The Paths of Inland Commerce, A Chronicle of Trail, Road,
Archer B. Hulbert

Part 3 out of 3

1870 as 1218 miles, owing to the action of the river in
shortening its course.

1844 J. M. White 3 d. 23 h. 9 m.
1849 Missouri 4 d. 19 h. --
1889 Dexter 4 d. 9 h. --
1870 Natchez 8 d. 21 h. 58 m.
1870 R. E. Lee 3 d. 18 h. 14 m.

The steamboat now extended its service to the West and North. The
ancient fur trade with the Indians of the upper Mississippi, the
Missouri, and the Arkansas, had its headquarters at St. Louis,
whence the notable band of men engaged in that trade were
reaching out to the Rockies. The roll includes Ashley, Campbell,
Sublette, Manuel Lisa, Perkins, Hempstead, William Clark,
Labadie, the Chouteaus, and Menard--men of different races and
colors and alike only in their energy, bravery, and initiative.
Through them the village of St. Louis had grown to a population
of four thousand in 1819, when Major Long's expedition passed up
the Missouri in the first steamboat to ascend that river. This
boat, the Western Engineer, was built at Pittsburgh and was
modeled cunningly for its work. It was one of the first stern
wheelers built in the West; and the saving in width meant much on
streams having such narrow channels as the Missouri and the
Platte, especially when barges were to be towed. Then, too, its
machinery, which was covered over or boarded up, was shrouded in
mystery. A fantastic figure representing a serpent's open mouth
contained the exhaust pipe. If the New Orleans alarmed the
population of the Ohio Valley, the sensation caused among the red
children of the Missouri at the sight of this gigantic snake
belching fire and smoke must have thoroughly satisfied the whim
of its designer.

The admission of Missouri to statehood and the independence of
Mexico mark the beginning of real commercial relations between
St. Louis and Santa Fe. In 1822 Captain William Becknell
organized the first wagon train which left the Missouri (at
Franklin, near Independence) for the long dangerous journey to
the Arkansas and on to Santa Fe. In the following year two
expeditions set forth, carrying out cottons and other drygoods to
exchange for horses, mules, furs, and silver.

Despite the handicaps of Indian opposition and Mexican tariffs,
the Santa Fe trade became an important factor in the growth of
St. Louis and the Missouri River steamboat lines. In 1825 the
pathway was "surveyed" from Franklin to San Fernando, then in
Mexico. This Santa Fe trade grew from fifteen thousand pounds of
freight in 1822 to nearly half a million pounds twenty years

By 1826 steamboat traffic up the Missouri began to assume
regularity. The navigation was dangerous and difficult because
the Missouri never kept even an approximately constant head of
water. In times of drought it became very shallow, and in times
of flood it tore its wayward course open in any direction it
chose. "Of all variable things in creation," wrote a Western
editor, "the most uncertain are the action of a jury, the state
of a woman's mind, and the condition of the Missouri River." A
further handicap, and one which was unknown on the Ohio and rare
on the Mississippi, was the lack of forests to supply the
necessary fuel. The Missouri, it is true, had its cottonwoods,
but in a green state they were poor fuel, and along vast
stretches they were not obtainable in any quantity.

The steamboat linked St. Louis with that vital stretch of the
river lying between the mouth of the Kansas and the mouth of the
Nebraska. From this region the great Western trail ran on to
California and Oregon. In the early thirties Bonneville, Walker,
Kelley, and Wyeth successively essayed this Overland Trail by way
of the Platte through the South Pass of the Rockies to the
Humboldt, Snake, and Columbia rivers. From Independence on the
Missouri this famous pathway led to Fort Laramie, a distance of
672 miles; another 800-mile climb brought the traveler through
South Pass; and so, by way of Fort Bridger, Salt Lake, and
Sutter's Fort, to San Francisco. The route, well known by
hundreds of Oregon pioneers in the early forties, became a
thoroughfare in the eager days of the Forty-Niners.*

* For map see "The Passing of the Frontier," by Emerson Hough (in
"The Chronicles of America").

The earliest overland stage line to Great Salt Lake was
established by Hockaday and Liggett. After the founding of the
famous Overland Stage Company by Russell, Majors, and Waddell in
1858, stages were soon ascending the Platte from the steamboat
terminals on the Missouri and making the twelve hundred miles
from St. Joseph to Salt Lake City in ten days. Stations were
established from ten to fifteen miles apart, and the line was
soon extended on to Sacramento. The nineteen hundred miles from
St. Joseph to Sacramento were made in fifteen days although the
government contract with the company for handling United States
mail allowed nineteen days. A host of employees was engaged in
this exciting but not very remunerative
and helpers, drivers, conductors who had charge of passengers,
in addition to mail and express and road agents who acted as
division superintendents. In 1862 the Overland Route was taken
over by the renowned Ben Holliday, who operated it until the
railway was constructed seven years later. Freight was hauled by
the same company in wagons known as the "J. Murphy wagons," which

were made in St. Louis. These wagons went out from Leavenworth
loaded with six thousand pounds of freight each. A train usually
consisted of twenty-five wagons and was known, in the vernacular
of the plains, as a "bull-outfit"; the drivers were
"bull-whackers"; and the wagon master was the "bull-wagon boss."

The old story, however, was repeated again here on the boundless
plains of the West. The Western trails streaming out from the
terminus of steamboat traffic between Kansas City and Omaha had
scarcely time to become well known before the railway conquerors
of the Atlantic and Great Lakes regions were planning the
conquest of the greater plains and the Rockies beyond. The
opening of the Chinese ports in 1844 turned men's minds as never
before to the Pacific coast. The acquisition of Oregon within a
few years and of California at the close of the Mexican War
opened the way for a newspaper and congressional discussion as to
whether the first railway to parallel the Santa Fe or the
Overland Trail should run from Memphis, St. Louis, or Chicago.
The building of the Union Pacific from Omaha westward assured the
future of that city, and it was soon joined to Chicago and the
East by several lines which were building toward Clinton, Rock
Island, and Burlington.

But the construction of a few main lines of railway across the
continent could only partially satisfy the commercial needs of
the West. True, the overland trade was at once transferred to the
railroad, but the enormous equipment of stage and express
companies previously employed in westward overland trade was now
devoted to joining the railway lines with the vast regions to the
north and the south. The rivers of the West could not alone take
care of this commerce and for many years these great
transportation companies went with their stages and their wagons
into the growing Dakota and Montana trade and opened up direct
lines of communication to the nearest railway. On the south the
cattle industry of Texas came northward into touch with the
railways of Kansas. Eventually lateral and trunk lines covered
the West with their network of lines and thus obliterated all
rivalry and competition by providing unmatched facilities for
quick transportation.

In the last days previous to the opening of the first
transcontinental railway line a unique method of rapid
transportation for mail and light parcels was established when
the famous "Pony Express" line was put into operation between St.
Joseph and San Francisco in 1860. By relays of horsemen, who
carried pouches not exceeding twenty pounds in weight, the time
was cut to nine days. The innovation was the new wonder of the
world for the time being and led to an outburst on the part of
the enthusiastic editor of the St. Joseph Free Democrat that
deserves reading because it breathes so fully the Western spirit
of exultant conquest:

"Take down your map and trace the footprints of our
quadrupedantic animal: From St. Joseph, on the Missouri, to San
Francisco, on the Golden Horn two thousand miles--more than half
the distance across our boundless continent; through Kansas,
through Nebraska, by Fort Kearney, along the Platte, by Fort
Laramie, past the Buttes, over the Mountains, through the narrow
passes and along the steep defiles, Utah, Fort Bridger, Salt Lake
City, he witches Brigham with his swift pony-ship through the
valleys, along the grassy slopes, into the snow, into the sand,
faster than Thor's Thialfi, away they go, rider and horse--did
you see them? They are in California, leaping over its golden
sands, treading its busy streets. The courser has unrolled to us
the great American panorama, allowed us to glance at the home of
one million people, and has put a girdle around the earth in
forty minutes. Verily the riding is like the riding of Jehu, the
son of Nimshi for he rideth furiously. Take out your watch. We
are eight days from New York, eighteen from London. The race is
to the swift."*

* Quoted in Inman's "The Great Salt Lake Trail," p. 171.

The lifetime of many and many a man has covered a period longer
than that interval of eighty-six years between 1783, when George
Washington had his vision of "the vast inland navigation of these
United States," and the year 1869, when the two divisions of the
Union Pacific were joined by a golden spike at Promontory Point
in Utah. In point of time, those eighty-six years are as nothing;
in point of accomplishment, they stand unparalleled. When
Washington's horse splashed across the Youghiogheny in October,
1784, the boundary lines of the United States were guarded with
all the jealousy and provincial selfishness of European kingdoms.
But overnight, so to sneak these limitations became no more than
mere geometrical expressions. "Pennamite," "Erie," and "Toledo"
wars between the States, suggesting a world of bitterness and
recrimination, are remembered today, if at all, only by the
cartoonist and the playwright. The ancient false pride in mock
values, so cherished in Europe, has quite departed from the
provincial areas of the United States, and Americans can fly in a
day, unwittingly, through many States. Problems that would have
cost Europe blood are settled without turmoil in the solemn
cloisters of that American "international tribunal," the Supreme
Court, and they appear only as items of passing interest in our

In unifying the nation the influence of the Supreme Court has
been priceless, for it has given to Americans, in place of the
colonial or provincial mind, a continental mind. But great is the
debt of Americans to the men who laid the foundations of
interstate commerce. No antidote served so well to counteract the
poison of clannish rivalry as did their enthusiasm and their
constructive energy. These men, dreamers and promoters, were
building better than they knew. They thought to overcome
mountains, obliterate swamps, conquer stormy lakes, master great
rivers and endless plains; but, as their labors are judged today,
the greater service which these men rendered appears in its true
light. They stifled provincialism; they battered down Chinese
Walls of prejudice and separatism; they reduced the aimless
rivalry of bickering provinces to a businesslike common
denominator; and, perhaps more than any class of men, they made
possible the wide-spreading and yet united Republic that is
honored and loved today.


The history of the early phase of American transportation is
dealt with in three general works. John Luther Ringwalt's
"Development of Transportation Systems in the United States"
(1888) is a reliable summary of the general subject at the time.
Archer B. Hulbert's "Historic Highways of America," 16 vols.
(1902-1905), is a collection of monographs of varying quality
written with youthful enthusiasm by the author, who traversed in
good part the main pioneer roads and canals of the eastern
portion of the United States; Indian trails, portage paths, the
military roads of the Old French War period, the Ohio River as a
pathway of migration, the Cumberland Road, and three of the
canals which played a part in the western movement, form the
subject of the more valuable volumes. The temptation of a writer
on transportation to wander from his subject is illustrated in
this work, as it is illustrated afresh in Seymour Dunbar's "A
History of Travel in America," 4 vols. (1915). The reader will
take great pleasure in this magnificently illustrated work,
which, in completer fashion than it has ever been attempted,
gives a readable running story of the whole subject for the whole
country, despite detours, which some will make around the many
pages devoted to Indian relations.

For almost every phase of the general topic books, monographs,
pamphlets, and articles are to be found in the corners of any
great library, ranging in character from such productions as
William F. Ganong's "A Monograph of Historic Sites in the
Province of New Brunswick" ("Proceedings and Transactions" of the
Royal Society of Canada, Second Series, vol. V, 1899) which
treats of early travel in New England and Canada, or St. George
L. Sioussat's "Highway Legislation in Maryland and its Influence
on the Economic Development of the State" ("Maryland Geological
Survey," III, 1899) treating of colonial road making and
legislation thereon, or Elbert J. Benton's "The Wabash Trade
Route in the Development of the Old Northwest" ("Johns Hopkins
University Studies in Historical and Political Science," vol.
XXI, 1903) and Julius Winden's "The Influence of the Erie Canal
upon the Population along its Course" (University of Wisconsin,
1901), which treat of the economic and political influence of the
opening of inland water routes, to volumes of a more popular
character such as Francis W. Halsey's "The Old New York Frontier"
(1901), Frank H. Severance's "Old Trails on the Niagara Frontier"
(1903) for the North, and Charles A. Hanna's "The Wilderness
Trail", 2 vols. (1911), and Thomas Speed's "The Wilderness Road"
("The Filson Club Publications," vol. II, 1886) for Pennsylvania,
Virginia, and Kentucky. The value of Hanna's work deserves
special mention.

For the early phases of inland navigation John Pickell's "A New
Chapter in the Early Life of Washington" (1856), is an excellent
work of the old-fashioned type, while in Herbert B. Adams's
"Maryland's Influence upon Land Cessions to the United States"
("Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political
Science, Third Series," I, 1885) a master-hand pays Washington
his due for originating plans of trans-Alleghany solidarity; this
likewise is the theme of Archer B. Hulbert's "Washington and the
West" (1905) wherein is printed Washington's "Diary of September,
1784," containing the first and unexpurgated draft of his classic
letter to Harrison of that year. The publications of the various
societies for internal improvement and state boards of control
and a few books, such as Turner Camac's "Facts and Arguments
Respecting the Great Utility of an Extensive Plan of Inland
Navigation in America" (1805), give the student distinct
impressions of the difficulties and the ideals of the first great
American promoters of inland commerce. Elkanah Watson's "History
of the...Western Canals in the State of New York" (1820),
despite inaccuracies due to lapses of memory, should be specially

For the rise and progress of turnpike building one must remember
W. Kingsford's "History, Structure, and Statistics of Plank
Roads" (1852), a reliable book by a careful writer. The
Cumberland (National) Road has its political influence carefully
adjudged by Jeremiah S. Young in "A Political and Constitutional
Study of the Cumberland Road" (1904), while the social and
personal side is interestingly treated in county history style in
Thomas B. Searight's "The Old Pike" (1894). Motorists will
appreciate Robert Bruce's "The National Road" (1916), handsomely
illustrated and containing forty-odd sectional maps.

The best life of Fulton is H. W. Dickinson's "Robert Fulton,
Engineer and Artist: His Life and Works" (1913), while in Alice
Crary Sutcliffe's "Robert Fulton and the 'Clermont'" (1909), the
more intimate picture of a family biography is given. For the
controversy concerning the Fulton-Livingston monopoly, note W. A.
Duer's "A Course of Lectures on Constitutional Jurisprudence" and
his pamphlets addressed to Cadwallader D. Colden. The life of
that stranger to success, the forlorn John Fitch, was written
sympathetically and after assiduous research by Thompson Westcott
in his "Life of John Fitch the Inventor of the Steamboat" (1858).
For the pamphlet war between Fitch and Rumsey see Allibone's

The Great Lakes have not been adequately treated. E. Channing and
M. F. Lansing's "The Story of the Great Lakes" (1909) is reliable
but deals very largely with the routine history covered by the
works of Parkman. J. O. Curwood's "The Great Lakes" (1909) is
stereotyped in its scope but has certain chapters of interest to
students of commercial development, as has also "The Story of the
Great Lakes." The vast bulk of material of value on the subject
lies in the publications of the New York, Buffalo, Michigan,
Wisconsin, Illinois, and Chicago Historical Societies, whose
lists should be consulted. These publications also give much data
on the Mississippi River and western commercial development. S.
L. Clemens's "Life on the Mississippi" (in his "Writings," vol.
IX,1869-1909) is invaluable for its graphic pictures of
steamboating in the heyday of river traffic. A. B. Hulbert's
"Waterways of Western Expansion" ("Historic Highways," vol. IX,
1903) and "The Ohio River" (1906) give chapters on commerce and
transportation. For the beginnings of traffic into the Far West,
H. Inman's "The Old Santa Fe Trail" (1897) and "The Great Salt
Lake Trail" (1914) may be consulted, together with the
publications of the various state historical societies of the
trans-Mississippi States.

Various bibliographies on this general subject have been issued
by the Library of Congress. Seymour Dunbar gives a good
bibliography in his "A History of Travel in America," 4 vols.
(1915). The student will find quantities of material in books of
travel, in which connection he would do well to consult Solon J.
Buck's "Travel and Description, 1765-1865" ("Illinois State
Historical Library Collections," vol. IX, 1914).


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