OVERLAND STAGE TO CALIFORNIA.
PERSONAL REMINISCENCES AND AUTHENTIC HISTORY OF
FRANK A. ROOT,
MESSENGER IN CHARGE OF THE EXPRESS, AND
AGENT OF THE POST-OFFICE DEPARTMENT
And late publisher of the Atchison
Free Press, Atchison Champion, Waterville
WILLIAM ELSEY CONNELLEY,
AUTHOR OF "THE PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT OF
NEBRASKA TERRITORY," "JAMES HENRY
PUBLISHED BY THE AUTHORS.
TOPEKA, KANSAS. 1901.
COPYRIGHT, 1901, By FRANK A. ROOT
AND WILLIAM ELSEY CONNELLEY.
Printed and bound by W. Y. MORGAN,
The Pioneer Newspapers
THE HEROIC SURVIVORS OF THE DAYS
OF THE OVERLAND STAGE-COACH
ON THE GREAT PLAINS.
THE value of this book lies in its fidelity--in its strict adherence to truth and its faithfulness to fact. It is, first of all, a historical work, the story of an eye-witness; but in the relation of historical incidents it often touches the story of the romance of the plains. Perhaps its principal mission in the future will be to preserve the real spirit of the first gigantic enterprises of the great West. These enterprises were of much moment in their day, but were only the forerunners of greater things. The vastness of the expanse and the conditions existing upon it made it, necessary to do things on a greater scale than in the settlement and development of any other portion of the continent. It has been said--and truly said--that the conquest of the great western wilderness, many of the events of which are portrayed in this volume, constitutes, the most fascinating romance in all history.
Many of these events had their dangers.
Sometimes they ended in tragedy, and scenes dark, bloody and
pathetic as ever found expression in tale or story. To many
a station did the old coaches come down the trail like the
wind, sore beset by blood-thirsty savages, who, seeing the
prey escape, scattered and vanished across the desert in
scurrying dust clouds. Sometimes the driver was dead and the
passengers were maimed. More than once the coach was left
surrounded by dead and scalped travelers, a ghastly tribute
to the cruelty of the savages and the perils of the plains.
But the brave pioneers did not falter. They laid strong and
deep the foundation of such development and growth of
civilization as the world has never before witnessed.
The little hamlet of cottonwood cabins at the junction of Cherry creek and the South Platte has grown to be the "Queen City of the Plains." The pony express has been driven from the trail by the telegraph, and the stage-coaches pushed aside by the railway. Desert wastes and sweeps of blistering sand have been reclaimed and made to bloom as the roses of the valley. Men have dug into the bowels of the great mountain ranges and brought forth a stream of gold that enriches all the nations of the earth.
All these things had root in human hearts and human hands. They cost blood and treasure untold. They would have failed of accomplishment but for the courage and loyalty of the men who labored in their day to redeem and subdue the wildnerness. Some of them remain with us, and one of them, David Street, speaking of Ben. Holladay, the great overland stage route proprietor, and of the drivers employed by him on the line, in a recent letter pays a timely tribute to those heroes who labored to establish civilization in the Great West:
"His drivers and stock tenders were the best. No storms, no dangers could daunt them. I wondered at the time, and have often wondered since, what it was that inspired them. They seemed to possess the spirit that an army does in battle. The fight was on; the bridges burned behind them, and the only thought was 'Forward!'
"Many heroic deeds by agents, drivers and messengers could be recounted--of facing blizzards, plowing through snow-banks, the dangerous snow and landslides; swimming coach and team across swollen streams; ferrying coach or team across torrents of rivers on frail boats; facing Indians on the war-path; drivers and messengers shot from the box by Indians and road-agents. I have known coaches to come in to the station with the driver dead in the front boot, the mail soaked with his blood. I recall instances where employees traveling with coaches attacked by Indians have kept up a fight for a whole day and part of a night, and, finally, with their dead and wounded on the front wheels of the coach, abandoning everything else, and, under cover of the night, making their escape to the nearest station. I remember well the circumstances of a passenger and express coach attacked by highway robbers, or, as they were called in those days, road-agents. A resistance was made, resulting in the driver and messenger being shot dead from the box, with a total of three killed and six wounded out of ten persons, and the loss of $75,000 in gold dust. There was some incentive that induced these men to brave all these dangers, and I can liken it to nothing except the spirit that pervades brave men in battle."
The credit of writing the volume belongs to Mr. ROOT. He wished me to rewrite all the text. This I refused to do, for it would have destroyed the value of the book to a great extent. My work has been that of editor only. Some things have been omitted and others added at my suggestion, and in some instances arrangement has been changed and verification of statements made. Drawings for illustrations have been secured and arrangements for publication effected.
My refusal to disturb the text as written by Mr. ROOT has left some repetitions in the book, but these could not be avoided, and they are more than offset by the value retained in the personal narration of a conscientious eye-witness and participant in the stirring events of those heroic days. These repetitions are the result of the manner of Mr. ROOT'S work on the book. He devoted the spare time of fifteen years to writing it; there are periods of years between some of the chapters. We trust this defect will be found so slight as to prove insignificant.
Mr. ROOT tells of his work and how he came to write it in the following statement, prepared, in all except the reference personal to myself, at my request:
"Many years ago, when relating to a few friends some of my experiences while employed on the overland stage line, I was urged by them to write out my reminiscences and put them in book form. The suggestion did not strike me at all favorably at the time. While I had ridden long distances on the stage-coach, aggregating many thousands of miles, between the Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains, I had some hesitancy, and felt that I was in no way equal to the important literary task of writing the proposed book.
"When my objections were given to my friends, they more strongly than ever urged me to go on with the work. Some of the ideas advanced by them, in due time, set me to investigating; I spent some time thinking the matter over. I thought, as a now generation had come into the world since the telegraph had taken the place of the pony express and the overland California stage had yielded to the fast railway train, that a book at this time, detailing some of the events as they actually occurred in those early days--much of which would be new to a great majority of the people--might be read with some interest, not only by the rising generation, but
certainly by a goodly number of those who were in some way familiar with portions of the overland route. The Indian, the buffalo and other denizens of the prairies and plains have passed away, and much remains to be said of them that is instructive and interesting.
"Accordingly I wrote accounts of matters I thoroughly understood, and began to collect certain facts concerning which I was only partially familiar, to see what could be done. I made copious notes at odd times, and at leisure hours began writing them out. Soon it appeared in a number of publications that I was writing a book on 'Overland Staging Days,' and expected soon to publish it. Afterwards I met on the street in Topeka and talked a few minutes with my old friend, the late ex-Senator Ingalls, whom I first saw in the spring of 1859 and had known quite intimately since 1860. I always felt free to talk with him. We were boys together in early Kansas days at Atchison, when I was an employee on the old stage line, and also when I was foreman in the office of the Atchison Champion, working a while for him when he was one of its editors and lessees. He congratulated me upon having undertaken the task of writing my experiences as messenger on the great stage line and in the service of the Government on the plains in charge of the overland California mail.
"This encouraged me, and, somewhat reluctantly, I began the task of preparing and arranging the facts I had for the proposed volume. A number of times I thought seriously of abandoning the work. Few can have the remotest idea of the labor it has cost me. It has been a task, and a severe one. At odd hours and leisure days, it has cost me fifteen years of work. During that time I have seen and talked with hundreds of men on the subject, and I have been obliged to write not only scores but hundreds of letters to parties scattered throughout the country requesting information, with which to verify certain facts concerning which I felt there might be the least doubt. In a great many instances I have had to write from three to six letters before I could even get a reply. Others to whom I have written a number of times--and who I am certain could have given much timely information--have failed to answer a single inquiry. A number whom I addressed and who could have assisted me never answered, and they are now, I regret to learn, sleeping the sleep that knows no waking. Others have been only too willing to comply with each and every request I have made for data. They have rendered valuable assistance. But, in spite of all this, had I realized at the beginning the large amount of work to be done, the almost endless task of finding photographs for illustrations, and the thousand and one other things that have helped to impede the work, the probability is that I never would have begun it.
"Fortunately for me, early in the year closing the last century I met and made the acquaintance of Mr. William Elsey Connelley, formerly of Kansas City, late of Nebraska, and now an honored citizen of Topeka, the capital of Kansas. He looked over my manuscript, and was at once convinced that I had the material for an interesting volume. Mr. Connelley is a historian, a profound student, a man of deep research and vast information, a vigorous, pleasing, conscientious and fearless writer. He has already written several good books, and is working, at great disadvantage, but with
WILLIAM ELSEY CONNELLEY.
WE are under many obligations to Hon.
W. Y. MORGAN, State Printer, and his business manager, Mr.
W. G. DICKIE, for many acts of courtesy. And if this work
proves of the historical value we anticipate, the country at
large will owe a debt of gratitude to the public spirit of
Mr. Morgan, for he very generously assumed a portion of the
financial risk of the book. The facilities of his great
State Printing House were placed at our disposal for the
purpose of making the mechanical work on the book all it
should be. The result is the elegant volume we now present
to the public. The foreman of the house, Mr. T. B.
BROWN, has assisted us greatly, his
long experience in book-making enabling him to make the best
possible disposition of illustrations and other perplexing
typographical features. We also acknowledge our obligations
to Mr. A. G. CARRUTH, the
proof-reader of the State Printing House, for the
painstaking care with which he did his part of the work on
plates they became personally interested in the book, as did several of their department managers and employees, and they subscribed for a number of copies for themselves and friends.
We feel somewhat proud of the map that accompanies this book, and we believe all our readers will, for it is the first and only complete one ever made of the great overland stage route, which was practically the only thoroughfare across the western half of the continent in the early '60's. The map is an excellent piece of drawing, executed by Mr. ROY D. MARSH, a young man born in Kansas and now a citizen of Topeka. At odd hours, it required weeks of labor. A very valuable feature of the map is that it shows the Mormon route of 1847 and the old Santa Fe trail. The routes of the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express and the Butterfield Overland Despatch are also shown, they being the first and also the last stage routes from the Missouri river across the plains to Denver. In the '50's and '60's, all of these were important routes to the Rocky Mountains and beyond.
These gentlemen, one and all, were our associates in bringing out this book, and we desire to express our appreciation of their patience, kindness, courtesy, and generous cooperation.
The authors are under obligations for
valuable information to Mr. David Street, of Denver, for
many years paymaster and general manager of the Overland
Stage Line, the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company,
and the Wells, Fargo & Co.'s Express; also, to Mr. Moses
H. Sydenham, editor Central Star of Empire, Kearney,
Neb.; Judge John Doniphan, of St. Joseph, Mo.; Hon. P. G.
Lowe, of Leavenworth, Kan.; Hon. D. W. Wilder, author of the
"Annals of Kansas"; and the Kansas State Historical Society,
Topeka, Kan. Also, to "Seventy Years on the Frontier," by
Alexander Majors; Andreas's Histories of Kansas and
Nebraska; "Beyond the Mississippi," by Albert D. Richardson;
"Roughing It," by Mark Twain; "Heroes of the Plains," by
Buel; "The Undeveloped West," by Beadle; "An Overland
Journey" and "A Busy Life," by Horace Greeley; the "History
of Utah," by Orson F. Whitney; "Buffalo Land," by Dr. W. E.
Webb; the "History of Colorado," by Hon. Frank Hall;
"History of Denver," by the Denver Times, Earl B. Coe and
Jerome C. Smiley, editors; "Autobiography of Buffalo Bill,"
by Col. W. F. Cody; "Echoes from the Rocky Mountains," by
Hon. John M. Clampitt; "History of Utah, Colorado, Nevada,
and Nebraska," by H. H. Bancroft.
FRANK A. ROOT & WILLIAM
2000, 2010 for the NEGenWeb by
Pam Rietsch, Ted & Carole Miller Feb 2000