One-Way Ticket to Kansas, the autobiography of Frank M. Stahl, as told and illustrated by Margaret Whittemore. University of Kansas Press, 1959. Transcribed by John D. Meredith
VII The One-Way Ticket
A semblance of peace and order returned to Kansas in August, 1856 with the appointment of John W. Geary as territorial governor. He succeeded in disbanding armed forces and in lifting the blockade on the Missouri River. Travel became more secure as violence and strife diminished.
This brought a fresh wave of enthusiasm throughout the North and a determination to rush more settlers into the territory. A group of young men from western Ohio decided to start off the following spring, and I was eager to join them. My parents thought I was too young; the others were all over twenty, while I was just fifteen. I had never been away from home, except for that short excursion to Dayton. Father said he had plans for sending me to college in the not too distant future.
I did considerable talking among my friends, however, and declared that I was going to Kansas. As time went on, some members of the party began to hesitate. I, too, might have lost my resolve, had it not been for a brief conversation overheard one evening. A group of boys walking past our house after dark did not know I was within earshot.
"When the day comes for the company to leave, Frank will be missing," one predicted.
"If he does go, he'll turn right around and come back," added another.
That settled it! I was not a quitter!
Father reluctantly gave his consent and said he would buy the ticket. Mother packed two carpet bags with
trousers and shirts and other clothing she had made for me. She also insisted on putting in a woolen blanket and a coverlet woven with a beautiful bird and tree design. No telling how cold the Kansas winters might be!
In the midst of these preparations I took the precaution to hide my precious skates in a safe place, where I alone could find them upon my return. They were my most prized possession. Swinging hand over hand along the rafters in the barn, I managed to fasten them thirty feet above the threshing floor.
I said goodbye to all my friends, fully expecting to be back in two years. March 25 was the day set for our departure. There were warm hugs and embraces all around the family. Mother had filled a big box with good things to eat on the train. Then Father drove me to Greenville, where I was to join the rest of the party.
What was our surprise to find only one person there! He was Absalom Holman, a forty-five-year-old bachelor, the oldest member to sign up. I was the youngest. The other fourteen volunteers had backed out.
Father looked at me questioningly. Would I change my mind and return home with him? Perhaps he hoped so; or was he glad that I stuck to my purpose? There was no turning back for me now; so he went to the window to buy my ticket. I do not remember what it cost; but I do know that emigrants traveled all the way from Boston to Kansas on less than fifty dollars.
As he handed me the ticket, Father said, "I'll give you enough money to bring you home again, if you decide not to stay."
"No," I replied, "only a few silver coins, I want to make sure I do stay."
The conductor called, "All aboard!" I swung my carpet bags onto the train.
Father's strong hand grasped mine.
"Send us a letter as soon as you can," he said.
Mr. Holman and I climbed aboard. The whistle blew, there was a grinding of wheels, and the train began to move. I waved to Father and kept my eyes on the station platform until he appeared to be only a speck in the distance. With a swelling heart, I watched the unreeling of the track, widening the gap between me and all the associations of childhood.
It was an ordinary daycoach in which we now settled ourselves. Sleepers were still unknown. Railroads were only beginning to cover the Midwest with their networks of iron. The speed of two hundred miles and more in a day seemed remarkable compared with the eight miles an hour of the very fastest running stagecoach. The rhythmic clicking of wheels on the rail joints and the strange sensation when we were swung around the curves added to the novelty of this first great adventure. We were on our way to Kansas!
The expanse of open land in Indiana and Illinois, extending like endless prairie in all directions, brought a new concept of the vastness of our country. When we reached the great Mississippi, the cars were ferried across, to begin the final stretch of our railroad travel. Railway construction west of the Mississippi only that year had reached Jefferson City, near the center of Missouri. This was then the terminus of what later became the Missouri Pacific Railroad.
Our fellow passengers kept up a heated discussion of the Kansas question and decided opinions were expressed on both sides. Mr. Holman and I concluded it was safer
to listen than to talk. One vociferous man, the overseer of a large plantation worked by slaves, declared in a gruff voice, "If niggers were selling for ten cents an acre, not one free-state man in a hundred could buy a bunch of wool."
It was something of a relief to get off the train at Jefferson City. Here we were to embark on one of the eight steamers comprising the "Lightning Line," which the same pioneer railroad had put into operation the year before. A canopied board walk led from the station to the dock. Every day, when the passenger train from St. Louis pulled into Missouri's capital city, it found a steamboat moored there, ready for the up-river run to Weston.