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St. Joseph, on the Missouri

The Illustrated London News, vol. 39, no. 1117, p. 491-492.

November 16, 1861

In a recent Number we gave an Illustration and some account of the American Pony Express, the means by which rapid communication is maintained between the far-divided territories of the United States situated on each side of the Rocky Mountains. We this week give a View of the town of St. Joseph, the eastern terminus of the various overland expresses, and one of the principal points of arrival and departure of the great overland traffic to and from the eastern and western territories.

The Sketch from which our Illustration is engraved is taken from the landing-place on the Kansas shore, near the town of Pembroke, where a steam-ferry exists, by which means the coaches, wagons waggons , &c., are carried across the turbid waters of the Missouri.

St. Joseph, always irreverently called St. Joe in the States, is a quaint and curious town, though so new, yet full of interest; like all newly-born American cities, it has commenced its growth in a number of different places at the same time. The land, being laid out in square blocks and lots, is purchased sometimes by people who speculate in a rise in the price and do not intend to build; consequently those who do often find themselves without neighbours for some years after they have erected their houses, and a great street that is to be, may for some time have only one house in it. "Town lots" are " favorite favourite items" with the speculators, and no end of money has been made by the judicious and farseeing, and large sums have been as frequently lost by the over-sanguine and incautious.

St. Joe can boast of some good shops round about the market-place, and the houses in that locality lie pretty thick. The principal buildings are, as usual in American towns, the hotels, and although St. Joe is a far-off, outlying place, with many a long stretch of prairie between it and the populous cities of the Union, yet the "Patee House" affords as comfortable accommodation and entertainment as many of the great hotels in the large cities.

St. Joe has of late been brought much before the public in England in the constantly-arriving reports from America; it is now threatened by the Confederate forces, and we may hear any day of the place being taken by a coup de main. It was in the immediate neighbourhood of this city that the great wooden bridge was partly destroyed by the enemy, so that on the arrival of the train the whole was precipitated into a deep ravine, and a number of persons killed and wounded.

The most interesting feature about St. Joe arises from the fact of its being the principal point of departure and arrival for the trains of wagons waggons going or returning from the overland passage to California or Oregon. In our account of the pony express we mentioned the firm of Russell, Major, and Co., as being the proprietors of it; that is, however, but a small part of their business, for they are the most extensive carriers of goods and passengers in the Union, excepting, of course, the railway companies. They started last year from St. Joe, Leavenworth, and Nebraska city, two hundred and eighteen trains

Page 492

of wagons waggons , each train consisting of twenty-six wagons waggons , making in all five thousand six hundred and sixty-eight wagons waggons , each drawn by twelve bullocks, consequently requiring in all between sixty and seventy thousand bullocks, besides relays and substitutes for those which break down. This firm execute large transportation contracts for the United States' Government; their business with them in 1858 amounted to five million dollars. They employ in all about five thousand men.

Near the foot of the Rocky Mountains is a place called Denver City. Large deposits of gold and silver exist in its neighbourhood, and, as several thousand persons live there who produce nothing but the precious metals, the whole of the supplies have to be carried in these wagon waggon -trains. This is a large portion of the business during the summer, as they are entirely shut off from all supplies during the winter. The United States' mail is carried twice a month from St. Joe to Salt Lake City, the abode of the Mormons, and on to Placerville, California.

For mutual protection the wagons waggons travel in trains across the plains, from sixteen to twenty-six making up a train. Each large wagon waggon carries about 6000lb.: they are drawn by oxen or horses; they start early in the morning, and travel until midday; the cattle then graze on the plains in charge of a herdsman, while the voyageurs hunt and shoot, plenty of game being found on the prairies, as well as buffaloes, deer, elks, and antelopes. At night the wagons waggons are placed together so as to form a square or a triangle, the cattle being placed within the inclosure, the camp fires are lighted, and the men sleep on the ground wrapped in their blankets. Great caution is necessary when travelling on the plains, as tribes of wild Indians traverse them, who steal and kill when they dare; they are, however, afraid of white men and the terrible weapons they carry, and will only attack when immeasurably superior in numbers. There are Comanchees, Pawnees, Crows, Blackfeet, Assinitoines, Sioux, and others; occasionally they fight great battles with each other. At one place on the route of the trains is a spot called the Battle Ground: it consists of about six acres of land, filled with holes about 2ft. square and 4ft. deep. In these holes a whole tribe of Indians hid themselves so that, when their opponents camped in the neighbourhood, they were unobserved, and, choosing a fitting time, they rushed down upon the unsuspecting enemy, and slaughtered and scalped the greater part of them.

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