Saturday, May 04, 2013

All aboard for Tallahoma and points west

We got to visiting this week on Facebook about stage coach routes in Lucas County, a subject that has not been extensively researched and is just sitting there waiting for an enthusiastic amateur sleuth.

The map here is based on what I know (or have guessed), supplemented by information from Inez E. Kirkpatrick's "Stagecoach Trails in Iowa," published during 1975 by J-B Publishing Co. and now out of print. I didn't invest much time in the map, so it's a little rough.

It's useful to remember that when Lucas County opened for settlement during late fall, 1845, there were no roads into it. Mormon pioneers fleeing Nauvoo forged the first commencing in the spring of 1846 by entering the southeast corner of the county near Greenville, following the great ridge up to Chariton Point, then continuing to follow the ridge southwest to where the trail exited the county before branching, one branch heading southwest to Garden Grove; the other west to Mount Pisgah.

The first state road, which became the major road into and through Lucas County (and still is since it generally paralleled what now is U.S. 34) was surveyed from Ottumwa to the Missouri River during 1849, the year Chariton was founded. William S. "Buck" Townsend, a major figure in Chariton's founding, was one of the commissioners appointed during 1848 by the state Legislature to survey the route. The others were John G. Baker, John Webb and John Clark.

Buck provided a report of the survey expedition during late 1849 to The Burlington Hawk Eye, which was published in its edition of Dec. 6, 1849:

"Wm. S. Townsend, Esq., and party, who have been engaged in surveying the route for a State road from this place (Burlington) to Traders' Point or Council Bluffs, since the 13th day of August last, have returned, having completed their labors on the 15th day of October. We are indebted to Mr. Townsend for the following particulars:

"The distance from Ottumway to the Missouri river by the route surveyed, is 212-1/2 mies, as follows: To Albia 24-1/2 miles; Chariton Point, in Lucas co. 27-1/2 miles; Wilson 17 miles; Lost Camp 9 miles; Pisgah 23 miles; Twelve Mile Creek 9 miles; Nodaway 29-1/2 miles; Nishnabotany 35 miles; West Nishnabotany 18 miles; Silver Creek 9 miles; and to Traders' Point or Council Bluffs 20 miles; and passing through the counties of Wapello, Monroe, Lucas, Clark(e), and the whole of the Pottawatamie Purchase. The above points will be found convenient and suitable stopping places for travelers and emigrants, there being at each more or less settlers, who will be prepared to furnish supplies of corn, &c. The route follows very nearly the divide between the head waters of the streams flowing, on the one hand south, into the Missouri, and on the other, north into the Des Moines. The region of country, through which it passes is represented to be one of the finest in the state; exceedingly rich in soil; well timbered; rejoicing in the finest springs and numerous streams, and abounding in rock coal, &tc."

Surveying a state road didn't mean that the route was going to be in any way improved, only that it was the path of least resistance from one place to another. Improvements, if any, were the responsibility of local residents. Nor were many of the places mentioned as "suitable stopping places" actually that. Southwest Iowa was barely settled at this point.

West of Chariton, this state road route followed closely the Mormon Trail. Soon after it was surveyed, however, the route was altered through Lucas and Clarke counties. Although the Mormon Trail remained in use as a road, the main route of the state road was shifted to the north and remained north of White Breast Creek until it hit Osceola.

The state road route into Chariton from the east is easy to follow. It enters the county as Highway 34 at LaGrange and then proceeds, as the current highway still does, to the headwaters of the Little White Breast Creek, crossed now on Highway 34 at the Twin Bridges just east of Chariton, and again below the Red Haw Lake dam. Roads in those days did not cross streams unless absolutely necessary, however. As a result, the state road (and later stage route) looped south and west around the Little White Breast tributaries and what now is Red Haw State Park before swinging northwesterly again into Chariton.

It's not known exactly when the Western Stage Co. established its first route on the new state road, but it was fully operational by the early 1850s. The first stage stop in Lucas County was at LaGrange; the second, at Henry Allen's log hotel on the southeast corner of the Chariton square.

The road (and stage route) then exited the northwest corner of the square and left town at Chariton's northwest corner, continuing to angle up to Poverty Ridge. The road cut west across the ridge, then descended a steep  hill to the White Breast Creek crossing. Tallahoma, the third and final stage stop in Lucas County, was two miles beyond the creek, in Section 1 of Jackson Township. From there, the route continued west on high ground until it exited the county.

This route was the main route through Lucas County until the trains arrived during 1867. Coaches probably traveled it daily as the years passed and most were four-horse, or express, coaches. These coaches carried passengers, mail and a certain amount of freight. Two-horse coaches generally were used on lesser routes. Some routes oprated by companies other than Western relied on covered wagons.

Three lesser stage routes developed a little later to serve Lucas Countyans. The northerly route, established in 1850 as a state road, followed the path of what still is known as the Newbern Road to Newbern, just over the county line into Marion County, then angled northwest through Indianola to Fort Des Moines. 

During 1851, another state road followed the 1850 route from Chariton to Newbern, but turned northeast there and passed through Knoxville and Red Rock en route to Newton. Kirkpatrick does not identify this road as a stage route, however.

The southeasterly stage route followed the Mormon Trail  from Chariton through Greenville, across a corner of Monroe County, then into Appanoose County and on to Centerville. During 1853, this too was designated a state road connecting Fort Des Moines and Centerville, but following the earlier road from Chariton to Des Moines.

No one seems to have researched this route, but it apparently passed the St. John Tavern near or at Ragtown in Section 12 of Benton Township, then continued on east about two miles south of the current site of Russell in order to reach Greenville.

The southwesterly route, which also followed the Mormon Trail, led first to Garden Grove and then to Leon. This route came into its own briefly after the Civil War, especially after trains reached Chariton during 1867. For a time, the city became a major hub of stagecoach traffic as passengers who had traveled as far as they could by rail switched to coach to continue. Because there was no rail service linking Chariton either to Des Moines or points south for a number of years, coaches continued to travel all routes other than the main east-west road for a number of years thereafter.

The Leon Weekly News reported in its edition Jan. 12, 1865, that "We learn from Mr. Ogden, the agent of the Western stage Co., that a daily line of four-horse stages is to be shortly put on the route from Chariton to Leon, passing through Garden Grove and Franklin. The principal part of the mail passing through the southern part of the state from the east to the west will take this route.The mail route from Leon directly east will not be discontinued, but the mail is to be carried in two-horse coaches as heretofore."

The Iowa South West, published in Bedford, contained in its edition of Nov. 30, 1867, an announcement headed, "Look here Travelers!" that went on the report that "The Western Stage Co. are now running a daily line of coaches from Chariton to Nebraska City, through the southern tier of counties. Passengers will receive every attention from careful and competent drivers. Depart (from Bedford) for the East at 6 o'clock A.M., for the West, at 12-1/4 o'clock, P.M. Arrivals: From the east at 12 o'clock Midnight; fom the West, at 4 o'clock A.M."

The Western Stage Co., which had moved its headquarters from Dubuque to Iowa City and finally to Des Moines, went out of business during the early 1870s. By some accounts, the final coach left Des Moines during 1874 (others say 1870). In its heydey it had employed up to 3,000 people and dominated public transportation in Iowa.

By that time, Chariton was linked by rail to the rest of the world --- east, west, north and south; and twenty-plus years of stage coach history had ended.

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