Thirty-Two Mile Station

Thirty-two Mile Creek Station
The first white men known to travel the route that would later become the Oregon Trail were employees of Astor's Fur Company.  Leaving Astoria on the Columbia River in June, 1812, they traveled overland, eventually following the North Platte River downstream to the Missouri.  During the 1820s and 1830s, mountain men and fur company employees followed the same route.

In 1830, William Sublette, a fur trader, left Saint Louis with 81 men and ten wagons.  They were the first wagon train to follow the Little Blue and the Platte Rivers.  In 1832, the Wyeth party became the first group of settlers to reach Oregon.  They were also the first emigrants to follow the Oregon Trail route across Adams County.

In May, 1843, over one thousand people gathered in Independence, Missouri to organize for the trip to the Willamette Valley in Oregon.  This event was later considered the beginning of the Oregon Trail.  After that several thousand people a year followed the trail to Oregon until 1848 when gold was discovered in California.  As a result of the 1849-1851 gold rush, the trail across Adams county became the most traveled trail in the world.

To protect emigrants on the trail, Fort Kearny was moved in 1848 from Nebraska City to a site south of the Platte in present day Kearney County.  It and Fort Laramie in Wyoming served as rest stops and mail stations for the travelers.  Their blacksmith shops and stores also served civilians.  The government granted a contract in 1857 to Russell, Majors & Waddell, a freighting firm, to supply the western forts and the Utah expedition.

The Colorado gold rush of 1859-1860, resulted in greatly increased traffic on the trail, which was also the best route to Denver.  Because stagecoach passengers had to obtain meals along the route, the great thoroughfare soon was dotted with "stations" also called "ranches."  The usual station was a small building of logs, or sod, with an attached stable and corral.  Many stations sold groceries, general merchandise and liquor by the bottle or drink, as well as restaurant meals.  Emigrant trains also camped near the stations at night for supplies and protection from Indians.

Due to increased freight, passenger, and mail business, in 1859 William Russell of Russell, Majors & Waddell, formed the Leavenworth & Pikes Peak Express.  In June, the Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station is not known, it is likely built the same year.  The station and furnishings were the property of Russell's Company.  The station itself was known variously as Clark's Ranche (possibly for an early proprietor), Dinner Station, and most commonly, Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station.  The last name was derived from the distance to Fort Kearny, thirty-two miles away.

Field notes from the government survey of September, 1860 contain the following notation:  "The only settlement (in township 6N, Range 10W) is on 32-Mile Creek in section 6 which is occupied as an Express Station."

The station left varied impressions on its visitors.  In The Overland Stage to California, Frank Root describes it favorably:  "ten miles farther to the northwest was another "home" station, a long, one-story log building, known as Thirty-Two Mile Creek, and it was quite an important one, too."

Sir Richard Burton, in Look of the West, 1860, gave this account:  "At 9 p.m. reaching Thirty-Two Mile Creek, we were pleasantly surprised to find an utter absence of the Irishry.  The station-master was the head of a neathanded and thrifty family from Vermont; the rooms, such as they were, looked cozy and clean, and the chickens and peaches were plump and well fixed.  Soldiers from Fort Kearny loitered about the adjoining store . . . Remounting at 10:30 p.m. and before moonrise, we threaded the gloom without other accident than the loss of a mule that was being led to the next station."

In A Trip to Pike's Peak printed in 1861, C.M. Clark describes:  "On leaving the Little Blue River, a few hours travel brings us to a stage station, sometimes called Clark's Ranche; but we have passed in the meantime a small creek called Elm Creek, at which point there is a remarkable depression in the prairie . . . with high perpendicular banks . . . At Clark's Ranche there is noticed similar basins.  At this ranche, there is a good well of water, and it is important that the emigrant should here fill his cask and water his stock."

Samuel Word kept a diary of his 1863 trip across the plains.  On May 28th he recorded the following:  "Moved forward today some 15 miles.  We are now 32 miles from Ft. Kearny.  Am most anxious to reach Kearny for I expect to hear from home.  Have just returned from a ranch close by, where immigrants and settlers to the number of 100 are congregated engaged in genuine old-fashioned back woods dance-an old nigger was making what they call music on an old instrument that was intended for a fiddle.  The Ranche was about 12 by 14 ft. square covered with sod.  Its walls are posts put in the ground close together, with the spaces daubed with mud-a sod chimney, two doors and one window.  The house had what it would hold-the rest stood outside . . . Many of the men were drunk from rifle whiskey sold them by the proprietor of the Ranche.  His grocery was in one corner of the room.  I left them dancing."

Russell, Majors & Waddell began operating the famed Pony Express in April, 1860, and Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station played a role in this story too as it was designated a home station where riders bunked and ate meals.  But the Pony Express only lasted until October, 1881 when telegraph put it out of business.  Furthermore, it was a financial disaster for Russell, Majors & Waddell and in July, 1861, Butterfield Overland Mail took over the route and the stations.

In 1861, because of the Civil War, the federal government abandoned the Overland Mail Southern Route through Texas, and chose instead the Central Route from St. Joseph, Missouri, or Atchison, Kansas to Placerville and Sacramento, California, with side routes to Denver City and Salt Lake City.  In March, 1862 the Post Office department transferred Butterfield's mail contract to Ben Holladay.

By 1864, a freighting on the trail had reached huge proportions.  As many as 300 freight wagons a day passed Fort Kearny during the busy months of May and June.  This activity in their hunting grounds and the destruction of the buffalo herds prompted the Indians to take advantage of the reduced military strength on the frontier caused by the Civil War.  On Sunday, August 7, 1864 a band of Arapahoes, Kiowas and Sioux swept down on the stations along the trail in the Little Blue Valley.  Sixteen people lost their lives and $400,000 worth of property, primarily belonging to freighting companies, was destroyed.  For two months the U.S. Mail and most freighting stopped.  Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station did not go unscathed, its inhabitants fled to Fort Kearny.  On the trail five miles east of the station, a group of freight wagons was attacked, eight men killed and the wagons and freight destroyed.  The station was burned, never to be rebuilt after the 1864 Indian raids.

Few records have been found of the stage and Pony Express employees who lived at Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station.  Emit Cummings, however, is credited with driving the first daily mail coach from the station to Fort Kearny in 1861 and Bob Martin drove the stage from there to Fort Kearny.  Freighting teams called the "Red Rovers" and the "Benhams" are also known to have operated the station.  One of the regions best known frontiersmen, Buffalo Bill Cody, worked for the express company in this area.

Charles Emery operated the station from March, 1862 until the spring of 1864.  He then moved to the Liberty Farm Station in Clay County and was there during the Indian raids.  Later he operated a stage station at Fort Kearny.  When the railroad was completed, he retired to Beatrice.  Robert Emery, brother of Charles, was a stagecoach driver.

Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station was known for its good meals.  A story about Mrs. Emery is told in The Saga of Ben Holladay:  "For food to top them all, Holladay rated 32-Mile Station as the pace-setter.  He always stopped there, for breakfast if possible.  The cook was Mrs. Emery, wife of one of the drivers.  She always pleased him by turning out his favorite dish of griddle cakes, biscuits and bacon.  He wound up each meal by leaning back, stroking his stomach in satisfaction, and tossing a twenty-five [sic] dollar gold piece to the beaming lady."

During the 1864 Indian raids, George Comstock was operating the station.  His brother, Ansel, was operating Little Blue Station and his father, E.S. Comstock, Oak Grove Station.  They all survived.

In the spring of 1865 construction of the Union Pacific Railroad got underway at Omaha.  By the summer of 1868 the rails extended to Cheyenne.  The line was completed at Promontory Point, Utah in May, 1869.  Except for a few emigrant wagons which continued on the trail into the 1870s, the days of the Oregon Trail were over.  All the striving, toil and sacrifice passed into history.

  *Thirty-Two Mile Creek Station site is located 4 miles south of Hiway 6 and Juniata corner to the dead end, 1-1/2 miles east, _ mile north on east side of road.

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