Saturday, November 13, 2010

Benton, Wyoming


The Union Pacific Railroad began moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, 10 July 1865. Thereafter, Mormons took trains to three different Union Pacific railheads: North Platte, Nebraska, in 1867, and Laramie City and Benton, Wyoming, in 1868. The first two settlements prospered, but Benton has the distinction of becoming the first ghost town in Wyoming. (The town lasted only three months—from July through September 1868.) On the eastern edge of the Red Desert, eleven miles east of Rawlins, near the North Platte River, the site of vanished Benton is marked today by a Union Pacific milepost exactly 672.1 miles west of Omaha.

From American Experience/Transcontinental Railroad
Touring a Barren Land
"It is not a country where people are disposed to linger."
-- surveyor James Evans
"The country over which we passed was a barren desert of alkali composition. There was not a spear of grass or a drop of water in the whole distance... We have to haul our water in barrels... The team returned with casks filled with water. It was as red as blood and filled with all kinds of vermin. The horses and mules as dry as they are would not drink it. We were compelled to return twenty miles to our old camp to get water."
-- surveyor Thomas Hubbard
Republican presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant and two of his sons toured the West in the summer of 1868. They met with UP officials in the rowdy, dusty tent settlement of Benton, Wyoming. By December of that year, Benton would vanish off the map. Grant noted in a letter to his wife that his sons would someday appreciate having seen "the Buffalo and the Indian, both rapidly disappearing now."

From Heritage Gateways:

After the Civil War, the Union Pacific RR began moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, on July 10, 1865. The following year, the Mormons abandoned the rail terminal at St. Joseph and the connecting Nebraska City Cutoff and, sequentially, took trains to four Union Pacific railheads: North Platte, Nebraska, and Julesburg, Colorado, in 1867, and Laramie and Benton, Wyoming, in 1868. Here the emigrants were met by church trains from Salt Lake.

Because the Union Pacific RR, moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, was in a race with the Central Pacific RR, moving east from Sacramento, California, male emigrants were sometimes offered reduced or free tickets if they would work on the road bed."

Each of the railheads became a wide-open, rip-roaring town, which greatly concerned Mormon leaders. The first three are still prospering, but Benton is distinctive for having become the first ghost town in Wyoming, lasting only from July through September 1868. It was located on the eastern edge of the Red Desert, 11 miles east of what is now Rawlins, near the North Platte River. (The curious can find the exact location of Benton by looking for Union Pacific milepost number 672.1, indicating precisely how far one is west of Omaha, off old Highway 30.) Church wagons transported the emigrants to Utah from each of the three remaining railheads.

In 1867, about 500 emigrants took the train to North Platte right on the Mormon Trail, thence to Utah via that trail. In 1868, five companies totaling about 1,850 pioneers left Laramie during July and August in wagons sent by the church. From Laramie the only reasonable route west would have been via the Overland-Bridger Pass Trail to Fort Bridger, to pick up the Mormon Trail there. Also in 1868, about 2,000 pioneers in five companies left Benton during August and September. From Benton, Mormon emigrants could have gone about 50 miles north and picked up the Mormon Trail, but most went a few miles south and took the Overland-Bridger Pass Trail to Fort Bridger, to intersect the main route. (A few Mormons appear to have jumped off at Julesburg.)

After the Union Pacific RR reached Utah in 1869, emigrants took rails all the way from the east coast. The great trek was over and the Mormon Trail began to slowly disappear and fade from memory.

From Ghost Towns of Wyoming:

Benton, Wyoming
Benton was Wyoming Territory's first ghost town. Benton, 11 miles east of present day Rawlins at UP milepost 672.1, lasted only three months from July to September 1868, and attained a population of 3,000. During that period, however, it provided an interesting contrast. On one hand, it had twenty-five saloons and five dance halls. During its brief existence, reputedly over 100 souls met their Maker in gunfights. One visitor referred to Benton as "nearer a repetition of Sodom and Gomorrah than any other place in America."
On the other hand, General Grant during his 1868 visit to Wyoming visited the town. Additionally, the town in August and September 1868, provided the jumping off location for 2,000 Saints in 5 companies heading to Utah.

The election of Grant brought out the voice of moderation, Legh Freeman, who again excited the attention of his readers, many of whom were Union veterans. Freeman, a former Confederate sympathizer, referred to Grant as "the whiskey bloated, squaw ravishing adulterer, nigger worshipping mogul rejoicing over his election to the presidency."

As noted with regard to the discussion of Sherman on the next page, as the Union Pacific moved west there were also created instant boom towns at the end of the line serving the grading crews and providing a "jumping off" spot for those heading further west. The instant towns were filled with lawless elements. Thus, the first rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Cheyenne, the Reverend Joseph W. Cook, noted upon his arrival in 1868:
The activity of the place is surprising, and the wickedness is unimaginable and appalling. This is a great center for gamblers of all shades, and roughs and troops of lewd women, and bullwhackers. Almost every other house is a drinking saloon, gambling house, restaurant or bawdy."
If anything, The Reverend Cook's comments were an understatement. On March 20, 1868, as an example, the proprietor of a dance house, Charles Martin, shot dead his partner, Andy Harris. The dance house had allegedly been purchased by the two partners from the proceeds of an armed robbery. Although Martin had been acquitted by a jury, justice was served by men in black masks removing him from the Keystone Dance Hall on 17th Street where he had been dancing the night away. The Cheyenne Argus reported that at the door of the dance hall Martin was seized by four or five men and dragged into the middle of the road. The men then shut the door of the dance house and the persons inside, including a policeman, were prevented from getting out. Martin's body was found dangling from a crude gallows at present day 300 E. 17th Street. He apparently strangled to death as the rope was only two feet long.

In the early morning hours of October 28, 1868, members of the Committee of Vigilence proceeded to the Belle of the West, a tent saloon operated by Ace Moore and his half brother Con. The saloon had a reputation for violence and thus was referred to by locals as the "Bucket of Blood." The term bucket of blood was commonly applied to any saloon in the west with a violent reputation. Ace and Con with "Long Steve" Young were self appointed town marshals. The three had been implicated in a number of killings in Laramie City. By October 1868 at least thirteen men had been killed and another seven died under suspicious circumstances which pointed to the three." On October 18, a prospector "Hard Luck" Harrison was killed in a gunfight with an unknown assailant. Most killings in Laramie City, however, were by garrotting. After a fifteen minute gun battle between the vigilantes and the denizens of the saloon, Ace, Big Ned, and Con were captured, taken to an incomplete cabin behind the Frontier Hotel and summarily hanged. In the battle, Charles Barton, a coronet player, was killed and William Willie, a Union Pacific fireman was mortally wounded. Also wounded was William McPherson.

. . .
Left to Right: "Big Ned" Bernard, Asa Moore, Con Moore
On the way to the unfinished cabin, Big Ned, sometimes referred to as "Big Ed," was silent. At the cabin, he asked if his captors minded if he took off his boots; he did not want to die with his boots on. Note in the above photos, Big Ned is in his stocking feet. In the morning with the bodies of the three turning stiff with rigor mortis, Long Steve was politely told that it was advisable that he leave town. Allegedly, Long Steve's fiancée had reported to N. K. Boswell that Long Steve had admitted to her that he was the one who killed Hard Luck Harrison. Long Steve declined to leave, reportedly saying that he wasn't going to let a bunch of stranglers scare him. That, however, proved to be a mistake. The crime problem in Laramie ended.

Jack Morrow (center) seated on barrel, Benton, Wyoming, 1868.

John A. "Jack" Morrow (1832-1876), seated on a barrel in the above photo, was originally a freighter who allegedly got his grubstake by stealing gunpowder from barrels on a wagon train on which he was the wagon boss. The barrels of gunpowder when delivered were found to be filled with sand. With his initial funds, Morrow established a road ranch and trading establishment south of the confluence of the South Platte and North Platte Rivers. From his seat of operations, he preyed upon travelers by having Indians steal stock which would then be added to Morrow's herds. The road ranch was a two and 1/2 story log building with associated corrals and outbuildings. As the railroad progressed westward, Morrow became quite wealthy by selling railroad ties to the road and furnishing cattle for the annual Indian annuities. Wen railroad construction finally passed him by, he abandoned the road ranch and moved west. Ultimately, he moved to Omaha where he bought a magnificent mansion. He was described by Walter H. Rowley, Omaha World-Herald, 1954, as "a handsome, mustachioed, goateed dandy whose flair for flashy dress came close to Wild Bill Hickok's." Morrow's fortune was soon dissipated with booze and gambling at Matt Harris's gambling den in Omaha. He was a binge drinker who would when besotted light his cigars with bank notes. Morrow's memory lives on in the name of Jack Morrow Hills, Jack Morrow Creek and Jack Morrow Canyon in northern Sweetwater County.

Benton, 11 miles east of present day Rawlins at UP milepost 672.1, lasted only three months from July to September 1868, and attained a population of 3,000. The town was three miles from the closest source of water. Thus, there was not much of a demand for water at ten cents a pail, particularly when "forty-rod" cost only twenty-five cents a glass. "Forty-rod" is a villainous homemade whiskey warranted to kill at forty rods distance. The town, itself, was named after Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858), senator from Missouri, father-in-law of John C. Fremont, and an avid advocate of western expansion. He early supported roads, stage lines, the telegraph, and the railroad. In one speech he noted of the west:
"In some respects, it is a desert - barren of wood -sprinkled with sandy plains - melancholy under the somber aspect of the gloomy artemisia - and desolate from volcanic rocks, through the chasms of which plunge the headlong streams. But this desert has its redeeming points - much water, grass, many oases, mountains capped with snow, to refresh the air, the land, and the eye - blooming valleys - a clear sky, pure air, and a supreme salubrity. It is home of the horse found there wild in all the perfection of his first nature - beautiful and fleet - fiery and docile - patient, enduring,. and affectionate. The country that produces such horses must also produce men, and cattle, and all the other animals; and must have many beneficient attributes to redeem it from the stigma of desolation."
During the three months of Benton's existence, the town provided an interesting contrast. On one hand, it had twenty-five saloons and five dance halls. The largest of the saloons was a canvas structure referred to as the "Big Tent," 100 feet in depth, 40 feet wide, and in back there were canvas cubicles in which nymphs du pave plied their trade. Immediately next to the cubicles, a physician had set up shop to cure any maladies that may have been contracted in the cubicles. Zane Grey in his UPR Trail described the bar:
[I]t had been brought complete from St. Louis * * * . It seemed a huge, glittering, magnificent monstrosity in that coarse, bare setting. Wide mirrors, glistening bottles, paintings of nude women, row after row of polished glasses, a brawny, villainous barkeeper, with three attendants, all working fast, a line of rough, hoarse men five deep before the counter--all these things constituted a scene that had the aspects of a city and yet was redolent with an atmosphere no city ever knew. The drinkers were not all rough men. There were elegant black-hatted, frock-coated men of leisure in that line--not directors and commissioners and traveling guests of the U. P. R., but gentlemen of chance. Gamblers!
Zane Grey continues with the scene at night:
The sun set, the twilight fell, the wind went down, the dust settled, and night mantled Benton. The roar of the day became subdued. It resembled the purr of a gorging hyena. The yellow and glaring torches, the bright lamps, the dim, pale lights behind tent walls, all accentuated the blackness of the night and filled space with shadows, like specters. Benton's streets were full of drunken men, staggering back along the road upon which they had marched in. No woman now showed herself. The darkness seemed a cloak, cruel yet pitiful. It hid the flight of a man running from fear; it softened the sounds of brawling and deadened the pistol-shot. Under its cover soldiers slunk away sobered and ashamed, and murderous bandits waited in ambush, and brawny porters dragged men by the heels, and young gamblers in the flush of success hurried to new games, and broken wanderers sought some place to rest, and a long line of the vicious, of mixed dialect, and of different colors, filed down in the dark to the tents of lust. Life indoors that night in Benton was monstrous, wonderful, and hideous. 

Every saloon was packed, and every dive and room filled with a hoarse, violent mob of furious men: furious with mirth, furious with drink, furious with wildness--insane and lecherous, spilling gold and blood.

The gold that did not flow over the bars went into the greedy hands of the cold, swift gamblers or into the clutching fingers of wild- eyed women. The big gambling-hell had extra lights, extra attendants, extra tables; and there round the great glittering mirror-blazing bar struggled and laughed and shouted a drink-sodden mass of humanity. And all through the rest of the big room groups and knots of men stood and sat around the tables, intent, absorbed, obsessed, listening with strained ears, watching with wild eyes, reaching with shaking hands--only to gasp and throw down their cards and push rolls of gold toward cold-faced gamblers, with a muttered curse. This was the night of golden harvest for the black-garbed, steel-nerved, cold-eyed card-sharps. They knew the brevity of time, and of hour, and of life. In the dancing-halls there was a maddening whirl, an immense and incredible hilarity, a wild fling of unleashed, burly men, an honest drunken spree. But there was also the hideous, red-eyed drunkenness that did not spring from drink; the unveiled passion, the brazen lure, the raw, corrupt, and terrible presence of bad women in absolute license at a wild and baneful hour.
Benjamin Marks Professional gamblers infested all of the end-of-track towns. In Cheyenne, 19-year old Ben Marks arrived in 1867, but soon discovered that there was much competition. He hit upon a profitable solution, he opened a "Dollar Store" in which highly attractive merchandise was displayed in the window priced at only a dollar. When greed for the very much underpriced goods sucked customers in, they would be diverted to a game of three-card monte. In the game, the customers would be stripped of all money and, thus, there was no danger of the goods actually being sold.
During Benton's brief existence, reputedly over 100 souls met their Maker in gunfights. One visitor referred to Benton as "nearer a repetition of Sodom and Gomorrah than any other place in America."

On the other hand, General Grant during his 1868 visit to Wyoming visited the town. Additionally, the town in August and September 1868, provided the jumping off location for 2,000 Saints in 5 companies heading to Utah. Of Benton, early western travel writer Samuel Bowles (1826-1878) wrote:
When we were on the line, this congregation of scum and wickedness was within the Desert section, and was called Benton. One to two thousand men, and a dozen or two women were encamped on the alkali plain in tents and board shanties; not a tree, not a shrub, not a blade of grass was visible; the dust ankle deep as we walked through it, and so fine and volatile that the slightest breeze loaded the air with it, irritating every sense and poisoning half of them; a village of a few variety stores and shops, and many restaurants and grog-shops; by day disgusting, by night dangerous; almost everybody dirty, many filthy, and with the marks of lowest vice; averaging a murder a day; gambling and drinking, hurdy-gurdy dancing. Like its predecessors, it fairly festered in corruption, disorder and death, and would have rotted, even in this dry air, had it outlasted a brief sixty-day life. But in a few weeks its tents were struck, its shanties razed, and with their dwellers moved on fifty or a hundred miles farther to repeat their life for another brief day. Where these people came from originally; where they went to when the road was finished, and their occupation was over, were both puzzles too intricate for me. Hell would appear to have been raked to furnish them; and to it they must have naturally returned after graduating here, fitted for its highest seats and most diabolical service.

Bear River City, Wyoming Territory
Of a similar nature was Bear River City about 10 miles south of Evanston. Bear River City, 1867, pictured above, is not to be confused with the city of the same name in Utah, Bear River City, at its peak had a newspaper, The Frontier Index, published by Legh R. Freeman (1842-1915). Legh Freeman, a Confederate telegrapher, was captured in 1864 and took advantage of amnesty afforded to those who would become "galvanized Yankees," i. e. enlist in the Union Army for service in the west. The end of the war found Freeman in Fort Kearney. Freeman, utilizing a box car as a printing office, followed the tracks starting his newspaper in Fort Kearney, and moving westward to Julesburg, Cheyenne, Fort Sanders, Green River City and Ogden. When word was recieved as to the election of Grant, Freeman, remaining an unrepenitent Confederate sympathizer and not exactly the voice of moderation, excited the attention of his readers, many of whom were Union veterans, by referred to Grant as "the whiskey bloated, squaw ravishing adulterer, nigger worshipping mogul rejoicing over his election to the presidency." Indeed, his views earned for his paper the reputation of being that "filthy Rebel sheet."
Legh R. Freeman
Additionally, Freeman was not a milquetoast in expressing his opinions as to fraud by the Railroad or his opinions as to others. In the November 15, 1868 edition of The Index he expressed his opinions as to Blacks, Indians and Chinese. If his opinions didn't get the attention of the gentle reader, he persisted several days later with a vitriolic attack on the L.D.S. and a call for the lynching of three accused murderers. Following the necktie party, a group of vigilantes turned on him. Nineteen years later in the June 19, 1877 edition of the Ogden [Utah] Freeman he described, with perhaps some exaggeration, the reason for his departure from Wyoming:

"The next morning at the break of day, when several thousand graders headed by the most villainous desperadoes, beseiged the office, gutted and sacked it, and threatened to burn us in it, and would undoubtedly have left nothing but a grease spot of our mortal remains had not a milk white steed conveyed us to Fort Bridger, where we obtained troops, who arrested the leaders and held the town under martial law until the large gangs of men passed westward to the grading camps of Echo and Weber Canyon. Forty-odd rioters are buried around the office. the only citizen killed in the melee was Steve Stokes. The last of the cutthroats has died with his boots on and the ringleader had his head chopped off with an ax."
Freeman, however, was irrepressible. Within a few months he resumed publication in Montana, renaming the paper the Frontier Phoenix. He explained, "the Institution shall rise, Phoenix-like, from her ashes, to still advocate the cause of right and truth, to denounce tricksters and mobocracy, uphold the good and faithful."