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whole owners, each male at least, of 160 acres of Uncle Sam's good land for almost nothing.
I tell you that was a rich winter! We were a happy crowd; from clerks and paupers we had become landed and city proprietors, and were on the high road to health, wealth, and happiness. Our things were packed with much advice, as to what to take and what to leave, from people who knew nothing at all about it, but then you know how that is yourselves. We were to get final supplies in St. Louis, as the kind of things needed were better and cheaper there than in New York. Thompson warned us over and over not to get too much, not "to lumber up," because this town had been settled in the summer of 1856; there were four stores there, and fifteen houses; no wilderness, no trouble to get things. So about the first of April, 1857, we found ourselves at the old Planters' House in St. Louis, busy packing up the final traps, shipping a saw mill, and waiting for the boat to start. What a pleasant place the Planters' was then! To us, anyway, with its wide verandas, and genial people, every one ready to help us along to our prairie heaven.
The steamboat finally left, but our party remained a day, and were to overtake it by rail at Leavenworth. This was in the days of the Kansas-Nebraska troubles, of which we knew little, and I have said nothing about them as you can read them now for yourselves. We arrived at
. Leavenworth in the evening, and the boat was to be there in the morning; the hotel was just built--not finished, the landlord said every room was full, but we could sleep on the billiard tables in the basement, and he would “eat us somehow."
Good bye, old Astor House, New York, and old Planters', St. Louis!
While these arrangements were making, I heard a noise outside, and boy-like, rushed to the door to see what was the matter. Two men were using hard words, they closed a moment, the pop of a pistol was heard, and one dropped over,--shot dead. It was the old trouble, a "Yankee" and a Virginian quarreling over the slavery question, and it was the Virginian that lay in the gutter! He was a fine looking, black eyed young fellow, and his long hair streamed over the curb stone as did the blood from his wound. It was the first man I had ever seen killed in cold blood, and I felt awfully about it; could not get over the sight for several days.
ON BOARD THE OMAHA.
That was the name of our boat, and she was loaded to the "gunnels," as they say, with passengers and freight. In fact, all the state rooms, berths, and cosy places were taken for the women and children, and men with families, the rush to Kansas, Nebraska and further was so enormous that spring. We young unmarried fellows had to sleep on the deck on blankets, mattresses, etc., so that I early began to know what “roughing it” meant.
And now began the new life in earnest. The long, lazy, never-to-be-forgotten boat ride on the “Muddy Missouri,” another phase of life that has passed away; the swirling, tumbling, clay-colored river, so utterly unlike any waters we had ever seen; who of eastern birth will ever forget their first sight of the Missouri River? It was years after before I read Mark Twain's description of a pilot's life, but the very same points arose in my mind then; I had sailed on the Hudson, in the bays about New York, on the ocean, but there were always fixed landmarks to steer by, something that stayed there, or the compass and chart; but here without either, how that pilot ever found, or kept the channel, was a mystery for many days, and not wholly elucidated yet. In fact, he didn't always, and sometimes struck a sandbar. Many days ensued with nothing to do except watch the ever changing scenery, unless you played cards, and many did, apparently day and night. Two famous gamblers were aboard, and when they slept the eye of man knew not. The river was high, for that was the spring after the great snow; we could not run all night, and often tied up to a cottonwood tree, apparently in the middle of the river, or again on some shelving beach, with white, clean sand, and the boys would get out there and run races in the moonlight for tobacco and “sich.” The wood-yards, and the inhabitants that gathered there, were always a source of wonder, and at times of sport. The regular fight between the Captain and the owner of the yard over the price of wood, often ending in "You go to H-11,” would make a horse laugh if it could be reported now phonetically; and when we did stop to "wood up,” especially at night fall it was a novel scene. After the Captain and the wood-yard man got through swearing, the mates and the deck hands began; and such oaths, accompanied by blows, and threatenings without number! Talk about clothing a man with curses, as with a garment! Why, these fellows furnished material enough for an ulster, rubber poncha, Marquee tent, and a spare suit for Sunday. “Come now, there! lively now with that wood! Roll it in!
Are you asleep out there you
You tumble up now, lively!” “All aboard!” and with a jerk the plank was yanked in, sometimes leaving the last man in the river to be hauled out by his comrades. We had no labor unions then. I wonder what working men would say now, at being cursed and struck an hour at a time; but they did not seem to mind it- -grew fat and danced the Juba over it.
The boat was so crowded that it was hard to get anything to eat, and a tremendous rush was made for first places at the table. An hour before the bell rang we formed in a long row and patiently waited; but then we had nothing else to do. And the table! none of your little, square, four at a time stands, but the length of the entire cabin. No little snippy dishes of this and that on the side, but great immense roasts, and stews and broils, and the Captain in all the grandeur of primeval authority, stood at the head of the table, with a knife as long as your arm, and he cut and he carved as he pleased, but was very polite with his mouth, as to what part you would have, etc. A big fat steward stood behind him, to hand him things, the darkey boys trotted down the long table with heaping plates. Juicy! Fat! Those were dinners when you got at them once!
At one point a typical frontiersman came aboard, Jim Bridger, a man who had seen Indians-yea, killed them! How we gathered around him and stared! He had a bullet hole in his hat just above the hair, and I had no idea then that such a hole could be made in any other way than when the man's hat was on his head.
The "landings” at towns were as unique as the "wood-ups,” but I have no space here to describe them, for we must hurry up or we shall never get to Nebraska.
In Kansas we saw cannon mounted on the bluffs at several points. Our boat was not halted, but several had been. At one place only were we searched. A committee came aboard; they did not ask us to say "caow" or "to hum,” nor lift our baggage for rifles. It happened that nearly all our people were going to Nebraska, or Sioux City, and we were passed without further trouble.
Above St. Joe, Missouri, we found few wood yards, and had to cut our own wood. The passengers would go out and help, to kill time, and make time, for they wanted to "get there" bad. The New Yorkers would try to make fun of the long, lank Missourians that came to the landings. At one place they had teased a green looking chap considerably. After the Captain had shouted "All aboard," and they were pulling the gang plank in, he said to Charley Porter, “Got any terbacker?" "Yes," said Charley, handing out a full plug of fine natural leaf twist. The Missourian took out a six-inch jack knife and cut off one third of the plug. Holding it up he said, “That's terbacker enough for any man, ain't it?" "I should think it was," said Charley, "Well you take it," said the native,
biting a huge chunk off the two-thirds in his hand and cramming the rest in his shirt as he jumped ashore.
And so we plowed our way upward, our numbers thinning a little at Rulo, Brownville, Nebraska City and
a other places, until we reached Omaha. Here there was quite an exodus.
Our party did not go ashore, and all I remember of Omaha at that time was a long sand ridge away out where the river is now, with two cotton wood shanties, saloons, and a scrubby old cottonwood tree. One shanty had a sign, "The Last Chance," that meant till you got to Sioux City, and was the first time I had ever seen that sign.
The two gamblers, who were going further, invited every one ashore to “take suthin;" as they had won all the loose change aboard, they could well afford to, and I think fifty, at least, must have followed them to the cottonwood bar.
We were about three weeks from St. Louis to Omaha, and over a week more in getting to Decatur, our famous town site; and now we were really in Nebraska and beginning to help make a state. What a queer looking place it was! A more heart broken and dilapidated set of tenderfeet never put hoof ashore, than we were the next day after the boat was gone and we were left fairly alone miles from nowhere and nobody "to home.' ” Instead of four stores, there were two log trading posts, owned by Frenchmen, who hated "ventre bleu Yankees,” and as for the fifteen houses, there wasn't such a thing as what we had been accustomed to call a house in the place. The long, cold winter had driven all but a few of the inhabitants of the fall before away, and we came near having to sleep on the prairie the first night. None of this particular party were accustomed to hard outdoor labor, and had never seen a country before where there was not a good tavern handy at night and a warm breakfast readycooked the next morning. Our complications, annoyances, and experiences would fill a volume, but you have