoys as Smoky Valley. The road wound in the shape of the letter U round the impassable part of the ridge [i.e., via the Cape Horn route south of Simpson Mountains rather than over Eagle Butte, which is the Pony Express rote]. Crossing the north end of Smoky Valley, we came upon rolling ground, with water-willows and cedars ‘blazed’—barked with a gash—for sign-posts.”
Mormons and the Courts
“It was in the judicial rather than the political field, however, that non-Mormons felt most keenly the dictatorial authority of the church. . . .At first the Mormons, believing that Gentile courts did not dispense justice, followed the advice of their leaders to use their own ecclesiastical tribunals in settlement of their mutual difficulties. Then the influx of Gentiles brought the Saints into legal entanglements that could be resolved only in territorial courts, other devices were employed to guard the interests of Church members. The legislature, for instance, by enactment in 1852 permitted anyone, with or without legal training, to serve as an attorney in court; two years later a more extensive act declared that only territorial laws, and those of Congress ‘when applicable,’ could be ‘read, argued, cited or adopted as precedent in any trial,’ Thus the Mormons tried to escape all laws, including English common law, that might serve to prejudice their search for autonomy. . . .
Of all the judicial defenses raised by the Church to protect itself, none caused so much trouble as the probate courts. In February 1852 the legislature gave these tribunals such exceptional powers that they came to have jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases. . . .In reply, many Gentiles insisted that thte extravagant augmentation of the probate courts’ authority was obvious proof of the Mormons’ ultimate intention to establish a community effectively independent of all federal control. W. W. Drummond, a federal judge who more than any other man brought about the Mormon War of 1857-58 . . . used this strange legal situation as one of his arguments for the need of an expedition against the Latter-day Saints.”
Magraw's Philippic Against the Mormons
“When Buchanan requested his cabinet officers to gather correspondence justifying his policy toward Utah, the Secretary old State, old Lewis Cass, could locate only one document in his files, but it was a dandy. It came from W. M. F. Magraw, whose hatred of the Mormons had been heightened by loss of his mail contract to Hiram Kimball. At considerable length Magraw charged the Saints with crimes against the laws of the nation and humanity. According to his letter the Church had destroyed all non-Mormon courts in the Territory, thus leaving the Gentiles to the mercy of ‘a so-styled ecclesiastical organization, as despotic and damnable, as any ever to exist in any country.’ The result was violence and murder by ‘an organized band of bravos and assassins;’ ‘indiscriminate bloodshed, robbery and rapine’ at midnight or in full daylight.’ . . .
Like many anti-Mormons in these years, Magraw possessed an inenviable character. After the mail contract had been taken from him, he became superintendent of a crew constructing a federal road across the Plains, and while serving in that capacity he was guilty of shady practices, if not outright theft of government property.”
“Then, after applying a solution of salt and water, he was left to recover as best he could. The brand would remain in evidence more than a year unless the steer was captured by cattle thieves, who possessed a secret for growing the hair again in six months. When the branding was completed, each man was given twelve steers to break to yoke, and it was three long weeks before we were in shape to proceed on our long Western tramp.”
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.”
The Slade of Western Kansas
“[Wild Bill Hickok] had won considerable notoriety for ‘killing a man,’ having been a Government scout in the Arkansas valley during the war, while along the line of railroad he was known as ‘the Slade of western Kansas.’”
‘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.”
“‘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.”
Selecting a Mule Team
“In selecting a team, there were a number of well-established rules. The largest pair, or span, was selected for the wheelers. This was the span that controlled the direction of the wagon through the wagon tongue and held the wagon back on downgrades. The nimblest and most knowledgeable span were selected for the leaders. It was they who imparted direction to the whole team. On sharp turns, they often had to leave the trail to swing wide and scramble over rocks and bushes. The nigh, or left, leader had to be particularly smart as it was he that received orders from the driver by means of the jerk line and determined the direction for the whole team.”
The Oregon Trail
“There is such thing anymore as the Oregon Trail. There never was a single Oregon Trail. After Fort Kearny on the Platte in eastern Nebraska, some wagon trains hugged the north side of the Platte along the edge of the Sand Hills, and some took the south banks. To avoid each other’s dust and to hunt for game, the wagons fanned out widely across the prairie all day. The trains generally followed a set of central ‘ruts,’ or the rivers, for navigation, but the trail west was often five miles wide on either side of the river, or as much as twelve miles total, including both banks. By the 1850s, western Wyoming was a sprawling network of wagon tracks and shortcuts—the Lander Cutoff, the Farson Cutoff, the Sublette Cutoff, the Hams Fork Cutoff—that extended more than a hundred miles north and south, all of it considered the Oregon Trail. By some counts there are as many as forty cutoffs and alternate branches from the main ruts along the 2,100-mile route. The ‘trail’ was really just an aggregated landscape that the pioneers followed across the plains and then the high deserts.”
Pony Express Mustangs
“In Frank A. Root and William E. Connelley, The Overland Stage to California, p. 100, the authors state that Russell bought some 200 ponies at Salt Lake City, and large numbers in California, Iowa, and Missouri. At San Francisco it was announced that W. W. Finney had bought mules and horses. The animals used were almost always referred to as ‘ponies,’ but were really fleet American horses, California mustangs–a small, hardy Mexican stock, then regarded as the fleetest animal in the West. See, also, Arthur Chapman, The Pony Express (New York and London, 1932), pp. 84-89.”
“They were the camp guards. Three or four men detailed for this work watched the first half of the night, when another group of equal number stood guard until daylight. Each mess took a fill night’s guard dividing the time and alternating the men. The camp was constantly ‘on a war footing,’ and in times of immediate danger the camp guards as well as the night herders were doubled. The guard was maintained regardless of weather conditions.”
“[Spotted Tail] got up and said that the Sioux nation was not afraid of the white people; that there were more Sioux Indians than there were white people; that the Sioux nation had twenty-six thousand Ar-ke’-che-tas * (organized warriors), and could put more soldiers into the Platte valley than the white people could . . .”
* Note.—The Arkecheta was the Sioux regular army soldier, as apart from the hunter or lay-Indian. It was a sort of military guild among the Sioux.”
The White-Topped Wain
“That day’s chief study was of wagons, those ships of the great American Sahara which, gathering in fleets at certain seasons, conduct the traffic between the eastern and the western shores of a waste which is every where like a sea, and which presently will become salt. The white-topped wain—banished by railways from Pennsylvania, where, drawn by the ‘Conestoga horse,’ it once formed a marked feature in the landscape—has found a home in the Far West. They are not unpicturesque from afar, these long-winding trains, in early morning like lines of white cranes trooping slowly over the prairie, or in more mysterious evening resembling dim sails crossing a rolling sea. The vehicles are more simple than our Cape wagons—huge beds like punts mounted on solid wheels, with logs for brakes, and contrasting strongly with the emerald plain, white tilts of twilled cotton or osnaburg, supported by substantial oaken or hickory bows. The wain is literally a ‘prairie ship:’ its body is often used as a ferry, and when hides are unprocurable the covering is thus converted into a ‘bull boat.’ Two stakes driven into the ground, to mark the length, are connected by a longitudinal keel and ribs of willow rods; cross-sticks are tied with thongs to prevent ‘caving in,’ and the canvas is strained over the frame-work.”
Ranches, Stations, and Posts along the Platte
“Prior to 1859 scattered references are found to fly-by-night trading establishments along the Platte and the North Platte, usually in portable tents or tipis operated by squaw men. Robidoux’s several posts in the Scott’s Bluff vicinity and Beauvais’ post at Old California Crossing were the only ones that had the semblance of permanent structures. If these were initiated by overland stage or Pony Express operators, they were called stations. If they were launched privately, as hostelries or or groceries and saloons, they were called ranches, in the singular sometimes spelled ‘ranche.’ If the army built or occupied an outpost to protect telegraph facilities (or later, Union Pacific Railroad construction), it would be designated a military post, even though the facilities might be meager. occasionally one outfit had a complex of buildings that served any two or all three purposes.”
Mile 278: Spring Ranch
“We then resumed our journey over a desert, waterless save after rain, for twenty-three miles; it is the divide between the Little Blue and the Platte rivers, a broken table-land rising gradually toward the west, with, at this season, a barren soil of sand and clay. As the evening approached, a smile from above lit up into absolute beauty the homely features of the world below. The sweet commune with nature in her fairest hours denied to the sons of cities—who must contemplate her charms through a vista of brick wall, or over a foreground of chimney-pots—consoled us amply for all the little hardships of travel. Strata upon strata of cloud-banks, burnished to golden red in the vicinity of the setting sun, and polished to dazzling silvery white above, lay piled half way from the horizon to the zenith, with a distinct strike toward a vanishing point in the west, and dipping into a gateway through which the orb of day slowly retired. Overhead floated in a sea of amber and yellow, pink and green, heavy purple nimbi, apparently turned upside down their convex bulges below, and their horizontal lines high in the air while in the east black and blue were so curiously blended that the eye could not distinguish whether it rested upon darkening air or upon a lowering thunder-cloud. We enjoyed these beauties in silence; not a soul said, ‘Look there!’ or ‘How pretty !’
At 9 P.M., reaching ‘Thirty-two-mile Creek,’ we were pleasantly surprised to find an utter absence of the Irishry.”
Mile 1421: Point Lookout/Lookout Pass/Jackson's Station
“Originally, Lookout Pass was identified by Simpson as General Johnston’s Pass. The mail contract called it Point Lookout. From the top of the pass one can look west into the desert at what was to become known as Piute Hell. In May 1860, the Pah Ute War began, caused apparently because of white encroachment and depredations. For a short time, the Express was completely shut down (June-July). This ‘war’ was finally settled after the Civil War when soldiers were sent west to quell the Indian uprisings.
“An Egan employee, Fredrick W. Hurst, chronicles a station near the pass as being ‘Jackson’s Station’ in Brush Hollow. By 1876, the survey records show the site to be settled by Horace Rockwell (O.P. Rockwell’s brother) and his wife, Libby (See Figure 20). Reportedly in 1885 and since about 1870, the Rockwells occupied a small log house, possibly the old station house. A small cemetery plot, to the south, with iron railings apparently contains the remains of Rockwell’s pet dogs. No other physical remains can be found at the site.”
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.”
Frank as a Bear Hunter
“‘Frank as a bear-hunter” is a proverb in these lands.”
Increased Mail to the West
“Although inclined to southern interests, Postmaster-general [Aaron] Brown was also an exponent of the policy of generous postal extension into the West. He applied a liberal interpretation to the powers of the postal department and set about to do his part in furthering the development of the new region. After holding office bu two years Mr. Brown had six lines carrying mail to the Pacific Coast, where but two existed when he assumed his position in the cabinet. During this period, also, the frequency of mail transmission had been increased upon the most improved route from semi-monthly to semi-weekly service.”
Mile 1043: St. Mary's Crossing
“In the flat was a small marker for the site of old St. Mary’s stage station, usually referred to as St. Mary’s Crossing. Two buffalo horns, gray and scaly from long exposure, lay beside it. . . .
There are no evidences remaining of the old station house; but tradition at the Ellis ranch places it in that particular spot, and we saw no reason to doubt the accuracy of the marker.”
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.”
“[D]efinitely undependable were the Pawnee, whose territory extended from the Big Blue Crossing to the forks of the Platte. The Kanzas, the Potawatomi, and the Sac and Fox were semi-civilized, at least to the point that there was some semblance of legality to their extraction of funds from the emigrants. The Pawnee were warriors and buffalo hunters who roamed their vast domain looking for trouble. They found plenty of it in the form of Sioux and Cheyenne to the west; and emigrants who had found themselves in the thick of tribal warfare on the Kansas River might have the experience repeated along the Little Blue and the Platte. . . . For the most part, however, the rumors of battles and massacres [between Pawnee and emigrants] were untrue, and the Pawnee merely threatened and blustered, demanding tribute of some kind for crossing their lands, although they would not be above robbing and sometimes murdering stragglers.”
Mile 1078: Pacific Springs
“Pacific Springs is a marshy area just beyond South Pass in Wyoming. Seemingly unassuming, it was the first source of water for riders on the western side of the continental divide. And the Pony Express station that was built here in 1860 was the first station on the Pacific side of the United States encountered by west-bound riders! This station burned to the ground in 1862, but the remains of a cabin built in the late 1800s/ early 1900s marks its general location.”
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.”
War Department Communications
“[Californians] thought that the federal government should appreciate the ‘advantages’ of the Pony Express, especially since the War Department used it to send messages to the Commanding General of the Pacific Division concerning troop movements in Oregon.”
“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 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).
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.”
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.'”
“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 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).
“[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.”
“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.”
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.”
Mile 671: Ficklin Station
“Did you know Ficklin’s Springs Station in Nebraska was named after Benjamin F. Ficklin, who was the route superintendent, or general manager, for the entire Pony Express route? Ficklin also once owned Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and was arrested in connection with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln!”
“Ficklin’s Springs Station – This site is reportedly one mile west of Melbeta, Nebraska in Scotts Bluff County. The 1861 Overland Mail Company contract listed the site as an unnamed Pony station, later named for Benjamin F. Ficklin, superintendent of the entire Pony Express route. The site originated as a Pony Express station and later served as a telegraph station and temporary garrison in 1865. In 1871, cattle rancher Mark M. Coad acquired the sod station.”
[N.B. The marker is on Hwy 92, a mile or so off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route]
Mile 915: Casper, WY
“Casper is definitely on my list for an off day or two for anyone looking for suggestions. Good food, lots of bike shops, campground with cabins right in the middle of town, as well as plenty of hotels. There’s even a handfull of outdoor stores that stock things one would need to head off on a few days ride without real resupply options, which is a definite added bonus. It’s like Salt Lake City on the route in that regard, only smaller! Bonus points for renting a car and driving up to Devil’s Tower for the day one day. Definitely worth the drive (or as an addition to the whole route…hrmm).”
Comments by Angela Paterna: “I highly recommend a visit to the National Trails Museum in Casper, Wyoming. I addition to a display on the Pony Express, it also has displays on the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and The Mormon Pioneer Trail. They have a pretty good bookstore and free literature that details the auto route. I have stopped twice on different driving trips I have made between Colorado and Montana. And the view over Casper isn’t too shabby either.”
[N.B. These statements are all in the Comments section of the post]
Mile 580: Lodgepole Depot Museum
“The famous Pony Express mail delivery route passed through Lodgepole Creek Valley in 1860 and 1861. Two Pony Express stations were nearby. The Pole Creek No. 2 Pony Express Station was in what is now Lodgepole, while the Nine Mile station sat southeast of present-day Chappell. Pony Express historian Joe Nardone so enjoyed this particular stop on the Pony Express trail that he donated several items from his personal collection to the Lodgepole Depot Museum. This museum now houses several artifacts from the Pony Express, including maps, a saddle and a saddle pack. Nardone also gave the depot museum the 1984 Ford Bronco that he used to mark the route to the museum.”
[N.B. The town of Lodgepole of southwest of the XP Bikepacking Route at around Mile 580. To visit would require a detour, either before of after Chapell.]
Mormon Attacks on the Army's Supply Trains
“On October 4 a small band of Mounted Mormons led by Major Lot Smith bypassed the Tenth Infantry and fell upon two of [Russell, Majors & Waddell’s supply] trains camped along the Green River, a very few miles from Colonel Waite’s command [Fifth Infantry]. Secure in the knowledge that the army’s calvary, the Dragoons, was some 700 miles to the east [as it had been ordered to assist keeping order in Bleeding Kansas], Smith burned these trains and the next day surprised and destroyed a third on the Big Sandy.
All told the flames lit by Smith and his few dozen men consumed seventy-two wagons containing 300,000 pounds of food, principally flour and bacon—enough provisions to feed the troops for several months.”
Payoff to Floyd
“From the very beginning two principal objects seemed to govern the [House Bond Scandal] hearings: to investigate Secretary Floyd’s acceptances [given to Russell], and to find the abstracted bonds. The firt effort was quite successful, the latter only partially so. . . .
In all the material of the Waddell Collection, there is nothing in the way of direct, conclusive evidence that Floyd received money from Russell, but there is much to arouse suspicion that he did.”
Settlements in the Platte River valley
“The news from Pike’s Peak in 1858 precipitated plans for ranches along the Platte to accommodate the new wave of gold-seekers. There is evidence of a start on such establishments, as well as new mail stations to Salt Lake, late that year. However, as far as overland travelers were concerned, it was not until 1859 that there was any semblance of serious settlement along the Platte except for Fort Kearny itself and two ramshackle trading posts of uncertain vintage, Morrow’s Post at the forks and Beauvais’ post at California, or Ash Hollow, Crossing. Prior to that date the valley was largely an unspoiled wilderness . . .”
Delicacies on the Trail
“Though supplementary to breadstuff and bacon, some other articles of food were considered essential: salt, sugar, coffee, and dried fruit. In addition, each family was likely to carry along something in the way of special delicacies—tea, maple sugar, vinegar, pickles, smoked beef. . . .
Though these backwoods people had no knowledge of scientific dietetics, they had folkways which served them well. Aside from actual near-starvation, there seems to have been no dietary trouble in these early years. There is no mention of scurvy. Toward the end of the journey, after the delicacies had been exhausted, the diet was monotonous, and perhaps this is the reason, some emigrants arrived in California with a longing for pickles.”
Edible Buffalo Parts
“Conscientious meat hunters could use the greater part of a young buffalo (by remaining in camp a day to make jerky), but the great delicacies were the hump, the tongue, the tenderloin, and the marrow bones.
The tongue was taken by setting the animal’s head with the nose in the air and horns deep in the ground to steady it; a large slit under the jaw was then cut, through which the desired member might easily be removed.
Marrowbones, buried in coals of buffalo chips for an hour, were considered to to be especially rich and delicious. The treat may seem a trifle concentrated to us; but then, we are not living on beans and biscuit.”
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.”
“The Spanish ‘chapparal’ means a low oak copse. The word has been naturalized in Texas and New Mexico, and applied to the dense and bushy undergrowth, chiefly of briers and thorns, disposed in patches from a thicket of a hundred yards to the whole flank of a mountain range (especially in the Mexican Tierra Caliente), and so closely entwined that nothing larger than a wolf can force a way through it.”
Mail Contracts and the Mormon War
[William M.F.] Magraw lost his contract [to provide mail service between Salt Lake City and Independence] in 1856 for unsatisfactory service and was succeeded by a Mormon, Hiram Kimball, the new low bidder. Brigham Young then took over Kimball’s contract, planing a great Mormon commercial enterprise which would carry not only the mails but all goods between the Missouri River and Utah. . . . [T]he contract was summarily annulled in June of 1857, on the pretext that Kimball was late in fulfilling its terms. The charge was true but only because winter blizzards had, as usual, delayed the mails. . . . Magraw’s unhappiness at losing his contract, and Mormon unhappiness at losing theirs, were contributory causes to the ensuing ‘war’ of 1857-58.”
War Department's Sale of Arms at Cost
“Considering the heavy armament favored by overlanders—fostered in part by the War Department’s enticing 1849 offer to sell pistols, rifles, and ammunition at cost to California and Oregon emigrants—it was not surprising that a great many gunshot victims made their way to the fort hospitals. . . .
According to Texas senator Thomas S. Rusk, the rationale for the 1849 congressional authorization of $50,000 for the sale of weapons at cost was that westbound emigrants should not go forth without adequate ‘means of defence.’ . . . The cut-rate prices for rifles, muskets, carbines, pistols, and ammunition remained in effect during 1850.”
“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.”
Mile 767: Lucinda Rawlins Grave
“A knoll wedged itself between us and the river. On the summit was a conspicuous new monument, and we went up to look at it. The cement gravestone was just completed and been built with the evident purpose of attracting attention. Sunk into the glass-fronted recess in the cement was an ordinary and irregular rock. It’s still legible inscription read: ‘Lucinda Rollins—Died June 1849.’
Some family, in those far-gone days stayed in this beautiful spot long enough to lose a loved one, to bury her, and to drive on. Some one in this family could not bear to leave her in an unmarked grave, and so it has norne a headstone—small and insignificant, ut miraculously remaining for all these years. The marked graves are greatly in the minority. In years when the trail was crowded, the trains were so hurried and sickness so prevalent that common decency could hardly be observed. . . .
It was during the small migrations at the beginning and at the end of trail history that deaths occurred singly and burial was a special and tragic ceremony. Because wagons were few and the trail at the mercy of marauding Indians the graves had need—a dreadful, ghastly need—to be completely obliterated.
Picture a trail-side camp in the early morning. In the trail itself a grave has been dug during the night. Wrapped only with blankets and soft buffalo robes the precious contents are gently lowered into it. If the neighborly occupants of near-by wagons have been able to find cactus, a layer of its protecting spiny joints is carefully tamped in next to the beloved dead and a shuddering prayer breathed that it may be enough. Next, the earth is packed above it firm and smooth. The bereaved family must go on. There is no help for it. The wagons are loaded and ready, and wait for the word which must be given. It is given. The slow-moving oxen move forward and onward. The creaking, rambling wagons lurch and roll. The whole inexorable march, from this moment on, flows westward over all that was mortal of their loved one—forever obliterating the last resting place and effacing it from the memory of man.”
[N.B. The gravesite is along the Guernsey Ruts hiking trail, which is marked on the Pony Express Bikepacking Route.]
Alexander Majors' Life
“Alexander Majors was truly a remarkable man in many respects. His eighty-six years spanned the most critical period in American history. Born ten years after the Louisiana Purchase and only eight after the return of Lewis and Clark from their memorable expedition, he not only lived to see the national boundary moved westward to the Pacific Coast but didm much to place it there. He was fifteen years old when the first locomotive, one brought from England, moved upon American soil, yet thirty years before his death he stood by and watched the driving of the golden spike which symbolized the opening or railway traffic from the Atlantic to the Pacific. “
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.”
Utah Territory and the State of Deseret
“Although the Church had deliberately built its new home in a region far removed from other settlements, its leaders in 1849 realized that Salt Lake Valley would need a more temporal government, in form at least, than the one they had at first devised. . . . In early March, therefore, a convention of Church members drew up a constitution for the proposed State of Deseret, and immediately upon ratification of thi document the people elected men to fill the offices. . . .
When the United States acquired possession of the Salt Lake Basin as a result of its war with Mexico, the Mormons found themselves once more encamped upon American Territory. Now under the jurisdiction of the federal Congress, they needed its acknowledgement of their new state if it was to have any pretense to legality. Accordingly, the General Assembly in July 1849 delegated Almon W. Babbitt to secure this recognition from the Government. The choice of emissary was an unhappy one . . . As a counterweight to this agent the Mormons had two other advocates, men of greater ability than Babbitt. Dr. John Bernhisel, who had in May brought the formal petition for statehood to Washington, soon proved that his quiet lobbying was more effective than Babbitt’s brash conviviality. The other spokesman for the Mormons was young Thomas Leiper Kane, a self-chosen champion of the oppressed who, though not a member of the Church, used his considerable political influence throughout the 1850s to advance its interests. . . .
Despite Kane’s and Bernhisel’s enterprising work, the Saints failed to secure the desired position of statehood, receiving only territorial status. . . . Congress voted early in September 1850 to establish the Territory of Utah, and Fillmore signed the bill on September 9. Too late, the Church leaders tried to forestall this event by instructing Bernhisel to withdraw their petition, since they realized that they would suffer less from Gentile interference as an unsupervised provisional state than as a territory under congressional regulation . . . The law, however, had already been enacted. . . .
Upon learning of the President’s territorial appointees, however, the Mormons in Salt Lake Valley felt no great concern for their future. Of primary satisfaction to them was Brigham Young’s continuance as governor under the new dispensation. In this selection Fillmore had depended on the counsel of Thomas L. Kane . . .”
Popskull and Tanglefoot
“There is little doubt that the principle commodity sold here [at Dobytown] was whiskey of a dubious type identified by one victim as ‘popskull.’ Get. William T. Sherman called it ‘tanglefoot,’ and noted that its effects were so damaging that freight train captains sometimes tried to avoid camping nearby for fear of losing some of their help. Birge says that one enterprising merchant sold a bottled concoction known as ‘Hostetter’s Bitters,’ the consumption of which would begin a ‘season of Saturnalia’ among revelers. When George Holliday marched through here with his calvary unit, a small riot took place in this ‘dirt village’ when the thirsty soldiers rebelled against the price of whiskey at 25¢ a glass.”
Mile 16: Troy
“Passing through a few wretched shanties called Troy—last insult to the memory of hapless Pergamus—and Syracuse (here we are in the third, or classic stage of United States nomenclature), we made, at 3 P.M., Cold Springs, the junction of the Leavenworth route. Having taken the northern road to avoid rough ground and bad bridges, we arrived about two hours behind time.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
” . . . 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.”
“One sometimes thinks of the desert as a great expanse of barren, shifting sand, but the Nevada desert is quite different. It is broken by almost a hundred separate mountain chains, all running north and south, and the arid stretches between are dotted with sagebrush and greasewood. It’s few rivers have no outlet to the sea, but spread into great marshes before being swallowed by the thirsty soil. Nearly 500 miles of the Pony Express route lay through this desolate and uninhabited [sic] wilderness.”
“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.”
The Mormon "Halfway House"
“Year by year the number and variety of available goods and services [in Salt Lake City] increased. . . .By 1852 . . . travelers could patronize several eating houses and hotels. In 1853 yjr United States Hotel owners advertised the only bar in the city . . . By 1856 clothiers, weavers, druggists, sign painters, saddlers, and operators of vegetable markets were also actively engaged in trade . . .
The total effect of all this was significant. To be able to interrupt the once-formidable overland journey for an extended sojourn in a large city where an emigrant could feast on memorable cuisine, board in a bona fide hotel, have a likeness made to send back to relatives, have his hair cut, his watch repaired, and even eyeglasses prescribed must have altered the atitudes with which travelers faced the overland journey.”
“‘The worst imps of Satan in the business. The only way I could master them was to throw them and get a rope around each foot and stake them out, and have a man on the head and another on the body while I trimmed the feet and nailed the shoes on . . . It generally took half a day to shoe one of them.’
— Pony Express Farrier and Station Keeper, Levi Hensel, describing his experience shoeing half-wild California mustangs”
” . . . 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.”
Waiting at Ham's Fork
“We passed the Rattlesnake Hills [or Granite Mountains] and Sweetwater Mountains and crossed the Rookies at South Pass.
We drove on the west slope of the mountains till we reached Dry Sandy Creek. Here we had poor water and heavy, sandy roads, and our cattle were getting weak from the long journey. It was slow traveling down this stream, and we would have to double our teams to get through the sandy streaks.
We went from here on down Big Sandy Creek, and across to Green River near where Granger now is.
We had quite a hard time in crossing this stream.
Here we found a sort of trading post, and they had farmed a little. Rennick found some potatoes here and bought some. They were the first vegetables we had had since leaving Leavenworth, and it was a treat to us all.
Here we laid over, as we were in no hurry now. Colonel Van Vliet had gone into Salt Lake City, and Brigham Young refused to allow the soldiers and their supply trains to enter the city. The Mormons had an armed force stationed along the road out, nearly to old Fort Bridger, one hundred miles from Salt Lake City, and they were building fortifications to keep the government trains out. There were twenty-five hundred armed Mormons stationed along this road.
Colonel Van Vliet came back, and when he met the first train, ordered them to turn back to Ham’s Fork and stop till further orders. He left part of his escort with them, exchanged part of his mules, and rode back to Fort Laramie as fast as he could, changing mules at each train and ordering each train to stop at Ham’s Fork.
We were twenty-six miles from the Fork when he met us.
We rested here a while, then drove in and camped near the other trains. There were four trains ahead of us.
There was a fine camping place with plenty of good water and fine grass for our cattle.
Other trains kept coming in every day or two.”
Overland Travel by 1860
“By 1860 overlanders did not even need to travel in the traditional manner: they could bounce from Missouri to California as passengers in the stagecoaches specified in the government mail contracts. If, as most continued to do, they chose to travel in the customary covered wagons or by pack train, they did so on trails that had been surveyed, shortened, graded, and improved by government employees. Overlanders even enjoyed the luxury of crossing bridged streams and watering their stock at large reservoirs. For the injured or ill there were army hospitals along the route, and sutlers, blacksmiths, and generous commanding officers standing ready to distribute provisions to destitute travelers. There were even post offices where letters were mailed and received. More important, there were troops to escort overlanders along dangerous portions of the trail, and Indian agents to negotiate with chiefs and buy or bribe native acquiescence to overland travel. the government had transformed the trail into a road.
Emigration Over South Pass
“’From 1812 to 1848 travel up the Platte was only minimal to moderate, historian Merrill J. Mattes observed, ‘with a grand total of around 5,000 to Salt Lake, 10,000 to Oregon, and 2,000 to California.’ Between 1849 and 1852, about 120,000 people—mostly men—would flock to the gold fields over the California Trail, while some 35,000 more men, women, and children would cross South Pass on their way to Oregon or the Great Basin.”
Accumulation by Conquest
“General Mitchell insisted, as he did before, that the earth belonged to the people on it per capita, and no Indian had any more right to increased acreage than the white brother had. And he also pointed out to Mr. Indian that here the Indian had no primary right to the soil, but that it belonged originally to those from whom the Sioux had taken it when the Chippewas, their ancient enemy, had driven them west. And that rights to land, if accumulated by conquest by the Indians, could be accumulated by the whites. Mitchell had his speech well in hand, as he had before, and he argued with the Indian at every point. The council was entirely uneventful. The pipe of peace was passed around, and we all smoked it with a stoic and reverential silence. The Indian being told that he had no right to the Platte valley unless he wanted to use or cultivate it, appeared to see the propriety of letting those have it who could use it. At any rate, he preferred molasses, hard-bread and bacon to the occupation of the river valley. He knew there was no game along the river-bed where the wagons were constantly going, and it was of no value to him whatever; therefore three-point Mackinaw blankets that were nice and red, appealed to him strongly.”
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.”
“There was good hunting roundabout.”
Russell's First Mistake
“On June 19 , Captain Thomas L. Brent, quartermaster at Fort Leavenworth, called upon Russell and served notice that the firm would be required to transport three million pounds of supplies to Utah [in support of the war effort] in addition to what had already been sent elsewhere. Russell’s reply was that their [wagon] trains were already upon the road, the time for getting ready was too short, and that to comply with the request would ruin Majors & Russell [the name under which the partners of Russell, Majors & Wadell contracted to supply the army]. Captain Brent admitted the truth of what Russell said but urged him to undertake the task anyway. . . . Russell at length agreed, with the understanding that Captain Brent would assist him in making up and p[resenting a claim to Congress for additional renumeration.
What Majors & Russell should have demanded, and got, was a new contract covering the circumstances. In this vitally important matter both Russell and the War Department were at fault. . . .Failure to write a new contract was a grave mistake. In fact it was the beginning of a series of mistakes which brought ruin upon the firm.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Mormons and Native Americans
“The way Latter-day Saints interacted with Native Americans was influenced by their religious beliefs. The Book of Mormon, the main religious text for the Church, prominently features two groups: the Nephites and the Lamanites. At the end of the Book of Mormon the Lamanites rebel against the teachings of Jesus Christ and are considered ‘fallen’ from the light of truth. The Lamanites are believed by Mormons to be ancient ancestors of Native Americans.”
“On the morning of July 24th we started over the ridge to the north. It was a long, tedious climb up to the top of the plateau, but the scene behind us was beautiful. We could see up and down the valley of the Lodgepole for many miles, until the rotundity of the earth hid the view. There was not a tree or a bush in sight. The valley was as smooth and polished as if it had been sand-papered and varnished. There was not a riding-switch that could be cut between us and Julesburg. It was simply an undulating expanse of short, struggling grass. Before we started out in the morning we gave our horses all the water they would drink, for it was said to be fully thirty-two miles across the ridge from water to water. This was the short line which Jules had laid out, so as to change the route and bring the pilgrim travel past his ranch. This particular strip of road was called ‘Jules Stretch. ‘ The road became considerably rocky as we ascended.”
[N.B. Jules Stretch seems to run between Sidney and Bridgeport (Mile 600-640) or thereabouts]
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.”
Emergency Test of the Pony Express
In mid-march, 1860, Jules Beni shot Jack Slade, superintendent of the division, in Julesburg and left him for dead.
“Now, less than three weeks before the scheduled opening of the Pony Express, the new relay system would be put to the test under emergency conditions. Rider J.K Ellis was saddled up and dispatched to Fort Laramie, 175 miles to the northwest, in the hope that a relay horse would await him at each of the stations planted at ten-mile intervals. Fort Laramie represented the nearest legal authority; more important at this moment, it housed a military surgeon who held the only chance to save Slade’s life. . . .
J.K. Ellis made the 175-mile ride to Fort Laramie to fetch a surgeon in eighteen hours. ‘I believe,’ he later remarkes, ‘it breaks the record for a straightaway ride by a single individual.'”
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.”
Mile 1952: Fourmile Flat
“About 11 A.M. we set off [from Sand Springs Station] to cross the ten miles of valley that stretched between us and the summit of the western divide still separating us from Carson Lake [i.e., Simpson Pass]. The land was a smooth saleratus plain, with curious masses of porous red and black basalt protruding from a ghastly white. The water-shed was apparently to the north, the benches were distinctly marked, and the bottom looked as if it were inundated every year. It was smooth except where broken up by tracks, but all off the road was dangerous ground: in one place the horses sank to their hocks, and were not extricated without difficulty.”
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.”
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.
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.]
“The bones of buffalo whiten the roadside, and their bleached skulls serve in a double way as records of the passers-by. Many are the names and bulletins pencilled on them; and by continually reading one begins to learn the biography of those in front, and feel an interest and a companionship in their progress. Perhaps we catch up another train, we all chat together, names drop out; ‘Oh!’ one answers, ‘I know your name, I read it on a buffalo head three weeks ago; you’re from —, are not you?’ Sometimes one reads short camp anecdotes or accidents, such as, ‘Woman shot to-day by her husband taking his gun loaded into the waggon—not expected to recover:’ then, ‘Woman shot on Thursday, doing well.'”
Mile 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.”
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.”
Winter Delays for the Pony
“Facing its first real test of operating in the winter, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. backed away from its normal operating schedule. The company informed the public that after the 1st of December and during the winter, New York news would be fifteen days in transit to San Francisco and eleven days between telegraph stations. Actually, Russell had hoped to convince Postmaster General Holt that the Pony Express could carry the mail through to California on a daily or a tri-weekly basis that winter. He even offered to bond the service, and if it were delayed or his company failed, he would forfeit these bonds. Holt remained unconvinced. Consequently, out of financial considerations, Russell, Majors, and Waddell reduced their Pony Express schedule during the winter of 1860- 1861.
It was fortunate that Holt had not accepted Russell’s offer. The first full winter for the Pony Express tested the system to the extreme. Significant delays occurred. During December, heavy snows hit the Sierra Nevada region. Fortunately, the roads through the passes of the Sierra Nevadas were made passable by the constant passage of teams to and from the Washoe mines. This constant traffic aided in keeping the route open for the Pony Express. Unfortunately, when these same storms extended to the mountainous portions of the route in the Great Basin, and the trackless desolate regions between Salt Lake City and Fort Laramie, they became unbreachable obstacles. Inevitably, as the snows piled up, they delayed the Pony Express. A single horseman could barely break passage through the unbroken winter snowfields. By mid-January, heavy snows covered nearly the entire route from California to Missouri, delaying the passage of the Pony Express by two days. By the end of January, additional bad storms in the mountains caused a four-day delay for the entire operation.
The winter storms proved that the Pony Express could not endure a harsh winter and still maintain a regular schedule. Without a line of stagecoaches daily breaking trail, the snows proved an insurmountable obstacle for the lone horseman.”
Mile 321: Dogtown
“In the trail days there was a utilitarian, if ugly, settlement at this junction [of the Nebraska City Road with the Oregon Trail] bearing the vulgar title ‘Dogtown.’ As late as 1865, it was the first town west of Marysville, Kansas, a journey of nearly a hundred fifty miles. It is likely that the name originated in the ‘town’ of ‘village’ of prairie dogs nearby. There were several prairie-dog settlements settlements along the Platte, each of some acres in extent, looking, so the emigrants fancied, like an immense field of sweet potato hills. The dumpy little creatures barked hysterically at the first wagons of each season, but grew more philosophical as the steady processions flowed by them.”
[NB. There appears (on Google Street View) a very small historical marker. It is off the Pony Express Bikepacking Route, a few hundred feet down Lowell Road. to reach it, continue south on Lowell Road past the turn off to Skeeter Creek Road, just before Mile 321]
Chiles in 1849
“Those who came later were unfortunate in encountering early snows. Among these was that veteran of veterans, Joseph Chiles. He left Independence on May 1, and went by Salt Lake City. He took the Carson Route, which he had helped to open in ’41 and ’48. Unfortunately, as his custom seems to have been, he had taken his time. Caught by a snowstorm on the pass, he was forced to abandon several loaded wagons, and lost about a hundred cattle. Finally, as he had done so often before, he won through. He arrived with 115 head of fine cattle, including a thoroughbred Durham Bull.”
First Wagons Across the Sierra Nevada
“The first wagons were probably taken across the Sierra Nevada by the Stevens party of 1843. This expedition is of great importance to trail history, for it definitely pioneered and opened the most difficult stretch of the California Trail.”
[N.B. Moody incorrectly places the Stevens-Moody party in 1843. The party emigrated in 1844. John Unruh, The Plains Across, p. 17]
“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.'”
Slade's Last Christmas
“the story of Slade’s last Christmas, in 1863, was one of disappointment and worry for his wife, according to certain chroniclers, and this Yuletide account sounds very plausible. Virginia planned a festive Christmas party for her husband and young Jemmy, to which Jim Kiskadden and several of Slade’s friends were invited. Her best linen was immaculate; the dinnerware shone. She had trimmed a pine tree with strings of popcorn and festooned with chains of colored paper, and she hung balls of cotton, sprinkled with irridescent powder, on the boughs.”
Mile 333: Dobeytown
“Two miles to the west [of Fort Kearney] we arrived at the spot where once flourished the hamlet called Dobeytown, a squalid settlement of ‘dobe huts whose very mention was next door to an indelicacy. It was the ordinary type of hell-hole that clung to the fringes of any military reservation and, owing to the fact that Fort Kearney was far toward the western edge of its reserve, the group of mud buildings was within a mile or two of barracks. . . .
In staging days a large reserve stable for work stock was erected at Dobeytown, and the name Kearney City was arbitrarily selected in a vain attempt to throw a veil of respectability over the community. The name never ‘took’ with those who knew the place . . .
The permanent population was about two dozen inhabitants, mainly gamblers, saloonkeepers, and loafers who made a good living by running off emigrants’ stock at night, laying it to the Pawnee, and hiring out to find it the next day. Only the most cast-iron type of hard liquor was available at Dobeytown (as beer and wines were considered an unpardonable waste of hauling space), and the thirsty drivers and crews of the bull-drawn freight wagons were frequently drugged and robbed.
‘There was no law in Dobeytown, or at least none that could be enforced.’ The place was a grisly combination of delerium tremens, stale humanity, and dirt.”
[N.B. A map of the marker location is at https://goo.gl/maps/8o6JMBaeJ96FCMxb8]
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.]
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.”
Danger of Younger Braves
“‘I guess a traveler in those days wouldn’t have been found dead here, would he?'” Bill ventured.
“‘No, kid,'” said our informant, “‘not dead probably, because the Kansas Indians didn’t do much killing; but if he happened to meet a bunch of young Pawnee braves out on a prowl, he would sure as fate be left afoot, and mebbe naked, to get back as best he could. That was their idea of a joke.'”
But it wasn’t exactly a joke, even to the Indians. Oh, of course, they enjoyed it as an entertaining and profitable incident, but it was really a matter of business. And that, I have since found out, was why a small party of young braves was more dangerous to encounter than a much larger party under an old chief.
They were trying to establish themselves, both financially and in the matter of prestige. A young Indian had nothing to start with. Emphatically he had to bring home his own bacon in order to give suitable presents to his bride’s father and to set up housekeeping. The regular proceeding was to take it away from some other tribe, but a few lone white men were a bonanza. They had better horses, so that it took fewer animals to make a suitable exchange for a nice young squaw. The warpath, for a young Indian, was almost in the nature of a business venture.
We have never been students of Indian customs and are only giving the point of view of the trail journalists; but there there seems to have been a wide gulf the headstrong young fry, who presumably had no dignity to injure, and the wise men, elders, and chieftains. These latter might demand tribute in person, but they are not commonly reported as coming to beg. They often, it is said, counseled good conduct and moderation in dealing with the Americans, and less often enforced it, and a tribe traveling under the personal supervision of its chief always, in peacetime, much safer to meet than a scattered band of young braves.
Mile 1421: Point Lookout
“Beyond [Faust’s, or Rush Valley Station] was Point Lookout, which was the doorway to the worst desert on the North American Continent. Ahead lay a country of bare, rocky mountain ranges, limitless miles of parched sand, scant herbage, dust storms, shimmering mirages in summer and deadly cold in winter. It was a lonely land devoid of civilized habitations. Even wild animals seemed to shun it.”
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]
“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”
In our train there are a wagon-master, an assistant, two extras, to help in different places, or take the place of sick or injured, and twenty-six drivers—thirty in all. There are three hundred and twelve oxen, besides some spare ones, often broken down. There are twenty-six wagons, divided into two wings —the right and left. As the leading teams have advantages, these wings alternate in starting. . . .
“The men are portioned off in four messes of six or seven, the cooks not having to guard or herd at night, or at the noon halts. The men are divided in five guards, so their watches will vary from before to after midnight, as their turns come, though sometimes they stand all night. The last, though making the duty rarer, was a great hardship, when after a hard day’s work we went supperless to an all night’s guard, after driving the cattle into the river to drink. . . .
“The wagons are narrow tired, weigh eighteen hundred pounds, and carry fiftyfour hundred. They are covered with double sheets and provided with chain-locks.
“Our train, when in close order, was a half mile long, but it often reached from one to three miles.
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.”
“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.”
“Modern representations notwithstanding, oxen were not driven by means of reins held by people sitting on the wagon seat. Instead, there were no reins attached to yoked oxen, and the driver walked alongside, controlling his team by shouting (and often by cursing), by cracking his long-handled and long-lashed whip, and sometimes by applying it. Oxen recognized the commands, “Giddap!” [go], “Gee!” [turn to the right], “Haw!” [turn to the left], and “Whoa!” [stop]. . . .
The number of animals to the wagon varied with the size and weight of the wagon and its load, and according to the temperament and wealth of the owner. Four oxen, that is, ‘two yoke’ was the minimum. Three yoke was common, and was recommended. Thus equipped, if you were unfortunate enough to suffer the loss of two oxen, you could still move the wagon.”
Mile 981: Plante's Station
“At this stage of the journey, especially in the headlong gold-rush years, the pioneers experienced a general unhingement. Teams heretofore considered indispensable were dead. The migration would have been face to face with impossibility except for the canny traders who appeared at strategic spots with fresh animals to sell and to swap for tired ones. Two or three exhausted horses, for instance, could be exchanged for one in good condition. A few weeks on good pasturage in the mountains out them in shape to be retraded. It was a lucrative proceeding and ethical enough from a trader’s point of view. Kit Carson was one of the first to anticipate this crying need and was mentioned by several trail diarists—never, that I can recall, in terms of recrimination. This was not true of the other traders encountered, who were often cursed up one side of the calendar and down the other. Nevertheless, with their expensive help, the emigrants reorganized their teams, often changing from horse or mule power to that of the stronger and more easily cared-for oxen. Just one little blessing had resulted from the alkaline marshes and hot sands—infections and hoof-rot had now disappeared from the feet of the animals.
They had another spree of discarding weighty articles. Out went the assorted hardware that had survived previous holocausts. Heavy ox chains were the main sacrifice, the lighter ones being kept with the general, if unspoken, idea that by the time they wore thin and parted another team would be dead anyway.”
Mile 1299: Big Pass Update
“Pony’s clear from Henefer to at least Ibapah. Can’t vouch for Wyo. Be careful if you decide to take the singletrack off of Big Mtn Pass in Utah. They made the lower reaches by Mtn Dell Reservoir more MTBish.”
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.”
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.”
Pony Express Schedule
“On paper, the scheduled time from St. Joseph to Fort Kearney to be thirty-four hours; to Salt Lake, 124 hours, to Sacramento, 234 hours. Including a six-hour railroad trip from there to San francisco, a message telegraphed from New York to St. Joseph could reach San Francisco in 240 hours—that is, exactly ten days later.”
The Big Blue
“It was at the Big Blue, about ten days out of St. Joe, that the emigrants felt the first flick of the Elephant’s tail. Here was a chance to repair and to reorganize, but here also, where the St. Joe and Fort Leavenworth caravans converged, rode three sinister Horsemen—death by epidemic, death by drowning, and violence at the hands of the Pawnee. At low water the Blue was fordable, but in the emigrant season it was more often on the rampage, and the blockaded trains accumulated into a sizable city of tents and wagons, ‘like the descent of locusts in Egypt,’ without a trace of sanitation. Cholers and other ailments such as measles and smallpox felled the emigrants like a giant scythe, and both banks of the Blue became a cemetary. Uncounted deaths also resulted accidental drownings; but the Pawnee menace at this point was over-advertised.”
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.]
Early California Mail
“[U]nder Mexican rule, California had depended for mail service upon the irregular arrival of supply vessels and couriers, and the convenience of the commandants. The United States military authorities improved upon this by the. establishment of a regular service between their posts, which was open to the public; and by sending occasional messengers to Washington City.April 17, 1848, the military authorities dispatched ‘Kit’ Carson with the first United States mail ever carried overland from the Pacific to the Atlantic.”
“The early descendants of the Mount Vernon stock-tall, drafty, and weighing between a thousand and 1,200 pounds-were initially called ‘American Mammoth’ mules, but the breed name gradually changed as the frontier moved west. In the 1820s, the most prized farm animals were called ‘Tennessee’ and then ‘Kentucky’ mules, because the frontier of Tennessee and Kentucky were where most of them were working and the best breeding lines were being established. By the 1840s the frontier had moved to Missouri and it was the ‘Missouri Mule’ that became the American archetype. Thousands of these tall, reliable draft animals—mostly bred from black Percheron mares—were produced every year to supply the burgeoning overland trail traffic. The rapid spread of the Missouri mule and the success of farmers at breeding them to meet each new demand were signature American achievements.”
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.”
“Though Kansas theoretically extends to the mountains, Big Blue is considered the boundary line of the territory, and the great ocean of Indian country; indeed we were not unlike a vessel outward bound, nor our journey unlike a voyage. We struck out hence into a region, considered by our pace of travelling, as boundless, if not as trackless, as an ocean.”
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.”