P.G. Scott’s diary and David Clapsaddle’s commentary supplements Clapsaddle’s Rendezvous article that appeared in an issue of Wagon Tracks.
By David K. Clapsaddle
The Kansas Pacific Railway pushed westward out of Kansas in 1869, extending its tracks into Colorado Territory where the fledgling town of Kit Carson, Colo. was in its first stage of development.
P.G. Scott’s report:
“Tuesday, Aug. 23, 1870. Started last night at 3 p.m. and were soon out of the sand when we had good roads but vegetation is much the same.
“It hardly ever rains here, ‘ergo’ (Ergo is an archaic word from Latin meaning therefore, hence) things cannot grow. Very dusty, so I rode most of the time till we camped for supper. Saw a few antelope. Stopped 2 hours, starting at 9 p.m.
“It was nice and cool so I walked, then I drove for the boss. At 1 a.m., a wheel broke. The boss stayed with the wagon and they hitched the oxen to the sutler wagon and I drove, walking all night.
“We got to water at 5 a.m. The cattle were very tired, and men too. After all, it is only stagnant holes in a kind of creek bed and is not good. I wish I had a good drink. Made 27 miles since 3 p.m. yesterday, going slow most of the time.
“I saw an old Mexican. He sat down right beside us and did it, taking his shirt off and going over it carefully. I also see a few scrubby trees by the water, the first I have seen within 200 miles of here.”
Sutler was the original title of the civilian appointed to operate a retail business at army posts. In 1867, the designation was changed to post trader.
Regardless, the title of sutler continued in unofficial use for some time.
Apparently, the sutler wagon was the vehicle used to transport goods from the railhead to Fort Union by someone who contracted with the post trader, perhaps Pathea. The record indicates that Fort Union’s post trader from April 17, 1866, to April 17, 1869, was C. W. Adams. His successor was John C. Dent, Oct. 6, 1870, to April 12, 1878. No evidence remains as to an interim post trader.
P.G. Scott’s report:
“Wednesday, Aug. 24, 1970. Stayed in the same spot all night. Retired at 10 p.m. and slept until 7:30 a.m.
“Had breakfast at 10 a.m. Saw a new way of leave taking by embracing. The men were busy last night fixing the wheel, putting in new spokes. Positively nothing new. The wind blows a gale today and I wish we were off. Breast a little worse today and very bad cough.
“Tell it not in Gath. (Tell it not in Gath is an Old Testament quotation from II Samuel 1:20) I ate a piece of prairie dog and half cooked at that, this for supper last night.
“The water is alkaline at our last watering place that they think it has killed an ox belonging to a train which is camped beside us. They have been skinning it and have brought the meat in, going to eat it I suppose. Helped to ‘set’ the tire on the wheel that was broken, a kind of a rough job.”
American caravans also began their “nooning” at that hour. Tom Cranmer wrote, “Corral about 10 o’clock, and lay by four hours. Here you rest during the heat of the day. But if you get breakfast before the morning drive, you will be in the dust and the heat of the day.”
Scott’s use of the word embracing is cryptic. One meaning of the word is encircling. Scott meant that the wagons drawn up in a circle were dispatched in a circuitous manner as they departed. Scott’s reference to “Breast a little worse today and very bad cough’ confirms his lung disorder, tuberculosis, known as consumption in the 19th Century.
Evidently, Scott felt he should not make a public complaint about his health, so he confided to his diary. As to the prairie dog, during his first trip to Santa Fe, William Becknell, “killed and sampled the flesh of one of these rodents and pronounced it strong and unpalatable.”
(To Be Continued)