Part 2 – The second part in a series of letters from a Philadelphia matron and her companion during their journey to the Pre-Civil War West.
“WEST TO LARAMIE”
April 28, 1860
Mrs. Adelaide Middleton Taylor
231 Green Street
Nearly twenty-four hours after you and Harold had deposited Patricia and myself aboard the train for New York City, we finally arrive in Chicago. Despite a delay in Princeton, we managed to make our connecting train for Chicago in time. The basket of food that you had insisted upon giving to me proved to be most fortuitous.
The trip to Chicago provided no complications, I am happy to say – aside from the boorish behavior of our conductor. An unpleasant man with a sour face, the conductor had insisted that Patricia leave the first-class coach and sit in the car reserved for colored passengers. Patricia became irritated by his manner and an argument ensued between the two. I must say that man conducted himself in the most ridiculous manner! At least Patricia did not carry on like some hysterical child. I had to firmly insist that she stay with me, claiming I would require her services at all time. I doubt that the conductor believed me, but he had no proof to doubt my word. Patricia remained in my company throughout the entire trip. The conductor obviously must have been the type who was too cowardly to make further scenes. Especially with a white woman.
The basket of food proved to be more than fortuitous. It was God-sent. Both Patricia and I discovered in Pittsburg how atrocious the food served in these railway dining depots can be. One bite of a smoked pork chop had sent us both scurrying back to the train for your basket.
We finally arrived in Chicago covered in dust and soot. The station master informed us that the next train for St. Joseph, Missouri was due to leave tomorrow afternoon. Patricia and I shared a room at a local boardinghouse located near the railway station. A plump, cheerful woman named Lenora Clarke owned the place. We had assumed that she would raise a fuss regarding Patricia’s presence. Unlike some of her fellow citizens of Illinois, Mrs. Clarke turned out to be a very tolerant woman. In fact, she and Patricia took to each other like ducks to water.
Chicago struck me as being a thriving city with great vitality. Within two decades, it has become the railway center of the West and the major stockyard for the entire country. Mrs. Clarke informed us that the city is preparing for the Republican convention for the next presidential election. There is talk that Illinois will push for one of its prominent citizens – an attorney named Abraham Lincoln from Springfield – as a potential candidate. He was the fellow who had ran against Stephen Douglas for the U.S. Senate seat, two years ago. He had made that famous “house divided against itself” speech.
After supper, I had hired a local cab to drive Patricia and myself on a little evening excursion along Lake Michigan. We stopped briefly to stretch our legs and encountered a Mr. McPherson, a local businessman and congenial companion. When I informed him of our travel plans, he assured us that unlike the stagecoaches here in the East, the Western coaches were the latest models built in Concord, New Hampshire. They should prove to be very comfortable. Patricia remained silent, but there seemed to be a “wait and see” expression in her eyes.
Dearest Addie, I do hope that you and Harold will take care of yourselves. I hope to meet the third member of your little family by the time Patricia and I return to Philadelphia.
I love you always,
May 3, 1860
Mrs. Elizabeth Evans
64 Anderson Road
Dear Cousin Elizabeth,
How is Samuel and the rest of your family? And how is my favorite cousin, Charlotte? Is she still working as an assistant for the town’s doctor? I cannot say that I approve of her working for him. After all, nursing is an inappropriate profession for a young lady from a respectable family. I hope, for her sake that she is happy.
As you know from my last letter, Mrs. Middleton and I are on our way to Fort Laramie to attend her son’s wedding to the daughter of an Army major. We had finally reached St. Joseph in Western Missouri, two days ago. Frankly, I still find this little metropolis rather uncomfortable and cannot wait to leave. Do not misunderstand me. St. Joseph, I must admit, is a pleasant-looking community. There seem to be a large number of emigrants waiting to form trains for the trek west. It is situated directly north of the Missouri River and just east of the Missouri-Kansas border. Because it is a jump-off spot for westbound travelers, St. Joseph has grown quickly in size over the past decade.
Mrs. Middleton and I stayed at a hotel situated across the street from the Russell, Major and Widdell office of the Pony Express. Unlike a pleasant woman we had met in Chicago named Mrs. Clarke, the proprietor of the Hatten Hotel had at first refused to allow me to share a room with my employer. Claiming he did not want any “free niggers” in his place, he bluntly suggested that I find another place to board or sleep in the stables. Frankly, I would have preferred another hotel or boarding house than stay under the same roof with the narrow-minded fool. But Mrs. Middleton lied by informing him that I was her “bond servant” (Dear God!) and lacked extra money to pay for a room elsewhere. How humiliating! Mrs. Middleton’s ploy only reminded me that the North still practiced indenture servitude. The proprietor did not mind my new . . . “status” and allowed me to remain. However, I was forced to eat in the kitchen with his slaves.
During our tour of the town, we stopped at the Central Overland Stage Line office. The clerk assured us that we will have a comfortable trip. He added that the Indians would be no trouble. Apparently, the Army is keeping them away from “civilized” settlers and back on their lands. It amazes me that so many people have insisted that we had nothing to worry about the trip by stage. I feel that the Government and private businesses seem bent upon inducing people to settle in the West. And for some reason, my doubts regarding this journey have increased.
As I had stated before, the headquarters for the Pony Express is located across the street from our hotel. This postal service delivers mail and small packages between St. Joseph and San Francisco on the West Coast, using orphan boys and young men as dispatch riders. These young fellows travel hundreds of miles across the wilderness to deliver the mail in record speed. The Pony Express service has been in operation for only a month so far. I do not think it will last very long. Already, there is word of telegraph lines scheduled to be erected in the near future.
Yesterday afternoon, I came face to face with a very unsettling scene. It not only made me more than anxious than ever to leave this town, it reminded me that St. Joseph is part of Missouri – a slave state. Upon finishing my supper, I stepped outside for some air and spotted a gang of slaves shackled together and being herded toward the local slave mart. The sight of the ragged prisoners slowly making their way down the street, accompanied by a white man driving a wagon, sent chills down my spine. Not only did I remember that I was presently in a slave state, but that said state has sent hundreds of men into Kansas in order to turn that territory into a slave state.
At the moment, Mrs. Middleton and I are at the stage depot, waiting for the horses to be harnessed to our coach. All of the passengers were given two blankets (in May?) and a canteen of water for the journey. Four other passengers wait with us to board the coach. I will write to you when I can. Give my love to your family.
Your loving cousin,