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ingly scanty that I concluded I must be mistaken. The back cushions of the wagon were stuffed as hard as cricket-balls, and the seat might have been the flat side of a bat . I tried fastening my head in a corner by a pocket-handkerchief sling; but just as unconsciousness arrived, the head was sure to slip out, and, in despair, I finally gave over trying to do anything with it. At Guittards', a station famous among such passengers as have reached there in proper season for delicious suppers, we to-night stopped only long enough to change horses, and I took advantage of the halt to climb to the box. Here I rode the rest of the night, convinced that I could not surrender to Sleep until he had made a more protracted siege around the outworks. I felt convinced that my friends inside would not miss me, they having, some time before, reached that stage of sensation in which a stage-floor • seems piled with human feet. When the fresh team
started out with a plunge, and the fresh night-breath of the Plains began fanning my forehead, the fever of unsuccessful sleepiness left me, and I enjoyed myself as much as if I were not sure it would return tomorrow.
During the night, near a small settlement called Marysville, we forded the Big Blue, one of the largest streams in this portion of Kansas — timbered with cotton-woods, sycamores, oaks, and occasional elms — and, a little after sunrise, stopped at "Seventeen Mile Point," one hundred and eleven miles from Atchison, and the last station this side of Nebraska.
The stations on the Overland Road, between the Missouri and Denver, generally consist of a single wooden house, with stables attached, and a large corral, or inclosed yard, just adjacent. Some of the
more ambitious Btation-keepers cultivate several acres of land adjoining, in which case the traveller is delighted by the entrance of fresh vegetables into a bill of fare, which is elsewhere unqualified pork and greasy potatoes. Occasionally, too, the station-keeper has both time and penchant for hunting; the happy result being buffalo-hump, antelope-steaks, and fricassee of prairie-chickens. But the majority of these important personages seem to have retired from the world under the influence of an ascetic spirit, and take grim , delight in visiting the wrongs inflicted upon them by the society which they have left, on the innocent wayfarer compelled to pay for their hospitality. Many of them have married copartners in their social grudge; stern females, who boil bad coffee in an affronted manner, and hand you hot saleratus biscuit with an air of personal insult. All their principal supplies are drawn from Atchison by the Mail Company's conveyances; and it is no unusual occurrence to lack sugar as well as milk in your tea, because "that stage" hasn't brought up the last order. The station-keepers charge variously from fifty cents in Kansas to a dollar in Nebraska, and westward, for every meal, without regard to quality. Their charges upon the passengers they collect personally (though it is possible to buy meal-tickets at Atchison for the whole route); the board of the drivers is paid by the Company, who keep an account with the keepers for them and the stable-tenders.
While breakfast was cooking, I loaded a shot-gun, and started out for a short excursion in search of prairie-hens. Though we had seen numbers of them along the road, I was unable to start a single one in the grass. This I found to be the ordinary case at this hour of the morning and season of the year. They wait till the sun is high and warm before they come out to strut and coquet with each other, — being the dandies and people of elegant leisure in the social system of the Plains. I got back to the stationhouse with the charge in my gun, yet with pleasant sensations of willingness to be charged myself, due to more than a mile's tramp through the rich grass of the breezy divide.
Just beyond the breakfast-place we entered Nebraska. The country now became wilder and somewhat more sterile. The signs of human occupation disappeared entirely, and with them the prairie-chickens became less and less abundant. These fowl, as may be known, flourish best in the neighborhood of settlements, — sometimes, like quail, relying principally, over tracts of many miles square, for most of their subsistence, upon gleanings from the rick and stubble field. When found to any extent in perfectly wild regions, they occupy some secret spot far in the bosom of the Plains, where their natural food is steady and abundant; but they always prefer grain when they can get it, and will accompany wagons or stages for miles to pick up the droppings. Though the prairie-fowl diminished, the plovers and doves were still abundant.
At Virginia City, one hundred and thirty miles from Atchison, the stage stopped for dinner about noon; but our recollections of a station breakfast were not sufficiently fascinating to tempt us into sitting down at table. We now had occasion to congratulate ourselves on our provision in the matter of commissary stores, for, opening one of the boxes under our feet, we lunched, alfresco, under lee of the station-barn, on pilot-bread, sardines, and canned peaches. Our travelling larder contained, beside many duplicates of such a lunch as this, apple-butter, put up by the Shakers; preserved green corn and tomatoes; jars of assorted pickles, tamarinds, and cans of beef, prepared by a process which left nothing but salt and heating necessary for the creation of a capital ragout. Before these stores were exhausted we had repeated occasion to thank them for three meals a day, several days in succession. Indeed, wherever we stopped long enough to do, or get any cooking done, on our behalf, we always varied our else carnivorous meal by something succulent from the Shakers' tins.
By this time the whole party were greatly distressed from loss of sleep. A more sad-eyed, out-all-nightish set I never saw anywhere. But all of them except myself were just far enough gone in fatigue to take cat-naps against their strap or in their corners! My head was swollen with fever, but I could not succumb. After half an hour's vain attempt at sleeping in a heap, I left my room to the others who were in a condition to prefer it to the company of the best of friends, and once more sought the stage-box, where it was blowing a gale of wind that made fever and hats alike difficult to hold on to.
Our driver was a terrible fellow, with all the fingers missing from one hand,— the most profane man and the greatest braggart I ever saw. He alternately drank from a black bottle and praised his own driving, until the reins dropped out of his remaining fingers, and he himself would have gone headlong from the box, had I not grasped his collar. We had just crossed a high bridge without parapets over one of the numerous streams in this region, called Big or
Little " Sandy;" the leaders stopped, and began facing the pole, and we were in imminent danger of being tipped over or backed d„own the steep bank. I jumped down upon the pole, and caught the reins just in time to save us; our Denver friend leaped out with his pistol drawn, and induced the driver to descend a little quicker than liquor and gravity combined would have brought him; after which, with a word of explanation directed around the side to our friends within, we left the fellow who had nearly murdered us, cursing his tortuous way along the road, and drove to the next station ourselves. In mentioning this occurrence, I should say, as an act of justice to the company and its drivers, that it was a very exceptional case to see a drunken man on an Overland box. The only repetition of it in our whole journey occurred in the Rocky Mountains, just beyond Fort Bridger, and then without any accident. It is due to the drivers as a class to say that they usually astonished me by an abstemiousness, under circumstances of great solitude, monotony, and temptation, which would have done credit to any man of business in an Eastern city. Many of them, on principle, or from a sense of their responsibility, would not drink at all.
Between Big Sandy and Comstock's we got our first experience of a thunder-storm on the Plains. At sunset the clouds were piled into an ebon staircase, draped with gold, mounting from the western horizon to the zenith; and as the daylight declined, the massive steps became tessellated every now and then with lightning working across them silently in strange patterns. The weather had been very warm all day, and we thought likely that this exhibition would prove nothing more than the heat-lightning of our Eastern summer evenings. But about nine o'clock we were undeceived.