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Big Bike Solo on the Pony Express Trail (MO, KS, NE, CO, WY)

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Cannonshot, Sep 8, 2008.

  1. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I stopped along the trail at the original Hollenberg Station at Cottonwood Creek. This station was run by a German guy that previously prospected for gold in California, Australia, and Peru.

    (That reminds me, I read a book of short biographies of some of the Pony Express people. It is amazing to see what became of them later in life. Perhaps there is some daring gene in these adventurous types that makes some of them quite successful. There are many stories to tell about that that I won't be able to cover. . . well maybe I can slip in a factoid or two. In fact, I think there are two descendants that became astronauts.)

    You can see that as this guy became more successful, he built on to his store. There are three segments. He also rented space to a stage line/PE stock tenders. His contract included selling meals to PE employees and stage passengers for 27 1/3 cents each.
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    Looking out from the station we see the actual trail crossing at Cottonwood Creek (now a highway). The flat area near the creek was good for camping and the store owner promoted it to increase his trade in goods. Many wagon trains camped in the frame of this photo.
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    In the early 1900s, states did a good job marking the original pioneer trails before they were obliterated from the landscape. There are many markers like this one around. Further west, where there is less agriculture, many of the original tracks lay undisturbed or are still being used and are quite visible. As part of my research for this ride, I looked at a lot of sattelite imagery. In some places, especially where there is good resolution, you can see the tracks on the sattelite images. (Old Army guys use whatever they can when preparing for operations. :lol3 )
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    #41
  2. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I'll post them in a few days (maybe). I have some refinements to make. I also have a spreadsheet with POIs, mileage, potential campsites, etc, I can share. The spreadsheet also has web links that give more information on most of the POIs I highlighted. I took along a 3" binder full of selected web pages, four books, three pamphlets, and a few maps as I made this ride. I also gathered some additional information as I went.
    #42
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  3. iyeager

    iyeager I lost my avatar...

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    So not much prep than, huh? It's good to know you flew on a wing and a prayer for this CS. :lol3

    Ian
    #43
  4. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I motored into Rock Creek Station and took a look around. This was a small stop at a creek crossing where riders changed horses.
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    A disgruntled gold prospector named Dave McCanles bought the site in 1859 and made a few bucks off a store that was there and also put in a toll bridge getting about 50 cents per wagon. He developed the site a bit more and eventually it became a PE relay station. This is a store and eventually became a post office.
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    Toll bridges were sometimes quite controversial. They could make life easy. One wagonmaster came to an unexpected toll bridge and got a little irate. He demanded to see the operator's charter for the bridge. The operator pulled up a shotgun and explained "This here shotgun is my charter!". Two hundred bucks later the wagonmaster had his train across the bridge.
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    Your other option was to make a sometimes difficult crossing. Where you see the metal wheel treads in the creek (rocky area) is the actual crossing site these wagons took on the trail.
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    Rock Creek Station is famous for giving James Butler Hickok his start as Wild Bill Hickok. When the Pony Express came along, McCanles at first leased, and then later sold, his station to the freight company for a stage stop and relay station. The company made a down payment, but were a little slow in coming up with the rest of the cash. Hickok was employed as a stock handler at the site and worked there with some other folks. Hickock didn't like McCanles because McCanles gave him the name "Duck Bill" because of the shape of Hickok's nose and lips. One day McCanles, his son, and two hired men went over to the station to inquire about the rest of the money. McCanles was not a pleasant guy on this issue I'm sure. Hickok shot McCanles from behind a curtain in one of these cabins. McCanles staggered outside where the woman of the station began hacking him up with a hoe. The two hired men were killed as well. When the woman shrieked something about killing them all and came after the son with the hoe, the 12 year old boy managed to escape.
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    Later, a PE rider named Harry LaMont came riding into the station and found no meal and no horse ready to go (what the heck?). He looked around and found Hickok and the others barricaded in one of the buildings expecting McCanles' men to come around any moment to retaliate. They told the rider to get his own horse and grub. The alleged murderers were later arrested and tried but were found not guilty (self-defense). The 12 year old boy was not allowed to testify. Later in life that boy became an attorney and gave a full deposition about what happened that day. Hickok lived a colorful life promoting himself as Wild Bill until he was shot in the back of the head years later while playing cards in a saloon in Deadwood, SD. He was holding aces and eights at the time. The great-great-grandson of McCanles is Bruce McCandles Jr who became a space shuttle astronaut.

    I saw a photograph of the original station. These recreated buildings are almost an exact copy of what was originally there.
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    End of day 1. I camped that night at a state wildlife area campground (showers). I had a buddy (2TrakR) looking over my shoulder via my Spot Tracker. He said he could almost tell what campsite I was in.
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    #44
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  5. 2TrakR

    2TrakR Been here awhile

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    This one:
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    Fantastic report, as always. Love the background information, you consistently go above and beyond with that aspect of the report.
    #45
  6. JaySoy

    JaySoy Been here awhile

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    :clap
    #46
  7. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Thanks for checking on the spot tracker map every now and again. When I was way out in the sagebrush it was nice to know I was likely to be visible.
    #47
  8. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Here is a little map of the first day's ride. No fancy riding today. I only covered about 150-160 miles because I wasn't able to get into some of the historic sites in St Joseph until 1300 hours as it was Sunday and they opened late. Well worth the wait though. The museums there were fantastic (Pony Express Stable, Patee House Hotel). I rode from St Jo to the Rock Creek Station.
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    #48
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  9. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    I rode over to the Homestead National Monument near Beatrice, NE. This monument and intepretive center is on the first homestead in the nation under the Homestead Act of 1862. This act allowed any man or woman to live the American dream. If you were willing to work it, the government would grant you 160 acres of land - free. This act remained in effect until 1976 in the lower 48 and until 1986 in Alaska. Here is a map of the states in which homesteads were available.
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    The following sample of state maps show what representative portion of the state was homesteaded.
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    It might have been free land, but it was no free ride. Here is a homesteader pulling stumps.
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    And another tending meager crops. Note the sod house in the background.
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    If you are curious, you can check this chart of successful homesteads by state.
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    I was knocking around the backroads looking for bits of history. It was interesting to note places where the emigrant trails went through and imagine what it was like at that time.
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    I didn't find the riding in Kansas and Nebraska to be boring at all. It was all pretty entertaining. Sometimes some of the stories I read about the experiences of the PE riders would come to mind. In the beginning, riders often carried two pistols and a rifle. This was difficult to ride with so eventually some got down to a single pistol with an extra cyclinder. In "safe" areas, some riders didn't even carry a pistol. Some carried a bugle to signal the transfer stations as they approached so they could make their goal of two minutes to change horses. One gunless, bugle equipped rider was galloping along one of these roads when he galloped right past a pack of wolves that just killed a horse. Wolves being wolves, and excited after a fresh kill, immediately took off after the PE rider's horse. The rider had no gun so he turned and blew his bugle at the wolves. Each time he did, the wolves hesitated a bit allowing him to gain the distance needed to get the wolves to give up the chase. (Wolves don't really chase too far anyway.) The next day, and more properly equipped, the rider went out and poisoned the corpse. Eventually he found twelve dead wolves.
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    A rider named George Thatcher was stationed near Salt Lake City in 1860. As he walked next to his horse in the snow on one run, he was attacked by a wolverine. He rolled into a ball and kicked the wolverine away. He then jumped up and sprinted to his escaping horse before the wolverine could attack again. In 1877 Thatcher became Superintendent of the Utah Northern Railroad (later the Union Pacific) and in 1882 became a bank president serving until his death in 1902. Wolves? :bluduh Wolverines? :bluduh What else?

    Oh yeah, lots of rivers to cross. This one seems tame during the low water of September, but during flood stage it had to be a significant challenge.
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    #49
  10. MeefZah

    MeefZah Curmudgeonly Supporter

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    This may be one of your best RR, Cannon! I love the snippets of history that work their way in. :thumb
    #50
  11. gaspipe

    gaspipe Wandering Soul

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    Cannonshot - I'm enjoying this trek. Thanks for taking the time to share it with us. It is very much appreciated.

    :bow
    #51
  12. harcus

    harcus Long timer

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    Good report! I grew up in Wichita & you are right. There are many interesting stories on the backroads. Ks was one tough area!

    Waiting to see your treatment of the PE trail in Utah. The ride from SLC to the NV border is interesting but remote. I plan to continue one day thru NV to CA just to see the whole thing. Your map infers you stopped at SLC. True?

    Keep talkin...we're listenin...
    #52
  13. joedoe

    joedoe Armchair Adventurer!

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    Can you imagine the laugh that a true pony express rider from the day would get, reading what we call an adventure by todays standards.

    Those were hard times that can never be duplicated today.
    Nice history reminder.
    #53
  14. gagnaou

    gagnaou Long timer

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    This is excellent!!!! ::clap :clap

    Luc
    #54
  15. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Meef, I hope you are taking notes because there is going to be a test on this stuff at the end.:lol3



    Thanks Bruce. I may need to tap your railroad knowledge along the way. I was in Green River, WY when I watched nine engines pull a half a train up one of the steepest grades I have seen on a mainline (while the other half sat down below waiting for another shuttle run).



    I only rode to Evanston, WY (just before Salt Lake). There is a huge amount of history on the Salt Lake to Sacramento segment. Maybe someone else can pick that segment up with a similar analysis and post it to complete the route. The Piaute Indian Wars in that area were quite a problem for PE employees.



    Hard times indeed. More stories coming about the experiences of pioneers and soldiers as well.


    I came across some interesting stories of some of the difficulties and advances for women who ventured into this tough country. Hope some of the ADV ladies find some of them inspiring.



    Thank you all for the encouragement. One never knows if the things that one might find interesting are boring the heck out of everyone else.
    #55
  16. 65bmwr50

    65bmwr50 Been here awhile

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    :lurk

    And when you get a chance, what kind of prep work have you done to the V? I have one and want to make it a little bit more capable.
    #56
  17. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    As I passed through some of the towns along the way, I came across other tourist oddities. For example, the world's largest porch swing. By the way, it was a very comfortable swing - quite relaxing in the shade of a city park.
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    As I got closer to the Platte River, some of the pioneer trails ran together as one trail. The Mormon Trail generally stayed north of the Platte River as Brigham Young didn't want his people mingling with the other settlers on the main trail on the south side of the river. He was trying to avoid conflict. Further on these trails would separate again.
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    To orient you, here is a map of some of the emigrant trails I got from another site (site listed on map).
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    #57
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  18. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    Regarding the set up on the bike. The most important thing I added was a sturdy bash plate. Too many vulnerable parts down low with little ground clearance.

    I added a tall windshield that I really like. Pretty handy on the rain or when bugs are spattering you as you ride. The windshield is set so I can look over or through. I have a dash shelf that is handy. Also a fender extender on the front fender to keep mud and grit out of the engine/radiator space. I also rigged a chain oiler for this trip. Kind of hokey looking, but very effective. I had to cut in some brass tubing near where the oiler line passed the exhaust. Other than that, the basic design was fine.

    I ran two GPS units. One had routes and routable maps. The other had topos and my pre-drawn trackline. I also used the 60cx to record my track as I explored. Those topos came in very handy when I was way out in the bush. All those two tracks kind of look the same.

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    I also ran a Spot Tracker. In case I disappeared, someone would have an idea of where to look. :lol3 It can also transmit help and 911 messages with a location. The Spot likes the southern sky and doesn't like overhead cover. You have to keep it in the open to get consistent tracking. I think a RAM mount for it will help with that. I ran an Ipod. One time it locked up on me and I couldn't remember the button combination to reset it. I had to go to a fast food place and find an Ipod looking kid to help me. When I explained what I needed, he had it fixed in about 10 seconds. :lol3 (Hold the Menu and center buttons down at the same time to reset.) I also rigged a clipboard storage type thing between the top of my tank bag and my velcro on map case. A few velcro strips made this work quite well. Handy. You can also see a small piece of one of the pages of the spreadsheet I worked up with POIs, mileage, gas, etc. I can share this with anyone who wants to ride my route (which I will post in GPS Central).
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    Happy trails panniers. Worked fine. Durable and waterproof. I ran Trail Wings that I balanced with Dynabeads which worked great. My preferred tires were on back order (big shortage right now) so I went with the wings. In the past, I found TKCs to be good for a trip like this but the I would have burned off the rear on this trip.
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    It was very hot at the start of this trip. I wore one of those Olympia mesh jackets and pants. Works good, but if it gets below 70 you know it. Later in the trip (and higher in elevation) it got pretty cold. The Olympia insulated/waterproof liner pants and jacket worked well for that. In fact, some nights when it got into the 30s I wore the liners in my sleeping bag. The OEM grip heaters were handy, but I didn't really use them that much.
    #58
  19. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    In 1864 there were some serious indian attacks along the California-Oregon Trails. Because of the Civil War, many troops had been withdrawn from the west. Some of the indian tribes were getting a little sick of the massive incursion into their tribal areas and saw the downsizing of the military forces in the region as an opportunity for them to bust a move and try to shut down the settler problem. Early on, some of the tribes were friendly toward settlers - even helpful. I'm sure that access to trade goods had something to do with that as well. In the eastern plains the indians were still pretty friendly. Toward the west, the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoes (among others) were getting frustrated. Keep in mind that this was 1864. The telegraph and railroad hadn't even come into the picture yet. That really frustrated them later on.

    In a brilliant tactical move, the three tribes I mentioned planned and excuted a well coordinated attack on stations, wagon trains, and ranches along a 400 mile section of the Cali-Oregon Trails that ran from Julesburg (CO) to Kiowa Station (NE). Some of the most brutal attacks were in the rich ranching area along the Little Blue River. Indians infiltrated the area in small groups (20 or so at a time). When asked "What up?" they would tell people they were going to St Joseph.

    Here is a map of the area they attacked. The Little Blue is circled.
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    There are some very detailed accounts of these attacks (in fact extremely detailed and maybe even difficult to experience - even by reading). I will pass on a few stories from the areas I rode in along the Little Blue that will give you an idea of what life was like.

    The well coordinated attack by the indians can be compared to what in modern warfare we might call an attack on lines of communication. It may have been brilliant tactically, but strategically it was a bad move. The indians underestimated the national will concerning settling the west. In the end, all they did was evoke a greater response - sort of like requisitioning an ass-kicking further down the road. Apart from the brutality of some of the attackers, you have to admire their ability to coordinate this major attack.

    Incidentally, later on it was sometimes a practice to take Chiefs back east to show them the cities and civilization and "how mighty" the whites were to impress upon them that resistance was futile.

    Not trying to engage in any politics here, just relating history as it was seen at the time.
    #59
  20. Cannonshot

    Cannonshot Having a Nice Time Administrator Super Moderator

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    On Sunday, August 7, 1864, 16 year old Laura Roper was over at the neighbor's ranch for the day. At about 4 PM she headed home. Walking with her were Mr. Eubanks, Mrs. Eubanks, and two small Eubanks children. Just outside the Eubanks Ranch, Mr. Eubanks stopped to get a sliver out of his foot and told the women and children to go on ahead. Shortly thereafter, he heard screaming back at the ranch and bolted home. Indians were attacking and Mr. Eubanks was quickly killed. Roper, Mrs. Eubanks, and the two children took to the woods and hid in a buffalo wallow. Soon some indians came by and when one of the children panicked the indians captured them. The indians put them on ponies and took them back to the ranch. Along the road they passed Mrs. Eubanks sister who had been stabbed but was still alive and lying along the road covering her face. Shortly after getting back to the ranch, Roper saw a very excited indian ride up with Mrs. Eubank's sister's scalp on the end of his spear. The captives hung around as the indians continued their work killing and destroying the ranch. The indians broke everything including the stove. They cut harnesses into small pieces, and even took the ticking out of mattresses. Obviously they were trying to make it so that no one would occupy this area again.

    One young girl, also captured, was put on a horse. The terrified girl would not stop crying and screaming (as a young girl might under those circumstances) so one of the indians killed her with a tomahawk.

    When the captives arrived at the indian encampment, Laura Roper was turned over to the squaws. They immediately started screaming at her, pulling her hair, and beating her. This only lasted a short while. Eventually they were much better to her.

    Roper was traded for ponies a time or two and was finally released to the Army about a month later.

    In 1929 she came back to the scene of the attack to verify the locations she described in her written account for historians.

    Mrs. Eubanks was treated brutally and wasn't released until May of 1865. Some indians were short on ammo and guns and wanted to trade her for them. The Army ended up capturing the whole group and hung the indians for their brutality to Mrs. Eubanks. The Army gave Mrs. Eubanks the $270 the indians had on them and sent her back east on a wagon train. Since soldiers were in short supply, the Army hired some indians to help escort the train. Mrs. Roper was almost captured a second time. When the wagon train was attacked on the way back east, the indian guards turned on the soldiers and teamsters. The wagon train prevailed, but it was a close call.

    While riding around the roads where much of this took place, I came upon two young girls who were out walking. I got a very unsettling feeling. Actually being at the sites with some of these stories fresh in my mind made it all too real for me.

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    #60