Star InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive
 

Article Index

 

In 1861 He Starts as Mail Driver.

In the spring of 1861 I went home to Burlingame, Kansas, and went to work on the farm of O.J. Niles. I had just turned the corner of twenty-one summers, and I felt that life should have a "turning point" somewhere, so I took down with the ague. This very ague chanced to be the "turning point" I was looking for and is herewith related.

Mr. Veil of the firm of Barnum, Veil & Vickeroy, who had the mail contract from Kansas City, Missouri, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, stopped over at Burlingame, Kansas, and there met Mr. Niles, the man for whom I was working. Mr. Veil told Mr. Niles that he wanted a farmer boy to drive on the Long Route because the stage drivers he had were cowards and not satisfactory. Niles told him that he had a farm hand, but, he added, "he won't go, because he has the ague." "Oh, well," Mr. Veil replied, "that's no matter, I know how to cure him; I'll tell him how to cure himself." So they sent for me, and Veil told me how to get rid of the ague. He said, "you dig a ditch in the ground a foot deep, and strip off your clothing and bury yourself, leaving only your head uncovered, and sleep all night in the Mother Earth." I did it. I found the earth perfectly dry and warm. I had not much more than engulfed myself when the influences of the dry soil began to draw all the poison out of my body, and I had, as I most firmly believe, the most peaceful and delightful slumber I had ever experienced since infancy. From that day until the present time I have never had another chill. I gained 40 pounds of flesh in the next three months. I have known consumption to be cured with the same "ague cure" on the plains.

The distance from Kansas City to Fort Larned, Kansas, is three hundred miles. The distance from Fort Larned to Fort Lyon, New Mexico, is two hundred and forty miles, and from Fort Lyon to Fort Union it is one hundred and eighty miles, from Fort Union to Santa Fe it is one hundred and eighty miles, making nine hundred miles for the entire trip.

The drive from Fort Larned, Kansas, to Fort Lyon, Colorado, was known as the Long Route, being 240 miles, with no stations between; but across that treacherous plain of the Santa Fe Trail I made the trip sixty-five times in four years, driving one set of mules the entire distance, camping out and sleeping on the ground.

The trips were made with five mules to each coach, and we took two mules with us to supply the place of any mule that happened to get sick. Sometimes, strange to note, going on the down grade from Fort Lyon to Fort Larned we would have a sick mule, but this never occurred on the up-grade to Fort Lyon. When a mule was sick we left it at Little Coon or Big Coon Creek. Little Coon Creek is forty miles from Fort Larned. When Fort Larned was my headquarters I always went after my sick mules, if I had any, the next day and brought them in. Fort Larned was the regular built fort with a thousand soldiers, a settlers' store, and the Stage Company's station with its large corral of mules and horses; it was the headquarters of the Long Route to furnish the whole route to Santa Fe. If the sick mules happened to be at Little Coon Creek, the round trip would be eighty miles, and it would sometimes take me and my little race pony several days to make the trip, owing of course to the condition of the sick mule and its ability to travel. Camping out on these trips, I used my saddle for a pillow while my spread upon the ground served as my bed. I would tie the lariat to the saddle so the pony would graze and not get too far away from our "stomping ground." If the wolves came around, which they often did, the pony would come whinnying to me, stamp on the ground and wake me up. I usually scared them away by shooting over their heads.

When we had several passengers, and wished to make time, we took two coaches with two drivers and one conductor who had charge over the two coaches. There was the baggage of several passengers to carry, bedding for ourselves, provision for the whole crew and feed for the mules. We usually made from fifty to sixty miles a day, owing to the condition of the road and weather.

Sometimes coyotes and mountain wolves would molest us. The mountain wolf is about as large as a young calf, and at times they are very dangerous and blood-thirsty. At one time when my brother, C.W. Ryus, was with me and we were going into Fort Larned with a sick mule, five of those large and vicious mountain wolves suddenly appeared as we were driving along the road. They stood until we got within a hundred feet of them. I cracked my whip and we shot over their heads. They parted, three going on one side of the road and two on the other. They went a short distance and turned around and faced us. We thought we were in for a battle, and again we fired over their heads, and, greatly to our satisfaction and peace of mind, they fled. We were glad to be left alone and were willing to leave them unharmed. Had we used our guns to draw blood it is possible that they would have given chase and devoured us. We would not have been in the least alarmed had we advanced upon five Indians, for we would have invited them to join us and go to the station with us and get something to eat. Not so with the wolves, they might have exacted our bodies before they were satisfied with the repast.

I was never afraid of Indians, so hardly ever took an escort. My greatest fear was that some white man would get frightened at the sight of the reds and kill one of their band, and I knew if that should happen we were in grave danger. I always tried to impress my passengers that to protect ourselves we must guard against the desire to shoot an Indian. Not knowing how to handle an Indian would work chaos among us. The Indians did not like the idea of the white race being afraid of them--the trains amassing themselves together seemed to mean to the Indian that they were preparing for battle against them, and that made them feel like "preparing for war in time of peace."

At one time on my route I remember as we were passing Fort Dodge, Kansas, a fort on the Arkansas River, there was a caravan of wagons having trouble with the Indians. I had an escort of some ten or fifteen soldiers, but we passed through the fray with no trouble or hair-splitting excitement.