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JIM: Ben Carter (part 1 of 5)

What an adventurous time it was, 100 years ago in America. And what a time of unbounded optimism in Adair County. This five part series starts today, Sunday, January 8, 2012: The mere narrative told by a writer with ten percent of Ben Carter's literary ability, would inspire. First hand information always trumps wordsmanship, but it is also added proof that there is an uncanny mastery of the art of storytelling in this land: We all know and celebrate the greats drawn from Adair County - the Samuel Langhorne Clemonses, the Capwell Wyckoffs, the Janice Holt Giles, the Mike Watsons and the Diane Campbells - but along with them, there are the lesser famed, and one wonders what made a Mark Twain famous, and we're just now learning of the Ben Carters of Breeding, Adair County, KY, of the day. Our thanks to Jim. -EW

Overland to Santa Fe, 1851 (part 1)


In 1850, Adair County native Ben Carter, then a stripling lad of eighteen, took leave of the familial hearth and home in Breeding, Ky. and went west, briefly settling in Missouri until the spring of 1851, when he embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. Sixty years later, the Adair County News published a series of five letters from Mr. Carter which detailed his journey -- an overland trip from Kansas City to Santa Fe.

Your humble transcriber took the liberty of correcting minor typographical errors; correcting and adding minor punctuation for clarification; and in a few instances, adding information in parentheses for clarification. The final installment will include a brief biographical sketch of Mr. Carter.)

Part 1 of 5, published in the April 26, 1911 Adair County News.

A Pioneer Journey: Uncle Ben Carter Writes of Wagon Journey to the Southwest, Made in 1851

The writer of this letter and four others which will follow, is a native of Adair County, and a half uncle of Mr. J.N. Coffey, of this place. He left this county many years ago. He now lives at St. Charles, Iowa.

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Editor News:--

In the year 1851, myself and three other young men decided to make a wagon journey to the southwest. Inasmuch as times and customs have undergone great changes since that time, I have thought that an account of that journey would be of some interest to Newsreaders.

Our party consisted of myself and three other young men, all of us intent on seeing the country and having a little fun before we settled down to the more serious problems of life. My home was then in Lawrence county, Mo., about 200 miles from Kansas City, which was to be our starting point. Two of our neighbors had business to transact with parties living about 50 miles from Kansas City, so they took a spring wagon with them and loaded us in with them and for their trouble they would accept nothing, but our thanks.

On arriving at Kansas City, which was then a town of 300 people, we paid 50 cents each for the privilege of laying on the hard floor--this was our lodging. The town, which is now a great metropolis, then had neither church nor school house.

About four miles out was the town of Westport. We were informed that a man there was going to start on a trip across the plains and wanted to hire a number of men to drive ox teams. So we went to see this man. Two of our party hired out to help a man dig a cistern, the other and myself went to see the man and the first question he asked us was whether we used profane language. We had to answer in the affirmative, and were informed that no one who swore could find employment there. We decided that we could quit the habit and hired out at $20 and board.

On the second day out, my partner got mad, broke his promise, was paid off and went back home, so of the four of us who started, I was the only one to stay.

My boss was a fine man, a Methodist preacher, whose name was Alex Majors. He preached every Sunday, and never traveled on the Lord's day, when it could be avoided. He had a contract of hauling freight from Kansas City to Santa Fe, for which he received $9.75 per cwt. We spent over two weeks loading these wagons with merchandise of different kinds, including 200 barrels of whiskey.

To give your readers an idea of the size of these wagons, we could set eleven barrels on each end of the wagon, then fill up the top part with boxes and other stuff. Our leads weighed from 65 to 72 hundred per wagon.

Business was on the boom, steamboats passed up and down the river every day. I remember two boat loads of Mormons that passed through with about 2,500 souls on their way to Utah to found Salt Lake City. Cholera had broken out among them, and they had about 25 or 30 dead bodies on the lower deck of the boat, and more than that number were dying. The groans of the poor wretches were not easily forgotten. They landed at Ft. Leavenworth, and from there went across country to Salt Lake.

While loading our wagons, I formed an acquaintance with an Indian that had been educated at Washington, D.C. He was a smooth card player and cleaned up every body who went up against him. I will have more to say of him later. The Delaware Indians had a town just above the boat landing. Each day the young ladies would come down to catch (should be "watch"?) us loading our boats (should be "wagons"?). They dressed pretty much like the whites except in head gear.

After our wagons were loaded we drove them ten miles from Kansas City. Next came the branding of the cattle. That was lots of fun and excitement. Each animal was branded with the letter "M" on the left hip. I presume your readers are all familiar with the methods of branding. The critter was lariated by a man on horse back, another lariat around his hind feet served to stretch him out until the hot iron did the work.

(To be continued.)

This masterpiece of literature discovered and compiled by JIM.

This story was posted on 2012-01-08 03:17:18
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