Harry Jones.

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tance, but has gentle undulations.

We had crossed the Mississippi by a very long
wooden bridge. It was my first sight of that famous
river. I looked out of the window and saw it suddenly.
A coffee-coloured, smooth-surfaced river, with low
banks. A large, high-backed white steamboat was
ascending it, like a dirty swan without a neck.

In the train was a party of emigrants ; and I found


that there are three classes on American railways as
well as on our own. My ticket was marked "First
Class." This, however, became practically second, as
I paid something extra for a seat in a Pullman's
Palace car. Besides these, there was a car for emi-
grants. I walked the whole length of the train, and
came upon dozens of them, men, women, and children,
lying fast asleep on the floor of the carriage. They
were near to their new home.

We put down some at a little station with a few
wooden houses by it. As we pulled up I saw a fine
"Western boy," in broad-brimmed hat and high boots,
staring with all his eyes at the car. There tumbled
out a woman and three children. " Ah, Bill ! " she
cried, as she caught sight of the bearded giant ; and
he hugged and kissed her then and there with en-
thusiasm. It was a husband who had gone out first
to provide a home ; and, for farmers, what a home
it is ! The first thing they do is to mow the prairie.
We saw many stacks of rough hay thus provided.
Then comes the plough, turning up the black soil with
a cut as clean as that of a knife through butter.

We crossed many streams or rivers, all black, and
passed shallow lakes with black rims, and wild-fowl
scared by our train. Many herds of cattle, mostly
red, grazed knee-deep in the prairie grass. Birds
were scarce. I saw swallows, several hawks, two
flocks of what seemed to be starlings, but they were


not, and some birds like oyster catchers, flying low
and following the course of the streams.

Our company was American, with the exception of
an artillery officer from Toronto, whom we presently
dropped at Fort Kearney, to shoot buffaloes and elks.
He was a very agreeable companion, and I wish he
had gone on to San Francisco with me. We talked
" Indians " and " buffaloes " late into the evening
with an American, in a spare saloon, which we con-
verted into a smoking-carriage. The Indians were,
they said, out on the war-path then ; lately, they had
crossed the line and cut the telegraph wires ; but I
doubt whether they have tools heavy enough to take
up any of the rails.

The Pullman's Palace cars are very comfortable. I
had a sofa to myself, with a table and lamp. The
sofas are widened and made into beds at night. My
berth was three feet three inches wide, and six feet
three inches long. It had two windows looking out
of the train, a handsome mirror, and was well fur-
nished with bedding and curtains. Some of the
passengers went to bed with great orthodoxy.

I do not believe that hotel cars are run every day
for ordinary passengers on the Pacific Railway.
Sometimes a party charters one, but they are really
little better than the ordinary Palace cars. As there
are plenty of stations where food is procured, the
train stops for breakfast, dinner, and supper. It is


well, however, to be furnished with some additional
provisions, as, from the specimens we have already
had, the punctuality of the stoppages is not to he
altogether depended upon.

The Missouri is yellow, with many shifting sand-
banks. Its waters were very low, in spite of the rain.
I was told that we should reach dry regions as the
road rose towards the Rocky Mountains. We were
soon to enter on the great plains of Nebraska, and a
gentleman who had lately traversed the whole route
said that the track was much better westward than we
had found it as yet. Omaha was then the muddiest
place I ever saw, and the number of dirty boots with
legs inside them tilted up round the stove in the office
below where the clerk, too, had his heels on his desk
when I fetched my oil lamp to go to bed by was
enough to gladden the heart of the yawning negro
who acts as shoeblack, for he charged 15 cents a pair.
They say, however, that mud is rare in Omaha. The
roads are generally deep with dust. The men, ap-
parently far outnumbering the women, are mostly tall,
strapping fellows with broad-brimmed hats, and blue
trousers stuck into their boots. The houses, as a rule,
are of wood, painted white. The main street was,
when I saw it, a slough, navigated by one car on
rails, which plied perpetually up and down. The
horses were excellent, and splashed to their ears.

At Omaha we took the train for San Francisco


direct, and, with the exception of an occasional stop-
page for a few minutes, and two hours at Promontory,
travelled day and night for nearly five days, or 110
hours. Before very long we found ourselves in the
prairie ; and as the freshest impressions are some-
times the hest, I will here copy a letter which I wrote
home from the train, at one of the convenient little
tahles with which the car was furnished :

" I now date from the train, and you can see by my
writing that we travel with considerable steadiness.
We are passing through the prairie. On my right
hand as I look out of the window I see an ocean of
coarse hay-grass ; this is broken to my left by a few
scattered trees which mark the course of the North
Platte Eiver, which we have followed for a long dis-
tance. Beyond the river the grass appears again and
stretches to the horizon, unbroken by any tree, but
undulating like the Atlantic with a heavy ground-
swell. The prairie is much like what I expected to
see, though the grass is shorter than I thought it
was ; but the continual progress through a boundless
plain without a hedge or mark of any sort produces
an impression it is hard to describe. You almost
think the train must be standing still, and that you
are looking at the small section of a hayfield which
could be seen through a window. But the talk in the
train is that the buffaloes are coming north for this
short, sweet grass, and the Indians after them. In


writing this last sentence I am appropriately reminded
that the view from my car is laid in no long-civilised
park, for I look up and see a bona fide Indian, in
paint and Indian dress, who has alighted from his
horse by the roadside, and is staring at the train and
smoking a pipe. I have laid down my pen for a few
minutes, and take it up again to remark that the view
over the prairie from the right hand window of my
car has become more striking. The horizon is per-
fectly flat, and the most distant portion of the plain
exactly resembles the sea. Several of my companions,
who, like me, have never seen this sight before, are
now looking out of the car and talking of the perfect
resemblance of the prairie horizon to that of water.
The waving of the grass under the wind adds to the
deception. We have just passed a herd of antelopes."
At the risk of a certain amount of repetition, I will
reserve for the next chapter a more consecutive account
of our journey. Now I will give you merely general
impressions. We reached San Francisco safely in
five days. The whole of the railroad to this city was
really not quite finished, but from Omaha to Sacra-
mento was in excellent order. True, the wooden
bridges over the canons (pronounced canyons) were
temporary, and looked from a distance as if they were
built of lucifer matches. The trains creep slowly over
them, and they creak terribly ; but on the solid ground
the road-bed is firm, the track smooth, the time


fairly kept, the attendance good, and the provision at
the stopping-places on the line excellent, considering
the difficulties which must he met in supplying it.
We ran through more than 1,000 miles from Omaha
to Promontory, a place so called because it juts out
into the Great Salt Lake. Then we entered the cars
of the Central Pacific, which we did not quit till we
reached Sacramento. This latter portion of the line
is made hy Chinese. We passed scores of these
" navvies," in Chinese suits, long pigtails, and hats
like crushed beehives.

When we reached Sacramento we were shifted to
the new line, 134 miles long, between that place and
San Francisco. It was not yet completed, since we
had to take the ferry across the bay for half-an-hour.
Indeed, part of that which we passed over was not made
when we reached it. The sleepers were flung upon
the ground ; the rails, however, were not only not
fastened down, but not even laid in their places. As
the train stopped I looked out of a window, and became
aware of a mixed party of Irishmen and Chinese
hammering, digging, shouting, cackling (Chinese
cackle), in advance of us. I stepped out and walked
on, to find the line in the state I have described.

Lighting my cigar and sitting down on the trunk of
a tree by the road-side, I saw it finished in an hour,
at high pressure. A quarter of a mile, at the very
least, including a portion over a long bridge, was laid


as fast as ever the rails could be steadied on the sleepers,
with the greatest economy of nails. At last a chief
Paddy laid down the hammer which he had been
wielding with the precision and force of a small steam-
engine, and shouted out, "Come along wid ye ! " And
we came, a train of ten cars. Then the engine-driver
said, " Is it all right further on ?" " All right," said
Paddy ; and away we went, 25 miles an hour, presently,
under a full moon so bright that on stopping at one
of the stations I was enabled to read a book by it.
But the road was decidedly rough. " Rough ! " said
one of my Yankee companions ; " cussed if I think
there is any track at all ; it goes like a scared bullock."
I am bound, however, to say that this is the only
portion of the great Atlantic and Pacific line to which
such language could be applied. This will soon be
put into good order, and the rest is as smooth and
firm as could be wished. Indeed, it showed a very
marked contrast to the Chicago and North- Western,
by which I travelled to Omaha. A word about the
cars before I proceed to attempt some detailed de-
scription of this wonderful route. Those on the first
part from Omaha to Promontory are decidedly the
best. The Pullman hotel cars were not then running
on the line for ordinary passengers, but were expected
to do so in about a fortnight. We brought the inflam-
mable Drawing-room Palace car with us after all. It
heated two or three times west of Omaha, but had to


succumb to the exigencies of its position, and ran well
the rest of the way. For a time, though, we thought
it would mar our journey, for we had to make up the
time spent in doctoring it, and special speed is not
pleasant. But all went right, and a very agreeable
gentleman, who is connected with the Company and
travelled in it, met our murmuring with much good
temper. I came in a " Pullman's Palace sleeping
car." It held twelve bottom and twelve upper berths,
the former of which were converted into sofas during
the day. There was a washing place, &c., at one end,
and the berths were more roomy than in the " Silver
Palace cars" of the Central Pacific. The track,
liowever, on both portions of the line is equally good,
which is commendable, considering the pace at which
it was made. Indeed, for some hundred miles in the
middle of the Great Rocky Mountain desert the lines
were pushed on with such a speed that they overshot
-each other. The object of each rival company was to
.get as many rails laid as possible. They were each
to enjoy the Government grant up to the spot where
they met in working order. Thus the lines were
graded i.e., prepared for the sleepers and rails as
far on in advance of their actual completion as they
could be ; and, as I said, when we got into the cars of
the Central Pacific we passed some 100 miles, it may
be more or less, of the Atlantic and Pacific, which
could not be covered with sleepers and rails before the



line was met, with an engine upon it. The lines run
in some places within a few yards of each other, and
imagination must be left to picture the comments of
the Irish navvies on the Chinese as they worked in
rivalry almost side by side. There is no good feeling
between these classes of labourers. We came in one
place to the charred remains of some railway works,
and on inquiring the cause of them I was told that
they were burnt because they had been built by
Chinese. But the " children of the sun " are content
to work hard if they can earn money, and I suppose
do not feel the degradation of a kick. Certainly,
nothing could be more cheerful than their manner
when they crowded, as they did in one or two places,
to exchange many signs and a few English words with
the passengers in the train. The greeting from the
cars was, " John ! build railway ? " " Tchess," says
John, nodding and grinning. "Good," says Uncle
Sam ; and that was about all they had to say to each

The company " on board " our train was almost en-
tirely American. I have mentioned that we carried
an English artillery officer to a small station about
six miles from Fort Kearney, where he was turned
out with his rifle in his hand, a fur coat, a bag, and
good store of Cavendish tobacco, to shoot buffaloes
and elks on the prairie. He was quite alone, but
counted on making the acquaintance of some United


States officers at the fort. It was rather touching,
though, leaving him there as we did in the dark, es-
pecially as we heard that a tribe of Indians, out for
mischief, had crossed the line a night or two before
and taken the direction which he intended to pursue.
Six companies, with some friendly Pawnees, were
reported to have left in pursuit of them that day.
" Ever been out in the plains, sir ? " said a passenger
to this gentleman. "No," replied he, quietly. I
was glad to find, when I got out of the train to shake
hands with him as he departed on his errand, that
he had already made friends with an American officer
who, with six soldiers, was guarding the station.

We saw no other Englishmen till we reached Pro-
montory, where three came on board from Salt Lake,
but left us before we had crossed the Sierra. The
rest of our passengers, including divers ladies and
children, were very agreeable. A week's journey in
the same train makes many friends. Eailway travel-
ling in America is much less tedious than in England.
You can walk about, stand on the platform at either
end of the cars, and make visits to other parts of the
train. The engine even is accessible, though I sus-
pect this is rather a stretch. Descending the Sierra
Nevada, however, where the sharpest curves occur,
and the train, steam being shut off, runs by its own
weight down 6,000 feet into the Sacramento Valley,
I made friends with the driver, and got a seat by his


side. The line is perhaps most interesting here,
and I much enjoyed the descent, my intelligent new
friend pointing out the various surface gold mines as
we passed, and other features of the road.

As for the rest, time was wiled away by cards, con-
versation, and reading. We had an abundant supply
of books and newspapers. A boy frequently traversed
the train with a good store of novels, mostly English,
periodicals, &c. Even at Chyenne, a place seemingly
built half of canvas on the prairie, at the foot of the
Eocky Mountains, and exhibiting a dangerous-looking
population of miners, &c., in big boots, broad-brimmed
hats, and revolvers, the Chyenne Leader of that morn-
ing, which I bought, and which now lies open before
me, had an extract from a leader in the Times on the
(Ecumenical Council at Rome, dated the day before,
and news that heavy storms had prevailed throughout
England. The way in which the Atlantic Cable is
used by the American Press in the most unlikely
places, goes to show one phase of the hunger for read-
ing which affects our brethren on this side of the
Atlantic ; but English books and mere extracts from
English newspapers are not the only signs of English
literature one meets with here. The first publication
I saw on the first bookstall I met with in San Fran-
cisco was Punch.

I must make use of the jottings and consecutive
wayside notes of my route and journey in another


chapter. The country we traversed was even wilder
than I had expected. With the exception of the
thriving Mormon villages and farms in the Great Salt
Lake Valley, we seemed to pass through a desert, that
portion of it between Chyenne and the Sierra being in
many places most dreary, and even in a sense awful,
with its lifeless alkaline plains. We rushed through
these hour after hour, the lips of the passengers in
some cases becoming almost sore with the dry soda
dust which we whirled up from the white snow-like
soil traversed by the train.




ABOUT two-thirds of the American continent are
traversed by the road, which has only one line of rails.
The plains that come first rise almost imperceptibly
from Omaha to an altitude of 7,040 feet above the
sea-level in 516 miles, when Chyenne, at the foot of
the Rocky Mountains, is reached. Then the ascent
is rapid to Sherman, the highest elevation, which
Bancroft's Guide, from which I take my figures, puts
at 8,424 feet, 33 miles distant from Chyenne. From
Sherman there is high barren table mountain land for
about 500 miles farther, when the Great Salt Lake
Valley is reached, with an elevation of 4,320 feet.
The road rises again from this to a height of between
6,000 and 7,000, and then drops to about 4.000
before it crosses the Sierra, at an elevation of 7,042.
From the summit of this range the descent to
Sacramento is rapid, the train running down mainly
by its own weight to the sea-level in 105 miles, some
parts of this road being much steeper than others.
Steam is used for about 30 miles of this distance.


With Sacramento level ground is reached ; the length
of the combined Atlantic and Pacific and Central
Pacific lines being from Omaha to Sacramento 1,774
miles, and to San Francisco 1,908. 154 stations are
marked in my guide-book, many of them being mere
tanks for watering the engine, with sometimes only a
tent beside them. The express trains do not stop at
all of these. Nothing which deserves the name of a
town, though some are called cities, is seen between
Omaha and Sacramento. Chyenne, the largest, has
not emerged from the board and canvas stage, and
divers others consist of tents. There are, however,
solid erections in several places for the purposes of
the railway, and a few of these will in time grow into
permanent towns ; but a long portion of the route is
so hopelessly barren that I doubt if it will ever do
more than carry the track.

We left Omaha at nine o'clock one Wednesday
morning. At first the country showed much the same
degree of civilisation seen the other side of the Mis-
souri, but in about four hours the farms died away,
with the exception of some adventurous dots of houses,
-which were dropped on the outskirts of the settle-
ments. These, however, soon ceased, and we ran in
a perfectly straight track, with an interminable row of
telegraph posts by our side, across the prairie. I
have already described its appearance. Its horizon
so closely resembled the sea that it was hard to


believe we were looking over a plain which, in time,
will be ploughed and reaped. Here is a prospective
cornfield some 500 miles wide and 1,000 long. It is
impossible to forecast the future of Kansas, Nebraska,
and the watered regions north and south of them, into
which the tide of agricultural emigration is creeping
from Europe and the Eastern States. New England
finds for itself a yet newer life in these inexhaustibly
fertile territories, still mainly occupied by the Indian,
the elk, and the buffalo. " A big country, ours," said
several of my companions to me over and over again,
with an air of satisfaction which could not have been
greater if they had made it themselves. But it is not
the bigness which makes it precious. The British
possessions to the north of it are as large. Its soil
and sun and rivers give it worth and a weight whick
the Union must be trimmed carefully to carry. I do
not say that throughout the whole route I came across
any serious sentiment of independence, but distant
California, with its gold and grain, sneers and swears
at greenbacks. "I know nothing," said a prosperous
man to me in the train, "of promises to pay : " and
wayside fruitsellers, to whom I, having then no specie,
offered notes for pears, &c., cursed them with a will.
But most of the Americans with whom I conversed
were apparently united at heart.

The sun set over the prairie before our first night
in the train, shining last upon a western cloud till it


looked like a firmament of gold. Lamps were lit ;
cards, reading, and conversation still went on in the
little slice of civilisation which was rushing through
the prairie, now stopping at a station where the
soldiers who guarded it came on board and begged
for any papers we could spare, and told us how not
long ago they had had a brush with the Indians, and,
to use their own words, "taken sixty scalps" and
then scaring antelopes into the safe darkness of
distance. At last the attendant came round to con-
vert the sofas into beds, and let down the upper
berths. It was an odd experience, that going to bed
of some thirty ladies, gentlemen, and children, in,
practically, one room. For two nights I had a young-
married couple sleeping in the berth above mine.
The lady turned in first, and presently her gown was
hung out over the rail to which her bed curtains were-
fastened. But further processes of unrobing were
indicated by the agitation of the drapery which con-
cealed her nest. As the same curtain served for
both berths hers and mine the gentleman held her
portion together over my head when it was necessary
for me to retire. At last all were housed, and some
snores rose above the rattle of the train. I did not
sleep much the first night, but looked over the moonlit
prairie from my pillow. We were then passing through
the great buffalo country. Before the week was spent,
however, we had all become as used to the exigencies-


of our position as if we bad been born and bred in a
Pullman's car. The ladies slid out of tbeir berths
in a very tumbled toilet, and, getting out their
-combs, toothbrushes, and sponges, did such delibe-
rate justice to their charms as circumstances would

On Thursday morning I woke early, to see the
grass on the plains shorter, and the ground broken
by juttings of rock. It was bitterly cold, and I was
very glad of the red blanket with which my berth was
furnished. I looked out of the window and saw a
string of antelopes cantering off in the early sunshine.
If you have never dressed on your back in a box two
feet high, you can, at least, suppose that it is incon-
venient to do so.

We breakfasted at Ch}-enne, and had tea, coffee,
antelope, beef, mutton, trout, ham, eggs, &c. This
is the current bill of fare on the line. The chops
were generally as tough as hanks of whipcord, and
the knives as blunt as bricklayers' trowels. One of
our hosts told me that he kept three fishermen and
two hunters to provide food for the trains. I told
him I wished he would keep his meat a little, too.
Xo wine or beer was seen till we reached Promontory,
when Californian claret made its appearance. We
liad weak tea with our dinner.

I might as well tell you here something about
American cookery. It is rather unintelligible. Gumbo


soup, hominy, squash pie, sweet potatoes, and corn
heads boiled whole, seem to be favourite dishes. The
beef is good, the mutton not so well- flavoured as ours.
Turkey appears everywhere, and eggs have a hundred
forms. The bread is not hearty; the tea is bad.
Claret is reasonably cheap, but, with this exception,
the price of wines is prodigious. Nobody calls for
port or sherry. Most people drink only iced water at
meals. Oysters are abundant, and dressed in count-
less ways. Clam soup is excellent. Breakfast is

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Online LibraryHarry JonesTo San Francisco and back → online text (page 3 of 12)