MISCELLANEOUS HAPPENINGS ON THE OVERLAND.
most lonesome night I ever passed was spent in a four-horse
overland express vehicle on a trip across the plains, in the
summer of 1863. Holladay had just purchased at the Concord
manufactory three specially designed express wagons, and it
was my ill luck to make the run in the first one sent out
over the line. The driver and I had partaken of a late
dinner at Kennekuk, twenty-four miles out, and the new
vehicle was bowling along the road at a slow gait through
the deep mud. Everything went smoothly until we reached
Walnut creek, a tributary of Delaware river--then called the
Grasshopper--one of the prominent streams flowing across the
unsurpassed body of Indian land known as the Kickapoo
then along the stream a log cabin, occupied by Kickapoos. We were about thirty-five miles west of Atchison, and the stage was several hours late. The weather was cloudy, the atmosphere almost stifling with sultry beat, and it was past sundown. Darkness was rapidly approaching. There were no passengers on the stage this trip, but there was an unusually large number of express packages of various kinds. There were no farm houses in the vicinity, neither was there an ox or mule train in sight. The nearest station was several miles to the west, and Indian cabins and wigwams were scattering. A consultation was held. The driver looked at me and I risked "one eye" on him. The situation before us was anything but pleasing. He then suggested that I get down in the water and unhitch the horses while he would hold the team; but I intimated that I could hold the animals myself while he got down and unhitched. He understood the horses, he said, better than I did, and thought it important that he hold them. I could n't see it exactly in that light. I felt satisfied I was equal to the task of holding them, especially as it was impossible for the animals to move the heavily loaded vehicle an inch. I had a ride of over 600 miles to make, six days and nights, and did n't feel like wading in deep water just then.
finally impressed it upon him that it was plain that the only thing to be done, under the circumstances, was for him to get down into the water, which was almost waist deep, and unhitch the four horses. This he finally did; then quickly mounting upon one of the wheelers, he went with all four to the next station, several miles west, leaving the stage sticking in the mud and surrounded by water, and the messenger all by himself, outside on the driver's box.
It was uncertain when the driver would return, and when asked, he was unable to give any information on the subject. Should another big storm come up suddenly, thought I, possibly the stage, with its valuable treasure and messenger, might be swept away. The situation looked gloomy beyond description. I realized that my business, however--no matter what might turn up--was to "stay by the stuff," for the treasure and a big run of valuable promiscuous packages I had receipted for at the head office in Atchison, and they were in my care.
I was a rather timid young man, and this experience, it is no use to deny, was a trying one. Not long after dark I became sat-
STUCK ALL NIGHT IN WALNUT CREEK. Page 538.
isfied that the driver was playing a joke on me, and that he would not return until morning; that the express stage would not move out of the mud and water. Accordingly I went inside the vehicle and fortified myself. With my blankets and buffalo robe I made a good place to lie down, and retired. The long weary hours of that dark, dreary night, seemed like an age. The stream was still up, and the rushing torrent made plenty of music for a while; but, as the hours of night advanced, the waters slowly subsided, the sound ending in a gentle murmur.
I can't tell how I spent that dark, lonesome night, only I do know that I got very little sleep. Every little while I was disturbed. The occasional yelling of a band of drunken Kickapoo Indians returning from a periodical jamboree or powwow; the almost incessant howling of prairie wolves; the occasional barking of worthless Indian dogs; the frequent screeching of owls; the music of pollywogs and bullfrogs along the stream, and, worse than all, the swarms of bloodthirsty mosquitoes buzzing about my head for hours, were not conducive to rest. On the contrary, it was terribly trying on the nerves. Most of the sleep I managed to get that night was by keeping one eye open. As the hours kept slowly passing, I felt that there was more danger from highway robbers than there was from Indians and wolves. I spent the entire night in the uncomfortable position, and it appeared the longest and most trying night of my life.
It was between seven and eight o'clock the following morning when the driver returned, and I never was so glad to see a friend. He brought eight horses with him and an extra driver. Promptly hitching the animals to the stage-coach and getting on the box, he was not long in pulling the vehicle out of the mire. This to me was a great relief; and, four or five hours later, I ate three meals in one, at Smith's hotel, in Seneca, having fasted fully twenty-two hours, under conditions that I do not care to repeat.
History of the Old Concord Coach. All the coaches used on the overland line were made by the Abbot- Downing Company, of Concord, N. H., and, by all practical stage men, were pronounced the best vehicles of the kind in the world. This celebrated manufactory, having been established nearly ninety years and gained a world-wide reputation, is, without doubt, the oldest and largest establishment of the kind in the country. For stage-
ing purposes and general durability, as early as the first quarter of the present century, it was demonstrated that the old Concord coach had no equal. It has been gaining in popularity ever since. This favorite vehicle is now in daily use in many parts of the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and, singular as it may appear, it has found its way into every continent of the globe.
I can remember seeing these vehicles first when a little boy, and I well remember, way back in the early '40's, when a long string of them were in active service on the old turnpike between Ithaca and Catskill, in the State of New York. That was several years before the completion of the New York & Erie railroad. The arrival of the stage-coach at the various towns along that important turnpike line, even in those early days, more than half a century ago, was closely and regularly watched, and, at the time, attracted far more attention than do the lightning-express railway-trains at the present time.
The following advertisement will doubtless be read with interest by all who have at any time of their lives seen or ridden on the old Concord coach. It is copied from the New Hampshire Patriot of August 3, 1813:
Eighty-eight years have passed since
this coach manufactory wsa (sic) started, and it has been in
constant operation. Their coaches and hacks have been used
on every important stage line between the Atlantic and the
Pacific, and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf. During recent
years they have shipped a number of their latest
twelve-passenger coaches to Mexico, and, strange as it may
appear, a number of the latest modern Concords have found
their way into Africa.
the line that carried the Great Salt Lake mail from the Missouri river, in the early '50's. The first passenger vehicle of the kind that ever made its way across the plains from the Missouri river to Denver and the Rocky Mountain mining camps was the Concord coach, fifty-two of which were built for the Leavenworth & Pike's Peak Express Company, which went into operation late in the spring of 1859. One of the first passengers to ride in it across to the Rockies was Horace Greeley.
Next came the "Central Overland California," the first daily line, which was stocked with Concords, in the summer of 1861. This was succeeded by the "Overland Stage Line" in 1862, Three years later there was an opposition line, the Butterfield Overland Despatch, which operated in Kansas and Colorado, on the Smoky Hill route, and which was also equipped with Concords. The same make of coaches was used later by the Holladay Overland Mail and Express Company, across the plains, and, still later, by the Wells, Fargo & Co. lines, reaching from the Missouri river all over the West and Northwest, which were supplied with Concords, running to various points in the mountain towns, following the completion and opening of the Union Pacific railway for through traffic, in 1869.
The coaches used on the Barlow & Sanderson lines throughout Colorado and New Mexico, in the '70's and '80's, were made at Concord, by the Abbot-Downing Company, as were those in use all over Kansas by the Kansas Stage Company.
The Abbot-Downing works, one of the greatest industries of Concord, cover about six acres of ground, and every part of the coach is made at these works. No similar establishment on the face of the globe can equal it in extent and importance.
Besides all the Concord rolling-stock Ben. Holladay acquired after becoming the successor of the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company, in 1862, he received from the Abbot-Downing Company, in 1864, twenty-nine passenger coaches; in 1865, twelve; and in 1866, two. In April, 1868--about a year before the great railroad overland was finished--there was shipped from these works to Wells, Fargo & Co., successors of Holladay, at the terminus of the Union Pacific, in the Rocky Mountains, by special train from Concord to Omaha, in seven days, forty of their nine-passenger coaches, in addition to four car-loads of repairs, and harness complete for the entire outfit.
The following business card (reduced in size) was issued by the company after the works had been in operation nearly three-quarters of a century:
site direction. The Tennesseean then told me that there was a stringent law against setting fire to prairie-grass in Kansas, and that, if the fire resulted in damage to the property of the Delaware Indians, the Government might make it warm for me, if it learned that I was the party who caused the damage.
The wind blew a stiff breeze from the west, the flames rolled skyward, and for miles I could look back and see the black clouds of smoke that arose from the fire. I was then a boy, not quite out of my teens. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that I was considerably frightened, fearing that the flames might wipe out some of the Indian wigwams, and, possibly, do other damage to them. I felt uneasy during the balance of that trip, but at the same time tried to keep a "stiff upper lip." It was considerable of a relief to me, however, when we were in sight of Lawrence, and I breathed much easier after we drove onto the rope ferry-boat and had crossed the Kansas river and gone up into the historic city. The ferry was operated by a couple of Indians.
Hundreds of times since then have I seen prairie fires in Kansas, but I was careful not to start any of them myself. I shall never forget one that I saw while in southern Nebraska, coming down the Little Blue river, on the overland stage-coach, during the fall of 1863. It was near midnight. We were riding at a gait of about six or eight miles an hour, when we caught up with a prairie fire that we had been watching for some time, and which was sweeping across the country a short distance ahead of us. The night appeared almost as dark as ink, by contrast, and the wind was blowing a lively breeze from the northwest, thus sweeping in the direction we were traveling, but, as the fire was ahead of us, we felt little danger. It would have been a race for dear life had such a wind not been at our backs.
The prairie-grass was tall and dry, and there was at intervals a rank growth of dry weeds. The fierce flames, fanned by the strong breeze, leaped high above the ground ahead of us and presented a grand and beautiful spectacle, which, on that dark, weird night, looked awful in its grandeur. The heavens and all surrounding objects were brilliantly lighted up, hundreds of thousands of acres of wild prairie were burned over along the valley, and not until we reached a bluff on the north bank of the river, where the fierce flames had leaped to the opposite side of the stream, did we lose sight of the brilliant spectacle which we had for several
A BEAUTIFUL NIGHT SCENE IN THE LITTLE BLUE VALLEY. Page 544.
miles been following closely. The reality of the prairie fire was more impressive than the pictures I had obtained from descriptions read in my schoolboy days in New York and Pennsylvania, at which time I had no dream of seeing the flashing flames in their native strength.
In an autumn of the early '70's I encountered a prairie fire in the Republican valley. I was in a buggy with a friend, going down the river along its east bank. and it was several years before the Union Pacific road had built its branch up the valley. It was late in the afternoon and the weather was warm, it being Indian summer. We were moving along leisurely, when suddenly there was a change of the wind. From the south it had shifted apparently in almost a twinkling to the northwest and began to blow furiously. Along the road was a rank growth of tall, dry grass, while the sunflowers were so tall they reached above team and buggy. Soon we were startled by smoke; and could bear the crackling of sunflower stalks. Pausing for a moment, we discovered a fierce prairie fire was pushing toward us. The smoke increased in volume and the beat soon became intense. Our team was a span of Mexican mustangs, noted their endurance, and the animals were pushed to their utmost speed. Steadily the velocity of the wind appeared to increase, and the fierce flames, fanned by the zephyrs, rose high in the air and leaped a considerable distance. We appeared to be almost surrounded by the fire at times, and realized at once it was now a race for life. In some places the road was sort of zigzag but the team did not mind this and fairly flew. At times the smoke was almost suffocating and the heat seemed unbearable. We did n't know what to do; we hardly had time to think; but we quickly realized that we couldn't stop, even for a moment, but must keep going. No race down the Republican valley was ever more exciting, we knowing it could be limited on our par tonly by the speed and endurance of our ponies.
At one time we thought we were victims, and that our only hope was in abandoning buggy and team and fleeing to the bank of the river and jumping into the water. Just then there was an abrupt change in the road and we felt a little easier. But in a little while the flames were again almost at our backs. Taking a second thought, it seemed a hazardous undertaking, an impossibility, to stop long enough to leap into the river or do anything
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