By Grant Foreman
Of the many interesting factors entering into the history and development of early Oklahoma, there was probably none more important and picturesque than the thoroughfares through the country. The early hunters, trappers, traders and explorers sought out and traced the easiest grades and routes across the prairies, mountains and streams which in time became well established trails that lent themselves to commerce, adventure, and diffusion of knowledge of the country and its people.
Probably the most important and celebrated of our early thoroughfares was the great Texas Road over which mighty caravans of covered wagons conveyed pioneer settlers to the country south of Red River. Beginning as early as 1822 it helped to populate Texas and served important pioneering traffic north and south through eastern Oklahoma. For half a century, until the coming of the railroads thousands of restless home seekers, the creaking and rattling ox-drawn wagons beside which lank drivers walked and popped their long whips, military expeditions, Civil War regiments, exploring operations, trains of freighters, herds of wild horses driven northward, all these traveled the great broad road and left scars on the prairies through Muskogee and Wagoner and other eastern counties, where they are to be seen to this day.
But this great road went into eclipse with the coming of the Gold Rush which inaugurated the mad hurry of thousands of people in another direction—across Oklahoma from east to west—feverishly striving to reach California. Much of this traffic went directly west from Fort Smith along the Canadian River and by Santa Fe. Another route branched off from this and went southwest by Boggy Depot and Fort Washita, across Red River and through Texas to El Paso, and west from there.
The shifting of a large population to the Pacific Coast, the growing importance of that region and its commercial
relations with the East made increasing demands for adequate communication and transportation to the Mississippi Valley. Soon there developed a spirited rivalry between the northern route by way of Independence, and the southern by Fort Smith, but for some time such facilities as existed were laborious, painful and precarious.
Mail communication for the Indian Territory had been maintained with the East by way of Little Rock and also by a northeastern route to St. Louis. In 1838, when the emigration of Indians to this country brought a large expansion of official communications, steps were taken to meet the increased demands for mail and passenger transportation. In August a new mail service was announced by A. Tobey & Company: "Great Western U. S. Mail Line from the Mississippi river to Little Rock, Ark . . . . At Bolivia [Mississippi, opposite the mouth of the White River] passengers . . . will take the new and splendid steamboat Wm. Hulbert . . . every morning, precisely at 9 o'clock to Rockroe, then by splendid Troy built coaches to Little Rock, which go through in 34 hours . . . At Little Rock the connection between the Great U. S. Mail Line . . . and the numerous U. S. mail lines by coaches (recently established by the Department), diverging from Little Rock, north, south and west.1
Another mail and passenger service was later maintained between Fort Smith, and St. Louis, and in 1846 Price and Kelly of Jefferson City, Missouri, installed a new line of stages between St. Louis and Van Buren, Arkansas. They were said "to have new and splendid coaches and sufficient relays of horses on the road to increase the speed of the mail more than one half."
In time the increased patronage demanded better service to California, and more rapid and reliable facilities. In 1857 a mail and stage service was established between San Diego and San Antonio and passenger tickets were sold from San Francisco to New Orleans. September 5, The San Diego Herald announced the arrival of the First Overland Mail from San Antonio, in the unprecedented time of thirty-four days. 2The first mail for San Antonio under
the contract with James Birch left San Diego August 9. It was carried on pack animals until wagons could be procured3.
A contract was then entered into with John Butterfield a veteran stage man of Missouri to operate an Overland mail service between California and the Mississippi Valley by a southern route. The Postmaster General laid down the route for conveying this mail beginning at St. Louis and Memphis, thence forming a junction at Little Rock, and thence in the direction of Preston on the Red River, to the Rio Grande River, to Fort Filmore or Donna Anna, thence along the new road being made by the Secretary of the Interior to Fort Yuma4. When the contract was signed it was so modified as to provide for uniting the St. Louis and Memphis mails at Fort Smith instead of Little Rock. A year was given Butterfield for the beginning of his service.
The Butterfield business was conducted in a systematic way and on a large scale. It employed more than 100 Concord coaches carrying from five to six passengers each, 1000 horses and 500 mules and nearly 800 men; a driver and conductor accompanied each stage and they always went armed through hostile Indian country. Stations were built at intervals where fresh relays of horses were hitched to the coaches. The stages made two trips weekly each way, and the fare from San Francisco to St. Louis, 2391 miles, was $200.00 in gold. The first stage from the East arrived at Los Angeles October 7, 1858. A graphic description written by a passenger covering a part of this first trip was published in an eastern paper5:
Overland Mail Wagon, near Fort Belknap, Young Co., Texas, Sept. 22, 1858. My last letter left the overland mail e routen from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Since then we have passed through the Indian territory, crossing the Red river at Colbert's Ferry, through Grayson, to Ft. Smith, Cooke, Montague, Wise and Young counties, to Fort Belknap, and are now on our way to Fort Chadbourne, from
whence I expect to send this; and when we reach there, we shall have gone 945 miles on our journey.
Fayetteville is in Washington county, Arkansas, among the hills of the Ozark range of mountains. We left there on Saturday, the 18th inst., at two minutes before noon—just twenty-two hours and thirteen minutes ahead of the time required of us by the time table. Even among these hills you do not lose sight of the prairie nature of the West; for just after leaving Fayetteville you see a fine plain surrounded with hills—in fact, a prairie in the mountains. After a rather rough ride of fourteen miles, which we accomplished with our excellent team in one hour and three-quarters, we took a team of four mules to cross the much dreaded Ozark range, including the Boston Mountain. I had thought before we reached this point the rough roads of Missouri and Arkansas could not be equalled; but here Arkansas fairly beats itself. I might say our road was steep, rugged, jagged, rough and mountainous—and then wish for some more expressive words in the language. Had not Mr. Crocker provided a most extraordinary team I doubt whether we should have been able to cross in less than two days. The wiry, light, little animals tugged and pulled as if they would tear themselves to pieces, and our heavy wagon bounded along the crags as if it would be shaken in pieces every minute, and ourselves disembowelled on the spot.
For fifteen miles the road winds among these mountains at a height of nearly two thousand feet above the Gulf of Mexico The approach to it from Fayetteville is through a pleasant and fertile valley; and I understand that these valleys comprise some of the best agricultural districts of Arkansas. The mountains abound in splendid white oak timber. As the road winds along the ridges you are afforded most magnificent views of the surrounding hills and valleys, especially in the winter, when the foliage is less an obstruction than it was when we passed over. But we had a clear day, and I can only say that our mountain views in the highlands of the Hudson are but children's toys in comparison with these vast works of nature. The term "Boston Mountain" is, I believe, derived from a prevailing Western fashion of applying that name to anything which
is considered very difficult. But Connecticut hills and roads are mere pimples and sandpaper compared with the Ozark ranges.
By hard tugging we got up, and with the aid of brakes and drags we got down; and I can assure you we were by no means sorry when that herculean feat was accomplished, The mules which took us over the mountains carried us in all about nineteen miles, when we took another team of horses to carry us to Fort Smith. We crossed the Arkansas in a flatboat much resembling a raft, at Van Buren, a flourishing little town on its banks. Our course through the soft bed of the flats which were not covered owing to the low state of the river, was somewhat hazardous, as our heavy load was liable to be sunk on the quicksands which abound here. But by the aid of a guide on horseback, with a lantern (for it was night), we crossed the flats, and up the steep sandy bank, in safety. Picking our way cautiously for five or six miles, we reached Fort Smith, on the Arkansas river, just on the border of Arkansas and the Indian Territory, at five minutes after two o'clock A. M., having made the sixty-five miles from Fayetteville in fourteen hours and seven minutes or three hours and seven minutes less than schedule time.
We had anticipated beating the mail, which left Memphis, Tenn., on the 16th, to meet us at Fort Smith, several hours; but as soon as we entered the town, though at so unseasonable an hour, we found it in a great state of exciement on account of the arrival of the Memphis mail just fifteen minutes before us. But though they had 700 miles to travel, five hundred of them were by steamboat, from Memphis to Little Rock, and it was said that they got their mails before we did. Fort Smith is a thriving town of about 2,500 inhabitants, and they boast that every house is full. There are two newspapers, both of which were, I believe, started by Judge Wheeler, who was a passenger by the overland mail route from St. Louis. As several other routes over the Plains pass through this place, and have contributed much to its growth, the people evinced much interest; and the news that both the St. Louis and Memphis stages had arrived spread like wildfire.
Horns were blown, houses were lit up, and many flock-
ed to the hotel to have a look at the wagons and talk over the exciting topic, and have a peep at the first mail bags. The general interest was so contagious that I, though I had but a few minutes to spare before the stage started again, actually employed the time in writing ten lines to my wife, instead of the Herald. I must say, however, that I expected you would hear of the few facts I could then communicate before a letter from me could reach you by means of the telegraph. An hour and twenty-five minutes was consumed in examining the way mails, arranging the way bill, joining the two mails from Memphis and St. Louis, and changing stages; and precisely at half past three A. M. on Sunday, the 19th inst., the stage left Fort Smith, being exactly twenty-four hours ahead of the time required in the time table, which had been gained in the first four hundred and sixty-eight miles of our journey.
I was the only person in the wagon which left Fort Smith, beside Mr. Fox, the mail agent, and the driver. Mr. John Butterfield, the President of the Overland Mail Company, had accompanied us thus far, and though sixty-five years of age, had borne the fatiguing, sleepless journey as well, if not better, than any of the rest. Indeed, I felt ashamed to complain when I saw one of his years stand out so well. Certainly, if the overland mail does not succeed, it will not be for lack of his arduous personal exertions. He urged the men in changing horses at every station, often taking hold to help, and on one occasion, driving for a short distance. He is, however, an old stager, and is in his element in carrying on this enterprise. I cannot be too grateful to him, on your behalf, as well as my own, for the kind facilities which he extended to me.
We forded the Poteau at Fort Smith, and for the first time since our departure from St. Louis I had an opportunity to sleep in the wagon, wrapped up in blankets and stretched on the seats. It took some time to get accustomed to the jolting over the rough road, the rocks and log bridges; but three days steady riding, without sleep, helped me in getting used to it, and I was quite oblivious from the time of crossing the Arkansas to the first stopping place in the Indian Territory, about sixteen miles from the river, which we reached about daylight. Here is a large farm,
owned by an Indian and worked by a white man from the East. I here saw several friendly Choctaws on their way east.
The Choctaw reservation extends through the southeastern portion of the Indian Territory, and the Indians are to be met all along the road, either travelling or located in their huts. Many of them are quite wealthy, their property consisting chiefly in cattle and negroes. Their ownership of slaves is quite common, and many of them have large numbers. In their treatment of them they are generally more lenient than the white slaveholders, and appear to let them do pretty much as they please. I noticed in riding through the Territory but little farming going on. The fact is, but little land is worked. Though the soil is well adapted for producing corn, tobacco, hemp, &c., they genreally prefer to raise stock. They brand their cattle and let them run on the plains, which, during nine months of the year, yield excellent pasturage. During the remaining three months they generally get poor, having only the winter grass of the creeks to subsist upon.
Many of the Choctaws own large herds of cattle, and live well on the increase. Their habitations are mostly off the road. Those on the road appear to be the most miserable specimens of the Western log hut, and many of them are deserted. As we rode along we could see them lazily basking in the sun or reclining in the cool porticos, which are built in most of the huts so as to divide the house in the centre, affording a very pleasant location for dining or sitting in warm weather. What struck me forcibly was the squalid misery which seemed to characterise most of them, which was only surpassed by the appearance of their negroes, with whom, I am told, they often cohabit. They generally shrugged their shoulders as the stage passed, but seldom said anything beyond "good day" and only that when spoken to.
About seventeen miles from the crossing of the Poteau we came to the residence of Governor Wm. Walker, the
Governor of the Territory6. He looks like a full-blooded white man, though I understand he has some Indian blood in his veins. His wife is a half-breed Indian of the Choctaw Nation. He was elected at the last election, and has held office but about six months. The salary is one thousand dollars per year. He has a farm of several hundred acres, a very comfortable house, and owns several hundred head of cattle. The place is called Scullyville7, and his house is made a station for changing horses. In personal appearance he looks like a well-to-do farmer. On this occasion he came out in his shirt sleeves and helped hitch the horses. He has considerable influence with the Nation, and is favorably disposed toward the Overland Mail Company.
Though, by the laws of the Nation, an Indian may procure a divorce at pleasure upon the payment of ten dollars, there is one provision which I think our strong minded women will approve of, and that is that the wife is entitled to half the property. This provision is rigidly adhered to, and husband and wife are quite as strict in their dealings with each other as with others. Most of the Choctaws speak our language, though for purposes of mere civility they do not care much about using it. The bane of the Choctaws, as well as of many white nations, is the use of intoxicating liquors, which they will procure in spite of all precautions. The laws of the Territory make it an offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment, to give or sell liquor to an Indian; but they will drink camphene, burning fluid or "Perry Davis' Pain Killer," or the whole three mixed, for the purpose of getting drunk, and when in that state their performances are said to be not less remarkable than those of their white brethren in the same condition. They are generally quite averse to work, and it is with the greatest difficuly that
6The chronicler is referring to Tandy Walker of the Choctaw Nation. Alfred Wade had been elected Governor of that Nation under what was known as the Skullyville Constitution but because of dissension in the tribe he resigned to January 12, 1858. Tandy Walker, who was then President of the Senate of the General Council assumed the duties of Governor, and within a few days called a special session of the Legislature to meet on April 5 at Boggy Depot. By his influence differences between the factions of the tribe that almost brought on a civil war were composed and a new constitution was adopted in October, 1859.
7The site of Skullyville had been selected many years before by the Choctaw Agent as his official location and because money was paid out here to the Indians it acquired from them the name of Skullyville.
they can be compelled to do their portion toward mending the road.
From the Poteau river to Scullyville there appeared to be considerable land under cultivation, but as we proceeded there was less to be seen. The land is well watered, and with little cultivation could be made to yield abundantly; but they prefer to let their stock grow and increase without their care, and draw their small pensions from the government. The Indians we saw along the road looked squalid and miserable generally, though occasionally we met some very fine specimens of the red men of the forest. These, however, were mostly half breeds, who are by far the most enterprising and industrious, and avail themselves of the Education Fund to educate their children. This fund I believe amounts to $10,000, and is amply sufficient for its purpose. The Chickasaws, who occupy a more westerly reservation, are much more advanced in civilization than the Choctaws.
After leaving Gov. Walker's, the next station (sixteen miles distant), was reached in about two hours and a half, and two other stations, at about equal distances, in about the same time each. I took my breakfast and dinner out of a provision basket, which had been kindly placed in the wagon by the forethought of Mr. Butterfield, who had not forgotten the needful with which to wash it down. Though it consisted of but a few cold cuts, my memory still clings to it as the last civilized meal between Fort Smith and the barren plains where I now write. I have said nothing of the homely meals provided on the way from Tipton to Fort Smith, for I considered them as but the well known accompaniments of Hoosier life; but ever since I left that last meal of cold ham, cakes, crackers and cheese,
Fond recollection recalls it to view.
Though I am no epicurean, I could not forbear writing its obituary.
About fifty miles from the Poteau river, on our road, I noticed the first plain or prairie of consequence in the Indian Territory. It was a rolling plain, I should judge full twenty miles in circumference. The soil looked so black and rich that I was surprised to see so little verdure, but I soon learned that this color was caused by the grass having
been set on fire. On the western border, Mr. McDonnell, the mail agent, pointed out to me a curious ledge of black sandstone rocks, which had very much the appearance of the ruins of a large building, so regularly were they laid. As we proceeded west, the country, which had before—at least on our road—been of a forest nature, grew more open, and the rolling plains and smoother roads grew more frequent. We soon met many bands of Choctaw Indians, in charge of large herds of cattle. They never took any more notice of us than to look pretty sharply at us, and to say good day if spoken to. We also met many emigrants coming from Texas8, in their covered wagons, containing their families and all their worldly possessions, camping at night and luxuriating on their dried beef, coffee, and perhaps corn from the nearest cornfield. At Pussey9, (a station for changing horses, where an Indian of that name lives), about sixty-six miles from the river, I met an old Indian who owns seven hundred head of cattle and a pretty daughter, and is willing to give the half of the one to the white man who will marry the other. Here I gave an Indian boy a paper of tobacco to give me water enough to wash my face, put on a blue flannel shirt, and considered myself pretty well on my way out West.
In the little plains which we passed, we frequently saw the tall posts which the Indians use in playing ball. The players divide themselves into two parties, one standing at each post. The throwers aim to hit the posts, and the catchers must capture the ball in little bowls, with which each is provided, a penalty being inflicted for catching the ball with the hands. They became very much excited at this game, and gamble with it very often.
8At this time there was pending in Washington the application of "J. C. Ward and Wm. I. Parks, sub-mail contractors under A. B. and B. C. Maxwell on Route No 7911, from Fort Smith, Arkansas via Perryville, Choctaw Nation to Gainesville, Texas . . . for the privilege of locating certain employees at Perryville an inhabited town at the connection and crossing of two of the mail lines passing through the Choctaw country" (Denver to Thompson, November 20, 1858, Office of Indian Affairs). Perryville was near the site of the present McAlester, Oklahoma. Here the Overland Mail stages crossed the Texas road that extended north over the Canadian River near North Fork Town and Fishertown east of the present Eufaula and continued north past Honey Springs and the site of the future Muskogee.
From the night of Thursday the 16th, up to the night of Sunday the 19th, I had travelled continuously without accident, both night and day, and at a pretty rapid rate. On Sunday night, when within a few miles of Blackburn's station, which is about sixty miles from Red river, I thought all hopes of a quick trip for the first overland mail were at an end. We had taken a splendid team of horses at the last station, and had been spinning over the rolling prairies at a rapid rate; our route for some hours had been over these hills, with their gradual elevations, and our driver had urged his team pretty well. We now came to a patch of woods, through which the road was tortuous and stony. But our driver's ambition to make good time overcame his caution, and away he went, bounding over the stones at a fearful rate. The moon shone brightly, but its light was obstructed by the trees, and the driver had to rely much on his knowledge of the road for a guide. To see the heavy mail wagon whizzing and whirling over the jagged rocks, through such a labyrinth, in comparative darkness, and to feel oneself bouncing now on the hard seat, now against the roof, and now against the side of the wagon, was no joke, I assure you, though I can truthfully say that I rather liked the excitement of the thing. But it was too dangerous to be continued without accident, and soon two heavy thumps and a bound of the wagon, that unseated us all, and a crashing sound denoted that something had broken. We stopped and examined, but found no damage except a broken seat, and then proceeded to the station. Here a further examination, to our utter astonishment, disclosed the fact that the pole or tongue of the wagon was badly split. It was a mystery to me how we ever reached the station without completing its destruction. It took more time to mend it than the ambitious driver saved. Moral—"Make haste slowly." After repairing damages we got started again and travelled the next 18 miles in two hours and a quarter.
The night was beautifully clear and bright, and I was tempted to stay up and enjoy it; but I had become too much fatigued with the journey to be able to withstand the demands of somnolence, and wrapping myself up in my shawls was soon obliviously snoring on the extended seats of the wagon. I awoke but once during the night, having been
jolted into a position where my neck felt as if there was a knot in it. They had stopped at a station to change horses, and for the time not a sound could I hear. I had been dreaming of the Camanche Indians, and in the confusion of drownsiness first thought that the driver and mail agent had been murdered, and that I being covered up in the blankets had been missed; then I recollected that I had a pistol and thought of feeling for it; but finally I thought I would not stir for fear the Indians would see me, when I was brought to my senses by a familiar voice saying "Git up there, old hoss," and found it was the driver hitching up a new team. During the night we went eighteen miles in two hours and a half.
The next thirteen miles took three hours, owing to the bad state of the roads, bringing us to Geary's station10. Mr. Geary has a hundred acres of corn, which is considered a pretty fair lot for this section of the country. Another ride of seventeen miles occupied but two hours and a half, bringing us to the "Boggy Depot,"11 where there are several painted houses and a few stores. I learned that near here a few days since an Indian got shot while in a quarrel about politics, for you must know that the Old Wigwam at Tammany is not the only spot where the braves settle political questions with hard knocks. The nation is divided on the question of forming a State government. The two parties wax strong on their respective sides, and frequent collisions are the consequence. I do not wish to be unfair on the sub-
10The owner of this stage stand on Muddy Boggy Creek, furnished an interesting description in connection with his offer to sell it: "Overland Mail Line; To lease or sell. The undersigned being desirous of entering into other business now offers his stand, so long and favorably known as 'Geary's Stand' situated on the main road leading from Fort Smith, to Fort Washita, Texas and California. There are 150 acres in a high state of cultivation, and as rich land as there is in the west. There is also a fine pasture, containing 100 acres for stock. The place is well furnished with dwellings, out houses, &c., sufficient to accommodate any number of travelers. There is also an excellent store house and Toll-bridge on the place. I will also sell with the place a choice lot of stock, cattle, hogs, &c. The farm is now planted with corn, oats, and in fact, with everything usually raised on the western farm. I will sell low for cash, negro property, or my own paper. Possession given at any time; title indisputable. Address A. W. Geary, Boggy Depot, C. N., May 1, 1858." (Ft. Smith Herald, Saturday, June 19, 1858, p. 3, col. 4).
11Boggy Depot was a station or depot located on Boggy Creek for distribution of supplies and rations to the recently arrived Chickasaw emigrants in 1838. It developed into an important village and had an iteresting history.
ject, but I am given to understand that the half-breeds and whites and more intelligent full-bloods are in favor of the State government.
Fourteen miles from Boggy Depot we came to Blue river station, where a very heavy bridge is building for the company. Here I saw a copy of the Weekly Herald—a distance of six hundred miles from St. Louis, and nearly seventeen hundred from New York, overland, and twenty-five miles from any Post Office. I thought the Herald was appreciated there.
A ride of three hours brought us to Colbert's12 ferry, on the Red river—the boundary between Texas and the Indian territory. We arrived here on Monday, the 20th inst., at ten minutes to ten—being, altogether, thirty-four hours ahead of time to this point. But here was a difficulty. There was no team to carry on the mail. Arrangements had been made to put it through in quick time on the regular day, but it was not expected a day and a half in advance. Indeed, there was nothing left to do but to put up with it. We had, by several mere accidents, been enabled to obtain our relays so far in advance, and now we could afford a little loss of time. We had a good dinner, and I took advantage of the opportunity to write to you—the first chance off the wagon since Thursday, the 16th.
Mr. Colbert, the owner of the station and of the ferry, is a half-breed Indian of great sagacity and business tact. He is a young man, not quite thirty, I should judge, and has a white wife—his third. He has owned and run this ferry five years, and has had excellent patronage, from its central location, being about midway between Preston and the one below. Mr. Colbert evinces some enterprise in carrying
12Before the gold rush, B. F. Colbert began the operation of ferry boats below the mouth of Washita River, over which a large number of Texas immgrants crossed the river. With the increased traffic going to California in later years, the ferry privilege became of considerable value and in 1860 a resident of Texas named M. A. McBride, undertook to prevent Colbert's operations. The latter claimed that by virtue of the Treaty with Spain in 1819 the Chickasaw Nation had the exclusive authority to grant a license to operate a ferry at this point. Another ferry was operated across Red River at the mouth of the Washita by an enterprising Chickasaw Indian named Sloan Love. He advertised his ferry service in the Arkansas papers, which he said was "at the crossing of the main road from Fort Smith to Coffee's Bend and the forks of the Trinity in Texas; women and children of immigrants free; a blacksmith shop opposite the ferry."
the stages of the company across his ferry free of charge in consideration of the increased travel which it will bring his way. He also stipulates to keep the neighboring roads in excellent order, and has already done much towards it. He has a large gang of slaves at work on the banks of the river, cutting away the sand, so as to make the ascent easy. His boat is simply a sort of raft, pushed across the shallow stream by the aid of poles, in the hands of sturdy slaves. The fare for a four-horse team is a dollar and a quarter, and the net revenue of the ferry about $1,000 per annum. He thinks of either buying a horse boat or having a stout cable drawn across the river, so that one man could manage the boat. I suggested to him to buy a piece of the Atlantic cable, but he was of the opinion that it would be too costly. He owns about twenty-five slaves, and says he considers them about the best stock there is, as his increase is about four per year. He has a fine farm, and raises considerable corn—how much I do not know. At his table I saw sugar, butter and pastry—the first two of which have been exceedingly rare articles since I left Fort Smith, and the last of which I have not seen anywhere else since I left Fort Smith. He is nearly white, very jovial and pleasant, and, altogether, a very good specimen of the half-breed Indian.
We had determined, after giving our horses a brief rest, to proceed with them until we met the other team coming back from Sherman; but just as we were starting with them the expected team rode up, and all haste was made for our departure over Colbert's ferry into Texas. We crossed the wide, shallow and muddy Red river on one of Mr. Colbert's boats, and saw quite a large number of his slaves busily engaged in lowering the present steep grade up the banks. He also undertakes to keep in order part of the road on the Texas side of the river. On our way to Sherman, in Texas, we passed several large gullies, or beds of creeks, which are being bridged at the expense of Grayson county, in which Sherman is situated, and of which it is the county seat.
Sherman is a pleasant little village of about six hundred inhabitants, and is noted for its enterprising citizens. We found Mr. Bates, the Superintendent of this part of the line, ready with a team of mules to carry the mail on with-
out a moment's delay. As soon as we drove up our teams were unhitched, and new ones put in their places at short notice. But Mr. Bates objected to a heavy load of ammunition which was in our wagon, as too much incumbrance for the mail, and in a twinkling another wagon was rolled out, and we were started on our way. I had barely time to run a few steps, to the Post Office to drop you a letter.
The time of our departure was twenty minutes to 5 P. M,. on Monday, the 20th of September—four days, six hours and twenty minutes from the time of our departure from St. Louis, a distance of six hundred and seventy-three miles, and we had travelled but one hundred and sixty by railroad, and were thirty-one hours and fifty minutes ahead of time.
Overland Mail Wagon, near El Paso, Texas, Sept. 28, 1858.
The overland mail from St. Louis and Memphis to San Francisco met the mail from San Francisco, to each of those places, this evening about half past eight, one hundred miles east of El Paso—eight hours ahead of time. The mail going West was due at El Paso, (1,308) miles From St. Louis, on Tuesday, the 28th., inst., at 11 A. M., and the mail going East was due at the same place, (1,332½ miles from San Francisco,) on the same day at 5:30 A. M. So you will perceive that the mail going East has rather beaten the mail going West so far, though they may lose time in going over the remaining route.
I have already given you a hasty sketch of our progress from St. Louis via the Pacific Railroad to Tipton, Moniteau county, Mo., thence to Springfield, Mo., Fayetteville and Fort Smith, Arkansas, the Indian Territory to the Texas border, and our start from Sherman, Texas; having crossed the Red river at Colbert's Ferry, about eight miles below Fort Preston. Since then we have passed through Gainesville, Forts Belknap and Chadbourne, along the Concho river—a branch of the Little Colorado—to its source; across the Great Llano Estacade, or Stake Plain, a distance of eighty miles, without water, to the Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos river, and up the east bank of that stream to Pope's Camp, crossing the Pecos about three miles above,
and taking the line near the thirty-second parallel for El Paso. We travel night and day, and only stop long enough to change teams and eat. The stations are not all yet finished, and there are some very long drives—varying from thirty-five to seventy-five miles, without an opportunity of procuring fresh teams. Many obstacles have been overcome, and I am sanguine of the ultimate success of the enterprise, however much I may now doubt its efficiency as an expeditious mail or available passenger route.
The scheduled run from Fort Chadbourne to Colbert's Ferry was 283 miles and required 62 hours and twenty-five minutes. From Colbert's Ferry to Fort Smith was 192 miles for which 38 hours was allowed. From Fort Smith to Tipton, Missouri, was 313 miles and the scheduled time for the run was 18 hours and 55 minutes. Tipton was the terminus of the railroad running to St. Louis, a distance of 160 miles for which 11 hours and 40 minutes was allowed.
Another traveler who has left an account of this interesting transportation line across Oklahoma was H. D. Barrows who traveled "over the Butterfield route, which was, I believe, the longest and best conducted stage route in the world." He and his wife traveled from Los Angeles "day and night for about 18 days and 5 hours, arriving at Smithton, the terminus of the railway to St. Louis on the morning of January 5, 1861, and at St. Louis the evening of the same day."
They went by Fort Yuma, past where the Oatman massacre occurred, by Gila Bend and Sutton's Ranch, Tucson, Apache Pass, Mesilla, El Paso and through the Comanche country. Passed Fort Chadbourne and an "old abandoned fort at 'Phantom Hill' 40 miles apart, the latter had been burned. Sunday we passed Fort Belknap where we heard the Comanche had been committing depredations. Monday as we passed through the thriving town of Sherman, Texas, we began to see cattle running at large on the hills which was an indication that we were out of the Indian country.
"We crossed Red River into Choctaw or peaceable Indian territory on the last day of the year. The next morn-
ing was biting cold. We ate breakfast at a large farm house occupied by two well-to-do Choctaw farmers who dressed and looked like Americans, and were nearly white. They had large families. Just as we were leaving a number of full-blood Indians came out on to the broad veranda with their chief. We were told that they were to leave on the next stage after us enroute for Washington to see their new Great Father Lincoln inaugurated . . . . We reached Fort Smith on the 2nd day of January 15½ days from Los Angeles . . . . Fort Smith is a wide awake progressive city. On our journey thus far we had ridden in what were called Thorough-brace mud wagons. But next morning before light on the Concord stage coach . . . we arrived at Springfield, a larger and handsomer city . . . . than Fort Smith. We had passed through Fayetteville, another fine city, that is, it had less of the frontier aspect than one would expect from its location. Saturday morning, January 5, at three o'clock we arrived at Smithton,13 took a train at 9 A. M. and reached St. Louis between six and seven that evening; the railroad ran along the Missouri River."14
The Southern Overland Mail Company enjoyed the great advantage of traversing a country where there were few delays from snow or difficult terrain as in the north. Its service was therefore successful and popular. It had been noted with much satisfaction in Los Angeles that "The arrival of the stages of the Overland Mail had been heretofore as regular as the index on the clock points to the hour, as true as the dial to the sun. During all seasons, in cold and heat, in winter and summer, the overland stage has kept its time; while other lines have been days behind, this one has been regular as clock work, sometimes anticipating, but never behind the appointed hour for its arrival.15
To meet this competition and overcome the advantages enjoyed by the Southern Overland Mail Company, the Central Overland Pony Express service was organized and on April 8, 1860, started from San Francisco its first sack of
13Smithton, located near Sedalia, Missouri; the railroad had been extended 19 miles from Tipton since 1858.
14A Two Thousand Mile Stage Ride, by H. D. Barrows, Historical Society of Southern California reports 1896, page 40.
express. It prospered and in a measure nullified the plans and investments made in connection with the southern route.
The Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph company had built a line from San Francisco to Los Angeles and the Missouri River and Western Company operated a line from St. Louis to Fort Smith. Press news intended for California was telegraphed to St. Louis and relayed from there by wire to Fort Smith, then carried by the Southern Overland Mail stages to Los Angeles then relayed by wire to San Francisco. "But the success of the Pony Express has effectively broken up that business for the present, and the only plan of securing an immediate return of the capital invested in the Fort Smith telegraph is to push it forward far enough to compete with its northern rival in the earliest dispatch of news. This may be done by building to Sherman and running a Pony Express thence to Yuma, which could be run twelve months in the year without any interruption whatever." The telegraph line to Fort Smith did not pay operating expenses since the Pony Express service had been installed on the Central Route.16
The Butterfield company planned to inaugurate a pony express service to meet the competition of the Central Route, but in a short time the Civil War came on and the Confederates seized the equipment of the Butterfield line and suspended its operations. After the war, in 1868 the Wells Fargo Company obtained a subsidy of $1,750,000 for a daily stage to California. Stages were restored to the old Butterfield route, but the age of railroads was at hand, and the day of the overland stage came to an end.
Notwithstanding the comparatively small amount of passenger traffic and the inconsiderable number of immigrants who followed the line, the Southern Overland Mail Line had its place in the history of Oklahoma and left its imprint on the country.