Winter 1997

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Go East, Young Man!


Richard Palmer

One day in August 1913, two horses hauling a covered wagon and a two-wheeled cart pulled into the yard of Mr. and Mrs. William Heden three miles south of Virgil, New York. The arrival was the end of a 2,000-mile, 74-day journey all the way from Parker, Colorado, for Mr. and Mrs. U. R. Caulkins and his mother, Emmaline, 81.

A veterinarian, Caulkins had decided to come back east when the demand for his services in Colorado had started to wane. He was a native of Sullivan County, New York, and had gone west when he was a boy, finally settling in Parker, Cheyenne County, Colorado.

"I've seen the West grow up—watched ranches and grazing lands turn into farms," he said. So with his love of the West and of good horseflesh it was no wonder that Caulkins would decide to make the long overland journey back East in true western style. He had the means to purchase a truck or a car and drive back across the continent in several weeks, but there would have been no thrill or satisfaction for a horse man, nor for his wife and mother long used to ranch ways.

With the coming of spring in the Rockies, Caulkins piled all his worldly belongings in an old chuck wagon that had been used on roundups, and they set out across the country with the two horses, a hound dog, "Ponte," and three goats riding in a cart pulled behind.

Caulkins was loathe to leave behind his prized Swiss goats. So he rigged up a trailer, built stanchions and feed racks in it and brought the goats along. Plenty of fresh goat's milk was available throughout the trip. Two kids were born enroute and were brought along in the trailer.

Spacious storage boxes had been built on either side of the covered wagon, and feed troughs had been constructed at the rear for the horses. On the left side of the wagon there were attachments for a tent in which the three could sleep.

Inside the wagon was a real bed with springs and a mattress, a handy camping cook stove, and a kitchen cupboard filled with all the necessities. The interior of the wagon was fitted out with all the practicality necessary for overland travel. This wagon served as home for more than two months. Much careful preparation and foresight had gone into planning the trip; the journey turned out to be more comfortable than they had expected it would be.

Under the thick canvas top of the wagon, the elderly Mrs. Caulkins could move about and aid her daughter-in-law; between meals they gazed on the scenery that unfolded to view as the two horses "Dick" and "Fan" pulled their heavy load over mountains, through valleys, and across the plains.

Caulkins said they were the finest horses he could find within a 70-mile radius of Parker. When the horses had completed their journey they were in excellent condition. "You'd think they had just been driven in from pasture," William Heden said when they arrived at his place. The horses showed no fatigue from the journey.

"Well, I just took care of them every minute," Caulkins said. "They certainly did their best by me and I tried to do everything I could for them. In fact, I sweat those two horses just three days in the entire trip. The wagon weighs 5,300 pounds without the trailer so you can appreciate what a load those two horses had when they were in the harness. They never had to be pulled out or helped once on the journey."

When the going was hard, 14 miles a day was the limit. But when good roads stretched before them, the horses averaged 35 miles a day.

"Folks we met along the way were just fine to us," Caulkins said. "We were scarcely refused a single request for camping grounds or any other favor the whole trip." Many of the old western towns that less than a century before had witnessed the passing of long trains of covered wagons heading west hosted the eastbound travelers.

Caulkins mapped out his route: from Denver, though Philipsburg, Kansas; St. Joseph, Missouri; Quincy, Illinois; Akron, Ohio; and finally back into New York State. The Hedens themselves were newcomers to Virgil from the west, and they made the Caulkins family right at home on their hilltop.

It is said that the Caulkins made another trip to the west a few years later, but by automobile this time.

Information for this story came from the Syracuse Post-Standard of August 30, 1913,
and from Virgil Town Historian Frances Bays.
1996, Richard F. Palmer
Index to articles by Richard F. Palmer
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