James Swisher.

How I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience online

. (page 21 of 21)
Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 21 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ches, and, despite the hurried flight of the savages,
who had their own women and children with them,
the Rangers saw among them a captive white woman.
They charged desperately upon the savages, who fled
in all directions, but not till one of them had buried his
knife in the body of the girl, who was still breathing
when the Rangers came up. It was Minnie Lock-
hardt. She was just able to smile, as if to welcome
the Rangers, then peacefully breathed her last. "And,"
said the weather-beaten frontiersman who gave me
these facts, as he chocked down his emotions, "it was
a God's blessin' she was dead, an' her father never
seen her." For she had suffered the last terrible indig-
nity savage malice could invent. As is common when
a captive woman is not taken by one Indian, she be-
came the common property of the band; and loath-
some disease had worn her to a skeleton. Heart-
broken and disfigured, death was to her an unmixed
gain. Her afflicted father soon followed her to the
grave. The Lockhardt place is now desolate; its
dwellings burned, its tenants gone. But the chivalry
and hospitality of the father are still the theme of local
story, while the beauty and sorrowful fate of the
daughter are still told around the camp-fires and


hearth-stones of Texas and warm anew the hearts of
its sons to undying vengeance against the Comanches.

Texas ends the list of the border States proper. Ob-
serve that in all these States, as one goes west, he rises
slowly to a higher, dryer and more barren country, till
at last, about longtitude 100 or 101, he enters on "the
area of corrugation," as geologists call it, where bar-
renness is the rule; and this area includes all the west-
ern border of Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma
and Texas, of eastern Washington, Oregon and Cali-
lifornia, and all of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Let us skip this
region of mountain and desert, and pass at once to the
fertile section of the Pacific coast, lying west of the
Sierra Nevadas.

California? Well, I should not be in a hurry to
recommend it to any man of moderate means. The
worst objection is the oppressive land monopoly. "A
little ranche of twenty thousand acres " is a common
expression. A dozen men each own a dukedom all
but the inhabitants. They will own them after awhile,
unless this thing is remedied. The beginning of this
system was in the Mexican grants. The old Spanish
custom was to grant a county of land to an impresario,
on condition that he should settle a certain number of
families on it. The Mexicans continued the* system
with some modifications, and in due time the inferiors
became peons to the lord. These titles were all con-
firmed by treaty when the United States took posses-
sion, and have been sustained by the Supreme Court.



Again, when the miners took the country they sup-
posed the land to be worth but little except for grazing,
and many of them took up claims and sold them for a
trifle to speculators, and thus the best land in California
is now held in immense tracts by an aristocracy. Of
course these men are in favor of "Chinese cheap
labor," and equally, of course, the poorer whites are
unanimously opposed to it. Some have thought that,
as our country grew older, all the lands would be held
in the same way; but it is somewhat reassuring to note
that there is less land monopoly in Massachusetts than
in Ohio, and far less in Ohio than in California. In
some of the oldest States the land is most equally dis-
tributed, thanks to our wise laws of descent and dis-
tribution of estates; and in the course of fifty or a
hundred years the attrition of a free society will wear
out this evil in California.

It is now very difficult for one to get a small piece
of land in that State; and it would be better for intend-
ing emigrants to organize in some way, and buy out a
grant, of which there are always a few for sale. There
are a few places very few I am afraid where the
best land is not in the hands of monopolists, and it is
already noticeable that such communities improve faster
than others. But for many years to come California
will continue to be a land of the beggar and the

In Oregon this evil is not so great, but still great
enough. Land in the Willamette Valley is not much
cheaper than in Ohio and Indiana, and I cannot think



that enough is gained to make it worth while to go so
far. I do not see how a man,
wife and five children aver-
age Western family can get
to Oregon comfortably for
less than five or six hundred
dollars, which amount would
buy eighty acres of first-class
land in Kansas or Nebraska,
or a hundred acres in Texas;
and, having got to Oregon, you
must pay more for land than
in the other States named,
with a moral certainty that
the country will develop more
slowly. Oregon began to be
settled by white men in 1830;
before 1848 it contained about
ten thousand Americans; its
population now is about one
hundred thousand. Kansas
was thrown open to
settlement only
twenty-three years
ago; it now contains
a population of at
least six hundred
thousand. It strikes
me that's the sort
of a country to go



to, if you want your future to hurry up. But, if you
like a romantic border country one that is likely to
stay border for a long time go to Oregon. Oregon
climate? Well, some people like it. I don't. True, it
is mild and moist; but I am just Yankee enough to
prefer the cold, dry winter to the warm, wet, muggy,
and muddy. No five months' rain for me, if you
please. I'd rather freeze than smother. In California
it's different. There is no more rain there during the
so-called "rainy season" than in Ohio, and half the time
not as much. In fact, there never is too much rain in
California, though there sometimes is too little. The
summers in Oregon are delightful enough more pleas-
ant than in California; but, as at present advised, I
would not recommend either State to the class of em-
igrants just now going West.

Let us now turn to the great interior, and see if we
can pick out any oases inviting to settlement between
longtitude 100 and the Sierra Nevadas. Nevada is not
an agricultural State at all; and for aught we can now
see, never will be. It contains ninety-eight thousand
square miles, and less good land than three average
counties in Ohio. It has population enough for one-
third of a member of Congress; but our "paternal"
government has granted the State one Representative
and two Senators. Nobody need think of going there to
engage in farming. In the far distant future, when land
is in much greater demand than now, some way will
perhaps be found to redeem those arid tracts. Trees
will be planted wherever they will grow; the Austra-


lian eucalyptus may flourish even on the desert, and
thus in a few centuries a moister atmosphere be cre-
ated. But for the present the population must consist
of capitalists and laboring miners, and their congeners.
And here I might indulge in wearying words on the
romance and hardship of a miner's life, had I not given
him a chapter to himself. Strange it is that he should
be the most imaginative of men with a life of such
prosaic toil; but it is, doubtless, because his ways
are in a path, as Job says, "which no fowl knoweth,
and which the vulture's eye hath not seen: the lion's
whelps have not trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed
by it." (Job xxviii). And no finer, more poetical de-
scription of the silver miner's strange life underground
was ever written than in that chapter, taking Louth's
version: "He putteth forth his hand upon the rocks,
he swings above the depths. He cutteth out water-
courses through the rocks; and his eye searcheth for
precious things. He makes a new way for the floods;
he goes in the very stones of darkness in the shadow
of death." The perils of the prospector above ground
are equally great, but the life has its charms for all that.
In Utah are still a few unoccupied plateaus which
could be redeemed by canals taken out from some
large stream. Bear River Valley contains some sixty
thousand acres of fertile land, which might be re-
deemed at moderate cost by a canal from Bear River.
The climate is mild, not very hot in summer, and de-
cidedly pleasant in winter. The Central Pacific runs
through the valley, and the location is excellent for a

374 no w i KNO w.

thriving colony. On the Sevier is a smaller valley of
the same character. East of the Wasatch Range are
several beautiful valleys. That of Ashley's Fork con-
tains land enough for three thousand farms, all of most
excellent quality; and it can be had for the taking.
Late in 1873 a dozen stock ranchers settled there, and
have raised splendid crops every year since. Be it
noted that in no part of the temperate zone is fruit a
more certain crop than in Utah. Peaches never fail.
The Ashley Valley slopes gently to the south-east; snow
rarely lies on more than one night, and all the slopes are
rich in bunch-grass. Game is abundant in the neighbor-
ing hills, and a good road can easily be constructed to
the Union Pacific at Bridger Station. The valley of
Brush Creek, east of Ashley, is about half as large and
equally inviting. In these a colony of ten thousand
Americans might make for themselves delightful homes.
Farther south are several fine valleys, none quite so
large as the foregoing, but very fertile; and small set-
tlements have been made in some of them. It is to be
noted that these valleys which open eastward from the
Wasatch are free from Mormon domination, and will
remain so if settled by Gentile colonies. It has always
seemed to me that life would be exceedingly pleasant
in one of these alpine valleys. The elevation is about
five thousand feet above sea-level; the winters are mild;
the summer air dry and stimulating. There is game
on the hills, and trout in the streams; land enough to
produce grain for a sparse population, and almost un-
limited grazing ground. But these districts will never



sustain a large population. Between each settled valley
and the next there will be a day's ride over barren
mountain or grassy
hill. All that part
of Utah east of the
Wasatch will never
sustain a hundred
thousand people.

Wyoming con-
tains so little farm-
ing land that it is
not worth while to
discuss it; but it is
rich in grazing
tracts. Of the nine-
ty-eight thousand
square miles in this
Territory, one-half
is complete desert;
the rest good
grazing ground,

with perhaps five NEVADA FALLS, YOSEM-

hundred sections

of farming land, though I never saw

the latter and do not know where it is

located. Of course no one pre-empts

his grazing land; he merely takes up

meadow land when he can get it convenient; and

perhaps enough farming land for a garden, if there

is so much in the neighborhood. One

year with


another the herder puts up hay enough for three
months' feeding. Sometimes none of it is used, and
then it is on hand for the next winter. About half the
time the common stock can go through the winter
without hay, living on the bunch-grass; but blooded
stock should be fed at least two months every winter.
By the first of May stock can live well on the range.
From that on the grass appears to get more nourishing
every day till December. If the winter comes on with
snow, grass remains good till the snow melts; but rain
takes the sweetness out of it. It will then sustain life,
but stock lose flesh rapidly while living on it. It re-
quires a much larger area for the same number of
stock than in a blue-grass country, as the grass makes
but one growth per year, not renewing itself after being
eaten off. From all these facts it will be apparent that
Wyoming never can sustain a very large population.

New Mexico? Well, I must, as candidly as may
be, admit that I was rather disgusted with it that is,
for any thing else than mountains and scenery. Bear in
mind that the central portions of New Mexico are really
older country than Ohio. Santa Fe was founded a hun-
dred and fifty years before Cincinnati. All the good
land in the valleys of the Rio Grande and its tributaries
was long ago occupied, and the grazing lands of the
central section are taken up. West of the Rio Grande
the country is practically worthless to a man used to
the system of living in Ohio. The Territory has all
the faults of an old country, and few of its virtues. As
a stock-rancher you have but two chances of success.


The one adopted by most live Americans is to go into
partnership with one of the nobility. If you have busi-
ness ability and a partner who can furnish the blue
blood, respectability, local prestige and land, you may
in time become a capitalist, and marry ten or twenty
thousand sheep, with an incumbrance in the shape of a
lady, whose priest will rule her, and her father insist
on an ante-nuptial contract that the children shall be
reared in the "Holy Catholic faith." The other plan
is to go with money enough to buy a thousand sheep
and a herd-right that is to say, to be a capitalist your-
self. But don't think of going to New Mexico to build
up a fortune by hard work. The common fellows
there can work for fifty cents a day, and live on jerked
mutton and flour.

If you want to lead a wild harum-scarum sort of
life for a while, free from social restraints, where
chastity is not a requisite for good society, and morals
in general are somewhat relaxed, New Mexico is a
splendid place to sow your wild oats. As to the crop
to be reaped, I refer you to a very ancient authority.
But, if you think much of yourself, better set up your
sheep ranche in Colorado or Wyoming, where there is
not such an oppressive atmosphere of genta fina, and
where the owner of two sheep is still one of the boys,
and can dance with the daughter of the man who owns
a thousand. In south-western Arizona a progressive
community has been built up of late years, and though
the fertile area is small, there is still room for thou-
sands more. Colorado I have described at some


length in a previous chapter. It is, in my opinion, the
most enlightened and progressive of all the far western
communities, though I doubt if it can ever have the
population that Dakota will some day contain. . Idaho
I know very little about, and of Montana practically
still less. But it is universally agreed that they are
not agricultural Territories. There are valleys in both
which contain considerable good land, and large graz-
ing tracts; but mining will be the leading interest of
both for some time. Taken as a whole, and allowing
for every possible improvement in methods of farming
and reclamation of desert lands, the whole vast interior,
between longtitude 100 and the Sierra Nevadas, can
never average one acre in ten fit for the farmer; and
not more than half the rest is of any value for timber
or grazing.

And can such a region ever be filled by prosperous
States, which shall rival those of the Mississippi Val-
ley ? Never. All calculations as to the shifting of
political power, made on the basis of new States, rich
and populous, are sure to miscarry. That section has
an area greater than that of all the States east of the
Mississippi; but its population fifty years hence will
not be greater than that of Massachusetts. Only in
the Senate will the relative power of the East and
West be changed in the future, and probably very little
there. Colorado was only admitted after a ten years'
struggle. Nevada ought to be set back to a territorial
condition to-day, if there were any constitutional way
of doing justice. The child is not born that will live


to see her with population enough for one congressional
district. Here is a liberal estimate of the maximum
population these divisions are likely to have in the
year 1900:

Colorado, ...... . 250,000

Wyoming, 100,000

Dakota, 300,000

Idaho, 100,000

Washington, 125,000

Utah, , 250,000

New Mexico, 150,000

Montana, 100,000

Nevada, . 75>ooo

Arizona, 50,000

Total, ........ 1,500,000

Extraordinary discoveries may enable some one of
the mining regions to get ahead of the others, but the
grand total cannot be greater than here set down; and
only the* most favorable contingencies can make it so
great. The influence which this may have upon our
social and national life opens a wide field for discussion.
The good land at the disposal of our Government is
nearly exhausted. But a few more years and there
will be no more virgin soil awaiting the immigrant.
Then the half desert lands must be won with great
toil, or we must turn back and fill up the corners
which have been overrun in our rush for the best
spots. Our surplus population will then have no rich
heritage to look to, where a homestead can be had
for the taking. The paternal farm in the East must
be divided again and again, if all the boys are to have
a share. What will be the effect on our discontented


classes? Will it add a new strain to republican gov-
ernment, and will the troubles which menace the old
world monarchies then come upon us and find us un-
prepared to treat them rightly? or is there yet room in
the Eastern States for us to grow harmoniously for an-
other century? These be momentous questions.

Certain theorists have further troubled themselves
about the silver supply; and timid editors and politi-
cians have suggested that, if more bonanzas are dis-
covered, silver will soon be " cheap enough to manu-
ufacture into door-hinges." To such I guarantee
comforting proofs. Let them invest heavily in unde-
veloped silver mines, and before they get their money
back they will be convinced that silver is still a precious
metal hard to get at and correspondingly valuable
when got. One Ohio editor says: "Suppose they
should discover a mountain of silver !" Suppose they
should discover a mountain of ice-cream in August !
The one supposition is as reasonable as the other. In
fact, the latter phenomenon would violate fewer of the
laws of Nature than the former. Unchanging law de-
crees that, even in the richest mineral region, there
must be many million times as much dead rock
"attle," "rubble," and "country-rock" as silver-bearing
rock. Let silver permanently cheapen but five per
cent, and two-thirds of the mines in the world would
cease to be profitable.

For another class there is comfort. Poet and ro-
mancer, as well as hunter and tourist, have lamented
that in so short a time the wild West would be a thing


of the past; that soon all would be tame, dull and
common-place. Let them be reassured. The wild
West will continue wild for centuries. There will be
a million square miles of mountain, desert, rock and
sand, of lonely gorge and hidden glen, of walled basin,
wind-swept canon and timbered hills, to invite the
tourist, the sportsman and the lover of solitude. The
mountain Territories will long remain the abode of
romance; and "Western Wilds" will be celebrated in
song and story, while generation succeeds generation
of " the men who redeem them."



ON the 1 4th day of December, 1878, I left the
old Los Pinos Agency for home. I came by
way of Saguache to Del Norte on horseback. There
I procured a ticket to Chicago for sixty-four dollars.

Then I was suddenly roused, as by an angel's touch,
to the bright hopes of reaching home and meeting friends
again after the lapse of fifteen years and nearly nine
months. All my former years, all my former school-
mates and friendships returned to my memory, and it
seemed as if I could not be conveyed fast enough to
the home of my childhood. I sat for hours looking
out of the car-windows at the vast fertile fields, cov-

382 . HOW I KNOW.

ered at that time with a light snow. Everything
seemed new and improved. Would my mother know
me? was a question often in my mind. I wondered if
she too had changed like everything else.

I arrived at home on the 23d day of December, 1878.
I came in on the home-folks by surprise. What a gay
and happy meeting it was. How glad every one was
to see me, and how much more happy was I to see
them. How pleasant to sit and talk over the events
of the past! But, oh! what changes take place in
fifteen long years! When I was a boy I thought I
would never be a man. Now that I am a man time
flies on fleeting wings. I find that many who were
once my friends and companions have passed away.
I am no longer permitted to hear that voice to which
once I so loved to listen, which was so sweet to me
with tender words. No more may I see those friendly
smiles which once so thrilled me with pleasure. The
beloved form has passed away, and now lies mouldering
among the clods of the valley. The virtues of my de-
parted friends all come flashing back upon my kindling

I find my old Ohio friends, who are still living, bet-
ter supplied with the luxuries and conveniences of life
than are the people of the West, unless it be in Cali-
fornia. Amid old friends and friendly comforts time
speeds swiftly away.

The 6th day of June, 1879, found me at my father's
house. I was preparing to go to Lewisburg, not think-
ing about this being the anniversary of my birthday.


My father rather surprised me by suddenly asking me
to go over the place with him, to look at the corn,
and to salt the stock. To this I readily consented, of
course, and we were soon on our way. We left the
house early and I thought we would soon return. But
such I found was not my father's intention; for, after
he had salted every animal on the place, then we must
look at the corn; and after that we must cross clear
over to the other side of the farm to see if the Col-
orado potato-bugs were eating up his peach-blows. I
was, by this time, beginning to get tired, and I am in-
clined to believe that, had there been any thing more
to see, I should have gone back to the house alone.

But when we did finally return to the house, I saw
his object. He was keeping me out as long as possible
to give friends and neighbors a chance to come in on
me before I should get away from home for the day, as
there was a surprise party arranged for my especial
benefit. And I should be ungrateful, indeed, if on this
occasion, when I enter upon my thirtieth year in
the full enjoyment of health and surrounded by all
these kind and loving friends, I did not recognize
the Omnipotent hand that has brought me safely
through all the trials and vicissitudes of my life up to
the present, and has now crowned me with comfort
and surrounded me with friends such as I never before
enjoyed. Old and young, great and small all are
here. The presence of these friends and the happy
surroundings of the day teach me that there is some-
thing infinitely better in this world and the world to


come than money or position; and, by the help of the
kind Providence that has brought me safely through
so many dangers and trials, I will henceforth lead a
new life, and a better one.

My faculties were not given me to be wasted in aim-
less inactivity, but to be kept from all that is corrupt-
ing; to be employed in all that is useful and ennobling.
Henceforth let my opinions and judgment of things be
formed by a supreme regard for the will of Him who has
cared, and still cares for me. I desire to cherish every
right principle, to seek every honorable and useful end;
to do what is just and true, what is humane and benev-
olent; to set my affections only upon that which is most
worthy to engage them, to love all that is good and to
seek holiness and Heaven; to live for eternity, to be
directed in all things by the word of God, and to be
conformed to the example of Christ. Thus may I
hope to rise into a new life of usefulness and of hap-
piness, and to pass the remainder of my days in lov-
ing association with my fellow-men, and be beloved by


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 21

Online LibraryJames SwisherHow I know, or Sixteen years' eventful experience → online text (page 21 of 21)