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Overland Freighting by George Marvin

The Old Freighters Meeting of the Nebraska State Historical Society, held January 10, 1900, included the reminiscences of George P. Marvin. Marvin, then editor of the Beatrice Democrat, was a former bullwhacker and noted:

"In the freighting days of the early '60s, the overland trail up the Platte river was a broad road two hundred or more feet in width. This was reached from various Missouri river points, as a great trunk line of railroad is now supplied by feeders. From Leavenworth, Atchison, and St. Joe, those freighters who went the northern route crossed the Blue river at Marysville, Kan., Oketo, and other points, and traveled up the Little Blue, crossing over the divide and striking the big road at Dogtown, ten miles east of Fort Kearney. From Nebraska City, which was the principal freighting point upon the river from '64 until the construction of the Union Pacific railroad, what was known as the steam wagon road was the great trail. This feeder struck the Platte at a point about forty miles east of Kearney. It derived its name from an attempt to draw freight wagons over it by the use of steam, after the manner of the traction engine of to-day.

"My first trip across the plains was over this route, which crossed the Big Blue a few miles above the present town of Crete. At the Blue crossing we were 'organized,' a detachment of soldiers being there for that purpose, and no party of less than thirty men was permitted to pass. Under this organization, which was military in its character, we were required to remain together, to obey the orders of our 'captain,' and to use all possible precaution . . . .

"In those days there was a demand for men that has not since been known, and at wages unheard of before or since. In 1865 the wages paid the ordinary bull-whacker was $65 a month for the round trip, or $75 if discharged at the other end of the road. Mule-skinners got $75 for the round trip, and $85 if discharged at the other end. It took about a month to drive from the Missouri river to Denver in those days, and as the wagons returned empty, a premium was paid for the man that would accept his discharge at the other end of the road."

(October 2001)



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