From the middle of Oct. 1862, until Mar. 4, 1863, Ben Holladay's Overland Stage followed a cutoff which left the Military Road about 1 mile west of Guittard's Station, crossing the Big Blue River at Oketo, about 10 miles north of Marysville, on the edge of the Otoe Indian Reservation. It rejoined the original trail 3 miles west of Pawnee or Rock House Station. This station was about 3 miles northeast of present Steele City, Nebraska in the NE1/4 NW1/4 S15 T1N R4E.
Most of what is known about the cutoff is found in The Overland Stage To California, by Frank Root and William E. Connelley, and in George Root's opus on Kansas ferries published in Kansas Historical Quarterly, v.3, p. 142-4.
Holladay's reasons for promoting the cutoff seem to have validity. It was about 15 miles shorter and probably a better road after construction of culverts in ravines and rock fill in sloughs. A ferry was licensed in 1859 at Oketo, with Holladay's financial backing, and three new stage stations were constructed. Altogether, it was estimated that Holladay and his partners invested $50,000 in the new road. There were several obstacles to overcome, however. The U.S. Mail contract specified biweekly mail deliveries to Marysville. Holladay also underestimated the willingness of Marysville merchants to use violence to maintain their identity as the only town of importance between the Missouri River and Denver.
The cutoff as originally projected was from Ash Point in Nemaha County to Oketo, by-passing both Guittard's Station and Marysville. In May 1860, a delegation of Oketo promoters threatened Moses Blanchett of Ash Point with violence for continuing to promote use of the old road. Blanchett got his shotgun, and when a member of the mob named Wilson pressed him too closely, Blanchett opened fire, killing Wilson instantly. This seems to have ended efforts to make Ash Point the initial point on the cutoff, but it did not end the violence or bad blood stirred up by Holladay. He next directed his attention to a cutoff from Guittard's Station to Oketo. This seems a logical choice, since the Overland Divisional Headquarters was already established at Guittard's, and it had become a very popular eating station on the line.
Marysville continued to fight back. In 1861, a road was established from Seneca to Marysville, by-passing Guittard Station and crossing Robidoux (Vermillion) Creek south of present Beattie (at Lower Robidoux Crossing?). Although said to be a "new road," this crossing had probably been in use since Michel Robidoux, for whom the creek was named, had operated a trading post in the vicinity in the 1830s. Reasons for the new road were "shorter and better," and the old road was said to be in very bad condition east of Marysville, especially at the crossing of Spring Creek, 7 « miles east.
The key to success for any new road was acceptance by freighters. Neither Marysville nor Oketo proponents were able to persuade this group of free thinkers to accept their "shortcuts," so Holladay decided to go it alone. He first obtained permission of the U.S. Postal Department, and ignored his obligation for mail delivery to Marysville. Appeals by Marysville merchants were ignored by both Holladay and the U. S. Postal authorities.
The cutoff as finally established left the old road 1 mile west of Guittard's, working northwest to the Oketo ferry « mile south of present Oketo. Frank Marshall and Albert Woodward operated a trading post at this location as early as 1848. A stone barn and corral on the east side of the river may be at the site of the Oketo Stage Station, according to local tradition. Stone markers erected by NYA in the 1930s on both sides of the river memorialize the river crossing.
The ferry was licensed in 1859 by Henry W. Poor, Val C. Poor and Robert M. Smith. Whitehead, an employee of Holladay, is also mentioned in connection with the ferry. A good ford was available, so the ferry was only needed during periods of high water.
The second stage station on the line was 11 miles west of Oketo on the Reservation, and was called Otoe Station. The last station was called Pawnee by Frank Root, but was known as Rock House Station on the U.S. Mail contract. George Hulbert, an experienced and trusted driver was in charge of the "home station" at Pawnee. Graysons was the first station encountered on the original trail 14 miles beyond Pawnee. In one account, Frank Root says the cutoff terminated at Graysons and was 46 miles in length. In another passage he states that the cutoff was 35 miles in length, intercepting the original trail 3 miles west of Pawnee Station.
Marysville supporters continued to harass the Overland Stage. One dark night, during high water on the Big Blue, the ferry boat was cut adrift. Although it was recovered intact, considerable delay and inconvenience was caused to the stage company. Matters finally came to a head in April 1863 when unknown persons dug a ditch across the trail between Guittard's and Oketo. The stage covered this portion of the route at night. Enoch Cummings, an experienced driver was on the box, but he drove into the trap and was thrown from his seat. No one was seriously injured in the wreck, but one of the passengers was a U.S. Army general who reported the incident to his superiors at Ft. Leavenworth. In due course, a detachment of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry was dispatched to Marysville to protect the U. S. Mail and prevent further violence.
Holladay accepted defeat, and for the balance of his ownership of the Overland Stage, the coaches rolled through Marysville. But railroad construction spelled the end of stage coaching in eastern Kansas. In 1866 Holladay sold out to Wells Fargo and Co., and all stock and equipment was moved to the end of the rail line at Junction City.