Cannonball Road


Out of the cloud of dust came two teams hitched tandem, running hard, while behind them bounced a big yellow stagecoach. With a flourishing wave of his broad Stetson hat "Cannonball" Green shout "Whoa!" The horses stopped, suddenly, and the passengers lurched together, in spite of a firm grip on the seats. Then they began crawling out for a minute of stretching. The tall, rugged driver, bronzed by years of sun and wind, swung down from the high seat, throwing the lines to the waiting men. They began unhitching rapidly. Four other men, each grasping the bits of a rearing, snorting horse, stood ready to hitch them into the places of the sweating broncos before being released. The harness snapped on as on fire horses and the postmaster rushed forward with the mail pouch. The passengers scrambled in, filling the coach. With a lusty "Hoo-ay", "Cannonball" Green swung his 20' whip and they were off. The two fresh teams stretched out in a dead run, while the passengers clung fearfully to their seats. At each stop the new teams seemed wilder and faster.
This scene was repeated about every ten miles all day long. Colonel D. R. "Cannonball" Green had a mail route contract to carry mail eight miles an hour and 100 miles a day, and he seldom failed to meet its terms. Much of his success was due to the lightning-like changes at each stop. On several occasions he bet the men that he could change teams and be gone before they could get their cigars lighted. Sometimes he varied it by betting that he could change teams without stopping. He usually won the bets.
The route of the stage determined much of western history. It helped make or break many a young boom town, and those with county seat aspirations would bid high for Green's stage line and his influence.
Colonel Green was a hustler, lured west by the big opportunities there. He arrived with his family in Kingman, Kansas, in 1876, from Clinton County, Kentucky. He was 44 years old, and stood more than six feet "in his socks," was big-boned and active. He had a commanding appearance. Colonel Green was a true Kentuckian in his love for fine horses, and brought out some handsome purebreds. Years after, in the old Kingman livery barn, their names could be seen painted above the then empty stalls: Lela G., Tom Vance, and others.
Settlers, coming to the end of the Wichita & Western railroad at Kingman, would hire Colonel Green to take them on in search of claims. Colonel Green, with his good horses, soon found himself with more than he could do, while other drivers were left sitting at home. He then went into the stage business and named his stage the "Cannonball". This won for its owner the nickname, which suited him, as well. "Cannonball" Green bought Concord stagecoaches at $1,200 each, hired drivers, added more horses, and laid out stage routes all over western Kansas, into Colorado and on to Santa Fe. His outfits were among the most expensive and elaborate ever seen in the West.
He demanded good horses. Finding that broncos had great endurance, he selected them for beauty as well as speed. To the greenhorn, it was very informative to watch Colonel Green choose his horses. The cowboys often brought in herds of wild horses, penning them in a solid board-walled corral about nine feet high. The frightened herd circled and dashed about, vainly seeking an opening. The "hoss-buyers" climbed ladders on the outside, and from above inspected the snorting, squealing horses. After the buyer had chosen his animals it was up to the cowboys to rope them, then to ride or drive them "to a finish". Colonel Green preferred bays, dark sorrels and strawberry roans. He always wanted matched teams and few could outbid him.
The Colonel's friendliness and hospitality were exceptional even in a free-handed country. He loved being in the limelight. Everything he did was spectacular. Garden City an Leoti wanted him to run a stage connecting the two towns and asked for his proposition. "I'll come for six town lots in each town and $1,000 bonus," he replied, and they accepted. Determined to show Garden City the greatest speed ever attained there, he came dashing through wearing his big hat, frock coat, plenty of diamonds and swirling his long whip. In the center os town his coach wheel struck the cart of a German truck gardener. Vegetables scattered everywhere. The angry gardener demanded damages. Waiting until a large crowd had gathered, Green asked the amount. "You owe me $25," shouted the cart owner. Green pulled from his pocket a roll with a $500 wrapper, peeled of a $100 bill and flung it to the gardener. The crowd cheered and was with him from then on.
One of his favorite advertising methods was to furnish elegantly printed passes at half rates to the editors in towns through which his route passed. "I was liberal with men whom I thought could be of benefit to me," he said later. "I attribute much of my money-making to the country newspaper editors who rode in my stagecoaches and were given tornado-like trips across the country."
Perhaps his biggest job was during the opening of the "Oklahoma Strip." The Rock Island Railroad ran only to Pond Creek, 16 miles from the northern border of the "Strip." The road made a contract with "Cannonball" Green to transport the passengers on into the "Strip" for $6 each. The first day of the excursion the railroad wired Green that 600 passengers would be there. Green scouted the country, hired every farmer who had a wagon or vehicle of any kind, and with his stages all going at breakneck speed the contract was carried out.
As the Santa Fe pushed westward Colonel Green was a guest of its officials on one of the first trips. He was invited to eat a fine noon meal in "the eating car," and was thrilled. Later, Colonel Green was taking one of the railroad official over his route. It was a blistering hot, dusty day. At noon Green halted on the prairie and with a flourish produced from beneath the seat an exact duplicate of the former meal, even to the iced beverages.
As his business increased Colonel's time was all taken in supervising his routes. He covered them every thirty days in his "Pay Wagon," a covered spring-wagon. On its side was a picture of Old Father Time encumbered with a valise and vainly pursuing a vanishing Cannonball Stage.
It has been said that three-fourths of the populations of some of the southwest Kansas counties first went into their chosen county in one of "Cannonball" Green's stagecoaches. Town rivalry during the 1880's helped Green's business. Pratt and Iuka were contenders for the stage line. Pratt gave Green a good lot on Main Street and built and donated him a stage barn nine miles east of that city. Wellsford donated twenty acres adjoining town. Coldwater gave him eight or ten lots. Coronado, nw extinct, gave his eight good lots and $500. When Colonel Green acquired a large holding near the now extinct town of Reeder in Kiowa County he moved his family onto it. He built what was then considered a prairie mansion, a one story house with a part-basement, and with three large rooms opening into one another. A negro couple, Aunt Caroline and Uncle Dick, were brought out as servants. The stories of "Fairlawn" with its hospitality and gaiety are many.
Colonel Green's dream of having a town named for him was finally realized in 1885. He was instrumental in organizing the Greensburg Town Company, which platted a site about two miles from the little town of Janesville, and he owned a large part of the new town. But Greensburg needed a postoffice! One dark night an ox team and wagon quietly slipped into Janesville and loaded up the little 9' x 12' postoffice. The next morning Greensburg residents were surprised to find a well settled postoffice open for business.
In 1889 Colonel Green was elected to represent Kiowa County in the state legislature. In his eloquent acceptance speech he declared that "he considered this election as a stepping stone to the Presidency."
Had it not been for the coming of the railroad "Cannonball" Green might have become a millionaire, but their gradual encroachments finally ruined his stage business. He moved with his family to Grant County, Oklahoma, where he soon became county treasurer, and later was prominent in the new Caddo County development. The last few years of his life were spent in California. His fame as a town builder followed him and he was chosen a member of the Long Beach city council. He was known as a wide-awake booster and an effective public speaker. At a festival in San Francisco Colonel Green won the stage driver's contest by cutting a figure eight with an eight-horse team on the smallest space of ground.
Colonel Green died in 1922. He was then 85 years old. The West still remembers him for the part he had in its settlement.