EXCITEMENT OVER PIKE'S PEAK GOLD DISCOVERY.
lapse of a decade from the later '40's demonstrated beyond
all doubt that vast quantities of gold abounded in various
sections of California. In the territorial days of 1857, it
was the belief of some of the pioneers of Kansas--a few of
whom had been on the Pacific coast--that the precious metal
also existed on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, in
the section then known as the "Pike's Peak" region, the
western border of Kansas then extending to the back-bone of
GEORGE A. JACKSON.
The first man to pan gold out of Cherry
Creek Colorado, in 1858.
The first settlement at the Pike's Peak mines was called Montana. Early that fall--1858--a few months after the, arrival of the first prospecting party, the city of Auraria, embracing a tract of 1200 acres, was laid out on the west bank of Cherry creek. A hotel, stores and shops were shortly opened and the new town grew slowly but steadily into prominence. St. Charles, another and rival town, on west bank of Cherry creek, was also started. In November the Denver Town Company was organized. The following spring the pioneer newspaper--the Rocky Mountain News--was started by William N. Byers, but it was in the old, original town of Auraria. It was only a short time until the name of St. Charles had been displaced by its ambitious rival, Denver City, on the east side of the creek, opposite Auraria--named as a compliment to Hon. James W. Denver.
GEORGE A. JACKSON was one of the pioneers of Colorado. He was on the plains and in the Rockies with Kit Carson and other noted hunters and trappers in the '40's. He was a native of Glasgow, Mo., but was early on the Pacific coast, going to California soon after the discovery of gold near Placerville, and returning to his native home in 1857. The next spring he turned up in the Pike's Peak region, going there early with a stock of Indian goods, which he carried into Auraria. He was the discoverer of gold at the "Jackson diggings," near Idaho Springs, in the later '50's, having panned out the first gold in the Pike's Peak region. After disposing of his goods he settled on the Cache la Poudre, where he prospected for the yellow metal and founded a trading post, which he christened Laporte. He also prospected about St. Vrain and Vasques Fork. Later he established winter quarters with Tom Golden and Jim Sanders at the eastern base of the mountains, where Golden is now located. He prospected in a number of places along the tributaries of the South Platte. In one place he made a big fire of brush and logs to thaw out the frozen ground, using a tin cup (for the want of a pan) in washing out the gold. The following spring he returned with a party of twenty-two men for prosecuting work in his new discoveries. Being without lumber, the party were obliged to convert their wagon-boxes into sluices. After seven days' work, the first cleaning up netted $1900 for the party. Jackson was well known all over Colorado and greatly esteemed in its early days. He had carried a rifle on the frontier for forty years, but finally became a victim of his own carelessness. While coming to Denver from a mining camp in eastern Utah, a few years ago, he was shot dead by the accidental discharge of his gun.
then territorial governor of Kansas. All eastern Colorado was then a part of Kansas Territory.
It was the universal remark that nearly all who went out on the plains in the later '50's and early '60's had "gone to Pike's Peak." Thousands of men, attracted by the glowing reports of vast quantities of gold at the new mines, fitted out at the prominent Missouri river towns--Kansas City, Leavenworth, Atchison, St. Joseph, Nebraska City, and Omaha--and started for the new "diggings." Nearly all of the roads that led out over the prairies and on the plains united at or near Fort Kearney, and from that point west the great overland military thoroughfare along the South bank of the Platte was lined with a busy, moving throng of people, representing a score or more of states, having in their charge various descriptions of vehicles. It was not long, however, until large numbers, thoroughly disgusted with the situation, began to return. Some backed out before they had gone 100 miles from the Missouri river. Same turned back when within a few miles of Denver. The most of them, on reaching their destination, became wiser and poorer because they were disappointed in not being able to pick up gold nuggets at every step taken. Some of them were mad. They had now begun to realize the truthfulness of the adage, "All's not gold that glitters"; the reports had all glittered.
The new diggings were variously known as the "Pike's Peak Gold Mines," the "Cherry Creek Gold Diggings," the "Gregory Gold Diggings," and the "Gold Fields of Western Kansas." The news of the discoveries--often so largely magnified that they had become fabulous--continued to spread rapidly all over the country, and anxious gold seekers soon began fitting out and flocking to the new El Dorado. As steadily as the sun rose and set, so steadily the gold fever continued to increase.
Comparatively few dared to venture across in the winter, but in the spring of 1859 the immense rush began, and for months the road across the plains was fairly lined with white-covered wagons--nine out of ten of the people accompanying them destined for the new "Pike's Peak Mines." Those in search of the "precious stuff" went across with all kinds of vehicles, not a few pushing their effects in hand-carts and wheelbarrows. Quite a number started out with packs on their backs. It was plain that the "fever" was raging at its highest pitch.
Being the first prominent town laid out, it was quite natural that Auraria should get the start of Denver and grow into importance, and become a leading outfitting point for prospecting parties going into the mountains. Both places, however, were then in Arapahoe county, Kansas Territory, and both grew and prospered. Denver was rapidly getting to the front, but it was more a "city" of tents than of buildings, owing to the difficulty at first experienced in getting lumber, because of the scarcity of sawmills in the region known as "Pike's Peak."
The place had a number of natural advantages not possessed by its senior rival on the west bank of Cherry creek. It was located on higher ground; hence was believed by many to be a more healthy and desirable place for residences. It also had a more commanding view of the surrounding country. Naturally a strong rivalry between the places was the result. As time passed it finally became evident that two large cities, each ambitious and striving to outdo the other, could not be built up so close together. Recognizing the fact that "in union there is strength," the projectors of the rival towns had a consultation. They held a mass meeting in March, 1860, and decided to consolidate. When the matter was settled Auraria was then called "Denver City, west division,*' and from that time on the consolidated young city under the shadow of the grand old Rockies took on a new lease of life and grew as if by magic. Representatives of outside capital who hitherto had hesitated about putting money in either place had no fears thereafter of investing in the prospective "Magic City of the Plains."
The excitement--and the rapid growth of Denver, occasioned by the existence of gold, which was being panned out in fair quantities almost at its very doors, naturally suggested that there ought to be a more rapid and better means of communication between the new mining region and the outfitting towns on the Missouri river, whence it was necessary for the mining people to draw their supplies. Leavenworth enjoyed a big name and was then the great commercial metropolis of Kansas, and Atchison was the second-best town. St. Joseph, having railroad connection with the east, was the most prominent point in western Missouri. Kansas City, without a railroad, was forging to the front as a commercial center, but it was far behind Leavenworth and St. Joseph, except that it enjoyed most of the Santa Fe trade.
Planter's Hotel, Leavenworth, Kan.
The discoveries steadily being made
soon led to the organization of an express company by the
well-known firm of Jones, Russell & Co., and the putting
on of a line of first-class stages from Leavenworth to the
new "Western Kansas Gold Diggings." Everything was finally
arranged, and the great enterprise went into operation in
the latter part of May, 1859. It was known as the
"Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express." The line was
equipped with over fifty Concord coaches, built by the
Abbot-Downing Company, of Concord, N. H., the most popular
and substantial vehicles of the kind made.
ite State." They were brought up the Missouri river by steamboat and were unloaded on the levee, between, Shawnee and Choctaw streets. At that time the western terminus of the Missouri Pacific railroad was nearly 200 miles away from Kansas' eastern border. These stages were the first Concord coaches shipped to Kansas. Nearly 800 mules were purchased for the line, and, with the coaches, were soon strung out over the route at the various stations all the way to the mountains.
The first stage to arrive from Denver, drawn by four mules, was on May 21, 1859. It was a proud day for the great Western outfitting point and there was much rejoicing by its enthusiastic citizens. A large and anxious crowd soon gathered in front of the Planter's hotel, eager to learn everything. The Times and Herald both published full particulars, and hundreds of copies were sold. The express vehicle bore a decoration which read: "The gold mountains of Kansas send greetings to her commercial metropolis." A coach dispatched a short distance out to escort it into the city bore a banner labeled "Leavenworth bears the echo from her mineral mountains and sends it on the wings of lightning to a listening world."
Albert D. Richardson was one of the early passengers west by the new line. He left Leavenworth four days after the first coach came in from the mines. He was the solitary passenger until Manhattan was reached, when he was joined by Horace Greeley, and, together, they occupied the stage by themselves all the way to Denver. Richardson was eleven days on the road from the Missouri river, reaching Denver at eight o'clock on the morning of June 6,1859. He spent six weeks in the new mines, returning in July, and reporting that there was then over $100,000 in dust among the miners. He came through from Denver in six days and ten hours, at that time the quickest trip ever made between the two places.
The stages at first left Leavenworth and Denver every morning, the schedule time through being ten days--considered a remarkably quick trip across the plains in the pioneer days of Kansas. The fare was $125, with way tariff twenty-five cents a mile. Each passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage. As first laid out and traveled, the length of the stage route was 687 miles; however, this distance was afterward shortened a few miles.
General Sherman's Cabin.
Near Topeka. Built in 1858.
The expense of operating the line was
approximately $1000 a day. The company did quite a business
at first carrying express packages at one dollar a pound,
and, on some trips, as many as 1000 letters, placed in
Government stamped envelopes, were carried at "two bits"
each. The stations, of which there were
twenty-seven--established about twenty-five miles
apart--were numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, and on up. Six men were
placed at most of the stations--four drivers, and two to
remain permanently at the station; the entire force being
the Kaw to Fort Riley and Junction City--the latter on the out-skirts of civilization--at the confluence of the Republican and Smoky Hill rivers. The road thence continued westward up the divide between the Republican and Solomon rivers, and across to the upper branches of the Republican, over to the branches of the Platte, in sight of the Rockies; thence across the barren plains to its destination near the eastern base of the mountains, striking Cherry creek a few miles southwest above Denver.
The Jones-Russell enterprise was a gigantic undertaking in its day. In starting out they ran their stages in pairs. This was not done so much to meet the great demand for traffic to the new Western mines as it was to afford protection against marauding bands of Indians along a considerable portion of the route.
It cost a vast fortune to open up and stock the new route. The company spent something near a quarter of a million dollars in their preliminaries, equipment, and in completing arrangements, before turning a wheel. The stages were drawn by four mules, It was the belief at that time that mules were the only animals that could successfully traverse the region known as the "Great American Desert" and make the journey on schedule time.
On the first two coaches that arrived in Denver were nine passengers. Henry Villard, of the Cincinnati Commercial, was one of the prominent journalists, in addition to the Tribune philosopher, and Richardson, who represented the Boston Journal. For the two years previous Richardson had been the Kansas correspondent of nearly half a dozen other leading Eastern newspapers, and was widely known as an experienced journalist. Free transportation was furnished by the stage company, and the Jones-Russell line was given a handsome send-off by this trio of leading journalists, who went out to examine and make a report on the new "Gold Mines of Western Kansas." The former wrote a series of letters while in the stage-coach en route, giving an interesting description of the long and tedious trip. He also wrote of his visit to the mines, and the several letters were published in the New York Tribune, and some time afterward in a book, under the title of "An Overland Journey."
Owing to the scarcity of fuel and water in the and region west beyond the Republican and Solomon rivers, and the fact that Indian depredations were frequently being committed along the route, early in July--only a few weeks after the "Express" went
into operation--a change was decided upon. The stock and coaches were moved north onto the Platte, and the stages thereafter, as long as the line was operated by its original projectors, made trips only once a week. A daily stage line without a mail contract could not be made to pay, and there were no settlements on the frontier.
John S. Jones, of Pettis county, Missouri, was general manager of the express line, his office being located in the basement of the old Planter's Hotel, in Leavenworth, at the northeast corner of Shawnee and Main streets. While Jones was a first-class man, with some capital and large business experience, it was alleged that be was not a practical stage man, and poorly fitted for the responsible position he occupied.
Shortly after the line was changed to the Platte route, stations were built at frequent intervals, with stables adjacent capable of holding two four-mule teams. At a number of places there were ranches and traders on the route at convenient distances, and arrangements were made at some of these for keeping the stage stock, the drivers, and other employees.
The Platte route having been given a thorough trial, and there being no perceptible improvement in the management of the line as time passed by, Jones was followed as superintendent by Beverly D. Williams, a Kentuckian, who was elected delegate to Congress from the Territory of Jefferson (now Colorado) in the fall of 1859. Even with a "congressman" elect at the head of the great enterprise as manager, matters did not improve very much or even make the express line a paying enterprise. It continued to run at a loss until finally it became necessary to make another change, and Benjamin F. Ficklin was placed in charge in the spring of 1860.
It took only a short time to find out that Ficklin was the kind of a man whose services the company had long needed. He was a gentleman of great experience in the stage and express business, and he was not long in putting the line in first-class order and on a more substantial basis. He was a Virginian--a man of indomitable courage and decided force of character. On taking possession as superintendent of the line he found it in a terribly demoralized condition. Nearly everything connected with it appeared to be in a chaotic state. Apparently there was no limit to the bad characters in the employ of the company. To the new
Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express, at Milne House, Indianola.
manager it looked as though all the thieves in creation had congregated along the route and were systematically preying upon the company's property.
But Ben. Ficklin was now master of the situation, and he at once proved to be a man in every particular equal to the existing emergency. He went to work at the hazardous and apparently endless task of making a general "cleaning up." The work of driving out the thieves at the earliest practicable moment and placing the line in a paying condition he considered of the utmost importance, and his first duty to the company. He did this work in the shortest time possible, and he did it most effectually. Ficklin was a warm friend of the boys employed on the express line and they all fairly worshiped (sic) him. He remained in the service of the company until the close of 1861, when, after the civil war had been raging nearly a year, he went South to his former home and enlisted in the service of the "lost cause." He did not go, however, until he had greatly improved the stage line and left it in a fairly prosperous condition.
Forty years have elapsed since the pioneer stage and express line between the Missouri river and Denver was put in operation. It was one of the great undertakings of the day in Kansas, in the later '50's. Every member of the firm of Jones, Russell & Co., who organized the line, has long been dead. During the period this firm operated that important stage line their enterprise was widely known, particularly west of the Missouri river, the firm name on the plains at that time being almost as familiar as household words.
A few months after the old express line had been changed from its original route via Manhattan and Junction City over to the Platte, it became necessary to make another still more important change. The route finally taken--although several miles longer, and believed to be the only natural stage route across the Plains north of the Santa Fe trail was the old military road from Fort Leavenworth, which the road from Atchison west intersected three or four miles out, at a point known as "Mormon Grove." It was not long thereafter until the stages from Leavenworth ran direct via Atchison to Kennekuk, Seneca, Marysville; thence northwesterly up the Little Blue valley through southern Nebraska. and across the divide to the Platte. Thence it is a water grade most of the way to the Rocky Mountains.
A good road had long been laid out west from St. Joseph, Mo., intersecting the Fort Leavenworth Government highway at Kennekuk, at the east line of the Kickapoo Indian reservation, thirty-five miles a little south of west from St. Joseph, but only twenty-four miles due west on the "Parallel" road from Atchison. It was inevitable from the first that Atchison, from its decidedly favorable location, should become the starting-point for the overland stages. One important point in its favor was that it was on the great western bend of the Missouri river and was a dozen or more miles farther west than any other prominent town, in eastern Kansas. Another point was that it enjoyed the advantage of being connected with the East by rail, and had one of the best landings on the Missouri river.
Mardos Memorial Library