Tuesday 7th August 1860
Precisely at 8 AM appeared in front of the Patee House - the Fifth Avenue Hotel of St Jo - the vehicle destined to be our home for the next three weeks. We scrutinized it curiously.
The mail is carried by a "Concord coach," a spring wagon, comparing advantageously with the horrible vans which once dislocated the joints of men on the Suez route. The body is shaped somewhat like an English tax cart considerably magnified. It is built to combine safety, strength, and lightness, without the slightest regard to appearances. The material is well seasoned white oak - the Western regions and especially Utah, are notoriously deficient in hard woods - and the manufacturers are the well known coachwrights, Messrs Abbott of Concord, New Hampshire; the color is sometimes green, more usually red, causing the antelopes to stand and stretch their large eyes whenever the vehicle comes in sight. The wheels are five to six feet apart, affording security against capsising, with little "gather" and less "dish"; the larger have fourteen spokes and seven fellies; the smaller twelve and six. The tires are of unusual thickness, and polished like steel by the hard dry ground, and the hubs or naves and the metal nave bands are in massive proportions. The latter not unfrequently fall off as the wood shrinks, unless the wheel is allowed to stand in water; attention must be paid to resetting them, or in the frequent and heavy "sidlins" the spokes may snap off all round like pipe stems. The wagon bed is supported by iron bands or perpendiculars abutting upon wooden rockers, which rest on strong leather thoroughbraces: these are found to break the jolt better than the best steel springs, which moreover when injured, can not readily be repaired. The whole bed is covered with stout osnaburg supported by stiff bars of white oak; there is a sun shade or hood in front, where the driver sits, a curtain behind which can be raised or lowered at discretion, and four flaps on each side either folded up or fastened down with hooks and eyes. In heavy frost the passengers must be half dead with cold, but they care little for that if they can go fast .The accommodations are as follows: - In front sits the driver with usually a conductor or passenger by his side; a variety of packages, large and small, is stowed away under his leather cushion; when the brake must be put on, an operation often involving the safety of the vehicle, his right foot is planted upon an iron bar which presses by a leverage upon the rear wheels, - and in hot weather a bucket for watering the animals hangs over one of the lamps, whose companion is usually found wanting. The inside has either two or three benches fronting to the fore or placed vis a vis; they are movable and reversible, with leather cushions and hinged padded backs; unstrapped and turned down they convert the vehicle into a tolerable bed for two persons or two and a half. According to Cocker, the mail bags should be safely stowed away under these seats, or if there be not room enough, the passengers should perch themselves upon the correspondence; the jolly driver, however, is usually induced to cram the light literature between the wagon bed and the platform, or running gear beneath, and thus when ford waters wash the hubs, the letters are pretty certain to endure ablution. Behind, instead of dicky, is a kind of boot where passengers' boxes are stored beneath a stout canvas curtain with leather sides. The comfort of travel depends upon packing, the wagon; if heavy in front or rear, or if the thoroughbraces be not properly "fixed" the bumping will be likely to cause nasal hemorrhage. The description will apply to the private ambulance, or as it is called in the West "avalanche," only the latter, as might be expected, is more convenient; it is the drosky in which the vast steppes of Central America are crossed by the government employes.
On this line mules are preferred to horses as being more enduring. They are all of legitimate race, the breed between the horse and the she ass is never heard of, and the mysterious jumard is not believed to exist. In dry lands where winter is not severe - they inherit the sire's impatience of cold - they are invaluable animals; in swampy ground this American dromedary is the meanest of beasts, requiring when stalled to be hauled out of the mire before it will recover spirit to use its legs. For sureness of foot (during a journey of more than 1,000 miles, I saw but one fall and two severe stumbles) sagacity in finding the road, apprehension of danger, and general cleverness, mules are superior to their mothers: their main defect is an unhappy obstinacy derived from the other side of the house. They are great in hardihood, never sick nor sorry, never groomed nor shod even where ice is on the ground; they have no grain, except five quarts per diem when snow conceals the grass; and they have no stable save the open corral.
Moreover, a horse once broken down requires a long rest: the mule, if hitched up or ridden for short distances, with frequent intervals to roll and repose, may still, though reste, get over 300 miles in tolerable time. The rate of travel on an average is five miles an hour; six is good: between seven and eight is the maximum, which sinks in hilly countries to three or four. I have made behind a good pair, in a light wagon, forty consecutive miles at the rate of nine per hour, and in California a mule is little thought of if it can not accomplish 250 miles in forty eight hours. The price varies from $100 to $130 per head when cheap; rising to $150 or $200, and for fancy animals from $250 to $400. The value, as in the case of the Arab, depends upon size: "rats," or small mules, especially in California, are not esteemed. The "span" - the word used in America for beasts well matched - is of course much more expensive. At each station on this road, averaging twenty five miles apart - beyond the forks of the Platte they lengthen out by one third - are three teams of four animals, with two extra, making a total of fourteen, besides two ponies for the express riders. In the East they work beautifully together, and are rarely mulish beyond a certain ticklishness of temper, which warns you not to meddle with their ears when in harness, or to attempt encouraging them by preceding them upon the road. In the West, where they run half wild and are lassoed for use once a week, they are fearfully handy with their heels; they flirt out with the hind legs, they rear like goats, breaking the harness and casting every strap and buckle clean off the body, and they bite their replies to the chorus of curses and blows: the wonder is that more men are not killed. Each fresh team must be ringed half a dozen times before it will start fairly; there is always some excitement in change; some George or Harry, some Julia or Sally disposed to shirk work or to play tricks, some Brigham Young or General Harney - the Trans Vaal Republican calls his worst animal "England" - whose stubbornness is to be corrected by stone throwing or the lash.