Moseying: History of the Southern Llano Estacado
An early New Year's Day on the Llano Estacado
January 8, 2011
"What a beginning for a new year," groused the stagecoach driver as he cracked open the door of the Llano Estacado station of the first day of 1860. Outside a near whiteout blizzard was raging, with winds in the excess of 40 miles an hour. Six inches of snow piled up in the lee of the station and the shed where mules stood shivering, with breath-rime on their noses. "I am not going to chance it, we are staying here." The stage had pulled in as the snow started in the middle of the night, and the driver had told the passengers to get some sleep on the floor of the station.
"We have a long haul to Castle Gap and Horsehead Crossing. If we lost our way, we would die." The stationman sighed. If the stage and its five passengers and two crew stayed long, he'd run short of food before the next supply run, unless he was lucky and buffalo or pronghorn drifted with the storm and passed by. The stationmaster was a quiet man. He had lost his wife to dysentery last summer. His youngest son had left home when she died, and headed to California to work in the mines. His daughters were married and were back "home," back near the old family homestead near Fort Smith, Arkansas. He had told one of his son-in-laws to farm the land, and left, not understanding why he left.
The Butterfield Overland Company was too cheap to hire two men for the station, so when a young "Spotted Jack" had walked up to the station cursing his bad luck of having his horse locoed, the stationmaster had let him stay on in exchange for food, provided he did the hunting and helped wrangle the mules, taking the relay teams to graze. The young man had been born and raised in Indian Territory and had attended the Oak Ridge Mission near Wewoka, run by John Bemo, the Seminole missionary, along with John Lilly and his wife. His mother had been half Seminole and half-black. His father had been half-white and half-Seminole, and both had come from Florida to Oklahoma in 1834 along with Bemo. They were dead, of typhoid fever.
The stage passengers were all of one family. The man was an East Coast banker, headed for San Francisco to work for Leland Stanford and his dream of a transcontinental railroad. His wife and three children were along, and everything that was not freight or mail was theirs. Most of their household belongings had been shipped on a boat, but the wife had a deathly fear of going on a ship around Cape Horn, so she had demanded to go by stage. One of the children had a nagging cough and a fever.
The stationmaster had a good number of buffalo robes from buffalo he had shot in November. He had dried the meat, but he had not dried the meat quite well enough and it had gone bad. The previous fall it had rained for a week when a dying hurricane from the gulf stalled out over the southern Llano Estacado. The playas to the north had filled up, so a herd of around 10,000 buffalo had grazed further west in their southerly migration and had passed the station on the first blue norther in November. It had been a warm late fall and early winter, and this was the first snowstorm of the season.
The stationmaster had expected a patrol from Fort Lancaster to arrive that day with mail for the eastbound coach due the next day. He shivered unconsciously, as his imagination played with an image of the troops caught in the blizzard. At a good canter, it was just a one day ride. If the snowstorm had not hit the Fort yet, they would be caught by the blizzard as they crested the upper end of Live Oak Creek watershed about now. He wondered if the shavetail officer who was inexperienced in the weather of the region would be smart enough to turn tail and get back to the Fort instead of gambling he could find his way.
This scenario of one of the first "New Years Days" celebrated by American citizens on the Llano Estacado is fictional, but based on descriptions found in a number of books. A number of Seminoles, Seminole blacks, and Kickapoos used a western route to go from Indian Territory to their villages in Northern Mexico, trying to avoid any trouble with white landowners along the line of settlement.