early roads

When we last checked in with Mr. Johnson, he was just settling in for the night, after having shared a cooking fire with a group of fellow travelers he’d met on the trail.

“On the morning of the 29th, all hands around the camp were up early, making ready for a departure; it is a lively camp. Cattle were fed, wagons greased, and breakfast prepared. I was invited to breakfast with the rest of the company, all making the ground our table. The breakfast comprised bacon, eggs, warm bread and coffee. Remember, I have a cow that has given milk every day since calving, she is now four years old and has had two calves. On this occasion I found milk for all. After breakfast we made ready and moved on our respective ways. It is six o’clock as I leave the camp. It is a fine morning and the road good.

“The wind is freshening up and clouds are gathering, it looks as if we are to have a change of weather; it is warm and sultry and begins to look like rain. I crowd on as fast as I can — remember, it is all walk and nothing else — after a while it began to rain the wind blew a gale. I stopped to make the things on the wagon more secure, as I could see no place for shelter or cover, we have to stand and take it. A flash of lightning and a peal of thunder startled us and set me thinking of my loneliness; sometimes this thought troubles me considerably. What if some serious accident happens to me?

“The storm did not last long, but it left the roads dangerous traveling. My horse could scarcely ascend a hill, but descending was even worse, on account of the slipperyness. I continued on, hoping to come to some place where we could stay, at least overnight. I came to a cross-trail, leading to the right and left. Not knowing which to take, I concluded to stop, as I have found such trails to my disadvantage.”

to be continued …

Mr. Johnson continued his tale from where we left him in yesterday’s post …

“On the morning of the 28th I was up again before it was light enough to travel. I gave my cattle grain, but they would not touch it they were so thirsty. As soon as light came I drove into the trail and moved on. I knew that my cattle must have water, so I drove on as fast as possible; after traveling about eight miles, we came to water, which I tested and found it fair water, so I gave to the cattle as much as they would drink. After which I gave them their grain, and while they were eating had a breakfast of crackers and milk. I did not stop long, but went on and about ten o’clock met a man on horseback, leading a pack-horse. ‘Good morning, stranger,’ I said. ‘Good morning, sir.’ ‘How far have you come this morning?’ I asked.  ‘About ten or twelve miles,’ he said. ‘Did your horses have grass last night?’ I asked. ‘No, not any; I should have stopped at the creek, there was grass there,’ he said. ‘How is the trail on ahead?’ I asked. ‘First best for me; I can go anywhere as I am, you can’t with your wagon.’ ‘Where are you going to?’ I asked. ‘I am going to California,’ he said. ‘California; I am just from there.’ ‘You from California; what, you have not come from California with that outfit?’ he asked. ‘I have; just as I am, and I am going East, to Massachusetts,’ I answered. ‘The devil you are. Well, I will give it up, if you have come so far, I think I ought to do as much; goodbye, stranger.’ ‘Goodbye, sir.’ We parted and went on, I saying, ‘Well, Fanny and Bessie, we must make that creek before night. There is grass; you did not get any last night, tonight you may get some.’

“On we went, a good trail and down grade; we are traveling at the rate of three miles an hour, and about four p.m., I made a stop of about thirty minutes, giving the cattle some grain, after which we went on. Talking to my horse I said, ‘Come, Fanny, do your best, it is a good road, you shall have grass tonight.’ I was crowding along as fast as I could, when looking off to my left, saw smoke, and soon I came to tracks of wagons and was sure there was a camp somewhere near. When the horse saw the tracks she stopped, looking around. I said, ‘Fanny, we will go in here and follow those tracks and see what we can find.’ Traveling around a bluff we came in sight of a camp — a tent and three wagons and eight horses; five men, a boy, two women, and a girl. As I went into the camp I called out, ‘Don’t be afraid, I have come to see who is here!’ ‘Come in, stranger; you are welcome,’ was answered. ‘I am going East and you are going West, I suppose. Can I stop with you tonight; or, in other words, can I go into camp here?’ I asked. ‘Yes, sir; you can,’ was answered.

“I detached the horse from the wagon and unharnessed her, turning her loose and she went rolling about for some time. I gave the cow the same chance, but she went for the grass. It is half-past six and I went to gather fuel for a fire. ‘Stranger, do your cooking by our fire; don’t trouble yourself in making a fire.’ I got my supper, such as coffee, boiled eggs, crackers, and milk. I brought in my cattle for the night, securing and giving them their grain, made up my bed, and went to rest.”

to be continued …

About two months ago, I abandoned Mr. Johnson on the road to Laramie. And several people have asked me to please get back to his story, so …

“The morning of the 27th [of May 1883] found me up before there was any light. I turned the cattle loose for grass, greased my wagon, made a fire, boiled coffee and eggs, and opened a can of salmon. My breakfast being ready I brought in the cattle and gave them some grain, then I sat down to my breakfast to be ready to move onwards together. After breakfast, started onward, and having traveled about a mile came to a house. Here was a man, his wife, and two children. I inquired the name of this canyon. ‘It is called Miller’s canyon, stranger.’ ‘How far is it to Green River city?’ ‘Twenty-five miles, stranger.’ ‘How far to the next house?’ ‘I do not know the distance, but it is a long way; in fact, I never was east of here more than fifty miles, stranger.’ ‘How long have you been here?’ ‘Six years or more, stranger.’

“I left them and ascended the mountain, attaining its summit — traveling three-fourths of a circle in the distance of eight miles. About ten o’clock I passed a trail to my left and on a board nailed to a post I read, ‘To Soda Springs, crossing on Green River without Ferry.’ Went down the mountain and at its base I crossed a deep gulch on snow. A short distance from this gulch I came to a creek of good water. Here we stopped, my cattle took water and grain, myself and dog, bread, cheese, and cold coffee. We go on our road today, so far good, no rivers, creeks, or sloughs.

“The day is fast closing; it is time we should have come to grass. I have traveled all day and seen none; we must go into camp without water or grass. I spoke to my horse, ‘Fanny, we will go no further today; we have no grass or water, you will be obliged to eat your grain without.’ It is hard, plenty of grass and water one day and none the next. I drove into the sage bush, just out of the trail, and stopped. Fed my cattle with grain, spread my blankets on the ground and laid down for the night, but could not go to sleep. I would lay awhile and then get up and talk to my cattle and then lay down again, but could not drop off to sleep. Several times I got up and laid down again, and after a while I dropped off to sleep, not knowing it at the time.”

to be continued …

As I, as they say, hit the road this afternoon for my loooong drive to Martin’s Auction … here’s a busy street scene from Boston, in 1906. Enjoy!



One of our CAA members forwarded a link to this fascinating old photo (taken on Sept. 23, 1871), which is in the collection at the University of Minnesota’s Kathryn A. Martin Library, in Duluth.




When she sent the image, Vicki wrote, “This stage ran from Superior, Wisconsin, around the bay to Duluth, Minnesota, and on to St. Paul, Minnesota. It was the last stage to do the trip, as the railway had already arrived at the head of the lake (Lake Superior).”

Thanks, Vicki, for alerting us to this great photo!

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