Friday, March 18, 2011

The Fort Benton stage ...

Haunting a used bookstore a couple of months ago, I came across a volume called The Road to Virginia City: The Diary of James Knox Polk Miller. It's an 1860s travelogue from Missouri to Salt Lake City, up to Montana, and back, and it's been a fun read.

Here's the first of what will likely be several excerpts from the volume, part of an account of a stagecoach ride from Helena to Fort Benton on May 28, 1867:
At 2 1/2 o'clock I was awakened by “Knocking at my chamber door.” Proceeding to the stage office of Huntly's Line and waiting “diligently” for half an hour we were duly arranged, myself and five others -- I upon seat with the driver, bidding adieu to Ware. The crack of the drivers whip started four splendid American horses and away we sped. I had the enjoyment of a good cigar on a trip of 20 hours, as the advertisement says. My credentials, consisting of a bottle of whiskey and a bunch of cigars, being duly presented to the driver, he enlivened the very early hours of the morning by describing to me his various exploits in the "Jehu" line of business. A very pleasant man he seemed to us at starting. But, alas for appearances, our smiles were turned to frowns, are good humor to wrath, our good opinion to positive dislike -– long before we reached Fort Benton. With most diabolical persistency he continually sang out upon reaching any mud hole: “Now gentlemen if you will be so kind as to give me a lift for only 20 steps,” this is meaning that we were to walk through the mud and water from one to two miles, and in one case, four. The first station bore the euphonious name Silver Heels, a station consisting of fifteen houses and four tents. Here we change horses, taking, in place of our splendid American stock, a six course team of wild “cayuses.” Our driver, in throwing upon the seat some stones, accidentally struck our whiskey bottle and, “alas poor Yorick,” our troubles had commenced.

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