Recollections of My Life and Reflections on Times and Events During It: A Memoir by Father W. J. Howlett

Page 31

          We reached the Missouri River about the middle of May and crossed over it on a ferry to Nebraska City in Nebraska. This and Omaha, Leavenworth, St Joseph and Kansas City were the principal points where emigrants fitted themselves out for the long journey to western points, even to the Pacific. We found horses, mules and oxen there in hundreds, and tents and wagons were in every vacant lot and for [far] out into the country. A few Indians of the Pawnee tribe were among the crowds, but that tribe was partially civilized and had their reservation not far away. 

          We stayed at Nebraska City about a week to rest our horses and buy what was necessary for the rest of our trip and some extra clothing which would cost more as we went farther from the cities. I insisted upon having a pair of mining boots, since we were going into the country of the gold mines. These were of strong cowhide with the soles studded with hobnails and the legs reaching to the knees in the rear and in the front provided with a flap nearly six inches higher upon which one could kneel while foraging around for the precious metal. I never used them for that purpose, for I found out that gold was not gathered in that way. They came in good afterwards while picking potatoes. On Sunday we went to Mass in a large frame church that had a somewhat barnlike appearance. That day the Bishop was there from Omaha. I learned that his name was O’Gorman, and I remember him as an austere looking man with grey hair, and I imagine his austerity came to him naturally, for he had been the Prior of a Trappist Monastery at New Melleray, Iowa.

          When we left Nebraska City our next objective point was Fort Kearney, about 200 miles farther west on the Platte River. The country was wild and uninhabited almost all the way; the only settlement of consequence consisting of just a few houses which they said was Lincoln, the Capitol of the territory. We passed many teams of oxen and mules in groups, some bound for Pike’s Peak like ourselves, others for California and Oregon. There were quite a few streams of water and we had no difficulty in finding good places for camping at night where wood, water and grass were plentiful. A couple of years previously and Indians had made raids on travelers along these roads and graves were visible of the victims along the Little and Big Blue Rivers, and at several other places. No Indians were supposed to be in those parts then, so everyone took his own time and traveled as he pleased. Many teams were met coming back, but most of these were freighters who had disposed of their former loads and were returning for more. Occasionally also there was a disappointed gold hunter, upon whose wagon cover might be read the sign; “Pike’s Peak or Bust,” and under it the significant comment; “Busted, By Thunder.”

          Fort Kearney was the limit of safety for western travel. A company of U S soldiers was stationed there, and no wagon train was permitted to pass this point unless it mustered a minimum of forty fighting men. We stayed there a few days waiting for other travelers and giving our horses a much needed rest. While there we saw something of western life. The big stage coach came in from both directions

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