KanColl: The Kansas  Historical Quarterlies

A Trip to the End of the Union Pacific in 1868

by John H. Putnam

August, 1944(Vol. 13 No. 3), pages 196 to 203.
Transcribed by lhn;
digitized with permission of the Kansas State Historical Society.


     IN early August, 1868, Maj. Thomas J. Anderson,Topeka ticket agent of the Union Pacific railroad, Eastern division, organized athree-day expedition to the western end of the road.

     On August 5, 1868, the following item appearedin the Topeka Daily Kansas State Record:

     The Topeka Excursionists will leave the Depot onThursday morning the 6th inst., at 6 o'clock SHARP, and run to the end of thetrack. Everybody is expected to take along their own eatables, and occupy assmall a space for the same as possible, as the baggage car will not accommodatelarge boxes or trunks. Mr. Pape will furnish the refreshments, consisting of leeCream, Lemonade, Sherry Cobbler, Mint Julips, Wines, etc. A general good time isexpected. All are expected to provide their own mode of conveyance to theDepot.

     The Topeka party, numbering some 200 persons,left Topeka as scheduled. Only a very few members of the. group are mentioned incontemporaneous newspaper accounts: Deacon [John W.] Farnsworth, Hi [H. T.]Beman, Archie [A. L.] Williams, George Wilmarth, Enoch Chase, Sam Hall, JerryLogan, T. J. Anderson, Dr. [E.] Tefft, [W. W. H.] Lawrence, Jake [Jacob]Smith.

     One of the excursionists, however, wrote a longletter describing the journey. He was John H. Putnam [1] and his letterfollows:


Topeka, Aug. 22nd 1868.

Dear K
     Your last has been awaiting an answer a long time,and in doing my duty towards you I can think of nothing better than to give you ahasty account of an Excursion Trip of recent date "all of which I saw and part ofwhich I was," in the language of an ancient Somebody.
Mr. Charles Shewry, some time of Columbus, whom I would most heartily commend toyour . . . attention if you should ever meet him, has long been a partner of mybed and board, and formed one of our crowd on thisExcursion.


[Photo of Kansas Avenue, Topeka.]

     (Looking north.) Three-story building on left is the Tefft House, northwest corner.
     (This and succeeding pictures were selected from 150 Gardner photographs in the collection of the Historical Society. For an account of Gardner's visit to the state and a catalogue of the Kansas pictures see Robert Taft's "A Photogarphic History of Early Kansas," in The Kansas Historical Quarterly, v. III, p. 3-14.)
[Photo of St. Mary's Mission.]



     Early upon the morning of August 6th there camea vigorous knocking at the door of my office, house and castle and a gruff voiceclaimed the death of sleep and summoned us to action. I pulled eyes and moughtopen by one herculean effort and "Prophet, said I, thing of evil" come in and geta drink. (I did not say, but of course meant, water.) But he comed not.Then came a hasty, dreamy[?] toilet; a rush to the hotel, a strangling over hotcoffee, A rally on the stable, and in the dim haze of the morning we were soonurging two lazy steeds out into the suburbs where high up above Kaw river, . . .in a vine clad cottage, where the morning air invaded with perfume, and the songof the birds makes music all day, were the ladies whose smiles were the ladies tomake the journey pleasant for us, already waiting for us. Think of this,s of the girls of 19th Century ready and waiting "at 5 o'clock in the morning."Among the languid beauties which the effete society which the East produces weresuch a thing possible? No sir! But in land of pure air, and glowing health, thefair damsels rise, fresh Venus from the Sea, "at 5 o'clock in the morning."Before 6 o'c. we were at the Depot. Then I made a most beautiful charge on the 7nand my office for our forgotten tickets, and returned in time to save fromdesertion and loss a large box sitting on the platform, marked "John Putnam, HisBox." A box like the Pickwickian hampers suggestive of what Mr. "Samivel Veller"called "weak fiz" and cold punch. As we steamed up the Valley in the cool morningthe complacency of having got through the trouble well, of having three daysrations, and no enemy to make afraid, settled down on the undersigned "like asweet dream of youth" as "Trine" used to say. We thought of L. Browne far awayamong the fire-eaters of Alabama when we passed Wamego, and mused upon the futureglory of this land as in rail road fashion we called out the alities as wepassed, for the benefit of the ladies-Silver Lake-Cross Creek-Big Aleck's-St.Mary's Mission-Lost Creek-the Vermillion-Wamego-St. George-The BlueRiver-Manhattan-Ogden-Fort Riley-The Republican River-Junction City-Abilene [2] -Solomon City-Salina. You can see them on the maps. So the scenery hasnot changed. Here the Kaw river, already dwindled by the loss of several largestreams, divides into the Saline and the Smoky Hill Forks. Our route is throughthe country of the Smoky. The road however here cuts across a great bend andafter


a seventy five miles ride through a rough, uninhabited, and almostuninhabitable country, which shows many signs of volcanic action, we again strikethe Smoky at Ellsworth-one hundred and sixty five miles from Topeka
We are now, . . . in the West. Here is life. The fine spuntheories, the moon-eyed inventions, the old time manners, and obsolete customs ofof the East are unknown. The houses here are alternately Beer Houses, WhiskeyShops, Gambling houses, Dance houses and Restaurants. There is little differencehowever as the Beer houses sell whiskey, and the whiskey houses retail beer,while the Club rooms and Restaurants all dispense the lightning (here sweetlycalled "Tarantula juice"). The dance houses combine the worship of Bacchus withterpsichorean amusements of a very high order. They used to "have a man forbreakfast here every morning" as they pleasantly spoke when chronicling thenightly murders in the town, but, as they pensively admit, "business is very dullnow." From Ellsworth to Hays City is nearly a hundred miles. This is part of the"Plains," what on the old maps is called "The Great American Desert." There areno signs of human life except at the wood and water stations of the rail road,where are generally one or two little sod houses, and a few negro soldiersloafing about. Now we begin to make acquaintance with the denizens of thePlains.
     First come the Prairie Dogs. They are gregariouswild animals, . . . living in villages and having well regulated forms ofgovernment, but as they seem to have each a separate house it is probable thatthey are unhappy in their domestic relations. They sit at the doors of theirburrows and when alarmed they fling themselves in the air with a gay nimblenessbeautiful to see, flip a summer sault, and present to the admiring gaze of thetraveller two furry heels and a short furry tail as they make their exit from thestage of action. We see a skulking wolf or two, and a timid antelope or two, andelk in the distance. Then Buffalo-singly-in couples-in groups-in countless herds.They are great awkward creatures with hair hanging over their eyes, withshambling but still rapid gait. There we come on a herd. The cars stop. Now thefun begins. Every body runs out and commences shooting-Nothing hurt. Though Iexpect in the reckless firing to see somebody hit, and have as many fears as themelancholy game keeper out with Mr. Winkle, although differing from him in havingno wife and children to support. With the same result this performance isrepeated again and again- the stopping of the train- the brave charge- theignominious return.

[Photo of Lincoln Avenue, Wamego.]


[Photo of Hays City.]



     We failed to bag a buffalo. I did not shoothaving ill defined ideas as to hunting rifles, which end you put the load in andwhich end you get it out at. (I (I never hunted any game with guns except men,you know.) But I rushed out with the rest- yelled promiscuously "Buffalo"- "Stopthe train"- "let me out"- "there they are" "Whoop-pey" - "Give 'em thunder" - "nogo" - "Come back" - "drive on"- So you see I helped a good deal. We got throughto Fort Hays and Hays City in the evening lively as crickets, and perfectlycapable of enduring the fatigues of a cup of coffee and a sandwich. Here we metsome acquaintances - among them "Wild Bill" [Hickok] the great scout, a romanticbut not o'er true history of whom you may find in Harper's Monthly ofabout a year ago. He said there were some hundreds of Cheyenne warriors camped afew miles out. Soon some of the braves came in. Clad mostly in red paint,feathers and bear-claw necklaces. Pleasant looking gentlemen these, . . .pleasant images for dreams. The girls wondered if they would like some scalps offoreign hair.
     Most of the ladies proposed to remain in the cars.Our ladies had an invitation to accept beds at a nice- house in town. And againstour advice, gently offered, concluded to accept. Behold the scene. Eleven o'clockat night, or after, in the wildest of all wild western frontier towns. A smallprocession moves up the middle of the street to prevent interruption- Seeking ahouse no one knows- A nice quiet residence- A specimen of which does not existwithin a radius of two hundred miles. We ask "where does Mr. Joyce live?"Answer-"Just around the Corner"-Between


the "Eldorado Club rooms," and "Pat. Murphy's Saloon," opposite the "PrairieFlower Dance House." A nice neighborhood surely. Find it with the help of "WildBill"- A little wooden shanty used for a justice's office- Locked- No key.Visible through the dirty window- one tallow candle burning low, two deal chairsmuch whittled, one bench worse whittled, and the "nice clean beds" promised,three dirty blankets thrown on a floor mapped off like the devil's wild land withtobacco juice. We are informed that the proprietor is on a bit of a spree overour arrival- and that having pledged us in the flowing bowl to his heart'scontent, and having trod a measure or two in the mazy dance he would doubtlessreturn to welcome us. Having considered the matter at some length the ladiesconcluded that after all perhaps it would not be best to trouble this pleasantlittle man who had such pleasant little ways. And our procession filed back againto the train. We made the ladies as comfortable as possible on the train,cautioned them to say their little hymns and left them for the open air. With aprostrate telegraph pole for pillow and "the starry decked heavens" for roof wecourted the syren [?] sleep. But in vain. The wind began to blow a perfect gale.You may think them are winds from the lake at Cleveland, my boy, but it is amistake. Here the gale sweeps over a smooth level surface, hard and stationary,for hundreds of miles, without the least obstacle, and it gets down to the groundlike a race horse and gets up a rate of speed "fearful for tofeel."

[Photo of the North side of Main Street, Ellsworth.]


[For another Gardner view of Ellsworth see Kansas Historical
, v. III, opposite p. 6.]

[Photo of the South side of Main Street, Ellsworth.]



     I'd as soon think of sleeping in the crater ofVesuvius or in the vortex of the Maelstrom as in the open air in such a wind. Wecrawled into one of those great wagons which freighters use on the plains, calleda prairie Schooner. The experiences of that night ill cling to the undersignedfor many a day. Unable to sleep I lay I my back between two friends regardless ofthe gale, regardless of the shouts of our lively friends in the towns, gazing upat the stars from this out look on the desert, thinking of home and friends ndthe "days that are dead." Fearful of the effects of the chill last and night dampupon my feeble organization I had recourse for warmth to the contents of a hugeflask, part of the outfit of the Expedition. And it would have amused a coldghost to have seen me there in the dead of night between two sleeping companions,lying perfectly straight, raising that long black bottle across the face of myfriend Shewry, at just sufficient elevation to produce a downward current into mycapacious mouth, and as the rich fluid from Bourbon county gurgled gently in mythroat, Shewry would sigh in his dreams to think it were not he. At length "tirednature's Sweet restorer, balmy sleep," came and we all slept.
     When Apollo with his burning car was about to climbthe Eastern horizon we were up, washed at the pump, ate a bite of breakfast andonce more went rushing "out into the West," one hundred miles further to Monument[4] the last station. The principal productions of this place are Negrosoldiers and mud shanties. You may get a glass of beer for 50[?] cents, and apoor Cigar for the same money, the whiskey you would not taste unless you wantedto "shuffle off this mortal coil." We now turned our faces toward home and thehaunts of civilization and ran clear through without leaving the train. We madethe round trip of near seven hundred miles in less than forty-five hours. Alittle too fast for pleasure in this climate. I wish you could have been with us.The people are worth seeing. There are men from every nation under heaven intheir natural state, and then mixed with every style of American-Yankee,Westerner, Southerner, Negro, Mexican, and "Injun," with all imaginable crossesand mongrels of the same, presenting a conglomerate of human nature more curiousthan beautiful to see.
     But the physical conformation of the Country iseven more interesting to notice. Starting from Topeka we pass gradually from oneextreme of fertility to the other. From rich farming lands rolling in nativewealth we come to a region where we lose sight of man and


beast and vegetable life; to dreary reaches of level sand where there are nohills, no water! not a tree, nor a bush, nor a blade of grass; not a green herb,not a living thing, not one trace of any one of the multifarious forms of lifewith which God has filled the Earth appears to break the unending monotony of thedreary Expanse. There is not one barrier to break the force of the dry, hot wind,for the traveller, nothing to protect his head from the broiling heat of the sun.That most beautiful simile of the Bible that God is "the shadow of a Great rockin a weary land" where one may find safety, peace, and comfort, must have beenprompted by looking upon such desert scenes. I shall not attempt to picture toyou our return. The journey was not particularly interesting. [5] The party hadthat drooping, withered, squeezed-lemon appearance which the morning after theFair always brings. There were many interesting pictures in the cars which musthave been seen to amuse. There were the usual crumpled dresses, loose hanging andwayward curls, and ringlets, and possibly soiled hands and faces, which reducesthe fair sex from that state of perfect immaculateness, and brings us nearer tothem by teaching that they are only common clay like ourselves after all,although clay seven times purified in the fire, and polished and embellished (notto say enamelled and painted) in the most beautiful manner. With song and storywe chased the gliding hours until our homes received us once again, weary andsleepy, like the pilgrim going home to his death after the toils and turmoils ofhis Earthly journey

"Post jucundum juventutem
"Post molestam senectatum
"Nos hababit humos."
 [After delightful youth]
[After troublesome age]
[The soil will have us.]

     I have not seen the young ladies since we leftthem at their door in the dim morning twilight of our return. [6] The fatigue andexposure of the journey so aggravated my rheumatism that I have been confined tomy room closely since returning, and it is much to help destroy the monotony ofmy imprisonment that I am writing you this longest of letters. I state this inspite of the story you refer to in your last. I've found the whole verse whichruns some how thusly-after the young man stating to the young lady that he hadcalled just because "he'd nothing else to do" the story runs.

But before the day was over, I'd some how made up my mind,
That I'd pop the question to her, if to me her heart inclined,
So I whispered "Sweet, my darling, will you have me, Yes, or No?"
"Well," said she, "perhaps I may, dear, when I've nothing else todo."
     I had gathered some Cactus, and some other littlemementoes of the trip but inthe hasty and dreamy disembarkation, they were all forgotten and I have now leftto remind me of the trip, beside some pleasant reminiscences, only, two veryrheumatic limbs, one very stiff neck, and one very much dilapidated moralcharacter.
     In token of all which, and of "the joys when youand I were boys" I remain
Yours rheumatically,
J[ohn] P[utnam].


1. John H. Putnam was born and reared in Gambier, Ohio. He attended KenyonCollege. At the beginning of the Civil war he entered government service as aclerk in the quartermaster's department. In 1864 he came to Topeka and read lawin John Martin's office.
He practiced law in Topeka after his admission to the bar in 1868. He was ajustice of the peace and twice held the office of police judge. At one time hewas in partnership with A. H. Case, and at his death he was a partner of A. L.Williams. He died March 18, 1879, at the age of 35, of consumption.-TheCommonwealth, Topeka, March 19, 20, 1879.
2. Among the newspaper items sent by one of the excursionists was this humorousnote concerning Abilene: "Cars stopped to put on more cow catchers on the rearend of the train. Texas cattle crowding around and climbing on the platform. . .."-Daily Kansas State Record, Topeka, August 7, 1868.
3. Probably Judge Marcellus E. Joyce. Years later Henry Inman wrote of Hays Cityand Judge Joyce as follows: "When Fort Hays was established in 1867 on Big creek,in what is now Ellis county, Hays City, a wild, 'wooly,' mushroom hamlet sprungup almost in a night, like that edible fungus, because of the proximity of theUnited States military post only a mile distant. This was immediately after thewar and there congregated, of course, the renegades from both armies; men, who,steeped in crime, and fugitives from justice, lived under assumed names, but safein their remoteness from the operations of law. Society there was such asfrequently characterizes extreme pioneer civilization when first aggregating intowns. There, too, settled some of the truest people, comparable to the best whohave built up our Western empire, the effect of whose presence and efforts isvisible in the beautiful, moral and cultured Hays City of to-day.
     During the early period of the struggling town'sexistence, it had, for its justice of the peace, a stubby, red-headed littleIrishman, with a most pronounced brogue. He was a man of some education andgood-hearted, who loved his whisky, which frequently 'laid him out,' and who mademany friends, but whose construction of the power in his official capacity,delegated by the constitution, was widely at variance with the facts.
     His office was a rickety, tumble-down shell ofboards on the main street, furnished with an ordinary pine table and a few roughbenches. It had one door, and four windows on each side with broad sills,elevated about three feet above the floor. This stern conservator of the publicpeace always commenced business with the stereotyped sentence:"Hats off, now! this court's in session!"
One time an Irishman was brought before him for some infringement of themunicipal regulations. He mulcted the unfortunate delinquent in the enormous sumof forty dollars, but discovered, to his disgust, that his victim was penniless.Here was a dilemma; he did not care to commit the man to jail in Saline county,over one hundred miles away; it was the money he was after, and, finding that abrother of the accused, a recent importation from Ireland, was present, he calledhim up, asked him if he had any cash, and being answered m the affirmative, said:"Well, the fine's on you, thin." And he collected it, too.
     Once, when a verdant young lawyer fresh from theEast took exception to some of his rulings and proposed to appeal the case, thejudge grew furious and said: 'I'll have you to know there's no higher court thanthis! There's no appale from my court, and I'll fine yees fer contempt av yeestalk av an appale!' The young man consequently subsided.
     At another time a cowboy was brought before himcharged with murder, who, 'as the legend hath it,' had contrived, through afriend, to quietly slip five hundred dollars into the hands of the judge. Whenthe man was called into court and was asked: 'Are yees guilty or not guilty?' hereplied: 'Guilty!' `well, yees are a big fool to plade that way, and I dischargeyees for want of evidence,' so discharged he was.
     He had a case before him during the latter days ofhis reign in which the ownership of a heifer was in controversy, the evidencehinging upon a certain brand supposed to be somewhere on the animal. It was afterfour o'clock, and both 'court' and jury were in a condition their frequent'rounds' to the saloons during the day would naturally leave them in at that latehour. 'As the trial waxed warm, the judge became satisfied that the jury musthave ocular proof of the existence of marks or brands on the animal incontroversy, so he ordered the acting sheriff to 'bring the baste to the doorwhere the jury could see it.'
     The heifer, after some delay, arrived at the frontof the building, notice of which was promptly conveyed to 'his honor.' But themajority of the jury, who had become somewhat obstreperous by this time, sworethey wouldn't go outside to look at any 'd-d heifer; if the judge wanted them toview her, let the sheriff bring her inside.'
     The order was given, but the unruly animal objecteddecidedly to the mandate of the court, and refused to enter after severalabortive attempts to compel her. At last the sheriff, worked up to a degree ofdesperation, with the aid of a few idle loungers, friends of his, got the brute'shead fairly pointed at the door, and dexterously twisted her tail, cowboyfashion. The now enraged beast, with horns lowered and bawling with pain,incontinently rushed into the presence of the 'court' regardless of the sanctityof the place.
     It did not take a moment for the spectators at thetrial to make good their escape by the door as the infuriated creature made abreak for the little redheaded judge, who, the moment he saw the state affairshad assumed, got down prone upon the floor close to the wall, where the tableunder which he had crept shielded him from the horns of the heifer, who madeseveral attempts to 'get at his fat little person.' The jury, suddenly sobered atthe apparition of the maddened beast, took refuge on the broad sills of thewindows, where they remained while the heifer tore around and demolishedeverything loose within her reach, after which she rushed out and down theprairie, which ended the proceedings of that trial for all time. -Topeka StateJournal, June 20, 1890. 4. In present Monument township, Logan county.
5. "The Excursion train came from Monument to Topeka, 318 miles, in 141/2 hours.The last 16 miles was run in 20 minutes. George Abbott was the engineer. . .."-Daily Kansas State Record, Topeka, August 9, 1868.
6. "The Excursionists reached home two and a half o'clock Saturday morning.-Ibid.

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