Vanguards of the Frontier: A Social History of the Northern Plains and Rocky Mountains from the Earliest White Contacts to the Coming of the Homemaker

By Everett Dick | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
STAGE-COACH TRAVEL

ORDINARILY stage-coaching could hardly be classified as a pioneer activity since there was no need for stage lines until a country was settled. The area west of the Missouri River was different, however, in that the peopling of the Salt Lake Valley and the discovery of gold at various points created little islands of settlement which soon called for a transportation service through a wild region where frontier conditions existed to the superlative degree.

As early as 1849 the United States Government responded to the call for a faster mail service across the Plains. Starting from the bend of the Missouri River, one line ran across Kansas to Santa Fe, and another, beginning at the same point, ran northwest in a circuitous route to Salt Lake City.

The Santa Fe line was initiated in May, 1849, on a twentyone-day schedule. The equipment on this line consisted of a few mule teams, some Murphy spring wagons, and harness. Three men made the trip, driving from four to six mules and taking two extra for use in case of sickness or accident. The wagon was stacked high with corn, but before long the mules had eaten enough to leave room under the cover for the "mail boys" to sleep. At Council Grove, Kansas, was a station with changes of mules, and at Fort Union, New Mexico, was another where the spring wagon was left and a stage-coach taken thence into Santa Fe. The party carried two pouches of mail: one, the "through" pouch, which was not opened en route, and the other the "way" pouch, which carried mail for the places along the way. At the few small settlements on the eastern end of the route the wagon stopped and the driver

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