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Field Division of Education
The History of Scotts Bluff Nebraska
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The rapid growth of population along the Pacific Coast, especially in central California, led to insistent demands for more frequent and speedier communication with the eastern states. The 1847 Post Route Act had authorized stamps, and an oceanic mail service to the Pacific Coast had been established, but the service was very slow. In the same year the Mormons initiated a mail service over the Platte route between Salt Lake City and Winter Quarters. This mail was carried privately by the Mormons for three years. Finally, in July of 1850 the first mail contract for monthly service each way between the Missouri river and Salt Lake City was awarded to Samuel Woodson, of Independence. His route followed the Oregon Trail, past Scotts Bluff, and was made by one team going the entire distance, about a month's trip. Woodson held this contract from 1850 to 1854. The Californians were not successful in getting a through mail until May of 1851. From 1854 to 1856 W. M. F. Magraw held a monthly contract for mail service, in four-horse coaches, between Independence and Salt Lake City.

In 1856, Hiram Kimball, a Mormon of Utah, obtained the contract for monthly service with wagons or carriages. In the spring of 1857 the Mormons initiated a few rude stations along the mail route, but the contract was canceled in the summer of 1857 because of anti-Mormon feeling arising out of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The resulting "Utah" or "Mormon War" cut off mail service until the close of 1858. While government troops, under Albert Sidney Johnston, were in Utah, great quantities of supplies were hauled out from Missouri on contract. The freighting firm of Russell, Majors and Waddell got most of the contracts and developed a huge business, using thousands of yokes of oxen and hundreds of wagons and drovers. Nearly all of this freighting went up the North Platte by Scotts Bluff.1

Mail service to Salt Lake City over the Oregon Trail was resumed in the winter and spring of 1858, by S. B. Miles, who carried the mails by pack mules in the winter. The firm of Hockaday and Liggett held a weekly service (in four-mule wagons, making the trip in 22 days) contract between Independence and Salt Lake City, but sold the contract, in May, 1859, to Jones, Russell & Company. At that date the mail service between Independence and Placerville, California, was changed to a semi-monthly basis. By 1860 the Russell, Majors, Waddell, et. al., interests (incorporated as the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Co.) had acquired the mail contracts for the entire stretch between the Missouri and the Pacific. Stock and supplies were installed along the Platte route and many stations thus came into being.

The line of stations was especially well-organized because Russell (probably at the suggestion of Senator Gwin of California and General Superintendent of Freighting Ficklin) had consented to experiment with a rapid transport of first-class mail matter by the so-called Pony Express. The Pony Express began April 3, 1860, over a well-equipped route via St. Joseph, Ft. Kearny, Old Julesburg, Scotts Bluff, Ft. Laramie, etc. Stations were about 15 miles apart, usually built of sod or adobe, with two men at each station. Half-breed California mustangs were used, about 75 for the complete run, requiring approximately 10-1/2 days between St. Joseph and California. Each rider made from 75-100 miles, doing his round-trip twice a week for $50 to $150 a month, depending upon the dangers and difficulties of his sector. The mail was carried in four packs or cantinas sewed to a leather skirt or mochila (macheir) which was slung over the saddle. Maximum weight of each load was 20 pounds. The charges at first were $5 a half ounce, plus regular 10 cent government postage, but this was ultimately reduced to $1.

The stations in the Scotts Bluff region were at McArdle's ranch at Mud Springs (near modern Simla), the Chimney Rock Station 10 miles west of Bridgeport, Scotts Bluff Station five miles east of the bluff, and Lower Horse Creek Station. The Scotts Bluff Station was 20' x 50', and had sod walls thirty inches thick. It ultimately became the Mark Coad ranch house in 1871. Very few records have been preserved of the brief Pony Express history in the Scotts Bluff area. It is known that Jim Moore first started to ride Pony Express out of Mud Springs, and this station eventually became his ranch. It is also on record that Charles Cliff had a miraculous escape after a fight with some Indians at Scotts Bluff.2

The Pony Express continued to function until the completion of the Pacific Telegraph in October of 1861. During the 19 months of its existence there were employed a total of perhaps 200 riders. The only one to win lasting fame was "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Though a financial failure, the Pony Express had demonstrated successfully the need and feasibility of rapid communication across the continent.3

The telegraph line that terminated the life of the Pony Express was constructed by Edward Creighton, who in 1860 had gone over the proposed routes on horseback and had selected the old Oregon Trail. The active construction, under the direction of Creighton, took only a few months, and the eastern wire was in Salt Lake City on the 24th of October, 1861, two days before the Pacific wire was completed. The whole line, from the Missouri to the Pacific, was known for a time as the Pacific Telegraph Company, under the superintendency of Creighton. Trouble was had occasionally from the Indians, who yanked down the wires and destroyed the poles. Although stations were few in the early days, the Scotts Bluff area had one in Ft. Mitchell (at the western base of Scotts Bluff) after its construction about 1863.4

Despite the completion of the telegraph line there was still need for stage and mail service overland between Missouri and California. The Butterfield Overland Mail Company, that formerly had run over the southwestern route, was awarded the contract in 1861, and moved to the central route because of the imminent Civil War. Russell, Majors and Waddell, however, sub-contracted the Missouri-Utah service. Beginning July 1, 1861, a daily mail covered the Overland Route between St. Joseph and San Francisco. This daily mail coach only ran past Scotts Bluff for a year, as Benj. Holladay purchased the C.O.C. & P.P. Express Company in March of 1862, and transferred route and equipment (in July of 1862) from the North Platte to the Cherokee Trail (South Platte, Lodgepole Creek, Cheyenne) on account of Indian troubles to the north. Holladay's Overland Mail and Express Company, which operated the famous "Overland Stage," never ran a single one of their Concord stages over the North Platte route. Therefore, Scotts Bluff must forego all the melodrama and fame connected with the drivers, passengers, and holdups of this famous western institution. Instead were substituted the Indians troubles of 1862-8.5

The Overland Stage had a brief life of only six years, as the westward advancing Union Pacific soon ran the stage out of business. After the many arguments and surveys of the Fifties came the Civil War, which decided the route in favor of the northern choice. This route (favored by Lincoln, Sherman, Dodge, and others) ran from Omaha westward along the Platt route and over the Rocky Mountains into the valley of the Great Salt Lake. General Dodge, in August of 1865, reconnoitred the Upper Platte country on horseback, and on this trip located the Cheyenne Pass that predicated the Lodgepole Creek, rather than North Platte, route. Thus Scotts Bluff was again excluded from the favored line of communication. The only recognition obtained by Scotts Bluff was a sketch, drawn on the 27th of August by General Dodge, of the defile through Mitchell Pass.6

Once under way, the Union Pacific was laid at a record-breaking rate, being opposite Ft. Kearny in 1866, to Julesburg in the spring of 1867, to Cheyenne in the fall of 1867, and completed to a juncture with the Central Pacific on May 10, 1869. Then was ended the romantic period of uncertainties, fatalities, and tedious delays; the modern age had arrived with the "iron horse." Yet Scotts Bluff was under the shadow of Indian warfare.

1Accounts of the Mormon War and the early freighting business will be found in:

  1. Letters of Captn. Jesse A. Gore, The Utah Expedition (1928).
  2. T. S. Kenderdine: A California Tramp (1888), esp. pp. 64-66.
  3. Col. W. F. Cody: An Autobiography of Buffalo Bill (1920).
  4. Alexander Majors: Seventy Years on the Frontier (1893).

2Most of the information available on the Pony Express in the Scotts Bluff is in:

  1. Neb. State Hist. Soc. Collections, Vol. 17.
  2. Root and Connalley: The Overland Stage of California (1901), p. 131.
  3. Grant Shumway: "First Settlements of the Scotts Bluff Country," in Neb. State Hist. Soc. Pub., Vol. 19 (1919), pp. 103-106.

3The chief histories of the Pony Express are:

  1. Root and Connelley: The Overland Stage to California (1901).
  2. W. L. Visscher: A Thrilling and Truthful History of the Pony Express (1908).
  3. Glenn Bradley: The Story of the Pony Express (1913).
  4. L. R. Hafen: The Overland Mail (1926).
  5. Arthur Chapman: The Pony Express (1932).

4The scanty history of the telegraph in the Scotts Bluff area may be read in:

  1. James Reid: The Telegraph in America (1886), p. 493.
  2. Hebard & Brininstool: The Bozeman Trail (1922), Vol. 1, p. 78.
  3. Morton: History of Nebraska (1907), Vol. 1, pp. 98-99.

5Leading references on the Overland Mail and Stage are:

  1. Root & Connelly: The Overland Stage to California (1901).
  2. Le Roy Hafen: The Overland Mail 1849-1869 (1926).
  3. W. Banning & G. Banning: Six Horses (1928).
  4. R. F. Burton: The City of the Saints (1862), gives the best account of stage travel over the Platte route in 1860, especially pp. 70-79. The stage stations then were at Lodge Pole, 25 miles to Mud Springs, 25 miles to Chimney Rock, 24 miles to Scotts Bluff, and 16 miles to Horse Creek.

6J. R. Perkins: Trails, Rails and War (1929); sketch, "The Gorge, Scotts Bluffs, line of U. P.," opposite p. 144.

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