people living on the frontier thirty to forty years ago, in
overland staging days, dreamed that they would live to see
the time when a railroad would be running over the
uninhabited region then known as the "Great American
Desert." For a distance of over 650 miles--between the
Missouri river and the Rocky Mountains--the road nearly the
entire distance as traveled by the stage was often a moving
panorama of white-covered wagons loaded to their full
capacity--a majority of them drawn by six yoke of oxen, the
balance by four to six horses or mules. Most of the vehicles
were known in their days as "prairie-schooners." In them
were transported, from the prominent outfitting points on
the Missouri river--Kansas City, Leavenworth, Atchison, St.
Joseph, Nebraska City, and Omaha--hundreds of thousands of
tons of freight, a goodly portion of it merchandise destined
for Denver, the "Queen City of the Plains."
sides, large amounts of machinery were shipped to the various mining camps in the Territories of Colorado, Utah, and Montana. It appeared at the time as if nearly every one had money, and few persons who were willing to work were found idle. Still, there were many idle people, a great many having gone to the mines in the northwestern territories to avoid enlisting, and then having been drafted, being obliged to go to the seat of war.
Greenbacks on the plains, during the rebellion, were practically the only currency used. They were known by some of the enemies of the Government as "Lincoln shinplasters." At one time during the summer of 1864, when compared with gold, this currency dropped down to 33 1/3 cents on the dollar. The out-look was decidedly blue; closely following this came the Indian outbreak, extending along the Platte for over 300 miles. In consequence, the price of flour, grain, provisions, dry-goods, clothing, shoes, etc., rose to fabulous figures. The cost of an ordinary meal of victuals at a stage station on the upper South Platte, which was seventy-five cents in 1863, rose to two dollars the latter part of the summer of 1864. While this price appeared to be steep, the most of those who ate paid it as willingly as if the price were only "two-bits."
The stage fare between Atchison and Denver was suddenly advanced to more than double the original price. There was no advance, however, in the charges for excess baggage; the price remaining at what it would appear at this late day the exorbitant rate of one dollar a pound. Sometimes passengers for Denver would have as much as 100 pounds of excess baggage.
That period, it should be remembered, was several years before there was a railroad on the old stage route between the Missouri river and Denver. Few people now traveling across the plains in luxurious drawing and dining-room and palace sleeping-cars have the remotest idea of the days of overland staging, for a period of nearly ten years in the '50's and '60's, when it was called a pretty quick trip if only six days and nights were spent in the old stage-coach between the Missouri river and the Rockies, eleven days to Salt Lake City, and seventeen days on the road from Atchison to Placerville. Now, by the Union Pacific's "Overland Limited," the time is three and a half days from Chicago to San Francisco; four and a half days from San Francisco east to New York.
Those early days of staging overland was considered fast traveling on the plains; but I made the journey once between Denver and Atchison in five days and eight hours; one of the quickest regular trips ever made between the Missouri river and the mountains by the overland Concord stage. The fastest time on this trip was made while moving down the Little Blue river, in southern Nebraska, with fourteen passengers, beside the driver and myself-- fourteen miles in fifty-two minutes--over a gently rolling prairie country. That fourteen-mile ride was the fastest time I ever made on the old stage-coach during thirty-two trips across, before the advent of the iron horse in Kansas and Nebraska. Of course there were occasions when faster time was made on important special runs. Two weeks was the time occupied in making a round trip between Atchison and Denver, when I was, in 1863, employed on the great stage line in charge of the express and later of the overland mail. During that time the messengers would lie over two days in Denver, to get needed rest. After returning from a trip there was a seven days' lay over in Atchison; the distance traveled in a round trip of twelve days' continuous riding--six days and nights each way--being a little over 1300 miles.
To look back and contrast the old overland freight and stage route with what can now be daily witnessed appears much like a dream. A railroad on the Kansas and Nebraska prairies, and across the plains of Colorado to Denver, and on over the Rockies, was hardly thought of during the early staging days, although Horace Greeley, the Tribune philosopher, had, for a number of years previous, been advocating the building of a Pacific road as a Government necessity. That, perhaps more than anything else, was why the distinguished journalist made his overland journey to California in the summer of 1859.
While on his trip across the continent by stage, Greeley wrote a series of letters for the Tribune, in which he urged, more earnestly than ever before, the building of the long-talked-of Pacific railroad. It must have been a great consolation to the founder of the noted paper to live to see, in less than ten years after that long and tedious stage trip, the great undertaking that he had agitated for a dozen years or more at last finished, and palace sleeping-cars running from ocean to ocean.
At the close of the first quarter of a century after the completion of the pioneer transcontinental railway, it is found, on look-
ing at the maps, that there are no less than seven different trunk lines of road running the most elegant. cars made across the continent, with their western termini on the Pacific shore.
In 1869 the first railroad speech in Denver was delivered by George Francis Train. The following year--June 24, 1870--the first railway passenger-train on the Denver (Union) Pacific entered the city from Cheyenne, on which occasion a silver spike was driven by the Colorado territorial governor, Hon. John Evans. This important event was the closing, for all time, of the ox and mule freighting business on the plains. For a dozen years it had made the overland route, on the right or south bank of the Platte, a long line of white-covered prairie-schooners, and the number of wagons aggregated, during the later days, many thousands annually.
That period of ox freighting will be remembered by scores of living witnesses as the good old days on the plains, the like of which will never be seen again. It was during the period of Indian occupancy, while the shaggy bison roamed in countless millions over western Kansas and Nebraska; and while the most gigantic war that the world has ever known was raging, between the North and the South, that the change was made.
Denver and a dozen or more surrounding Colorado mining camps, even at that early day, furnished business for an immense overland traffic. At that time Denver--the "Queen City of the Plains"--had a population of about 3000 people, and there were not to exceed a score of three-story buildings in the city.
There was considerable strife in the later '60's between Atchison and Denver--each with about the same population--to see which place could first number 5000 people; or if they both could reach the 5000 mark at the census taking in 1870. Neither place reached the desired mark. In 1880, however, Denver had grown to be a metropolis of 40,000; in 1885, of 80,000; while, at this time* the population is put down at something like 165,000--a most remarkable growth when it is remembered that the first building on the town site was erected in the summer of 1858.
More than a third of a century has gone by since the last Concord stage-coach on the great overland route made the long trip between the Missouri river and the Pacific slope. For a period of at least ten years, in the '50's and '60's, no wagon road in the
country, away from the railroad, ever had such a promiscuous and busy throng. On the great military highway, besides the mail-coaches going east and west, there was an almost constant string of the heaviest wagons, drawn by thousands of mules, oxen, and horses, pushing their way steadily across the plains. The white-covered prairie- schooners, in many places extending for miles, lined the mighty thoroughfare, along which then moved the commerce of the plains. Many of the ponderous vehicles were loaded with almost everything known in merchandise, which was being transported to the military posts on the frontier and to the towns and cities from time to time springing up on the seemingly boundless domain between the Missouri and the far western shore. It required thousands of wagons at that time to supply the various camps then being opened in the Rocky Mountain mining region, while immense numbers of teams were steadily employed in hauling purchases to the ranchmen and trading posts constantly being opened along the Platte and its numerous tributaries.
Few people then personal witnesses would care to live over again those eventful days, especially the most exciting ones which were spent on the plains in 1864-'65. The recollections of the stirring events of those memorable seasons along the Platte, which were so exciting, are still vivid in the minds of many. No one then residing on or traversing the plains will have the least desire to witness a repetition of some of the thrilling scenes of those early days.
During the years that the great stage line was in operation and carrying overland mail, in the '60's, I was for four years in some manner associated with the vast enterprise. It is quite natural, therefore, that I should feel some pride in the fact that I personally helped load, on the old Concord coach, at Atchison, more than forty years ago, the first daily overland mail that left the great bend of the Missouri river for the shores of the Pacific.
So, we come now to bid adieu to the old days, the days of pioneers--of pioneer effort and enterprise. In the light of our advance, they were days of small things; but pervading those early efforts were the distinctive American characteristics. Such system, such speed steadily held over long distances, had not been before known. There is not another country on the globe but would have been satisfied for at least a century with the progress
attained on the plains in 1865. To the American, that progress was but the preliminary step to such further development as this drowsy old world had not dreamed of. Mr. ROOT found the plains country west of the Missouri the home of the buffalo; now it is the land of the Shorthorn. In his day it was the land of the ox train, the mule team, the pony express, the stage-coach; now we have had the railroad, the fast freight, the telegraph, the Pullman palace-car, until they are regarded as a matter of course and cease to cause comment. When he went out to cross its prairies and plains it was the home of wandering and savage tribes; now it is the home of happy millions with an advanced civilization. In the days of his labor food was transported to the pioneers at immense cost; now this same land is one of the principal granaries of the world. In his day the land was a wilderness of wild grass; now the harvest waves profuse and golden to the western limits by the blue shores of old ocean. His were the days when
Hugged the shallow water line."
In forty years what changes!
"Into loam the sand has melted,
In the old days the wolf bowled where
now the schoolhouse stands, and the treacherous savage laid
his ambush where we have built tabernacles and the temples
Mardos Memorial Library