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“BETWEEN THE GATES”:
ONE MAN’S COLORFUL FIRST PERSON ACCOUNT OF 1870’s TRAVEL ON THE PACIFIC RAILROAD
While the opening of the Pacific Railroad made overland travel to California far easier and more accessible, such a trip was, nonetheless, still often quite an adventure. In addition to traditional railway and travel guides, the Railroad quickly inspired the publication of a variety of books relating detailed and often florid first person accounts of making such an overland coast-to-coast rail journey. While these books enjoyed wide circulation in the East where people were hungry to learn about the still relatively unknown and largely unsettled West, they were equally if not more popular with those traveling on the new line and many were sold to passengers on the trains themselves.
Below is an extended excerpt and five engravings from one of the more popular and colorful of these tomes, “Between the Gates” by Benjamin F. Taylor. A distinguished Chicago journalist, Taylor was the military correspondent for the Chicago Evening Journal during the Civil War years for which he was well known for his first hand accounts of Gen. Sherman’s marches through the South... After the war he became a free lance author writing a number of books including this one. Included here in their entirety are the two chapters of “Between the Gates” in which Taylor describes in great detail his recollections and observations of that portion of his overland journey from Chicago which he made over the Central Pacific Railroad between Ogden, U.T., to San Francisco.
Cover, Title Page, and News Agent Stamps (composite image)
The particular copy from which these chapters and illustrations were
scanned was sold on a Union Pacific train by the U.P’s. famous Omaha-based
General News Agent, Barkalow Brothers. Sidney and Derrick Barkalow, who
moved to Omaha from Ohio in 1856, won their contract with the U.P. in 1865
to become the exclusive agents for the sale of newspapers, periodicals,
candy, books, and other articles on the trains of that line. The
volume bears both the Barkalow Bro’s. distinctive oval stamp and a price
sticker which reads: “Price, $1.50 All Books Sold on this Train at Publishers’
Prices. Barkalow Bros. General Rail Road News Agents, Omaha, Neb. Chyanne,
Wyo.” Floridly inscribed in pencil on the flyleaf is “E.W. Matthews
on U.P.R.R. Nov. 30, 1878.”
THE DESERT, THE DEVIL AND CAPE HORN.
“THE Thousand-mile Tree!” So cried everybody. There it stands beside the track, with its arms in their evergreen sleeves spread wide in perennial greeting. A thousand miles from Omaha and twenty-five hundred from New York. No stately tree with a Mariposa ambition, yet, after the Oak of the Charter and the Elm of the Treaty, few on the continent are worthier of historic fame. Forty years ago, defended round about by two thousand miles of wilderness, a wilderness as broad as the face of the moon at the full! To-day it is almost like the tree of knowledge, "in the midst of the garden." The articulate lightnings run to and fro upon their single rail, almost within reach of its arms, from Ocean to Ocean. Hamlets and cities make the transit of the wilderness like Venus crossing the sun. Millions of eyes shall look upon it with a sentiment of affection. It stands in its vigorous life for the Thousandth Milepost on the route of Empire.
Why so many grand things in the Far West go to the Devil by default
nobody knows. I think it high time he proved his title. Thus, "Devil's
Gate" names a Gothic pass in the cleft mountains, through which, between
rocky portals lifting up and up to the snow-line, the mad and crested waters
of the Weber River plunge in tumultuous crowds. They seem a forlorn
hope storming some tremendous Ticonderoga. "The Devil's Slide" is
a Druidical raceway seven hundred feet up on the mountain side, twelve
feet wide, pitched at an angle of fifty degrees, and dry as a powder-house.
It is bounded by parallel blocks of granite lifted upon their edges, and
projecting from the mountain from twenty to forty feet. A ponderous
piece of work, but who was the stone-mason? Instead of being a slide, it
seems to me about such a pig-trough as Cedric the Saxon would have hewn,
in the days before "hog" turned "pork" and "calf" was "veal." If
it belongs to the Devil at all, it must have been the identical table-ware
he pitched after the herd of possessed swine that ran down into the sea,
and here it lies high and dry even until this day.
At Ogden we take the Silver Palace-cars of the Central Pacific. Let nobody forget what toil, danger, privation, death and clear grit it cost to bring the twenty miles an hour within human possibilities; that everything from a pound of powder and a pickax to a railroad bar followed the track of the whalers of old Nantucket and doubled Cape Horn; a hundred miles and a lift of seven thousand feet heavenward; a hundred miles and not a drop to drink for engine or engineer; a thousand miles and hardly an Anglo-Saxon dweller. Two thousand feet of solid granite barred the way upon the mountain top where eagles were at home. The Chinese Wall was a toy beside it. It could neither be surmounted nor doubled, and so they tunneled what looks like a bank-swallow's hole from a thousand feet below. Powder enough was expended in persuading the iron crags and cliffs to be a thoroughfare to fight half the battles of the Revolution. It was in its time the topmost triumph of engineering nerve and skill in all the world. It stitched the East and the West lovingly together, and who shall say that we are not a United States?
The level rays of the setting sun glorified the scene as we steamed out a few miles, until at our left, a sea of glass, lay the Great Salt Lake, a fishless sea, and as full of things in "um" as an old time Water Cure used to be of isms, with its calcium, magnesium and sodium. A man cannot drown in it comfortably. No decent bird will swim in it. If Jonah, the runaway minister, had been pitched into it, that lake would have tumbled him ashore before he had time to take lodgings at the sign of "The Whale." It absolutely rejects everything but something in "um." It ought to be the "dulce domum" for Lot's wife. Everybody passes Promontory Point in the night, the memorable spot where, on that May day, 1869, the East and the West were wedded, and the blows that sent home the spikes of silver and gold securing the last rail in the laurel were repeated by lightning at Washington and San Francisco, in the length of a heart-beat; blow for blow, from the Potomac to the Pacific. Think of echo answering echo through a sweep of more than three thousand miles! All in all, after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, it was the most impressive and thoughtful ceremony that ever graced the continent. It was electric with the spirit of the New Era.
Tally Eleven! We are in Nevada, eleventh sovereignty from the Atlantic seaboard. We have struck the Great American Desert. I wish I could give, with a few brief touches, the scenery of the spreads of utter desolation, strangely relieved by glimpses of valleys of clover that smell of home, and conjure up the little buglers of the dear East, that in their black and buff trimmed uniforms and their rapiers in their coat-tail pockets, used to campaign it over the fields of white clover where we all went Maying; sights of little islands of bright greenery, as at Humboldt, as much the gift of irrigation as Egypt is of the Nile; great everlasting clouds of mountains, tipped as to their upper edges with snow as with an eternal dawn; patches ghastly white with alkali as if earth were a leper, and yellow with sulphur as if the brimstone fire of the Cities of the Plain had been raining here, and salt had been sown and the ground accursed forever.
Tumble in upon these alkali plains a few myriads of the buffalo that have been wantonly slaughtered, and with the steady fire of the unwinking, unrelenting, lidless sun that glares down upon the dismal scene as if he would like to stare it out of existence, you would have the most stupendous soap-factory in the universe, to which the establishments of the Colgates and the Babbitts would be as insignificant as the little inverted conical leach of our grandmothers, wherewith they did all the Iyeing the dear simple souls were guilty of.
Fancy an immense batch of wheaten dough hundreds of miles across, wet up, perhaps, before Columbus discovered America, permeating and discoloring and tumefying in the sun through five centuries; strown with careless handfuls of salt and sprinkles of mustard, and garnished, like the mouth of a roasted pig, with parsley-looking sage-brush, and tufts of withered grass, and rusty cactuses, and veins of dead water sluggish as postprandial serpents; and whiffs of hot steam from fissures in the unseemly and ill-omened mass; a corpse of a planet sweltering and sweltering, with whom gentle Time has not yet begun; no May to quicken it, no June to glorify it, no Autumn to gild it.
Then fancy all this in a huge basin whose red and rusty rim, broken and melted out of shape, you see here and there in the northern horizon—fancy all this, and yet there is nothing but "the sight of the eyes" that will “affect the heart." Miners and mountain men have been lavishly liberal in giving things to the Devil. If he must have something in the way of estate, give him this bleached batch of desert dough for his own consumption!
You will take notice that in this description of waste places I have not mentioned Tadmor nor alluded to Thebes. A man cannot very well be reminded of things he never saw; neither have I quoted anything from Ossian about lonely foxes and disconsolate thistles waving in the wind. All these things have been mentioned once or twice, and the American Desert needs no foreign importations of Fingals to make it poetically horrible.
You have gone over it in a palace. You have eaten from tables that would be banquets in the great centres of civilization. You have slept upon a pleasant couch "with none to molest or make you afraid." You have drank water tinkling with ice like the chime of sleighbells in a winter night—water brought from mountains fifteen, twenty, thirty miles away. You have retired without weariness and risen without anxiety. Now, I want you to remember the men and women without whom there would be nothing worth seeing that could be seen, on the Pacific Slope; the men and women who crossed these plains in wagons whose very wheels clamored for water as they creaked; those men and women who toiled on through this realm of disaster, parched, famished, dying yet not despairing, to whom every day was only another child of the Summer Solstice, and who said every morning, "Would to God it were night!" Some made their graves by the way, and some lived to look upon the Pacific sea, and I want you to believe that in our time there has never been a sturdier manhood, a ruggeder resolution, a more Miles Standish sort of courage, than marked the career of the pioneers to the West.
Tally Twelve! Twelfth empire from the Atlantic. Less than three hundred miles from the Pacific. We are in California—the old Spanish land of the fiery furnace. The turbaned mountains rise to the right, and the dark cedars and pines in long lines single file, like Knight Templars in circular cloaks, seem marching up the heights.
You feel, somehow, that though not a pine-needle vibrates, the wind must be "blowing great guns,"so to ruffle up and chafe the solid world. Across ravines that sink away to China like a man falling in a nightmare, and then the swooning chasms suddenly swell to cliffs and heights gloomy with evergreens and bright with Decembers that never come to Christmas, the train pursues its assured way like a comet. It circles and swoops and soars and vibrates like a sea-eagle when the storm is abroad. Mingled feelings of awe, admiration and sublimity possess you. Sensations of flying, falling, climbing, dying, master you. The sun is just rising over your left shoulder. It touches up the peaks and towers of ten thousand feet, till they seem altars glowing to the glory of the great God. You hold your breath as you dart out over the gulfs, with their dizzy samphire heights and depths. You exult as you ride over a swell. Going up, you expand. Coming down, you shrink like the kernel of a last year's filbert. We are in the Sierras Nevada! The teeth of the glittering saws with their silver steel of everlasting frost cut their way up through the blue air—up to the snow-line—up to the angel-line between two worlds.
It was day an instant ago, and now it is dark night. The train has burrowed in a tunnel to escape the speechless magnificence. It is roaring through the snow-sheds. It is rumbling over the bridges: Who shall say to these breakers of sod and billows of rock, "Peace, be still!" and the tempest shall be stayed and the globe shall be at rest ?
And all at once a snow-storm drives over your head. The air is gray with the slanting lines of the crazy, sleety drift. Some mountain gale that never touches the lower world, but, like a stormy petrel, is forever on the wing and never making land, has caught off the white caps and turbans from some ambitious peaks, and whipped them whirling through the air. You clap your hands like a boy, whose sled has been hanging by the ears in the woodshed all summer, at his sight of the first snow. But the howling, drifting storm goes by, and out flares the sun, and the cliffs are crimson and silver.
You think you have climbed to the crown of the world, but lo, there, as if broke loose from the chains of gravitation, "Alps on Alps arise." Look away on and on, at the white undulations to the uttermost verge of vision, as if a flock of white-plumed mountains had taken wing and flown away.
A chaos of summers and winters and days and nights and calms and storms is tumbled into these gulches and gorges and rugged seams of scars. Rocks are poised midway gulfward that awaken a pair of perpetual wonders: how they ever came to stop, and how they ever got under way. With such momentum they never should have halted: with such inertia they never should have started. Great trees lie head-downward in the gulfs. Shouting torrents leap up at rocky walls as if they meant to climb them. See these herds of broad-backed recumbent hills around us, lying down like elephants to be laden. See the bales of rocks and the howdahs of crags heaped upon them. They are John Milton's own beasts of burden, when he said, "elephants endorsed with towers," and such an endorsement should make anybody's note good for a million.
Do you remember the old covered bridges that used to stand with their feet in the streams like cows in midsummer, and had little windows all along for the fitful checkers of light? Imagine those bridges grown to giants, from five hundred to two thousand feet long, and strong a a fort. Imagine some of them bent into immense curves that, as you enter, dwindle away in the distance like the inside of a mighty powder-horn, and then lay forty-five miles of them zigzag up and down the Sierras and the Rockies, and wherever the snow drifts wildest and deepest, and you have the snow-sheds of the mountains, without which the cloudy pantings of the engines would be as powerless as the breath of a singing sparrow. They are just bridges the other side? They are made to lift the white winter and shoulder the avalanche. But you can hardly tell how provoking they are sometimes, when they clip off the prospect as a pair of shears snips a thread, just as a love of a valley or a dread of a cañon, or something deeper or grander or higher or ruder catches your eye, "Out, brief candle!" and your sight is extinguished in a snow-shed. But why complain amid these wonders because you have to wink!
Summit Station is reached, with its sky parlors, and grand Mount Lincoln, from whose summit it is two miles "plumb down" to the city by the sea, and we have a mile and a half of it to swoop. The two engines begin to talk a little. One says, "Brakes!" and the other, "All right!" "Take a rest!" says the leader. "Done!"says the wheeler, and they just let go their nervous breaths, and respire as gently as a pair of twin infants. The brakes grasp the wheels like a gigantic thumb and finger, the engines hold back in the breeching, but down we go, into the hollows of the mountains; along craggy spines, as angry as a porcupine's and narrow as the way to glory; out upon breezy hills red as fields of battle; off upon Dariens of isthmuses that inspire a feeling that wings will be next in order. Sparks fly from the trucks like fiery fountains from the knife-grinder's wheel, there is a sullen gride of expostulation beneath the cars, but down we go. Should the water freeze in the engines' stomachs, "the law that swings worlds would whirl the train through!"
The country looks as if a herd of mastodons with swinish curiosity had been turned loose to root it inside out. It is the search for gold. Mountains have been rummaged like so many potato-hills. When pickax and powder and cradles fail, and the "wash-bowl on my knee" becomes what Celestial John talks—broken China —then as yonder! Do you see those streams of water playing from iron pipes upon the red hill's broad side? They are bombarding it with water, and washing it all away. The six-inch batteries throw water about as solid under the pressure as cannon-shot. A blow from it would kill you as quick as the club of Hercules. Boulders dance about in it like kernels in a corn-popper. I give the earnest artillerymen a toast: "Success to the douche! The heavier the nugget the lighter the heart."
The train is swaying from side to side along the ridges, like a swift skater upon a lake. It is four thousand feet above the sea. It shoulders the mountains to the right and left. It swings around this one, and doubles back upon that one like a hunted fox, and drives bows-on at another like a mad ship. Verily, it is the world's high-tide! You have been watching a surly old giant ahead. There is no climbing him, nor routing him, nor piercing him; but the engines run right on as if they didn't see him. Everybody wears an air of anxious expectancy. We know we are nearing the spot where they let men down the precipice by ropes from the mountain-top, like so many gatherers of samphire, and they nicked and niched a foothold in the dizzy wall, and carved a shelf like the ledge of a curved mantelpiece, and scared away the eagles to let the train swing round.
The mountains at our left begin to stand off, as if to get a good view of the catastrophe. The broad cañons dwindle to galleries and alcoves, with the depth and the distance. You look down upon the top of a forest, upon a strange spectacle. It resembles a green and crinkled sea full of little scalloped billows, as if it had been overlaid with shells shading out from richest emerald to lightest green. Nature is making ready for something. The road grows narrower and wilder. It ends in empty air. There is nothing beyond but the blue! And yet the engines pull stolidly on.
Down brakes! We have reached the edge of the world, and beyond
is the empyrean! You stand upon the platform. The engines are
out of sight. They are gone. The train doubles the headland,
halts upon the frontlet of Cape Horn!—clings to the face of the precipice
like a swallow's-nest.
The Grand Cañon is beneath you. It opens out as with visible
motion. The sun sweeps aslant the valley like a driving rain of gold,
and strikes the side of the mountain a thousand feet from the base.
There, twenty five hundred feet sheer down, and that means almost a half
mile of precipice, flows in placid beauty the American River. You
venture to the nervous verge. You see two parallel hair-lines in
the bottom of the valley. They are the rails of a narrow-gauge railroad.
You see bushes that are trees, martin-boxes that are houses, broidered
handkerchiefs that are gardens, checked counterpanes that are fields, cattle
that are cats, sheep that are prairiedogs, sparrows that are poultry.
You look away into the unfloored chambers of mid-air with a pained thought
that the world has escaped you, has gone down like a setting star, has
died and left you alive! Then you can say with John Keats upon a
far different scene, when he opened Chapman's magnificent edition of Homer:
"Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He stared at the Pacific, and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent upon a peak in Darien."
Queer people travel. Returning to the car I saw a broad-gauge
Teuton, with the complacent bovine expression of a ruminating cow, eating
a musical Bologna lunch of "linked sweetness long drawn out," and I said
to him, "Did you see Cape Horn?" "Cabe Hornd? Vat is she?" One of
those difficult old-bachelor questions that will never find anybody to
answer. Everything in this world but sausage and lager.
"A yellow primrose was to him,
And it was nothing more."
FROM WINTER TO SUMMER.
A CALIFORNIA train is a human museum. Here now, upon ours, are
the stray Governor of Virginia, an army captain going to his company in
Arizona, a trader from the Sandwich Islands, a woman from New Zealand,
a clergyman in search of a pastorate, an invalid looking for health, a
pair of snobs, Mongolians with tails depending from between their ears,
the proprietor of an Oregon salmon-fishery, a gold-digger, a man whose
children were born in Canton while his wife lived in San Francisco, some
Shoshones and dogs in the baggage car, and a family who ate by the day,
breakfasted, dined, supped, lunched, picked and nibbled without benefit
of clergy. It would take a chaplain in full work just to "say grace"
for that party. Victuals and death were alike to them. Both
had "all seasons for their own" They ate straight across the continent.
If they continue to make grist-mills of themselves, crape for that family
will be in order at an early day.
At some station in the Desert where we halted for water, there sat, huddled upon the platform, some Shoshone Indians, about as gaudy and filthy as dirt and red blankets could make them, and papooses near enough like little images of Hindoo gods to be cousins to the whole mythology. One of the squaws, with an ashen gray face and white hair, a forehead like a hawk's, an eye like a lizard's, an arm like a ganglion of fiddlestrings, and a claw of a hand, looked to be a hundred years old, and her voice was as hollow as if she had an inverted kettle for the roof of her mouth, and talked under it. Near by, on the same platform, an Englishman was pacing to and fro, putting down his well-shod feet as if he had taken the country in the name of the queen of 'ome and the Empress of India. A Frenchman, in a round cap with a tassel to it, stands with the wind astern and his brow bent like a meditative Bonaparte, trying, to light a twisted roll of paper in the hollow of his hand. Two Chinamen in blue, broad-sleeved blouses, their shiny black cues swinging behind like bell-ropes in mourning, stood near, shying their ebony almonds at the whole scene. On the track, waiting for a shake of the bridle, waited the engine, breathing a little louder now and then, like a man turning over in his sleep.
Regarded with thoughtful eyes, the grouping was impressive. Here in the Desert, as far away from blue water as they could possibly get, standing upon the same hundred square feet of platform, were Mongolians from the pagoda-land of "the drowsy East," aborigines from the heart of the continent, men from Fatherland and Motherland, and the lands of the lilies, the storks, the long nights, the broad days and the—interrogation-points, all met and mingled here for a little minute, and the cause of it is the wonder of it. There it stands upon the track. It is number 110. It is the locomotive, at once a beast of burden, a royal charger, a civilizer and a circuit-rider.
At stations throughout the way, in places unutterably dismal and desolate, wagon roads, stage routes and horse trails make for the mountains. No man not gifted with geological eyes, which means a pair of organs that can see through millstones before they are picked, would ever suspect what floods of disguised mercury, what billions of blue-pills and boluses, what caverns of honest silver, what spangled nuggets of clean gold, what Pactolian sands, what wealth of agates of price, what life-giving springs, what Cracows of salt, what fountains of soda, lurk in all impossible places, as if the planet had gone into bankruptcy and hidden its assets in these regions. You pass through a place without knowing it whence seventy-five millions of pure gold have been taken, with a two-million income to-day, and the world is there still—not so much as an eyelet-hole through it.
Unless you have been made cosmopolitan by travel, the Overland Voyage gives you a lonely far-away feeling it will puzzle you to describe. The air is so clear, the horizon so broad, the world so strange, the tune of life keyed two or three notes higher than you ever played it before, that you catch yourself wishing for a lounge on some old native sod where, if your name is not "McGregor," at least it is Richard when he was "himself again," beneath a rock maple that gives you sugar in April, shade in June and beauty in October.
We have rounded Cape Horn! Grand Pacific, good morn! Rattling down the ridges, bringing up with a sweep in niches of valleys, like a four-in-hand before stage-houses with room for the cut of a figure-8. A half-mile down and one hundred and ninety-three out, and there is The Golden Gate. We are plunging into a carnival of flowers. They hold up their dear little faces everywhere to be admired, and why not? Snow-storm in the morning and midsummer at noon! Read over the old stories of the Arabian Sights, and believe every word of them. The chaparral of little evergreen oaks shows bright along the hills, and the air is sweet with the white blossoms. You pass settlements of a tree that has original ways of its own. Like the Manzanita tree, it does not grow in Webster's Dictionary. It is the Madrona. It has no fall of the leaf; but it strips off its clothes like a boy bound for a swim, for it slips out of its old bark and is fitted to a new suit. It borrowed the fashion from the Garden of Eden. Its wood is crooked enough for a politician, and it has as much the look of a foreign land as a date-palm. Many trees and shrubs in California are evergreen, though there is nothing about them to make you suspect it, and the reason they are, is that the weather is so wonderful from January to December they never know the proper time to shed their leaves, and so "wear green on their coats" and never change their clothes all the year round!
The valley of the Sacramento is a garden, and Sacramento is the "urbs in horto" of it. It is our first glimpse of the Celestial Flowery Kingdom of the Christian world. Roses never die. Rare exotics that we at the East cherish as if they were infants, and bend over like new-made fathers and mothers, are distrained for conservatory rent and turned out-of-doors. The white dome of the State Capitol rises like a pale planet above the green surges and waving banners of semi-tropic luxuriance—a planet with one mansion, the Temple of Liberty, and one inhabitant, an unprotected female, Power's Genius of California, and the blue dome of Mount Diablo lifts in the far horizon.
These are the spacious parlors with their seventeen thousand square miles, and all carpeted with beauty from the silver Sierras" at the eastward of Eden" to the thin apparition of the Coast Range in the West. The orange blossoms are abroad, and the fruit is as golden as the three pawnbroker planets, and as green as a walnut in its first round-about, all at once. They that dwell here sit under their own vine and fig-tree, and the palm waves over their heads. The stately orchards of live-oaks, in their chapeaux of green, stand at ease in the picture, to counterfeit the royal parks of Old England. The Sacramento River wanders down on the way to the sea, while cloudlets of steam and flicker of flag and of wing mark the route. Taste and wealth have conspired with Nature. There is no fairer landscape between the Tropics.
And what a blessed country for Don Quixote! How "the knight of the sorrowful countenance" would brighten at sight of California! The Castilian Alexander sighing for more windmills to conquer, would have them here. Every well-ordered family may keep a dog, a cat, or some children, but the windmill is sure to be the pet of the household. It is an odd sight, fifty windmills in a broad landscape, all going at once; some painted green as dragonflies, some red, white and blue; these with hoods, those with their arms bare to the shoulder; facing different ways, looking square at you, or askance, or not seeing you at all. Insects out of some gigantic entomology, whirling their antennae at you, to beckon you or frighten you, or halt you or start you. Then with.a little whisk of wind, one will whip about like a cat and front the other way. Some of them have tails like a fish. Others, in the rolling country, have long slender bodies of wooden aqueducts that suggest devil's-darning-needles, only they have long, thin legs, sometimes four, and then a dozen, just to keep their dropsical bodies at the right altitude for irrigation. These fellows turn their heads like hooded owls on a perch, and it would not astonish you much to see any of them develop wings and fly away, if only it was not your way. They are as thick in California as the little white and yellow butterflies around a wet place in the road. It would have puzzled Agassiz to classify them, but they are the home-made rain-storms of the California summer. Look at those coppery hills yonder, dried to tinder point. See the dust, fine as Scotch mist, rolling around the wagons and enveloping them in clouds as was old AEneas. But how brilliant the green fields, how new the flowers, how glittering the trees, how rank the corn fresh from the baptism of the precious bugs of windmills. How sweet the air as with the smell of rain! This is a rainless land from spring to fall, but like other Ships of State it runs by wind and water all the same.
You plunge into a tunnel a thousand feet long, are gone a minute in a kind of short night with noon at one end of it and sunshine at the other. You emerge into valley after valley with picturesque halls between, the mountains keeping company as you go. Diablo draws near, gashed with gorges, his robe of mountain blue folded away, and the cowl of a ghostly Franciscan flung over his head. The salt sea breezes, such as Dibdin could have sung a rousing song about, come rushing up to welcome the stranger from the alkali air and the shimmering heat and the giddy heights and the everlasting SNOW. There are pansies by the way, broad-faced like little moons—pansies, and that's for thought of thankfulness. There are poppies scattered abroad—poppies, and that's for forgetfulness of all things that weary. There are wild lupins, true blue, and buttercups that take you back to childhood and home pastures, where the reflected tint of the floral gold upon your chin told the secret of your love, not of beauty but of butter. At last! the bay of San Francisco, with its gems of islands, its waters doubling the flags of all nations; the Queen, with her face to the Golden Gate, and her hair wet with the breath of the Pacific. It is seven miles to San Francisco. Say it is one of the finest voyages you ever made. Thank God you are yet in the United States. There floats the twin of the flag you left three thousand miles ago. The denser, richer, more gracious air comes to you like a familiar friend.
But let us not ride high-horses to bed. The sun is sliding down into what you never saw it drown in before —the Pacific Ocean. The last time you saw it meet with a like calamity, it fell into Lake Michigan. It has strength enough left to show what manner of person you are: as dusty as an elephant, a smutch on your face, a kink in your hat, and your ungloved hand shaded like some smoky work of the old masters. Let us leave scenery for soap, and beauty for broom brushes.
The car is an aggravated case of the First of May. Everybody is making ready to move. Leather valises, cotton trunks, carpet-bags of the style that it takes two to show the pattern, are repacked, the wrecks and bones of departed luncheons tossed from the window, cloaks and wraps shaken out of wrinkle, traveling-caps wadded and pocketed. Dusky porters are alert, whisking half dollars from coats with a wisp-broom, leaving the dust undisturbed, as if they thought California tourists carried the sacred ashes of their forefathers about with them. A woman is polishing her front hair with a licked finger. One mother is washing a family of three with Desdemona's handkerchief.
Everybody is going everywhere, one to Puget Sound, that looked very dim and other-worldish on the old maps; another to the Halls of the Montezumas, where the grand old hero of Lundy's Lane went; a third to Japan. You open upon a new page of the geography, and hear more names of far-away regions in an hour than you ever heard in your life. They talk in a neighborly way of up the coast to Oregon, and down the coast to Callao, and over to Honolulu, as if it were just across a four-rod street.
The train runs through Oakland, a lovely live-oak suburb of San Francisco, thirty thousand strong, where a thousand houses a year has been the recent rate of growth. You catch a glimpse of the tropical glories. You see hedges of fuchsias and walls of scarlet geraniums twelve feet high, blazing like the Burning Bush. You see walls of evergreen carved into arches and alcoves and gateways, as if they were green marble. You see the California quail in his neat uniform and his quaint crest running about the door-yards of the city, as domestic as witty-legged bantams. You see bits of velvet lawn as emerald as emeralds, and intense as green fire. You see calla-lilies as large and pure as holy chalices. You see a cloud of foliage on a distant hill as blue as if a bit of clear sky had fallen down upon green trees and dyed them the color of heaven. It is the blue gum-tree. You see Australian shrubbery that never knows it is an exile.
At last you go to sea on the cars. You run three miles out in salt water upon a pier. You are in the midst of ocean-going ships, and saucy tugs, and fishingsmacks and rollicking jolly-boats. Men-of-war lie quiet with cables in their noses and anchors at the end of them, nasal charms of gigantic dimensions. You see the double-headed fowl of the imperial standard of the Czar, and the tricolor of France, and the tawny moon of Japan in a brick-red sky, and the calico-pattern of the Hawaiian Islands, and the splendid flag you were born under, more beautiful than all. You hear litful blasts of music from the distant decks. You see lines of ports like the fingerholes of flutes along the ships' sides. They are the burrows of thunder and lightning.
The little company here separate. Good-byes and good wishes interchange,
and we part with a figurative "cup of kindness"at our lips, and few, I
dare say, left the train who could not have joined in the sad old song
of the "Three Friends:"
“And in fancy's wide domain
There we all shall meet again.”
I do not know Pythias, and I did not see Damon on the train, but I do know that just in proportion as men become truly human, they grow frank and friendly.
You board one of the grandest ferry-boats in American waters, El Capitan, vast parlors on a bridge that crosses while you sit still, whereon four thousand people can be borne without a battle of the bones. Everything is sweet and tidy as a nice little bride's first house-keeping. I recall the old steamer "Nile," Commodore Blake, that used to sail the fresh-water seas, with a pair of golden lizards at the bow for a figure-head. It was thought grand with its owlish saloons and its stuffy cabins, and its hissings and sputterings and rumblings of hot water everywhere, and its perpetual palsy like an irritable volcano with an uneasy digestion. You could have put the habitable part of that Nile, crocodiles and all, into El Capitan's back parlor.
You left the runners and hackmen of the East in four-and-twenty-blackbird rows, all their mouths wide open like young robins, all hailing you together in gusts of Northeasters, to ride somewhere and stay somewhere, and they are always "going right up." Here, they meet you on the boat. They accost you confidentially, they touch you in a velvety way on the elbow with "kerridge, sir?" They are "the mildest-mannered men that ever"—asked a fare. I am not sure I quite like it. I take a kind of malicious satisfaction in watching the howling dervishes, as they stand just the other side "the dead line" of the curbstone or the rope railings, and howl. It is delicious to think they cannot get at me and pull me apart, and rend my baggage, and send me around to various hotels a morsel apiece, even as they feed lions and variegated cats in a menagerie.
Courtesy Bruce C. Cooper Collection.