User Rating: 1 / 5

Star ActiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar InactiveStar Inactive

The facilities for conveniently carrying persons or property from one place to another affects in a measure the physical welfare of every human being, and all progressive nations desire to secure the advantages to be derived from the best systems of transportation. This country of ours has tried many experiments and been rapidly benefited in the results obtained.

It hardly seems to us possible, in this day of improved and rapid travel, that the entire system of transportation is still in the transition state, and in some parts of the country the very expedients which we have tried, improved upon and cast away, are at present in use. But our topic deals with other days than these, and we must hasten back to the beginning of things here in America.

According to Indian tradition, it is believed that within a brief period prior to the discovery of America by Columbus, the Indians had travelled over a large portion of the country between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and were familiar with the topographical features of the continent. Their frequent wars and their long continuance in the hunter state, made them necessarily a migratory race and their pathways were the first trails for the white settlers when they came. When we travel over crooked roads and even crooked streets in our towns, how many of us stop to think that we are travelling the same road as blazed out for us by an Indian or trodden down for us by an early settler's straying cow?

As the Indian, as a guide through the almost impenetrable forests was of great aid to the early settlers, so also was the canoe of the Indian a great service. Of course the white man crossed the ocean in larger boats, but when it came to travelling from point to point, after reaching America, the lighter craft of the Indians was the only possible means of water travel, for the numerous falls or rapids, and the frequent portages between distinct water systems, made the use of a heavy boat impossible. These canoes were of birch bark, buffalo skin, stretched over wooden frames, or even large trees felled, the trunk cut into sections and split, then hollowed out by burning first and the ashes scooped out with the hands or pieces of shell, until the sides and bottom were reduced to the utmost thinness consistent with buoyancy and security. The method of propelling these canoes was usually by paddle, but some had sails. The size varied from twelve feet to forty feet in length, and they were capable of carrying from two to forty men. Of course the larger canoes were used principally for state occasions, military purposes, or when large stores of supplies were to be transported.

One old historian tells of the way the sails were used. The Indian stood in the bow of the canoe and with his hands held up two corners of his blanket, and the other two corners were either fastened to his ankles or simply placed under each foot, while in the stern of the canoe, the squaw sat and steered. The scheme was an ingenious one and must have been a grateful change to the poor squaw, who otherwise would have had to propel the canoe by means of the paddle.

Of the Indian canoe Longfellow says:
    The forest's life was in it,
    All its mystery and its magic,
    All the lightness of the birch tree,
    All the toughness of the cedar'
    All the larch's supple sinews;
    And it floated on the river
    Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
    Like a yellow water lily.

On account of the dense forests and the difficulty experienced in penetrating them, the early settlements were upon the banks of streams and consequently the water channels and seaports, for communication between the various settlements, as well as with the mother country, were a necessity and the very first legislation with regard to transportation related to boats, canoes and landings. It was a long time before any internal development of the land took place, because these waterways formed the main reliance for all movements of persons or property. Each of the thirteen original colonies had one or more seaports and the main current of trade, during the colonial period, and in fact up to much later times, was between these ports and the interior districts on the one hand, and the outer world and the ocean on the other. Commerce between the colonies was limited and all movements from one colony to another were by various kinds of sea going vessels. All the boats subsequently built by the European settlers showed the influence of the Indian canoe . The raft was another method of the Indian for transporting property, and from this grew the various kinds of float boats. The raft itself is still in use but more as a means of transporting the lumber of which it is composed than as a means for carrying other freight.

For land travel, when the Indians had burdens to carry they did it by means of the burden strap, an arrangement of leather bands which fitted around the forehead and was lashed to a litter borne upon the back. It was usually about fifteen feet in length and braided into a belt in the center, three or four inches wide. This carrying of burdens upon the back is the one method of transportation which combines the greatest amount of human effort with the least practical effect. But it was at the time the only method available and formed one of the most serious privations and discomforts of savage life.

It is recorded in the case of a white man, who helped the Indians in one of their wars, early in 1600, that he was wounded and could not walk. Thereupon he was placed in a basket of wicker work, doubled up, and fastened with cords until he could scarcely move, and so carried upon the backs of Indians for several days.

In winter we are told they had some sort of primitive sledges, and they used dogs in some sections. Then, of course, they had the snow shoe, which, to them, was a rapid way of travelling, but when the poor white explorers or captives travelled with the Indians on winter expeditions, they suffered sharply until they caught the hang of it. Chilblains were not the worst of the suffering, for the tie over the instep and the loops over the toes caused friction, and bleeding, frozen feet were the result.

When the white man came, he, in time, brought horses and these were much appreciated by the Indians, who seemed to know intuitively how to manage and use them. In place of carrying burdens upon his own back, the red man fastened one end of his tent poles to the horse and fastened upon them the skins which composed his tent, and allowed the poles to trail upon the ground. This support furnished a method of transporting baggage, household effects and even women and children vastly superior to the old way.

The old trails of the red man, over which for many years they had traveled with their peculiar but rapid walk, now furnished bridle paths for the white man and his horse, and many of those bridle paths are today in use. Of course, the first sturdy settlers walked these trails as did the Indians, and we have the history of one journey of Governor Winthrop, when he was carried, at least over streams, "pick-a-pack" upon the back of an Indian. This is a very human, if undignified, picture of the worthy governor.

An early explorer in Virginia said that had she "but horses and kine and were inhabited with English, no realm in Christendom were comparable to it." As these blessings were all added to Virginia in course of time, we must believe her the fairest of colonies. As the Indians were too poor to buy the carefully guarded horses of the early settlers, and could not steal them, they were compelled to wait until races of wild horses were developed from the horses brought to Florida, Mexico and California by the Spaniards. The better grade of horse was used by the warrior and for travel, but the poorer horses for the drudgery and were quite naturally called "squaw ponies." In the early days before the carriage was introduced, wounded or sick persons were carried upon stretchers between two horses.

The early means of transportation on land, in the colonies, was by horseback, for either persons or property, and this was the universal method of travel until nearly the beginning of the 19th century. It was a common custom for the post rider to also act as a squire of dames, and sometimes he would have in charge four or six women travelling on horseback from one town to another. It was to the north that the carriage came first, and in the early days only the very wealthy families had them. And with the coming of the carriage, the colonists realized that they needed something better than an Indian trail or bridle path, and the agitation for good roads had its birth. One can form some idea of what the so-called roads must have been in 1704, when we read that the mail from Philadelphia to New York "is now a week behind and not yet com'd in." The mail after 1673 was carried by horseback between New York and Boston, but as late as 1730, the postmaster was advertising for applications from persons who desired to perform the _foot_ post to Albany that winter. The route was largely up the Hudson river on skates. In 1788 it took four days for mail to go through from New York to Boston in good weather--in winter much longer.

The commerce between the settlements on the coast and those in southwestern Pennsylvania and western Virginia was carried on by pack horse. The people in these districts sent their peltry and furs by pack horse to the coast and there exchanged them for such articles as they needed in their homes and for work upon their farms. Several families would form an association, a master-driver would be chosen and the caravan move on its slow way to the settlement east of the mountains. Afterwards this pack horse system was continued by common carrier organizations.

The earliest legislation in reference to highways was in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1639, providing for supervisors, and the relaying of the roads so as to be more convenient for travel, with authority to "lay out the highways where they may be most convenient, notwithstanding any man's property, or any corne ground, so as it occasion not the pulling down of any man's house, or laying open any garden or orchard." The law in force in Pennsylvania, prior to the grant to Penn was part of the system established for the New York Colony in 1664. In 1700 a revision of existing road laws was made, giving control of county roads to county officials, but the king's highway and public roads to be controlled by governor and council.

The fact appears that while the early roads in the American colonies were bad, England had few, if any, good roads, and the improvement, when begun, was so rapid that driving for pleasure was introduced here long before it was known in England. In fact, the idea was carried back to England by officers who fought in the Revolution.

When stage coaches were started in the colonies in 1718, from Boston to Rhode Island, there was no wagon road over this route, it not being built until 1721. It was a common thing for the passengers of the early stage coaches to have to get out, and help lift or push the stage coach out of the mud, and the objection raised to this was the reason for the introduction of the corduroy road. If one has had the doubtful pleasure of riding over a short portion of such road, one knows that it was a question whether long stretches of it and being shaken around in the coach like peas in a pod, was much improvement over being dumped out into the mud, while the coach was lifted out of the mire with which the old roads were padded. With the development of stage routes, came bridges, ferries, turnpikes and national roads. As the passengers and light baggage were carried by stage, the freight traffic was carried on by the old time teamsters, with their huge wagons, with six or eight horses attached to each, and moving along the turnpikes, traveling together for company and protection. These turnpikes presented a bustling appearance, with the dashing stage coaches, parties on horseback, the long trains of teamsters' huge wagons, and the many taverns that lined these thoroughfares. The passenger on the stage coach had time to study nature and his surroundings as he passed along, and to be fortunate enough to secure the box seat with the stage driver and hear, as one rode along, the gossip of the route, made a joy one does not experience in our days of rapid travel.

Following the institution of national roads and staging, came the introduction of canals and artificial waterways, as a means of transportation for freight in the carrying on of commerce. A short canal, for the transporting of stone, was built in Orange County, New York, as early as 1750. The first public canal company was the James River Company, incorporated in 1785. From that time on there have been vast improvements in methods and much of our freight is moved by means of the large canals all over our country.

The next development in transportation facilities was the railroad, the first of which was the "Experiment" railroad built to carry stone to Bunker Hill Monument. Oliver Evans, in 1772, began to experiment upon the construction of a steam carriage to run upon the ground, but it remained for John Stevens to combine the steam carriage and the railway. The first rail cars, or coaches, were run by horse power. It is interesting to read Mr. Evans' prediction, which is as follows:

"I do verily believe that the time will come when carriages propelled by steam will be in general use, as well for the transportation of passengers as goods, travelling at the rate of fifteen miles an hour, or three hundred miles per day." In 1813 he predicted that the time would come when a traveller could leave Washington in the morning, breakfast at Baltimore, dine at Philadelphia and sup at New York, all in the same day, travelling "almost as fast as birds fly, fifteen to twenty-miles an hour."

In 1811, Robert Fulton, journeying by stage to Pittsburgh, said, "The day will come, gentlemen, I may not live to see it, though some of you who are younger will probably--when carriages will be drawn over these mountains by steam engines at a rate more rapid than that of a stage on the smoothest turnpike."

A howl of protest went up from the old stage drivers when the railroad was projected, but as every public necessity had its will, the railroads had come to stay. There were many accidents on these primitive roads, and these were made the most of by the opposition. One old stager said, "You got upset in a stage coach, and there you were. You got upset in a rail car--and where are you?"

From trail in the days of the Indians to T-rail of recent years seems a slow, tedious advance, but as some one has said:

"When we reflect upon the obstinate opposition that has been made by a great majority to every step towards improvement; from bad roads to turnpikes, from turnpikes to canals, from canal to railways for horse carriages, it is too much to expect the monstrous leap from bad roads to railways for steam carriages at once. One step in a generation is all we can hope for."