cents. For a 'square meal,' the price was one dollar and fifty cents. For ferrying a wagon over the charge was only four dollars; and the owner did a rushing business even at these figures. In two and one-half hours on the morning of the 16th of May, 1852, forty wagons were crossed over the Big Blue river at Marysville, on the pioneer ferry, netting the proprietor $160."
Mr. Clark says further, continuing his trip overland from Marshall's ferry:
"From an elevation, on the 20th of May, 1852, we first caught sight of the Little Blue river. A beautiful sight was that little stream, winding through groves of thick timber and small undergrowth, whose branches, dipping into the clear, silvery flood, presented a picture of sweet repose, altogether in accordance with our wishes. Happy were we to recline beneath such grateful shade and drink of its clear, sparkling waters. One day, while traveling up this stream, we overtook a train in distress--wagons upset, wagons broken, wagons altogether unfit for further progress; men and women fearfully demoralized; flour, bacon, household utensils, bedding and little children scattered upon the highway. I made inquiries as to the cause of the disaster, and was answered by one of the sufferers: 'The devil and Tom Paine! can't you see?' I frankly confessed that I could not see the gentleman referred to. 'Well,' said he, 'if you can't see, you can smell,' as he pointed an index finger to a small train of buffalo robes at the river bank, which was the cause of all the trouble. The foul smell of those ill-cured hides had caused the oxen to stampede and the destruction of valuable property was the result."
From Guittard's, about ten miles east of Marysville, there was a cut-off laid out in the fall of 1862 in a northwesterly course, about forty-two miles long. It left the main road about a mile west of Guittard's and was built across the prairie ten miles to Oketo station, on the Big Blue river. Oketo was also ten miles almost due north of Marysville. This new road was by the stage men known as the Oketo cut-off. Among the advantages claimed for it by the stage officials was that the new route saved several miles' travel, besides being a road in every way superior to that over which the stages ran through Marysville. The stage crossed the Big Blue at Oketo on a rope ferry. The next eleven miles was over the Otoe Indian reservation to Otoe station.
Eleven miles west of Otoe was Pawnee, a "home" station kept by George Hulbert, an experienced driver, and fourteen miles farther was Grayson's, kept by a driver named Ray Grayson. Ten miles farther was Big Sandy, another "home" station, kept Ed. Farrell, a little east of which D. C. Jenkins had a fine ranch
South side of KEARNEY CITY (DOBYTOWN), 1863. Piper & Robertson's store; boarding-house; saloon and restrant.
and carried a stock of goods suitable for ranchmen and
freighters. In the store was a post-office known as
"Daniel's Ranch," over which Jenkins presided as Nasby. It
was the first post-office west of Marysville, a distance of
about forty miles. Around Big Sandy and vicinity it looked
more like home than at any other station on the line between
the Big Blue and the Platte river, a distance of more than
the stream a short distance west of Liberty Farm; then over the rolling prairie fifteen miles was Lone Tree. This station was on Nine-mile ridge, 208 miles west of Atchison, in southern Nebraska, between Liberty Farm and thirty-two-mile Creek. On a quite lofty elevation, perhaps forty rods distant to the north of the road, there stood a solitary tree. It was a medium-sized tree and it could be seen quite a long distance from nearly every quarter. To parties engaged in freighting across the plains in the early '60's it was a prominent landmark.
The face of the country in the vicinity was rolling prairie, and the appearance of the single tree in a measure helped to break the monotony, not only for the freighters but also for the stage employees on the overland line. The name of the stage station here was very appropriately christened "Lone Tree." From this station it was fifteen miles west of south to Liberty Farm.
Ten miles farther to the northwest was another "home" station--a long, one-story log building--known as "Thirty-two-mile Creek," and it was quite an important one, too. The Little Blue river has its source not far southeast of Fort Kearney, and it is one of the finest streams flowing in southern Nebraska and northern Kansas. It is the most important tributary of the Big Blue, emptying into the latter at the thriving town of Blue Rapids, in Marshall county, Kansas. At frequent intervals on the stream there is excellent water-power, of which the numerous mills and manufactories along the banks furnish ample proof.
When I traveled the overland route, in 1863-'65, there was not a town in a distance of nearly 150 miles between Marysville and Valley City, the latter ten miles east of Fort Kearney, and vulgarly called "Dogtown." There were two post-offices, including Valley City, and an occasional ranch along the road; but ranches in the Little Blue valley in those days were few and far between. Those who had selected ranches in the early '60's were shrewd enough to settle on the choicest lands to be found in the valley, few dreaming they would live long enough to see the country settled up away from the stream. The region where the houses at that time were from five to ten miles apart is now thickly settled by wide-awake, industrious, intelligent and prosperous farmers. Several live, growing towns and cities have sprung up in the past thirty-odd years, and no section of country in the great West has finer prospects for the future.
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, a distance of 230 miles from Atchison. Summit was the highest point on the overland route between the Missouri river and the Platte. Its elevation was approximated at something over 2000 feet above sea-level. 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, uninviting in every particular; seemingly one of the most undesirable places on the line between Atchison and the mountains to build a station. 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. Therefore the stage managers put in a station as near as possible at the half-way point, and the very appropriate name of Summit was given it.
Thirteen miles beyond Summit we had come into the great Platte valley. Here was "Dogtown," eight or nine miles east of Fort Kearney, and the surroundings looked more like civilization. Mr. M. H. Hook, the ranchman, was the station keeper. There was also a post-office kept by him under the name Valley City. The "city" contained three buildings, one being a store. The Platte river appeared to be a great attraction, not only to the weary Pilgrims and freighters, but to the stage passengers who had traveled forty miles across the hills and over the divide from the Little Blue valley.
Going over the rolling prairies into the valley of the Platte, the surroundings suddenly change. Spread out before us is the wide but, shallow river, running eastward to the Missouri, its banks at intervals fringed with willows and occasional belts of young cottonwood trees; the bottom covered with a rank growth
of tall dead grass, presenting a decided contrast when compared with the last thirty or forty miles which we have just gone over in crossing the divide. Here the road from Nebraska City formed a junction with the old military highway. As we went on our way up the valley, and when within five or six miles of the fort, the military post seemed to cover a large area and show splendidly, with quite a number of apparently massive buildings. A near approach to the garrison, however, somewhat dispelled the scene, and, as the old stage-coach drew up in front of the station, we were instantly and for the first time on the overland route re. minded that "distance lends enchantment to the view."
In an hour and a half after entering the Platte valley we are at Fort Kearney, the end of the first division on the great overland stage line, 253 miles from Atchison. We reached the company's headquarters about one P. M. of the third day, being exactly fifty-three hours out; thus making a fraction less than five miles an hour including all stoppages. Here was one of the best dining stations on the stage route, and passengers seldom passed it without stopping to eat.
Fort Kearney, in 1863, was a rather lonesome but a prominent point. It was a place of a dozen or more buildings, including the barracks, and was established by Government in 1849. It was in the '60's, as it had for several years before been, an important military post. Here it was that the stages and ox and mule trains westward from Atchison, Omaha and Nebraska City came to the first telegraph station on the great military highway, the wire to the Pacific having been stretched across the continent from Omaha in the fall of 1861. It was a grand sight, after traveling 150 miles without seeing a settlement of more than two or three houses, to gaze upon the old post, uninviting as it was, and see the few scattering buildings, a nice growth of shade-trees, the cavalrymen mounted upon their steeds, the cannon planted within the hollow square, and the glorious stars and stripes proudly waving in the breeze above the garrison.
The stage station--just west of the military post--was a long, one-story log building; and it was an important one; for her' the Western Stage Company's routes from Omaha and Nebraska City terminated, and its passengers from thence westward had to be transferred to Ben. Holladay's old-reliable "Overland" line. It often happened, however, that passengers from Omaha and
FORT KEARNEY, NEB., 1864. Looking east.
Nebraska City by the Western's lines were obliged to be several days at Fort Kearney before they could get a seat; those going from Atchison, the starting-point of the "Overland" line, having precedence over all others taken on at way points. Of course there was growling at times; some would storm and make vigorous protests; but that did not help the matter any.
Several times the ill feeling between the two lines had almost reached the point of fever heat. Often passengers from Omaha and Nebraska City who could not go through without lying over at Fort Kearney until they could get a seat in the "Overland" coach west complained bitterly. There was not enough business for two stage lines through to Denver; nevertheless there was strong talk that the Western, with its western terminus at Fort Kearney, seriously contemplated putting on an opposition line. There is little doubt, however, that, had such a move been carried out, it would have made matters rather interesting in the way of fast staging on the Platte; for it was well known for some time that no love existed between the two giant companies.
Had the Western stocked the route via the Platte valley through to the mountains. it is quite certain that it would have resulted, for a time, in the liveliest staging ever known in the country. The way of transporting passengers across the plains would have been second only to a lightning-express train, and the schedule would likely have been reduced to four days--perhaps three and a half--instead of six, from Atchison to Denver. The passengers wished something of the kind might happen.
Holladay was not at all uneasy about the growling and frequent threats of opposition, Backed as he then was by his millions, and making money in all his business enterprises, he had no fears of not being able to hold his own. He had the longest and best-equipped stage line in the world, and, with the overland mail contract at one million a year, he felt that he was able to meet all competition.
The Western company was shrewd enough to understand this; hence wise in abandoning the contemplated opposition line. In due time all differences between the two companies were amicably settled, and the Western sold its lines terminating at Fort Kearney and Holladay became the purchaser.
Two miles west of Fort Kearney was the worst place on the entire overland route. A town had been laid out and christened
"Kearney City." (It was called "Dobytown" for short.). It was a place of perhaps half a dozen sod structures, just outside of the fort reservation limits at the west. The buildings were occupied almost exclusively by the worst kind of dives, and a number of the People were disreputable characters of both sexes. The soldiers quartered at the post who drank bought their whisky at "Dobytown," and the large numbers of ox and mule drivers going across the plains seldom failed to stop there a few moments, to fill up on "tanglefoot," thus making it an immensely profitable business for those keeping such places. Freighters (the owners of the freig`t, especially) were always glad to get out of "Dobytown" and did so as soon as possible. There was a great amount of thieving done in the vicinity, and ox and mule drivers and those who had any money and who spent a night there, would be frequently drugged with the vilest liquor, robbed, and often rendered unable to go on westward with their trains the following morning. Hence, freighters would try to arrange their journey so they would never be obliged to camp in the vicinity of that disreputable place.
Westward, ten miles from Fort Kearney, was Platte Station; thence, eleven miles farther, was Craig (named for General Craig, of St. Joseph, Mo.); and fifteen miles more brought us to Plum Creek, an important "home" station, having a telegraph office and a store on the premises. Plum Creek was in the heart of the buffalo region, and before the extermination of the shaggy bison it was near this station that vast numbers of the animals came out of the sand-hills south of the river and slaked their thirst in the Platte. Buffalo-wallows could be seen in a number of places along the road west. The old-time stage-drivers told me that a few years previous they seldom passed Plum Creek without seeing immense herds of buffalo, and that at times it was necessary to stop the stage a while to let the animals pass! The enormous travel on the plains in the '60's, however, soon drove the buffalo southward, or rather held the bulk of them south of the Platte, and hunters in those days could go out a few miles south of the river and kill dozens of them. Nice, juicy buffalo steaks and choice, tender roasts were regular rations, prepared in excellent style, for those taking meals at the stations between Fort Kearney and old Julesburg, while traveling on the stage along the great Platte valley at that early date.
Willow Island was the next station west of Plum Creek, distant fifteen miles; then fourteen miles farther was Midway; so named because it was about half-way between Atchison and Denver. Midway was a "home" station, and in 1863 it was widely known as one of the best eating places on the Platte. Dan. Trout kept the stage stock, and his sisters, Lizzie and Maggie, had charge of the dining station; they could get up a "square meal" more quickly than any other ladies on the overland between Atchison and the mountains. The time-card was so arranged that Midway was not put down as a regular eating station, but the Trout girls were great favorites with all the employees on the stage line, and the drivers seldom passed there without inducing the passengers to stop for meals, if it happened to be anywhere near the hour for eating.
Fifteen miles farther west was Gilman's, and seventeen miles more brought us to Cottonwood Springs, in many respects one of the most important stations on the line, distant about 100 miles from Fort Kearney and 353 miles northwest from Atchison. It was a "home" station and nearly everything about the premises appeared homelike. It was likewise an important point or depot for supplies for the stage company, being midway between Fort Kearney and old Julesburg. In the vicinity were quite a number of buildings in addition to those occupied by the stage employees. Here also was an important telegraph office, the third one on the route west, after reaching the Platte valley.
Cottonwood Springs was a favorite camping point for freighters, because they could usually get what they wanted there in the way of supplies required on the slow journey overland. The cañons near by were full of cedar trees; hence there was plenty of the very best fuel, an important item for campers on the plains; besides, the premises looked very pleasant and inviting.
One of the most favorably situated ranches on the overland route was Jack Morrow's, about twelve miles west of Cottonwood Springs, and a little more than 360 miles out from Atchison. The location was near where the "Pathfinder" crossed the South Platte on one of his exploring expeditions, in the '40's. Jack went on the road at an early day and erected commodious buildings, and christened his premises the "Junction House," a very appropriate name, since it was located near the junction of the north and south forks of the Platte river.
VALLEY CITY (DOGTOWN), 1865. Stage stable, Gregory & Graham's store and home of M. H. Hook, station keeper and postmaster.
Being an old-timer on the plains, Jack
worked up an immense business at the Morrow ranch. He had
excellent quarters--a large store building and residence
combined--and was well prepared for comfortably entertaining
man and beast. His store was a very creditable one for the
frontier, and supplied freighters and pilgrims with such
articles as they chanced to need while on the plains. Jack
"stood in" with the Indians, so to speak; in short, he was a
sort of "big mogul" among many of them. He had learned to
speak their tongue fluently, and he never failed to keep his
ranch amply supplied with the kind of goods required by the
various tribes along the Platte. He bought of the Indians
annually, in the way of trade, thousands of buffalo robes,
elk, deer and antelope skins, dried buffalo tongues, etc. He
was a great trader and would buy almost anything offered for
sale, no matter by whom, but he always himself fixed the
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