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.
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 137: Marysville, KS
“Marysville was the direct result of a route surveyed from Fort Leavenworth to Salt Lake City in 1849 by Lieutenant Stansbury. At this point, he was concerned mainly with locating an easy ford across the Big Blue. The town sprang up unbidden; its small board shacks mushroomed amongst the hurly-burly of wagons camped at the crossing, and its first citizens lived by the traffic of the trail.”
[Just above this paragraph is a wonderful description of Marysville in June: “Our first impression on entering Marysville was of a motley assortment of red brick wall broken by a lion-guarded gate crouched at one side of the street whicle, ahead of us, the clock in front of the funeral parlor was suitably dead. There was no need for time today. No one was keeping appointments.”]
“Here at Marysville the travelers from St, Joseph merged with that part of the traffic from Independence, Missouri, which had continued up the east bank of the Big Blue. They all forded at one place in an indistinguishable Mass and went on six miles to the next point of interest, the junction of the St. Jo Road with the one which came swinging up from the Independence Crossing.”
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.”
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.”
“As a channel evolves into ever more extreme loops, eventually two separate bends may approach one another and join. When this occurs, the river takes the shortcut and establishes a new channel, bypassing the cutoff loop. The abandoned channels, which may be miles long on large rivers, record the curve of the channel like a letter C or U. Geologists call such abandoned channels oxbows because their curves are reminiscent of the U-shaped pieces of wood that fasten the yokes onto the necks of oxen (see fig. 2.3). The emigrants-despite handling real oxbows every day-didn’t use that term. They called the abandoned channels sloughs.
When they first form, oxbows contain standing water—a haven for mosquito larvae. Over time, with no moving water to keep them scoured, these stagnant ponds fill in to become low, swampy depressions. Emigrants along the Humboldt saw oxbows at all stages, from fresh ones holding several feet of water to ones that had progressed to the swampy stage. You can see the same thing along the river today. And if you want a “period rush,” as history buffs call it—meaning that you want to transcend time and touch the past in a personal way—then wait for dusk on a summer evening along the banks of the Humboldt River. As the sun slides below the horizon, the keening mosquito hordes emerge from the thickets, proboscises armed and ready. That’s when any spark of romance that you might still feel about the westward journey winks out, and you feel only profound gratitude for living in an age of sealed windows and insect repellant.”
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.
Pony Express as Icon
“Though William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody demonstrated the Pony Express in his Wild West shows in the 1880s, recognition of the significance of the Pony Express came at the turn of the century after the publication of Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” in 1893. Thereafter, fearing the consequences of the frontier closing on our American character, we as a nation, drew strength from our frontier heritage and rise of the American West. In this quest for a usable past, the Pony Express became a usable American Western icon, symbolizing America’s strength, work ethic, entrepreneurship, and individual heroism. . . .
“Since the turn of the century, Pony Express celebration events have allowed Americans to become familiar with the activities of the Pony Express. The historical significance of the Pony Express was first highly publicized in 1912, when the Daughters of the American Republic erected a monument in St. Joseph, Missouri, to commemorate the starting point of the Pony Express. In honor of the event, Colonel W.F. Cody and Charles Cliff, former Pony Express riders, attended the dedication.”
“He [the stagecoach driver] can do nothing without whisky, which he loves to call tarantula juice, strychnine, red-eye, corn juice, Jersey lightning, leg-stretcher, ‘tangleleg,’ (for instance, ‘whisky is now tested by the distance a man can walk after tasting it. The new liquor called ‘Tangle-leg’ is said to be made of diluted alcohol, nitric acid, pepper, and tobacco, and will upset a man at a distance of 400 yards from the demijohn.’), and many other hard and grotesque name; he chews tobacco like a horse; he becomes heavier ‘on the shoulder’ or ‘ on the shyoot,’ as, with the course of empire, he makes his way westward; and he frequently indulges in a “spree,” which in these lands means four acts of drinking-bout, with a fifth of rough-andtumble. Briefly, he is a post-wagon driver exaggerated.”
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.'”
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.'”
Senator Gwin's Motivation
“It was sometime in December 1859 or early January 1860 that William H. Russell, one of the partners in the firm Russell, Majors and [sic] Waddell, and California Senator William M. Gwin met to discuss the need to improve communications between California and the East and how it could best be achieved . . . Gwin hoped to gain favor politically. Even though he was a southern sympathizer [and thus, a supporter of Butterfield’s southern ox bow route], he believed that bringing in mail service over the shorter central route would increase his popularity and ensure his chance of re-election or higher office.”
Mile 655: Chimney Rock Landmark
“Chimney Rock was the most famous of all the landmarks on the Great Platte Road. This is not idle rhetoric. . . . Chimney Rock is mentioned of described in 97 percent of [known emigrant journals and guidebooks]. The nearest competitor is Scott’s Bluff, with a figure of 77 per cent. Then comes Independence Rock with 65 per cent, South Pass, 51 per cent, the Court House, 46 per cent, and Ash Hollow, 44 per cent.”
The River Towns
“The river towns, as they developed, were all much alike. At the river’s edge was a levee, sometimes macadamized for all-weather use. Between the levee and the bluffs was the business district, running back for two or three blocks. Here were the warehouses and stores of the ‘outfitters’ and the forwarding and commission merchants. Behind the business district and up the gullies that gave access to the tops of the bluffs were the small stores, saloons, and dance halls. On top of the bluffs was the residential section. Beyond the residential section were the wagon parks and corrals of the freighters who sent their wagons into town in small groups to load at the warehouse.”
The Pioneer as Nationalist
“The American frontiersman expressed his individualism by seeking an untrod path into the wilderness for a new home. Yet the pioneers’ individualism and adaptability did not preclude their willingness to call upon the government for practical help in solving problems of migration and transportation. When projects, because of size or financial outlay, were beyond the means of private enterprise or the collective action of a western community, the resources and sponsorship of the national government were unhesitatingly demanded. Local groups constantly besieged Congress with requests for roads and other internal improvements. In the process localism was broken down, and a great desire to expand national power soon permeated most western communities. The pioneer became a nationalist as well as an individual.”
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.”
The American Antelope
“The American antelope, or pronghorn, is the purest type of Plains animal, and seems to have developed only in the Great Plains of North America. It is not a member of the antelope family of Europe and Asia. Its true common name is pronghorn, and its scientific name is Antilocapra americana. It seems to occupy an intermediate position between the goat and the deer. Its horns are hollow, like those of cattle or goats ; yet it sheds them like the deer. It has the caution and timidity of the deer and the curiosity of the goat. The habitat of the pronghorn extends from Saskatchewan to Mexico and from the Missouri River to the Rocky Mountains, and in the north to the Cascade Range of Oregon and Washington. It bas its abode solely in the Plains country, and has a special antipathy for the woods and canons.
The antelope is peculiarly well fitted for its chosen environment. First, its sense of sight is such that it can” detect danger at an immense distance.” Secondly, it is the swiftest runner among the wild animals on this continent and can be pulled down only by the greyhound. But with the antelope, curiosity and caution are strangely mingled. It wants to observe any unusual object, and this makes it a mark for hunters. In the primitive state of nature this characteristic led to no fatal results, but with the advent of man and the high-powered rifles it became disastrous.2 Thirdly, the antelope is equipped with a signal system which enables it to communicate danger at great distances. This is the white patch on the rump, lighter in color than the body. When frightened or interested in anything unusual the antelope contracts its muscles and the patch becomes a flare of white. . . .
Fourthly, the antelope, like all Plains animals, possesses a great vitality. Dodge says that “antelope will carry off more lead in proportion to their size than any other animal.”
Cause of the Paiute War
“The latter author points out that the real cause of this attack [The May 7 attack by Paiute Indians on the station of J. O. Williams, in which seven men were killed and the house burned] is not definitely known, but two stories exist, both of which blame tho occupants of William’ station. One account charges that they seized several young Bannock squaws (allies of the Pah-Utes), leading to a punitive expedition by the red men, and another that the station keeper, J. O. Williams, himself stole a horse of a Pah-Ute leading to retribution on this score. Even before this attack it was reported that 30 horses belonging to the Pony Express had been stolen by the Indians (San Francisco dispatch, April 27, in New York Daily Tribune, May 8, 1860). William B. Russell replied that inasmuch as the Express still operated, there could be no foundation for the rumor.—Leavenworth Daily Times, May 10, 1860.”
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.)”
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.”
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.”
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).”
The Great Plains' Effect on American Institutions
“The purpose of this book is to show how this area, with its three dominant characteristics [plane, or level surface; treeless; sub-humid], affected the various peoples, nations as well as individuals, who came to take and occupy it, and was affected by them; for this land, with the unity given it by its three dominant characteristics, has from the beginning worked its inexorable effect upon nature’s children. The historical truth that becomes apparent in the end is that the Great Plains have bent and molded Anglo-American life, have destroyed traditions, and have influenced institutions in a most singular manner. . . .
As one contrasts the civilization of the Great Plains with that of the eastern timberland, one sees what may be called an institutional fault (comparable to a geological fault) running from middle Texas to Illinois or Dakota, roughly following the ninety-eighth meridian. At this fault the ways of life and of living changed. Practically every institution that was carried across it was either broken and remade or else greatly altered. The ways of travel, the weapons, the method of tilling the soil, the plows and other agricultural implements, and even the laws themselves were modified. When people first crossed this line they did not immediately realize the imperceptible change that had taken place in their environment, nor, more is the tragedy, did they foresee the full consequences which that change was to bring in their own characters and in their modes of life. In the new region – level, timberless, and semi-arid – they were thrown by Mother Necessity into the clutch of new circumstances. Their plight has been stated in this way : east of the Mississippi civilization stood on three legs – land, water, and timber; west of the Mississippi not one but two of these legs were withdrawn, – water and timber, – and civilization was left on one leg – land. It is small wonder that it toppled over in temporary failure.”
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.”
Affection for Oxen
“Every family had great affection for their oxen, which were greeted with names like Rouser, Old Bailey, Brindle and Bright, and Old Smut and Snarley; and when, in the extremity of the journey, oxen died of thirst or exhaustion, the owner’s grief was as much for the loss of a valued friend as for being marooned in the wilderness. The joy of the Belle Somers family knew no bounds when ‘the late lamented Snider,’ an ox, reappeared in the desert, having survived only because he stumbled upon a waterhole.”
Difference Between California and Oregon Emigrants
“Oregonians during the 1850s believed themselves more ‘respectable’ than their Pacific Coast neighbors to the south, expressing the feeling in an arrogant anecdote: ‘At Pacific Springs, one of the crossroads of the western trail, a pile of gold-bearing quartz marked the road to California; the other road had a sign bearing the words “To Oregon.” Those who could read took the Oregon Trail.'”
“We at once started for his corral, two miles distant, where we found the gentleman. He asked where our traps were. We told him, and also assured him that we would report for duty the following morning.
[“Traps”–personal belongings; baggage]
“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.”
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.]
Women Did Not Initiate Emigration
“The historian John Faragher, based on comparative research of men’s and women’s accounts of the westward journey, has concluded that “not one wife initiated the idea [of emigrating to Oregon or California]; it was always the husband. Less than a quarter of the women writers recorded agreeing with their restless husbands; most of them accepted it as a husband-made decision to which they could only acquiesce. But nearly a third wrote of their objections and how they moved only reluctantly” (Faragher:1979, p. 163).
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.]
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.
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.”
“First roads on the frontier were often known locally as military roads. More important for western development, these routes became migratory wagon roads for settlers, and when a community was occupied they were quickly used for commercial purposes. Many roads built by the War Department in the western territories, politically justified on the basis of national defense, were of much greater significance in facilitating access to the public lands.
“The prairie traveler is not particular about toilet: the easiest dress is a dark flannel shirt, worn over the normal article ; no braces—I say it, despite Mr. Galton—but broad leather belt for ‘six-shooter’ and for ‘Arkansas tooth-pick,’ a long clasp-knife, or for the rapier of the Western world, called after the hero who perished in the ‘red butchery of the Alamo.'”
“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.”
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]
Mile 937: Horse/Greasewood/Sage Creek
Horse/Greasewood/Sage Creek was a Pony Express and stagecoach stop. This is also where the Martin handcart company, struggling west through early blizzards, first met rescue wagons from Salt Lake City.
The Plains as an Obstacle
“If it is borne in mind that the objective of most of these exploring parties was the Pacific coast f or the Rocky Mountains, it is easy to understand how the f Plains themselves, with their aridity and their nomadic Indians, assumed at once the character of an obstacle blocking the path of the explorer intent on what lay beyond.”
“It took Seventy-five ponies to make the first trip from Missouri to California. The riders of these ponies had ‘shoved a continent behind their hooves,’ and many people recognized this important fact. The crowds cheered ‘Long live the Pony!’ till their throats were sore. When the speeches ended, the bonfires were extinguished, the bells stopped ringing, and the last waltzes were danced, it remained to be seen whether the Pony Express would be a triumph or a failure.”
“Strong coffee most likely was served always, and the enlightened cook with his coffee pot would waste no time in getting down to the draw for his water supply before the thirsty oxen plunged into the pool. The men endeavored to forget that in all probability another train’s cattle had waded in the water only a few hours before.”
“Gold fever unleashed a white tsunami across native lands, eroding emigrant-Indian relations and muddying heretofore friendly waters. Hordes of emigrant cattle stripped grass from river valleys. Emigrant campfires burned up sparse wood supplies. The noise and chaos of the wagon trains probably drove game away from the river valleys. Disease followed the wagons and stayed when they had gone. Unhappy Indians began to demand payment for passage across their lands. Most emigrants scoffed at the notion that Indians could lay claim to land. Armed to the teeth and banded into large trains akin to mobile armies, many emigrants refused to pay such tribute and threatened reprisal if Indians pressed too hard. Confrontations and general hostility escalated. Even in the worst years, though, far fewer emigrants died from Indian attacks than died from disease. In the 20 year period from 1840 to 1860, there are 362 documented instances of emigrant death from Indians. Estimates of total emigrant deaths during the same period range from 10,000 to 30,000. In other words, Indians probably caused somewhere from 1 to 4 percent of emigrant fatalities. More Indians died at emigrant hands than vice versa; in that same 20-year period, there are 426 documented reports of Indians killed by emigrants.”
“The morning brought with it no joy. We had arrived at the westernmost limit of the ‘gigantic Leicestershire’ to which buffalo at this season extend, and could hope to see no trace of them between Cotton-wood Station and the Pacific. I can not, therefore, speak ex cathedra concerning this, the noblest ‘venerie'” of the West: almost every one who has crossed the prairies, except myself, can. Captain Stansbury will enlighten the sportsman upon the approved method of bryttling the beasts, and elucidate the mysteries of the ‘game-beef,’ marrow-bone and depuis, tongue and tender-loin, bass and hump, hump-rib and liver, which latter, by-the-by, is not unfrequently eaten raw, with a sprinkling of gall (‘Prairie bitters’ made of a pint of water and a quarter of a gill of buffalo gall are considered an elixir vita by old voyageurs), by the white hunter emulating his wild rival, as does the European in Abyssinia.”
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.
“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.”
Freighting Near Fort Kearney
Freighting across the Plains became big business with accelerated military campaigns of 1857 and 1858, and one of the biggest was the contracting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell. Thaddeus Kenderdine, a bullwhacker, arrived at Fort Kearny in August, 1858, and throws some light on that activity: ‘When within a mile the train was stopped, and orders given for each man to overhaul his load, and out the flour which was in any way damaged by rain in the bottom, so as the load would pass governmental inspection. We were forced to become parties to this fraud.'”
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. “
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.”
“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.”
Killed by a Wagon
“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.
The animals were badly in need of a breathing spell after the struggle up and out. Mr. Cole, who was driving that particular day, pulled his wagon abreast of another, standing motionless with its team sagged back out of their collars and chains dragging. The unknown wagon was of the type with.a flap door in its canvas side and in the door stood a beautiful baby girl about four years old. She smiled coyly at him–a lovely picture for a home-starved man–and he snapped his fingers to amuse her. Suddenly her father, on the driver’s seat, cracked his whip, probably in sudden worry at the time lost or in fear of losing his precious place in line. The animals took up the slack in the chains with terrific suddenness. The wagon gave a lurch, and the little girl was on the ground.
The great iron tire went over her at the waist line, wrote Mr. Cole, with her “pretty head and hands reaching up on one side of the wheel.” The mother threw herself after the child but unavailingly. “Such excruciating sobs of agony I hope never to hear again,” he wrote. “But why say it that way when I can hear them still?” . . .
The first death of the Great Migration of ‘43 was six-year old Joel Hembree, killed by a wagon. Available journals mention dozens of instances. Usually the victim died.”
“While Ash Hollow was renowned among California-bound emigrants for its springs, its spectacular entrances, and its sylvan charm, it is best remembered today as a place of tragedy and terror. The ‘perpendicular,’ bone-shattering decent of Windlass Hill, the graves of cholera-stricken emigrants, and the tales of Indian ambush contribute to this, but Ash Hollow will be forever haunted because of its link with one of the catastrophes of the Indian frontier, the Battle of Ash Hollow, September 3, 1855. It is one of the ironies of history that this bloody engagement didn’t occur in Ash Hollow at all, but six miles northwest, across the North Platte River in the valley of the Blue Water, now called Blue Creek. . . .
The event that finally put an end to the Ash Hollow miseries [for emigrants] was the discovery of gold in Colorado in 1858 and the rapid development thereafter of the Pike’s Peak Road down the South Platte to Denver. Although this did not mean the the abandonment of the North Platte road to Fort Laramie, South Pass, and Salt Lake City, it did make Julesburg a major junction point. Beginning in 1860, freighters, stagecoaches, and Pony Express riders reached the North Platte via Julesburg and Court House Rock, even though this was twenty-five miles longer than the time-honored Ash Hollow route. They were doubtless happy to go a little farther and avoid the dubious blessings of California Hill, Windlass Hill, and the sandy drag up the North Platte River from the Hollow to Court House Rock.”
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.”
Mormon's Motivations for Unruly Activities
“If Gentiles in the 1850s found abundant reasons for antagonism toward the Church, the Mormons also had strong motivation for unruly activities. In their early history they had been treated with a cruel intolerance, the memories of which they carried with them to Utah. After struggling against famine in their new home, and at times reduced to eating the animal skins used as shelter, they had at last built the basis for economic survival. Then had come new trouble wit their opponents, indicting that their patient suffering had not after all taken them beyond persecution. Federal officials had meddled in their affairs, apparently with the intention of overthrowing their carefully devised political system. The uncertainty of their title to the land, the cancellation of their mail contract—these and other important events seemed to them proof of the Government’s intention to oppress them even in the remoteness of the Salt Lake Basin. . . .
The leaders of the Church never let the people forget their past misfortunes. . . .
The tendency toward emotionalism on the part of the Mormons, so unsettling in relations between Utah and the nation, was heightened by a religious revival during 1856. . . .Violence of language had been characteristic of the Saints in the past. During the reformation, when the leaders of the Church shared the excitement of their congregations, speech from the pulpit became even more frenetic. . . .
It was inevitable that the reformation, as its emotional frenzy increased, should not affect not only the lives of the people but their relations with the United States, for it made the Saints more intolerant of Gentiles in Utah and more unresponsive to the Government’s authority during 1856 and 1857. Some writers have blamed the Mountain Meadows Massacre upon the hysteria let loose by the revival. . . .
At any rate there can be no doubt that the revival, by increasing the hostility of the Saints toward the Gentiles and their Government, helped precipitate the Mormon War of 1857.”
Delivering the Utah Mail in 1849
“Mr. Babbitt [who held the mail contract between Missouri and Utah] certainly deserves our thanks and praise for his perseverance in swimming rivers and towing over his wagon on rafts made with a hatchet and tied together with larriatts [sic]. It cannot be a very pleasant job to freight a rude sort of raft with a wagon and push off into a rapid current and poll [sic] out about one quarter of the distance across then take one end of a rope in your teeth while the other end is attached to the raft and plunge into the stream like a spaniel and swim over with craft and cargo in tow being swept down stream over snags and sawyers for a quarter or half mile as Mr. Babbitt informs us has been his lot in two or three instances.”
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 438: Cottonwood Springs Station
“Usually known as Cottonwood Springs, which by 1863 had a very favorable reputation as a ‘home station,’ and was also a very good camping place for freighters, because of the abundance of cedar.-Ibid., p. 208. This ‘Cottonwood Station is not to be confused with the “Cottonwood Station” in Washington county, Kansas. (See Footnote 803.)”
Fort Bridger and the Mormons
“The beautiful and fertile valley of Blacks Fork, with Fort Bridger standing squat and picturesque in its midst, was well known to the Mormons. The first small Mormon advance party passed near it in 1847 when, by reason of bloody clashes with their gentile neighbors in the States, they left the Missouri River for an unknown haven near the Great Salt Lake. They were closely followed by the great Mormon migratory caravan, who took careful note of the trading post just east of the passage leading through the Wasach Range. It must be confessed that they also took note of the histrionic Mr. Bridger and recorded him tersely as a man who did not tell the truth.
There he was, however, firmly ensconced in the best piece of pasture land between Salt Lake City and Horseshoe Station, and so situated that whatever the Mormons required from civilization, whether mail, freight, or converts, must pass within a mile or two of his door. The setup was far from satisfactory to Brigham Young. . . .
Distrust and dissension prevailed between Mormon and gentile, aggravated by lack of definite information and the growing gossip concerning polygamy, then an intrinsic part of the Mormon religious custom. The colonists had once been forced, if they wished to continue its practice, to leave their homes, and they felt that their freedom of action was again threatened. Any gentile settlement near them was unwelcome.
The facts and issues are clouded by the passage of many years, but the two conflicting stories are somewhat as follows: Jim Bridger contended that the Mormon leaders had no particular grievance against him but simply coveted his property; that they sent a group of their ‘avenging angels’ to do him bodily harm; that he barely escaped into the willows and, with the aid of his Indian wife, was able to get away, abandoning everything to the Mormons. The Mormons claimed that Bridger was furnishing guns to the dangerous Utes, with whom they were at war. Both are nice healthy arguments and are not at all incompatible. This happened in 1853. The Mormons took over Fort Bridger . . . [which] became a Mormon outpost.
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.
“Guard duty at night was now [crossing Kansas] a necessity. No one liked it, and very few were efficient, but nevertheless the hours were divided into watches and each able-bodied man took his turn. This was never an idle precaution. Even when the Pawnees were friendliest, they manifested a guileless interest in their white brothers’ horseflesh resulting in an occasional nocturnal raid. At one of these crises the safety of the entire wagon train rested with the guard who was watching the horses, and he—poor man—was only too apt to be a peaceful soul who had never been used to firearms. As uneasy night followed weary day, each unwilling watcher with the grazing horses found himself the only waking soul within speaking distance. Except during the gold-rush years he was practically alone in the limitless prairie night. ‘A few glimmering fires around the camps of distant emigrants, and the almost incessant howl of wolves, were the only things which showed aught living upon the ocean of grass.'”
“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.”
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 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.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 1312: Big Mountain
“Big Mountain lies eighteen miles from the city. The top is a narrow crest, suddenly forming an acute based upon an obtuse angle. From that eyrie, 8000 feet above sea level, the weary pilgrim first sights his shrine, the object of his long wanderings, hardships, and perils, the Happy Valley of the Great Salt Lake. The western horizon, when visible, is bounded by a broken wall of light blue mountain, the Oquirrh, whose northernmost bluff buttresses the southern end of the lake, and whose eastern flank sinks in steps and terraces into a river basin, yellow with the sunlit golden corn, and somewhat pink with its carpeting of heath-like moss.”
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.”
mIle 917: Fort Casper
Site of Fort Caspar/Platte Bridge Station, Fort Caspar Museum, 1847 Mormon Ferry, and Guinard Bridge. Fort Casper was a focus of 19th century emigration, commercial, and military activity. In 1847, Brigham Young’s Mormon pioneer party made a difficult crossing the North Platte River near this location, then left behind a small party to establish a ferry service there. Later, a toll bridge, trading post, Pony Express relay station, and telegraph office were built nearby. In 1862, the Army established a small military post at the station. The Fort Caspar Museum now provides on-site orientation and self-guided tour brochures for the reconstructed fort. A modest admission fee is charged.
Beyond Fort Caspar, travelers left the Platte River lifeline to strike out for the Sweetwater, which would take them to the Continental Divide at South Pass. Once in the Pacific watershed, the main trail followed smaller drainages to the Green River, west of today’s Farson.
Stage Line and Settlement
“In founding the [Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express] stage line, locating home stations, and opening regular traffic between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains, Jones and Russell made an incalculable contribution toward settlement of the wide plains along the route. As had always been the case with the westward creeping frontier, once reasonably dependable transportation was assured, either overland or by water, the people flocked into the area and established new homes. Settlers followed coaches and freight wagons out across Kansas, along the Platte River and its South Fork, down to Denver, and from there out into the mountains to scores of towns and ranches. All of them at first dependent on the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company to keep them in contact with the older sections of the country back East. The proprietors were therefore colonizers although they would have been the last to make that claim for themselves.”
Mile 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.”
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.”
” . . . you can always tell the camping-place of an emigrant train, there are the remains of so many small fires; those of other trains are fewer and larger; we never had more than half-a-dozen, and very seldom as many.”
Mile 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.]
“Another, with the prefix ‘Dutch,’ was ‘Charley’ — surname, as usual, unknown —who owned a claim in Kansas, but who joined us when we were short of men when passing his farm. In some of our troublous times, and we had plenty of them, he would doubly curse the day he joined us, and cry like a Banshee for the wife and baby he had left on the shore of the Big Blue.”
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. “
Pony Express Map
“W. R. Hoonell of Kansas City constructed probably the best ‘Map of the Pony Express Route,’ and also wrote a short account which is published in The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. V, pp. 68-71.”
Mile 890: Deer Creek Ferry
“From the time that the wagons left the Black Hills behind until they had either crossed the North Platte or had been bested in the attempt, the emigration was really functioning on all sixteen cylinders. Progress was faster, and the sure-footed oxen were urged to more miles per bushel as the wagon masters speeded up for the ferries.
They encountered the first doddering specimen near Deer Creek [present-day Glenrock] . . . It was a poor affair, too small for its burdens, creaking and rheumatic. It staggered painfully across troubled waters broken out in an eczema of froth and foam, but the travelers were incomprehensibly optimistic. They either inserted themselves, complete with vehicles, into the confines of the river, or dared the dirty gray flood in their own, just calked wagon. . . .
“C.A. Kirkpatrick arrived at the mouth of Deer Creek in June of ’49 and was horrified at the setup. ‘Already within our hearing today,’ he wrote, ‘twelve men have found a watery grave while crossing with their stock and effects; and yet this makes no impression on the survivors. . . .
It was a commonly accepted premise among the emigrants that the well-to-do trains ignored the Deer Creek ferry and, trekking two more days upstream, crossed at the Mormon or Upper Ferry. Sometimes large and efficient companies built their own rafts, afterward leaving them behind for general use; and yet, at the peak of the traffic, wagons poured so fast along the overlnd road that there was a complete stoppage of two or three days at any ferry with a hundred or so wagons and their attendant stock around each landing place. No wonder, with the grass gone and a score of dead cattle lying here and there to greet the newcomers, that worried captains took a chance on ferrying in their wagon beds.”
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.”
The Name Nebraska
“Ne-bras-ka was the original name of the river, given it by the Otoe Indians, who lived near where it empties into the Missouri. Ever since the first French trappers came into the valley it has been known simply as the Platte. The two names, however, are synonymous. Mrs. E. G. Platt, of Oberlin, Ohio, was long with the Pawnees, as teacher in the missionary schools. She wrote me, August 22, 1899: ‘I lived with the Pawnees when the territory (Nebraska) was named, and spoke their language, so am free to say Nebraska is not a Pawnee word; but a gentleman who had lived some years among the Otoes and spoke their language fluently informed me it is an Otoe word, which literally translated is weeping water, the stream upon which lies the town of Weeping Water being (by the Otoes) named ‘Nebrathka’ because of the sad tones of its waters as they rushed over their rocky bed.’”
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.”
Stagecoach Conditions to Denver, 1860
“With the ‘gentlemanly’ express messenger, J. S. Stephens, and the driver, a total of 11 people rode this coach, including two children. A traveler who arrived at Denver in August, 1860, complained about the crowding of nine or ten passengers into the coach, with carpet sacks and express matter in the bottom ‘until your chin and knees came close enough together to make the one serve as a pillow for the other.’ In addition there were at times two ‘substantial ladies weighing about two hundred pounds avoirdupois, with all the crinoline fixings. . .’ However, the rate of travel was most pleasing. Those not caring for a seven-day-a-week diet of pork and beans, varied by beans and pork–the standard dish at all station houses, should take ‘a few cans of fruit, a few bottles of pickles, and many bottles of Bourbon or Otard [cognac].”
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.”
“Some operators, seeking to reduce the size of their payroll, eliminated the extra hands and extra oxen and required the regular drivers to perform the night guard duties. Night herd was the most heartily detested duty a teamster could be called on to perform. One of them said, “It is impossible for anyone who has never had the experience, to realize the overpowering sense of sleepiness that comes over one after midnight, particularly after a strenuous day of yoking and unyoking the animals of his team, driving them to water, and walking beside them on the road when the train was moving.’ . . .
An experienced man on night herd would pick out a reliable old ox and lie down against him; thus, anything that disturbed the animal would rouse the man. On a cold night the body heat of the ox kept the man comfortable.”
“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.”
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.’”
“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.”
Risk from Indians in 1846
“The risks were now that stragglers might be killed for their arms and equipment, that venturesome young bucks might raid the horse herd for glory, or that the antic Indian humor might stampede the oxen. Indians did not covet the ungainly tamed buffalo that drew the white-tops, but it was fun to see them run, especially with some arrows sticking in them.”
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.”
A Real Desert by Daylight
“And it was pleasant also to reflect that this was not an obscure, back country desert, but a very celebrated one, the metropolis itself, as you may say. All this was very well and very comfortable and satisfactory—but now we were to cross a desert in daylight. This was fine—novel—romantic—dramatically adventurous—this, indeed, was worth living for, worth traveling for! We would write home all about it.
This enthusiasm, this stern thirst for adventure, wilted under the sultry August sun and did not last above one hour. One poor little hour—and then we were ashamed that we had ‘gushed ‘ so. The poetry was all in the anticipation there is none in the reality. Imagine a vast, waveless ocean stricken dead and turned to ashes; imagine this solemn waste tufted with ash-dusted sage-bushes; imagine the lifeless silence and solitude that belong to such a place; imagine a coach creeping like a bug through the midst of this shoreless level, and sending up tumbled volumes of dust as if it were a bug that went by steam; imagine this aching monotony of toiling and plowing kept up hour after hour, and the shore still as far away as ever, apparently; imagine team, driver, coach and passengers so deeply coated with ashes that they are all one colorless color; imagine ash-drifts roosting above moustaches and eyebrows like snow accumulations on boughs and bushes. This is the reality of it.
The sun beats down with dead, blistering, relentless malignity ; the perspiration is welling from every pore in man and beast, but scarcely a sign of it finds its way to the surface—it is absorbed before it gets there; there is not the faintest breath of air stirring; there is not a merciful shred of cloud in all the brilliant firmament; there is not a living creature visible in any direction whither one searches the blank level that stretches its monotonous miles on every hand; there is not a sound—not a sigh—not a whisper—not a buzz, or a whir of wings, or distant pipe of bird—not even a sob from the lost souls that doubtless people that dead air. And so the occasional sneezing of the resting mules, and the champing of the bits, grate harshly on the grim stillness, not dissipating the spell but accenting it and making one feel more lonesome and forsaken than before.
The mules, under violent swearing, coaxing and whipcracking, would make at stated intervals a ‘spurt,’ and drag the coach a hundred or may be ‘two hundred yards, stirring up a billowy cloud of dust that rolled back, enveloping the vehicle to the wheel-tops or higher, and making it seem afloat in a fog. Then a rest followed, with the usual sneezing and bit-champing. Then another ‘spurt’ of a hundred yards and another rest at the end of it. All day long we kept this up, without water for the mules and without ever changing the team. At least we kept it up ten hours, which, I take it, is a day, and a pretty honest one, in an alkali desert. It was from four in the morning till two in the afternoon. And it was so hot! and so close! and our water canteens went dry in the middle of the day and we got so thirsty! It was so stupid and tiresome and dull! and the tedious hours did lag and drag and limp along with such a cruel deliberation! It was so trying to give one’s watch a good long undisturbed spell and then take it out and find that it had been fooling away the time and not trying to get ahead any! The alkali dust cut through our lips, it persecuted our eyes, it ate through the delicate membranes and made our noses bleed and kept them bleeding—and truly and seriously the romance all faded far away and disappeared, and left the desert trip nothing but a harsh reality—a thirsty, sweltering, longing, hateful reality!
Two miles and a quarter an hour for ten hours—that was what we accomplished.”
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.”
Crossings of the South Platte
Prior to 1859, there were three crossings of the South Platte.
“These were commonly known as the Lower, Middle, and Upper crossings (or fords). Their respective locations would be roughly (1) a few miles west of the city of North Platte, in the vicinity of Fremont Springs, opposite Hershey, (2) a few miles east of Ogalala, and (3) a few miles west of Brule, Nebraska.
The one most heavily used was the Upper Crossing, otherwise variously known as Kearney’s Ford (from the 1845 expedition), Beauvais’ Crossing (from the nearby trading post), Laramie Crossing, Ash Hollow Crossing, or California Crossing. After 1859, with a new California Crossing at Julesburg, this became the Old California Crossing. (The terms Lower California Crossing and Upper California Crossing used by some latter-day historians to differentiate between the Ash Hollow Crossing and the Julesburg Crossing are nowhere to be found in emigrant journals and have resulted only in confusion. Frank Root seems to have invented this usage in his reminiscences.”
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.”
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.”
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.’)”
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.
“The wind seemed to blow constantly from the time that we left Fort Kearney. The road was a broad, smooth, beaten track, fully three hundred feet wide, swept clean by the wind, and along the sides for some distance the grass was pretty well eaten out. . . .
“There was some very good grass down near the river. Mr. French had been keeping everybody off from grazing on it, and endeavored to keep us off, but it was Government land, and we were in the service of the Government, and we did not recognize bis sovereignty over the broad country. Mr. French became very boisterous, and we had some words with him. Afterwards we were told that he was a Confederate deserter from a Southern regiment, and was not very fond of blue uniforms, and felt inclined to be as disagreeable as possible.”
“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.”
“The wagons used were of special design and construction, and built for ‘the plains transportation business.’ The tires were wide and heavy; the boxes, high and tight, were made of the beat seasoned wood. Over these curved the huge bows. The most common makes of wagons were the Murphy and Espenshied, built in St. Louis, Missouri, and the Studebaker, built at South Bend, Indiana. The Studebaker was considered the easiest running, but more Murphy wagons were used than either of the other makes.
“These great, cumbersome wagons weighing at least fifteen hundred pounds each, were of the thimble skein type. The axles were wooden, but had iron thimbles on the ends which fit into the iron thimbles of the wheel hubs. The wheels were held in place by big linchpins fastened into the ends of the axles. Tar was used for lubricant.
“The amount of freight which one of these wagons carried would vary, of course, according to the type of merchandise. But they were made to haul six thousand pounds or more, and they night be loaded with ten thousand pounds.”
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.”
“[E]migrants ‘had a horror of being buried without a coffin,’ but this dismal piece of furniture was too cumbersome to take along ‘just in case.’ While still within reach of timber, along creeks in eastern Kansas, crude coffins could be constructed. Out on the Plains a ‘rude box’ might be made from tail gates or packing boxes, but this source was soon gone, and the departed was fortunate if he was wrapped in so much as a blanket. . . .
The graves were promptly invaded by wild animals. Succeeding emigrants were greeted, not only with scattered bones, buttons, and bits of clothing, but hands, feet, and various other parts of the human anatomy in varying stages of decomposition, with ‘prairie wolves howling over their loathsome repast.’
Horrified by the desecration and havoc wrought by wild animals, the emigrants experimented with methods of protecting the mortal remains, covering and lining the grave where possible with rocks, stone slabs, or timbers. . . .
[G]raves were not always marked. Polly Purcell recalled that Indians robbed emigrant graves. To forestall this practice, efforts were made to conceal graves by driving back and forth over them, in some cases going so far as to replace sod, prickly pear, and other vegetation. . . .In 1849 and later . . . Indians had a healthy respect for epidemics and left the graves to the mournful coyote.”
Constructing a Cache
“‘A proper place being selected, which is usually near the border of some stream, where the bank is high enough to be in no danger of inundation, a round hole two feet in diameter is carried down to a depth of three feet, when it is gradually enlarged, and deepened until it becomes sufficiently capacious to contain whatever is destined to be stored in it.’ They covered the bottom and sides ‘with sticks to prevent the bales from touching the ground, as otherwise they would soon contract moisture, become mouldy, and rot.’ When everything was ‘snugly deposited and stowed in,’ the trappers sealed the cache with ‘valueless skins.’ They covered the surface with beaten earth to prevent the ground from settling or sinking. The displaced soil was ‘carefully gathered up and thrown into the stream, and the cache finally completed, by replacing stones and tufts of grass, so as to present the same uniform appearance.’ Goods stowed in such a cache in a hard clay bluff would ‘keep [for] years without damage’—provided the cache was truly waterproof.”
“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.”
“Directly opposite General Mitchell was Shan-tag-a-lisk, which is translated as ‘Spotted Tail.’ He was the greatest warrior in the Sioux nation, said to be the greatest either past or present. He was said to be able to count twenty-six ‘cooz.’ He belonged to the Brule Sioux. On his right was my friend, ‘Bad Wound.’ On the left were ‘Two Strike,’ and ‘Two Crows,’ and the ‘Big Mandan.'”
Oxen as Spare Tires
“A yoke of oxen is two animals leashed together by a yoke: a crossbar of carved wood fastened to their necks with oxbows. Two or three yoke (four to six animals) pulled a typical emigrant wagon. Most emigrants brought along several additional animals—the nineteenth-century equivalent of spare tires. Of oxen, mules, and horses (the three animal engines of the westward migration) oxen were by far the most common. Although slow, oxen were relatively inexpensive, immensely strong, less likely than horses or mules to be stolen by Indians, and could subsist reasonably well on available grass.”
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.”
End of the Cattle Empire
“In 1862 the Federal Homestead Law was passed; in 1874 the first piece of barbed wire was sold in the United States. These two facts combined to break the even tenor of the cattleman’s way. …
“The story of the effects of barbed wire on human life in the Great Plains is one that has not been and cannot be adequately told. Its effect on the cattleman has been partly told. The advent of barbed wire was an important factor in the decline of the cattle kingdom. It brought about the disappearance of the open, free range and converted the range country into the big-pasture country. It sounded the death knell of the native longhorn and made possible the introduction of blooded stock. With barbed-wire fences the ranchman could isolate his cattle and, through segregation, could introduce blooded stock. Barbed wire put an end to the long drive, made the cattle trail a “crooked lane,” and the cattleman to patronize the railroads whether he would or not. Barbed wire has made stock-farming rather than ranching the dominant occupation on the Great Plains.”
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.”
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.”
Rebuilding the Nevada Stations
“[After Indian raids destroyed stations along the Pony Express route in May 1860] William W. Finney, the San Francisco company agent, acted as quickly as possible in the crisis. . . . With contributions raised from San Francisco and Sacramento (both cities that had a vested interest in the continued operation of the Pony Express), Finney outfitted and supplied a force of volunteers to secure the stations. During the first week of June, with a company of a twenty or so “well armed” and “tried” men, Finney set out eastward toward Salt Lake City. . . .
While Finney approached from the west, a similar effort was made from Camp Floyd, Utah Territory, going westward. . . .
By the end of June, the two groups completed their mission and met at Sand Springs Station. Afterwards, the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Co. placed at each station along this portion of the route five additional men, who rebuilt and guarded the corrals and stations. They used stone and adobe materials, where available, to fortify the facilities. . . .
[The new] “fortress” stations in the Nevada desert ’60 feet square, with stone walls eight feet high, being designed to serve as forts when necessary.””
“The name (no relation to South Dakota’s Black Hills) comes from the dark stands of pine, spruce, and cedar that dot the slopes. Travelers on both the north and south sides of the North Platte had to swing away from the river to bypass the impassable canyons. South-side travelers had to pass through the Black Hills. North-side travelers after 1850 could stay on the north side of the river along a route called Child’s Cutoff. Either way was rough.”
“The Indian women at the squaw camp were catching these grasshoppers, roasting them, drying them, and pounding them up into meal to make bread of during the winter. The Indians seemed to be anxious to utilize all the grasshoppers they could catch, and they made up a great many hundred pounds of them. There was also a berry which grew on the bushes along the broken lands which was called the ‘buffalo-berry,’ not unlike a cherry; these the Indian women usually gathered, and put into parfleches. These berries had a sort of tart flavor something like a cranberry. The Indian women gathered these berries and put them away for winter by the thousand pounds, and it was said that the berries were taken out as good as when they were put in. They did not become dry. I was told that they also mixed with them in the parfleches the fat from deer, antelope and buffalo, and ate the combined fat and berries during the winter. A parfleche was a half-tanned hide of some animal, with the hair all taken off and the inside scoured or scraped down smooth.”
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 753: Crossing Fort Laramie
“Most travelers approached Fort Laramie from the main Oregon and California roads along the south bank of the North Platte River. This required fording a tributary, the Laramie River, just east of the fort. Today, dams have tamed the Laramie, but in the mid-1800s the river’s spring current sometimes toppled wagons and drowned emigrants and livestock. Looking for the safest places to ford, travelers used at least nine different crossings of the Laramie, and bridges and ferries eventually served some locations.
In the early years of the emigration, the terrain on the north side of the river was thought to be impassable west of Fort Laramie. Mormon emigrants and others entering Wyoming on the north-bank road were forced to ford the deep, swift North Platte near the fort. Starting in 1850, north-side emigrants had the option of loading their wagons onto a ramshackle flatboat and pulling the contraption along a rope stretched across the river — unassisted, and at the outrageous fare of $1 per wagon. The price of passage drove some offended emigrants to blaze a new trail, Child’s Cutoff (also called Chiles’s Route), which continued west on the north side of the river. Travelers who stayed on the north bank via Child’s Cutoff could avoid crossing the North Platte altogether, while those following the original south-bank road had to cross upstream, near today’s city of Casper. By 1852, most wagons arriving on the north side continued up Child’s Cutoff, though many travelers still crossed the river to visit Fort Laramie. A graceful iron military bridge, built in 1875, still spans one of four emigrant crossings of the North Platte near the fort.”
Butterfield on the Central Route
“The Butterfield Overland Mail contracted to manage the express operations east of Salt Lake in April 1861. The company launched the first daily overland stage and mail service from St. Joseph, Missouri (and later Atchison, Kansas) to Placerville in July 1861.”
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.”
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.”
“Oxen, already worn from the strain of crossing the Green River Basin, died by the dozens on the rough ridges of the Overthrust Belt. “Dead animals all the way up, the stench intolerable,” Byron McKinstry complained in July 1850. He continued:
We have had the road strewed with putrid carcasses ever since we left the Platte. As soon as an ox dies, he bloats as full as the skin will hold (and sometimes bursts), and his legs stick straight out and soon smells horribly …. When they are nearly decayed I think there is frequently three or four bushels of maggots about the carcass. At the top of the steepest pitch this morning lay eleven dead oxen. They pulled up the pitch and died when they stopped to rest …. Thus they lie strewed on every hill and in every valley, thus poisoning the otherwise pure air. The most die after getting over some hard place, or long stretch.
Butterfield Wins the Bid
“The victory of advocates of an overland mail to the Pacific Coast, as represented by the passage of the Post Office Appropriation Bill and its amendments in 1857, appeared to offer an opportunity for the express companies not only to rid themselves of the obnoxious steamship monopoly but also to enter into the business of carrying the overland mail. Therefore the great companies, Adams, American, National, and Wells, Fargo & Company pooled their interests to form Butterfield & Company, or, as more commonly known, the Overland Mail Company . . .
Postmaster Aaron V. Brown, a Tennesseean, was strongly in favor of the [southern] route Butterfield named. On September 16, 1857, he awarded the contract to the Overland Mail Company for six years . . .
The line was gotten ready within the required time and service began September 5, 1858. The coaches ran regularly the year round and not great difficulties with Indians were encountered. The line rendered good service on a reasonably well kept schedule. Northern interests, anti-Administration newspapers, and friends of the Central Route, however, maintained an uproar of criticism and ridicule. Since they could find no fault with the efficiency of the service, their main complaint was against distance and time consumed. In reply, friends of the Southern Route, and even Butterfield himself, admitted that the Central Route was shorter but argued that it could not be traveled in winter time.”
“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.”
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.”
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”
“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.”
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.”
Assault on Salt Lake Via Bear Valley
“On October 6 , Alexander called a council of war . . . [T]he men debated the best strategy to pursue. they could retreat to the Wind River Mountains, about ninety miles to the northeast [from Camp Winfield, their camp on Ham’s Fork], an excellent site for winter quarters; they could remain at Camp Winfield; or they could struggle into Utah. The majority opinion favored aggressive policy of the third alternative . . . But this decision raised other questions. From Van Vliet, Alexander had learned that the Mormons had fortified Echo Canyon, the shortest avenue into Salt Lake Valley, with formidable defenses. Furthermore, since all forage on this road had been burned, the lives of the animals might be endangered if the army should proceed along it. . . .
[Instead, the] army would move northwest up Ham’s Fork, jump across to join Bear River, and follow this route until it reached the northers border of Utah, where several gentle and unfortified valleys led directly to the settlements of the Mormons. Thuds, with winter near, Alexander and his advisors decided to turn from the most direct entrance into Utah in favor of.a road one hundred miles longer that had few if any real advantages. . . .
At length Alexander decided to plod back [thirty-five miles] to Camp Winfield, which he had left more than a week before. Once again, however, lethargy settled upon him; he permitted his men to remain at their present camp on the upper banks of Ham’s Fork for another eight days. . . .
Painfully, the soldiers and their 4,000 animals struggled down Ham’s Fork to Camp Winfield]. Badly worn, they arrived there on November 2. having gained nothing by their exertions of the past weeks, they had returned to a camp with pitifully inadequate forage and dangerously low temperatures.”
Mile 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.”
Mormon Land Rights in Utah
“U.S. President Buchanan [in 1858] even weighed in on the land issue in Utah saying, ‘The land you live upon was purchased by the United States and paid for out of their treasury. The proprietary right and title to it is in them, and not in you.’ Church distribution and ‘ownership’ of the land in the territory was alarming, because the Church leadership had no legal proof or right to the large amount of land they claimed. Now that the United States owned the land that would become Utah, anyone could buy the land that Church members were now living on. The 1841 Preemption Act allowed any citizen over 21 to buy 160 acres of land for $1.25 an acre. In order for a citizen to claim land under the Preemption Act, the land needed to be surveyed by federal surveyors and Indian claims to land would need to be settled. Federal land surveyors would need to come to Utah. “
“From 1836 to 1842 Colt had manufactured about five or six thousand of his patent revolvers, the first successful repeating firearms. Bad financial management – outside Colt’s control – had forced the closing of the factory and he had gone on to experiment with electrically controlled submarine mines and had laid the first successful submarine electric cable. But his revolvers had been tested in the Seminole War and had worked into the possession of the Texas Navy and the Texas Rangers – and of Santa Fe traders, such mountain men as Kit Carson, and other practical men who had to deal professionally with the Plains Indians. They had promptly worked a revolution in warfare comparable to and more immediately important than that heralded by the American light artillery at Palo Alto. They had proved themselves the first effective firearm for mounted men, and had given the Texans and other frontier runners the first weapon which enabled white men to fight with Plains Indians on equal or superior terms. Nearly all of the primordial five or six thousand had, by 1846, gravitated to the place where they were needed, the Western frontier. Most of the journals quoted in this book speak admiringly of their use and value in the West; nearly every writer who discusses outfits for emigrants recommends them.”
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]
“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.’
“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.”
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]
“[F]or more than a century now, most western towns have maintained ‘public corrals’ with good access to highways, so that the ranchers can turn their horses loose in a safe place and then camp in their trailers or find a nearby motel for themselves. Today, many of these public corrals also serve as rodeo grounds. Before that, they were Pony Express stables, stagecoach stops, and military bivouacs. Along the Oregon Trail, many of these public spaces began their existence as overnight camping spots for wagon trains.”
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.”
In the prairie country the tall grass falls into three sub. ,ions, or communities: the blue-stem sod, the blue-stem 1ch grass, and the needle grass and slender wheat grass. blue-stem sod is found in Illinois, Iowa, eastern Kansas, in parte of Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas, and in western Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. The whole region is rich, and the central portion forms what is known as the corn belt.
The blue-stem bunch grass lies west of the blue-stem sod and extends along the boundary between the short and tall grass from Nebraska to Texas, having its best growtn in central Kansas and Oklahoma. The rainfall here is from twenty to thirty inches, and the soil mcisture is from two to four feet, with dry subsoil beneath. This is the great winterwheat region. The needle grass and the slender wheat grass grow in the northern Plains and in Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota. The rainfall ranges from eighteen to thirty inches. This region has become a part of the winter-wheat region.
The short, or Plains, grasses are the grama, galleta, buffalo, and mesquite. All these types occur west of the ninety-eighth meridian. The grama-grass area extends through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. It is by no means continuous, but occurs in the higher valleys and plateaus. “The grama-grass type marks the portion of the short-grass area which has the lowest evaporation and the coolest, shortest eeason, but which has a relatively low rainfall.” 1 The galletajass area lies south and west of the grama. It is found in northern New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The grama and ~uffalo grasses cover a wide belt extending from South Dakota along the boundary line of Wyoming and Nebraska, Colorado andKa nsas, and New Mexico and the Panhandle of both Oklahoma and Texas. The mesquite grass is classified as a desert grass. It grows in western Texas, in southern New Mexico, and in Arizona. It is a grass of summer rainfall, though it can lie dormant for long periods during summer, reviving with a little rain.
West of the grasslands lies the desert-shrub area, the intennountain region. This vegetation belongs to three general types : sagebrush, or northern-desert shrub ; creosote bush, or southern-desert shrub; greasewood, or salt-desert shrub. In all this region the desert type of vegetation prevails over the grassland. From the point of view of utilization, however, the whole region is closely akin to the Plains; that is, the problems of utilization are similar. In Texas the ninety-eighth meridian is generally accepted as a dividing line for both the floral and the faunal species.”
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]
“Massive in scale, each monument towers hundreds of feet above the floor of the North Platte Valley. Each is made of stacked layers of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone, and volcanic ash. Differential erosion of these layers-some soft, some hard-gives each monolith a distinct shape. Courthouse Rock and Castle Rock are blocky and rectangular, reminiscent of colossal buildings. Chimney Rock looks like an upside-down funnel. Its lower section consists of soft strata that erode into slopes, whicle the upper chimney section is composed of sandstone tough enough to stand as a vertical column.
The local Sioux knew what they saw in the towering phallus of Chimney Rock. They called it Elk Penis. This was too graphic for most white sensibilities, even those of the rough fur traders who, in the 1830s, were among the earliest whites to report on the rock.”
Russell's Second Mistake
“The launching of [the Leavenworth and Pike’s Peak Express in 1858] was the second disastrous mistake Russell made. Had he resisted the temptation to join Jones in it and worked solely to repair Russell, Majors & Waddell’s damaged credit [after losses incurred during the Mormon War] the firm might have succeeded. His action further undermined its financial standing, earned for himself the reputation of being a reckless gambler and involving him and his partners in a series of catastrophic events which in the end brought total ruin.”
Mile 937: Avenue of Rocks
About nine miles west of Emigrant Gap, the Oregon Trail wound through a narrow gap between two ragged ridges of sandstone and shale rocks, upended strata we now would call hogbacks.
British travel writer Sir Richard Burton, traveling by stagecoach to Utah in 1860 to interview Mormon leader Brigham Young, called the formation “the Devil’s Backbone.”
“It is a jagged, broken ridge,” Burton wrote, “of huge sandstone boulders, tilted up edgeways, and running in a line over the crest of a long roll of land … like the vertebrae of some great sea-serpent or other long crawling animal; and, on a nearer view, the several pieces resolve themselves into sphinxes, veiled nuns, Lot’s pillars, and other freakish objects.”
More common were the names “Rock Avenue,” “Avenue of Rocks” and “Rock Lane.” The pioneer Mormon companies of 1847, first to make the trek to the Salt Lake Valley, seem to have been the ones who coined “Rock Avenue.”
“[T]here is a steep descent from a bluff and at the foot there is a high ridge of sharp pointed rocks running parallel with the road for near a quarter of a mile, leaving only sufficient space for wagons to pass,” official Mormon diarist William Clayton, traveling with the first of those companies, wrote June 19 of that year. “At the sought [south] point there is a very large rock lying close to where the road makes a bend, making it somewhat difficult to get by without striking it. The road is also very rough with cobble stones.”
The following year Clayton condensed his description when he published it in his guidebook: “Rock avenue and steep descent. The road here passes between high rocks, forming a kind of avenue or gateway, for a quarter of a mile.”
In these stretches, the road was generally good, “though rather too hard and gravelly for the cattle,” wrote another diarist, Israel Lord, in July 1849. The country was dry in all directions, and what little water the travelers found was potentially deadly.
“Passed through a very singular defile, called ‘Rock Avenue,’ wrote J. Goldsborough Bruff July 23, 1849. Bruff, with 25,000 other forty-niners, was headed to the gold fields of California that year of extremely heavy traffic on the trails. “After emerging from the Defile, the road descended a very steep hill (had to double lock the wheels), here a wagon broke the fore-axle, and 4 of the mules exhausted, so they had to camp on a barren waste until morning, without feed or water. At base of these hills was the ‘Alkali Swamp & Spring,’ 2 miles from the Defile, and 7 1/2 from the Mineral Spring.” Bruff here is using the place names from Clayton’s Mormon Guide, as it was generally known, thus his use of quotation marks. Its more formal title was The Latter-Day Saints’ Emigrants’ Guide.
“The water here—strong alkali was the color of coffee,” Bruff continued. “And piled around were hundreds of dead animals, chiefly oxen.”
A month earlier diarist Jonas Hittle had noted, “It is very warm. We moved on and passed several oxen given out. We passed through Rock Lane which is two lines of Rocks rising perpendicular out of the ground … They are about 40 yards apart. At the far end of this I cut my name dated June The 24th 1849.”
The Hittle inscription no longer exists, though his was one of a great many that once existed along this stretch of trail. Unfortunately, many were lost when portions of the rock formation were blasted away in the 1960s to upgrade the county road. The entire left-hand section of the ridge, or wall, was obliterated. Several miles of pristine trail ruts were destroyed by pipeline construction around the same time.
Trails historian Aubrey Haines called the destruction “calculated vandalism,” in a report he wrote for the National Park Service in 1972. More recently, road graders knocked off the end of the right-hand bluff near the road, taking most of the remaining inscriptions with it.
Nonetheless, sections of the county road, following closely the route of the older trail, still offer a glimpse into the past uncluttered by modern visual intrusions.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
Burr and the Mormons
“The short period between 1852 and 1855 was in general a peaceful interlude in the relations between the Mormons and the nation. Although Steptoe, [Secretary Benjamin G.] Ferris, and [Indian Agent] Holeman had raised brief disturbances, the years were as free of painful incident as any before 1896, when Utah gained statehood. But the harmony, such as it was, soon faded. Within a few months voices more powerful and strident than those heard in the past were demanding federal intervention in the Mormons’ country: and a stormy petrel reached Salt Lake City in the person of David. T. Burr, the newly appointed surveyor general of the Territory.
Almost at once Burr ran into trouble with the inhabitants on the Valley. their title to the land they occupied was tenuous at best, in the absence of an Indian treaty or congressional enactment. Knowing this, they looked upon a survey of their region as a move preliminary to their eviction by the Government. Their fears had some justification, for Burr soon wrote to his superiors that the Church had illegally appropriated areas of the public domain, a reference to the recent introduction of an experiment, tried without success in earlier communities, to persuade the Mormons to deed their properties to the Church.
In alarm, the Saints sought to impede the surveyor general’s labors in every way possible, using intimidation, violence, and their influence over the Indians. . . .Garland Hurt, whoe position as agent brought him into greater difficulties than Holeman had encountered . . . charged that a bishop had stirred up the Indians in southern Utah by circulating the lie that surveyors were really a posse sent in disguise to arrest Gunnison’s murderers. Other Mormons in Fillmore, Hurt added, had stoned a house where Burr and his men had stopped for the night.The surveyor general himself reported the Mormons’ removal of corner posts, the theft of animals, and other obstructive acts, none of which could be prosecuted in the Church-controlled courts.
In the spring of 1857 Burr gave up his work in Utah, offering a number of explanations for his decision. His life was in fanger, for the priesthood was denouncing him from the pulpit. One of his associates . . . had been beaten nearly to death, perhaps permanently crippled, by a grouop of the infamous Danites. . . . and Brigham Young had ominously declared in public that his, Burr’s, work was at an end. In this lawless atmosphere three apostates had been murdered; Burr’s friends predicted the same fate for him if he remained.
As was frequently the case in more significant episodes, the truth about Burr’s clash with the Mormons is not easily found. . . .From the statements of burr, Hurt, Crain, Mogo, Wilson, and Landon it appeared that the people of the territory were, if not actually rebellious, at least ready to impede the work of duly appointed federal representatives.”
“Some of the watercraft drafted into use by the increasing pressure of travel [from St. Louis to Independence on the Missouri River] were old and flimsy, and chugging along upstream, were all too easily sprung open by the great snags, or sawyers, in the river—trees whose heavy butts lay sunk in mud, and whose jagged tops swung down with the current. . . .
River craft, especially if of value, were usually tied up at night—sawyers and the ever shifting sand bars were bad enough to encounter in daylight. In dry seasons, it was no uncommon thing to see all the passengers footing it along the bank while the steamer was jacked over a slightly submerged bar by means of ingeniously arranged poles and cables.”
The 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.”
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.
Desipere in Loco
“Unaccustomed, of late years at least, to deal with tales of twice-told travel, I can not but feel, especially when, as in the present case, so much detail has been expended upon the trivialities of a Diary, the want of that freshness and originality which would have helped the reader over a little lengthiness. My best excuse is the following extract from the lexicographer’s “Journey to the Western Islands,” made in company with Mr. Boswell during the year of grace 1773, and upheld even at that late hour as somewhat a feat in the locomotive line.
These diminutive observations seem to take away something from the dignity of writing, and therefore are never communicated but with hesitation, and a little fear of abasement and contempt. But it must be remembered that life consists not of a series of illustrious actions or elegant enjoyments; the greater part of our time passes in compliance with necessities, in the performance of daily duties, in the removal of small inconveniences, in the procurement of petty pleasures, and we are well or ill at ease as the main stream of life glides on smoothly, or is ruffled by small obstacles and frequent interruptions.
“True! and as the novelist claims his right to elaborate, in the ‘domestic epic,’ the most trivial scenes of household routine, so the traveler may be allowed to enlarge, when copying nature in his humbler way, upon the subject of his little drama, and, not confining himself to the great, the good, and the beautiful, nor suffering himself to be wholly engrossed by the claims of cotton, civilization, and Christianity, useful knowledge and missionary enterprise, to desipere in loco by expatiating upon his bed, his meat, and his drink.”
[Note: “dulce est desipere in loco” = Latin phrase: it is pleasant to be frivolous at the appropriate time.]
Army Civilian Court
“Almost every day appeals were made to the post for the settlement of disputes, quarrels and bets. We did the best we could, came as near to doing justice in each case as we knew how, and let the matter go at that. It was the only court that could enforce its decrees. I always thought the people had confidence in it, and that it was a good thing, because there were many disputes over matters that people did not want to kill each other for. Shortly after that there was a killing in a wagon train going down from Denver. One man shot another about fifteen miles west of our post. We arrested and held the man up, and finally sent him down to Fort Kearney, in confinement.”
The Superhighway of Westward Expansion
“The route from Fort Kearny to Fort Laramie was the superhighway of westward expansion. There were many ‘jumping-off places’ for emigrants along the Missouri River from Independence to Omaha, but all these strands converged at Fort Kearny to become one great migratory, military, and communications route. Fort Kearny was the official end of the prairie lands and the gateway to the Great Plains, with its endless level horizon and strange treelessness; Fort Laramie, with Laramie Peak looming to the westward, marked the transition from the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains.”
[N.B. Unsure of the difference between “plains” and “prairie,” I found this on Encyclopaedia Britannica: “Natural vegetation in the Great Plains is dominated by grasses—tallgrass and medium grass prairie in the east and shortgrass and bunchgrass steppes in the west. These [plains] grasslands include forbs and larger plants such as the yucca and the prickly pear cactus in marginal areas, as well as shrubs and some small trees such as the mesquite and the sagebrush.”
The Emigrant Trail
“In general, the route from Independence lay along the Santa Fe trail some forty miles, to the present site of Gardner, Kansas, where the famous sign pointed its finger northwest with the legend, “Road to Oregon.” It crossed to the Waukarusa and then to the Kansas, which it forded near the present Topeka and followed some miles farther before striking overland to the Little Vermillion and then the Vermillion. On to the Big Blue, the Little Blue, and so to the Platte, which was usually reached at or near Grand Island. Here was the great conduit to the West and for many days the wagons groaned up the long slope which became increasingly arid. The valley was an oasis in what seemed to be truly the Great American Desert, the scenery got more alarming as the going got dryer, and the river was one of the most preposterous in the world, a bottomland through which a mile-wide trickle of water you had to chew made its way along cottonwoods and quicksands. Where the river forked, the trail struck up the South Platte, then crossed to the North Platte by several alternative routes. The Lower California Crossing was near the modern town of Brule, Nebraska, and trains which crossed there usually reached the North Platte at the famous Ash Hollow. The Upper California Crossing was thirty-five miles farther up the South Platte. Once it reached the North Platte, the trail followed it to well beyond Fort Laramie, then left it for good and struck fout for the Sweetwater.”
Great Plains Hailstorms
“Of all the Great Plains storms, hailstorms were the worst. Elizabeth Dixon Smith endured one on July 8, 1847. “To day we had the dredfulest hail storm that I ever witnessed … [I)t tore some of their waggon covers off broke some bows [the curving wooden stays that hold up the canvas covers] and made horses and oxon run a way.” Near the South Platte crossing on June 20, 1849, William Swain’s party was pounded by hailstones “the size of a walnut to that of a goose egg [original italics].” The terrified livestock, cut to bleeding and “writhing with the pain inflicted by the strokes of the hail,” reared and spun in their traces, upsetting wagons and breaking tongues and wheels. People hid under wagons or grabbed saddles, pails, or kettles for shelter. When the bombing ended, all gathered around to compare their “sundry bruised and gashed heads, black eyes, pounded and swollen backs, shoulders, and arms, which with a little attention from the doctor and some liniment soon became sound.” Laughter spread with the emerging sun. ‘”No great evil without some good’ was our motto,” Swain wrote, “so we filled our pails and kettles with hail and had ice water the rest of the day, a luxury we little expected on this route.”
“In constructing the nightly bivouac each set of two or three men would dig a hole seven or eight feet square down to the ground. A bed of soft pine twigs was laid and over this a blanket was spread. On the windward side two forked sticks were stuck in the snow and against these a windbreak of pine boughs was constructed. With a fire made in the snow pit the night was passed with a fair degree of warmth.”
“[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.”
Meaning of the Plains in American Life
“This problem may best be approached through a brief resume. It has been pointed out that the ninety-eighth meridian separates the United States into two equal parts, that the Anglo-Americans who approached the Great Plains from the east came with an experience of more than two centuries of pioneering in the woodland environment, and that when they crossed over into the Plains their technique of pioneering broke down and they were compelled to make a radical readjustment in their way of life. The key to an understanding of the history of the West must be sought, therefore, in a comparative study of what was in the East and what came to be in the West. The salient truth, the essential truth, is that the West cannot be understood as a mere extension of things Eastern. Though “the roots of the present lie deep in the past,” it does not follow that the fruits of the present are the same or that the fruits of the West are identical with those of the East. Such a formula would destroy the variable quality in history and make of it an exact science. In history the differences are more important than the similarities. When one makes a comparative study of the sections, the dominant truth which emerges is expressed in the word contrast.
The contrast begins in geology and topography and is continued in climate, reflected in vegetation, apparent in wild animal life, obvious in anthropology, and not undiscernible in history. To the white man, with his forest culture, the Plains presented themselves as an obstacle, one which served to exercise and often defeat his ingenuity, to upset his calculations, to hinder his settlement, and to alter his weapons, tools, institutions, and social attitudes; in short, to throw his whole way of life out of gear. The history of the white man in the Great Plains is the history of adjustments and modifications, of giving up old things that would no longer function for new thinis that would, of giving up an old way of life for a new way in order that there might be a way. Here one must view the white man and his culture as a dynamic thing, moving from the forest-clad land into the treeless plain.”
The Ocean and the Great Plains
“Much evidence of the immediate effects may be found in the reaction of men who came to the Plains. If we again visualize a migrating host suddenly emerging from the forests on an open and boundless plain, we are in position to understand the startled expressions of wonder which involuntarily escaped those who the first time beheld such scenes. The Anglo-American had in his experience no background to prepare him for such a far vision. His momentary surprise and wonder were what we might expect of a person fitted with powerful glasses which opened to him a new and hitherto unseen world. . . .
Such quotations could be increased to hundreds. They have these things in common: men expressed surprise, pleasure, and elation, and with one accord they compared the Plains to the sea. This comparison runs throughout the literature from Coronado on. In his Commerce of the Prairies Josiah Gregg speaks of the “grand prairie ocean,” of the caravans “making port”; he proposed a law based upon maritime law for control of the prairie caravan, and gave the wagons the name of “prairie schooners,” which they have borne ever since. Marcy described the Llano Estacado as an “ocean of desert prairie.” Van Tramp said of the prairies:
There is no describing them. They are like the ocean, in more than one particular; but in none more than in this: the utter impossibility of producing any just impression of them by description. They inspire feelings so unique, so distinct from anything else, so powerful, yet vague and indefinite, as to defy description, while they invite the attempt.”
Origin of the Mormon Battallion
“Just before leaving for the West [January 1846], Brigham Young wrote a letter appointing Jesse C. Little, a Mormon convert living in New Hampshire, to preside over the church’s Eastern States Mission . . .
“[D]uring May 1846, [Little] held church conferences in the major branches of the mission to ‘take into consideration the most expedient measures for the removal and emigration of the saints in the Eastern States to California.’ . . .
“During one of their meetings [between Little and Thomas Kane], Little mentioned that he hoped the government would help them because otherwise they might be forced to seek aid from another country. Kane immediately advised Little that such a threat would be the strongest possible approach in Washington. Because the Mormons were leaving the confines of the United States, they could pose a serious obstacle to the country’s westward expansion if they set up an independent country or joined with either Mexico or Great Britain. The possibility of joining England was heightened by the fact that more than fifteen thousand English had joined the Mormon church by 1846, and of that number almost five thousand had journeyed to Mormon settlements in the United States. . .
“Understandably, the president [Polk] was not eager to alienate a group with over twenty thousand members on the western borders of the country. . . .
“[Polk] wanted a United States force in California before peace negotiations to further the country’s claim to New Mexico and California.
“The battalion provided over $50,000 in cash payments to church members, much of which was used to help the entire church migrate west. . . . Polk was quite candid in his diary about his motives. ‘The main object of taking them into service would be to conciliate them, and prevent them from assuming a hostile attitude towards the U.S. after their arrival in California.”
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 . . .”
” . . .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.'”
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.”
Replacing Animals With Humans
“The [handcart] system resulted in the largest loss of life in the three decades of overland wagon travel on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails, killing in its first year at least five times as many men, women, and children as perished with the Donner party. Ultimately, it was a system that replaced draft animals with human beings and put ‘a few dollars . . . in competition with the lives of human beings.'”
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.”
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.”
“Snow-shoe Thompson” . . . was a Norwegian by birth, and the first to introduce a Norwegian pattern of snow-shoe. . . . The most wonderful stories are related of this man and his exploits on snow-shoes.
This noted mountaineer was born at Upper Tins, Prestjrjold, Norway, in 1827. He came with his father to the United States in 1837, and settled in Illinois. In 1851 he crossed the plains to California, where he worked in different places for several years, sometimes mining, sometimes farming. Hearing of the difficulties attending the transportation of mail across the Sierra on account of the great depth of snow, he determined one day to make a pair of snowshoes such as he remembered to have seen when a boy in Norway. Having made the shoes, he went to Placerville, near which place he could practice using them and test their utility. Finding that they worked to his entire satisfaction, he undertook to carry the mail across the Sierra on them, making his first trip in January, 1856. The distance, ninety miles from Placerville to Carson Valley, was passed over in three days, the return taking one less because of the down grade.
Having made the experimental journey successfully, Thompson continued to carry the mail between the two points all that winter. The weight of the mail bags was often from sixty to eighty pounds. When traveling across the mountains he never carried blankets or wore an overcoat. He traveled by night as well as by day when necessary. If he camped for the night, he hunted the stump of a dead pine tree and having set fire to it, he built him a bed of spruce boughs, on the snow, and lying down with his feet to the fire rested and slept soundly.
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.”
Frank as a Bear Hunter
“‘Frank as a bear-hunter” is a proverb in these lands.”
Telling Time by the Sun
“The dominant paradigm of farm life was the cycle: the recurrence of the days and seasons; the process of growth and reproduction. Hand-power technology did not deceive men into thinking they could overcome nature; their goal was to harmonize man’s needs with natural forces as best they could. The length of the working day, for example, was largely determined by the hours of sunlight. Candles and grease lamps were common but expensive, and the hearth’s flickering light was too dim for more than a little work after dark. So most work was largely confined to daylight: up and at work by dawn, nights for sleeping. And in keeping with this daily round, midwesterners told time by the movements of the sun, not the clock. There was a variety of time phrases so rich they nearly matched the clock in refinement; the hours before sunrise, for example, were distinguished thus: long before day, just before day, just comin’ day, just about daylight, good light, before sunup, about sunup, and, finally, sunup. Each period of the day was similarly divided.”
Ports of the Prairie Sea
“Based somewhat on geographical factors but also on the enterprise of the local merchants, the ports of the prairie sea tended to specialize. Kansas City had a practical monopoly of the New Mexico-Chihuahua trade.Leavenworth had the greater part of the Colorado trade, though sharing it with Atchison. The latter town specialized in the Salt Lake trade.”
Performance of the Daily Overland Mail
“During the summer and autumn of 1861 the service was satisfactorily performed, despite the difficulty occasioned by accumulations of mail at the eastern end. The paper mail was usually carried through in twenty-eight days and the letter mail in twenty.
However, as winter approached, greater difficulties were encountered. . . Friends of the Ventral route were liberal ad blamed the unusual weather without condemning the route . . . On the other hand the champions of the southern route were quick to declare the service a failure . . .
But after making allowances for sectional bias, the fact remains that the service was slow and very irregular during the first winter. The Alta California admitted in the latter part of January that it had been about a week since the last mail came in from the east. . . .
During March and April there was little or no improvement . . .Between the snow and the mud the stage-coaches had a difficult time. . . . Sleighs were often employed over the heaviest snow stretches . . . Deep, still mud in paces made the empty coach a full load for the team, and passengers were compelled to walk. Mail bags full of government documents were frequently employed to fill in ‘chuck-holes’ in the worst patches of the road . . .
It was August however, before all the back mails of March and April which had not been destroyed, were delivered at the places of designation.”
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.”
First Overland Mail from St. Joseph
“Residents of Sacramento celebrated the arrival of the first overland mail from St. Joseph on July 20, 1858.”
Hell on Women and Horses
“It was in the West, in consequence, that women had the greatest status.”‘ Both Smith and Bird have borrowed their views from Arthur Calhoun, with whose opinions, in matters of American family history, one has always to contend.
The frontier helped to liberalize the American family . . .Women stood by their husbands’ side and fought for life and little ones against human and other foes. Ladies whose husbands lost everything threw aside ease and luxury and fared boldly into the far West where they endured without complaint toils, danger, sickness and loneliness. Reciprocity in the marriage relation was the logical consequence where woman bore a man’s share in the struggle for existence.
This was hardly the assessment of contemporaries. Emigrant women, in their own evaluation, came much closer to the of the frontier aphorism; “This country is all right for mendogs, but it’s hell on women and horses.” Perhaps not everyone joined in that consensus, but male and female opinion on the question of the status of women conjoined in curious but revealing manner.”
“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.”
“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.'”
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.”
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 . . .”
“[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.”
“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 1444: Riverbed Station
“The station was built in an old riverbed formed by evaporation of Lake Bonneville. The water contained in the northern portion of the great inland sea had a greater surface than the southern portion. Consequently more evaporation occurred in the northern part. Water seeks its own level and in this case, the water was squeezed into a low channel between two mountain ranges on the east and west. Here the movement of the water from south to north dug the river as the lake receded.
“Because of flash flooding, little evidence today remains of the station’s existence. . . . It is mentioned that it was hard to keep a station keeper at Riverbed because the area was supposedly haunted by ‘desert fairies.’ A monument was established at the site by the Civilian Conservation Corp in 1939 or 1940.”
Mile 432: Cottonwood Springs
“Cottonwood Springs was merely a seep in a gully which had been an old bed of the river, and which had curved up towards Cottonwood Canyon. The water-bed of the river being largely composed of gravel, the water came down in the underflow, and seeped out at a place down in the bank where there had grown a large cottonwood tree. This spring had been dug out, and was the only spring as far as then known along the Platte for two hundred miles. It was at the mouth of Cottonwood Canyon that we were to build our military post. The place was a great crossing for the Indians going north and south. The valley here was several miles wide. There was a large island in the river of several thousand acres, upon which grew the finest grass to be found in the country, and there were some scrubby willows and cottonwoods; so that the Indians coming from the north found it a good stopping-place to feed their ponies either in summer or winter, because in the winter the ponies could eat the cottonwood brush. In addition to this, Cottonwood Canyon gave a fine passage to the south. A road went up on the floor of the canyon, between the trees, until it rose onto the tableland twenty miles south. The canyon furnished fuel and protection. It was for the purpose of breaking up this Indian run-way that we were ordered to build a post at the mouth of the canyon. We arrived there at eleven o’clock in the morning of October 11, 1863.”
[N.B. The historical (i.e., now non-existant) site of Cotton Springs is at https://goo.gl/maps/861MJvmkDvYy5pvX9. The nearby Pony Express marker, at Mile 429, looks as if the identifying plaque has been removed. the Cottonwood Springs Station historical marker is near Mile 437.]
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.'”
"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.”
Lightening the Wagons
“As the emigrants moved up the grade approaching the Rockies, it became obvious that the overloaded wagons had to be lightened, and gradually they discarded materials not essential for survival. Domestic goods, of course, were most easily excluded from the essential category, much to the dismay of the women. “We came across a heavy old fashioned cook stove which some emigrant had hauled all those weary miles mountain and desert, only to discard it at last,” wrote Lavinia Porter. “No doubt some poor forlorn woman was now compelled to do her cooking by the primitive camp fire, perhaps much against her will.” True recalled that by the time hisparty reached the Great Basin all his mother’s camping conveniences had been discarded, greatly adding to her labors and filling her days with anxiety. This anxiety was not only the effect of added work. Books, furniture, knickknacks, chine, daguerreotypes, guitars—the very articles that most helped establish a domestic feel about the camps were the first things be discarded. Lightening the wagons, however necessary, was interpreted by women as a process operating against their interests. In one party a woman “exclaimed over an escritoire of rare workmanship” she had found along the trail “and pitied the poor woman who had to part with it.
“The loss of a sense of home—the inability to ‘keep house’ on the trail—was perhaps the hardest loss to bear, the thing that drove women closest to desperation.”
“The red color soon mottles and the bowl clogs if smoked with tobacco; in fact, it is fit for nothing but the “kinnikinik” of the Indians.”
[Note: “Kinnikinnick is a Native American and First Nations herbal smoking mixture, made from a traditional combination of leaves or barks. Recipes for the mixture vary, as do the uses, from social, to spiritual to medicinal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinnikinnick.]
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).
“The country from Fort Carney [Kearney] for four hundred miles up the Platte river valley and back from the high bluffs, that skirted the river on either side, was one vast rolling plain with no vegetation except a coarse luxuriant growth of grass in the valley near the river and beyond the bluffs; in spots that were not bare grew the prickly pear, and a short crisp grass of lightish color and of two varieties—the bunch and buffalo grasses—which were very nutritious, as the cattle thrived and grew fat on them.”
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.'”
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.”
Slow Communications With Taylor
“Taylor sat under his grapevine at Matamor6s and could not have had a better press. Clearly the country appreciated his victories but the administration sent no official praise. The holy cause of Whiggery, about which Taylor had no clear ideas, was probably being degraded by the Democrats. Taylor cultivated his acquaintance with Congressional Whigs in letters which show Bliss’s editing. The President and the War Department kept annoying him with incomprehensible demands for information. They wanted to know what the country around him was like; he made no effort to find out. They wanted to know what ideas for further conquest the commanding general in the field was working out; he wasn’t working any out. The administration’s jgnorance and the commander’s stupidity interacted, and the confusion was increased by the sloth of communication. It took between three and four weeks to deliver a dispatch, but neither headquarters thought of establishing a courier service. (Polk usually heard of developments in the war from the British embassy before reports came through from the army.) But for that matter, neither headquarters thought to put its dispatches into cipher.”
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.”
Brief History of Mormon Settlement in Utah
“At the time the Mormons chose their new homeland on the Great Salt Lake and settled down to farm, their colony was in Mexican domain several hundred miles beyond the jurisdiction of the United states, while Bridger and Vasquez held their lands, totaling nine-square miles, under a grant from the Mexican government. Within a few months [February, 1848] the terms of peace at the close of the Mexican War threw them all into United States territory. . . .
As soon as [the Mormons] found themselves living once again in United States territory, they held a meeting, revowed allegiance to the Constitution and organized their own independent state, calling it Deseret. his was in 1849, so it will be readily understood with what curiosity the gold-seekers visited the Mormon colony. In 1850, Congress (which had ignored the state of Deseret) created the territory of Utah, cleverly appointing Brigham Young its governor. He accepted and took oath February 3, 1851.”
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.”
“[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.”
“He described himself, for instance, as having lately been ‘slightly inebriated;’ but the euphuistic periphrasis concluded with an asseveration that he would be ‘Gord domned’ if he did it again.”
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.”
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 1508: Willow Creek Station
“The authors do not necessarily support the idea that a station was located here but the following evidence, from excerpts of Nick Wilson’s story in ‘Utah and the Pony Express’ presents a favorable case.”
Peter Neece, our home station keeper, was a big strong man and a good rider. He was put to breaking some of these wild mustangs for the boys to ride. Generally, just as soon as the hostler could lead them in and out of the stable without getting his head knocked off, they were considered tame, and very likely they had been handled enough to make them mean.
My home station was Shell Creek (Nevada). I rode from Shell Creek to Deep Creek (Utah), and one day the Indians killed the rider out on the desert, and when I was to meet him at Deep Creek, he was not there. I went to the next station, Willow Creek, the first station over the mountain, and there I found out that he had been killed. My horse was about jaded by this time, so I had to stay there to let him rest I would have had to start back in the night as soon as the horse got so he could travel, if those Indians had not come upon us. About four a ‘clock in the afternoon, seven Indians rode up to the station and asked for something to eat. Peter Neece picked up a sack with about twenty pounds of flour in it and offered it to them, but they would not have that little bit, they wanted a sack of flour apiece. Then he threw it back into the house and told them to get out, and that he wouldn’t give them a thing. This made them pretty mad, and as they passed a shed about four or five rods from the house, they each shot an arrow into a poor, old lame cow, that was standing under the shed. When Neece saw them do that, it made him mad, too, and he jerked out a couple of pistols and commenced shooting at them. He killed two of the Indians and they fell off their horse there. The others ran. He said, ‘Now boys, we will have a time of it tonight. There are about thirty of those Indians camped in the canyon there and they will be upon us as soon as it gets dark, and we will have a fight.’ A man by the name of Lynch happened to be there at the time. He had bragged a good deal about what he would do and we looked upon him as a sort of desperado and a very brave man. I felt pretty safe until he weakened and commenced to cry, then I wanted all of us to get on our horses and skip for the next station, but Pete said, ‘No, we will load up all the old guns that are around here and be ready for them when they come. There are four of us and we can stand off the whole bunch of them. Well, just a little before dark, we could see a big dust over toward the mouth of the canyon, and we knew they were coming. It was bout six miles from the canyon to the station.
Pete thought it would be a good thing to go out a hundred yards or so and lie down in the brush and surprise them as they came up. When we got out there he had us lie down about four or five feet apart. ‘Now,’ he said, ‘when you fire, jump out to one side, so if they shoot at the blaze of your gun, you will not be there.’ We all took our places, and you bet, I lay close to the ground. Pretty soon we could hear their horses feet striking the ground, and it seemed to me as if there were thousands of them, and such yells as they let out, I never heard before. The sounds were coming straight towards us, and I thought they were going to run right over us. It was sandy where we lay, with little humps. Finally the Indians got close enough for us to shoot. Pete shot and jumped to one side. I had two pistols, one in each hand, cocked all ready to pull the trigger, and was crawling on my elbows and knees. Each time he would shoot, I saw him jump. Soon they were all shooting and each time they shot, I would jump. I never shot at all. After I had jumped a good many times, I happened to land in a little wash or ravine. I guess my back came pretty nearly level with the top of it. Anyhow, I pressed myself down so I could get in. I don’t know how I felt, I was so scared. I lay there and listened until I could hear no more shooting, but I thought I could hear the horses’ hoofs beating on the hard ground near me until I found out it was only my heart beating. After a while, I raised my head a little and looked off towards the desert and I could see those humps of sand covered with greese-woods. They looked exactly like Indians on horses, and I could see several of them near the wash.
I crouched down again and lay there for a long time, maybe two hours. Finally everything was very still, so I thought I would go around and see if my horse was where I had staked him, and if he was, I would go back to my station in Deep Creek and tell them that the boys were all killed and I was the only one that had got away. Well, as I went crawling around the house on my elbows and knees, just as easily as I could, with both pistols ready, I saw a light shinning between the logs in the back part of the house. I thought the house must be full of Indians, so I decided to lie there a while and see what they were doing. I lay there for some time listening and watching and then I heard one of the men speak. ‘Did you find anything of him?’ Another answered, ‘No, I guess he is gone.’ Then I knew it was the boys, but I lay there until I heard the door shut, then I slipped up and peeped through the crack and saw that all three of them were there all right. I was too much ashamed to go in but finally I went around and opened the door. When I stepped in Pete called out, ‘Hello! Here he is. How far did you chase them? I knew you would stay with them. I told the fellows here you would bring back at least half a dozen of them.’ I think they killed five Indians that night.
[Note: Also retold in Settle and Settle, Saddles and Spurs, p. 156-157
Mile 1045: Rocky Ridge
“Rocky Ridge. Yes, the trail goes up this ridge. Climbing over 700 feet in less than 2 miles, this ridge caused a lot of problems for pioneer hand carts and wagons alike.
In 1856, the rescue of the Mormon Willie and Martin Handcart companies crossed this ridge. From the base of Rocky Ridge to Rock Creek took the parties over 27 hours to travel the roughly 15 miles, partially due to a winter blizzard and a lack of adequate clothing. The hand carts companies had to be rescued before this point as 21 individuals perished in the valley below.
This section of the trail is known as the “Trail of Blood.” While I would say it’s possible to traverse the entire South Pass section, from Sweetwater station to Farson, in a single day, it’s not a trek to be taken lightly. Be sure to have a water filter and/or treatment with you and keep an eye to the sky. The weather can change quickly as you’re around 7,000 feet of elevation and at the foot of the Wind River mountain range, which is the edge of the Teton mountains. Oh, and pack plenty of food. You may find yourself out there a little longer than you plan initially.”
[N.B. There are two markers: Rocky Ridge Lower Marker and Rocky Ridge Upper Marker. These are not on the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail. To see these, take a turnoff at about Mile 1045 1/32. The detour rejoins the Bikepacking trail just past Mile 1049.]
Slade's Ravenswood Home
“The Slades lived at the Virginia City Hotel until their first home, a frame house, was completed at Ravenswood, and they ate at the hotel and the Chinese restaurant. Kiskadden often made it a dinner trio, and after the Slades were settled at Ravenswood, where they lived only briefly, he often rode his horse out in the valley to be as dinner guest of his old friend and his striking, brunette wife.”
Mile 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.”
Jim Clyman on Hastings' Cutoff
“The wagon train grew quiet but this one fire was kept blazing – a carmine splash against the blue-velvet night, the desert stars near above it, the white bow of a wagon top behind, and, farther away, the singing of drunken Missourians at the fort and the screaming of drunken Sioux. [Jim] Clyman talked on. He knew Hastings’ plans, he knew what Hastings would tell these innocents near South Pass. And he had just crossed – with Hastings – from the bend of the Humboldt to Fort Bridger by way of the Salt Desert, Great Salt Lake, and the Wasatch Mountains. A Sioux yipped, the barking of coyotes ringed the sleeping caravan, and Jim told his listeners: take the familiar trail, the regular, established trail by way of Soda Springs and Fort Halt. Do not try a cutoff, do not try anything but the known, proved way. “It is barely possible to get through [before the snows] if you follow it-and it may be impossible if you don’t.” Shock and alarm struck the travelers and made them angry, who were still far short of South Pass, whose minds could map that weary angle from Fort Bridger to Fort Hall and back again to the Humboldt. Tense and bellicose, Reed spoke up (Jim records his words), “There is a nigher route, and it is no use to take so much of a roundabout course.” Reference to Lansford Hastings’ book, Jacob Donner’s copy bought at Springfield, back in the States, now scanned by firelight at Fort Bernard, a well-thumbed passage marked with lines. The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California, page 137: “The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; thence bearing west southwest to the Salt Lake; and then continuing down to the bay of San Francisco. ” Proved. And someone would spit into the fire.
(When Lansford Hastings wrote that passage he had never seen the Humboldt, or Great Salt Lake, or the Wasatch Mountains, or the Salt Desert; neither he nor anyone else had ever taken the trail here blithely imagined by a real-estate man who wanted to be President or mortgagee of California.)
Yes. But Jim has just traveled that route, and if they would save their skins, they will not take it, they will go by way of Fort Hall. “I . . . told him about the great desert and the roughness of the Sierras, and that a straight route might turn out to be impracticable.” Told him about the glare of the salt plain under sun and without water. Told him about the Diggers lurking outside the camps to kill the stock. Told him about the chaos of the Wasatch canyons which Jim Clyman and Lansford Hastings, who were on horseback and had no wagons and so no need of a road, had barely got through.”
The Emigrant Train
“These people were greenhorns : what the West came to call tender£ eet. Most of them were schooled in the culture that had served American pioneering up to now. The unfitness for the West of that experience shows at the beginning of the journey. The Oregon and California emigrants had a much harder time of it than they would have had if they had understood the conditions. They did not have to face the cholera that made the Gold Rush and certain later passages hazardous; or the Indian troubles that began in the fifties and lasted as long as there were Indians along the trail. But they experienced hardships, disease, great strain, and aimless suffering of which the greater part was quite unnecessary. The mountain men avoided it almost altogether.
We have already seen them breaking up and without trail discipline. A caravan of mountain men passing this way was an efficient organization. The duties of every member were stated – and attended to in an awareness that both safety and comfort depended on their being done right. The fur caravan was a co-operative unit, the emigrant train an uncohesive assemblage of individualists. The mountain men had mastered the craft of living off the country, finding grass and water, managing the stock, making camp, reading buffalo sign and Indian sign. All such matters were hidden from the emigrants, who besides were tired men at the end of any day and prone to let someone else do the needful tasks. So their wagons were not kept up, horses and oxens strayed, and many hours, counting up to many days, were squandered. This added to the delay and we have already seen them moving much too slowly even at the beginning of the trip. The passage must be made with the greatest possible speed consonant with the good condition of the animals – but the movers dallied, strolling afield to fish or see the country, stopping to stage a debate or a fist fight, or just wandering like vacationists. It was necessary to press forward, not only because the hardest going of the whole journey was toward the western end and would be far worse if they did not pass the mountains before snowfall, but also because every day diminished the food in the wagons, wore down the oxen by so much more, and laid a further increment of strain on man and beast. They lingered. And also, expert as they might be at living healthfully in the oak openings, they did not know how to take care of themselves here. The mountain men suffered bountifully from scalping but you seldom hear of one who is sick, and when you do he is suffering from a hangover or a decayed tooth. Whereas from the first days on, the emigrants are preyed upon by colds, auges, and dysenteries that are their own damned fault . . . All this has its part in the stresses put on human personality by emigration.
The train is moving along the Oregon trail. But the movement must not be thought of as the orderly, almost military procession of spaced wagons in spaced platoons that Hollywood shows us, and the trail must not be thought of as a fixed avenue through the wilds. The better discipline of the freight caravans on the Santa Fe trail did impose a military order of march. On the southern trail wagons moved in something like order ; in single file where the route was narrow, in columns of twos or fours when there was room for such a formation and it was needed for quick formation of the corral in case of Indian attack. Every night they were parked iu a square or circle, the stock was driven inside after feeding, guard duty was enforced on everyone in his turn. Wagons which had led a file OtJ. one day ( and so escaped the dust) dropped back to the end on the riext day and worked their way up again. Regular messes were appointed, with specified duties for everyone. Wood, water, herding, hunting, cooking, and all the routine of travel and camp were systematized and the system was enforced. But that was the profit motive; men with an eye on business returns managed it. And they had no problems of family travel and few of cliques.
Every emigrant train that ever left the settlements expected to conduct itself according to this tested system. None except the Mormons ever did. Brigham Young had a disciplined people and the considerable advantage that his orders rested on the authority of Almighty God – and even so, among a submissive and believing people on the march, he had constantly to deal with quarrels, dissension, rebellions, complaints, and ineffectiveness. Among the emigrants there was no such authority as God’s or Brigham’s. A captain who wanted to camp here rather than there had to make his point by parliamentary procedure and the art of oratory. It remained the precious right of a free American who could always quit his job if he didn’t like the boss, to camp somewhere else at his whim or pleasure – and to establish his priority with his fists if some other freeborn American happened to like the cottonwood where he had parked his wagon. Moreover, why should anyone take his appointed dust when he could turn off the trail? Why should he stand guard on the herd of loose cattle, if he had no cattle in it? . . . They combined readily but with little cohesiveness and subdued themselves to the necessities of travel only after disasters had schooled them. They strung out along the trail aimlessly, at senseless intervals and over as wide a space as the country permitted. So they traveled fewer miles in any day than they might have, traveled them with greater difficulty than they needed to, and wore themselves and the stock down more than was wise. They formed the corral badly, with too great labor and loss of time, or not at all. They quarreled over place and precedence that did not matter. They postponed decisions in order to debate and air the minority view, when they should have accepted any decision that could be acted on. Ready enough to help one another through any emergency or difficulty, they were unwilling to discipline themselves to an orderly and sensible routine.”
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.
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.]
Early Emigrant Messages in St. Joseph
“[Lodisa Frizelle, an emigrant who was supposed to meet her husband] put a letter in the post office for her husband to claim when he should arrive, telling where she might be found. The letter was nailed on the door, and each successive day more letters were nailed on top of it. When Mr. Frizelle finally arrived in St. Joseph there was no one at the post office who knew anything about the mail, and he hunted distractedly through the town, almost from house to house, with out any word of his wife. The next morning in desperation he went to the post office again, saw the collection of epistles nailed to the door, and tore every one off until he came to hers.”
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.'”
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.”
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.”
Rapidity of Change in the West
“The rapidity with which change now came to the West was illustrated only nine years later [in 1849], when startled Indians began to speak of emigrating eastward, unable to believe that many whites remained east of the Missouri River. For in the twenty years between the time Joel Walker set his face toward Oregon and Abraham Lincoln was elected president, approximately a quarter of a million overlanders had worn the trails to Oregon and California so deeply that in places the ruts are still visible. In that same period over 40,000 Latter-Day Saints traveled portions of those same trails to their Salt Lake valley refuge, and by 1860 thousands of expectant gold seekers were penetrating the Pike’s Peak region.”
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.
The Role of the Traitor
“The traitor-whose presence will be foregrounded if he exists, and invented if he does not-serves at least two purposes. First, he is a foil created to further heighten the noble or at least invincible character of the hero: only a treacherous shot in the back or a deceitfully planned ambush could defeat James/Bonney /Bass. Open and fair fights always end in the hero’s triumph. And then, his character is further glorified by this contrast with the deceitful adversary. The hero gains stature when he defeats enemies of stature; and he is also raised in our esteem when only “dirty little cowards” can gun him down from behind.”
“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.”
Atchison Becomes the Eastern Terminus
“[Due to] concern over riots and strong Southern sympathies in St. Joseph as well as with the new ownership and management, Atchison became the eastern terminus of the Pony Express. It was about fifteen miles further west, and by then, it was also served by the railroad and the telegraph.”
[N.B. re: ownership and management: “On April 26 , Russell was asked to resign [as president of California Overland Central and Pike’s Peak], and Bela Hughes became president of the C.O.C & P.P. Hughes was Benjamin Holladay’s cousin.”]
Freighters on Sighting Indians
“We had not been molested by Indians so far. We had met parties of twenty or thirty at diff erent times, but had been cautious. When they came riding near us, we would double up our train and prepare for them, and they would soon ride away apparently friendly. . . .
Monday morning we moved on. In the afternoon we saw quite a large party of Indians riding toward us. The boss stopped the head team and commenced to corral. The extra men came charging back, ordering us to corral as quickly as possible, for the Indians were coming upon us. Every man hurried his team up, and we got them corralled with the cattle inside. Then every man got his gun, and got inside the corral, ready for them, except Rennick and the mounted men.
But before the Indians got to us they began to slow up. They came up and appeared friendly. Whether it was because we were so well prepared for them or not, we never knew. They chatted awhile with the boss and rode off.”
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.”
“Our way led over a succession of grassy swells spaced at intervals with breezeless hollows. What a country to have traveled before the day of the graded road and the planted tree! Driving an ox team over these endless, rolling hillocks was a task from which the very imagination recoiled. However–this was July and the emigrants went through, each year, in May.
They 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 the harder varieties like great spillings of calcimine powders. Here. 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.”
“Tannery was the first technological process introduced into the Mormon Valley: hence all home industry has obtained the sobriquet of ‘Valley Tan.'”
“As has been said, in 1855, General W. S. Harney, who, whatever may be his faults as a diplomatist, is the most dreaded ‘Minahaska’ in the Indian country, punished the Brulés severely at Ash Hollow . . .
“‘Longknife.’ The whites have enjoyed this title since 1758, when Captain Gibson cut off with his sabre the head of Little Eagle, the great Mingo or Chief, and won the title of Big-Knife Warrior. Savages in America as well as Africa who ignore the sword always look upon that weapon with horror. The Sioux call the Americans Wasichi, or bad men.”
Expansionism in California
“It is not clear that Polk knew what he meant by it. Expansionism, North or South, included California, but this meant little more than a recognition of Monterey, where the trade in hides centered, and a lively realization of the geographical importance of San Francisco Bay. . . .
“Of all the vast space east of the Sierra it was impossible to know anything except for the records of the fur trade and the few trails scratched across the deserts – and it does not appear that anyone now in official life except Benton knew any useful part of this. Even the great valleys between the Sierra and the sea, even the genial, pastoral, hospitable life of the Californians were little known. As late as ’46 no detailed, dependable map of California existed. There were few trustworthy descriptions, in English, of any part east of the coastal towns. Newspapers published letters from shipmasters or their passengers who touched the coast – romantic, flamboyant, packed with fable and misunderstanding. The War Department had a handful of reports, fragmentary, in great part inaccurate, ignored by everyone but Benton: it is not certain that Polk had ever heard of them. There were half a dozen books: the President had not read them. Lately the State Department had made a shrewd and intelligent merchant, Thomas O. Larkin, consul at Monterey. His reports were the one dependable source of information.”
“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 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.”
“Besides the injustice to the manes and memories of the dead, this depreciation of the Indians tends to serious practical evils. Those who see the savage lying drunk about stations, or eaten up with disease, expect to beat him out of the field by merely showing their faces ; they fail, and pay the penalty with their lives an event which occurs every year in some parts of America.”
Life and Death on the Trail
“The guests formed a procession behind a fiddler and conducted Mr. and Mrs. Mootrey to the nuptial tent. A mile away they saw faint sparks moving by twos in another procession, torches lighting the dead boy’s body to its desert grave. A mile or so in the opposite direction still a third train was camped, and there at that same moment a dozen desert-worn women were ministering to one of their sisterhood who writhed and screamed under a dusty wagon cover. They did for her what centuries of old wives’ wisdom prescribed for those in travail, and in due time her child was born.”
Suckers and Pukes
“Through the magic of the Internet, we managed to find an 1854 volume called History of Illinois From Its Commencement as a State in 1818 to 1857, penned by “the late Gov. Thomas Ford” which promised a “full account of the Black Hawk War, the rise, progress and fall of Mormonism, the Alton and Lovejoy riots and other important and interesting events.”
It also explains the origin of the nicknames “pukes” and “suckers.”
First the suckers. Back in the late 1820s, migrant workers from southern Illinois began traveling up the Mississippi River in the spring to work in the Galena lead mines and then back down the river to their homes in the fall. This, the late Gov. Ford noted, mirrored the migratory patterns of “the fishy tribe called ‘Suckers.'”
But there’s another, less charitable though more interesting explanation. A “sucker” is a sprout off the main stem of a tobacco plant that sucks off nutrients and has to be plucked off so that the plant will thrive. The southern part of Illinois, the late Gov. Ford explained, was originally settled by poor Southerners who “were asserted to be a burthen upon the people of wealth; and when they removed to Illinois, they were supposed to have stripped themselves off from the stem of the tobacco plant, and gone away to perish like the stem of the tobacco plant.”
As it happened, the Galena mines were full of workers from Missouri, too, and they didn’t get along very well with the miners from southern Illinois. “Analogies always abound with those who wish to be sarcastic,” the late Gov. helpfully notes, and so the Missourians started calling the southern Illinoisans “suckers.” Think of it as a precursor to “hoosier.”
In retaliation, the suckers started calling the hated Missourians “pukes” because…well, let’s let the late Gov. explain because he does a far better job than we can.It had been observed that the lower lead mines in Missouri had sent up to the Galena country whole hoards of uncouth ruffians, from which it was inferred that Missouri had taken a “Puke,” and had vomited forth to the upper lead mines, all her worse population. From thenceforth, the Missourians were called “Pukes;” and by these names of “Suckers” and “Pukes,” the Illinoians and Missourians are likely to be called, amongst the vulgar, forever.
Sadly, when the time came to copyright their slogans, Illinois and Missouri went with the less-colorful Land of Lincoln and Show-Me State (though some of the legends around the Show-Me State nickname still aren’t especially complimentary toward Missourians), and apparently “Suckers” and “Pukes” were too vulgar for college football. The illustration of the puking Missouri pig is still charming, though.
“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.”
Mile 970: Independence Rock
“The great granite loaf of Independence Rock signaled temporary relief from the thirsty barrens, for it stands where the emigrant trail meets the Sweetwater River. Trail tradition held that reaching this milestone by the Fourth of July meant the emigrants would arrive safely in Oregon or California before early blizzards blew.
Independence Rock also marked the beginning of South Pass, for the pass was not just the single point where the trail crested the Continental Divide. It was, in the minds of emigrants, the entire 100- mile climb up the Sweetwater to the divide. “
Mile 190: George Winslow Grave Site
The George Winslow Grave site is located nine miles northwest of Rock Creek Station and is one of the famous gravesites on the Oregon Trail, Although historians have estimated that 30,000 persons died on the trail between 1842 and 1860 (an average of 15 per mile), the actual number of marked and identified gravesites remaining today is quite limited. Thus each positively identified and marked gravesite which has survived is respectfully honored. The George Winslow grave is one of these. Winslow died on June 8,1849, and his grave was marked by others of his company. Window’s sons returned to Nebraska in 1912 to erect a more permanent monument at the site, and the Winslow family still makes periodic pilgrimages to the grave.
George Winslow wrote a letter to his wife from Independence, Mo., May 12, 1849. Mrs. George Winslow gave it to her grandson, Carlton Winslow, in whose name it was presented to the Nebraska State Historical Society, together with an excellent copy of a daguerreotype of George Winslow, taken in 1849. In the letter he writes:
“My dear Wife: We have no further anxiety about forage: millions of buffalo have existed for ages on these vast prairies, and their numbers have been diminished by reason of hunters, and it is absurd to think we will not have sufficient grass for our animals. We have bought forty mules, which cost us $50 apiece. I have been appointed teamster, and had the good luck to draw the best wagon. I never slept better in my life. I always find myself in the morning on my bed, rather-flat as a pancake. As the darn thing leaks just enough to land me on the terra firma by morning, it saves me the trouble of pressing out the wind; so who cares?
My money holds out very well. I have about $15 on hand out of the $25 which I had on leaving. We engaged some Mexicans to break the mules. To harness them they tied their fore-legs together and threw them down. The fellows then got on them and wrung their ears which is the tenderest part. By that time they were docile enough to take the harness. The animals in many respects resemble sheep; they are very timid, and when frightened will kick like thunder. They got six harnessed into a team, when one of the leaders, feeling a little mulish, jumped right straight over the other one’s back.
I do not worry about myself then why do you for me? I do not discover in your letter any anxiety on your account; then let us for the future look on the bright side and indulge in no more useless anxiety. It effects nothing, and is almost universally the bugbear of the imagination.
The reports of the gold region here are as encouraging as they were in Massachusetts. Just imagine to yourself seeing me return with from $10,000 to $1,000,000.1 do not wonder that General Taylor was opposed to writing on the field, I am now writing on a low box, and have to ‘stoop to conquer’.
Your Loving Husband, George Winslow.”
On May 16 this company of intrepid men, rash with the courage of youth, set their hearts and faces toward the west and began their long overland journey to California, and by night had crossed “The Line” and were in Indian country. Though slowed by frequent rains and mud they made their way up the Kansas River. With mud sometimes hub deep, and broken wagon-poles as a hinderance they reached the lower ford of the Kansas, just below the Rock Island Bridge at Topeka on May 26th, having accomplished about 50 miles in 10 days. The wagons were driven onto flat boats and poled across by 5 Indians. The road then became dry, and they made rapid progress until the 29th, when George Winslow was suddenly taken violently ill with cholera. Two others of the party also suffered symptoms of the disease. The company remained in camp three days and with the sick seemingly recovered, it was decided to push on. Winslow’s brothers-in-law, David Staples and Bracket Lord, or his uncle, Jesse Winslow, were in attendance of George Winslow, giving him every care possible. His condition improved as they travelled and on June 6th they reached the place where the trail crosses the Nebraska-Kansas state line, Mr, Gould wrote:** “The road over the high rolling prairie was hard and smooth as a plank floor. The prospect was beautiful. About a half-hour before sunset a terrific thunder shower arose, which baffles description, the lightning-flashes dazzling the eyes, and the thunder deafening the ears, and the rain falling in torrents. It was altogether the grandest scene I have ever witnessed. When the rain ceased to fall the sun had set and darkness closed in.” (Their location was just east of Steele City, Jefferson County.)
To this storm is attributed George Winslow’s death. The next morning he appeared as well as could be expected, but by 3 o’clock his condition worsened, and the company encamped on Whiskey Run. He failed rapidly, and at 9 a.m. the 8th of June, 1849 he died. For George Winslow the trail ended here.
“The transportation of the mails overland before the completion of the railroad was considered impracticable by the Postmaster-general [Joseph Holt, Aaron Brown’s successor] because of their bulk. As dispatched semi-monthly they averaged ten tons. This amount he considered to be too large for overland transmission even when divided into semi-weekly allotments. The overland routes had been demonstrated as available for light mail and could be used in case of foreign war or such emergency, and now there was no further necessity for their extensive employment. He believed that the law of March 3, 1845, announced the proper principle in reference to mail contracts when it provided that contracts were to be tendered to ‘the bidder tendering sufficient guarantees for faithful performance, without other reference to the mode of such transportation than may be necessary to provide for due celerity, certainty, and security of such transportation.’ Inasmuch as this law was still in force, Holt announced that hereafter only ‘Star Bids,’ in conformity with the above law, would be invited. . . .
In the Post office Department files the lines upon which the service was performed with ‘celerity, certainty, and security,’ with no reference to the mode of conveyance, were marked with a star, hence the term ‘Star Bids.'”
The Stagecoach Experience
“The coaches were more comfortable [than freighting wagons] too. The Concord mail coach, the top of the line, was famous for its elegant design, its hand-tooled workmanship, and its suspension of heavy leather springs. Its models could seat six, nine, or twelve passengers inside; it could also accommodate as many as a dozen additional passengers on the coach’s flat roof in what the Concord catalogue called ‘relative comfort.’ . . .
Paying passengers quickly discovered that they were all second-class patrons next to the stagecoach’s most valued customer: the U.S. Mail. Although coaches carried little letter mail due to the high cost of postage, Congress in 1825 had authorized the free exchange of newspapers among publishers. This meant that frequently the ‘publication mail’ was so heavy and bulky that it was stacked on the floor of the coach, and the passengers had to arrange themselves among the mail stacks as best they could.”
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.”
Fastest Pony Express Time
“Perhaps the greatest feat of the Pony Express service was the delivery of President Lincoln’s inaugural address in record-breaking time. In order to surpass all previous performances, each horse along the line was led out from the different stations, and each traveled a stretch of only about 10 miles. Every precaution being taken to prevent delay, a transit was accomplished in the unprecedented time of seven days and seventeen hours over the 1,950-mile course.”
Woodson's Mail Contract to Salt Lake City
“Samuel H. Woodson won the first federal postal contract to provide monthly mail service over South Pass to Great Salt Lake City for $19,500 per annum on July 1, 1850. . . .
Woodson contracted with Mormon mail carriers Ephraim Hanks and Feramorz Little, Brigham Young’s nephew, to handle the service between Fort Laramie and Salt Lake . . . Bad weather trapped Little and an Indian assistant with the November mail in 1852. ‘They were lost for several days about South Pass, and struggled though the snow for almost a month. The two men eventually abandoned their horses, cached the bulk mail, and dragged some of the letters over the mountains. The route proved unprofitable, and Woodson abandoned the business early in 1854.”
California Gold and the Civil War
“It is a question whether the United States could have stood the shock of the great rebellion of 1861 had the California gold discovery not been made. Bankers and business men of New York in 1864 did not hesitate to admit that but for the gold of California, which monthly poured its five or six millions into that financial center, the bottom would have dropped out of everything. These timely arrivals so strengthened the nerves of trade and stimulated business as to enable the Government to sell its bonds at a time when its credit was its life-blood and the main reliance by which to feed, clothe and maintain its armies …. The hand of Providence so plainly seen in the discovery of gold is no less manifest in the time chosen for its accomplishment.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
In the eastern p0rtion of the United States the old-fashioned dug well was common to every home that did not have access to a living spring. It was from eight to thirty feet deep and was curbed with stone or brick or perhaps was without curbing. Water might be drawn from it “hand over hand” but usually it was drawn by means of a pulley suspended over the well by a heavy crossbeam attached to upright timbers. . . .
West of the ninety-eighth meridian comparatively tew such wells are found. The water lies too deep and the soil is too hard. The wells are sunk by drill, a hole six inches in diameter and anywhere from thirty to three hundred feet deep, and walled by sheet-iron casing. The bucket, also of metal, is nearly four feet long and three inches in diameter and is fitted with a float valve in the bottom to admit the water. If anyone ever looked on the water in such a well, he did it by use of a reflecting mirror. Ordinarily the bucket furnishes the only proof of its existence, and in actual practice that proof sometimes fails. Such were the typical wells of the East and the West. In the East they were handmade with pick and shovel; in the West they were bored by itinerant well-drillers, who moved their machines about from place to place as they plied their trade. . . .
It followed from the nature of the wells in the West, particularly their depth, that men had to devise new ways of raising the water to the surface. In the beginning great hope was nourished for the prospect of artesian wells, which were found in certain favored localities in Kansas, Texas, and elsewhere. The excitement over artesian wells ran high for a time, and bonuses were offered for every such well found. Extensive boring revealed that the possibilities of water from such a source were very limited, and men then turned to ground water. Here they were confronted with great depth on the one hand and a slow delivery on the other. It was a task to raise water from fifty to two hundred feet by hand, an almost impossible task where cattle were to be watered. Furthermore, because of the small capacity of the well it was desirable to raise the water as fast as it was available and at all hours. . . .
The windmill was adopted, adapted, and developed until it met all these requirements most admirably. It could be made at a cost ranging from $1.50 up, depending on whether it were home-made or shop-made; it would deliver a small amount of water day and night as long as the wind was blowing. Within a short time after its introduction the windmill became the unmistakable and universal sign of human habitation throughout the Great Plains area. As before stated, it was the windmill that made it possible for the land to be fenced in small areas and for the stockmen to cut their ranges up into pastures.”
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 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.”
An Indian for Breakfast
“‘An Indian for breakfast and a pony to ride’ was their [105 men who volunteered under Major Ormsby after the killings at William’s Station] slogan as the command started across the wastes toward Pyramid Lake.”
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]
“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).”
“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.”
Mile 1403: East Rush Valley/Pass/Five Mile Pass Station
The first Pony Express station in Tooele County, UT, is located in Rush Valley while heading west from Utah County toward Faust on Faust Road, which is also the original Pony Express Trail. Faust Road begins at Five Mile Pass on the county line between Tooele and Utah Counties, and ends at Faust near Vernon. East Rush Valley Station, built as a dugout, was listed by Howard Egan as being very active even though it is not identified as a contract station. The military road ran just to the south of the station, toward Vernon, and is still quite visible today.
Also called “No Name” or Five Mile Pass, this station’s stone monument out on the flats at the site is typical of those found at the location of Pony Express Stations all across western Utah. Not much is known about the structure which was here or its use. It was not listed as a Pony Express contract station. The monuments were constructed in the late 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the workers were stationed at a CCC camp at Simpson Springs, and left a legacy of monuments, trails, and other improvements around the region. Each monument featured two bronze plaques. One was a circular Pony Express Rider plaque, sculpted by A. Phimster Proctor. The other was rectangular, and gave information describing the nearby station. The plaques were provided by the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association. Most of the bronze plaques have been stolen, but in recent years the Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association has been working with the BLM to maintain these markers and to replace the round horse-and-rider plaques. . . .
Fike and Headley locate this dugout station ten miles southwest of Camp Floyd. Although the 1861 mail contract did not identify East Rush Valley as a station, it apparently received a lot of travelers from the military road just south of the site. Local people also knew the station as Pass and Five Mile Pass. In 1979, a depression identified the site where the dugout stood. Several other sources also list East Rush Valley as Pass Station, the Pass, and Five Mile Pass, located between Camp Floyd (or Fort Crittenden) and Rush Valley. In 1965, a monument with a plaque donated by the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers marked the station site. http://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/poex/hrs/hrs7a.htm#110
The Cattle Kingdom and the Code of the West
“The cattle kingdom was a world within itself, with a culture all its own, which, though of brief duration, was complete and self-satisfying. The cattle kingdom worked out its own means and methods of utilization; it formulated its own law, called the code of the West, and did it largely upon extra-legal grounds. The existence of the cattle kingdom for a generation is the best single bit of evidence that here in the West were the basis and the promise of a new civilization unlike anything previously known to the Anglo-EuropeanAmerican experience. The Easterner, with his background of forest and farm, could not always understand the man of the cattle kingdom. One went on foot, the other went on horseback ; one carried his law in books, the other carried it strapped round his waist. One represented tradition, the other represented innovation; one responded to convention, the other responded to necessity and evolved his own conventions. Yet the man of the timber and the town made the law for the man of the plain; the plainsman, finding this law unsuited to his needs, broke it, and was called lawless. The cattle kingdom was not sovereign, but subject. Eventually it ceased to be a kingdom and became a province. The Industrial Revolution furnished the means by which the beginnings of this original and distinctive civilization have been destroyed or reduced to vestigial remains. Since the destruction of the Plains Indians and the buffalo civilization, the cattle kingdom is the most logical thing that has happened in the Great Plains, where, in spite of science and invention, the spirit of the Great American Desert still is manifest.”
“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.”
Mile 890: BYX and Other Historical Facts
MORMAN SETTLEMENT: Anxious to obtain better mail service from the States, Hyrum Kimball, acting as agent for the Mormon BYX operation headquarters at Salt Lake City, was low bidder for a U.S. Postal contract to carry mail between western Missouri and that city. The contract was formally awarded October 9, 1856. Notice was not delivered until the following spring. Construction of a “Mail Station” at Deer Creek, south of present day Glenrock, began the following spring. Elder John Taylor reported on the progress on July 24, 1857 as fifteen acres of planted crop, a corral of 150 feet square made of logs 12.5 feet long with their ends dovetailed together near the top, a stack-yard of the same dimensions nearly completed and a fort of 320 feet square with a stockade enclosing 42 houses not yet completed. A survey plat prepared by Thomas D. Brown for the Mormons, dated July 11, 1857 showed the Trading Station, known as “Bissonette’s Trading Post, to be 3.5 miles to the north on the Oregon Trail. The project was never finished due to the U.S. Government issuing federal troops to march against Utah that very summer acting on rumors of a Mormon insurrection. Upon learning of Col. Albert Johnson’s advancing army, the Mormons withdrew from Deer Creek and returned to the sanctuary of the Salt Lake Valley.
TWISS INDIAN AGENCY: A major influence in shaping the decision of President Buchanan was a letter written by Major Thomas S. Twiss, Indian Agent for the Upper Platte District located at Fort Laramie. It read, “On the 25th May, 1857, a large Mormon colony took possession of the valley of Deer Creek, one hundred miles west of Fort Laramie, and drove away a band of Sioux Indians whom I had settled there in April.” He estimated the settlement contained “houses sufficient for the accomodation of five hundred persons…. He summed up by saying, “I am powerless to control this matter, for the Mormons obey no laws enacted by Congress.” No sooner had the Mormons left, than Agent Twiss penned a letter to Washington dated November 7, 1857, showing his return address as: “Indian Agency of the Upper Platte, Re: Deer Creek”. It began, “I have the honor to report that I have arrived at this post on the 29th and shall remain here for the present.” And remain, he did, conducting all the Indian Affairs business from his Deer Creek headquarters for several years thereafter, including the distribution of yearly annuities to various Indian tribes and entering into a treaty which would have made the Deer Creek Valley into an Indian Reservation had the treaty been ratified by Congress.
LUTHERAN INDIAN MISSION: Sharing the Twiss Agency were several missionaries who established an Indian Mission within its stockades, later building five structures 1.5 miles above the old fort. History records that these missionaries conducted the first formal Christmas ceremony in 1859 in what would later become Wyoming. Their efforts enjoyed only limited success and the mission was officially closed in 1867.
Growth of Trading Forts
“In 1840 Fort William [at the confluence of the Platte and Laramie Rivers], operated by the American Fur Company, was the lone American enterprise near the trails.
The next year, there were three. One, Fort Platte, still clearly reflected the fur-trade era . . . Constructed within two miles of Fort William, [Fort Platte] specialized in dispensing illicit whiskey to facilitate Indian trading. In response to this challenge, the American Fur Company promptly commenced a new adobe fort to replace the deteriorating Fort William. The proprietors designated the new structure Fort John but almost everyone called it Fort Laramie, by which name it became famous. The third post begun in 1841, Fort Bridger, was the first definite response to the emerging era of overland travel.”
Crossing South Pass
“The amount of earth and sky in view at once was rather appalling. Something familiar about the situation kept ringing a bell in my memory, and suddenly I audibly recalled the ‘tiny moving speck of humanity in the great, rolling waste of sage,’ without which no self-respecting western novel can get past its first page. Thus oriented into the picture, we went on slowly in approved style. . . .
In spite of its easy grades, the Rock Mountain chain at South Pass is quite a hurdle to cross. To the emigrants it was also a symbol, and many an Argonaut forgot his quest for gold and only remembered in these las few miles of the Atlantic watershed that the backbone of the continent would soon divide him from his family, perhaps forever.
As the teams drew near the top it became increasingly cold, and men shivered around the insufficient sagebrush fires at night thinking wishfully of the extra blankets they had thrown away. The encampment of Shoshones which the gold-seekers found near the top of the mountain got many requests for buffalo robes. . . .
Far to our left, on the rim of the pass, the Oregon Buttes raised their rugged crests. The name, when given, was descriptive, for in early trail days all the shaggy wilderness that lay between the mountain top and the mouth of the Columbia was Oregon. Before us, through the flat sage land, the great emigration road unrolled in an enormous ribbon one hundred feet wide. We paralleled its resistless onward sweep. The omnipotent Artist who created this mighty picture used bold stokes. The swelling summits on each side are too huge for detail . . .
So muc earth; so terrifically much sky; and so close together! The first few wagon trains across the God-given pass feel that they are squeezing between the two.”
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.”
Bridge Across the North Platte
“In 1851 Jean Baptiste Richard, a French mountain man, built a log toll bridge over the North Platte. In the spring of 1852, the snowmelt-charged river slapped it aside. Richard came back and built a better bridge, and soon put the Mormon ferries out of business. Richard and his partners had no need to go to California. They found gold in thousands of emigrant pockets right on the banks of the North Platte.”
Pony Express Temporarily Suspended
“On May 7, a band of Paiute Indians attacked a Pony Express station in the Carson Valley west of Salt Lake City, killing seven men and burning down the station house. The attacks spread over the next few weeks, forcing the closing of numerous stations west of Salt Lake City. On June 1 the Pony Express service was temporarily suspended until the route could be properly protected. . . . Eventually, at the request of several Congressmen, Secretary of War Floyd dispatched troops from Camp Floyd in Utah. But only after a bloody month-ling struggle—and an additional outlay of more than $75,000 by the Pony Express—were the Paiutes subdued and service restored on June 22.”
Droppings of the Lesser Redneck
“Interstate 80 swings well south of the emigrant trail through the Truckee Dunes today. Only the hiss of windblown sand disturbs the graveyard quiet now. Jeep tracks follow the trail across the dunes toward river. The remnants of the grim march, the bones and abandoned wreckckage, are gone-collected, decayed, or buried by the shifting sand. Modern artifacts are abundant enough, though, especially as you approach the Truckee River: beer bottles, moldering mattresses, rusted appliances—the detritus of the nearby towns of Wadsworth and Fernley. Shotgun shells (the droppings of the Lesser Redneck) abound as well. The Truckee Dunes, fossilized, will present future archaeologists with intriguing stratigraphy: bleached oxen bones and rusted wagon parts overlain by bullet-holed appliances and faded porno magazines—the stratigraphy of Manifest Destiny.”
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]
March to Fort Bridger
“When [Colonel Albert S.] Johnson at last joined the army [at Camp Winfield in November], he saw immediately that its present location would not suffice for winter quarters. Its only hope, he realized, was Fort Bridger, thirty-five miles away.
On November 6  began the desperate race for that sheltered valley before the animals failed completely. Intense cold froze the feet of the Dragoons on patrol and congealed the grease on the caissons axles. . . .The stock . . . died in such great numbers along the road that a soldier who followed the trail of the army in the summer of 1858 found carcasses of mules and oxen at every hundred steps. . . .
As Johnson suffered through this last stage of the 1857 campaign, is methodical nature caused him to investigate the army’s recent losses in order to ascertain its position. Three trains with 300,000 pounds of food, he knew, had been burned by the Mormons a month earlier. He learned also that the daring Porter Rockwell had stolen some 800 head of cattle belonging to Russell,, Majors & Waddell in the third week of October, and that another 300 animals had been run off by the Mormons just before the army left Ham’s Fork . . . [D]uring Alexander’s futile advance up Ham’s Fork and the final march to Fort Bridger, at least 3,000 head of cattle perished of starvation and cold. The military effectiveness of his force was badly impaired, too, for both batteries had only half their requisite number of horses and almost two-thirds of the Dragoons had no mounts at all.”
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.”
Take the Trail Where You Find It
“You’d better take your trail where you find it; and, if it’s easy for a while, you’re that much to the good. It’ll be tough enough later on, advised Dr. Neff practically.”
“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.”
Whore With a Heart of Gold
“A superficial look at women in the West did not reveal very much: the “whore with the heart of gold” (Julia Bulette in Virginia City, “Silverheels” in Montana, Mattie Silks in Colorado, Martha Camp in Panamint, etc.) and those women who attained their immortality because they could do masculine things and do them better than most men could: Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane, Belle Starr. But just beneath this surface are the stories and legends of a great many women-the martyred Narcissa Whitman, the sentimentalized “Baby Doe” Tabor, even Willa Cather, or the thousands of women whose names are not known to us but who commanded the “deference universally paid” them – and the roles women played in the history of the West were so varied and so full that it would be unfair to try and discuss them in a single chapter. The method of this book has been to construct composite narratives or to search for representative stories; either method would do a great injustice to women, especially if they were to be discussed only in a chapter on, say, “The Whore With The Heart of Gold.”
Mile 1160 to 1193: Hams Fork to Fort Bridger
“The wagons had various routes as the years went by, but these all tended to center near the confluence of Hams and Blacks Forks. Both the original trail and the later road from Lombard Ferry crossed Hams Fork first, just above the junction, and then negotiated the more difficult Blacks Fork which curved like a frightened snake as it hastened through the low sage. Its waters were swift, cool, and deep, and the wagons turned and followed up its south bank, sometime close to the stream but oftener out in the hot sage and choking dust. The abumdance of small green willows surprised the sage-accustomed cooks with very little fire and a terrific smudge—which was not without its uses, the mosquitoes being recorded as smaller than hummingbirds but decidedly larger than crickets.”
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.”
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.”
“The second [Pony Express] departure for California would be Friday, April 13, and regularly thereafter on Friday, to avoid a delay over the Sabbath of letters from New York and the East. . . .
“Letters would be received up to 3 o’clock Monday afternoon of each week, at the company office, Room No. 8, Continental Bank Bldg., and telegrams up to 7 o’clock Thursday evening at the office of the American Telegraph Co., 2 ó Wall St.”
Battle of Resaca de la Palma
“The action that followed was a good deal more of a battle. It is known as Resaca de la Palma. It was a fierce, bloody, and obstinate confusion in the underbrush, with the Mexicans fleeing here and charging there, the Americans doing likewise, and no one to do staff work or make order of the attack. Since no one above the platoon leaders could see far enough to exercise command, some pretty local duels developed. For a long time it was a near thing. The Mexicans rushed into the thorn bushes with an admirable fierceness and, less admirably, their cavalry charged artillery – and nearly took it. That seemed a good idea to Taylor and, to the horror of his staff, he ordered Captain May’s Dragoons to charge a Mexican battery. It was his principal contribution to the battle and, alas for the textbooks, it worked. Pretty soon the Mexicans, who had bent at one flank already, broke and ran. Fort Brown was saved and Taylor had won two battles.
Or his army had. Colonel Hitchcock, who was right about their commander, was proved wrong about the troops and they were entitled to the admiration which Lieutenant Grant accorded them. The American soldier had won his first battle against civilized troops since January 8, 1815, by the merits which tradition had emphasized, marksmanship, steadiness under fire, and individual initiative and courage. A good many subalterns who would be general officers in the Civil War had had their first taste of battle. And before the guns were swabbed the newspapermen were sending the news to the folks back home. The two engagements, Grant wrote, “seemed to us engaged as pretty important affairs but we had only a faint conception of their magnitude until they were fought over in the North by the press and the reports came back to us.”
Mile 1311-1322: Mountain Dell to Journey's End
“[From Little Mountain] Seven miles yet intervened between these recklessly intermingled people and the City of the Great Salt Lake, most of them in narrow, rock-bound brushy Emigration Canyon.
Between Emigrant Canyon and the city the wagons slowly filed past the spot, now called Journey’ End, where Brigham Young spoke the well remembered words, ‘This is the place.’ Just ahead the ‘City of the Saints’ spread before them, three miles in each direction.”
[N.B. This area is now called “This is the Place Heritage Park.”]
Mile 303: Summit/Sand Hill/Summit Springs Station
This area was possibly the driest and windiest section of the pull from the Little Blue to the Platte Valley. Summit Station may have been established in 1860 for use as a Pony Express Station. Joe Nardone (2008) refers to it as an “added station”. The station was abandoned after the Indian raids and never rebuilt. Frank Root in The Overland Stage to California (in Renschler, 1997)wrote:
The distance between thirty-two Mile Creek and the Platte is twenty-five miles. Summit the first station, was twelve miles. It was one of the most lonesome places in Nebraska, located on the divide between the Little Blue and the Platte . . .From its vicinity the waters flow south into the Little Blue and northeast into the west branch of the Big Blue. The surroundings for some distance on either side of the station represented a region of sand-hills with numerous deep ravines or gullies cut by heavy rains or waterspouts and dressed smoothly by the strong winds that have been blowing through them almost ceaselessly for untold centuries. Very little in the way of vegetation was noticeable at Summit or in the vicinity. It was a rather dismal looking spot. . . Necessity compelled the stage men to choose this location however, for the distance from Thirty-two Mile Creek to the Platte, twenty-five miles, was over a somewhat rough and hilly road, and it was too much of a pull for one team.
Because of land leveling for irrigation, the area today appears to be fairly smooth although the pull out of the little valley of the West Branch of Thirty-two Mile Creek would have been hard work.
Summit Station was first marked in 1935 by Hastings Boy Scouts under the direction of A. M. Brooking, Hastings Museum curator. The original marker was cement with a circular bronze plaque. In the 1973 the Adams County Historical Society erected a new marker at the site made from granite from the old Hastings Post Office foundation.
“Sand Hill” was located one and a half miles south of Kenesaw within the (SE corner of NEVi, Sec. 10, T.7N, R.12W), on the crest of the divide between the Little Blue and Platte River drainages. The name refers to the difficult sandy wagon road which called for double-teaming. This station also appears as “Summit Station” (Root and Connelley), “Water-Hole” in (Allen), and “Fairfield” in (Chapman’s interview with William Campbell), In 1863 it was described by Root as “one of the most lonesome places in Nebraska”. This station was another casualty of the Indian Wars of 1864.
—The Oregon Trail, Rock Creek Station, Nebraska to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, p. 5
Located at https://goo.gl/maps/kHMVZg4XtHRhTyxX6.
The Army Enters Salt Lake City
“A prerequisite to the establishment of any real peace in the Territory was the entrance of the army and its creation of a military camp without incident. On June 13 Johnston started his command on the road to the Mormon’s capital. Across Muddy Creek and Bear River the men tramped, then down Echo Canyon, its ramparts now deserted, and at last, on June 26, into the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, their objective for almost a year. . . . From his hiding place Robert T. Burton saw the first men arrive at ten o’clock in the morning and watched until the rearguard had passed through the empty streets at five-thirty in the afternoon.”
Mile 917: Upper of Mormon Ferry
“Twenty-eight miles from /Deer Creek was the Upper or Mormon Ferry on the North Platte, near modern Casper. The eaarliest travelers found it, of course, in a state of nature and were utterly dependent on their own efforts. Tradition tells us that the crossing selected in pre-prairie-schooner days was three miles down from the later ferry site.
It was a favorite with the Indians, who would make rafts of their lodgepoles, pile them with household goods and attach thongs of buffalo hide, with which swimming braves towed them across the river. The fur traders usually waited for a favorable day and crossed with their goods packed in bullboats, floating the heavy carts.”
Now, suppose you have three teams of horned steers, all yoked up and pulling your wagon along the Oregon Trail. Ford will point out that you still don’t necessarily have oxen. A true ox, he explains, is a steer (or cow or bull) “with an education.” The “ox degree” is conferred when the animal reaches full maturity at age four and is trained well enough to be called “handy.” “Now, handy means they’ll go anywhere you want,” Ford continues. “They’ll back up, they’ll go right, they’ll go left, they’ll spin back to the right, which is ‘back gee,’ and they’ll spin back to the left, which is ‘back haw.’”
The Need for Freight Wagons
“Moreover, no goods were manufactured west of the Mississippi; everything used there had to be shipped from the East. The manufacturing states east of the Mississippi routinely moved goods along navigable rivers, barge canals, and, increasingly, railroads; yet none of these conveniences existed west of the Mississippi. In that whole western expanse, only the Missouri River could be used by steamboats for any great distance, and the Missouri was hazardous as well as indirect. From St. Louis its path meandered 3,175 miles far to the northwest, so that even steamboats capable of braving its unpredictable shallows to its distant headwaters at Fort benton still found themselves at least 1,000 miles north of California or New Mexico or Salt Lake. In effect only one means existed for moving bulk supplies and heave machinery across the Great American desert: the freight wagon.”
“Lydia Waters came equipped with lemon extract and sugar and had an epicurean morning among the springs while her company lay over to recruit. She broke off some of the spongy yellowish deposit and took it with her. At first, she said, it had a color and texture like jelly cake; but in a week or so it turned pure white. Others, not prepared for the novelty of soda water, wondered how liquid could boil and not be hot. The very early wagon trains used it successfully in place of yeast.”
[N.B. Soda Springs is a landmark on the Oregon Trail, after the point where the Pony Express route separates and heads south toward Utah.]
First Appropriation for Overland Mail to California
“Bills authorizing an overland mail were introduced in Congress in 1855 and 1856, but they did not pass. On March 3, 1857, the Post Office Appropriations Bill, which bore an amendment authorizing an overland mail to California, became law. It provided $300,000 for a semimonthly service, or $450,000 for a weekly service, or $600,000 for a semi-weekly service.”
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.”
Mile 1059: Rock Creek Hollow
“Rock Creek Hollow. A stop along the trail that holds significance for the Mormon faith.
Mormons made the trek to Salt Lake City with only hand pushed carts. They could only carry about 25 lbs [250lbs?] of items on these carts total. The cost was a fraction of that of a wagon and oxen or mule team. They could also make the journey in far less time as they could move at a quicker pace.
Along this section of the trail, from Casper, one will find a number of Mormon monuments and campgrounds.
I came upon this one with 4 hours of daylight left but decided I would set camp. There is a bubbling stream that I filtered water from and sat and watched a storm brew at the base of the Wind River range.
One of the best nights I’ve ever had in the back country!”
“Bryant was right. The Sioux were big, tall, lithe, Roman-nosed Indians, among the most impressive of the tribes. As Clark Wisslet points out, it happens that most of our popular iconography of the Indians is Sioux – the Indian on the nickel, the war bonnet and lance and shield conventionally bestowed on all Indians, the characteristic dress, the characteristic tipis, robes, beadwork, etc. They got a good press early and have come to typify all Indians to most Americans. Probably the Indian most widely remembered in our time is Sitting Bull, who was a Hunkpapa Teton Sioux, and it was the Sioux who disposed of Custer.”
“As for the historical understanding of Western women, the perspective of the old Western history could have been capsulated in three stereotypes: “Molly, Miss Kitty, and Ma.” Molly, the Eastern schoolmarm in The Virginian, comes West to find “a man who was a man.” Miss Kitty, the enterprising but fallen saloon keeper of television’s long-running western series Gunsmoke. And Ma, the supportive farm wife in The Little House books of Laura Ingles Wilder. These stereotypes shaped not only hundreds of Western stories, images, and movies, but also what passed for history.”
Sage Brush Camp Fire
“When a party camps, the first thing to be done is to cut sage-brush; and in a few minutes there is an opulent pile of it ready for use. A hole a foot wide, two feet deep, and two feet long, is dug, and sage-brush chopped up and burned in it till it is full to the brim with glowing coals. Then the cooking begins, and there is no smoke, and consequently no swearing. Such a fire will keep all night, with very little replenishing; and it makes a very sociable camp-fire, and one around which the most impossible reminiscences sound plausible, instructive, and profoundly entertaining.”
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.”
“While I was in this open-minded condition, we saw a man in a shady farmyard with his feet in a pan of water.
‘There’s the most sensible person I’ve seen all day, exclaimed my husband as he punctiliously parked the car with its nose to the hitching rack. ‘Let’s go talk to him.’
We didn’t discommode him in the least. In fact, we didn’t even cause a splash in the pan when we leaned over his fence in an earnest, questioning row and listened to his laconic statements.”
The Call to the Mexican War
“Polk thought with admirable realism about tariffs, the treasury, and the routine of domestic policy. He thought with. astonishing shrewdness about the necessary political maneuvers of government. But he thought badly about war. He was willing to make war on either England or Mexico, if he should have to in order to accomplish his purpose. But he believed that if there should be a war it could be won easily, probably without fighting, and certainly without great effort or expense. Deliberately carrying twin torches through a powder magazine from March 4, 1845, to May 13, 1846, he made no preparation for either war. He had no understanding of war, its needs, its patterns, or its results. The truth is that he did not understand any results except immediate ones. He did not know how to make war or how to lead a people who were making war.
He was not, however, behind his nation or his colleagues in public life. A generation had lived and died since the last war, and the generation of the first war had not been dead quite long enough. The generations in between had had the spread-eagle em-Jtions of the expanding nation without any need to refine them under the test of fact. What was thought to be the Spirit of ’76 blazed across the entire country when word came of Thornton’s capture. Under the headline “To Arms! To Arms!” A True Yankee Heart wrote in the National Intelligencer an epitome of a thousand editorials, all of which came down to “Young men . . . fly to the rescue of your country’s rights, and save her brave little band from a savage foe! … now, my friends, is the time for you to show the world that you are all chips of the old Revolutionary block, that you are made of the true Yankee stuff even to the backbone …. Come out,* young men, one and all, and you will stand in bold relief before the world.” They came out by the thousand, before there was any organization to receive them, more than any organization could receive …. It was ’76 all over again in the people’s thought. Hardly aware of it, they had been spoiling for a war; here it was and the Americans could lick the world. They were all Washington. · Greene, Morgan, barefoot Continentals staining the snow of Valley Forge with their blood, foreheads bandaged, banners tattered, tootling a fife in a heroic painting.”
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.”
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.”
“From this time [along the Platte River] we began to travel in earnest, sixteen to twenty miles a day—’only,’ one unacquainted with ox-teams might add; but this distance is quite as much as cattle are fit to continue at. Their pace being seldom over two miles an hour, a journey took from morning till night, for small accidents often occur, and a large train is greatly delayed by any bad place in the road, as the foremost waggons cannot go on ahead but must wait for the rest to come up.
Desertion having made drivers scarce, I again had a team; three yoke, being new cattle, were only unchained, not unyoked, at night for some time.”
Breaking Wild Mules
“The average freighter could not afford the time to gentle his animals slowly before introducing them to harness; as a result, the breaking of wild mules was a rough process that sometimes ended in the loss of expensive animals. The unbroken mules were roped, snubbed up close to the wagon wheels, and starved for twenty-four hours. Then a team was hitched to a heavy wagon and whipped when they would not pull and whipped even harder when they ran. After an hour or so of bewilderment, plunging, and kicking they became tractable and were ready for work.”
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.”
The Pawnee came under the influence of the missionary frontier after 1833. The Reverend John Dunbar and Samuel Allis served as mis- sionaries to the Pawnee from 1834 to 1846. Their intentions, explicitly stated to the Pawnee in 1834 were “to tell them about God to teach them our religion and to learn their children to talk on paper like the white man does.” . . .
Stereotypically, they praised the Pawnee for their generosity and no- bility, while at the same time condemning them as savages: “they are a kindhearted liberal people,” wrote Dunbar, “but they are heathen, darkminded heathen.”
Winter Range for Oxen
“About the mid-century . . . it was found that [oxen[ could be wintered on the free grass of the western ranges and would fatten in the process. . . . Alexander Majors made it a regular practice to winter much of his stock on the Laramie Plain or along the Chugwater River in central Wyoming. . . .
[T]wo seasons of work were all that was expected of the oxen.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 937: Rock Avenue
“We left Poison Spider about the middle of the morning, heading for the next landmark, Rock Avenue. It proved satisfyingly true to its advanced advertising—a hideous stretch of deformed rock strata bursting jaggedly from the torn earth—and formed a real point of interest for the travelers in the midst of the sprawling sage-studded grayness. We left the car to look it over. A pushing wind flowed like swift, deep, warm water across the plateau. Its force on the west side of the upthrust points of rock was surprising. It was difficult to walk or even breathe when facing it. . . .
From Rock Avenue the wagons rumbled down a steep pitch into a six-mile stretch of intermittent alkaline puddles and swamps. The animals were thirsty, and this hodgepodge of impossible water was torture. Steaming marshes alternated with pestilent pits of semifluid that shook and smelled like spoiled neat jelly. Mineral springs of complicated parentage comprised salt, soda, and sulphur exuded warm and indescribable odors. Some, if undisturbed, lay clear and brandy-colored. The loose stock got into these and often died as a result, although the antidotes for alkali poison had the merit of being simple. Gobs of bacon pushed down the gullet with a blunt stick and swigs of vinegar saved many—temporarily at least, for these weakened cattle fell easy victims to the rarified air of the mountains just ahead.”
[N.B. Rock Avenue seems to run between miles 937 and 938. More info and description of the are is here.]
The West's Contribution to the Union
“[Abraham Lincoln] viewed the region and its mineral wealth as vital to the Union cause. It was a keen insight, and during the war California’s mines contributed $185 million to help finance the war, with Nevada adding another $45 million.
One of Lincoln’s forgotten achievements was ‘to organize the entire West into viable political units, each with a government that was loyal to the Union.’ This led to the creation of Dakota, Colorado, and Nevada territories in 1861, Idaho in 1862, Arizona in 1863, and Montana in 1864. These territories, Lincoln said in 1864, would soon be prosperous enough to be admitted to the Union as states.”
The 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.'”
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.”
“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.”
Mile 939: Clayton's Slough
West of Rock Avenue on the Oregon Trail in what’s now central Wyoming, emigrants came to an odorous, swampy place where their livestock often got stuck in the mud and risked poisoning if they drank the alkaline water.
William Clayton, diarist for the first Mormon pioneer company in 1847 and author of a guidebook to the trail published a year later, called it Alkali Swamp; other travelers called it Alkali Spring. A more recent historian in Casper, Wyo., the late Lee Underbrink, amused by the disgust Clayton’s journal expressed for the site, dubbed it Clayton’s Slough.
“It is strong of salt or rather saleratus and smells extremely filthy,” Clayton wrote June 19, 1847, of one of the two small streams that join at the place. “Its banks are so perfectly soft that a horse or ox cannot go down to drink without sinking immediately nearly overhead, in thick, filthy mud, and is one of the most horrid, swampy, stinking places I ever saw.”
So miry was the place that men, mules and oxen often got badly stuck.
August 13, 1843, was very hot, diarist Theodore Talbot wrote, and one man, leading a horse and mule and spying the little stream, turned off to give them a drink.
“We had hardly reached it,” wrote Talbot, “when he suddenly found the ground giving way under him, alarmed at so unusual an occurrence which appeared nothing less than a special and pressing invite to the company of his very Satanic Majesty, he retraced his steps pretty nimbly, once more reaching Terra Firma safe and sound.”
Not so the horse, Old John, nor Jane the big-headed mule, Talbot wrote. “On looking round he could see but the nose of the one, and the head of the other floating round in a sort of white, semi-fluid lake.” The man called for help, other men brought ropes and after much pulling and hauling, with some of the men partly sinking in as well, “forth came the two animals, looking exceedingly miserable and covered with a white coat, which grew hard very rapidly in the air. This little incident, together with [Thomas] Fitzpatrick’s heartfelt regrets that the trio, mule, horse and man, alike worthless, hadn’t gone to _____ in a family party, afforded much amusement to the rest of the men, at Sam Neal’s expense.”
On current maps the little creek of alkali water coming from the northwest is named Poison Spring Creek. Ironically, this is the creek that Clayton says was of “not very bad water,” while the much smaller stream, now unnamed, coming from the southwest, was much more alkali, so much so that according to Clayton, “the cattle wouldn’t drink it.”
Any parties unlucky enough to camp at the spot had to post guard at night to keep the animals away from the muck.
“The grass was tolerable but we had to keep a guard with the mules all the time to keep them from swamping in the spouty places,” James Pritchard wrote on June 13, 1849. “A man would sink to his neck instantly. Several of the men fell in during the night. I saw 5 head of Oxen sunk down to their hornes, and their owners had to extricate them by attaching ropes to their heads & pulling them out.
Some men and livestock did drink the water, as they had just come more than 20 miles from the last good water at the North Platte, and were very thirsty.
During the peak years of the California gold rush, 1849-1852, the water seems to have become entirely unfit for use. Emigrant accounts testify to the dozens of dead and dying animals around the slough and all along the road the next four miles to good water at Willow Spring—and beyond.
“All along the road lay ox after oxen dead,” wrote Patrick McLeod June 26, 1849. “Within a few miles of the spring lay dead 4 yoke of oxen killed by lightning. They lay as they stood in the yokes– two by two– twas a sorrowful sight.”
Eleven days later, emigrant Charles Darwin—no known relation to the famous naturalist—reported he “saw in one place where a whole team of eight had fallen in the yoke & died in their tracks,” apparently the same ones McLeod had seen earlier. But they were by no means the only ones. “Dead oxen marked all the road & no mile but offended the nostril with its effluvia. At one of those springs being very thirsty I was strongly tempted to drink but [it] seemed prudent to enquire of some wagon camped there who told me it was poison,” Darwin wrote.
The swamp itself is apparently much diminished since trail days. It is now partially filled in by road construction, and it’s likely that the two streams converging to form the swamp run far less water than they did during the trail era. An earlier road crossed directly over the slough where a few bridge pilings are still visible now.
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.'”
The Chicago Wagon
“In the early days of freighting to Salt Lake Valley, it was thought that a round trip could not be made in one season. There was in addition a great demand in the valley for wagons that were adaptable to farm use. As a result, the salt Lake freighters used the ‘Chicago’ wagon with a bed twelve feet in length, three and one-half feet in width, and eighteen inches in depth, and a carrying capacity of twenty-five hundred to thirty-five hundred pounds, usually drawn by three yoke of oxen. On arriving in Salt Lake City, the freighters sold the wagons, all accessories, and the draft animals. A wagon that cost $120 in the States brought $500 in Salt Lake City. On the other hand, the trail-worn cattle sold at a heavy discount.”
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.”
“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 . . .
Overlander Predisposition Toward Indians
“Reports of depredations, whether accurate or not, combined with the guidebook advice, predisposed overlanders toward treating all Indians with suspicion and distrust. . . . Thus primed, overlanders were responsible for many incidents which, while often humorous, were sometimes deadly. While these usually occurred at the inception of the journey, all along the trail forty-niners and subsequent overlanders shot at one another, at their own oxen, mules, horses, and sheep, at saddles and blankets, at elk, and even at pelicans. All had been mistaken for marauding Indians.”
Diseases on the Trail
“The gamut of contagious diseases associated associated with childhood are indicated as causes of adult death on the Trail: whooping cough, measles or vareloid, mumps, and smallpox. Other serious conditions often reported are ‘pneumonia or lung fever’ and malaria, identified also as ‘fever and ague.’ The common cold or it symptoms were much in evidence, but the most common non-fatal afflictions were internal disorders variously identified as ‘derangements of the liver or kidney,’ ‘bilious complaints,’ ‘inflammation of the bowels,’ summer complaints,’ ‘the ailment incidental to travel on the Plains,’ or just plain dysentery or diarrhea (spelled, of course, at least fifteen different ways). . . . Philura Vanderburgh’s father had a standard remedy for this condition: ‘Fill a saucer with brandy, sugar and mutton tallow.’
Among miscellaneous sicknesses reported are ‘congestion of the brain,’ delirium tremens,’ hydrophobia, bloody flux, intestinal inertia, inflammatory rheumatism, vertigo, and mountain fever, the last probably a western variant of dysentery. The agony of tootjache, sometimes relieved by opium or amateur extractions, was another frequent phenomenon pf the prairies.”
“The idea behind Fort Kearny had its genesis in the 1844 report of the Secretary of War, recommending the construction of a chain of military posts from the Missouri to the Rockies to protect the Oregon migration. An act of Congress in 1846 authorized such posts and the creation of an Oregon Battalion., the Regiment of Mounted Volunteers. This led to the encampment at Table Creek [on the Missouri River] which soon proved to be a gross error in geographic judgment, and, on June 1, 1847, the War Department directed that an alternate military station be established ‘near Grand Island where the road to California encounters the Platte River.’ . . .
By May 1 Table Creek was abandoned, and by June all officers and men of the Missouri Volunteers had arrived at the ‘Head of Grand Island’ to erecy the ‘1st military station on the route to Oregon.'”
When Ford demonstrates the historical method for yoking a well-trained team, he places his oxen—in this example, Thor and Zeus—side by side in the driving position. Standing beside the team, he tells the ox on the left, or nigh side, “Move your head, Thor,” and Thor responds by swinging and holding his head far to the left. With the nigh ox’s head out of the way, Ford steps in front and places the beam over the neck of Zeus, who is standing on the right, or of side. He lifts the other end of the yoke up over the nigh ox’s neck and tells him, “Move your head, Thor,” and Thor returns his head to the natural forward position. The beam now rests on the team’s necks. Ford fts the bow under the neck of the of ox, Zeus, and secures it with a pin, then repeats the process with Thor. “This process is done very quickly and is very spectacular for the novice to watch,” he says, “since it shows the degree of exact obedience the properly trained ox team has, and it is done with a surprisingly small amount of effort on the part of the drover.”
“Near Dallas, almost on the Missouri-Kansas state line, stands the settlement known in trail days as Little Santa Fe. The dragging bull trains returning from the summer trade in Mexico reached it a full day before arriving at Independence; and the thirsty packers sought relief without too much regard as to whether they drank real liquor or the pink-elephant mixture of new whisky and molasses known as skull varnish.”
“The word Brulé, which is a French word, means ‘sun-burnt’ ; it was derived from the Indian name which in the Indian tongue meant ‘burnt-thighs.’ Their thighs exposed to the sun were sunburned in their constant riding on horseback. The words meant more than at first appeared; for, Indians who walked on the ground did not get their thighs burned more than other parts, especially as the Indians went practically naked when the sun was hot. Hence the words ‘burnt-thighs’ meant that the Brule Indians were riders; that they belonged to the cavalry, that is, the Chivalry ; in other words, they were of the equestrian class. The words constituted a boast that they were better than others and were the Rough-Riders of the plains. Such was the tradition of the name.”
Adjusting to the West
“It was the end of August, and the skies were cloudless and the weather superb. In two or three weeks I had grown wonderfully fascinated with the curious new country, and concluded to put off my return to ‘the States’ awhile. I had grown well accustomed to wearing a damaged slouch hat, blue woolen shirt, and pants crammed into boot-tops, and gloried in the absence of coat, vest and braces. I felt rowdy-ish and ‘bully,’ (as the historian Josephus phrases it, in his fine chapter upon the destruction of the Temple). It seemed to me that nothing could be so fine and so romantic.”
Mile 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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
“Tired out and cramped with cold, we were torpid with what the Bedouin calls El Bakl—la Ragle du Désert, when part of the brain sleeps while the rest is wide awake.”
Pony Express Operating Deficit
“No expenses had been spared to assure the Pony’s success: it had cost about $100,000 to set up. Yet unlike the Central Overland stage line, the Pony Express had no government mail subsidy; its only revenues came from the $5 fee it charged per letter. This charge brought in only about $500 a day, while the Pony’s expenses were at least twice that amount. Above and beyond its exorbitant startup costs, the Pony Express was losing between $15,000 and $20,000 per month.”
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.”
The Decision to Emigrate
“It is interesting to look at the decision to emigrate to Oregon or California in the light of the legal model of husbands’ power. In their diaries and recollections many women discussed thew ay in which the decision to move was made. Not one wife initiated the idea; it was always the husband. Less than a quarter of the women writers recorded agreeing with their restless husbands; most of them accepted it as a husband-made decision to which they could only acquiesce. But nearly a third wrote of their objections and how they moved only reluctantly.”
Mile 1437: Simpson Springs
“Passing out of Skull Valley, we crossed the cahues and pitch-holes of a broad bench which rose above the edge of the desert, and after seventeen miles beyond the Pass reached the station which Mormons call Egan’s Springs, anti-Mormons Simpson’s Springs, and Gentiles Lost Springs.
Standing upon the edge of the bench, I could see the Tophet in prospect for us till Carson Valley: a road narrowing in perspective to a point spanned its grisly length, awfully long, and the next mail station had shrunk to a little black knob. All was desert : the bottom could no longer be called basin or valley: it was a thin fine silt, thirsty dust in the dry season, and putty-like mud in the spring and autumnal rains. The hair of this unlovely skin was sage and greasewood : it was warted with sand-heaps ; in places mottled with bald and horrid patches of salt soil, while in others minute crystals of salt, glistening like diamond-dust in the sunlight, covered tracts of moist and oozy mud.”
The Great American Desert
“The language of the maps shows that the Great American Desert existed in the records from 1820 until 1858. The popular concept of the desert had existed in the written records for two hundred and eighty years before that time, i1 and in published accounts and in the public mind it continued to live until after the Civil War. The fiction of. the Great American Desert was founded by the first explorers, was confirmed by scientific investigators and military reports, and was popularized by travelers and newspapers.”
Causes of the Utah War
“On January 27, 1858, the House of Representatives requested President Buchanan to furnish it with information concerning the war in Utah. At the moment the expedition which had been sent to the Territory six months earlier was huddled in tents and other makeshift shelters near Fort Bridger, with the snows and cold of a mountain winter shutting it off from entrance into the Salt Lake Basin or even from reinforcements across the Plains. . . .
In obedience to the congressional mandate cabinet members searched their files, and in due time the President was able to submit a bulky dossier of official correspondence and private communications accusing the Mormons of objectionable activities over a period of many months. The collection was a hodge-podge of both significant and irrelevant material . . .
To exclude extraneous elements from the causes of the Administration’s warlike policy toward Utah, one must first discover when its decision was reached. It is a difficult task, for Buchanan kept his purposes secret as long as he could. . . . [though] it is probably that his decision came on or about May 20 . . . .
Whatever the explanation given after the event, the Administration had unquestionably come to the conclusion in May 1857 that Utah’s defiance of the United States demanded stern measures. . . .
In assessing the factors that led to the ordering of armed forces to Utah, one is well advised to observe the part played by ignorance and misinformation. . . .
The view of Utah’s population in the East during 1857 was of a people oppressed by religious tyranny and kept in submission only by some terroristic arm of the Church. . . .The Saint, these non-Mormons falsely reasoned, would . . . welcome [the army] with open arms . . .
It would not have been difficult for Buchanan to inform himself of the situation in Utah. . . . [but] he had not even inquired into the facts before angrily seeking to punish the people of Utah. As a result he later found himself in the embarrassing position of sending the army in 1857 and a peace commission in 1858, instead of performing these actions in a reverse order.”
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.”
“Before starting, the bullwhackers were divided into messes of five or six men each, one of whom served as cook. The others took care of his oxen for him. Each was expected to have a ‘chip sack’ attached to the side of his wagon into which he tossed buffalo chips or other fuel which came his way during the day. Equipment for cooking was simple and limited to a pot or two, a skillet, a coffeepot, and a Dutch oven for baking bread. Each man had an iron knife, spoon, fork, tin cup, and a plate which he washed and scrubbed with sand after each meal.”
” He proved himself a first-rate wilderness commander, learning his new trade from two of its masters, Kit Carson and Tom Fitzpatrick. He traveled little country that his instructors had not had by heart for twenty years, blazed no trails, though the Republicans were to run him for the Presidency as the Pathfinder, and did little of importance beyond determining the latitude and longitude of many sites which the mountain men knew only by experience and habit. But he learned mountain and desert skills well, was tireless in survey and analysis, and enormously enjoyed himself.”
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.”
Brigham Young Express Company
“[A]s early as February  meetings were held in the Salt Lake City Tabernacle for the purpose of organizing a company to transport mail and freight. In one meeting Brigham Young offered to take stock in the concern and equip three hundred miles of the line himself. Others became interested and Brigham Young Express Company was launched. One important item in the plan was to form settlements along the line where reserve animals could be kept, and weary travelers could rest if they wished to do so. To the Mormons these stations would have been of incalculable benefit, for the tide of immigration to Salt Lake Valley was running high at that time. Plans for all these things were pushed with vigor until the severe winter of 1856 compelled a halt to the work. It was begun again in 1857 but was terminated by the forwarding of United States troops to Utah.”
“[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.”
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.'”
“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 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.”
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.]
Mile 708: Horse Creek Station
“This unassuming waterway [Horse Creek] is entwined with the history of the national historic trails. In 1851, it was the location of a historic conference where nearly 10,000 American Indians, representing over a half dozen tribes, met with U.S. government representatives. The result was a treaty that helped to protect emigrants and the trails they used. Later, in 1860, the creek was home to a Pony Express relay station, which was built on its west bank.”
Overland Travel During the 1850s
“The new decade thus dawned with the army firmly situated at three sites adjacent to the Oregon Trail—Forts Kearny, Laramie, and Drum . . . This permanent federal presence materially altered the pattern of overland travel during the remainder of the 1850s. Most obvious was a substantial increase in trail traffic since vast quantities of supplies were constantly freighted to the various forts. Further, with reinforcements, troop rotation, and official inspections a part of the normal routine of military life, there was a great deal of military movement on the trails unrelated to escorts, patrols, or punitive campaigns. The need for swift and reliable communication between military posts virtually guaranteed that a more effective postal service would be forthcoming. Finally, the inevitable ‘supply’ towns quickly appeared near the permanent forts, conveniently providing the soldiers—and all passing travelers—with opportunities to spend their money on such things as liquor, gambling, and carnal pleasures.”
Difficulties Faced by Chorpenning
“The actual difficulties to be surmounted, and the dangers, real and fancied, that beset the whole line, are too numerous to recount, and beyond the powers of imagination to correctly paint. In the winter, upon that portion of the route which passes over the Sierra, the snow fell from fifteen to twenty feet on a level, and in the cañons and mountain gorges drifted to the depth of forty or fifty feet. In the spring the Carson and Humboldt Valley’s were sometimes flooded, and swimming was the only means of passage, as there were no bridges. From Stone-house Station, east, the whole country was infested by bands of hostile Indians.”
Mile 1165: Ham’s Fork Pony Express Station
Granger Stage Station State Historic Site/Ham’s Fork Pony Express Station Locale (Granger, Wyo.) was an original stagecoach station built by the Ben Holladay Stage Company in 1862. It later was purchased by Wells Fargo and continued to function as a stage station through the early 1870s. A Pony Express marker commemorates the long-gone Ham’s Fork Pony Express station that stood about a half-mile away, south of the river.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Routes to the Pacific Coast
“From 1849 through 1860 approximately two-thirds of travelers bound for the Pacific Coast chose some other route than that through South Pass. Some 9,000 forty-niners and lesser numbers in subsequent years traveled over the co-called southwestern trails to California, a term incorporating such routes as the Santa Fe, Gila, and Spanish Trails. Farther south were several gold rush routes across Mexico. Approximately 15,000 argonauts toiled across these trails in 1849 and again in 1850; by then the hardships of the route had been sufficiently publicized so that relatively few followed in later years.
Still farther south were the well-traveled isthmian crossings of Nicaragua and Panama. In the mid-1850s, the Nicaraguan route almost superseded the Panamanian route in popularity, but entrepreneurial competitions and William Walker’s ill-advised filibustering expedition closed the route in 1857 after 56,811 westbound travelers had crossed since its 1851 opening. A mere 335 travelers inaugurated the Panama crossing in 1848, but by 1860, 195,639 had traveled to san Francisco via panama, only a few thousand less than had traveled over the California Trail during the same period.
The other major route option—in 1849 the most popular choice next to the South Pass overland trail—was the long sea voyage around Cape Horn. Nearly 16,000 gold seekers reached San Francisco by this route in 1849, almost 12,000 in 1850, and declining numbers in subsequent years.”
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.”
“[F]or the most part along the Platte a camp fire developed from the ubiquitous dried droppings of the buffalo, sometimes called dung or manure, but more commonly called ‘buffalo chips.’
The reaction of easterners, particularly the ladies, was predictable. At first they found the chips nauseous, but they rapidly learned to accept, the welcome, this aromatic fuel of the Plains. The stuff would not burn when wet, of course, but when perfectly dry, W. McBride found it resembled rotten wood, making a clear, hot fire. Since it burned rapidly, it took two or three bushels of chips to heat a meal, and Cramer found that the chief objection to its use, therefore, was ‘the vast amount of ashes which it deposits.’ Often an unusual concentration of chips would dictate the selection of a camp; more often, a camper had to cover a lot of teritory, as Lavinia Porter says, to get a supply.”
“[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.”
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.
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]
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 . . .”
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.]
Cost of Livestock
Draft animals were the single most expensive component of an overland Ford draws on his historical knowledge of the period to point out the economics of buying stock. “In 1847, [when the Mormon pioneers crossed the plains to Utah], horses cost fve times as much as oxen,” he explains. “A team of two horses would have cost $100. A team of two oxen would cost $20 in the early to mid-1840s. A team of two mules, which were much more in demand [by the army], would cost $150 to $125.”
Of course, livestock costs rose and fell with demand. Historian John Unruh reported that the price of a yoke of oxen at Independence jumped from $25 in 184 , when approximately 2,700 people headed west, to $ 5 in 1849, when 25,450 emigrants made the trip. Randolph Marcy, a U.S. Army ofcer and author of The Prairie Traveler, a popular guide to the overland trails, wrote in 1859 that a six-mule team cost around $ 00, whereas four yoke of oxen (the number often recommended in published emigrant guides) could be purchased for about $200. In addition, neck yokes and chain for four yoke of oxen cost only about $25, whereas harnesses for four to six spans (pairs) of mules or horses ran hundreds of dollars. . . .
According to the online historical currency converter MeasuringWorth.com, $200 in 1859 dollars is the approximate equivalent of $5,700 in 2014, and $ 00 would have a value of about $17,100 in today’s dollars.
Army of the West on the Plains
“They left the high grass behind and timber with it, so that part of the duty of the soldier was to collect buffalo chips during the last hour of marching. This was another strangeness and some thought the fires stank abominably but others found that they gave a welcome tang to the salt pork and corned beef. So many things were strange: jack rabbits, antelopes, and especially the buffalo, the great legend now gaped at by these rural youths, who tried to hunt it and some times succeeded. The country was unimaginable, plains on a scale they had not dreamed of diminishing one to a dot that seemed to travel on the bottom of a bowl, the vast heave of the swells that seemed like the swells of the ocean they had read about, many miles long. Most of all the sun. Missouri sun is nothing amateurish but the sun of the plains flattened the life in you, filled your eyes with the color of blood, and baked you to the bone with sudden overheated winds and violent dust storms making it worse. The boys kept going and began to stink.”
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.”
The Nauvoo Legion
“In Missouri, before Joseph Smith had decided that resistance to the Gentiles would only result in massacre of this people, the Saints had formed an irregular army and had fought small engagements with their enemies. once established in Nauvoo, Smith created a more potent militia. . . .Chartered by the Illinois legislature at a time when the state’s political parties sought the votes of the Mormons, the Nauvoo Legion soon became an impressive force of some 5,000 men. Indeed, it grew so formidable that the legislature repealed the charter in 1845, the Gentiles of both parties now fearing that the Saints had more aggressive intentions than mere self-protection. . . .
By April 1849 the new Nauvoo Legion had been officially constituted, and provision made for it in the constitution when later the Mormons established their state of Deseret. By law the Legion included all able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, with a unit called the Junior Rifles for the youth and the Silver Greys for those beyond the maximum age.”
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 1502: Willow Springs Station
“A great deal of controversy has arisen over the location of the Willow Springs Station. Descriptions given by Nick Wilson (an Express rider) and Sir Richard Burton do not describe the location of the place now claimed to be the station site. A foundation, identified tentatively by the authors as dating to the proper period and similar to the structure depicted in the sketch from an 1868 photograph, has been found at the spot where an 1882 survey plat locates the Willow Springs Stable. This structure, located on the Dorcey Sabey property, is approximately 100 feet northeast of F. J. Kearney’s boarding house. This facility is about 3/4 mile east of the structure popularly known as the station house. Further archaeological investigations are necessary to establish the true location of the station.”
“For two years during their exodus from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons occupied a way-station known generally as Winter Quarters. . . .
“At the time of the Mormon exodus, the federal government was attempting to protect the tribes living in the Missouri Valley from the degrading effects of American expansion, which was just then assuming major significance on the plains. These so-called border tribes inhabited both sides of the Missouri River and were in a delicate position, being located between the expanding settlements to the east and the powerful Plains Indians to the west. On the east bank of the Missouri River near Council Bluffs in western Iowa Territory, resided such tribes as the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Chippewa, who had been moved there from Michigan and Illinois in 1837. West of the river, in unorganized country, lived the Oto, Omaha, and Missouri. For the most part these tribes were destitute and on the verge of extinction. Few in number, they were constantly being raided by the Sioux and other hostile tribes and were defrauded by unscrupulous traders and whiskey sellers. . . .
“A number of federal laws existed for the protection of these tribes. Of major significance was the Indian Intercourse Act of June 30, 1834, which was passed in conjunction with the removal policy of the 1830’s. These laws created an Indian barrier by defining the unorganized territory west of the Mississippi as “Indian Country,” where whites were not permitted without passports establishing the length of their stay. . . .
“The Monnons, forced to leave their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois, set out in February, 1846, for a new Zion somewhere beyond the Rocky Mountains. Considering the destitute condition of many of the emigrants, a mass exodus in anyone season was manifestly impossible. By the early summer it .became increasingly clear to Brigham Young and the Mormon leadership that the Saints must stop somewhere along the way so that the large group could winter and be resupplied. . . .
“Being wary of other emigrants, many of whom were the hated Missourians who had previously evicted them, the Mormons had chosen to stay north of the established trails. This meant they penetrated previously unspoiled Indian lands where whites were forbidden.”
“Wind—tyrant king of Wyoming. Wind-driven sand blasts the paint off buildings and gnaws out the softer layers of wood between the harder growth rings. For most houses on the exposed plains, a sheltering band of trees planted on the west side is as essential as a roof. Without the trees, you could lose the roof. Or your mind. The wind sculpts the trees into misshapen weathervanes, streaming east. Wyoming highway rest areas have wind shelters made of two high brick walls that join at a V, like a ship’s prow. The V points west as predictably as a compass points north. The Wyoming tourist board is in denial. Come tourists, enjoy a picnic in our lovely highway rest areas. Just bring along some bolts to fasten your sandwiches to the table. Fifty-pound sandbags weight the bottoms of the rest-area trash cans. Without them, the big steel cans bounce away like Styrofoam cups. Forlorn cows endure a lifetime of wind, joylessly converting the sparse grass of the plains into meat until slaughter brings relief. Legends tell of people driven to murderous insanity by the wind.”
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.
Startup Costs and Debt
“As soon as the contract [to supply the Army] was signed, the company sent out cattle buyers to comb the country for oxen. When they were through, the firm owned 7,500. The company began loading in early May, and when the last wagon rolled out upon the prairie, they had five hundred, a total of twenty trains, on the road.
Each train of twenty-six wagons represented an investment of from $18,000 to $20,000. The five hundred vehicles used in 1855 represented an investment of from $360,000 to $400,000. It is not possible that the partners [Russell, Majors, and Waddell] had anything like that amount of capital at their disposal. . . They went heavily into debt to promote the business in 1855. Owing to a series of unforeseeable misfortunes, they were never able to get out again.”
“In the buffalo arrows the barbs were fixed fast to the shaft, but in arrows meant for the enemy the barbs were so attached that they would come loose when the shaft was withdrawn, leaving the barb in the wound.”
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.”
The End of the Pony Express
The Pony Express, its route drastically shortened and its purpose now virtually eliminated by the telegraph, was quietly discontinued, with none of the fanfare that had launched it, following the completion of its run on October 26. In eighteen tumultuous months it had made 308 runs each way, carrying about 34,753 pieces of mail, yet losing only one mochila in the process. It had captured the world’s imagination and helped keep the West in the Union. But as a business operation the Pony Express had brought in only a tiny fraction of the $500,000 or so that was invested in it.”
“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]
Frémont on Gavilan
“At the beginning of March, Fremont was continuing his northward progress toward Oregon by moving west over the Santa Cruz Mountains and south toward Monterey. In violation of his agreement and in defiance of the authorities. They now took action. On March 5, at the Hartnell ranch near Salinas, an officer of the California militia rode into his camp and gave him letters from the prefect and the comandante. Both directed him to take his force out of the department at once. The hero worked on a hair trigger. He ordered the lieutenant out of camp with a red-fire message for his superiors, moved hastily into the hills, set up a breastwork of logs on tlie top of Gavilan Peak, nailed Old Glory to a pole, and prepared to b~ sacrificed. “If we are unjustly attacked,” he wrote to Larkin, “we will fight to extremity and .refuse quarter, trusting our country to avenge our death. . . . If we are hemmed in and assaulted here, we will die, every man of us, under the flag of our country.” … He had been told to get out, on the ground that he had broken faith with the officials, lied about his instructions and intentions, broken the law, defied the courts, and condoned the misbehavior of his men. There had been no thought of killing him.
Nobody was ready to confer martyrdom on him, and though his mountain men were hot for a go with the greasers he got nothing for his brave words except an artist’s pleasure in the style. Consul Larkin found so little intelligence in his actions that he supposed Fremont could not have understood the official orders and wrote explaining them – meanwhile asking Don Jose Castro not to get rough but to talk things over with the hero in simple language. Also, seeing his patient intrigue alt but ruined by this dramaturgy, he hastily asked for a man-of-war at Monterey, to persuade alt parties to dampen their powder. As for Don Jose, he mustered what militia he could, circularized an already agitated countryside with proclamations, and paraded his forces under the spyglasses trained on them from Gavilan Peak. That was the traditional way of using force in California.
It worked. In his lofty fortress Fremont reverberated with the most dramatic emotions but his position was impossible in both law and tactics, as he realized when the McGuffey phase had passed. He was here without the slightest authority of his government, which could only disavow him, and the Californians had ordered him out on sufficient grounds and altogether within their rights. They were unlikely to attack him on the Gavilan and, if they had attacked, his mountain men could have shot them to pieces. But they must eventually have starved him out and then ridden him down with the long lances that were to win them San Pascual. However stirring his compositions and however humiliating the retreat, no great deed was possible and he had to get out. After three days of Hollywood fantasy, his flagpole fell down and he told his men that this showed they had done enough for honor. He moved out, most slow and dignified.”
“We learned that most of the men, or teamsters, and all of the train bosses were southern men and most of them were hired in the south to come to Kansas to drive the free state people from the polls and carry the election in the interest of slavery. Most of the teamsters in our train had their expenses paid and were armed, and some paid as high as one hundred and sixty dollars in cash for this purpose. This was shortly after the Jim Lane trouble in Kansas, so there was not the best of feeling between themselves and the ‘Yanks’ as they called us.”
“With Fort Bridger as the northeastern anchor, the various units of the [Utah expedition] stretched up Black’s Fork for a number of miles, the entire settlement assuming the name of Camp Scott in honor of the crusty but able general. Since this high mountain region, 6,600 feet above sea level, lacked forage for the expedition’s remaining stock, the mules and other animals were sent with Cooke and six companies of Dragoons to graze on neighboring streams, where they remained until March 1858. . . .
Camp Scott was a busy community, for some 1,800 officers and men of the regular army occupied it during seven snow-bound months. In addition, other volunteers were recruited during this period. Although the contracting firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell had hired its teamsters for the trip to Salt Lake City with the promise of employment on the return journey if they chose, these contracts were broken when the trains halted at Fort Bridger. . . . For many of these men the only alternative to unprofitable idleness was enlistment for nine months in the army, with the promise of the same pay, allotments of clothing, and provisions given the regulars.”
“The 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.”
Speed, Endurance, Commitment
“Though the range of these [Pony Express] stories is narrow, and the variants few, they are expressive of the public’s perception of the Pony Express. Speed, endurance, commitment. Tales of the Pony Express are dramatizations of what newspapers were writing explicitly in 1860.”
Mile 2126-2148: Pacific House to Placerville
Fifteen miles above Hangtown [Placerville] the teams reached Pacific House, at fourteen, Bullion Bend, where a stage was held up and loot is supposed to be buried; at twelve, Sportsman’s Hall (named from the multitude of card sharks that frequented its tables) where the relay waited for the Pony Express rider on his mad dash. It was the chosen stopping place for teamsters freighting to the Nevada mines and had stable room for several hundred horses. Then they came to Five Mile House and on down to Hangtown Creek with all its water drained out into ditches to feed the big toms.'”
Mile 937: Avenue of Rocks
“On the high, dry Wyoming plains, the Earth sheds her former grassland modesty and bares her rocky skin, wrinkled by time and mountain upheaval. The beveled edges of bent, tilted strata poke up everywhere as irregular fins and ridges. At Avenue of Rocks, about 20 miles west of present Casper, the trail twists between ghoulish hogbacks cut on upended sandstone beds, looking “like the vertebrae of some great sea serpent.” Edwin Bryant described passing “immense piles of rocks, red and black, sometimes in columnar and sometimes in conical and pyramidal shapes, thrown up by volcanic convulsions. These, with deep ravines and chasms, and widespread sterility and desolation, are the distinguishing features of the landscape.”
The trail passes through the eroded cores of anticlines—huge arching folds of rock strata, like a stack of magazines bowed up in the middle—and through synclines, the reverse of anticlines, where the strata bow down in the middle. Lonesome pump jacks bob gracefully on the sagebrush hills. They are parked over anticlines, sucking up the crude oil trapped in the bowed-up layers. Oil underground percolates upward until it runs into rock that stops it. Rising droplets of oil collect against impermeable rock layers within the arching anticlines, forming caches of black gold. More than anything, oil has put Wyoming on the map. And more than any other rock formation, the Mowry Shale has put the oil in Wyoming. You can’t miss the Mowry. It ranges dusk-gray to nightblack from organic residue and smells faintly of decay.”
Mile 1464: Black Rock Station
[Not: The site is between Mile 1463 and 1464]
“Also known as Butte, or Desert Station, it was named for the black basalt outcropping just to the north of the road and the monument. Sharp says it was also known as Rock House. 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.
Little is known about Blackrock station, or its usage possibly due to it being a non-contract station. A structure of native black stone was apparently built here in 1861, while other structures in the area are suggested. Reconnaissance and infrared photographs have also failed to produce any evidence. Only a vandalized monument marks its general location.
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 ¼ mile east of the monument. This routing was used as an alternate to the main road during wet weather. http://www.expeditionutah.com/featured-trails/pony-express-trail/utah-pony-express-stations/
BLACK ROCK STATION
Fike and Headley list this station thirteen and three-fourths miles from Dugway. Several sources identify Black Rock or Blackrock as a station between Dugway and Fish Springs, although Fike and Headley add Butte and Desert Station as alternative names. The exact location of the station, originally known as Butte or Desert, remains unknown. The Overland Mail Company may have erected a stone structure near the Blackrock volcanic formation after July 1861, but its connection with the Pony Express is uncertain because it did not appear on the 1861 mail contract. A damaged monument marks the general area of the station site.
First Through Coaches on the Central Route
“The first through daily coaches on the Central route left St. Joseph and Placerville simultaneously on July 1, 1861, and both arrived at their destination on July 18, in a few hours over seventeen days-well ahead of the contract schedule of 25 days.”
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.”
Tissue Paper for Mail
“For the Pony special thin paper was used, especially for the newspapers in order to keep the weight down. [Alexander] Majors noted the cantinas ‘were filled with important business letters and press dispatches from eastern cities and San Francisco, printed upon tissue paper, and thus especially adapted by their weight for this mode of transportation.'”
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.”
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.”
“Almost from the very first, the perceptive plains Indians had recognized the threat the overland caravans represented to their way of life. Therefore, one of their first responses was to demand tribute of the passing trains. This tactic was employed at least as early as 1843. An 1845 overlander, speculating on the origins of this Indian tax, believed the practice to have begun with frightened emigrants willing to promise almost anything to travel safely. But it seems clear that tribute demands, which were most widely experienced by overlanders during the gold rush period, were grounded in more than simple repetition of a previous chance success. Emigrants continually reported that the Indians who came to demand tribute explained also why they were requesting the payments. The natives explicitly emphasized that the throngs of overlanders were killing and scaring away buffalo and other wild game, overgrazing prairie grasses, exhausting the small quantity of available timber, and depleting water resources. The tribute payments were demanded mainly by the Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, Pawnee, and Sioux Indians—the tribes closest to the Missouri River frontier and therefore those feeling most keenly the pressures of white men increasingly impinging upon their domains. . . .
[E]migrants differed in their responses to this form of native entrepreneurship. What [emigrants who threatened force] did not acknowledge was the cumulative impact of a series of such arrogant actions. . . .
The bridge tolls and tribute payments demanded by the Indians were insignificant when compared to the ferry and bridge charges asked by mountain men and traders farther west along the trails. Clearly, however, it was not the money as much as the idea that Indians had any ‘right’ to claim payments which infuriated many emigrants. Indignantly refusing compliance, these emigrants willingly instigated skirmished, which in turn elicited Indian retaliation on subsequent overlanders.”
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.”
“Our cattle were soon driven into corral for us to yoke.
Our train crew of a wagon boss, by the name of Chatham Rennick-a big, six foot two inch man, an assistant wagon boss, twenty-six teamsters, and two extra hands, malring thirty men in all. But we had ten extra men to help us get the train started.
We went into the corral with three lasso ropes to catch our cattle and fasten them to a wagon wheel to put their yokes on, as they were so wild it was the only way we could get them yoked. We would then chain this one to a wheel till we got another and so on till each team was yoked. Then to get them hitched to a wagon tongue was another big job, but at two o’clock in the afternoon we succeeded in getting them all hitched on and started to break corral, and a lively time we had. Now the fun began, not for the teamsters, but for the lookers on. It was life work for us to keep our wagons right side up. Twentysix teams of nearly all wild cattle going in every direction -three hundred and twelve head of crazy steers pitching and bellowing and trying to get loose or get away fr:om the wagon, and teamsters working for dear life to herd them and keep from upsetting or breaking their wagons; and every. now and then a wagon upsetting, tongues breaking, and teams getting loose on the prairie.
It kept every extra man on the jump to keep the cattle moving in the right direction.
Fourteen men on horseback and twenty-six teamsters had a lively experience that afternoon and evening, and finally, at nine o’clock that night had succeeded in getting nine wagons two miles from starting point and getting the cattle loose from the wagons in a demoralized condition. Some of the teams had one or two steers loose from the yoke, and the others were dragging the yokes. Everything was in confusion.”
Mile 1115: Farson and the Green River Basin
“Crossing the Green River Basin redefines monotony. The plains roll on endlessly, blanketed by the same wearisome mantle of sagebrush and greasewood. Outside of the river bottoms and the few towns, there is not a tree in sight. Scabby buttes, eroded from the stacked limestone and shale layers of an ancient lakebed, pop up here and there across the plains. The landscape is riven with ravines, most of them bone-dry in summer. The scenery has hardly changed since emigrant days. For Edwin Bryant, it was “scarcely possible to conceive a scene of more forbidding dreariness and desolation than was presented to our view on all sides.” Only the wind seems happy in the Green River Basin. It shrieks with glee across the plains, sweeping up wraithlike clouds of grit. “It has
been windy, and there is nothing but sand—sand all around us, which is drifting constantly, filling our eyes and ears, as well as the frying pan,” A. J. McCall groused, adding, “It is not strange that it affects the temper of the men—marring all good fellowship.”
After a day of pummeling by Wyoming’s biggest bully, I can vouch that nothing is more welcome than a building-shelter!—even if it is a run-down gas station in a run-down town like Farson, a forlorn little hamlet marooned in the sagebrush wilderness of the Green River Basin. I sipped burnt coffee there one afternoon,
hiding from the wind, while leaves, newspapers, and other flotsam flew past the windows. Was this typical? Oh yes, the attendant sighed. The windows appeared cloudy. A closer look showed that they had been etched by windborne sand. Merciless wind and winter beat up the small rural towns of Wyoming. The results are evident as potholes, peeling paint, broken roofs, leaking pipes, and plywood windows. Yards spill over with rusted cars, wrecked parts, writhing heaps of hose and pipe, and tires-many, many tires. Anything that might be useful, might a save a few dollars one day, joins the heap. But local folk brim with friendship and conversation, a pleasant upshot of life with so much open space and so few people to fill it.”
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.”
Seeing the Elephant
“‘Seeing the Elephant,’ though it had pre- and post-gold rush currency, was an immensely popular expression among the overlanders (and those who went to see as well—although they sometimes spoke of ‘seeing the Shark’ . . .) connoting, in the main, experiencing hardship and difficulty and somehow surviving. Emigrant diaries and letters are filled with humorous references to that ubiquitous animal.”
Burton on French Canadians
“They are a queer lot, these French Canadians, who have ‘located’ themselves in the Far West. Travelers who have hunted with them speak highly of them as a patient, submissive, and obedient race, inured to privations, and gifted with the reckless abandon—no despicable quality in prairie traveling—of the old Gascon adventurer; armed and ever vigilant, hardy, handy, and hearty children of Nature, combining with the sagacity and the instinctive qualities all the superstitions of the Indians; enduring as mountain goats; satisfied with a diet of wild meat, happiest when it could be followed by a cup of strong milkless coffee, a ‘chasse cafe’ and a ‘brule-gueule;’ invariably and contagiously merry; generous as courageous; handsome, active, and athletic; sashed, knived, and dressed in buckskin, to the envy of every Indian ‘brave,’ and the admiration of every Indian belle, upon whom, if the adventurer’s heart had not fallen into the snares of the more attractive half-breed, he would spend what remained of his $10 a month, after coffee, alcohol, and tobacco had been extravagantly paid for, in presents of the gaudiest trash.
Such is the voyageur of books: I can only speak of him as I found him, a lazy dog, somewhat shy and proud, much addicted to loafing and to keeping cabarets, because, as the old phrase is, the cabarets keep him in idleness too. Probably his good qualities lie below the surface: those who hide a farthing rush-light under a bushel can hardly expect us, in this railway age, to take the trouble of finding it. I will answer, however, for the fact, that the bad points are painfully prominent.”
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 1193: Fort Bridger
“The majority of the migration arrived at Fort Bridger in the month of July. . . . The valley of Blacks Fork is beautiful out of all reason, like a charming but improbable stage setting, for which the snow-topped Uinta Mountains provide a magnificent backdrop. Apparently from sheer altruism the river divides near the head of the valley and sends its cool waters through this lovely flat land in several clear-flowing channels which unite again some miles below, forming a group of islands. On the westernmost of these we found the fort.
When, in the early forties, Jim Bridger built his first rude cabins at this garden spot and fenced them in with a stockade of small logs, he executed quite a stroke of business. . . .
There is evidence that he had completed something in the way of building by the summer of 1842, because an eccentric minister, Williams by name, returning from Oregon, passed on July 3rd of that year and made mention of reaching Bridger’s fort. . . .
Dirty little log outposts of civilization such as this, chinked with mud and roofed with sod, were the first exponents of a new type of business, the emigrant trade, which rolled merrily along throughout all the years of the migration, amassing fortunes for those who embraced its opportunities. Fort Bridger was the first trading post west of the Missouri built especially to cater to this business, and it was a blow when the opening of Sublette’s Cutoff to wagons drew thousands of prospective customers away. In the summer of 1849 Bridger’s partner, Louis Vasquez, with a retinue of Indians camped at South Pass, trading with the emigrants and trying to persuade them to go by way of Fort Bridger.”
Protecting Oxens' Feet
“[In the Black Hills of Wyoming], Lydia Waters wrote: ‘ The hoofs of the cattle became so worn they had to be shod. Now the amateur blacksmiths had to show their skill. George became quite proficient shoeing both horses and oxen—To shoe the cattle a trench the length of the animal and the width of the shovel was dug. The animal was then thrown and rolled over so that its backbone lay in the trench and all four legs were up in the air. In this position it was helpless and the shoes were nailed on readily.’ In very bad cases protectors made of buffalo hide were tied clear up over the hoofs like bags. Even dogs had leather moccasins. A few owners hardened their animals’ hoofs with alcohol and omitted the footwear.”
“One of [Boggs’s] militia commanders in 1838 was Alexander Doniphan. He was a famous jury lawyer, probably the best in all Missouri, and it followed naturally that he commanded six militia regiments. He was a mighty man – and a righteous one. So when General Lucas captured Joseph and other leaders of the Church and, in obedience to Boggs’s Extermination Order, tried them by courtmartial and ordered them to be shot for treason in the public square at Far West, Doniphan took a stand. Called upon to execute the condemned, he refused. “It is cold-blooded murder,” he wrote his general. “I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock, and if you execute these men I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God.” His troops marched, the order was not executed, and the chastened general, after holding the condemned prisoners over the winter, finally arranged for them to escape.
“Even before that, Doniphan had tried to deal justly with the Mormons. When they got into trouble at their earliest Missouri settlements, in Jackson County, Doniphan, as a member of the Legislature, had put through the bill which set off two new counties, Davies and Caldwell, in the unoccupied part of the state and arranged for the Mormons to take one of them. He had also represented Joseph in various suits brought against him; during one of them it had been the prophet’s whim to study law under him …. He was very much of Benton’s type, a crammed, insatiable mind, a conspicuous integrity. This is the image of the leader in frontier democracy, the kind of man who was called an empire-builder before the phrase lost its meaning. He also was to go west in ’46.”
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.
Feeding Oxen on the Trail
“Oxen can do very well on sagebrush,” notes Ford, “and in the spring when the sagebrush is frst starting to grow, they can eat evergreens . . . but dry grass, weeds, bark of cottonwood trees, those were all very good feed for oxen. A lot of those would actually kill horses.”
Oxen’s versatile palates also proved economical. Hardworking draft horses and mules, in contrast to their heftier counterparts, required grass or hay supplemented with high-protein feed grains. Bags of feed were costly, heavy, and had to be hauled in the wagons—generally, wagons pulled by oxen, Ford points out with light irony. When forced to survive on rough forage, mules—and especially horses— were susceptible to colic and other potentially fatal digestive ills.
Army and Navy Signal System
“After practicing as a physician for three years, [Albert Myer] sought and obtained a commission as assistant surgeon in the regular army. Lieutenant Myer was soon ordered to New Mexico. It is said that one day, seeing some Comanches making signals to another group of Indians on a neighboring hill by waving their lances, the thought struck him that such motions might be utilized for connecting adjacent military posts, or parts of an army in active operations. So firmly did this idea take possession of the young surgeon that he devoted much of his leisure to its development, and finally devised a system of signals which became the basis of the code or codes used through the war. He came east, explained his system to the authorities, and took out letters patent on his invention.”
“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.'”
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 1095: Parting of the Ways
“About 20 miles west of the Continental Divide, the main road forked at a spot called Parting of the Ways—a point of decision. From there, travelers could either follow the Sublette Cutoff heading due west toward the trading post at Fort Hall, or take the original, better-watered route southwest toward Fort Bridger and Utah. “
“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.”
“the whip was the teamster’s badge of office. The muleskinner from his post astride the nigh-wheeler, with the top of the wagon close behind him, was restricted to a ‘blacksnake’ some eight to ten feet in length. The bullwhacker from his post on the ground alongside the nigh-wheeler had room in which to swing a more magnificent instrument— a three-to four-foot stock of hickory or other tough wood, and an eighteen- to twenty- foot lash of braided rawhide, tipped with a six- or eight-inch popper of rawhide.”
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]
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.”
“Captain Marcy outfits his prairie traveler with a ‘little blue mass, quinine, opium, and some cathartic medicine put up in doses for adults.’ I limited myself to the opium, which is invaluable when one expects five consecutive days and nights in a prairie wagon, quinine, and Warburg’s drops, without which no traveler should ever face fever, and a little citric acid, which, with green tea drawn off the moment the leaf has sunk, is perhaps the best substitute for milk and cream. The ‘holy weed Nicotian’ was not forgotten ; cigars must be bought in extraordinary quantities, as the driver either receives or takes the lion’s share . . .”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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 927-946: Emigrant Gap to Willow Station
“By either the Emigrant Gap route or the older road it was in the neighborhood of fifty miles from the ferry to Independence Rock on the Sweetwater River—a forced march of two days. The emigrants of both routes softened this somewhat by making a short drive after crossing the [Platte] river and camping at the last drinkable water, so that repellant Poison Spider Creek was populous if not popular in its day. Both routes led to Willow Springs on the second night, and from there it was possible to make the Sweetwater by the end of the next afternoon.”
“Beyond the Glistening Gravel Water lies a mauvaise terre, sometimes called the First Desert, and upon the old road water is not found in the dry season within forty-nine miles a terrible jornada for laden wagons with tired cattle. . .
. . . The Spanish-Mexican term for a day’s march. It is generally applied to a waterless march, e.g., ‘Jornada del Muerto’ in New Mexico, which, like some in the Sahara, measures ninety miles across.”
Green River Crossing
“Whether they crossed the Green River Basin by the Sublette Cutoff or the trail to Fort Bridger, the Green River—several hundred feet wide and dangerously swift—lay as a barrier across the emigrants’ path. The Green would be the last large river that California-bound emigrants would have to cross. (Those headed for Oregon would still have to contend with crossing the Snake River.) The challenge of crossing the Green varied with the time of year and the annual snowpack in the Wind River Range. Emigrants arriving at the river in August, after much of the winter snow had melted, sometimes found it low enough to ford. Most arrived earlier, though, in late June or early July, and saw it as Margaret Frink did—running “high, deep, swift, blue, and cold as ice.” At such high water, a ferry was the only safe way to cross. By 1847 several ferrying operations, run by mountain men or Mormons from Salt Lake City, lay scattered up and down the Green River at the common crossing points. Emigrants forked over tolls ranging from $3 to $16 per wagon (roughly $60 to $320 in today’s dollars), depending on demand and river level.”
Drinking from Desert Wells
“the carson Route offered no advantage in crossing the Forty Mile Desert, though—in fact, it may have been worse. A few dug wells supplied some water (“intensely brackish, bitter with salt and sulphur”) a few miles beyond the Humboldt Sink . . .
You can visit some of these dug wells along the Carson Route today. I drank from the so-called Double Wells (about five miles south of the Humboldt Sink) on a hot September day much like the emigrants would have experienced. The water tasted of salt and dish soap mixed with algae. It took a whole beer to take the flavor away—and then a second to toast the hapless souls who had to drink the stuff to survive—and then a third to toast the beauty of cold beer on a hot day in the desert.”
Geological Age of the Earth
“In 1665, Irish archbishop James Ussher published a painstaking accounting of the age of the Earth deduced from biblical generations. Ussher’s conclusion: God had created the Earth on October 23, 4004 B.C. . . . Geologists have parties that begin on October 22; at midnight they toast the anniversary of the Earth’s formation.”
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.]
Mile 2098: Strawberry, CA
“[The hostelry at Strawberry] belonged to a man named Berry who sold straw under the name of hay and received the unflattering sobriquet old Straw Berry.”
Mormon Battallion and Winter Quarters
“From the Mormon point of view, the decision to move across the Missouri seemed the most desirable. Two events soon closed the matter. On June 27, Capt. James Allen arrived in camp with a message from President James K. Polk asking for five hundred Mormon volunteers to join Gen. Stephen S. Kearny and the Army of the West marching on Mexican territory now that the war had been declared. Such a request, besides providing the Saints with some desperately needed cash, gave Brigham Young a reason to claim that the loss of five hundred able-bodied men would stall the exodus. Young thus agreed to form a Mormon battalion if he received permission to winter on Omaha and Potawatomi lands. Allen agreed, Young next turned to the Indians for permission to remain. Big Elk, the aging chief of the Omaha, his son StandIng Elk, a half-breed interpreter named Logan Fontenelle, and about eighty tribesmen were called to council by the Saints on August 28. Young put forth his case, intimating government approval, and asked for ‘the privilege of stopping on your lands this winter or untill [sic] we can get ready to go on again.’ In return for this privilege, the Mormons offered to construct a trading house, plant crops, and establish a school. Big Elk accepted the terms largely because the well-armed Saints offered protection from their enemies, the Sioux. The treaty, of course, was extralegal. The Mormons also negotiated a similar agreement with the Potawatomi and then sent both ‘treaties’ to the Office of Indian Affairs and to the President with the request that they be given official permission to remain.
“Brigham Young did not wait for an answer. By the end of August, ‘Winter Quarters of the High Council of the Camp of Israel’ were officially located on Omaha lands. Large groups of Saints moved across the Missouri at a spot about eighteen miles above Bellevue and began laying out a town on the table land just above the river. Other villages were constructed in the same general vicinity, as well as one on Potawatomi lands on the Iowa side. In all areas log houses went up, cattle were put to graze, and a substantial quantity of timber was cut for the coming cold weather.”
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.”
Brown's Choice of the Southern Route
“[Postmaster] Brown justified his choice to his northern critics by stating that repeated failures to carry the mail along the central route on a regular basis because of impassable snow conditions swayed his decision. Brown argued that the southern route was superior to the central overland route for winter travel, that the government was constructing a wagon road between the Rio Grande and Fort Yuma, and finally, that a southern route would serve our national interests in dealing with Mexico.
Though Brown and others did not mention this issue, the central route was also not chosen because the United States was technically at war with the Mormon church for resisting the authority of the federal government. During the “Utah War” of 1857, it was clear that the United States could not control the central trail without great military effort, which was another reason to avoid selecting the overland route at this time.”
“‘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”
Steers Make the Best Oxen
Bulls can be trained to pull a wagon, but steers (that is, castrated males) are preferred, largely because they grow larger and stronger. . . .
“Because he has longer legs and he’s taller, an ox can travel much faster than a bull. Also,” Ford continues, “even though the bull may have a big burst of energy, like for fighting—because of its testosterone—, a steer would have more total muscle. So although a bull could easily kill any steer [in a fight], in working, the steer will have enduring power that lasts all day long, whereas the bull’s energy quickly burns up, and then he’s completely depleted.”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“The Sweetwater Valley took the emigrants smoothly uphill 1oo miles to the Continental Divide at South Pass. This fortuitous gap in the Rockies exists because of geologic happenstance. A Wind River-sized mountain range—the Sweetwater Range—once filled the east-west gap where the Sweetwater Valley is now. Several million years ago, it foundered to form the valley, thus opening the way west to South Pass. The Sweetwater Hills represent the exposed ridgeline of this buried range. These granite hills include two of the most famous landmarks on the Oregon-California Trail: Independence Rock and Devils Gate.”
“But it must not be forgotten that, during the last two years of his life, Joseph’s paranoia had increased. He had always been drunk on glory, now he was drunk on power. His fury fell alike on those who questioned him within the Church, the Missouri Pukes, and the Congress and President of the United States. In musical-comedy uniforms, he was lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion; its rituals were fantastic but its muskets were just as usable as any the Pukes had. He had announced himself as a candidate for President against Polk and Henry Clay – his platform was mostly apocalypse but included a plank for the seizure of the West – and several hundred missionaries were stumping the East to get him votes. He had dropped some of the secrecy that had hidden the doctrine of polygamy; he and many of his hierarchy were practising, it with a widening range that could not be altogether covered by denials.
“All these were blunders; the last was the worst blunder. There had always been dissent in Israel, backsliders, apostates, a sizable if futile bulk of opposition. Suddenly opposition to polygamy crystalized in a revolt led by men of courage and genuine intelligence. They struck hard, establishing in Nauvoo a newspaper which def nounced Joseph. He struck back, and the newspaper printed one l issue only. Joseph’s marshal, assisted by Joseph’s Legion, pied its type and pounded its press to pieces in the street. The rebels fled. The Illini, especially the politicians who had been sold out, needed f just this to produce their own uprising. Illinois had had enough of the Mormons, the mob rose, and Joseph was killed.”
Emigrants' Daily Menu
“Charles M. Tuttle describes the daily menu of a typical emigrant: ‘for breakfast, coffee, bacon, dry or pilot bread; for dinner, coffee, cold beans, bacon or buffalo meat; for supper, tea, boiled rice., and dried beef or codfish.’ With this Spartan fare, he says, ‘Out appetites are good, our digestive organs strong, our sleep sweet.'”
Mile 137: Marysville/Palmetto
“Palmetto City and Marysville were adjacent settlements, the latter being one of the oldest and best known towns of northern Kansas, which had been laid out by Frank J. Marshall (Overland Stage, p. 109). When the daily stage service was instituted in 1861, the route ran west from Guittard’s to Marysville, where it crossed the Big Blue by a rope ferry (in dry weather the river could be forded here). The Pony Express station was located in a ‘small brick structure in Marysville.”
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.”
America's Unpreparedness for the Mexican War
“The President and the nation had a war now, and neither was up to it. This book is to touch briefly on certain campaigns and their backgrounds which are related to our central purpose, but it has space to treat the war only in general terms.
The conquest of a foreign nation was the biggest enterprise on which, up to then, the American people had ever embarked. The war required a large-scale organization and an integrated effort for which no experience had fitted the Americans and which were, as a matter of fact, beyond their current ability. Since Mexico was what it was there was never any danger that the United States would lose the war. But it must infallibly have lost the war if it had been waged against a power of industrial, military, or financial resources even remotely comparable to ours. Our industrial and financial systems were flourishing but wholly unprepared for such a strain as they must now bear, our military system was the worst possible, and our system of government, as events were quickly to make clear, had reached a crisis in which its interior conflicts were making it impotent.
One way to win the war would have been to confide its manage. ment to a board of specialists, chosen for their effectiveness in management and without reference to their politics. Such a conception was altogether alien to the 184o’s, to the stage of American party government then evolved, and in general to the nineteenth century. Feebly approximated in the government of A. Lincoln by 1863, after blood and despair (never approximated in the government of Jefferson Davis), it had to wait for 1917 and Woodrow Wilson. Besides, in 1846, there was , not in America the kind of management required. Neither public nor private enterprise had ever undertaken such a job, and the wonder is not that it was done so badly but that it was done so well. While our narrative centers on other things, the reader should hazard some guess about the resources and organizations required to equip, transport, supply, and maintain blockading fleets in foreign waters and armies not only itivading Mexico from three directions at distances of several thousand miles but also, in several columns, traversing the wilderness of the Great Desert. He should think in round numbers of the components of such an effort- hundreds of ships, tens of thousands of wagons, hundreds of thousands of draft animals and beef cattle, ordnance, small arms, haversacks, hospital supplies, food, blankets, all the goods that make a war. That they were supplied at all is the amazing fact, the demonstration that in the last handful of years the developing industrial system had grown altogether beyond what was currently understood about it. Time after time the extemporized organizations broke down. No army was ever as well equipped or as well supplied as its necessities demanded. Lacks and weaknesses which might have meant defeat if our enemy had not been Mexico repeatedly showed themselves. Millions of dollars were wasted, months were lost, vast if indeterminable hardships that might have been averted were inflicted on troops and citizenry. As always, the republic paid more in suffering and death than it ought to have paid. And yet, for all the ignorance, ineptitude, and delay that stopped the fighting for months at a time, bored and finally frightened the nation, and made the leaders both heartsick and suspicious, a kind of efficiency at last prevailed – and the first modern or industrial war somehow found a pattern and succeeded. As a rehearsal for a deadlier one to come.”
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.”
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]
Marcy Expedition Crossing the Rockies
“Marcy offered the [Ute] chief the value of three horses if he would guide the party to Cochetopa Pass, the only feasible route in miles over the continental divide. But the Indian was adamant, indicating that the white men would die if they tried to cross.
“On the 11th of December the ascent of the western slope of the Rockies was commenced. Soon snow began to impede progress and presently became deeper with a crust on the surface which cut the legs of the mules. Deeper and deeper it grew and the order of march was changed. Instead of having the animals break the trail the men were ordered in front and proceeding in single file, tramped down a path. But despite this solicitude for the animals the poor beasts began to weaken. The bitter pine leaves from the evergreens formed their only sustenance and on this unwholesome forage the famished brutes grew thin, weak, and began to die. Burdens must be lightened if the crossing was to be made, and accordingly, all surplus baggage was cached.
“But still the mules continued to perish. One day five were lost, and on the following morning eight others lay stark and rigid on the mountain side. Not only was the pace being greatly reduced but the food supply of the men was becoming alarmingly small. All the beef cattle had been consumed and the bread supply was very limited. To husband the strength of men and animals Marcy now ordered all baggage discarded except arms and ammunition and one blanket for each man.
“The snow, now four feet deep, was so dry and light that the men when walking upright sank to their waists in the fluffy whiteness. Jim Baker decided to try snow-shoes, but found the snow too loose and powdery to sustain them. In breaking trail through the deepest part the men in front now found it necessary to crawl on their hands and knees to pack the snow so that it would bear up the other men and the animals. The leading man was usually able to go about fifty yards before he became exhausted and dropped out into a rear position.
“Rations had been reduced and finally were exhausted before the summit of the divide was reached. The only food now available to the hungry men was the meat of the famished animals.”
Trail Narratives Celebrate Triumph
“But such exotica as Indians (exotic when not at war) and Mormons were not what Overland Trail stories were really about. What emerges is the danger, hardship, loneliness, and boredom of life in a cross-country caravan. The pioneer-narrators were not merely complaining about what they had to endure – hardly that at all. They were proclaiming, and with a justifiable pride, that they had overcome danger and hardship and had mastered loneliness and privation, and had struggled their way through to the end of the road. End-of-trail stories show this quite clearly. The wreckage of wagons, the litter of household goods, the quickly improvised gravestones by the trail’s side were not merely curiosities of the journey. They were statements that many had failed – either through death or discouragement – but that the writer had gone ahead and succeeded where those others had had to turn back or be buried. The Overland Trail narrative, one of the few genuinely American genres, celebrates a triumph over nature and adversity. In that way as well it is a genre of the American West.
“And here [along the Humbolt River], if you were going to, you encountered the Diggers, their half-gram brains vibrating with the remembered murders of hundreds of kinsmen and with desire for oxen and other plunder.
“The term “Digger” is an epithet, not a classification. It was properly applied to Indians who, being unskillful hunters or residing in country where game was scarce, lived on roots. But it came to mean certain degenerate bands of various tribes who can be exactly described as the technological unemployed. Unable to stand competition with hardier Indians, they had been pushed into the deserts and, living there on the subsistence level, had lost their culture. Many of them were physically decadent. The weapons of all were crude. Mostly they lived in caves or brush huts. Some had lost the use of fire. Some “Diggers” were Bannack or Shoshoni in origin; those in Great Salt Lake Valley were Paiute and Gosiute; fragments of other neighboring tribes also degenerated, and the Indians who harassed the Donners probably belonged to the Kuyuidika band of the Paviotso. But the whites who used the term meant no particular tribe; they meant only that they hated skulking, theft, and malicious mischief. From Ewing Young and Joseph Walker on, they had massacred Diggers idly, for fun, or in punishment for theft. The Diggers remembered . . . If they had not, they might have succored the Donners in the snow.”
Mile 1514: Round Station
“Six miles from Willow Creek and twelve miles from Willow Springs Station.
“Canyon Station was strategically built in 1863 high above the mouth of Overland Canyon to replace an earlier, indefensible station located up Overland Canyon about two or three miles. Indians had beseiged and burned the original Canyon Station earlier the same year.
“Locally called Round Station, this recent connotation originates because prior to archaeological investigations in 1974, the only discernible feature was a round, relatively complete, fortified rock structure, which included gunports. This had been interpreted as the station house. Excavations revealed the actual station house foundation (as well as the corral area) to be east of the round fortification. The Gale Parker’s recall their grandfather having spoke of a roof being on the fortification.
“Artifacts collected indicate no extensive use after 1870. The Bureau of Land Management has stabilized the fortification and the station foundation, and has provided an interpretive ramada and parking facilities.”
Note: Round Station replaced the original Burt Station around 1863. Following is some info on Burnt Station:
“The original Canyon Station, also known as Burn’t Station, had been built by Howard Egan as an Express Station and was first described in August of 1861.  A marker built and placed by the Civilian Conservation Corp (C.C.C.) is apparently located improperly in Township 9 South, Range 18 West, Section 2 (SE1/4NW1/4). The authors are informed that the station was in the form of a dugout located at the mouth of Blood Canyon, so named because of the Indian attack in 1863.  A ground search, by the authors, located a possible dugout location, however, archaeological testing is necessary to substantiate these findings. Other evidence indicates the site may be to the west on Clifton Flat. Descriptions vary on structural features. Apparently a dugout with stable or barn was built and possibly a log house.  Figure 32 depicts a typical dugout for the region.
“The following by Howard Egan, is an account of Indian attack on Canyon Station in 1863.
The Indians waited till the men had been called to breakfast in the dugout, and were all down in the hole without guns, all except the hostler, William Riley, who was currying a horse just outside the south door of the stable at the time of the first alarm, and he was shot through the ankle and the bone broken short off. He started down the canyon on the run, but did not get very far before he was caught and killed.
The men at breakfast were mostly all killed as they came out of the dugout to reach their arms that were staked in the south end of the barn. Not one of them ever reached his gun. One man, though wounded, tried to excape by running down the canyon as Riley did. He got further away, but was caught and killed, and, as he was some bald on top of his head, and a good growth of whiskers on his chin, they scalped that and left him where he fell . . . They took the clothes off every man and left them just where they fell. All this had been done without a shot being fired by the white men. A most complete surprise and massacre. 
Graves of some of the victims are located at the site. After being destroyed in 1863, the facilities were relocated to the east (Round Station).”
Bond Scandal Witnesses
“The various complications of the ‘Great Robbery’ led to numerous articles and dispatches
for several months. Jerome B. Simpoon, vice-president of the ‘C. O. C.’ and in general charge of the New York office of the Pony Express, who had carried on the marketing of the bonds on the New York curb, quickly disappeared, and could not be located. Several witnesses later testified that he had gone to Europe ‘for his health.'”
Bloodthirsty Slade Story
“The bullwhackers in camp, when there were no wheels to fix, tires to tighten, boxes to wedge, oxen to shoe, or clothes to wash or mend, could sleep, play cards, write letters or tell stories. The stories of one old bullwhacker who had seen much of frontier life were quite interesting. He would tell about the noted stage company boss, Jack Slade, who caught one of his stage tenders listening at a door and who whipped out his bowie knife and cut the listener’s ear off, telling him if he ever caught him doing it again, he would cut his heart out—and hundreds of other such bloodthirsty stories.”
Pony Bob's Silver Strike
“Often through pure dumb luck a rich strike is made. Pony Expressman Bob Haslam’s horse unintentionally kicked a chip of silver from the Reese River field while fleeing from Indians. The chip turned out to be nearly pure silver (he stopped to pick it up while on the run?). William Bodey, digging for a wounded rabbit that had run to ground, discovered the Esmeralda outcroppings of what became the Bodie mines. Or there is the story of the first prospectors to Hamilton, Nevada, (in 1868) who threw up a stone shelter for wind protection, then later discovered it contained about $75,000 worth of silver.”
Unlike horses and mules, oxen are not directly controlled with bridle, bit, and reins handled by a driver seated in the wagon behind them. Instead, the drover walks to the left of his teams while giving direction with voice, body language, and the whip. “The drover does not follow the oxen, as some writers seem to think,” Ford points out. “The oxen go where they think the drover wants them to go. They know they are expected to give him the room he needs to maneuver by watching the direction of his travel, his whip signals, or his silent body language, such as turning or changing pace. A properly trained nigh ox knows he must keep pace with and stay at arm’s length from the drover on his left side.” And those are just the requirements for the “undergraduate” ox degree.
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.”
“Concerning the early history of Laporte in its palmy staging days, the Rocky Mountain News has the following.
‘The Indians were not the only source of annoyance in the early days. The Overland Stage Company’s employees were in many cases more care¬ fully guarded against. They were a drunken, carousing set in the main, and absolutely careless of the rights or feelings of the settlers. The great desperado, Slade, who was for a time superintendent of this division, and was later hung in Montana by a vigilance committee on general principles, exhausted his ingenuity in devising new breadths and depths of deviltry. In his commonest transactions with others, Slade always kept his hand laid back in a light, easy fashion on the handle of his revolver. One of his most facetious tricks was to cock a revolver in a stranger’s face and walk him into the nearest saloon to set up the drinks to a crowd. He did not treat the passengers over the line any better.
“One pitch-dark night the stage was started from Laporte with Slade and a lot of employees aboard in the convulsions of a ‘booze,’ and one un¬ fortunate passenger. Six wild mustangs were brought out and hitched to the stage, requiring a hostler to each until the driver gathered up his lines. When they were thrown loose the coach dashed off like a limited whirlwind, the wild, drunken Jehu, in mad delight, keeping up a constant crack, crack, with his ‘ snake ’ whip. The stage traveled for a time on the two off wheels, then lurched over and traveled on the other two by way of variety. The passenger had a dim suspicion that this was the wild West, but never having seen anything of the kind before, and, being in a sort of tremor, was unable to decide clearly. Slade and his gang whooped and yelled like demons. Fortunately the passenger had taken the precaution before starting to se¬ cure an outside seat. The only way in which he was enabled to prevent the complete wreck of stage, necks and everything valuable was finally by an earnest threat that he would report the whole affair to the company. Slade and some of his men went on a tear on another occasion, when they paid the Laporte grocer a visit, threw pickles, cheese, vinegar, sugar and coal-oil in a heap on the floor, rolled the grocer in the mess, and then hauled him up on the Laramie plains, and dumped him out, to find his way home to the best of his ability. It was only a specimen of the horse-play in which they frequently indulged.”
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.”
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.”
A Dramatic Gesture
“The Post Office Department’s greatest prize—the $600,000-a-year contract held by John Butterfield’s rival California mail operation—still had nearly five years to run. But Russell sensed that opposition to Butterfield’s ‘ox bow’ route was mounting because of its length as well as its southern location. He also sensed that George Chorpenning’s mail contract from Salt Lake to California, which paid $130,00 a year, might be vulnerable. Russell further surmised that his existing stagecoach lines to Denver and Salt Lake City, by themselves, wouldn’t persuade the Post Office Department to cancel Butterfield’s California mail contract and turn it over to Russell. What was needed was some dramatic gesture that would seize the imagination of the public and politicians alike.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 636: Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock
“Late in the afternoon, when the evening sky was lemon-colored and placid, we distinguished the dark bulk of Courthouse Rock outlined against the sunset and knew that this day’s journey was ending, as hundreds had ended in years past, within sight of the first great monument of the Oregon Trail. Tomorrow we would imitate the thousands of encamped travelers who took time out for a jaunt to ‘the courthouse’ intending to see for them selves how far away in the deceptive prairie distance it might be. No well conducted tour of the Emigrant Trail, either now or one hundred years ago, would be complete without the inclusion of a pleasure excursion on the side to Courthouse Rock.”
The Hundredth Meridian
“The hundredth meridian of west longitude, a geographer’s symbol of the true beginning of the West (meaning the point beyond which the annual rainfall is less than twenty inches), strikes the Platte near the present town of Cozad, Nebraska, well east of the Forks. The trail up the North Platte moved mainly west or a little north of west to a point opposite the present town of Ogaliala, Nebraska, where it took the due northwest bearing it would maintain for hundreds of miles. And between the sites of the present towns of Broadwater and Bridgeport, Nebraska, it struck the Wildcat Range. Here the scattered buttes and bluffs which had been growing common for a considerable distance became a true badlands. The scenery was spectacular but spectacle was only a momentary solace to the emigrants, who had now reached truly tough going – with cumulative fatigue, anxiety, and mental conflict piling up. In early June the desert still had the miraculous brief carpeting of flowers that delights travelers to this day, but it was late June when the emigrants got there, a wholly different season, and ’46 was now a drouth year. The slow-pitch of the continent which they had been climbing toward the ridgepole so slowly that they seldom felt the grade here lost its monotony. The gentle hills that bordered the valley of the Platte, known as the Coast of the Nebraska, suddenly became eroded monstrosities. Jail Rock, Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, Scott’s Bluff, were individual items in creation’s slag heap that had got named, but the whole formation was fantastic. The learned Thornton called it Tadmor of the Desert and sketched a gift-book description of ruined cities, defeated armies, and ancient peoples put to the sword. (But exactly opposite Chimney Rock one of his hubs locked for want of grease and he had to interrupt his poetry.) Even such prosy diarists as Joel Palmer and Overton Johnson were startled into rhetoric, the realistic Bryant saw Scott’s Bluff against the green and purple murk of an oncoming storm and committed phrases like “ruins of some vast city erected by a race of giants, contemporaries of the Megatherii and the Icthyosaurii,” and Fremont composed a resounding tutti passage about “The City of the Desert.”
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.”
“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)
“A yoke of milch cows was often included in the ox team, led behind the wagon, or driven loose with the extra stock. There are records of favorite cows which gave milk clear to Oregon and to the Humboldt Sink in western Nevada. The cows were milked morning and night. The morning’s supply was placed in a covered bucket and swung behind the wagon. At night, without further ado, it was removed in the shape of sweet buttermilk and butter. The night’s milking was used for the evening meal.”
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.”
“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.”
First Western Mail Service
“The Mormons’ [who’d settled the Salt Lake area in summer 1847] need to maintain contact with their missionary organizations in the States and Europe provided the impetus for America’s first Western mail service.”
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 Buffalo Horse
The Indians had horses for all purposes. The buffalo horse was merely a trained cow pony; he bore a special mark or nick in his ear to distinguish him. He had to be alert, intelligent, willing to follow the game and press close to the side of the running animal, yet able to detect its intention and swerve from it so as not to become entangled, and all with no more guidance than the Indian exerted by pressure of his knees. The war horse and the buffalo horse were renowned for their speed, intelligence, and endurance. They were prize possessions and were valued above all else.
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.”
Virginia Slade's Talents
“Virginia, we know, was an expert seamstress as well as horsewoman, dancer, good shot, and excellent cook. . . .
“Often when [Jack Slade] was sober—or at least partially so—he escorted her to dances in Virginia City where she was the ‘belle of the ball,’ as she was considered the best dancer in all the Northwest Territory.”
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.
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.”
Mile 1075: South Pass
“The air is so dry out here that it takes forever for wood to rot. Some of these structures have been around for well over 100 years and haven’t been touched. They’re pretty cool to see.”
“While 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.]
The "Wire-Rope Express"
“James Street, Pacific Telegraph agent, . . . had held several “confabs” with Shokup, chief of the Shoshones, and believed there was nothing to fear from the Indians in that vicinity.
The Alta California, July 9 1801 (quoted in the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, August 6), published the details of one of these meetings at Robert’s creek. Shokup was very friendly, but pointed out that before the white man arrived his tribe was happy and enjoyed plenty of game and roots; now the game had disappeared and the roots were almost extinct, making him unhappy, as his people were hungry. One of his wives was dangerously ill, and her doctor blamed the Overland Mail as the cause. The interpreter denied that this could be possible, and invited Shokup to ride on the stage to San Francisco. He accepted, but on arriving at Carson City resolved to return. He called the telegraph the ‘wire-rope express,’ and could not believe that, after arriving at San Francisco he could talk with his wife almost as quickly as if he were at her side. He supposed the Express to be an animal, and when told it consumed lightning, could not understand what sort of beast it was. He wired the ‘Big Captain’ at San Francisco that his Indians would not trouble the line, and wished to be the friends of the whites. General Carpenter, president of the Overland Telegraph, ordered presens sent to Sholrup and his tribesmen.”
“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 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.”
Lure of the Trail for Men
“The male camaraderie of country life, in fact, was exaggerated by the dangers and excitements of the trail. “Men drawn together on the plains as in every day walks of life,” William Thompson remembered, “only the bonds were closer and far more enduring. The very dangers through which passed together rendered the ties more lasting.”
This chance for an exaggerated and extended occasion masculine good times lured men to the trail. Truly one of the great attractions of the trip was the notion of spending entire spring and summer “in the rough” with the boys, away routines of farm work. Trail work was hard, to be sure, but farm drudgery held none of this romantic allure. The idea of an overland emigration struck romantic chords deep within the male breast. One midwestern visitor reported that men “spoke of ‘Old Kentuck’ and ‘Old Virginny’ in a tone that sounded like deep emotion,” and Indiana farmers “related with glowing eyes” tales of how their fathers had emigrated from the valleys of Appalachia. William Oliver told of how the men at an inn along the National Road in Manhattan, Indiana, listened almost reverently as a gnarled old frontiersman recounted his adventures, supposedly at the side of Daniel Boone, hunting ‘Injuns.’ On the trail men could live out collective fantasies that some had experienced in the early days of the midwestern frontier but most had only dreamed of on their staid and settled farms. Here on the trail was an opportunity to bring to life that male self-image. The project of Oregon and California settlement itself included a male vision of life in a time and place where men played a man’s role with long rifle and hunting knife as well as plough and cradle.
Hunting has continually recurred as a theme in these pages of the importance it assumed for emigrant men. It was in this context of male fantasy and the measurement of masculine identity against the standard of earlier, heroic generation of men that hunting took on its meaning. At home the rifle had retained its symbolic if not practical place as the key instrument of male activity. As such, the rifle was the object around which men organized their conception of the trip. By insisting that their rifles would again become the means of securing nourishment for their families, men allowed their own projections to set the form and the content of the journey. Matthew Field captured something of this with a description of the emigrants passing through Westport, men to the front, “rifles on their shoulders, … looking as if they were already watching around the corners of the streets for game.” Hunting, of course, supplied very little of the actual nourishment for the overland travelers, and experienced observers, from the beginning, advised against wasting valuable time on the hunt.But the men nonetheless insisted on approaching the trip as at least a hunting expedition.”
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.”
Character of Plains Settlers
In a letter to Manypenny, September 12, 1856, [Fort Laramie area Indian Agent] Twiss pointed out that the Indians were “not being improved, but rather deteriorating, and becoming worse from year to year.” This condition was due, in part, to the fact that all too often “those whites who reside among the Indians of the prairies are neither the pioneers of civilization nor settlements, but emphatically fugitives from both…. It is impossible for them to reside in the States or organized Territories, because the relat.ions of peace and amity between them and the courts of justice are inter- rupted…. [They] teach the Indians lessons in their own school of depravity.” Good missionaries and teachers, and honest traders – desirable at all times – were far from plentiful.
Twiss thus appears to have been firm in upholding his own rights and the rights of his department; ready to do the best by the Indians a.s he saw the best; keenly alert to Indian problems; but ever pessimistic or questioning the ultimate fate of the Red Man.
“Our Camp at Pole Creek the night’ of November 4, 1864, was very bleak and dreary. Pole Creek was a vast trough in the plateau. It had a bed wide enough for the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Through this bed the arroyo of the stream ran, a bed of beautiful tawny sand about a hundred yards wide, and cut down from ten to fifteen feet. Sometimes the arroyo was wider, and sometimes narrower, but from Julesburg to the crossing, thirty-five miles, there was nothing, as before stated, in the shape of a tree or bush. It was absolutely devoid of any vegetation except the grass. And above the arroyo the ‘flood plain’ of the stream, if it could be so called, was as level as a floor for distances out of sight. Occasionally in the arroyo there were little clumps of drift roots and brush, sometimes a small, dead, drifted pine. Lodgepole Creek was said to have a well-defined bed for two hundred miles, and to head at the Cheyenne Pass, in the Rocky Mountains.”
“From twenty-eight to forty-five days on the road were needed to put a wagon-train from the Missouri River into Denver. This was the time needed for oxen, and to cover he distance in twenty-eight was fast travel indeed. Mule-trains covered the same road i n about three weeks time. A train would spend seventy to seventy-five days an the trail between the Missouri River and Salt Lake City.”
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. . . .'”
“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.”
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]
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.”
End of the Pony Express
But Indian resistance and financial woes, serious as they were, did not bury the Pony Express. Technology did. About two months after the first mochila left St. Joseph, Congress authorized funding to build a transcontinental telegraph. Crews from Nebraska and what is now western Nevada began working toward each other, erecting poles and stringing wire along the Pony Express route. The lines met on Salt Lake City’s Main Street. On October 24, 1861, Western Union ceremoniously linked the two segments and made near instantaneous, coast-to-coast communications a reality. Two days later the now-obsolete Pony Express closed its doors. Mail that was already underway continued to its destination, with the last mochila arriving in San Francisco on November 20, 1861. The Pony’s parent company, the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co., soon fell into bankruptcy and was acquired by “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay. That operation continued under a new name, the Overland Stage Company.
Effect of Way Stations on Overland Travel
“The most striking new developments [in overland travel] were prompted by the way station requirements of overland stagecoaching (to Denver and the Pike’s Peak country as well as to Salt Lake City and California) and the Pony Express. When coupled with the rapidity of rural and urban settlement west of the Missouri River, east of the traditional California and Oregon destination points, and on all sides of Salt Lake City, the net result was an overland trip which resembled the pioneering ventures of the early 1840s in name only. For in 1859 and 1860 there were, literally, hundreds of supportive facilities en route. Rarely did the emigrant travel more than twenty-five or thirty miles without encountering at least one habitation. Usually there were more. It made no difference whether the overlander began from St. Joseph and traveled via the overland trail on the south side of the Platte River or whether he launched out from Council Bluffs–Omaha on the north side of the Platte—supportive facilities were everywhere.”
The Big Blue
“Except under abnormal conditions the camp site under these old trees [by the Big Blue] was an oasis, comfortable and even luxurious with fresh-water clams from the river, berries from the woods and even wild honey from an occasional bee tree.Given the added fillip of a pretty girl or two, it became a treasured memory to the ‘army of boys’ who traveled west. It may well be stressed, just here, that the bulk of the gold migration was young,–splendidly, adventurously, pitifully, young, the average age being estimated as less than twenty-five years; and nothing short of a comprehensive avalanche could have prevented a certain amount of love-making.
Here at the Big Bluewhere the evening camps smelled pungently of wood smoke; where the declining sun distilled the nostalgic fragrance of wild grape, renewing memories and fostering hope; where the prying moon rose two hours high before it got so much as a peep at the camps within the perfume=med woods–here romance flourished. Many and many a lifelong comradeship was blossoming by the time the river was crossed at last and the wagons moved on into the shimmering distances ahead.
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.”
Climate West of South Pass
“The climate in this part, as indeed every where between the South Pass and the Great Salt Lake Valley, was an exaggeration of the Italian, with hot days, cool nights, and an incomparable purity and tenuity [thinness] of atmosphere.”
“The very word is Spanish, derived from the Arabic —, meaning ‘the brick.’ it is known throughout the West, and is written adobies, and pronounced dobies.”
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.”
Complaints Against Magraw
“The bill of indictment agains Magraw contained innumerable petty and some amusing complaints. His critics claimed that the superintendent was well known on the plains apparently had an old quarrel to settle with every trader on the road. Moreover, he had breathed anathemas and bitter denunciations against the Mormons, but as he approached Brigham Young’s domain his courage failed him. The disgruntled branded him as a coward. The crowning absurdity of his tyrannical egotism, they reported, was his urging each traveler headed east to take a personal letter introducing him to Magraw’s crony, the President of the United States, and advising the emigrant that the best possible introduction to Buchanan was to appear with the smell of good alcohol on the breath.”
Mile 890: Deer Creek
“After ten miles of the usual number of creeks, ‘Deep,’ ‘Small,’ ‘Snow,’ ‘Muddy,’ etc., and heavy descents, we reached at 10 A.M. Deer Creek, a stream about thirty feet wide, said to abound in fish. The station boasts of an Indian agent, Major Twiss, a post-office, a store, and of course a grog-shop. M. Bissonette, the owner of the two latter and an old Indian trader, was the usual Creole, speaking a French not unlike that of the Channel Islands, and wide awake to the advantages derivable from travelers: the large straggling establishment seemed to produce in abundance large squaws and little half-breeds. Fortunately stimulants are not much required on the plains: I wish my enemy no more terrible fate than to drink excessively with M. Bissonette of M. Bissonette’s liquor. The good Creole, when asked to join us, naively refused: he reminded me pf certain wine-merchants in more civilized lands, who, when dining with their pratique, sensibly prefer small-beer to their own concoctions.’
“[George] Chorpenning and his men left Sacramento May 1, 1851, with the first mail. They had great difficulty in reaching Carson valley, having had to beat down the snow with wooden mauls to open a trail for their animals over the Sierras. For sixteen days and nights they struggled through and camped upon deep snow. Upon reaching Carson valley, Chorpenning staked off in the usual western manner, a quarter section of land and arranged to establish a mail station. The town of Genoa, Nevada, grew up on the site.”
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 235: Oak Grove Ranch Marker
Just after Mile 235, near the town of Oak, is a historical marker commemorating the August 7, 1864 raid on this ranch.
Causes of Death for Emigrants
“[T]he actual dangers of the overland venture have been considerably misrepresented by the myth-makers’ overemphasis on Indian treachery. The less than 400 emigrants killed by Indians during the antebellum era represent a mere 4 percent of the estimated 10,000 or more emigrant deaths. It follows that disease and trail accidents were far more to be feared by the prospective overlander than were the native inhabitants of the West.
Disease was far and away the number one killer, accounting for nine out of every ten deaths. Although the emigrant was never completely safe from the scourge of epidemic disease, the initial portion of the trail to Fort Laramie, otherwise the easiest segment of the journey, occasioned the most disease-induced deaths. . . .Diarrhea, tuberculosis, smallpox, mumps, and a host of other illnesses downed travelers, but the chief afflictions were cholera, mountain fever, and scurvy. . . .
[C]arelessness was second only to disease as a hazard of cross-country travel. . . . One of the most unexpected facets of the ‘overland’ journey was that death by water claimed almost as many victims during the antebellum era as did the much-feared Indians—perhaps as many as 300, at least 90 in 1850 alone. . . .
After drownings the commonest cause of fatal accidents was careless handling of the fantastic arsenal of firearms the overlanders carried wist with them.
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).
“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.”
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.”
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.”
“This hideous growth, which is to weary our eyes as far as central valleys of the Sierra Nevada, will require a few words of notice.
The artemisia, absinthe, or wild sage differs much from the panacea concerning which the Salernitan school rhymed: “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto.” [“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”] Yet it fills the air with a smell that caricatures the odor of the garden-plant, causing the traveler to look round in astonishment; and when used for cooking it taints the food with a taste between camphor and turpentine. It is of two kinds. The smaller or white species (A. filifolia) rarely grows higher than a foot. Its fetor is less rank, and at times of scarcity it forms tolerable fodder for animals. The Western men have made of it, as of the “red root,” a tea, which must be pronounced decidedly inferior to corn coffee. The Indians smoke it, but they are not particular about what they inhale: like that perverse p—n of Ludlow, who smoked the bell-ropes rather than not smoke at all, or like school-boys who break themselves in upon ratan, they use even the larger sage as well as a variety of other graveolent growths.
The second kind (A. tridentatd) is to the family of shrubs what the prairie cedar is to the trees a gnarled, crooked, rough-barked deformity. It has no pretensions to beauty except in earliest youth, and in the dewy hours when the breeze turns up its leaves that glitter like silver in the sun; and its constant presence in the worst and most desert tracts teaches one to regard it, like the mangrove in Asia and Africa, with aversion. In size it greatly varies ; in some places it is but little larger than the white species; near the Red Buttes its woody stem often attains the height of a man and the thickness of his waist. As many as fifty rings have been counted in one wood, which, according to the normal calculation, would bring its age up to half a century. After its first year, stock will eat it only when threatened with starvation. It has, however, its use; the traveler, despite its ugliness, hails the appearance of its stiff, wiry clumps at the evening halt: it is easily uprooted, and by virtue of its essential oil it makes a hot and lasting fire, and ashes over. According to Colonel Fremont, ‘it has a small fly accompanying it through every change of elevation and latitude.’ The same eminent authority also suggests that the respiration of air so highly impregnated with aromatic plants may partly account for the favorable effect of the climate upon consumption.”
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 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]
Rate of Communication in 1846
“The vote of June 12 was to instruct the President to accept 49°. Three days later Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Pakenham signed the convention that settled the Oregon question forever …. At this point it is wholesome to recall once more the rates of communication, since they governed the management of armies as well as the tidings of peace. The convention was signed on June 15. At once an express left Washington to notify the Oregonians that they were American citizens after all and need not, as some of them were at that moment proposing to do, commit a Bear Flag maneuver against the Hudson’s Bay Company. It went to Vera Cruz and followed in Gillespie’s tracks across enemy soil to Mazatlan. The first boat out was bound to China by way of the Sandwich Islands, and at Honolulu the dispatch was put on board the bark Fawn, which crossed the bar at the mouth of the Columbia on November 12. Five months after the signing of the convention, the Fawn‘s supercargo was rowed to shore with the great news. He was nine days behind unofficial dispatches from Honolulu on the Toulon.
“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.”
Chorpenning and the Egan Trail
“In October, 1858, Chorpenning set out from Salt Lake City to examine a more direct route, south of Great Salt Lake. Three years before, a Utah pioneer, Howard Egan, had explored a route from northern California to Salt Lake City which followed very nearly the fortieth parallel, north latitude. In September 1855, he retraced his steps and won a wager by riding riding on mule back from Salt Lake City to Sacramento in ten days. This route came to be know as the Egan trail. Chorpenning found the route practicable and immediately set about moving his mail line to the new route.”
Mile 1952: Sand Springs Station
“Sand-Springs Station deserved its name. Like the Brazas de San Diego and other mauvaises terres near the Rio Grande, the land is cumbered here and there with drifted ridges of the finest sand, sometimes 200 feet high, and shifting before every gale. Behind the house stood a mound shaped like the contents of an hour-glass, drifted up by the stormy S.E. gale in esplanade shape, and falling steep to northward or against the wind. The water near this vile hole was thick and stale with sulphury salts: it blistered even the hands. The station-house was no unfit object in such a scene, 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. Hibernia herself never produced aught more characteristic.”
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.
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 284: Lone Tree Station
“In time or course climbed slightly to a flat upland covered with grain. This was evidently Nine Mile Ridge, where in staging days stood Lone Tree Station. The solitary tree for which the station was named used to be visible for a long distance in each direction and helped to break the monotony of the bare, rolling prairie hills. It was hard to imagine such a condition faced, as we were, with ranches and roadsides planted thick with shrubs and shade trees.”
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.”
Trail Options West of South Pass
“From South Pass, emigrants had several options for reaching California. They could go to Salt Lake City via the trail to Fort Bridger, and then take either the Salt Lake Cutoff or the Hastings Cutoff west from there. Or they could tum north from Fort Bridger onto the Fort Hall Road (part of the original Oregon Trail), which led to Fort Hall on the Snake River. Or they could bypass Fort Bridger entirely by taking the Sublette Cutoff, which connected up with the Fort Hall Road in the Bear River Valley. Whichever way they went, they had to cross the vast, bleak Green River and the rough terrain of the Overthrust Belt.”
Mile 753: Fort Laramie
“Recorded history of the section immediately west of Scott’s Bluff begins about the year 1818 when Jaques La Ramie, a French Canadian, built a trapper’s cabin near the junction of the North Platte and the Laramie River. He was trapping in the vicinity of Laramie Mountains when the erection of the tiny dwelling established him as the first permanent resident of the section. Four years later the Indians clinched his claim to permanence by leaving his bones to bleach on the headwaters of the river that bears his name. . . .
[In 1834, Robert Campbell and William Sublette stopped to trade at the Laramie River on their way to the rendezvous at Green River.] At Laramie River, the trading was excellent. Sublette left Campbell to hold down the situation and hurried on. Campbell, getting help, built a small trading post consisting of a high stockade of pickets and a. few tiny huts inside. . . .he named the place Fort William, after his partner; but in two years, it evolved into what history knows as Old Fort Laramie. . . .
In 1835 . . .Fort William passed into the hands [of the American Fur Company] and was rechristened Fort John after John B. Sarpy, an officer in the company. . . .In 1836 the American Fur Company deserted the the stockade of Fort John and built a better one a few hundred yards up Laramie River on a small plateau. The name went with it but ‘Fort John on the Laramie’ was soon corrupted to the simple ‘Fort Laramie’ that has remained in use ever since. It was of adobe, copying those forts farther south that had been built with Mexican labor. . . .
By the year 1845 the fur traders dealt mostly in buffalo robes, beaver having passed gradually from its position of importance, and although the other forts did a brisk business, the preeminence and prestige of Fort Laramie was unquestioned. [Francis] Parkman wrote of the American Fur Company at Fort Laramie that they, ‘well-nigh monopolize the Indian trade of this whole region. Here the officials rule with an absolute sway; the arm of the United States has little force; for when we were there, the extreme outposts of her troops were about seven hundred miles to the eastward.’ . . .
The lack of governmental protection mentioned by Parkman was felt so keenly that in the summer of ’49 the United States purchased Fort Laramie and garrisoned it for the avowed purpose of giving advice, protection, and the opportunity of buying supplies to the emigrants. It had a monthly mail service, and the marching thousands moved perceptibly faster the last few miles, hoping for a letter from home. Comparatively few were received, for they were apt to be longer en route that the would-be recipients; but the myriads of letters sent eastward fared better, and, if the addressee stayed long enough in one place, they arrived in the fullness of time.”
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.”
Wood for Julesburg
“We were told that we would have to stay at Julesburg over the winter, and that some arrangement would have to be made for winter quarters. The first thing we had to do was to get some wood for cooking. We had been using ‘bull-chips,’ and the boys had not had much cooked food. Captain O’Brien directed me to take the company wagons and an escort, and go for wood. There were no cedar canyons, and no trees anywhere in the neighborhood of Julesburg. The nearest point at which there was anything like a tree was over at Ash Hollow, and that was a day’s march to the northeast, on the North Platte. . . .
“By telegraph we got a lot of cedar poles cut down at Cottonwood Canyon, and the post wagons there brought us up a lot under escort. There was nothing growing along the Platte of much consequence. The statement used to be that one could not get a riding-switch for seventy miles on each side of Julesburg along the Platte. It was thirty miles south of Julesburg to what was called the White Man’s Fork of the Republican River, but it was seventy miles, nearly, to the Republican River. Pioneers had said that there was nothing on White Man’s Fork and nothing until we went seventy miles to the Republican, and there only cottonwoods.”
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.”
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.”]
The Pony Express Takes Over Chorpenning's Route
Happily, as it turns out, for the Pony Express, the Central Overland Trail was also developed as a stagecoach and mail-by-mule route by a hardworking competitor, George W. Chorpenning. Chorpenning held the federal contract for mail and stagecoach service between Salt Lake and San Francisco when Pony Express agents came sniffing around, looking for opportunity. The U.S. Post Office abruptly canceled his contract in May 1860, about a month after the Pony Express started operations, due in part to behind-the-scenes conniving by the Pony and others hoping to grab that contract for themselves. Even while Chorpenning’s “Jackass Mail” was still up and braying — and without a government contract in hand, itself — the Pony took over his route, brazenly moved into his stage and mail stations, seized his livestock and equipment, and hired away some of his key employees. Chorpenning brought a claim before Congress for his losses, but was still uncompensated when he died in 1894. Meanwhile, the Pony Express would share its pirated route and assets with a passenger, freight, and “heavy mail” stage line operated by its parent company, the Central Overland California & Pike’s Peak Express Co.