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that were a fortuitous concourse of wood and catgut, without any attempt to systematize them or their noise; the sound of heels in the breakdown, loud swearing and yells for drink, kept us awake till a late hour of our last night on the Missouri River. It was not astonishing that, after a series of such unimagined horrors as we had passed through, an Eastern lady just arrived should have asked us next morning, "whether those were bushwhackers next door."
The hour of eight saw us embarked upon our vehicle, with all the baggage which it was absolutely necessary to carry: our commissary stores in boxes under our feet, where they might be easy of access in any of those frequent cases of semi-starvation which occur at the stations between the Missouri and the Pacific. Our guns hung in their cases by the straps of the wagon-top; our blankets were folded under us to supplement the cushions. To guard against any emergency, we were dressed exactly as we should want to be, if need occurred to camp out all night. We wore broad slouch hats of the softest felt, which made capital nighircaps for an out-door bed; blue flannel shirts with breast-pockets, the only garment, as far as material goes, which in all weathers or climates is equally serviceable, healthful, and comfortable; stout pantaloons of gray Cheviot, tucked into knee-boots; revolvers and cartouche-boxes on belts of broad leather about our waists; and light, loose linen sacks over all. I may here anticipate, in order to dismiss the subject, by saying that a few hundred miles made some changes expedient in our attire. We doffed our sacks, and rode in our hunting-shirts; we took off our belts, and slung them with holsters and ammunition beside our guns; and exchanged our boots for loose slip
pers, which are much less galling during a protracted wagon-journey, keeping the former close at hand for use when we had, as sometimes happened, to ease the horses over a hard piece of road by walking ourselves.
The Overland Mail vehicle is of that description known as the Concord wagon, — a stout oblong box on springs, painted red, with heavy wheels and axles, having a flat arched roof of water-proof cloth erected on strong posts, like those of a rockaway, and to this are attached curtains of the same fabric, which in bad weather may be let down and buttoned so tight as to make the sides practically as proof against storms as the top. In fine weather, when the curtains are up, no airier arrangement or more unobstructed view could be desired. The seats of the wagon are three, the passengers at the end sitting vis-a-vis; those in the middle looking forward, with their backs against a strap hooked to the side-posts, as in the old-fashioned stage-coach. Six persons can ride comfortably inside, if they are only used to sleeping in an upright position; but the great pressure of travel to Denver often at that day compelled passengers to ride three on a seat, — an arrangement calculated to give one the liveliest ideas of the horrors of a negro hold on the middle passage. By the politeness of Messrs. Ben Holladay and Center, we were furnished with such letters to the Atchison agent of their line as insured us a stage to ourselves as far as Denver; and Mr. Munger, the superintendent between Atchison and Fort Kearney, did everything in his power to make our ride as comfortable as it could be. Just before we set out, we became acquainted with a Denver gentleman, Mr. Kershaw, and a lady in his charge, who were both anxious to reach Colorado by the earliest conveyance. We accordingly offered them our remaining seats, and had no occasion to regret the hospitality, finding them most pleasant companions as far as they went with us, and becoming afterward indebted to them for many courtesies in Colorado.
Just before we left, Mr. Munger got word from further west that the buffaloes had started northward for their summer resorts, and were now reported upon the south bank of the Republican Fork of the Kaw. We immediately made up our minds not to lose their visit, as we might have no second chance of seeing them in their glory, perhaps none of seeing them at all, if we went on to Denver without stopping, and returned from the Pacific coast — as was then possible, and eventually proved actual—by the way of Panama or Nicaragua. We accordingly made arrangements with Mr. Munger to lie by and wait for him about one hundred and eighty-five miles west of Atchison, at Comstock's Ranche in Nebraska. He, meanwhile, would make some final preparations for the proposed foray on the Kaw, and meet us at the ranche, or overtake us on the road in his light double buggy. The good sense of this course was afterward proved to our great satisfaction, as we never again saw buffaloes in a state of nature after leaving the Republican Fork, passing Fort Kearney, where the main herd makes its most frequent transit to the plains north of the Platte, some weeks before they crossed the road there.
The -Concord wagon rumbled out of Atchison, and we were fairly on " The Plains." For a while we were accompanied by picket fences; but these, in despair at the idea of limiting immensity, soon gave way to rails, and by the time we reached Lancaster, — a station merely, not a town, — ten miles out of Atchison, the rails themselves had succumbed, and we were running through an unbroken waste.
"The Plains" are very different in their character from the Prairies. Nowhere, after leaving the Missouri River westward, does the traveller behold such stretches of grass running to the horizon, everywhere level like the sea, as he finds in Illinois. The great sedimentary deposits which form the prairies proper, were laid in a period of long quiet, and denuded of their superadjacent water by a slow uniform upheaval, or equally slow evaporation, which embraced much larger tracts of country than the formative influences further west. As might be expected, the land gives evidence of more spasmodic and irregular disturbances the nearer we approach the great spinal mountainchain of the Continent.
The grass around us was long and rich. Prairiehens abounded in it, seeming almost as tame as barnyard fowl. They were continually coming to the road and running ahead of the horses, so close to us, indeed, that, had we chosen, we might have bagged the whole party's supper from the wagon as we rode. The common plover were only less plenty, dodging about in the grass with their peculiar culprit manner as we approached. The mourning dove, a little creature of lovely shape and typical color, whose haunts embrace the entire Plains region, fluttered or hopped constantly about us in pairs. Several varieties of hawks, one of which we afterward discovered to be a true falcon; some large ravens, and a species of meadow-lark, were the other principal birds which attracted our attention on this day.
The air was delightfully soft, the sky clear, and the road in excellent condition, even without considering that Nature and the wheels of travel are here the only menders of highway. In some places it was as compact and smooth as the finest gravel roads of the East. Indeed, with the exception of the portion traversing the terrible desert of Utah, and a few shorter pieces elsewhere, the entire route astonished me by its excellence.
Just after sundown we arrived at Seneca, a settlement as well as a station, sixty miles from Atchison. Here we took tea in quite an ambitious frame tavern, and our eyes lay lingeringly on the shingle of Civilization's last justice of the peace. There was a tinshop in Seneca; I think a lawyer's office; and there were several dwelling-houses.
After the darkness came on, and we rolled away from Seneca into its darkness, I began to realize that we were not going to stop anywhere for the night. It was a strange sensation, this; like being in an armchair, and sentenced not to get out of it from the Missouri to California.
I do not know whether it is necessary to inform anybody that the Overland Mail travelled night and day. I had known it always, but I never felt it till about twelve o'clock the first night out, when my legs began growing unpleasantly long, and my feet swelled to such a size that they touched all the boxes and musket-butts upon the floor. When these symptoms were further accompanied by a dull heat between the shoulders, and a longing for something soft applied to the nape of the neck, I wondered whether this was not what people on shore called wanting to go to bed. The facilities for such a gratification were so amus