The California State Military Museum and the State’s Volunteer Union Company

The California State Military Museum is a gem of a military museum. This venue is the official state of California museum for everything military. California has a very extensive military history. From the early Spaniard colonization, to the Mexican rule during the early 1800’s, to the occupation of United States troops in 1848. Because of this centuries old era of European occupation, California has in it’s possession countless artifacts of each era. One of these collections involves Civil War firearms, uniforms and flags. If you are traveling to the Sacramento California area, this is a military museum not to miss.

california state military museumCalifornia became a state in 1850 during the frenzy of the great California Gold Rush. When the American Civil War broke out, California was in a very remote region in regards to the fighting. In fact, there were no official battles fought on California soil. The Blue and the Gray did not meet in California. All the same, California was quite involved if only on a undercover basis. Regular army troops were largely called back to the eastern battlefields. This was the case throughout the west. The first California Volunteers were formed to guard against a potential Confederate takeover. Battles were fought in both Arizona and New Mexico. One of the most reported on was the Confederate defeat at Glorieta Pass in New Mexico not far east of Santa Fe. The outcome of the Battle of Glorieta stopped the Confederate advance into Colorado and the southern plains. During the Civil War the southern section of New Mexico Territory actually seceded from the Union when the Confederates set up in Tucson.A significant battle there was the Battle of Picacho Pass. The defeat for the Confederacy at Picacho stopped their western advance. This battle is often referred to as the westernmost battle of the Civil War involving regular Confederate forces.

california volunteer sergeants uniform

California Volunteer Sergeants Uniform

California, aside from being geographically remote from the rest of the U.S., was inhabited by a large variety of people, mostly due to all of the different people the Gold Rush attracted. People from the midwest had settled in California as well as people from the south. Democrats were a majority in the state, but southern Democrats a minority. Regardless, in 1861, a group of southern Democrats made an attempt to get California and Oregon to secede from the Union. That attempt met with failure. The largest threat was in the southern part of California. Many southern Democrats, sympathizers, and discontented Californios posed the real problem and it was in that part of the state that southern sympathetic volunteers organized militia units. The term Californio is a Spanish term for a Californian. This distinguished a Californian from the Native Indian population. That southern threat was eventually put down by Union forces still in the region. The southern question had reared it’s head back at the time of original statehood in 1850. From the outset California had declared itself as a non slavery territory. When the issue of granting statehood reached Congress there was opposition from southern lawmakers. The northerners in Congress obviously were able to overcome this largely because of the vast gold wealth in California and because of it’s enormously increasing population. There were several attempts by many southern Californians to push for secession from the Union during the 1850’s, and one measure actually reached Congress. After Lincoln’s presidential win in 1860 that measure was quickly set aside and died. The war of secession in California went nowhere.

civil war california cavalry hat

California 100 Cavalry hat

While President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to join the Union side and imposed a draft, he didn’t apply this executive order to California. A state like California was asked to form a volunteer force to take over the responsibilities of the regular army. These duties were essentially to protect wagon trains, stagecoaches and to try to keep the Indians in check. Many volunteers in the case of California much preferred to fight the war in the east as imposed to local service. While patriotism influenced the volunteers who wished to fight the Confederacy on the eastern battlefields, the volunteers who stayed in the west to replace the withdrawn regular troops no doubt were also making a large contribution. It’s a well known fact that after the regular troops were sent east, Indian depredations increased. While many may have thought that service in the far west was not quite as glamorous, if war could be considered glamorous, as serving in the east, there is no question that the California volunteers who stayed in the west were providing a very necessary service to the Union. They also were on hand if thoughts again rose for a war of secession in that state.

A group contacted the governor and offered to raise a company of 100 volunteers to go east. Californians had been well aware of the war going on thousands of miles away and many wanted to enter the conflict. The governor accepted the offer and the California unit was formed as a separate company of a cavalry regiment from Massachusetts. Officially they became Company “A” of the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, but they were more popularly known as the “California Hundred’. This Civil War regiment would ultimately travel to Boston by ship through the Panama Isthmus. Their passage was paid by the bounty they received for joining the Union Army. Everything worked out so well with this first company from California that another 400 men went east in 1863 again via ship through Panama. The second contingent of volunteers were referred to as the California Battalion. There was also a group known as the California Battalion that served during the Mexican American War of 1848.

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Civil Wat era vintage rifles

The three vintage Civil War rifles on display at the California State Military Museum pictured right are a 1863 Springfield Percussion Musket .58 Caliber. Below it is a 1860 Springfield .52 caliber short barrel and on the bottom is a 1855 Springfield Percussion .58 caliber rifle. The Springfield rifles were heavily used during the Civil War.

The Californians formed Company A in the Massachusetts regiment that was headquartered in Boston. The entire Massachusetts regiment was then sent south to the Baltimore area and then into Virginia. For about a year between 1863 and 1864, the Califonia 100 saw a lot of action against John S. Mosby’s Confederate Rangers. Sending troops back east from California was only one of the state’s contribution to the Union war effort. Much needed gold was shipped back east. Troops from southern California entered what is today the state of Arizona via Yuma to confront Confederate forces who had taken over much of the southern part of the New Mexico Territory. The most significant action was at Picacho Pass in April 1862.

During the Civil War, the California company’s casualty total were eight officers and eighty-two enlisted men killed. Another one-hundred and forty-one were lost to disease. Many more were lost to sickness as opposed to deaths during battle.

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Spanish or Californio style spurs

Many artifacts of this era are on display at the California State Military Museum. In 1993, Civil War artifacts, on display at in the State Capitol were moved to the California Citizen-Soldier Museum to exhibit, maintain, and preserve. In 1994 the California Citizen-Soldier Museum was made the official military museum for the state. In 1995 the museum was renamed the California State Military Museum. The museum today boasts over 33,000 military artifacts. These include weapons, uniforms, unit records, battle flags, photographs, personal letters, newspaper articles and medals.

In addition to California Civil War artifacts are large displays of Spanish and Mexican era artifacts as well as exhibits pertaining to World War Two. The California State Military Museum is located in Old Town Sacramento California. As military museums go, this is one you’ll want to visit during your next California vacation or western road trip.


Railroad History / Those Amazing Railway Post Office Cars

There was a time when sending a letter by air was a big thing. In fact, to send your letter by airplane meant the purchase of a special airmail stamp with higher postage. This was the era when mail generally traveled by train. There were several reasons for this. Obviously the railroad could carry much more mail bags than an airplane. This was the era of the Railway Post Office Car. The history of trains has a lot to do with the U.S. Mail.

Railroad Post Office Mail Bag Pickup

The earlier aircraft were not reliable enough the the mails. Schedules were either non existent or irregular. Secondly, during the latter 1800’s and the early 1900’s, railroad history tells us that trains went almost everywhere. Railroad routes were massive. All size towns and cities were connected by railroads and train mail services. Many of the rail tracks you see today used by freight trains while on a road vacation were once used by passenger trains. Most of those passenger trains had post office cars attached.

At one time trains had what was called an “RPO”, meaning railroad post office. These were official U.S. Post Offices that were on rolling train cars. Historically, the very first bag of mail carried on a United States train was reportedly in 1831. This may have been much earlier than most people would think. In the U.S., the official Railway Post Office began in 1862, midway during the American Civil War, using converted train baggage cars. The first route ran in Missouri. This particular route was short lived and the first permanent railway post office was established in 1864. These first RPO’s were not originally designed as rolling post offices. The first designs used simple furniture and desks. Later, the designs would resemble small post office’s. This included sorting tables and individual boxes lined on the walls.


RPO Car Door and Hook Pole

The Railroad Post Office system kept growing and by the 1880’s the majority of passenger trains included these special cars. One reason this system worked so efficiently was that the train could both drop off mail bags and pick a bag up without stopping. This meant that even the smallest of towns, without a formal train depot, could exchange mail because of the post office car. You may have seen the apparatus used in picking up mail while in motion. Essentially it was a pole that had a mail bag attached at the top and bottom. The moving train would simply pass by and a special steel arm would extend from the mail car and snatch up the bag. As soon as the waiting bag was picked up and swung into the rail car the bag waiting to be dropped off would be shoved out the door. A bit of coordination was required to successfully operate the post office car but the system worked well. The idea was both ingenious and very simple at the same time and worked on trains that could be traveling past a town at maybe 70 MPH. Most of these railroad post office cars also had exterior slots which meant people could manually deposit mail into it when the train was stopped at a station. It served in a way as a portable mail box. Mail that was deposited like this received an official RPO postmark.

RPO interior mail slots

Mail sorting would be done by the postal workers as the train was moving and prepare bags to be dropped off. Eventually, the United States Post office put forth a floor plan design that would be used in all post office cars. The standardization would help with efficiency since mail clerks could be assigned to different cars. Having all cars designed the same meant that a clerk would be accustomed to the routine and work more efficiently. Less chance of sorting errors as well. The standardization began in 1885. As far as the outside of the post office cars appeared during the latter 1880’s, railroad history tells us that all cars were painted a standard color, mostly white with a darker trim. Beginning in 1890 the railroad post office cars were painted in a color scheme that would match the particular railroad it was operating on. The pictures of the Great Northern Railway post office car in this article is an example of that.

The peak year for the railway post office system is though to be about 1930. During that year nearly 10,000 trains were employed to pick up and deliver mail to just about any town or city in the U.S., large and small. There were dedicated mail trains. The dedicated mail train could transport huge volumes of mail. Post office cars were virtually seen on every passenger train. Alternatives such as airmail and trucking were really not a factor during that time. Even highways like Route 66 were fairly new during that period. It would take advances in highway construction, especially the Interstates, that would eventually change things.

Railroad history and the vintage post office rail cars are now preserved at several museums around the United States. Some of these historic post office rail cars are on permanent display. One is the Galesburg Railroad Museum located in Galesburg Illinois. The RPO car displayed there was built in 1924 and taken out of service in 1960. The car is about 70 feet in length and about 14 feet high. Another RPO car is on display at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento California. The RPO car on display there is the old Great Northern Railway #42. The post office rail car was built in 1950 by the American Car and Foundry. It was made to be placed directly behind the locomotive. RPO cars were owned by the railway, but leased to the Postal Service and were staffed by postal employees. Another railway post office car is on display at the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum Association in Campo California. This RPO car is the old Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads #74. This rail car was built by the Pullman Car & Mfg. Corp. in 1927. It has six barred windows and two sliding doors on each side, and is equipped with electric lighting & screened fans. After restoration the car took its inaugural run to Tecate, Mexico on November 23, 2002. The Houston Railroad Museum in Houston Texas has on display an Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Baggage-Railway Post Office Car # 3401 built in 1938 by the Budd Co. This particular car saw service on many routes including the Chicago to Houston Texas Chief. The 3401 is one of the earliest streamlined RPO cars built for any railroad.

Two related railroad articles you should find interesting are the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe and dining cars and the Central Pacific Railroad.

Great Northern Railway Railroad Post Office Car interior

Slowly but surely the railroad post office cars were phased out. The decline began in 1948. During that year RPO’s were operating over some 161,000 route miles of track in North America. This was down from the peak of over 200,000 route miles. In 1942, the Post Office department were beginning to use highway vehicle to transport mail. The original intention was to have the highway trucks augment the service from the RPO’s but by the 1950’s and 60’s it was evident that the highway vehicles would go on to replace the railway service. The final blow came in 1967 when the Post Office Department canceled all of it’s railroad contracts and elected to transport first-class mail by either aircraft or highway trucks.

An interesting side note is that when the railroad post office contracts were canceled, a good deal of passenger train service would also be canceled not long afterward. The railroads lost a tremendous amount of revenue when the Post Office Department pulled out. Revenue from mail contracts were critical to the transportation industry in general. When you look back at the early stagecoach lines during the days of the old west, their existence and operating revenue was derived from mail contracts. Passenger revenue was a secondary source of money. Mail contracts supplied a continual revenue stream that couldn’t be duplicated from passenger only service. The famous Butterfield Overland Stage Line and others were possible only because they won mail contracts from the U.S. government. The business model of a mail contract and passenger revenue seemed to be the winning combination Today, the private railroads carry freight and they appear to be making good profits in so doing. Passenger service in the U.S. is provided by Amtrak, a government run railroad. It is very doubtful that a private concern could or would want to establish passenger rail service in the U.S. because of the staggering costs alone and the unpredictability of passenger demand. It’s a great thing that these vintage railroad post office cars have been preserved and restored so that future generations can learn about this most unique time in American railroading.


Cattle Drives and Cowboys / What It Was Really Like

When you think of the days of the great western cattle drives and cowboys you might just think of all those western movies and television series that were made. While these were entertaining, quite a bit about the daily life of the western cowboy and the actual mechanics of a cattle drive were romanticized to the point of being inaccurate. This is to be expected. A motion picture or television show was made to entertain, not to necessarily educate. There’s nothing wrong with that. With that being said, the real life of a working cowboy was more adventuresome and dangerous and with much less glamor than you might think. A cattle ranch was a business and the work of a western cowboy was part of that business.

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American Cowboy, circa 1888

One of the best places I know of in the U.S. that accurately portrays the cowboy life is the Western Cowboy and National Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, OK. The exhibition wing houses a turn-of-the-century town and interactive history galleries that focus on the American cowboy, rodeos, Native American culture, Victorian firearms, frontier military and western performers. Another interesting stop is the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame located in the stockyards historic district of Fort Worth Texas. The museum opened in 2001 and honors men and women who have excelled in the sport and business of rodeo and the western lifestyle. A third very interesting museum of the American cowboy is the Lea County Cowboy Hall of Fame located in Hobbs New Mexico in the Western Heritage Museum Complex. Lots of excellent artifacts and information about the cowboy way of life.

The Cattle Drive Trails

charles goodnight

Charles Goodnight, the Father of the Texas Panhandle

One of the best ways to describe accurately the life of an 1800’s western cowboy is to detail what was involved in a cattle drive. After the end of the American Civil War there were three trails established from Texas to the rail heads and markets to the north. Because of the Civil War, there was an abundance of cattle in Texas that under normal circumstances would have already been driven to market. The three trails that came into being were the Chisholm Trail, the Goodnight-Loving Trail and the Great Western Trail (sometimes referred to as the Texas Trail).

The Chisholm Trail led from the south Texas grazing land up through Texas near the current Dallas-Fort Worth area and then north over the Red River, through Indian Territory and ended in Abilene Kansas. The Goodnight-Loving Trail went west into New Mexico near Fort Sumner and then northward east of Las Vegas New Mexico and then into Colorado. The largest trail, the Great Western, started in south Texas with feeder trails at the Rio Grande. The trail went north parallel to the Chisholm but about 100 miles further west. It crossed the Red River near present day Vernon Texas and led through Indian Territory with a final destination of Dodge City Kansas.

jesse chisholm

Jesse Chisholm of whom the Chisholm Trail was named after.

The Western Cowboy and the Cattle Drive

The book Trail Driving Days, by Dee Brown and Martin F. Schmitt, offers a very detailed look at the mechanics of driving a herd of cattle hundreds of miles to a rail head.

A typical drive of 3,500 head of cattle, and there were drives of many more head, might require eighteen cowboys. Also needed was a cook and his chuck wagon and a horse wrangler who was responsible for the “remuda”. The remuda was a herd of tame riding horses which the cowboys chose to use. Many horses were required because the cattle drive was a long distance affair over rivers and ever changing terrain.

To start the cattle drive, cowboys would have to gather all their equipment together and report to the trail boss. The trail boss essentially ran the operation.The trail boss would select one dominant steer to act as a lead for the herd. The drive would not begin all at once. Typically, the steers would be left to graze in the morning and then slowly led down the trail. This type system of grazing and driving would be employed for the purpose of getting the cattle used to the drive. After days of this, the herd would be accustomed to the routine and automatically begin to follow the lead steer who would be led by the point cowboys. The placement of the cowboys in relation to the herd was very important. In addition to the two point riders at the lead steer, there were swing and flank riders. The swing riders would be on each side of the herd about one-third of the way back. The flank riders would be two-thirds of the way back. The tail riders rode behind the herd. This was the least desired position. This might be the job less highlighted in cowboy western movies. Their job was to keep the weaker steers moving. As you can imagine, the tail riders rode in a cloud of dust not to mention the smell. No surprise this wasn’t a coveted position.

Western Cowboy Event at the New Mexico History Museum

Cowboys Real and Imagined: April 14, 2013 through March 16, 2014

This is a stop you want to put on your trip planner if your travels take you to New Mexico. The New Mexico History Museum is located in Santa Fe New Mexico behind the Palace of the Governors on the Santa Fe plaza.
Using artifacts and photographs from its wide-ranging collections, along with loans from more than 100 people and museums, Cowboys Real and Imagined (April 14, 2013, through March 16, 2014) blends a chronological history of Southwestern cowboys with the rise of a manufactured mystique as at home on city streets as it is in a stockyard.

More on the Western Cattle Drive

At his point you can see how the western cowboys, each with their particular assignment, kept the herd moving and in the right direction. The trail boss and the chuck wagon cook would ride perhaps two or three miles ahead of the herd. The trail boss would be looking for a suitable location for the noon rest. A suitable location would include a good watering hole. At the end of a typical day, the herd might have advanced perhaps fifteen miles. This could vary because of rivers to cross and terrain.

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XIT Ranch Cowboys, 1891

Stopping at the end of the day meant more things to do. The herd needed to be bedded down. Watches were scheduled throughout the night. A watch might be two to four hours long. At night you wanted quiet and peace. Above all you didn’t want anything to rile the herd. You wanted to avoid a stampede at all costs. A stampede, if one did occur, would more likely occur at night. It could be set off by a thunder clap, the noise from the cook’s skillet, the breaking of a twig. Any sudden noise if just right had the potential of causing a stampede. In addition to causing the drive to lose valuable time, a stampede could be a deadly affair for a cowboy. More than one cowboy was crushed to death in a stampede after his horse stepped into a prairie dog hole and fell over. A stampede was serious business. Keeping the camp as quiet and peaceful as possible at night was important. To be sure, stampedes could also happen during daylight. Causes could be everything from a violent thunderstorm to an Indian waving a blanket at the herd. The possibility of being caught up in a stampede would be the most dangerous thing that could happen to a cowboy on a cattle drive.

Links to two additional articles on our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy are The XIT Ranch and Building of the Texas State Capital and Cattle Brands in the American West.

Relaxing on the Drive

Most accounts of old western cowboys on cattle drives say very little about relaxing. For all intents and purposes there was very little relaxing. A trail drive was a tough and dangerous business. As we say today, it wasn’t a Sunday drive. The trail boss was under a lot of tension and the drovers were weary from the hard riding. Two constant threats were weather and Indians.

What relaxing there was might be card games at night if time allowed. Poker would usually be played using match sticks as chips since the cowboys pockets were empty. They would not see money until the end of the drive. Relaxing for the western cowboy was at night when things were hopefully quiet and the herd contented. It might very well be this quasi-relaxation while on the long cattle drive that culminated in the celebrations at trails end. In other words, the real relaxing was after the drive ended and the cowboy received his wages.

A Rare Diary of a Cattle Drive

Cowboys keeping diaries on the cattle drive was rare. The book, Trail Driving Days, does mention one diary kept by an early cowboy on a south Texas to Iowa trail drive in the year 1866. This was about ten years before cattle were driven up the long Western Trail to Dodge City. This particular drive in 1866 consisted of a herd of about one thousand. The diary makes special mention of two big fears, weather and stampedes. The diary was kept by a man named George Duffield. Some excerpts…May 1st, “Big stampede. Lost 200 head of cattle”. May 2nd, “Spent the day hunting and found but twenty-five head. It has been raining for three days”. May 8th, “Rain pouring down in torrents. Ran my horse into a ditch and got my knee badly sprained”. May 9th, “Still dark and gloomy. River up. Everything looks blue to me”. George Duffield continued to drive the cattle through Texas and after a difficult crossing of the Brazos River near present day Waco attempted to cross the Red River into Indian Territory.

His diary entry of May 31st states, “Swimming cattle is the order. We worked all day in the river and at dusk got the last beefe (diary spelling) over. I am now out of Texas This day will long be remembered by me. There was one of our party drowned today”. The cattle drive continued north. On June 19th, Duffield recorded an encounter with Indians. “15 Indians came to herd and tried to take some beeves. Would not let them. Had a big muss. One drew his knife and I my revolver. Made them leave but fear they have gone for others”. After the Arkansas River was crossed on June 27th, George Duffield wrote…”My back is blistered badly from exposure while in the river and I with two others are suffering very much. I was attacked by a beefe in the river and had a very narrow escape from being hurt by diving”.

George Duffields cattle drive finally ended when the herd reached Ottumwa Iowa on October 31st. There he sold his herd. By the time the cattle drive reached it’s destination it had about 500 of the original 1,000 head. The diary of George Duffield is invaluable as it paints a realistic picture of the extremely hard work and dangers of being a western cowboy on an 1800’s cattle drive. The year of Duffield’s drive was a time before Indian troubles calmed down. Some of the later drives into Nebraska and further north occurred in the late 1870’s after the Sioux had largely retreated to their reservations.

wyatt earp and bat masterson

Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, Dodge City Kansas, 1876. Public Domain photo.

The Cowboys Celebrates the End of the Cattle Drive

Again, the best way to learn the truth about cowboy rowdiness or lack thereof is to compare real eyewitness accounts and statistics to what you may have seen watching the old westerns at the movies or on television.

There is a statistic of shooting deaths in Dodge City Kansas during the year 1872. Dodge City gained it’s reputation not only from the massive cattle drives but also, before that, from the buffalo hunters and Indian fighters. In fact, the shipping east of buffalo hides was the trade of Dodge City before the cowboys arrived. In the year 1872 there was a recorded twenty-five murders in Dodge City resulting from fights. Out of these twenty-five, only one involved a cowboy.

While on the trail, cattle drive trail bosses were the law. Rules to follow were known before the drive ever started. Breaking of the rules would be dealt with harshly. Murder could result in a hanging. The cowboys during the drive would usually follow the rules and regulations to the letter. Some ranchers would forbid gambling and drinking during a drive. Once the trail drive ended, the cowboys would be paid and they would let off steam. Depending on the length of the drive, a cowboy might have eighty or ninety dollars in his pocket when paid. There were many saloons and gambling halls more than willing to relieve the young cowboy of his new found wealth.

In fact, the large Texas influence was not lost on saloon keepers and others in Dodge City. Business names such as The Alamo, Nueces, and Lone Star popped up. Some establishments advertised Russian Caviar, anchovies and ice cold beer. Quite a departure from the beans, biscuits and beef served on the trail drive. The cowboys had money in Dodge City and the merchants had delicacies.

Setting aside Hollywood stereotypes, what really went on in Dodge City Kansas at the end of a trail drive? First of all, it was common knowledge that innocent people very very rarely were touched by violence. In a town like Dodge City, if an innocent woman walking down the street were attacked by a drunken cowboy, the punishment would be swift and severe. Letting off steam at the end of a drive would be characterized more by bragging and drinking rather than breaking the law. Practical joke playing would be experienced before gunfire would.

For sure, things could become rowdy but very rarely deadly. You also have to realize that a booming cow town attracted a wide assortment of colorful characters. Gamblers, prostitutes, outlaws and con men came to Dodge just as they came to the gold mining towns of California two decades earlier. Shootings in general in a town like Dodge City Kansas were not nearly as frequent and deadly as the Hollywood movies would have you believe. The difference was that if they happened in a place like Dodge City the eastern newspapers jumped on the story.

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Modern Day cattle drive

The Cowboy and the Rancher

There’s an interesting relationship between the cowboy and the rancher. When you strive to learn more about the cowboy, his daily life and habits, you really need to go back and look at the rancher himself. The book Cattle Kings, by author Lewis Atherton, talks about the relationship of the two. Atherton points out how the rancher took a background role in many cowboy novels.

Literature about the history of the ranching industry places much more emphasis on the cowboy than it does on the rancher. Few novelists have used ranchers as the central figure. Novelists have employed the rancher as a background figure in the shadows. The rancher was described as a businessman, not a hero. The hero in most of these novels was the cowboy himself. The majority of authors seemed to place the cowboy in the role of hero in an otherwise lawless land. This type of setting was perfect for fiction writers. Most descriptions like this were simply the imagination of dime novelists. It was discovered that you could actually sell more books by creating a western hero. Who better than the lone cowboy? The novelists for the most part chose the cowboy over the rancher. What isn’t a part of most cowboy novels is the influence that the rancher himself had on how the cowboy conducted himself. After all, this wouldn’t help sell the dime novel. For the cowboy to actually have a boss would take away from the rugged individualism that the author’s wanted to highlight.

The majority of ranchers discouraged the carrying of revolvers by their cowboys. With the exception of carrying firearms to protect oneself from wild animals, firearms were not a piece of equipment seen as frequently as Hollywood or the dime novelists would portray. One rancher summed it up pretty well when he pointed out that an unarmed man would not be challenged to a gunfight. The Code of the West as it was known forbid firing on an unarmed man. Many ranchers felt that the act of carrying six-shooters could lead to unwanted trouble. As a result, there were more cowboys walking around unarmed as there were armed. In the majority of cases, the branding iron and a rope were tools more familiar to the cowboy than a six-shooter.

cowboys branding cattle

Cattle branding, circa 1888

The American cowboy was a hard working man. The glamor however attached to the work was largely literary embellishment. A cowboy’s daily routine working with livestock was hardly glamorous. Reading some excerpts from the diary written by George Duffield is evidence of this. A cowboy, just like the general public, could be good or bad or in between. Usually he was good, hardworking and had a sense of humor. The cowboy had to adapt to a rugged and sometimes hostile environment. His job was not something suitable for everyone. The cowboy had a boss. The boss was either the rancher himself, the trail boss, or both. What the literary authors may have had correct was the fact that the cowboy represented individualism. It took individualism to decide to become a cowboy in the first place. Individualism after all is what America was about. The cowboy fit the bill to a tee and it wasn’t a major literary leap to also make him a hero. The cowboy legend may be one of the only legends that actually gets larger as time goes by.

(Photos from the public domain)








Steam Locomotives of the Historic Central Pacific Railroad

The Central Pacific Railroad operated the last western segment of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. The railroad was built between California and Utah. It was the Central Pacific Railroad that had the formidable task of building a railroad line over the beautiful yet wild and rugged Sierra Nevada Mountains.

There was no question but the route over the Sierra Nevada’s presented the biggest challenge to completing the transcontinental railway. The next step was to purchase the right type of steam locomotives.

governor stanford locomotive

Governor Stanford Locomotive

Congress opened the way for the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War years when the Republicans were in control.

Prior to that time, when possible routes were discussed, Southern Democrats pushed hard for a southern route to California which would serve southern cities in the east. With the war raging and the Southern Democrats having seceded, the door was wide open to pick the central overland route for the transcontinental railroad. The federal government issued railroad bonds to help with financing. This was the biggest step taken in American railroad history.

The Central Pacific Railway was operated by what was referred to as the “Big Four“. In this case, the Big Four represented Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker. Many are still familiar with these names today. They were a politically powerful and wealthy California combination. They were four very successful Sacramento California area merchants and in the 1850’s Sacramento California, with the gold mines in full force, was a profitable place to do business.

In addition to constructing rail lines over mountains and through deserts, the Central Pacific needed to purchase locomotives that were built back on the east coast. The locomotive would have to be sent by ship, around Cape Horn, and then to the port of San Francisco. To accomplish this, the locomotive was shipped in parts and then assembled when it reached it’s destination.

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The CP Huntington

The very first locomotive of the Central Pacific Railroad was named The Governor Stanford.

The Governor Stanford was called a 4-4-0 locomotive built by the Norris Locomotive Works in 1862 during the American Civil War.The locomotive was built in Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

This forty-ton wood burning steam locomotive was the pioneer engine of the Central Pacific Railroad. The 4-4-0 designation on the early steam locomotives had to do with suspension and adherence to the track.

Early railroad tracks were not what they are today and locomotives had to be stable and adhere enough to stay on the tracks. The first North American locomotives were actually 0-4-0 which didn’t really have good enough suspension systems. Next was the 4-2-0 which had a three point suspension system. The Governor Stanford, being a 4-4-0 was an improvement with an extra pair of driving wheels added. The adherence to the track was much greater and this was critical over relatively steep mountain grades.

In 1863, the Central Pacific purchased another locomotive, this one a 4-2-4. The locomotive was built by the Cooke Locomotive Works in Paterson New Jersey. The company built steam locomotives from 1852 until 1901.

The locomotive was named the CP Huntington after the Big Four’s Collis P. Huntington. This was the railroad’s third locomotive, the first to being the Stanford and the Pacific. The Huntington eventually was purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1871 and represented that railroad’s very first steam locomotive.

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Theodore D. Judah, A pioneer of the transcontinental railroad

Another historic locomotive purchased by the Central Pacific Railroad was the T.D. Judah.

This locomotive, a 4-2-4 and also built by the Cooke Locomotive Works, was named in honor of Theodore Judah, the Central Pacific’s first engineer.

It was also built in 1863 and later rebuilt as a 4-4-2. An interesting side note that many may not know is that both the Judah and Huntington locomotives were originally built for a railroad who couldn’t pay for them. Collis Huntington saw them at the Cooke plant and decided to make the purchase.

Theodore Judah made railroad history in his own right. He was the original surveying engineer who plotted the route across the massive Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Judah was also noted for his use of snow sheds along the mountain route which helped keep the passes open for the trains. Theodore Judah had dreamed about a transcontinental railroad for years and his engineering skill helped make it a possibility, especially determining a way to build over the mountains. It was Judah who also lined up the wealthy investors to help make it a reality. The downside for Judah was when the Big Four, the money men, essentially cut him out of the decision making after taking over the Central Pacific.

Another trips Into History photo article you may enjoy is The Leland Stanford Mansion in Sacramento california.

You can still see examples of the Sierra Nevada snow sheds when you travel through those mountains on today’s Interstate 80. Essentially the same route plotted by Judah in the mid 1800’s is still in use by Amtrak’s California Zephyr which operates between Chicago and Emeryville California across the Bay from San Francisco.

If you happen to be traveling through the Sacramento California area on business or for a California vacation, you’ll very much enjoy a stop at the California State Railroad Museum in Old Town Sacramento. You’ll be able to view one of the finest displays of vintage locomotives and rail cars in the U.S. The museum is very impressive and quite interesting for the entire family.

(Article and photos copyright Trips Into History. Judah photo from the public domain)

Oregon Trail Diaries / Would You Have Taken One Family’s Trek Across America?

In the year 1849, would you have taken one family’s trek across North America? The chances are that you could have embarked on the journey, but the real question is “would you have?”. Learning about the trip from Oregon Trail diaries and narratives will help you decide. Hearing about the sacrifices and ordeals of such a journey from someone who made it is the best history narrative available. The Oregon Trail diaries and narratives are invaluable historic artifacts.

Covered Wagon and gear on display at Sutters Fort in Sacramanto California, from author's collection.

In the very enlightening book, Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, by author Lillian Schlissel, there is a very vivid description of one family’s travels from Clinton Iowa to Sacramento California. The reason the trip was made were purely economic. There was gold in California. There was plenty of it but not quite the easy pickings that most stories that made it back to the midwest declared.

Why Head West?

One major reason that many families decided to risk a trip through hostile lands was the economic shape of the U.S. at that time. Most historical accounts, not all but most, ignore the real driver of this emigration. That was the Economic Panic of 1837. Just like today, there were economic panics that placed many in rough economic shape. In fact, this economic collapse depressed farm real estate prices well into the 1840’s. It wasn’t a one or two year event. Many merchants lost their businesses or owed a considerable amount to creditors. To say the California Gold Rush was talked about is an understatement. Our history books tells us that it was THE subject being discussed everywhere in America during 1849. People asked their neighbors and friends if they would be making the journey. Advice was given out freely. Some of it good and some of it not so good. You can imagine just how exciting the prospect was for a new start in life and the possibility of riches in a backdrop of national economic weakness. What exactly would it take to make the decision to risk everything for possible riches? Even if the risk didn’t result in riches, which for most it didn’t, would the journey through America’s wilderness in a covered wagon still be worth it? Many people in 1849 thought it was.

The family chronicled in this particular diary and narrative were newlyweds with the husband being a lawyer by trade. They ran into financial difficulty like many others. Also, like many others, they were hearing incredible stories from California. In the case of this particular family, their desire to go to California, which they termed the new El Dorado, was to acquire enough gold to return to Clinton Iowa and pay off their creditors. A return trip to Iowa at some future date was always part of the plan. The Oregon Trail beckoned. It was the shortest way to California from the jumping off towns. Whether for economic reasons or time frame, a voyage to California by ship was not realistic.

Guernsey Lake State Park Wyoming Museum

The majority of the Oregon Trail travelers in 1849 were midwesterners. Those from the eastern seaboard states that wanted to get themselves to California often went by ship whether around Cape Horn or through the isthmus of Panama.

Assembling in Council Bluffs Iowa

When the decision was made to head west, the family left with four wagons. Two of the wagons were filled with merchandise that they would sell at enormous profits when once reaching the remote gold fields. The profits were there to be made if only you could reach California. In 1849 there were three main jumping off points as they were called for those heading west. They were Council Bluffs Iowa, St. Joseph Missouri and Independence Missouri. These are the points where people convened to join wagon trains. It was where you might spend some time beforehand acquiring what supplies you hadn’t already. The journey to Council Bluffs of course was the easiest segment. You could camp near farmhouses, easily purchase needed food supplies and the terrain was flat and green. For obvious weather reasons, journeys started in April after the winter snows melted. Understanding that the journey might very well take at least six months, an April start was necessary to avoid the Sierra Nevada snowstorms in the fall. The launching off from Council Bluffs Iowa most likely would begin in May. The diary and narrative excerpts of this 1849 journey were kept by Catherine Haun, who with her husband and five other men and a female cook, set out from Clinton to Council Bluffs Iowa and from there into what was referred to as the wilderness. To an Iowa family in 1849 it was the great unknown.

The notes taken by Mrs. Haun point out that there were certain attributes looked for when joining a wagon train. First was that there was an ample supply of firearms and ammunition. Secondly, that the train’s wagons were not loaded so full that they would hinder travel time. Animals needed to be sturdy whether they were oxen or horses. Oxen were preferred because they were considered less likely to stampede and were less likely to be stolen by Indians. Indians wanted horses, not oxen. Good general health was also a benefit and you didn’t want a caravan with a disproportionate amount of women and children. Of course all the planning in the world could not totally isolate one from the surprises and dangers of the wilderness. When all was said and done, the caravan which included the Haun party consisted of seventy wagons.


The biggest concern seems to have been the possibility of Indian attack although it was thought of more than spoken about. Mrs. Haun writes that the bucks with their bows and arrows, buckskin garments and feathered headgear followed the wagon train regularly. They were relatively friendly yet were to beg often at mealtimes. She wrote that they seldom molested any of the whites. Catherine Haun does write that throughout their journey the Indian presence still caused anxiety. She was never sure of their friendship and being alert was a necessity. She writes of instances where Indians crept into their camp at night and stole items such as blankets. Mrs. Haun describes how their soft moccasins made it hard to hear their presence. The fact that Indians could enter a campsite undetected was itself alarming to the wagon train party. Compared to what some pioneers endured the Haun caravan seemed fortunate. Mrs. Haun notes in her diary that after the wagon train passed the prairie lands, the Indians appeared to be more treacherous and numerous. At night, for protection, the caravan would draw their wagons in a circle. When they determined where they would spend the night, one wagon would go left, the other to the right and so on and so forth until they had a circle with a good size area in the middle.

Monument near site of Gratton Massacre in 1854. twenty nine soldiers were killed near Fort Laramie

It should be noted that the year the Haun’s journeyed to California was not nearly at the height of Indian trouble on the Oregon Trail. The real trouble appeared to start between 1854 and 1860 when a large number of army troops were sent east to fight the Civil War. At the same time there were disputes between the U.S. government and Indians regarding emigrants and promised annuities. This led to increased Indian attacks throughout the plains and down into Texas. Many times, wagon trains were the targets.


Emigrant deaths along the Oregon Trail stemmed from many causes. Accidents, drownings and sickness being the major ones. Indian attacks would not be significant causes. There may have been no larger single cause of death among the Oregon Trail pioneers than cholera. The chief cause of cholera was bad water and the sickness was highly contagious. Catherine Haun points out the enormous number of graves, some fresh, that their wagon train passed along the Oregon Trail. One of the reasons that exact estimates of cholera deaths on the Oregon Trail is hard to determine is that the custom was to bury many people in unmarked graves. This was to avoid having them dug up by Indians or wild animals. Mrs. Haun notes that their caravan passed a grave which had been opened by Indians in order to get at clothes. Many suppose this also caused the Indians to pick up the dreaded disease. It’s been written that cholera may have killed up to 3% of all Oregon Trail travelers during the epidemic years of 1849 to 1855.


Wagons could cross rivers on their own if the water was shallow enough. If not, they would be rafted over to the other side but not before removing their wheels so that they would lie flat and not tip over. Not an easy job in any circumstance.

Before trying to drive your wagon pulled by oxen over a river you would need to be sure the bottom wasn’t quicksand. This was a problem with several river crossings and there was more than one wagon lost to the river bottom.

The Mountains

There was a reason the short lived Butterfield Overland Stage Line ran through Texas and the New Mexico Territory in 1858. Less high mountains. Much of the Butterfield Stage route traveled over desert. What mountain passes that were encountered were nothing like the Sierra Nevadas in California. Imagine trying to manage wagons, teams of oxen and horses, not to mention people, over some of the most formidable mountain passes in North America. Everyone was aware of the fate of the Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada winter of 1846.


Sierra Nevada Mountains from Emigrant Gap California, from author's collection

When the trail reached steep inclines and declines, people had to join in to keep the wagons going uphill, and when they started a descent, ropes behind the wagons needed to be pulled by as many people as possible to keep the wagon from crashing into the oxen in front.

Following is an excerpt on this subject from Catherine Haun..”and oh, such pulling, pushing, tugging it was! I used to pity the drivers as well as the oxen and horses-and the rest of us. The drivers of our ox teams were sturdy young men, all about twenty-two years of age who were driving for their passage to California”.

Passing the Time

It’s a fact that most wagon trains tried to start moving before 6 AM. As a consequence most people didn’t keep late hours. Catherine Haun describes the evening hours…” We did not keep late hours but when not too engrossed with fear of the red enemy or dread of impending danger we enjoyed the hour around the campfire. The menfolk lolling and smoking their pipes and guessing or maybe betting how many miles we covered the day. We listened to readings, story telling, music and songs and the day often ended in laughter and merrymaking”.

The Haun’s wagon train reached the Laramie River on July 4, 1849. Mrs. haun goes on to describe some of things planned for that special day. ” After dinner it was proposed that we celebrate the day and we all heartily joined in. America West was the Goddess of Liberty, Charles Wheeler was orator and Ralph Cushing acted as master of ceremonies. We sang patriotic songs, repeated what little we could of the Declaration of Independence, fired off a gun or two, and gave three cheers for the United States and California Territory in particular!”. (California would gain statehood one year later).

Two related articles regarding the Oregon Trail which you should find interesting are Lake Guernsey State Park Old Wagon Wheel Ruts and Fort Kearney and the Oregon Trail.

Summing Up the Overland Journey

Catherine Haun wrote down her feelings about the after they reached California. She wrote…”Upon the whole I enjoyed the trip, spite of it’s hardships and dangers and the fear and dread that hung as a pall over every hour. As though not so thrilling as were the experiences of many who suffered in reality what we feared, but escaped, I like every other pioneer , love to live over again, in memory those romantic months, and revisit, in fancy, the scenes of the journey.

Inside of Sutters Fort, Sacramento California. The destination for many traveling the Oregon Trail. From author's collection.

As it turned out, the Hauns did not strike it rich in the California gold fields. Someone was calling for a lawyer to help draw up a will. Mr. Haun offered to do it for the man for a fee of $150. With the money Mr. Haun earned he bought lumber to construct a home. After that he dropped any idea of working the gold fields and hung out his lawyer shingle. Mrs. Haun noted that they had gamblers on one side of the house (they gave them the property to build on) and a saloon on the other. She goes on to conclude that she never received more respectful attention than she did from those neighbors.

As mentioned previously, the Hauns were fortunate to have traveled over the Oregon Trail before major problems developed with the plains Indians. Clashed leading to much bloodshed occurred starting in 1854 around Fort Laramie Wyoming and generally escalated with fits and starts into what is commonly referred to as the Plains Indian Wars. They led up to Custer’s Battle of the Little Bighorn and beyond. Most historians believe the Indian Wars ended for good with the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890. Wagon trains that journeyed over the Oregon Trail and connecting trails after 1854 and especially after 1860 and beyond were regularly attacked. The attacks were also much more violent as opposed to the harassment in the late 1840’s and early 1850’s. The level of warfare between the U.S. Army and particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne bands grew in violence up through George Armstrong Custer’s expedition in 1876.

Again, the question is… knowing, or perhaps not knowing, what the wilderness between Iowa and California had in store during the gold crazed year of 1849, would you have elected to make this journey?