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The Pony Express in Nemaha County

by Morris W. Werner


The Pony Express from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, was established in 1860 to meet the growing demand for rapid communications with the West Coast. The service was a spin-off of the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Co. of Leavenworth, which already held the weekly U.S. Mail contract from St. Joe to Salt Lake City. It was to be expected that the new venture would closely follow the stage route on the eastern division, making use of existing stage stations wherever possible. However, the Pony Express had special requirements not shared by the COC&PP Express. The road traveled by the slower and heavier coaches was necessarily determined by the terrain. It wound along divides between streams, deviating from the most direct route to cross major streams at suitable fords. The Pony Express, on the other hand, was free to travel cross country, shortening the total distance substantially. They also required relay stations at more frequent intervals than the stages.

Major wagon roads were plotted by the Kansas Territorial Surveys of 1857-60, and generally reflect the route traveled by the stage line. Since the Pony Express came into existence near the end of this period, the Surveys do not show the Pony Express route except where the stage route and Pony Express were coincidental. Short cuts taken by the Pony Express are not shown on the Surveys.

The generally accepted Pony Express route in Kansas is: Elwood, Wathena, Johnson's Ranch, Troy, Cold Spring, Syracuse, Valley Home, Kennekuk, Whitehead, Kickapoo, (Granada?), Log Chain, Seneca, Ash Point, Guittard's, Marysville and Cottonwood (or Hollenberg). Not all these points are believed to be Pony Express stations. Kennekuk, Seneca and Marysville were home stations, while Wathena, Johnson's Ranch, and Whitehead were perhaps only way-stations, because of their proximity to known stations. There is reason to question whether Granada was on the route.

The Pony Express route in Nemaha County is a matter of some controversy. Maps supplied by Kansas State Historical Society indicate that it entered the county in the NE1/4 S1 T4S R14E one mile north of Granada and pursued a direct line to Log Chain, Seneca and Ash Point, exiting the county at the southwest corner of the NW1/4 S6 T2S R11E.

The first map of Kansas based on the Territorial Surveys was published in 1860 by Johnson and Ward (J. H. Colton, cartographer). This map, showing the Pony Express route, was published while the Express was operational. The route shown by Colton extended west from Kennekuk along the south boundary of the Kickapoo Reserve to the hamlet of Powhattan, located in the extreme southwest corner of Brown County. This village is not to be confused with the present town of the same name south of Hiawatha. From Powhattan the road turned northwest to "Locknanes" on Locknane (Muddy) Creek. Colton was misinformed as to the location of many Kansas settlements, but Kennekuk, Powhattan and Capioma are correctly located. If "Locknanes" is his name for Pleasant Spring/Granada, then it, too, is approximately correct. There is no other contemporary source which identifies this road as the Pony Express route, and Colton may have been purposely misled by Powhattan promoters.

David Locknane settled on Muddy Creek at Pleasant Spring in 1856, and succeeded N. H. Rising as proprietor of the Granada Hotel in 1860. He was postmaster at Pleasant Spring 1856-64, at which date the name was officially changed to Granada. For some years Muddy Creek was known as Locknane's Creek, but the United States Geological Survey now recognizes the original name. Locknane has been widely corrupted to Locklane, Lockman, etc.

Log Chain Station was established in 1860 by N. H. Rising specifically for the Pony Express. It is located on Log Chain Branch of Muddy Creek in the SW1/4 S19 T3S R14E. The original log cabin, covered with modern siding, still stands. Some have suggested that this was the stage station described by Richard Burton in August 1860 as "Locknan's (sic) or Big Muddy Station....a few log and timber structures near a creek...." 25 miles west of Kennekuk. Burton does not identify Kickapoo or Log Chain, and the stage station he mentions was perhaps located at the Military Road crossing of Muddy Creek in the SE1/4 S17 T3S R14E, about 1 miles northeast of Log Chain. Another possible location is the Muddy Creek crossing at Granada, on a road which reached Log Chain south of Log Chain Branch. This road is not shown on the Surveys, but it apparently existed before 1857 when Col. Albert Sidney Johnson's expedition crossed here on his way to Utah during the Mormon War. Tradition says the branch was named due to difficulties experienced when crossing his heavy supply train.

Frank Root, who was employed as messenger by the Overland Stage Co. in 1863 states that the Pony Express, "....diverged a little northwesterly (from Kennekuk) across the Kickapoo Indian Reservation via Granada, Log Chain, Seneca, Ash Point, Guittard's, Marysville and Hollenberg...." Mr. Root is a recognized authority on the Overland Stage and there is no doubt that Granada was on the stage route when it was taken over by Ben Holladay in 1862. Since the Pony Express was terminated in 1861, two years before Mr. Root's employment, it is possible that he was mistaken about the Pony route through Granada. This route added about a mile to the route suggested by Kansas State Historical Society.

Seneca is not shown on the Surveys, and the Military Road is shown crossing the South Fork of Nemaha River at Richmond two miles north. The stage line and Pony Express apparently left the Military Road near the aborted townsite of Richland two miles east of Seneca. John Smith was postmaster and proprietor of Smith's Hotel, home station on the Pony Express. The original structure was demolished in 1972, but a marker was erected in 1938 on the original site at the east end of Main Street. Leaving Seneca, the stage and Pony Express trail passed northwest, rejoining the Military Road at the crossing of Wildcat Creek in the NE1/4 S24 T2S R11E.

Ash Point, ten miles northwest of Seneca, was the locale of "Uncle John's Grocery" mentioned by Richard Burton in 1860. It was established by John O'Laughlin in 1857. A well and cemetery mark the site and a historical marker was dedicated in 1931. Frank Root identified the stage station as Laramie Creek, which Capt. Randolph B. Marcy called Little Nemaha Creek in 1859. This creek is now named Negro Creek, and the campsite and stage station was perhaps located near the head of this stream a half mile southeast of Ash Point.

After 135 years, little physical evidence remains of the Pony Express in Nemaha County. The gently rolling terrain is dotted with well-kept farmsteads. Cultivated fields have erased the once well-traveled Pony trail. It was, after all, only a brief interlude--barely 18 months--which ended in October 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph was completed.

Nemaha County settlers before 1865 were intimately acquainted with the old trail. Perhaps descendants still live nearby. Don Rising, son of N. H. Rising, was a Pony rider at age sixteen. His sister, Alma, married Dr. J. W. Graham of Capioma, a Union Army veteran. These families moved to Wetmore in the 1870s after completion of the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad. Some members of this family continued to live in Wetmore in the 1930s.

Orrin Gage founded Pacific City in 1856 at the head of Log Chain Branch. This settlement was at the center of S24 T3S R13E, one mile west of Log Chain Station. It was a much appreciated oasis on the old trail from Granada to Seneca, which rejoined the Military Road in S14 T3S R13E. Orrin Gage, Jr., still owned this site in 1912, according to the Atlas of Nemaha County. The Gage family probably watched the Pony couriers from the front porch of their hotel, which stood until 1902. Walter Gage, another member of this family, was proprietor of a hotel at Capioma at this same period.

Numerous descendants of John O'Laughlin lived in Nemaha County in the mid-twentieth century. Kathleen O'Laughlin held an important post in State government in Topeka.

Several Overland Stage drivers have Nemaha County connections. Robert Sewell, alias "Old Bob Ridley," settled at Log Chain. William F. Letson was postmaster at Granada in 1864, and Ed "Sandy" Sterling operated "The Overland Stables" at Seneca for 25 years after his driving days were over.

Pony Express riders with Nemaha County credentials include Melvin (Melville?) Baughn, hanged at Seneca in Sept. 1868 for the murder of J. S. Dennis, and Johnnie Frey, said to have ridden the 32 mile round trip from Seneca to Granada in one hour and twenty minutes. Frey was traditionally the first rider out of St. Joe in April 1860. Jack Keetley was another rider known to have crossed Nemaha County on numerous occasions.

The Pony Express literally put Nemaha County settlements "on the map," and wrote them into the pages of history. Nationally recognized personalities, including Mark Twain, Sir Richard Burton, Albert D. Richardson, Henry Villard and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody wrote dramatic accounts of the Pony Express, which have captured the imagination of generations of Americans. It is ironic that some of these stations can no longer be positively located.

From the present perspective, it seems probable that Log Chain was a relay station during the entire life of the Pony Express. Moreover, Granada Hotel was probably erected in 1859 specifically as the COC&PP Express stage station by N. H. Rising. Rising and Locknane were closely allied in these two enterprises, since the Pony Express was a joint venture with the COC&PP Express. It may be that a relay station was added at Granada for the Pony Express, taking advantage of services provided by the stage station. Although this route added to the total distance, it divided the 14 mile distance between Kickapoo and Log Chain into two nearly equal segments. Perhaps fresh mounts could cover the additional distance in less time than a single pony covered the original 13 mile trail.

COMPARATIVE TABLE OF DISTANCES

                          Burton Root Drake BLM St. Joseph 0.0 0.0 Elwood
(Missouri River)  (1.8)  1.8 Wathena (Settlements)  5.0 5.0 Johnson's
Ranch - 4.8 Troy 6.0 2.5 Cold Spring 11.2 5.4 Syracuse - 3.4 Valley Home
10.0 7.3 Kennekuk 8.0 0.0 0.0 8.0 Kickapoo - 12.0 - 11.7 Locknanes 25.0 -
20.0 13.8* Log Chain - 13.0 - 11.2** Seneca 18.0 11.0 18.0 11.1*** Ash
Point 7.0 12.0 - 12.0 Guittard's 13.0 12.0 27.0 12.4 Marysville (Palmetto
City)14.0 15.0 Cottonwood 11.0 24.0 11.3 Walnut Creek 6.0 6.0 
*It is 13.8 m. from Kickapoo Station to the Military Road crossing of Muddy Creek (Burton's Locknan Station?)
**It is 11.2 m. from Kickapoo Station to Log Chain by assumed route of Pony Express. If route is measured through Granada, as per Frank Root, the distance is 12.0 miles.
***The distance from Log Chain to Seneca is 11.1 miles; it is the same distance from the Military Road crossing of Muddy Creek to Seneca. The distance from Granada to Seneca is 18 miles. It is interesting to note that Burton and Drake both agree that it was 18 m. from "Locknanes" to Seneca.


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