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In 1880, travel time was quite the trip

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew
Today we think nothing of stepping into our vehicle, driving at 70 mph, along paved highways, eating at roadside restaurants, staying at nice motels, having a choice of service stations and traveling 500 miles or more in a day. It is a snap.

Not so long ago, a journey such as this was different matter altogether. Before automobiles, highways, motels and cafes, this type of journey would have required extensive planning and preparation before the attempt.

First, let us examine the area to be traveled.

A study of the actual mileage exhibited in a map of the Texas Panhandle, No Man's Land, the Western Indian Territory, the Cherokee Outlet, the Cherokee Strip and the southwestern section of the State of Kansas, drawn in the year 1880, bring travel at that time into focus.

Keep in mind now, the conveyances at this time were travel by horseback, covering 20 to 40 miles per day, travel by buckboard or buggy, 15 to 25 miles per day, or wagon, usually 15 miles per day average, that is if all went well, the weather held and no breakdowns.

Let us suppose we lived in Old Tascosa and decided to make a trip to Dodge City, Kan. The trail length in 1880 was 240 miles. By horseback, it took eight days if you hurried. By buggy it required 12 days with no bad luck. By wagon, be prepared to spend 15 to 16 days on the road. By "being prepared" I mean you should have food for both man and beast, shelter from the elements, and carry some protection from anyone meaning you harm. By the way, a loaded freight wagon hauling from Dodge to Tascosa required a full month to complete.

Along the way, you would pass Little Blue Station, Zulu Stockade, Central City, Beaver City, Meade, Fowler, Dugan's Store and, finally, Dodge City.

Remember, these places were not towns with accommodation, but mostly buffalo hide-covered soddies known more for their whiskey served rather than way-stations for travelers.
Old Mobeetie, Texas
"Near the jail museum are several buildings from Old Mobeetie along with a wooden flagpole, the last surviving remnant from Fort Elliott." - Terry Jeanson, September 2007
How about a visit to Ft. Elliott and Old Mobeetie? From Tascosa to Mobeetie on Sweetwater Creek was 100 miles without a single inhabited dwelling along the way. Better be prepared.

Let us travel from Mobeetie to Dodge City, a distance of 286 miles by trail. You crossed into Indian Territory, crossed the Cherokee Outlet, the Cherokee Strip before reaching Dodge City.

You could stay at Polly's Hotel, a questionable abode, Buzzard's Roost or Camp Supply before the last leg of the journey - 100 miles of open Kansas prairie. Don't worry about getting lost, as all trails were plainly marked unless you got caught in a blizzard. The camping areas were easy to find, most with good water and firewood.

But, there was always the chance of meeting Indians off the reservations, outlaws looking for an easy target, weather of all dimensions, flooded creeks and rivers, runaway teams, stampeding herds and the many trials of human expectations.

All these things were considered challenges of everyday life in that time, but without the advantages of a cellphone of course. So, Bon voyage, hasta la vista and goodbye until we see you again. That is, if you make it!

Delbert Trew - "It's All Trew"
April 26, 2011 column
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This page last modified: April 26, 2011