The 1880 Great Western Presidential Tour

Who was the first President of these United States of America to visit The Great West? And, he did it as a non-political "junket" into that part of the county that had never seen a President. This is somewhat a trick question for it has to be literal -- not the first man who became President to travel in the "west". The first clue is: he was from the "Mother of Presidents" state, though Virginia also claims the "birth" of some to "tie" with this state.

The President was, of course, Rutherford Bircher Hayes! This tour was the major "first" in this four year administration and must have been a logistical nightmare which taxed the leadership ability of the Civil War Commander and fellow Ohioan, General William Tecumseh Sherman.

President Hayes, who was on record for no plans to seek a second term, planned the trip to be very informal with very few speeches. He was also taking with him "Lemonade Lucy", the First Lady, two sons, Birch and Rud, some cousins, Alexander Ramsey, The Secretary of War, and other aides.

Travel in the 1880s was a bit different than it is today. There are no big jumps, as in an airplane. All travel was by train, stagecoach and steamer. The Army, under the personal command of General Sherman, scheduled all three means of transport. Since there was no Secret Service to protect the President and his party, the Army provided that service.

The trip began from Washington, D.C. in late August 1880 with a week's layover at the Hayes family home, Spiegel Grove in Fremont, Ohio. On September 2nd, the resumed the trip westward on a special Lake Shore & Michigan Southern trail to Toledo, Ohio. There they switched to the Wabash Railroad to Fort Wayne, and from there to Chicago on the Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne Railroad. The two day trip from there to Omaha was made on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Line.

Omaha was the first scheduled stop and the President was to review the troops at Fort Omaha, however a Nebraska downpour soaked the parade grounds, so the review was very short.

Here the party boarded the Union Pacific Railroad special train and headed west along the Platte River. All along the route citizens would gather to see the President. This, after all, was the first President to travel in the West. Every so often, a former Union soldier was seen to salute the passing train. Altogether, eighty stops were scheduled -- most only minutes in duration, but the people crowded around these special trains for a chance to see and maybe hear the President of the United States of America.

The TransContinental Railroad had been completed for eleven years. And, though the railroads put forth their best equipment for the President, the top speed for the railroads was thirty-five miles per hour.

You have heard of twenty-one gun salutes for dignitaries. At Cheyenne in the Wyoming Territory, the train and its party was greeted by a thirty-eight gun salute; one for each State in the Union.

Trains were not the only mode of travel for the party. Stage coaches and steamers were employed to augment the train travel once they reached California. The north-south railroad to the Washington Territory had not been completed, so stage coaches were employed for the Presidential Party. In California, General Sherman rode "shotgun" personally aboard the stage coaches because there were known bandits through the traveled territory. And, the return trip south after visiting the Washington Territory was made by Steamer.

All told, seventeen states had been entered on the seventy-one day trip. The extra days caused a little concern because the President wanted to cast his ballot for fellow Ohio Republican, James A Garfield. He traveled from Toledo to Fremont by carriage to arrive home at 1:30 am on November first -- in time to cast his ballot.