CHAPTER XXXII. GROWTH OF THE COUNTRY FROM 1860 TO 1880

THE WEST. - In 1860 the great West bore little resemblance to its present appearance. The only states wholly or partly west of the Mississippi River were Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas. Louisiana, Texas, California, and Oregon. Kansas territory extended from Missouri to the Rocky Mountains. Nebraska territory included the region from Kansas to the British possessions, and from Minnesota and Iowa to the Rocky Mountains. New Mexico territory stretched from Texas to California, Utah territory from the Rocky Mountains to California, and Washington territory from the mountains to the Pacific.

GOLD AND SILVER MINING. - One decade, however, completely changed the West. In 1858 gold was discovered on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, near Pikes Peak; gold hunters rushed thither, Denver was founded, and in 1861 Colorado was made a territory. Kansas, reduced to its present limits, was admitted as a state the same year, and the northern part of Nebraska territory was cut off and called Dakota territory (map, p. 352).

In 1859 silver was discovered on Mount Davidson (then in western Utah), and population poured thither. Virginia City sprang into existence, and in 1861 Nevada was made a territory and in 1864, with enlarged boundaries, was admitted into the Union as a state.

Precious metals were found in 1862 in what was then eastern Washington; the old Fort Boise of the Hudson's Bay Company became a thriving town, other settlements were made, and in 1863 the territory of Idaho was organized. In the same year Arizona was cut off from New Mexico.

Hardly had this been done when gold was found on the Jefferson fork of the Missouri River. Bannack City, Virginia City, and Helena were founded, and in 1864 Montana was made a territory. [1]

In 1867 Nebraska became a state, and the next year Wyoming territory was formed.

OVERLAND TRAILS. - When Lincoln was inaugurated in 1861, no railroad crossed the plains. The horse, the stagecoach, the pack train, the prairie schooner, [2] were the means of transportation, and but few routes of travel were well defined. The Great Salt Lake and California trail, starting in Kansas, followed the north branch of the Platte River to the mountains, crossed the South Pass, and went on by way of Salt Lake City to Sacramento. Over this line, once each week, a four-horse Concord coach [3] started from each end of the route.

From Independence in Missouri another line of coaches carried the mail over the old Santa Fe trail to New Mexico.

The great Western mail route began at St. Louis, went across Missouri and Arkansas, curved southward to El Paso in Texas, and then by way of the Gila River to Los Angeles and San Francisco; the distance of 2729 miles was covered in twenty-four days. [4]

PONY EXPRESS. - This was too slow for business men, and in 1860 the stage company started the Pony Express to carry letters on horseback from St. Joseph to San Francisco. Mounted on a swift pony, the rider, a brave, cool-headed, picked man, would gallop at breakneck speed to the first relay station, jump on the back of another pony and speed away to the second, mount a fresh horse and be off for a third. At the third station he would find a fresh rider mounted, who, the moment the mail bags had been fastened to his horse, would ride off to cover his three stations in as short a time as possible. The riders left each end of the route twice a week or oftener. The total distance, about two thousand miles, was passed over in ten days. [5]

In the large cities of the East free delivery of letters by carriers was introduced (1863), the postal money order system was adopted (1864), and trials were made with postal cars in which the mail was sorted while en route.

THE TELEGRAPH. - Meanwhile Congress (in June, 1860) incorporated the Pacific Telegraph Company to build a line across the continent. By November the line reached Fort Kearny, where an operator was installed in a little sod hut. By October, 1861, the two lines, one building eastward from California, and the other westward from Omaha, reached Salt Lake City. The charge for a ten-word message from New York to Salt Lake City was 87.50.

When the telegraph line was finished, the work of the Pony Express ended, and all letters went by the overland stage line, whose coaches entered every large mining center, carrying passengers, express matter, and the mail. [6]

OVERLAND FREIGHT. - The discovery of gold in western Kansas, in 1858, and the founding of Denver, led to a great freight business across the plains. Flour, bacon, sugar, coffee, dry goods, hardware, furniture, clothing, came in immense quantities to Omaha, St. Joseph, Atchison, Leavenworth, there to be hauled to the "diggings." Atchison became a trade center. There, in the spring of 1860, might have been seen hundreds of wagons, and tons of goods piled on the levee, and warehouses full of provisions, boots, shoes, and clothing. From it, day after day, went a score of prairie schooners drawn by horses, mules, or oxen. [7]

THE RAILROAD. - The idea of a railroad over the plains was, as we have seen, an old one; but at last, in 1862, Congress chartered two railroad companies to build across the public domain from the Missouri River to California. One, the Union Pacific, was to start at Omaha and build westward. The other, the Central Pacific, was to start in California and build eastward till the two met. Work was begun in November, 1865, and in May, 1869, the two lines were joined at Promontory Point, near Salt Lake City.

As the railroad progressed, the overland coaches plied between the ends of the two sections, their runs growing shorter and shorter till, when the road was finished, the overland stagecoach was discontinued.