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For six days he rode relentlessly on, hardly daring to sleep in this fantastic, little-known horseback race against time in 1855.
Leaving Adams & Company's Express office on the Sacramento river front this frosty morning in February, 1855, French-Canadian cattle buyer Louis Remme felt in an expansive mood as he tucked the agent's receipt in the pocket of his buckskin jacket.
Remme had just deposited $12,500 in gold slugs to his account, the profits of selling cattle to the beefsteak-hungry miners slaving in the camps along the Mother Lode. How many of those Forty-Niners had gleaned that much gold for two months' labor?
An hour later, seated at breakfast, Remme grudgingly paid a dollar for an old copy of the Daily Union which had just reached Sacramento by riverboat. A dollar for an out-dated newspaper struck him as exorbitant - until he looked at page one and realized he had made the most important investment of his life.
A story date-lined St. Louis was headed: "Adams & Company Bankrupt! All Branches Locked Up By Receivers! Depositors Face Heavy Losses!"
Remme kicked back his chair and sprinted out of the café. If he could withdraw his $12,500 from the local Adams branch before the bad news reached the Sacramento agent . . .
But he was too late. A milling crowd of depositors was swarming around Adams' door, which was padlocked, a sheriff's deputy on guard, shotgun at the ready.
Despair shot through Louis Remme. he would never be able to reach Marysville or any other outlying Adams office ahead of the catastrophic news. he stared at his receipt for $12,500, not worth the paper it was written on. Well, it could serve as a torch to light his cigar. He was rolling the worthless paper into a taper when he heard a frenzied depositor talking on the fringe of the crowd: "If we could only be livin' in Portland, Oregon. The steamer Columbia just left the Golden Gate this mornin,' carrin' the news up north. The Adams office in Portland won't shut down until the ship gets there."
Another bearded man grunted, "Portland is over seven hundred miles off. Might as well be on the moon."
Louis Remme thrust his receipt back in his pocket. Was it humanly possible for a rider, going overland, to beat an oceangoing steamer to Portland? There was no other way the news could reach the sparsely-settled northwest - no telegraph wires, no pony express mail service.
"What have I got to lose?"
He had $12,500 to lose . . .
Twenty minutes later Louis Remme was on a paddle-steamer heading up-river to Knight's Landing. At that river port he borrowed a fast horse from Knight, the baronial pioneer, and started north, Portland bound.
Twenty miles on his way the desperate man swapped his spent horse for another, and hammered on. Near the Marysville Buttes he made his fourth change of mount; ten hours out of Sacramento he was galloping through Red Bluff as if the devil were after him.
Darkness was closing in when Remme sighted Mount Shasta's snow-covered twin peaks under the stars. Halting at a freighter's camp, he said he was chasing a horse thief - and that was good for still another relay mount.
The wagon roads petered out at Clear Creek, which he reached by dawn's first grey light. Nothing but Indian trails and obscure game traces from her on to Oregon . . .
All that day he pushed on, stealing horses and leaving tired substitutes behind at the infrequent homesteads he passed. That afternoon he was bucking the hock-deep drifts of a snowstorm.
Remme had no way of knowing it, but he was holding his own with the steamer Columbia, which had two stops to make on the coast - one at Humboldt Bay, another at the mouth of the Rogue River, to disembark soldiers destined for Indian-fighting duty.
Seventy hours after he had left Knight's Landing - sleeping in the saddle, snatching food where he could - Remme sent his lurching pony into the mining camp of Yreka. Four hours later, north of the Klamath River, he spotted a rock cairn through the swirling snowflakes. He had reached the Oregon line.
From here on it was dangerous country, the Modoc Indians on the warpath. He reached Jacksonville, where sheer exhaustion forced him to take four hours out for sleep. Then he was crossing the Rogue River on a pioneer ferry and riding relentlessly on.
Remme was pushing through the perpetual twilight of the Oregon timber when Indian war-whoops broke on his ears; by some miracle he escaped unscathed from a sleet of musket balls and flint-tipped Rogue arrows and came, more dead than alive, to the settlement of Winchester on the Umpqua.
Nearly 200 man-killing miles yet to go - and a blizzard worsening. It changed to a cold drizzle when he reached the Valley of the Yoncolla. A whiskered pioneer named Jesse Applegate gave him a fresh horse and Remme was again on his way, making Eugene by daybreak - the fifth sunrise he had seen on this epochal ride, with only six hours' sleep to his credit.
Noon of the sixth day, with precious time wasted retracing lost trails, Louis Remme was ferrying the Willamette at Milwaukie; early afternoon and he was leading his horse into the riverfront street of Portland town.
Out in midstream he saw an ocean steamer dropping anchor. "What boat is that, m'sieur?" he asked a passer-by. "The Columbia, out of 'Frisco. Say, you look like you've been to hell and back . . ."
"I have," gasped Remme, and stumbled along the muddy street to a false-fronted building carrying the magic name: "Adams Express".
Inside, barely able to hang onto the counter, he presented his Adams voucher, signed by the Sacramento agent, W.B. Rochester, to the Portland representative, Dr. Steinberger.
"This seems in order, sir," Steinberger said. "I must make a charge of one half of one per cent for cashing it . . ."
"Bien," the stockman whispered. "I am a cattle buyer. I have to have my funds in gold."
Five minutes later Remme had his gold. Forty pounds of it, in 50-dollar slugs. As he staggered out he nearly collided with Ralph Meade, the purser from the Columbia, who was bringing the news of Adams' failure to Oregon. Not one Portland depositor recovered a penny of his money.
Louis Remme's ride had been won by a margin of a hundred yards, a hundred seconds on the clock dial. He had covered an impossible 665 miles in 143 hours, 10 of them spent in sleep - to earn himself a now-forgotten niche in history as the man who made the greatest horseback race in the annals of the West.
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