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I kept in correspondence with Thompson Blair, and in one of his letters he minutely described the trail from Leavenworth to the settlement where he and his brother Willard were located, and I determined to join them at my first opportunity. After earning a little more than one hundred dollars above expenses, I left my home in Iowa for Kansas, on the morning of September 1, 1857. The nearest railroad station was Dyersville, distant about thirty-five miles west from Dubuque, so father hitched up his team and took me and my trunk some ten miles from home to a point where we met the stage that ran to Dyersville. At Dyersville I bought a ticket for St. Louis, going by way of Dubuque (where I crossed the Mississippi river on a ferry boat) over the Illinois Central and connecting lines in southern Illinois to the terminus of the railroad, on the east side of the Mississippi river. Here I was told by the baggage agent that my trunk would be left at the Planters’ House, St. Louis, and I was taken by stage to another hotel in that city. The stage crossed the river on a ferry boat, there being no bridge at that time. I reached the hotel about seven o’clock in the evening of September 2. After breakfast the next morning I went to the river to ascertain what the opportunities were for getting to Leavenworth. I found steamboat agents who told me their boats would be ready to start at four o’clock that afternoon, and would carry me and my trunk, and board me on the passage, for $12 in gold. I paid my fare and was given a berth with two men whom I had met on the train and who were also going to Leavenworth. Engaging an expressman to bring our trunks to the steamboat we went on board to wait for the start at four o’clock. However, not having a complement of passengers and freight, the boat did not get started until four the following afternoon.
On the trip up the Missouri river our boat ran into shallow water, and the channel in places was so obstructed by sand bars, and trees washed out during a period of high water, that navigation was slow as well as difficult. The monotony of the trip was varied by frequent stops at wood yards for fuel, Cottonwood usually, and at towns to discharge and take on board passengers and freight. For the purpose of lightening the draft of the boat – enabling it to get over some troublesome sand bars – passengers often went ashore and under direction of a guide cut across the large bends in the river and there waited for the boat to come up with them, when they would again embark. The drinking water on this trip was taken directly from the river, and was so muddy that I became nearly sick from using it.
The passengers on board were a mixed lot. Many were very respectable people, but others were gamblers who plied their profession until long past midnight. These left the boat at St. Charles, and it was generally understood that they had “cleaned up” a nice little pile on the trip.
About noon of September 8 we reached the hamlet of Kansas City, Mo., at which point my two roommates left the boat. Resuming the journey we reached Leavenworth about 6 p. m. the same day. I stored my trunk at a warehouse, and feeling so miserable I could not eat, I hunted up a lodging house.
At this time Leavenworth was an important outfitting point for travelers. A road running from there to the south and west joined the Santa Fe trail in what is now the southeast corner of Wabaunsee county, and was a feeder to that great highway. The old trail at this date was broad and lined with sunflowers, many attaining a large growth.
On the morning of September 9, I could eat no breakfast, but with the written directions of the route to Mr. Blair’s in my pocket for constant reference I started out to walk the distance to his claim. My way lay over the Delaware Indian reservation. After walking some seven or eight miles the stage en route to Lawrence overtook me, and I paid $3 in coin to ride the twenty-five miles to that place.
From Lawrence westward there were but few settlers living near the trail, and many of them had to haul their drinking water in barrels from long distances. I therefore found considerable difficulty in getting good drinking water, and to add to my discomfort the wind was blowing very hard from the direction in which I was walking. When I arrived at Mr. Blair’s house, about sunset the 11th, I was too sick and tired to eat, and soon after my arrival I was taken down with the fever and ague.
The Blair brothers, in common with so many of the early settlers, had no water supply at home, but were compelled to get it from a spring situated more than a mile from their house. As soon as I was able I went with Thompson Blair on one of his trips to this spring for water. The spring was in a ravine and could not be approached very closely by a wagon, and as there was nothing at hand to hitch the horses to, I held them while Blair filled the kegs and carried them to the wagon. While he was at the spring a number of Indians, mounted on ponies, rode up and stopped. They were singing loudly, though not musically, either to me or the team I was holding, and I had a difficult task to keep the animals quiet until the kegs were filled and brought to the wagon. These Indians were accompanied by their squaws, papooses and dogs, and they went into camp near the spring. At this period there were many Indians in the territory.
A short time before I arrived at Mr. Blair’s home, a Mr. Wysong, who had settled on Dragoon creek but was then returning to Ohio, stopped at the Blairs’ and in conversation told Mr. Blair that there were good claims on Dragoon creek on which could be found coal for fuel. He mentioned Mr. Samuel Woods as one of the settlers on this creek.