Trains Then and Now

Today we take railroads and rail traffic for granted, at least, where I live we do. Dozens of trains pass through on the north side of our little town each day and no one notices, just part of life. But that was not always the case. When trains first passed through towns and cities much of the community would turn out to cheer and watch the powerful locomotives pulling a handful of cars.  When passenger cars were involved and the train stopped, even if but for a few minutes, it was the best entertainment in town. Funny how times change.
Modern day Coal Train rolling toward the mines to refill
When I was a kid growing up in 1950s Nebraska we still, on occasion, went down to watch the Rock Island Rocket, come in and leave. It was quite a site. The rocket would reach speeds of 70 or so miles per hour, making its Kansas City to Omaha trip in a few hours and that included several stops.
But long before our family, and many others watched and enjoined the trains, someone had to build the first track and what a job it was. 2,400 ties were needed every mile, and when they got out here our supplies of cottonwood, scrub cedar and pine were not good enough for the substantial ties needed. Most of the first ties laid through the west were Pennsylvania Oak. Eventually, enough good hard pine was found in the foothills and mountains to open several tie camps in Wyoming and the west.
At last the foothills and mountains provided Tie timber

Water and food were also a problem to supply as the tracks were built. Meat hunters like Buffalo Bill and others are well documented in history, but there is more to this story also. Building the railroad through an area where the native people did not want it was dangerous. Forts D.A. Russell, Sanders, and Fred Steel were built to house soldiers whose primary purpose would be to protect the workers and the process of building the railroad. In places, half the workers worked, and the other half stood guard duty, a tough build indeed. But they got it done, and today we hardly notice. 
The great herds were in decline but still supplied much of the
 meat for the crews building the railroad west

The Wild West

The Wild West

In his autobiography Standing Bear, a Sioux chief said that the white man, not the Indian made the west wild. “We did not think of the great open plains, the beautiful rolling hills, the winding streams with tangled growth, as wild. Only to the white man was nature a wilderness, and only to him was the land infested with wild animals and savage people, To us it was tame. Earth was bountiful, and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery.” Interesting!

When the whites came into Indian lands, they tried to change the native peoples way of life. Religion, living style, lifestyle, food, cooking/eating utensils, dress, war, relationships and tribal makeups and hierarchy were all wrong – according to the new people, from the east, and now in the west.

In my view, the wild west came about as more and more non-Indian’s moved and crossed the west. Civilization movements and a clash of cultures changed the American West and created our, modern, view of the wild west. But, I’m most sure that this was not something new. Civilizations change as new people become more and more a part of something, where at one time they were outsiders. People being forced to change or obliged to accept what they do not want will fight, always have, probably always will.

Sometimes we do not look at the big picture, probably it was not as wild as Hollywood has made it out. Indian encounters are much more prevalent in old television series, movies, and novels than they were in real life. But the wars in the west were genuine, and were brought on as Standing Bear so eloquently stated, when the new people saw things as savage and wild instead of the way they were and had always been.

Wyoming and the Louisiana Purchase

The Louisiana Purchase was one of the most exceptional real estate deals in American history. The United States wanted to buy New Orleans and the delta area of the Mississippi. Napoleon had other ideas; he needed money, money for his army. He offered the entire Louisiana territory; the area later called the Louisiana Territory, for $15,000,000. What a bargain!

President Thomas Jefferson had a great interest in the area, although he had never been to the west. Jefferson’s longest journey west was fifty miles from his home at Monticello. After the purchase, he sent Lewis and Clark to see what he had bought. According to some historians, Jefferson had hopes that long-extinct animals, like the woolly mammoth, might still be alive and well in the unknown West. Indeed, part of the job of the Core of Discovery was to record flora and fauna as they traveled through the west.

They recorded everything from wildflowers to wolves

Not all, but a large part of Wyoming, was part of the newly gained area. Of course France, the United States, and the totality of the purchase, completely ignored the fact that dozens of tribes and tens of thousands of native people had a prior claim to the land. 

Many things to look at and record in the west

The Jerk Line

The Jerk Line

Reading a book this weekend about moving freight in the old west. For this post, the old west would be after people started to build new towns and cities but the highways and railroads were not yet there. General stores had supplies available to these new settlers. Televisions shows, Gunsmoke and Little House on the Prarie, come to mind featured general stores. But before roads and trains how did all those supplies get there? Jerk Lines.
Army Sutler's Stores relied on Teamsters to bring in Freight 
Jerk Line is an old time term used by freighters who hauled supplies in huge wagons pulled by impressive teams of horses or mules. These freight wagons were pulled by teams of six or eight and on some occasions up to twenty animals. I would guess that Hollywood’s portrayal of only two and four horse teams is because no one can any longer handle a Jerk Line.

The wagon driver had his hands full of lines or reigns and beside him was a long wooden brake. The brake had a rope tied to it and when he jerked the rope he was able to slow and eventually stop the wagon. Thus the term Jerk Line. When he jerked the line, the wagon stopped.
There is an old time photo of a wagon being pulled by a twenty horse team. The wagon, reportedly, was loaded with eighty, 500-pound bags of wool, an impressive, 20 ton.  

At times, the term Jerk Line referred to a single rope that ran from the front of the hitch to the driver. The front or jerk horse, usually on the right, controlled the rig, going right or left according to one or two jerks on the line. In days of old when the great teamster, jerk lines came to town, often traveling in groups of a dozen or more, townspeople would go outside to watch, it must have been quite a spectacle.

In today’s vernacular, being jerked around by someone is a reminder of these old wagon freighters. 
A nice walk takes care most everything

Snow and Wyoming Sheep

Always nice to get enough snow to help with the yearly snowpack. This last storm should be a tremendous help. Enough snow will guarantee full reservoir’s, running streams and rivers this summer. This will also make irrigation water available when, and where, it is needed downstream.
After we scooped our way to the garage
It's also terrific for the wildflowers and grasslands of Wyoming.
Last May in Guernsey State Park

The snow has kept me a bit closer to home than I like but looks like that by the weekend it will be better.
Need to wait for a little more melt before I take my seat on the front porch
In 1892, Governor B.B Brooks brought in sheep along with his cattle at his V Bar V Ranch. This was something that angered and disappointed cattle producers all over the west. Cattle had been king and sheep were much hated as more and more of the cattle business operated in Wyoming. Even the killing blizzards of the late 1880s did not deter the cattlemen, it also was one of the reasons that Brooks brought sheep to the V Bar V.  In his, Memoirs, he writes about snow and the effect it has on sheep.

“Then we thought, surely the blizzards, with the cold and deep snow in winter, would exterminate them; but they did not. In time, we discovered that sheep could stand more hardship and bad weather than the cattle. Still they kept coming, multiplying, prospering.”

As I have said before, at one time I loved winter, not so much anymore, but I still enjoy the nice days of winter and it looks like we have quite a few of them coming. I might be ready for spring, but still do not think I could become a snowbird and give up on the four seasons in Wyoming.
My backyard version of a snowbird palace

No matter how much I don't care for it, it's still beautiful