Molyneux St. John.

The sea of mountains; an account of Lord Dufferin's tour through British Columbia in 1876 (Volume 1) online

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man, and another which looked like Rus-
sian, and might be anything and adjoining
the ticket-room is the lands-office of the
Union Pacific Railway. Here the immi-
grant is shown maps of the vast territory
into which he is entering, and publications
are handed to him for his perusal which
show very conclusively that people choosing
to reside elsewhere than in Nebraska are
simply rejecting a paradise which it has
pleased Providence should be made known
to man through the medium of the Union
Pacific. Mr. Kiraball, the passenger
manager of this road, came down to the
station to see the Governor-General off,
and very kindly extended the courtesy of
the road to myself. Soon after his arrival
there was a sudden rush of busy work;
baggage was piled up in the cars, excited
passengers who belonged to the hind part
of the train rushed into the foremost car,
while those of the front carnage vainly
attempted to storm Lord Dufferin's car in
the rear, and amidst a general scrimmage


a gong sounded, the train started, and we
were off for San Francisco.

On board this train one feels an interest
and curiosity about one's fellow-passengers
in much the same way as onboard a trans-
Atlantic steamer. You feel that you are
going on a long voyage with them, and
that you ought to know something about
their occupations and affairs. You feel a
desire to know what is the matter with
that invalid lady in the drawing-room
section, how long she has been ill, and
what her chances are. You want to know
whether that lady and gentleman with
the several growing-up children are
moving to California, or whether they
have been east to bring their children
home from school ; and the beauty of the
whole thing is that your interest in these
points will be appreciated, and on cour-
teously asking a few questions the fullest
particulars will be given you.

From Omaha the Union Pacific runs for
three hundred and seventy miles through


Nebraska along the valley of the Platte
River, dipping into Colorado at Jules-
burgh, and then continuing its course
through Nebraska and Wyoming. The
Platte River, though receiving water from
a great many tributary streams, is a slow,
shallow river, filled with shifting sand-
banks. It winds through a beautiful
prairie valley, varying in breadth from
five to perhaps fifteen miles, and shut in
on either side by a range of rolling prairie.
The Platte is almost as redolent of early
western history as the Tiber is of the
traditions of Rome. It was the route
taken by the emigrants to California and
the mountain districts, and at one time
was a favourite resort of the buffalo and
their enemies. The grass of this valley
grows over the graves of unnumbered
white men and Indians who have slain
one another, the one in attempting to pass,
the others in their efforts to prevent them.
The stories of many of the massacres of
emigrant trains, as well as of stage drivers


and other adventurers, have their scene
laid in this now peaceful country. The
buffalo are gone, the Indians have dis-
appeared with them, and in the place of
the wild cattle of the plains and the still
wilder men who lived upon them, the motley
coloured herds of Eastern immigrants are
beginning to cover the land.

Some of the Western men appear to
draw a distinction between " the prairies"
and " the plains." They call the prairies
that undulating country in which the long
grasses are found growing in such luxuri-
ance, and give the name of the plains to
the upland plateaus where the short, curly,
and most nutritious of grasses the
buffalo grass is principally found. As
the buffalo grass turns colour early in the
Summer, though still retaining its sweet-
ness and nutritious qualities, the plains
would necessarily look yellowish and dry,
while the rolling hills and valleys of the
so distinguished " prairie" were a mass of
bright green. We saw several patches of


burnt ground on the plains, whereas the
long grasses would not yet burn. On
leaving Omaha the road begins its gradual
but steady ascent, and soon after quitting
the valley of the Platte, the cars traverse
a long region of plains which stretch away
north till they strike the Black Hills,
which lie partly in Wyoming and partly
in Dakotah. By this time, although meet-
ing with settlements near the stations of
the railway, the cars have passed out
into the wilds, and the vast solitudes of
the Western world stretch out on every

I suppose no one ever steps out upon
the prairies, for the first time in his life,
without experiencing a sense of freedom
from the trammels of his past life, what-
ever they may have been, and, to a certain
extent, a feeling of rejuvenescence that
is not to be obtained by other means. A
new world seems to have opened itself
before him, in which he has, at least, an
equal chance with the rest of his kith

VOL, i. E


and kin. And just as he who has lived
on the bosom, or by the shores of the
ocean cannot be satisfied with green fields
and babbling brooks, so a child of the
prairie, or one who has learnt to love its
vastness, and wandered over its unmea-
sured fields can never leave it without
casting a lingering glance behind, and
hoping in his heart that his lot will lead
him there once more. It is no wonder
that men sell out and go West ; it is no
wonder that those whom fortune is push-
ing to the wall in older communities
escape to find solace for their woes in the
solitude of the plains. They feel that
man is in closer communion with nature
there than elsewhere, and that his neigh-
bour has no right, and will have no in-
clination to bring with him the restraints
and woes of towns and capitals. This is
sentiment, of course, but that is the
nature of the sentiment begotten of the

At every station at which the train


stops, the traveller can learn, if he wishes,
the story of its early troubles with the
Indians ; its subsequent high tide of pros-
perity when the road, resting its end
within the " city limits," brought its
accompanying host of gamblers, roughs,
outlaws, and dissolute women, its fall into
dull times as these gentry passed on to
another terminus, and its slow but whole-
some recovery now in progress under the
influence of the stock-raisers. For stock-
raising is the business of these Western
States, and the country would seem
almost to have been provided by an all-
wise Providence for that purpose. Ne-
braska can feed millions of cattle and
billions of grasshoppers without the one
very materially affecting the other. We
journeyed the greater part of one day
through grasshoppers, and we were told
that a delay of an hour during the night
was caused by the grasshoppers on the
rails. This, we learn, is by no means
uncommon. I caught one of the grass-

E 2


hoppers (" locusts") to compare it with
those that visit Manitoba. It was of the
same appearance in all particulars, except
that it was slightly larger than those

Travelling through Nebraska and
Wyoming, one realises what a railroad
through a wilderness really signifies. The
long stretches of land in use in the midst
of great wastes still lying untouched by
man, the bands of horses and herds of
cattle feeding within gunshot of antelopes,
and the sudden appearance of a town,
with all the signs and sign-boards that
one sees in the State of New York, or the
Province of Ontario. You see millions of
dollars worth of property where, a few
years ago, civilization was represented by
a New England blanket, or a Birmingham
scalping-knife. The great problem upon
which so much will depend in our North-
west has here been solved. Cattle live
out during the winter. Can they do so
in Manitoba and the Saskatchewan? I


believe they can. The ravines here on
the treeless plains afford them shelter, and
the spurs of the hills from which the snow
is blown by the high winds afford them
food. In our country there is a great
deal more wood than any we have passed
through on this line, and wood is the best
of shelter, and I am told, moreover, that
the cattle here scrape for their food. It
has always been insisted by the residents
of Manitoba that cattle won't scrape
(although the buffaloes do), and that horses
will, therefore horses can winter out and
grow fat while cattle will starve and die.
But if cattle will scrape for their food
here, it is not all of a sudden to be be-
lieved that the same breed will not do so
in Manitoba. Their patriotism may be
great, but not proof against hunger ; and
if herds can be wintered out in the North-
west territories, we shall want, not one,
but a couple of Pacific railways. The
cattle here are not of a very superior kind.
The custom is, I believe, to import Texan


cattle and grade them up. Some of them
want grading up.

We saw a great nnmber of antelopes as
we came through Nebraska; some of them
within easy shot of the carriage windows,
and, what was much more to the pur-
pose, we got some capital antelope steaks
for dinner. Along the line we passed
several villages of prairie dogs, who
squatted motionless, each family at the
entrance of their subterranean dwelling,
to watch the train go by. These are
amongst the most eccentric dwellers of
the plains. They gather together and
build their villages, which are subterra-
nean borings, in some place where the
grasses, upon the roots of which they
live, are found. They are a little larger
than a gopher a species of ground squir-
rel and utter a short bark, or cry, rather
resembling that of a certain kind of plover.
In the same holes with these little ani-
mals, are found rattle-snakes and the


burrowing owl. We saw some owls sit-
ting on the mounds solemnly staring at
the train as it passed. The little prairie
dog, or Wish-ton-wish, does not, in any
way, resent the intrusion of these visitors,
but quietly goes about his business as if
they were a portion of his family, and, in
return for this hospitality, the owl, who
shares his dwelling, varies the monotony
of his existence by driving his beak into
the head of any young prairie puppy that
may be at home about dinner time. In
the same way the rattlesnake appeases
his hunger by a raid upon the nursery of
his host, where he is always able to find
what the keepers of refreshment bars at
Chicago and Omaha call " a real elegant
lunch." Everything on the Union Pacific
Railway that is not " a square dinner,"
is, whether eaten at six in the morning
or ten at night, " an elegant lunch." I
mention this merely as a matter of expla-
nation, that travellers may not be misled
by an interchange of terms.


"While passing across a plain out of
sight of all signs of human beings, an
antelope stood within a few yards of the
train looking at it go by. A number of
us saw it, and called to the next car in
order that the Governor-General and Lady
Dufferin might look out. There was a
sudden rush to their window, but no an-
telope was then in sight. The train had
gone swiftly on, and by the time they
had reached the window, their car was
passing a solitary woman dressed in mo-
dern fashion with a veil over her face and
a sunshade in her hand. A disgusted
member of Lord Dufferin's staff ejaculated,
" Oh, nonsense ! that's a woman, not an
antelope," and I almost think that in
another part of the train had certain re-
volvers been ready, the strange lady would
have been in some danger -except that
no one with a revolver ever hits anything
but himself, or one of his friends. As
we wound round a curve in the rolling
ground, we came across one of those little


railway villages plumped upon the plain,
and this, of course, explained the vision
of the solitary lady, who, when descried
in the midst, as it appeared, of solitude
on the Laramie plains, was a far more
startling object than an antelope.

The brummagem " lord" has turned up
again. He has now reduced himself in
the social rank to Doctor the fellow will
have some title and I heard him take his
ticket for Salt Lake City. Probably he
will there blossom as a lord again, and
with the advantage of his self-created
nobility, he ought to get on well with the
ladies. No doubt he will become a dis-
tinguished Mormon, but he will pay for it
if his wives ever find out that he is a



Expressions of Opinion Lady Dufferin and American
Ladies In the Land of the Mormons The Laramie
Plains Fossil Remains The Rocky Mountains
Highest Point of the Journey Sherman The Echo
and Weber Canons Chinamen and Mormons Com-
mencement of Mormon Land Engineering Enter-

FTVHE Governor-General arrived at Ogden,
-*- Utah, yesterday evening, and stayed
over the night to rest, intending to pro-
ceed on his journey to-day. The Pull-
man sleeping cars are a great invention,
but continuous travelling in them is apt to
be tiring, particularly to ladies. Lady
Dufferin, however, appears to be an ex-
cellent traveller, and is active in her
efforts to see all that can be seen on the
journey. It very soon leaked out ahead


of the party that the Governor-General
and " his Countess," as Lady Dufferin
is always called, were coming, and at
every point where they left the train
either for dinner or to look round while
the train stopped, they immediately became
the objects of general attention. But it
is astonishing how well-mannered are the
people, to whom the Governor-General is a
sight which they think they must see.
They don't crowd or rudely stare or make
remarks within hearing, or generally con-
duct themselves as I have seen crowds
elsewhere do ; but with a quiet respectful
attention see those they wish to see, and
reserve their remarks until they are out of
hearing of those of whom they wish to
speak. The general verdict of the people
amongst whom we have passed has been a
very favourable one. It is expressed in
various ways, but all expressions mean the
same thing.

One gentleman told me he liked " the
Earl" because "he didn't put on no


frills ;" another said he was an " uncom-
mon affable gent ;" and one native-born
Republican, who travelled in the tobacco
line, rather took to him because, his own
name being " Duke," there was a kind of
affinity between him and an English noble-
man. Several generations ago this gentle-
man's forefather had been an Englishman in
Virginia, and they were " kinder aristocratic
there anyhow." Lady Dufferin wins golden
opinions wherever she is seen. She dresses
very plainly, though prettily, and strange to
say this has fetched the Americans that have
been met almost as much as anything. Not
one or two, but half a dozen have com-
mented upon this fact, and expressed their
satisfaction thereat. I don't know how to
express the peculiar attraction her lady-
ship has for women, but they all take to
her. They think her " real cunning,"
"just as nice as she can be," " an elegant
lady," and find other terms, which I now
forget, in which to express their admiration.
When the train stopped yesterday at a


little wayside station to take in water,
Lord and Lady Dufferin were out some
way over the prairie picking wild flowers.
An alarm of " all aboard" was given, and
her ladyship sped across the prairie like a
school-girl, to the great delight of a
number of passengers who were watching
her. But the alarm having proved to be
a false one, Lady Dufferin turned back and
continued her occupation of picking flowers.
" My !" said a lady, " do look ! she don't
scare a bit." " Well, no," said another,
" she's just the cunningest little thing I've

One has but a short time to work here
this morning, as the train for Salt Lake
City goes at 9.30, and there is a great
deal to ask questions and talk about here
in Ogden. One feels here as if one were
in a strange land. I have an uncon-
trollable desire to ask every man I meet
how many wives he has, and how things
work with his mothers-in-law. I com-
menced inquiries last night at the railway


station, but the first person I accosted
proved to be a Gentile. He was a voluble
and vituperative young Gentile too, and
turned his talents upon a rival present,
who happened to be a Mormon. He
chaffed my companion, an American
gentleman, and myself for going to a
Mormon hotel. We didn't mind him, be-
cause when you are in Turkey you should
always try and see as much as possible of
the Turkeys. It would, however be an
advantage if one could cease singing " Up
in the Mormon land," for it attracts con-
siderable attention ; but it is very difficult
to break away from a tune when it has
seized upon one. I was in hopes last
night that I. should be able to tell your
readers something about the Mormon
women in this letter. Last night two
young women one with a baby entered
the sitting-room into which the landlord
had shown me, and the opportunity to
discuss polygamy seemed to present itself,
but before I could get beyond the first


introductory common-place remarks, the
young woman with the baby took fright
and bolted, while the other went off into a
gurgling kind of suppressed laughter and
followed her friend. It turned out after-
wards they were not Mormons at all.

In my last letter I spoke of the Platte
Valley and the plains that succeed it.
Yesterday was a day of scene- viewing of
quite a different kind. We had passed
through the Laramie plains, and had heard
and read much of the early history of the
road, and the manner in which possession
of the line was regularly disputed by and
conquered from the Indians. The plains
were becoming quite familiar and home-like
to us, when signs became visible that the
more rugged ground of the bad lands
would soon be in sight. During the night
we passed through many miles of them,
and in the morning the land of desolation
was upon every side of us. Sand hills and
mud hills, fissures, ravines, and curiously-
shaped mounds were to be seen, but


nothing more. In this district there are
many fossil remains of interest, amongst
others the fossil of the palm-leaf, showing
that the climate during the prehistoric
times must have been something very
different from that of the present time,
but from a railway carriage you see none
of these things, and merely see the most
dreary and uninviting country on the face
of the globe, at such close quarters that
the picturesque aspect which it presents at
a distance is lost. But by this time the
train is nearing the mountains, and the
highest peaks, with their struggling bands
and patches of still unmelted snow, are
beginning to appear in sight.

On leaving Omaha the road at once
commences its steady and gradual ascent.
It is so gradual as to be imperceptible
unless you happen to be on the look-out
for it, so that when the train arrives at
Sherman, a village in Wyoming, four
hundred and fifty miles from Omaha, and
you find that you are at the highest point


of the whole journey, eight thousand, two
hundred and forty-two feet above the
level of the sea, the first feeling ex-
perienced is one of great disappointment.
You are on an apparently level plateau ;
you have passed only a certain number of
mud and sand hills, and yet you are told
that here is the summit of your ascent
across the Rocky Mountains. It does not
appear to the traveller that he has made a
greater ascent than he can find in half a
dozen lines in the neighbourhood of Canada.
But there is a perceptible difference in the
atmosphere. Any attempt at physical
exertion makes this apparent at once.
Even without it, the sky above and the
rarefied atmosphere acts in a double way.
One feels lighter, brighter, and otherwise
different, and so it appeared to me one
sees forms and outlines more sharply
defined than at a low level. The pas-
sengers moving about on the platform
stood out more clearly in relief than before,
and they seemed, though perhaps uncon-



scions of it themselves, to have been
affected by the regions into which they
had ascended. Still, on looking at the
road itself and the immediately surround-
ing country, one might equally have been
anywhere between Montreal and Toronto,
except that stretching out before you, and
apparently barring the way to Pacific-
bound travellers, are the peaks of the
distant mountains. Away to the South,
and of course to the North, in Canadian
territory, the mountains are higher, but
the railway naturally finds the lowest
levels that are available.

From this point " Sherman," the line
descends all the way through the Rocky
Mountains toward Salt Lake except at
one point, where there is a slight ascent,
but not recovering its highest level and
on to Salt Lake City through the Echo
and Weber canons it steadily declines.
You cannot be otherwise than disappointed
to find that you never have been sensible
of approaching your mountain pass, and
that while you are going across the moun-


tains you are running down hill. But all
disappointment vanishes when the journey
is made through the Echo and Weber
canons. You enter the Echo canon soon
after passing over Dale's Bridge, itself a
magnificent work, bridging a stupendous
height, and one that nervous people will
not care to watch very closely ; and when
once fairly going down the canon your
attention is so engrossed by each succes-
sive point that there is no time to do
anything but look and admire. I am told
that several travellers Dunraven, Bur-
ton, and others have graphically described
this picturesque region, so that I com-
mend their works to those who are about
to travel this journey, and, without at-
tempting to emulate them, will myself
merely say how this valley strikes one on
first seeing it.

By the time the traveller has reached
the Echo Canon he has travelled nearly
one thousand miles from Omaha. Before
reaching that city he had travelled five hun-

r 2


dred and two miles from Chicago through
a country of cultivated prairie, and that
has been succeeded by days and nights of
rolling prairies and level plains, the greater
part of which has been wild as when the
waters first receded and gave birth to the
land. Fifteen hundred miles of prairie
in its different forms and stages have
accustomed the eye and mind to a land of
pasturage and corn fields. Then, with
only a little preparation, one darts into a
valley from which the mountains rise in
diverse precipitancy on either side. On
the south side their face, though serrated
by numerous little gulleys cut by the
melting snow, and rocky throughout, is
comparatively smooth when placed within
a field of sight that takes in the opposite
side of the pass, and beyond receiving an
occasional glance they are forgotten and
unnoticed by the many. It is the north
side of the canon towards which all eyes
are directed as the cars move slowly
through. Ifc is not the height of the


precipitous cliffs that gives them grandeur,
for though they are high they are below
the snow level, and not higher than, if so
high as, the more sloping mountains
opposite. But they have thrust them-
selves forward in bold bright-red bluffs
and promontories without vestige of plant
or soil, their face varied by caves and
weather-worked indentations and sinuosi-
ties ; pitted into extraordinary irregularities
by the storms of ten million seasons, and
capped by rocks of fantastic shape that in
one instance look like a sentinel on duty,
hi another like the bastion at the angle of
a fortress, in another like the prow of a
ship, and so throughout the length of the
valley, ever presenting on the summit of
the mountain or on some ledge or peak of
its bold red face an exaggerated image
of some familiar form.

The word " awful " is so commonly
misused that it almost fails to convey
what it should imply, but no other word
than " awful " so aptly and correctly


describes the feeling begotten of the view
in the Echo Canon, Whether looking out
beyond the train to catch the first sight of
the next appearing spur of the mountain of
red rock that looms up like the hereditary

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Online LibraryMolyneux St. JohnThe sea of mountains; an account of Lord Dufferin's tour through British Columbia in 1876 (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 13)