Part 3– The third part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.
"WEST TO LARAMIE”
May 3, 1860
Mrs. Adelaide Taylor
231 Green Street
Patricia and I have arrived at this small prairie town in the Kansas Territory. Our coach stopped for a few minutes to retrieve mail and other packages. The sooner we are on our way, the better. Stagecoach travel has proved to be quite unbearable. You cannot imagine how I long to be at Fort Laramie by now. Being here in Kansas has reminded me of the violent outbreaks over slavery that has tainted this part of the country, recently. I fear that some Missouri border ruffians or Kansas Jayhawkers might descend upon our coach and harass us before we can leave the territory.
Addie my love, whoever said that stagecoach traveling would be comfortable was either the greatest charlatan on this earth or worse, a drunk. No reflection upon your brother, but we must remember that he has been blind with love for nearly a year. I should really listen to Patricia more often.
I must say that the land here in Kansas seem quite impressive – at least visually. The eastern part of the territory resembled Missouri with its green woods and expansive plains filled with tall grass that swayed like graceful dancers. Eventually, the land became flat as a pancake with hardly a stem of grass or flowers in sight. An occasional tree or prairie animal would break the monotony of the open wide spaces. Thank goodness for the bright orange that glows across the western skyline when the sun descends for the night.
Right now, I am sure you are asking - ”What is Mother complaining about?” Well, there is this series of elements that seem bent upon assaulting my face – namely the wind, dust, heat and insects. Rocks and other objects of this so-called“road” cause the coach to bump and sway over long periods of time. It had taken me nearly three hours to recover from a case of maldemere, after our departure from St. Joseph. The coach leaves very little room for passengers. There are only six of us, inside the vehicle – including three females who did not have the sense to don narrower skirts for this journey. Patricia and I have the best seats – right behind the front boot, facing backward. We can see the backs of two men seated in the coach’s most uncomfortable spots.
The passengers come from an extremely interesting selection of humanity. First, there is Mr. Atticus Hornbottom (trust me, I am not making this up), a whiskey drummer from St. Louis. This rotund and balding man wears a horrid checked suit and spends most of his time either talking about himself or snooping into the background of other passengers. He sells whiskey to various Army and trading posts throughout the Plains. He is also destined for Fort Laramie.
Another passenger happens to be Captain Jonas Pearson, an Army officer destined for Fort Hall, which is further west of Laramie. After Mr. Hornbottom managed to coerce that bit of information from him, the good Captain kept to himself. It took the subject of the violence here in Kansas raised by Mr. Hornbottom for Captain Pearson to finally speak again. He declared that the Jayhawkers were to blame for the troubles here in Kansas. This prompted Patricia to declare that the Missouri border men were also not exempt from blame. She also accused the bordermen of attempting to vote in a pro-slavery constitution by fraudulent means. The captain did not take kindly to such an outburst – especially from a colored woman. The two have been exchanging dark looks ever since. By the way, Captain Pearson hails from Georgia.
Sitting against the rear boot is a flashy-looking couple that consist of a gentleman (I use this word in the broadest sense) named Reese McEvers and an overdressed woman with gold curls named Lucy. By the look of his clothes and dark hair slicked back with Madagascar oil, Mr. McEvers must be a professional gambler or a distributor of women’s favors. As for his golden-curled companion, Mr. McEvers claimed that she is his wife. Yet, I saw no wedding ring on her finger. Curious.
Our ”jehu” or driver is Mr. Kolp, a no-nonsense type who is all business. Every now and then, he encourages the horses on with cries of "Ha!” or ”Giddap there!”. Riding shotgun is a Mr. Harvey Wright, a former muleteer who is as talkative as Mr. Hornbottom. Unlike the whiskey-drummer, we rarely have the chance to listen to his talk. Except at way stations and stops such as this place. I would love to continue this letter, but we are about depart. Writing in a jostling stagecoach is virtually impossible. Give my love to Harold for me.
I love you always,
P.S. I will write another letter when we reach Fort Kearny, near the Platte River.
May 6, 1860
Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Dear Cousin Elizabeth,
We have finally reached Fort Kearny in the Nebraska Territory late this afternoon and will not depart until tomorrow, due to certain complications. The coach’s left axle wheel (or whatever) was in danger of loosening. Mr. Kolp, our driver, ordered us out of the coach and we were forced to walk the last twelve miles to the fort. Once inside, Mr. Kolp informed us that the axle should be repaired by tomorrow morning.
Both Mrs. Middleton and I were at first relieved to be outside that stuffy coach. Sitting inside with four other passengers became quite unbearable. The prairie winds had covered everyone’s faces with layers of dust. Do you remember that Army captain from Georgia that I had written about in my last letter? Well, I find it amusing that the captain’s face now closely resembles mine. What delicious irony. But after walking eight miles, we found ourselves missing that coach a great deal. My pair of sturdy shoes was nearly ruined by the time we reached the fort.
Fort Kearny is one of the many forts that station the Army’s First Calvary (the same regiment that Robert Middleton serve) on the Great Plains. Named after Philip Kearney, a Mexican War army officer, it is situated near the Platte River. And what a dismal looking body of water the Platte is! The Missouri and Ohio Rivers are beautiful and even the Mississippi River possesses a certain magnificence. But the Platte? Good Lord! I have never looked upon a more turgid stream of water in my life.
The fort’s commander was kind enough to offer Mrs. Middleton, Mr. McEvers’ mistress (wife indeed!) and myself the guest rooms. For which I am eternally grateful! The men accepted room in the enlisted men’s barracks. For one evening, we have walking space to stretch our legs and comfortable beds to sleep upon. I do not have much to say about the fort. It is merely a collection of adobe, sod and wooden buildings that include the kitchen, the stables for the horses, one for the sutler (civilian trader for the military), two dining rooms, a recreation hall, a billiard’s room, barracks for the enlisted troopers and living quarters for the officers. All of these buildings surround a central parade ground. Yet, the fort lacks fortified walls.
This evening, we dined on an edible meal (the only one we will have, I suspect, until Fort Laramie) that consisted of pheasant, roasted potatoes, sage stuffing, beans and salt pork, garden vegetables, sourdough bread and a dried apple pie. The memory of that meal still lingers. Afterwards, the wife of a junior office sang ”Listen to the Mockingbird” and other selections for our entertainment. She has a sweet voice, but not as strong as your Charlotte’s. She also struck me as a poor, delicate creature. I suspect that she will not last very long on the frontier. Her husband, in my opinion, apparently lacked the sense and compassion to realize that she needs to be sent back East. Preferably with relations or friends. Or perhaps he cannot afford to do so. It would be a shame if this is true. Anything would be better for her than staying in this wilderness.
It is late and I need my rest. I do not look forward to resuming our journey in that stagecoach. But I fear I would need to take advantage of our stay here for peaceful rest. Who knows how long it will be before we find ourselves at Fort Laramie and in decent beds again. Give my love to your family and take care of yourself.
Your loving cousin,