“Cold Springs was located between Troy and Kennekuk. Burton [in The City of Saints] has twisted the order of stations here, which should read: Troy, Cold Spring, Syracuse and Kennekuk.”
Little Blue Valley
“For years Marysville, Kansas, marked the end of the truly settled country; but the Little Blue Valley, so, charming and so fertile, sheltered a sort of border zone of ranches lying beyond the pale of civilization. It began to be inhabited in the fifties and became more populous as the staging industry formed a life line to hold it to Missouri, but it paid a dreadful price in ‘64 when the Indians rose against the white settlers in one terrific onslaught, hoping to drive them out forever.”
Mile 1: Kansas
“Landing in Bleeding Kansas—she still bleeds—we fell at once into ‘Emigration Road,’ a great thoroughfare, broad and well worn as a European turnpike or a roman military route, and undoubtedly the best and the longest natural highway in the world.
“For five miles the line bisected a bottom formed by a bend in the river, with about a mile’s diameter at the neck. The scene was of a luxuriant vegetation. A deep tangled wood rather a thicket or a jungle than a forest of oaks and elms., hickory, basswood, and black walnut, poplar and hackberry (Celtis crassifolia) box elder, and the common willow (Salix longifolia), clad and festooned, bound and anchored by wild vines, creepers, and huge llianas, and sheltering an undergrowth of white alder and red sumach, whose pyramidal flowers were about to fall, rested upon a basis of deep black mire, strongly suggestive of chills fever and ague. After an hour of burning sun and sickly damp, the effects of the late storms, we emerged from the waste of vegetation, passed through a straggling ‘neck o’ the woods,’ whose yellow inmates reminded me of Mississippian descriptions in the days gone by, and after spanning some very rough ground we bade adieu to the valley of the Missouri, and emerged upon the region of the Grand Prairie which we will pronounce ‘perrairey.'”
Mile 120: Guittard's Station
“Going east passengers seldom passed by the house of this Frenchman [Guittard]. He kept one of the best ranches on the whole line and he was known along the overland from Atchison to California by stage passengers and freighters as well as the ‘Delmonico’ is in New York. His was the favorite stopping place for all passengers on the overland, and thousands of freighters and pilgrims hardly ever passed, going east or west without sitting down to the hospitable table that made this ranch so famous. . . .
[quoting from Root and Connelly, Stagecoaching to California]
“In his City of the Saints, Burton, praises very few of the eating places (in 1860), but says that here ‘the house and kitchen were clean, the fences neat; the ham and eggs, the hot rolls and coffee, were fresh and good, and, although drought had killed the salad, we had abundance of peaches and cream, an offering of French to American taste. . . . pp. 27, 28.”
Mile 120: Guittard's Station
“Beyond Guittard’s the prairies bore a burnt-up aspect. Far as the eye could see the tintage was that of the Arabian Desert, sere and tawny as a jackal’s back.”
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.”
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.”
Mile 137: Marysville, KS
“In 1852 a white man named Marshall squatted on the east bank [of the Blue River] and went into the ferry business on a permanent basis. . . . [He] was still in business in ’54 with a ‘trading house’ . . . This establishment was evidently the beginning of the ‘small settlement’ of Marysville. . . . [which] became the seat of a county named for the enterprising Mr. Marshall, its first settler; it was also a station on the Pony Express.”
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.”
Mile 151: Hollenberg Pony Express Station State Historic Site
“The Hollenberg Pony Express Station State Historic Site has been painstakingly restored and is open for visits from March 14th – October 13th.
Be sure to make a quick stop and take a walk inside. It’s a pretty incredible experience so early on the trail.”
[N.B. More info about the station here.]
Mile 151: Hanover
“Early in the morning, near the town of Hanover, we had our first glimpse of the Little Blue—a small and gentle river, always to be remembered fondly by the westbound families who, except during Indian uprisings, looked forward with happy anticipation to the days in its rolling valley. Wood, water, and grass were plentiful and, best of all, the headwaters lay to the west so that for almost a week’s journey the caravans camped cozily side by side on its shady bank. Here, if anywhere, the ‘Oh Susannah’ quality of the journey across the plains flourished at its inspiring best. . . .
After a regular stage line with relay stations had been established from the Missouri River to the Pacific Coast, the Little Blue Valley was considered by crew and passengers to be the cream of the whole trip. . .
The home stations along the Little Blue were especially blessed with farm products—eggs, cream, buter, cheese, and vegetables.Nowhere else along the emigrant road, except at Salt Lake City, were these commodities found. The charm of the home-grown viands was somewhat marred for the curious soul who, in wandering about behind the house, saw the chickens roosting for the night on the butchered pig destined to be his morning pork-chops. But hunger was a potent sauce. No doubt he ate the chops and washed them down with coffee, abundant and hot—the unchallenged beverage of the plains.”
[N.B. The Hollenberg Station site is near Hanover, the base of the Little Blue Valley. The Trail follows the Little Blue until near Ayr, NE (Mile 284)]
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.”
Mile 228: Kiowa Station
“Near Kiowa Station the nature of the terrain changed. The hitherto smooth slopes broke into rain-gutted saddles and deep-washed gullies. The wagons had steered a dizzy course like a line of ants disturbed.”
Mile 26-96: Severance to Seneca
“Scouting the pony express bike packing route day 2 hike a bike out of the tall grass and trees to highway 20 still on route everything went good dirt and gravel roads were riding great although in a rain they wouldn’t be so great also these are mostly roads used by farmers to access their fields so during planting or harvest they may be busy with farm traffic. Camping looked promising and comfortable at atchison county lake although I didn’t camp there. Moved on through Horton to Seneca just past Horton behind the abandoned Kickapoo truck stop is the next road to nowhere. Chipmunk road dose not go through to 110th street it has been plowed under. I got on us 75 and went the few blocks to 110th to get back on route everything else went well into Seneca with the exception of a temporary road closed for bridge repair. In Seneca I camped at Baileys rv resort it was nice clean heated bathroom’s with showers!!”
[NB. This is entry two of three by Andy Phillips. His ride track is on Strava at https://www.strava.com/activities/4200455147.]
Mile 27: Valley Home
“The next settlement, Valley Home, was reached at 6 P.M. Here the long wave of the ocean land broke into shorter seas, and for the first time that day we saw stones, locally called rocks (a Western term embracing every thing between a pebble and a boulder), the produce of nullahs and ravines.”
Mile 278: Spring Ranch
“We then resumed our journey over a desert, waterless save after rain, for twenty-three miles; it is the divide between the Little Blue and the Platte rivers, a broken table-land rising gradually toward the west, with, at this season, a barren soil of sand and clay. As the evening approached, a smile from above lit up into absolute beauty the homely features of the world below. The sweet commune with nature in her fairest hours denied to the sons of cities—who must contemplate her charms through a vista of brick wall, or over a foreground of chimney-pots—consoled us amply for all the little hardships of travel. Strata upon strata of cloud-banks, burnished to golden red in the vicinity of the setting sun, and polished to dazzling silvery white above, lay piled half way from the horizon to the zenith, with a distinct strike toward a vanishing point in the west, and dipping into a gateway through which the orb of day slowly retired. Overhead floated in a sea of amber and yellow, pink and green, heavy purple nimbi, apparently turned upside down their convex bulges below, and their horizontal lines high in the air while in the east black and blue were so curiously blended that the eye could not distinguish whether it rested upon darkening air or upon a lowering thunder-cloud. We enjoyed these beauties in silence; not a soul said, ‘Look there!’ or ‘How pretty !’
At 9 P.M., reaching ‘Thirty-two-mile Creek,’ we were pleasantly surprised to find an utter absence of the Irishry.”
Mile 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.”
Mile 48: Kennekuk
“Frank A. Root writes in The Overland Stage (pp. 190, 191): ‘Kennekuk was the first ‘home’ station out from Atchison, and here drivers were changed. It was a little town of perhaps a dozen houses, having a store, blacksmith shop, etc. The Kickapoo Indian agency was one of the most prominent buildings. . . The old stone mission . . . visible for many miles . . . was less than a mile northwest of the stage station, adjoining the now thriving city of Horton. . .
The St. Joseph road here intersected the military road from Fort Leavenworth.”
Mile 48: Kennekuk Station
“After Mosquito Creek the toiling caravans passed, in staging days, an important home station called at first Kickapoo Agency and later Kennekuk Station in honor of chief Kennekuk of the Kickapoo. The military road from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Kearney joined the Oregon Trail at Kennekuk, and all travelers proceeded together to Wolf Creek where they camped. They found here a rude log bridge floored with poles guarded by the Sac and Fox Indians, and toll was collected by friendly but firm braves who looked (so one woman wrote) ten feet high. The very moderate price was twenty-five cents. Every one used the bridge and begrudged the money verbosely in his or her diary.
Nearby was the old stone mission to the Kickapoo, which cold be seen for miles in all directions and was surrounded by cultivated farm lands. Many of the emigrants blamed their vanished coin on the business acumen of the white missionaries; but others, watching the imperturbable Sac and Fox playing cards in the intervals of collecting two-bit pieces, figured that they were quite capable of thinking it up for themselves.”
[N.B. According to the NPS, “A granite stone west of the marker and across the road indicates the site of the relay station. The stone memorial marker is one-and-one-half miles southeast of present-day Horton, Kansas.” One source located that site on Road 326, between Cheyenne and Chautauqua Roads. To get there from the Pony Express Bikepacking Trail, you’d need to turn off the Trail and onto Cheyenne Road just before Mile 46.]
Mile 6-26: Walthena to Severance
“Scouting the pony express bike packing route part 1 day 1. Got a late start out of st jo so I got a ride with my wife after dinner to Wathena KS. Not much to scout on the highway out of st jo things went well through Troy Ks good hills to start roads were in good shape mostly dirt and gravel at road 170 just before the road intersects with highway 20 it disappears into overgrowth and washout I camped behind a cedar tree in the middle of the road for wind protection.”
[NB. This is entry one of three by Andy Phillips. His ride track is on Strava at https://www.strava.com/activities/4196700721.]
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.”
Mile 95-136: Seneca to Marysville
“Scouting the pony express route day 3 into Marysville. Again mostly dirt roads everything went good though wide open spaces beautiful vistas are throughout this route!! The last bit off Jayhawk trailhead on the blue river trail seemed to go on private property and had a bridge that was cross able although dangerously in disrepair. Unfortunately this was the last day of my scouting adventure due to weather conditions further down the route and unsettled weather that would have an effect of where I was going. I’ll pick up in Marysville at a later date and finish at least to Julesburg Colorado when the weather permits.”
[NB. This is entry three of three by Andy Phillips. His ride track is on Strava at https://www.strava.com/activities/4203535481.]
“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.”
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.