1861: Marcus Morton Johnson to Hiram Johnson

This incredible letter was written by Marcus Morton Johnson (1840-1927) from Sumner, Kansas, to his only brother, Hiram Johnson (1838-1925). Marcus and Hiram were the sons of Artemus Ward Johnson (1814-1886) and Experience Briggs (1817-1871) of Walnut township, Atchison county, Kansas—formerly of Hopkinton, Massachusetts.

He learn from the letter that both Marcus and his father worked for Bela Metcalfe Hughes (1817-1902) who was the President & General Counsel for the Central Overland California & Pikes Peak Express Company until he sold the concern to his cousin Ben Holladay. In the 1860 US Census, Marcus’ father is identified as a “freighter.”

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 9.45.03 AM
A map of the 1861 Pony Express Route from St. Joseph westward, but also showing the overland trail from Fort Kearney to Nebraska City on the Missouri River.


Sumner [Atchison county, Kansas] ¹
September 4th 1861

Dear Brother,

This is the first time that I have written you since my return home. I had a pretty good time coming in but my passengers thought that I kept them rather hard and was not driving fast enough for them so they left me at Kearny—all but Frank. He & I went from Nebraska City down [the Missouri River] in a skiff 225 miles—took us three days. We arrived in Sumner the first day of September.

The weather is very hot here just now and mosquitoes, fleas, & bed bugs till you can’t rest. I bought a young antelope on the plains about half grown [as] a pet for mother.

But I must tell you of the settlement between Howe, Father & myself. Yesterday morning I went down and found Howe and began my settlement with him and found that we could not settle until Father and him had settled so I told him and Father that I wanted them to settle that day so that I could settle my account before Howe went back to the mines. Father brought in a bill of my work from March the first ’60 up to the 15th May ’61 which amounted to $300 dollars. Howe protested against it like the devil but it could not be helped so he allowed it. They squared up all accounts up to date and passed receipts so now we are out entirely with that concern. Howe wants me to go and drive the mules out once more but I don’t think that I shall unless he gives me thirty dollars per month which I do not think he will.

There is nothing doing here at all but I can live pretty cheap and so I think that I shall remain here—that is, if I do not go to the war. I have a great notion of doing so at present as I can get 35 dollars per month and all board in a cavalry company now forming in Atchison. That Young that worked with you out on wider’s house is in a company and says that if you were here, he would like to have you in with him. Father can get a Colonel’s commission to go to New Mexico but he does not want to go there at all. He is training a company now out to Mount Pleasant [Atchison county] as Captain.

The rebels are trying to raise the devil in Missouri but Fremont has proclaimed martial law in the State and now the war begins in earnest. Every man that can be found now bearing arms against the U. S. Government is taken out and shot. It ought to have been done long ago as the rebels do not touch the soldiers at all but if they find a Union man, they just kill him. There will be big fighting now soon in Missouri. ²

Most every person in town has been sick this summer. But I am in a hurry as my hand writing indicates, Write me soon and give me all the news. — Marcus

P. S. If I have any letters come, please to send them to me. Never mind about opening them. — Marcus


¹ Sumner was located about three miles below Atchison on the Missouri River. It was platted in 1856 and advertised as a free-state alternative settlement to the pro-slavery town of Atchison. Though it had a good start in business & industry, it was virtually wiped off the map by the trough of 1859-1860, by a tornado that destroyed virtually every building in town in the summer of 1860, and by the grasshopper invasion of September 1860.

² The Battle of Wilson’s Creek had already taken place near Springfield, Missouri, in which Union General. Nathaniel Lyon had been killed. 

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