A BUFFALO STAMPEDE - WAITING FOR AN ATTACK BY INDIANS - A NIGHT OF TERROR - SOME OF THE MEN OF THE OLD " K. P. " - THE EARLY DAY PAYMASTER - THE STATE LINE DEPOT - SLOW TRAINS IN THE "SIXTIES" - EVERY CLERK A POLITICIAN - A PREACHER-CONDUCTOR'S YARN - THE FAMOUS MUNCIE HOLDUP - SEVENTEEN DAYS IN A SNOW BANK - CURIOUS THINGS IN THE MAIL - THE CALIFORNIA FAST MAIL - THE PIONEER RAILROAD TELEGRAPHER - A "HOLDUP" ON THE TRAIL.
The trainmen nowadays who talk about a train robbery being exciting don't know what excitement is. A holdup isn't a circumstance alongside of some of the experiences the pioneer railroaders had with Indians in the early days of the old "K. P." and the Santa Fe. There are railroad men now who still speak of the the Union Pacific as the old "K. P." But one in particular, Robert Murphy, an engineer of Kansas City, Kansas, has seen as much railroad service as any man west of the Missouri river. There were two "Bob" Murphys on the old "K. P." - "Big Bob" and "Little Bob," the former now dead.
"How do you think one of these engineers who turn sickly white at the mention of train robbers - how do you suppose he would act if he saw a band of red devils, with tomakawks, coming toward his train?" asked Murphy. "Or a herd of buffalo on a stampede just ahead? Or a pack of wolves howling and snarling about his train, while it is standing on the siding out on the lonely prairie? Yes, or a race with a prairie fire," volunteered the white-haired engineer as a clincher. "Oh, but those were the good old days of railroading in the west."
"I remember the time when J. O. Brinkerhoff used to load us down with rifles and cartridges to shoot Indians with. And how we used to shoot away the ammunition at buffalo and antelope until we had none left to kill the Indians with. My, but how those old Henry rifles would shoot, and how those little antelopes could run - had to shoot twenty feet ahead of one if you got him. "
The late Stephen S. Sharp, one of the builders of the road, related this experience shortly before his death: "We had sixty of those rifles in our camp when we were laying track west of Ellis. That was in 1867. One day while we were all in camp at dinner there was a buffalo stampede. When we first heard it the noise was like thunder. The earth seemed to tremble. We looked across to the northwest and we could see them coming for miles - one great black mass of moving things. We barely had time to grab our guns and run to a little embankment at the side of the roadbed about three hundred yards away. There we formed in wedge shape. As the great bull leader rushed into our camp we all fired at once and they tumbled over each other like freight cars going over an embankment. How many we killed I don't know, but there were more dead buffaloes piled up there than I ever saw before. The shots did the work, for by bringing down the leader and the advance guard the great rushing, maddened herd divided into two columns, one going to the right and the other to the left, and not a man of us was hurt. But we had buffalo meat for a long time, and we fed the people in every town from Ellis to Kansas City on it."
A thrilling experience of the early days of railroading with those old Henry rifles was told by Charles P. Dennison, an old conductor, now dead: "I remember one time we pulled into Brookfield and the station agent came running out with a telegram from Brinkerhoff. The whole country had been aroused by reports of Indian massacres, and Brinkerhoff's telegram told us the savages were bearing down towards us, and we were liable to be attacked at any moment. I was running baggage then. We took on one hundred rifles and one thousand cartridges and some men from town to help man the guns, and when the train pulled out of Brookfield there was more excitement on board in a minute than a Kenturky[sic] feud would make in a week. Scared? Well, no we were just aching for a fight. Every man on board was a dead shot, and with those old Henry rifles it would have been as easy for us as it was for our Kansas boys in the Philippines.
"Well," the retired conductor resumed after a pause, "we ran along some thirty miles without seeing any sign of Indians, until we took a siding to let the eastbound passenger have the right-of-way. There was a breakdown somewhere. At any rate we were on the siding a long time, and it was getting mighty tiresome. Some one proposed that we should all go hunting, except the engineer and another man, who were to stay behind and give the signal when the eastbound was sighted. We hunted about four hours in a circle of three to five miles around the train. There was plenty of game and the firing was going on all the time. When we got under way again I counted twenty dead antelopes in the baggage car, besides some other game.
"I also made the discovery that out of the one thousand cartridges we took on there were only a few left to shoot Indians with; but, as we were now nearing the end on the run, I thought I could get a fresh supply before we started back. But what do you think? There wasn't a cartridge to be had in the place and we were to run back through that Indian country in the night. I could think of nothing else but the ammunition we had shot away, and I believed it would be just our luck to run right into a band of braves and all of us be tomahawked. When I broke the news to the others they were the maddest men you ever saw; said it was all my fault, and threatened to stop the train and string me up to a telegraph pole. I pursuaded them, though, that we had better make the best of it and if we were attacked we would give the Indians a hard fight, as heavy rifles were about as good in a hand to hand fight as tomahawks.
"I don't think a man on that train closed an eye that night. They sat in their seats and shivered like they had the old-fashioned ague, or paced up and down the aisles, spitting tobacco juice on the floor and cursing me and the Indians, while sentinels stood in the engine cab or on the platforms, straining their eyes into the blackness of the night to catch sight or sound of Indians. Once when we took a siding to let a westbound train go by we thought it best for our own safety to cut the engine and baggage car loose from the train so that if the Indians came we could give them the slip. The engineer said he could see the headlight of the westbound when it came over the divide fifteen miles away, and we could run until we met it if it was necessary. While we were huddled together in the baggage car, or on the engine, the minutes seemed like hours. It was a dreadful suspense and the coyotes were howling in that doleful, dismal way that used to strike terror to the heart of man out on the prairie.
"The westbound finally passed us and then we resumed our night ride through the Indian country. Towards morning we reached Brookfield, and no more danger of being scalped by Indians. That was an awful night and if there are any men who were on that train living now they will remember it.
"Well, what did Brinkerhoff do about the ammunition?" inquired a former construction boss.
"Brinkerhoff," laughed the old conductor, "why, he charged up the whole business to the train crew. You see, the other train crews were doing the same thing, and Brinkerhoff said the company was having too much ammunition shot away and too few Indians killed."
SOME OF THE MEN OF THE OLD "K. P."
Among the men who became prominent in the early days of old Kansas Pacific may be mentioned Messrs. D. M. Edgerton and John P. Devereux, land commissioners. E. M. Bartholow was made superintendent because he was a relative of the president, John D. Perry. He was later land agent for the company. He had no experience in the management of a railway whatever. He boasted of having managed his railway without a collision. During his stewardship there was but one locomotive, and the schedule was not to exceed ten miles per hour. The line extended from Wyandotte to Lawrence., Kansas, thirty-nine and one half miles.
Thomas F. Oakes was the private secretary of Mr. Hallett at the time of the latter's death, and later became prominent in Kansas railway circles. At the time of his retirement from active business he was president of the Northern Pacific Railway.
Major Waterman was master mechanic and master car builder. The first consignment of freight offered was a lot of flour. It was loaded on a flat car, and housing was built over it for protection. It was destined for Lawrence. C. Wood Davis was general freight and passenger agent at the time. He was living in Sedwick[sic] county when last heard from. Henry Tuell came in charge of the first locomotive, and was the first engineer. He was succeeded by W. O. Heckett. Then came George Dean and John McDaniel, now of Bonner Springs. John Groadus, for many years chief of police of St. Joseph, Missouri, was the first conductor. Jacob O. Brinkerhoff ran the first passenger train. He was followed by Charles Wallis.
After the death of Samuel Hallett, Silas Seymour, a civil engineer, came from New York and took charge. He remained in Kansas but a short time, and went to Omaha as consulting engineer of the Nebraska line. John M. Webster was general freight agent; John H. Edwards, afterwards a state senator from Ellis county, was general ticket agent; J. E. Gregg, cashier and paymaster, and William A. Harris, who became a United States senator, was one of the civil engineers.
About 1867 the Pennsylvania railroad people took charge. W. W. Wright was general superintendent in January, 1867; George Noble, division superintendent; S. T. Smith, auditor; T. F. Oakes, purchasing agent. Adna Anderson succeeded Wright, May 6, 1867. He had been chief engineer of military railroads in Virginia during the Civil war. O. H. Dorrance was superintendent of the Western division and E. A. Reddington paymaster. E. S. Bowen, afterwards general manager of the New York, Ontario & Western, succeeded Mr. Anderson. Then came O. S. Lyford, later president of the Chicago & Eastern Illinois Railway. Mr. Oakes became general freight agent and Beverly R. Keim, general ticket agent. Robert E. Carr of St. Louis, succeeded John D. Perry as president. The late Dudley E. Cornell, twice mayor of Kansas City, Kansas, became general ticket agent after Mr. Keim. Peter B. Groat was general passenger agent.
Among the early employees later residing in the vicinity of Kansas City, Kansas, were A. D. Downs, S. S. Sharp, Thomas A. Shaw, W. H. Sills, of Kansas City, Missouri; J. O. Brinkerhoff, present general superintendent of the Kansas division and John McDaniel of Bonner Springs; Willis I. Converse of Denver, and C. C. Walburn of Kansas City, Kansas. To go back, who does not remember the old conductors, Jake Sproat, Al Cheney, Frank Calkins, John Phelps and L. G. Thorne, the latter now general manager of the Texas & Pacific. Messrs. V. J. Lane, of Kansas City, Kansas, Thomas Parks and T. A. Shaw, were contractors among the hostile Indians west of Junction City, near Ellsworth and Fort Harker. The Indians killed Mr. Parks near what was afterwards named Park's Fork, about 325 miles from the Missouri river.
Back in the seventies when the Kansas division of the Union Pacific was called the Kansas Pacific, Major E. D. Reddington, who had served with distinction in the Civil war, was paymaster. At that time the paymaster was the biggest man connected with the road, in the estimation of the employees and the people living in the towns along the line, and his arrival in the pay car was usually the occasion for a great outpouring of the people. One night Major Reddington's car pulled into the town of Wallace. The major and his clerks were given a grand welcome by the people. They were escorted to a railroad boarding house and treated as royal guests. It was conducted by a buxom Irish woman who boasted that she set the best table at any town along the road. At supper that night every regular boarder turned up at the table looking his best. The Irish "landlady," as they called her, appeared in a neat calico dress, all primped up and smiling.
"Tay 'r coffee?" she asked with a pretty courtesy, as she passed from one guest to another.
The regular boarders. understood it all, and they answered, "Coffee, plase, mum. " Major Reddington, however, was a "Down East" Yankee and not much of a coffee drinker; so when the question was put to him he replied with politeness: "I will have a cup of tea if you please."
It almost took the lady's breath away, and the look of disgust on her face caused the regular boarders to titter. Then she flared up: "Say coffee, ye omadahn, f'r we have no tay," she said, as she poured the major's cup full of steaming coffee.
It was a landmark for many years. It was built in 1865 by the Kansas Pacific and Missouri Pacific railway companies. The two Pacific lines met at the state line. One had laid its tracks by the standard guage and the other by the southern guage, which, in width, was greater than that of the former. The solution of the connection of the two systems was found in the erection of the union depot. As a result the State Line-Depot was built. It was a great building in the olden days and the fire that destroyed it in 1892, recalled to the old settlers many pleasant incidents that took place in the historic structure.
For many years this was Kansas City's great railway station, and many thousands of people who passed through on their way to the great west to seek homes and fortune, remember the splendid dinners and suppers and lunches they used to get at the border eating house run by Sam A. Lowe.
The building was one hundred and fifty feet long, sixty feet wide and two stories high. It was entirely of wood. The second story was divided into about sixty apartments, the partitions being made of pine boards.
Many, many years ago, before Kansas had emerged from the horned-toad stage, I. H. Isbell began a thirty-eight year service with the railway mail department. Antelope and a few buffalo still gamboled over the Kansas prairie. Snakes, toads, fabulous sums of gold and silver, bundles of official orders and documents destined for the army posts in the lonely west, love missives and business letters, were often jumbled together in the same mail sack of soiled blue and white. Or perhaps the noisy, important little engine might be stalled, with its load of passengers, for a week or two weeks by a snowstorm. It didn't matter so much then. Travelers in those days never expected to reach their destination on time. As for the mail - well, the railroads didn't have the system of huge fines as a spur then.
That was something of the beginnings of the railway mail service, as Mr. Isbell, now assistant chief clerk of the railway mail service in Kansas City, described it recently. The huge steel mail cars of today, each a complete postoffice in itself, would have left the rails at the first curve then. Generally the mail clerk found himself cooped up in a box-like room in the center of a combination baggage, express, mail and general utility car. On Mr. Isbell's first run on the Santa Fe, from Kansas City to Wichita, he had only forty boxes for letters and a few more for papers. The average mail car of today has at least nine hundred or a thousand.
The early day mail clerks always were politicians or men with political influence. Such a thing as civil service was unheard of. A congressman would ask the department to appoint a man, and he would be appointed. His duties immediately became, not only those pertaining to mail distributing, but to boosting for the congressman who had landed for him the fat plum - the job paid $900 a year, which was considered a munificent sum in those days. If at the stops the mail clerk didn't get an opportunity to shake a few hands and look after the wires of his "friend," he wasn't much of a success as a mail clerk. And sometimes he didn't last very long, either.
There were unique figures then in the pioneer railway and mail service, as there are "characters" today in every profession. Sam Newhall, one of the early day conductors on the combination train from Wichita to Dodge City, was one of the most interesting. Before becoming a conductor Newhall was a Methodist minister. And as long as he was in the service, he couldn't reconcile himself to working on Sunday. Two other conductors divided the Santa Fe run with him. They had just as strong an antipathy for remaining in Dodge City on Sunday as the ex-minister had for punching tickets or collecting fares on the holy day. So it was arranged that Newhall should always have the Sunday layoff in Dodge, while the other conductors should work Sundays and lay off at Kansas City or Newton. And what did Newhall do? Dodge City then represented about everything in sagebrush wickedness that several dozen of reckless desperadoes - the real article, too - could mean. But Newhall started a Sunday school and preached every Sunday for years on his day of rest; and collected fares on week days.
In every man's life there is something he remembers more distinctly and vividly than anything else. The particularly sharp-cut incident in Mr. Isbell's career as a railway mail clerk was the famous holdup on the Union Pacific at Muncie, Wyandotte county. It was the first Kansas train robbery of any importance.
"And it wasn't our train at all, that the bandit gang intended to rob," Mr. Isbell explained. "The gang - it was generally supposed to be the work of the James boys - had confederates in Denver, who posted them of a shipment of $80,000 in currency to Kansas City. But the confederates were misinformed on the train. The gold and silver came to Kansas City safely on the train just ahead of ours. The one on which I was working was held up.
"The train had slowed up at the Muncie crossing. Most of the work was done and I was washing my hands. Just then a voice behind me said 'Hands up.'
"Up went my hands without a moment's hesitation. Then the bandit demanded 'have you got any weapons?' 'Only a jackknife,' I replied. I tried to be as unconcerned as I could. 'Are you sure?' the man repeated, thrusting the gun just a little nearer my head. This time I convinced him I was telling the truth. Just then the express messenger stuck his head through an opening in the partition to see what was the matter. The bandit switched the gun on him. 'Come in here,' he said. The messenger crawled through the hole so fast his clothes were torn. Then while crew and passengers were lined up outside the car under guard of two of the gang, the other three searched the mail and express car and dumped their booty in an empty mail sack.
"Just as they were about to leave, a farmer boy rode up on a fine brown mare. In less time than it takes to tell it one of the bandits had switched his saddle to her and had shot his own horse, which was jaded. Then the leader turned and with a wave of his hand shouted: 'Goodby boys; you acted real decent.'
"They obtained something like $30,000 in currency by their holdup. I afterward learned that they rode on into town through Armourdale, crossed the river and divided their booty in a thick woods near Westport."
The railway mail clerks, in the pioneer days of the service, were pretty much their own bosses. They were responsible for the routing of the mail. No definite system was laid out then. If the trains were late, they just stuck to them until they arrived at the destination and turned the mail over to the proper authorities. Once, in the winter of 1877, when Mr. Isbell was working on the old Kansas Pacific from Kansas City to Denver, the train was blocked for seventeen days in Colorado by a snow storm.
Fortunately the railroads had stored all the section houses with supplies, just for such an emergency as this. While the passengers spent the weary days as best they could back in the coaches, the express messenger, the baggageman, several members of the crew and myself wore out several decks of cards playing casino. The train got into Kansas City just seventeen days late with that mail.
It wasn't a unique experience in the early seventies for the mail clerk to dump a snake, or toad or other trophies of the plains, out of the mail sacks. At Kit Carson, across the Colorado line, the trains would pick up the stagecoach mail from New Mexico and Arizona. Often, the plainsmen would wrap up specimens of life on the plains and mail them to friends back east. Almost invariably, Mr. Isbell said, the package would come unwrapped and the snake or toad come rolling out of the sack when the clerk began to redistribute its contents.
The mail clerks then were not mere machines of a great system. The runs were looked upon as the personal property of the clerk. When he decided on a vacation in Colorado he would place his family on the mail car with him and journey to the mountains. There he would trade runs, for a week or a month, with the clerk on a Colorado line running into the mountains. Nobody said anything and nobody cared, not even the postoffice department, as long as the mail was properly cared for.
Year by year, however, the mail became heavier; the railroads became more certain; the government more exacting, until the present elaborate system of carrying the mail by trains, and checking and rechecking the mail clerks, was established.
From the Missouri river to Sacramento, California, in twenty-one days! That sounds archaic, but until the spring of 1861 the fastest overland mail had been able to do no better. To remedy this intolerable condition, Senator Guinn, of California, proposed his pet scheme of the Pony express. Failing of government support, he succeeded in interesting Colonel Russell, of the great firm of Russell, Majors & Waddell, of Kansas City, overland traders and government contractors. In the face of certain financial loss, these gentlemen determined to do their share toward welding east and west. To their unselfish patriotism, we owe the existence of the Pony express.
The arrangements were all made and the riders were ready to mount by noon of April 3, 1860. The people of Sacramento rang bells and fired a salute as Harry Roff galloped away with the precious man on the road to Placerville. Here "Boston" Smith took up the burden. And so on. The mail sped eastward under saddles of Sam Hamilton, "Pony Bob" Halsam, Jock Fisher and the rest of that brave band. Meanwhile, in far-off St. Joe, enthusiasts had plucked the last souvenir hair from the tail of the fiery pony, and the western mail was on its way.
The first express took ten days; eleven off the record at the first clip! Later on, weekly and semi-weekly trips of eight and nine days rendered a service almost equal to that of the earlier trains. The Pony mail that carried President Lincoln's first inaugural address took just seven days and seventeen hours to make the overland trip.
John D. Cruise, the first superintendent of telegraph on the Union Pacific railroad in Wyandotte, writing recently of his experiences said: "A telegraph operator in the early sixties had to be an all-around man, or boy. I say he had to be an all-around boy, because most of the operators in those days were boys, and right lively fellows they were. They had to send telegrams, repair breaks in the line, locate interruptions from grounding, install offices and, in fact, do any kind of work that came to hand in connection with the telegraph service. Thorough electricians they were not, nor were there many in existence in those days, although they are now as thick as flies in the cities.
"We had a wreck on the road one time; the road had been built as far west as Edwardsville and all hands from headquarters were ordered out. It was in the fall and there was a drizzling rain. We built a bonfire along the side of the track. The operator shinned up a pole and brought down a wire. Then he took a bureau from one of the wrecked cars, put an old Clark relay on the bureau and used one post as a key by pounding it with one end of the wire. Having no umbrella I put my messages in one of the bureau drawers to keep them dry, and during the time I was copying I kept the paper covered with the cape of my military overcoat. And there we worked all day and all night until the wreck was cleared up. We had experiences in those days. Fancy such a telegraph office in these days when there are all kinds of railroad telegraph appliances for wrecking outfits."
It was while Kansas City, Missouri, was a little town and was called Westport Landing, that, according to the chronicles, a prototype train robbery occurred. The overland wagon trade with the Spanish city of Santa Fe was rapidly growing into the enormous traffic it was to be. Reports reached the mouth of the Kaw one day that a certain "Don," Cheviez Perez by name, had set out from Santa Fe with a big wagon train and all kinds of money to buy goods at Westport or Independence. A band of reckless fellows was at once formed and rode out to meet the Spanish merchant.
Here the stories of historians differ as to what followed, or rather as to just where what followed occurred and how the robbers fared. All accounts agree that Senor Perez and a number of his men were killed. One account had it that the holdup was pulled off just south of Westport and that, after murdering the men and stampeding the wagon train, the robbers got no money after all, the wagon containing it being capsized in a creek by its mortally wounded driver - so that some $30,000 in Mexican silver was lost. According to this account, too, some of the robbers were tried and hanged in St. Louis.
According to another authority, on the other hand, the holdup took place a long distance west of this locality - though perpetrated by Missouri youths - the robbers got the money, and all of them slipped through the fingers of the law.
Both stories seem to have elements of plausibility in the light of the present day.
"Coom quick, ride away, Sharley, der pote she vistles and vistles like she haf lots of vraights."
This was a familiar cry, frequently heard in the night, in the old village of Wyandotte in the sixties, when steamboats came up the Missouri river laden with freight consigned to the Union Pacific, then the only railroad running west from Wyandotte. Steamboats often came up during the night time. On hearing the whistle Gottleib Kneipfer, the watchman, would hurry off to the boarding house and awaken Charles E. Smith, whose duty it was to receive the freight consigned to the Union Pacific. Kneipfer's "Coom quick, ride away, Sharley," and his banging on the door of the room, would awaken everybody in the house. Then all would go down to the old Wyandotte levee and there would be no rest in the village during the remainder of the night.
"One night Kneipfer had more business on his hands than he could handle, " said John D. Cruise, who was superintendent of telegraph for the Union Pacific and who roomed with Smith, the freight receiver. "It was the memorable night of the battle between the Pottawatomie and the Wyandotte. Ever hear of that battle?"
The writer could not remember that he had heard of it.
"It was on a cold October night," Cruise went on. We were sleeping soundly in our room in the boarding house, when we were awakened by Kneipfer. The whistles were blowing and blowing loud enough to awaken the dead, and the old German watchman was pounding on the door and calling to Smith in his usual way. But Smith was somewhat disinclined to get out of his snug warm bed and brave the chill night wind that was sweeping down the river. Kneipfer, becoming impatient of delay, came back a second time. He was all excited and had another cry.
"'Coom quick, ride avay, Sharley, der "Pottawatomie" haf jumped on der "Wyandotte," und she vas in der hole! I don'd know vat in der teufel to do, und haf one dime down by der roundhouse. Und der pots she vistles all der dime like she haf lots of vraits.'"
"The whole village turned out and there was more excitement in the place than if a band of Quantrell's men had come to sack and burn it. Down at the roundhouse it was discovered that the throttle valve of the'Pottowatomie,' which was the name of a large locomotive, was leaking and she had pushed the 'Wyandotte,' an engine of a smaller type, into the turntable pit. It took three days to lift that little 'Wyandotte' out of the pit. But, what fun they had."
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