How Once Upon a Time
Transportation was


"I beheld, too, in that vision
All the secrets of the future,
Of the distant days that shall be
I beheld the westward marches,
Of the unknown, crowded nations,
All the land was full of people,
Restless, struggling, toiling, striving,
Speaking many tongues, yet feeling
But one heart-beat in their bosoms.
In the wood-lands rang their axes,
Smoked their towns in all the valleys,
Over all the lakes and rivers,
Rushed their great canoes of thunder.
I beheld our nations scattered,
Saw the remnants of our people
Sweeping westward, wild and woful,
Like the cloud-rack of a tempest,
Like the withered leaves of Autumn!"




AVING followed Nebraska to statehood, let us take a backward view, and by comparing the past with the present, learn what has been accomplished. First, consider transportation in times gone by and then at the present time.
     The first means of travel in Nebraska were the reed boats of the Indians on the rivers, and the travois, or trailing poles, fastened to the sides of the Indian ponies. The great highways, the Oregon, Mormon and California trails, the thousands of people passing over them into the unknown west were the greatest developing influence in the settlement of Nebraska. At first the only way of getting mail to these people west of the mountains was by sailing vessels around Cape






Horn, or by the Isthmus of Darien, which took many months.
     Now that the Oregon trail passed over the mountains, a monthly stage coach was established from Independence, Missouri, to Sacramento, a distance of two thousand miles, which was made in seventeen days. In 1861, a daily coach, drawn by six horses or mules, went swinging over the road at the rate of ten miles an hour. Baggage was limited to twenty-five pounds, and it cost twenty-five cents to send a letter. The passengers, mail and express were in care of the conductor, who sat beside the driver.
     The needs of the people requiring quicker service, it was suggested to devise some way for quicker time. In the spring of 1860 the pony express was established, and men on horseback started weekly from St. Joseph and San Francisco, making the journey in about ten days. Each rider often times made thirty-three and one-third miles in three relays and even farther under favorable conditions. Their horses were swift and strong, dashing into the station at the end of ten miles flecked with foam, nostrils distended and flanks thumping with every breath. It took only a moment to throw the mail bags to the pony and rider in waiting, and away they rushed over the trail at the rate of two hundred and fifty miles a day. The means of communication were greatly quickened when the telegraph was put across from Brownville to Kearney in 1860 and reached San Francisco in 1861.






     Gradually homesteads were taken on the rich prairies,--towns were springing up along the Missouri River and railways were pushing west of the Mississippi. Men following the course of empire pictured a great future for this new and "rapidly growing country.
     As the land began to be taken up along these old trails, the Creightons, Boyds, and countless others made fortunes carrying freight across the plains in great wagons drawn by oxen to supply the trading posts, ranchmen and travellers along the trails.


     In 1862, an act was passed by Congress to build a railroad from the Missouri River to San Francisco, which met with hearty approval, and many routes were discussed. President Lincoln finally in 1863 fixed the eastern end on the Iowa side of the river at a point opposite the town of Omaha, and Thomas C. Durant was given charge of the work. There was great excitement and preparations were begun to celebrate the breaking of the ground. The ceremonies began with prayer, then with pick and shovel the first earth was removed amid the roar of guns from either shore of the Missouri and shouts from the assembled throng. Speeches were made and a great supper and ball concluded the event.
     The "War of the Rebellion" being in progress, money was scarce for such an undertak-






ing, and it was hard to find men willing to risk their lives among the hostile Indians and endure the hardships on the frontier.
     In 1865 the Ames brothers took hold of the enterprise, and in three years, six months and ten days from the time of starting, they completed one thousand and eighty-six miles, meeting the Central Pacific, which had been built six hundred and eighty-nine miles east of San Francisco.
     The meeting of the trains from the east and west at Promontory Point, Utah, May 10, 1869, and the driving of the Golden Spike was an event not only of local, but national rejoicing. There were military and civic parades in Chicago and all eastern cities to celebrate the completion of the first trans- continental railway, this being the third great event in the history of the country to attract such wide attention, the other two being the laying of the Atlantic cable and the construction of the Erie Canal.
     The first through train left Omaha September 13, 1870, luxuriously equipped with five Pullmans, one smoker, one baggage car and two coaches. The train was handled with air brakes and drawn by the locomotive, "General Sherman," which made a speed of twenty miles an hour. Soon dining cars were put on and an addition of ten dollars to the fare was added for the service. The Union Pacific, Central Pacific and the Oregon Short Line, branches of the Union Pacific, follow the old Mormon-California






and Oregon trails known as the Platte Valley route, and while markers are being placed along the trails by the states through the efforts of Ezra Meeker, yet the great railways have already marked the way.
     As we see the powerful engines of the present day pulling a long line of coaches--or some seventy or eighty heavily laden freight cars over the well ballasted road beds, equipped with the block system to insure safety, it is easy to forget the pioneer of the canvas covered wagon train who yet lives to say, "I crossed the plains."
     A movement is on foot to establish a road from state capital to state capital, and a great national highway from ocean to ocean for automobile travel is well on the way to completion, while flights of aeroplanes have been made over this stretch of country, all of which makes us realize we are far in advance of the canvas covered wagon and pony express, but the limit of transportation is not yet; there are still greater things to be achieved in this progressive state of Nebraska.

     Contributed by Mrs. Edgar Allen.


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© 1999, 2000, 2001 for the NEGenWeb Project by Pam Rietsch, T&C Miller