The first roads in Iowa were the Indian trails. These
trails were sometimes paths that had been made by the
buffaloes as they crossed the prairies or went through the
woodlands. The white men usually followed such trails. If
they did not, they tried to follow the ridges or high ground
in order to keep off the soft swampy land.
OUR EARLY TRAVEL
New trails were hard to follow and had to be marked. To
mark the one from Dubuque to Iowa City, a man was hired to
plow a furrow all the way. He used several yoke of oxen and a
breaking plow. It took him a number of days to cut the long
furrow. Other methods were also used to mark trails. In
timberland, trees were blazed. On the prairies, stakes were
driven into the ground certain distances apart. Where trails
were much used, the heavily-loaded wagons cut deep ruts in the
ground that could be followed.
Soon after Iowa land was opened for settlement, in 1833,
the Government established roads known as territorial or
military highways. These roads led from one important town or
fort to another. They took the shortest route possible and
did not follow section lines as did the roads that were later
laid out. Some of the main highways in eastern Iowa still
follow these early trails.
We have learned that a Frenchman named Tesson brought the
trees for Iowa's first orchard on the backs of pack mules.
That way of traveling and carrying goods was not used later.
Most of our first settlers came in covered wagons and oxen
were used to pull them. It was a slow way of travel, ten
miles a day being often a good distance.
Different ways of building roads were tried. One was by
means of planks. One such road was built westward from
Burlington and others were planned. The coming of railroads
stopped a plan to have all cities in eastern Iowa connected by
The building and upkeep of roads were left, in early times,
entirely to the people who lived along the way or to the towns
who wanted people to come to trade. There was no tax money at
that time with which roads could be built, and state and
federal aid had to wait for the automobile.
THE STAGE COACH
Stage-coach lines over all important roads. The first
coaches were crude affairs. They were but little better than
covered wagons drawn by two horses. Later, the "Concord"
coach was used nearly everywhere. It was an interesting
carriage, costing about a thousand dollars. It had seats for
nine passengers and the driver. Four or six horses were used
to pull the coach. From three to five miles per hour was
considered good speed.
Fares usually were from five to seven cents a mile for a
passenger. In the summer, when roads were good, the fares
were lower than during the winter.
The arrival of a stage coach in a town was an important
event. The stages tried to run on a regular schedule, as
railroads and busses do today. When the coach came into a
town the driver would sound a horn, crack his whip, and drive
up to the station on a run.
The last stage coach went out of business in 1870. It was
impossible for the coaches to compete with the railroads.
BAGGAGE AND MAIL
The stages carried baggage, mail and some freight. When
the roads were too bad for the stages, the mail was sent by
postriders. It was expensive to send mail that way. A charge
of twenty-five cents was made for a letter weighing half an
ounce. Sometimes the postage was paid by the receiver of a
letter because it was not certain that the letter could be