Copyright
Noble L. (Noble Lovely) Prentis.

South-western letters online

. (page 3 of 11)
Online LibraryNoble L. (Noble Lovely) PrentisSouth-western letters → online text (page 3 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the start. At first the water supply was deficient; then the ma-
chinery broke, and could not be repaired this side of Cincinnati ;
then the cane, from frost or some other cause, soured, and would
not make sugar. Mr. Benny worth demonstrated that sugar could
be made; but the factory is now closed, and no one appeared to
know when, if ever, it would be reopened. This looked like the
failure of a Kansas enterprise, something that it is gall and worm-
wood for a Kansas man to acknowledge. But Ballinger's flag
was still there. He called attention to the fact that Mr. Benny-
worth was still an extensive planter of sorghum cane, and de-
clared that the cane itself was worth more than all the sugar that
ever had been or ever would be made. He declared that it was
the great modern discovery in the way of feed for cattle, sheep,
and even hogs; that a ton of it worth $2 was worth an in-
definite amount of prairie hay ; and generally, that the path of
prosperity for Pawnee county lay through a sorghum patch
that and broom corn, of which $100,000 worth was sold in Paw-
nee county last season. Cattle, sheep, sorghum cane and broom
corn was Dr. Ballinger's prescription for Pawnee county. As to
corn, he thought enough should be planted for the family roast-
ing ears, and wheat enough to go to mill and keep up appear-
ances. There was no end to the cattle and sheep business. There
were 300,000 sheep between Speareville and Lamed, in the coun-
try tributary to the Santa Fe road, and it was just as easy to have
1,000,000. Rice corn, he said, was a delusion and a snare.

At the State Fair at Topeka last fall, enormous onions and
other vegetables were exhibited by the A. T. & S. F. people as
raised by irrigation at Garden City, Sequoyah county. As the
place was approached, the stories of the success of the enterprise
varied. Most were to the effect that a few onions were about all
the landscape afforded, and a determination once formed to visit
the place was abandoned. But at five o'clock this morning, as
the brakeman called "Garden City," this determination was re-
voked, and a very pleasant and instructive day has been passed
in consequence.



A LETTER ON AGRICULTURE. 29

The country around Garden City is very large. The world
never looked larger than from the depot platform this morning,
A vast plain, as flat as a floor, stretched away to the east, the
west, the north. On the south flowed the bankless, treeless Ar-
kansas, reminding one of a human eye without lashes; beyond
the river was the line of yellow sand-hills. It was very still
when the train with its rush and roar had come and gone. A
camp fire glowed off toward the river, and a group of white-cov-
ered wagons stood near. The sun rose suddenly, as if it came
up over the edge of the world at the horizon. The little
town of Garden City, the usual scattered collection of frame
houses, sod stables, farm wagons, and agricultural implements
which develop a new settlement in Kansas, had not yet got up to
breakfast. Four men, with carpet-bags, came out of the east
somewhere and walked literally up the track to the westward.
They were going up thousands of feet more into the fastnesses of
the Kocky Mountains. The place is one of the steps of the
mountains; this seeming plain is really a slope of 3,000 feet above
the level of the sea. The only genuine mountain I ever climbed
was hardly as high. Never have I been so impressed with the
vastness of this western land. It was almost oppressive.

A few hours later, I set about looking at the results of the first
irrigation experiment in Kansas. I had heard that my old ac-
quaintance, C. J. Jones, had dug a ditch and raised a garden,
and that was about all. I am frank enough to say that I have
always heartily despised the name of irrigation and the country
that resorted to it. Still, everything should be heard in its de-
fense.

In company with Mr. I. R. Holmes, I rode over the lands
where the first ditch was opened, and the ground broken. It
looked like what it is a great newly-made garden. It was laid
out in beds of large size, each with a foot-high ridge around it,
like the bottom crust of a pie. These are the dykes through
which the water is let on the beds. Running the length of the
fields parallel with the river was a ditch with swift-running water
one or two feet deep ; the water ran like a mill-race, and did not
creep as in a canal. Then there were lateral ditches crossing the



30 SOUTHWESTERN LETTERS.

fields, a ridge ou each side preventing overflow. Men were at
work watering this bed or that, breaking a hole in the low dyke
with a spade, and then the water crept, slowly widening, over
the face of the earth. Some beds were black with recent water-
ing. I walked about over the little fields. The earth was soft
like ashes. There is not a stone as big as a baby's foot for miles
and miles. All sorts of vegetables had been planted ; some grain
was growing, and there was a field of the curious dark-green al-
falfa, which sends its roots to water, six, eight, or ten feet, and
can be cut four or five times a season.

Everybody was enthusiastic. A man from Greeley, an irriga-
tion experiment, said that colony was the richest agricultural
community in the world, and that this was a better location. A
patch of onions about big enough for an ordinary door-yard was
said to have yielded $300 worth of onions last year. Mr. Wor-
rell, who has followed irrigation for thirty-two years in Califor-
nia, was enthusiastic, and showed cottonwoods fourteen feet high,
the growth of a single season.

We traveled out of the bottom to the plateau, to which the
rise is almost imperceptible. It stretched away, nobody knows,
I think, how far. It was buffalo grass, sage brush, cactus, soap
weed; here and there a flock of sheep with an unmoving shep-
herd; immense, and almost soundless and solitary. A ditch was
crossed on this high plateau, and all of it can be watered, and
will be.

And how many people know what is being done in this out-of-
the-way place in this desert if there is one in Kansas ! Mr.
Bedell, the surveyor, classified the ditches for me as follows :

No. 1, owned by Senator Plumb and others, composing the
Great Eastern Irrigating Company, leaves the river seven miles
above Lakin, is thirty-four feet wide, is surveyed for twenty-two
miles, and will water the plateau in Sequoyah and Kearney
counties. Work has begun, and will be pushed to completion.

No. 2 leaves the river on the south side, nearly opposite; owned
by gentlemen connected with the Santa Fe road, called the Min-
nehaha Irrigation Company; is twenty-eight feet wide, twenty-
two miles long, and will water bottom lands on south side of the
river.



A LETTER ON AGRICULTURE. 31

No. 3 leaves the river at Deerfield; twelve feet wide, fifteen
miles long; has water running, and will irrigate the plateau north
of Garden City.

No. 4, Jones's ditch, leaves the river at Sherlock; waters^bot-
tom around that station.

No. 5, original ditch, waters bottoms between Garden City and
the river; is in operation as already described.

Now read the figures. This system, as completed, can now
water 60,000 acres; the whole system, as at present devised, will
be completed within six months, and will water 262,000 acres,
which means that land now waste will be made to yield every
vegetable, fruit and flower known to Kansas. It means that at
an elevation of 3,000 feet above the sea it is proposed to cultivate
a great field or garden 262,000 acres in extent. People here,
who seem to be cool-headed and reasonable, say it will be done.
They tell me that in a very few short years, at farthest, I will see
this recent solitude peopled, and that old hackneyed Kansas real-
estate phrase about the "desert blossoming like the rose," made
a reality.

This is a great scheme; one that, in its amplitude, might well
attract the genius of Colonel Mulberry Sellers; and yet the gen-
tlemen interested are the farthest possible removed in character
from that enthusiastic projector. They are backing their opinion
with a great deal of money.

The main ditches, or canals, are excavated with plow and
scraper, and water is furnished from them at $1 per acre of land
cultivated during the growing season. Mr. Bedell believes the
whole Arkansas bottom, as far as Great Bend, 165 miles, can be
successfully irrigated, though it is doubtful if there are many
points where as much land can be brought under water as at
Garden City.

There is something fascinating in the idea of every man being
his own rain-maker, and being independent of shifting clouds and
uncertain winds. The enthusiastic irrigator with a shovel can
bring on a light or heavy shower, and by lifting a sluice gate
organize a thunder storm, and he can run all the varieties of
elemental disturbance at once if he chooses. The " windows of
Heaven " are nothing to him : he runs the machine himself.



32 SOUTHWESTERN LETTERS.

My own doubt was, whether the Arkansas would at all stages,
supply the water needed. Mr. Bedell has measured the river
repeatedly, and says the supply is practically inexhaustible. The
Arkansas is a two-story river, and if the water in sight were ex-
hausted, another supply would rise from the river's bed. I have
heard this sub-irrigation or basement theory disputed, but there
seems to be no reasonable doubt of its correctness. A hole dug
in the ground many feet away from the river or from any irriga-
tion ditch soon begins to fill with water.

So we have the start of another of the numerous "big things"
of Kansas. It has just begun ; last year there were 500 acres in
cultivation; this year 1,200; next year but it is time to end
the first lesson in agriculture.



MOUNTAINS AND MEXICANS.



THE train bound west that reached Garden City on the even-
ing of Thursday, May 4th, was crowded with people. Where
they were all going, or why they were going, it would puzzle a
wise head to answer; but the long train was full. The smoking
car and the first coaches were filled with Italians, bound to work
on the railroads in the mountain country; the following day
coaches and the three sleepers were filled with a mixed multitude
of men, women and children, destined for a hundred different
points in the immense country of the Rocky Mountains, and be-
yond them to the Pacific. Some of the men were going in search
of health ; some to prospect for mines ; some to look after invest-
ments already made; some to buy cattle; and a large number,
it seemed, without any definite purpose, hoping that in the land
to which they were going something would turn up; and the
women and children were going because men had gone or were
going, since it is the lot of wives and babies in this world to fol-
low on.

One reason, I think, why so many people travel now, is because
they can do so easily and comfortably. Let but the color of
gold show in mines, or cattle, or town lots, or anything else which
can be bought or sold, and men will start for it a thousand miles
on foot; given a wagon road, and hundreds will follow with
teams; given a railroad, and thousands join the rush. So it is
that twice every twenty-four hours these great passenger trains
of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe road fly back and forth
across the west half of the continent; and between them the
slower emigrant train, loaded to the last inch. Money and skill
have so perfected railroad transportation, so increased its speed
and comfort, that a great army of people cast their eyes on ob-
jects a thousand miles off, and straightway arise and buy a rail-
road ticket, rather than stay at home.

(33)



34 SOUTHWESTERN LETTERS.

The last object at which a Kansas party, who sat together,
looked with interest, was the beginning of the great irrigating
ditch above Lakin, of which mention has been made in a pre-
vious letter. It wound around in the low lands like a serpent,
bound in time to carry water, which is life, to thousands of Kan-
sas acres.

The next object of interest reached was the railroad eating
house at Coolidge. The supper here was a marvel. Without a
butcher, or grocer, or gardener, within hundreds of miles, here
was an elegant supper, which might be said to have been brought
from the ends of the earth and set down in the middle of the
American desert. There is no use for fairy tales any longer.
They have lost the charming feature of impossibility. All they
tell happens now every day. The railroad is the magic carpet of
the old story, which transports the wisher and his supper whither-
soever he will.

The long stretch of level plains, lonely and monotonous, was
traversed in the night. One great State was left, and the bound-
ary of another long since crossed, when the writer awoke, just at
what North Carolinians call the "daylight down," to look out of
the window at a new country. The train was evidently climbing
a long and steady ascent. The prairie rose in a great yellow
slope to what looked like an immense line of ruined earthwork ;
and isolated, stunted trees were scattered about. The sun had not
fully risen above the horizon, and the pallid full moon was still rid-
ing high. Suddenly, against the cold gray of the sky, appeared
what looked like a great amethyst, with streaks of pearly white,
and below it an enormous sloping mass of dark purple, shading
away to brown at the base. It was at last, after hundreds of
level miles, a mountain. One who has never left the plains in
which he was born can know nothing of the feelings with which
one whose childish eyes daily looked, at morn and eve, upon the
solemn splendors of a great mountain, gazes, after months or
years of absence, once more upon the mountain's eternal face.
It is the face of an old friend, no matter in what land it may
greet the sun, or gather round itself the mantle of the storm.

As the train moved on now advancing toward the mountain,



MOUNTAINS AND MEXICANS. 35

now turning from it the sun rose, and the great shadows thrown
by the mountain upon itself shifted from time to time. What
first seemed a solitary peak, changed to two, with a great gorge
between them ; and stretching away, like the foaming wake of a
great ship, was a range of lower mountains, white with snow, as if
the ice of an arctic sea had suddenly been broken up, and as the
mighty waves had sprung heavenward, bearing the broken ice-
floes, they had been frozen again to eternal stillness. The moun-
tain was the Spanish Peak, and the occasion was a memorable
one to him who writes of it, since it was his first sight of any por-
tion of the Rocky Mountains.

Comparisons were then in order, and many a mountain view
was recalled, but in vain. The Alps, the White Mountains, the
Green Mountains, the Alleghanies, the Blue Ridge none of
these resemble the Rocky Mountains, save in the fact that they are
elevations. There is, between all these and the Rocky Mountains,
this great difference: they are mountains which may be loved;
which have something human about them; in whose shelter men
rear their dear homes; but the Rocky Mountains are not so. They
are the frown of Nature in some moment of convulsive agony.
These mountains, seen at earliest morning or at sunset, seem to
relax somewhat, if I may use the expression, but in the full light
of day they are always gray, and cold, and stern.

We were soon amidst scenes as unlike Kansas as possible.
Mountains rose on both sides. The Raton range appeared in full
view, with Fisher's Peak and its pulpit-like crowning rock near
at hand. Foot-hills mingled in confusion ; the world seemed left
half finished; patches of little green, irrigated fields along the
Purgatoire, and adobe houses, plainly told that we were in a
semi-Mexican country ; and so we came to Trinidad.

Some people see one thing in a new town; some another.
Trinidad has, to be described, gas-works, water-works, great out-
fitting stores, manufactories, banks, and all that goes to make up
a smart town ; but the writer, having seen and written about all
that elsewhere, some five hundred times, was more interested in
matters new to him, to wit, Mexicans, adobes and burros.

The former were very numerous. Trinidad was originally



36 SOUTHWESTERN LETTERS.

settled in 1860, by New-Mexican people who came up from the
southward. The Americans have come in and built a modern
town, and with the latest improvements. But there are six
thousand Mexicans in the county of Las Animas, and they are
represented in the government of the county and in the Legisla-
ture. They are numerous at all hours in the streets of Trinidad ;
not lounging in the sun as they are usually represented, but
engaged in various manual avocations. They are not picturesque.
They wear slouched American hats, instead of sombreros, and
pants without suspenders, and coats of the ready-made order.
That garb does not become anybody but the Northern races. In
coat and pants all the dark people, from the Mexican herdsman
to the Japanese embassador, are hideous. One secret of the lim-
ited success of Protestant missionaries in their labors, is their
insistance that the heathen man must learn English, wear pants,
and change his name to John P. Smith. So Mexicans, having
discarded their historical dress in consequence of American asso-
ciation, are not improved by the operation.

The Mexican, meaning by that the farmer, herdsman, laborer
or teamster, is frequently called a " Greaser," and is regarded by
the Smart Aleck of nationalities, to wit, Mr. Yankee, as a low
creature. Wishing to hear the counsel for the defense, if any
existed, the present chronicler made bold to call on one of the
Padres in Trinidad and ask him his opinion of his flock. It
may be premised, however, that a pastor always stands up for
his charge. When some years ago the Chinese question was
"investigated" in San Francisco, a large number of red-nosed
policemen swore that a Chinaman could not become a Christian ;
but Rev. Mr. Gibson, who has preached to the Chinese for years,
deposed, like a little man, that the Chinese made an excellent
article of Presbyterians. It was to be expected that the Padre
would say a good word, but his testimony was unexpectedly fa-
vorable. He was an Italian, a short man with a comfortable
waistband; a large nose, bestrode with spectacles, and spoke
English in the velvety voice peculiar, I think, to priests, and
helped his words with the shrug of the shoulders, possible only
with Italians.



MOUNTAINS AND MEXICANS. 37

He said, in substance, that newspaper correspondents had been
altogether too rapid and simultaneous in their judgment of the
Mexican character. No people could be understood by a stranger,
ignorant of their language and the Mexican has been judged by
such. He is not, as an American is, a man of business. Why
should he be? Shut out from all the world, with no railroads,
no markets, why should he raise what he cannot sell? But talk
to the Mexican about his religion, and you will find that he is a
theologian. He deserves credit for being what he is. Sur-
rounded for centuries by Indians, he has preserved his civiliza-
tion, his religion, and his language. His Spanish is not only
correct; it is elegant. He is a purist in the matter of language.
A man should be judged by his heart; and the Mexican is a good-
hearted man. He is attached to his children, and he is the soul
of hospitality. Touching the question of blood, and the state-
ment often made that the Mexican is not a white man, but a
mongrel Indian, the Padre entered a denial. The common Mexi-
can is the descendant of the common Spaniard who came with
Cortez. He had a fashion of adopting Indian children, whom
he raised and treated as his own. But these children were mar-
ried, not to Mexicans, but to other Indians. Possibly illicit
relations had grown up at times between the races. "For," said
the Padre, with a deprecatory wave of the hand and the Medi-
terranean shrug, "we are all but men." But in the matter of
regular and legitimate descent, the Mexican is no Indian, nor
hybrid Indian. Much more said the priest in the same direc
tion, which I will not set down here, but add that later in the
day I met Rev. Mr. Darley, who, as a Presbyterian missionary,
has visited, as he says, every Mexican family in Colorado, and
who is a thorough Spanish scholar and edits a paper in that lan-
guage. Mr. Darley confirmed much that his theological enemy
had stated, especially in regard to the matter of language, though
he differed in regard to the pedigree question. In short, he gave
the swarthy adopted American a generally good character.

I have given these opinions as new, to me at least, and reserve
my own till a later period. I may add that both clergymen gave
3



38 SOUTHWESTERN LETTERS.

me information regarding that curious religious order among the
Mexicans, the Penitentes, of which I may say more hereafter.

In regard to adobe structures, which excite the curiosity of
visitors, I have only to say that an adobe house is a mud house.
The mud order of architecture varies, but it is always muddy.
Many Americans in Trinidad have adopted the adobe, and by
concealing the material with plaster, a very creditable structure
is the result. The large Catholic church at Trinidad is built of
roughly-made mud bricks, and looks like a great sod house. The
adobe and the Mexican belong together. As the American comes
in, brick and wood are beginning to be used ; in the newest towns
are used altogether. The flat-roofed adobe house, looking like
pictures one sees in the Bible dictionaries, will soon be remanded
to the rural districts, and future newspaper correspondents will
describe it no more.

The burro is numerous in Trinidad. A procession of burros,
each little ass with a load of wood on his back as large as him-
self, is a grave spectacle. At this season of the year the burro
is seen in families, and so the procession has its variety. First
comes old Mrs. B. ; then a young burro, about as tall as a saw-
horse; then another burro with a little Mexican on deck; then
more burros, big and little ; while at the tail of the procession
comes the owner of the caravan, a middle-aged Mexican. Thus
all ages and both sexes may be represented, but no member of
either family ever smiles. Still the burro, for all his humble
and self-depreciatory expression, is universally well spoken of.
He has many friends. At least the talk is eulogistic. His posi-
tion is not unlike that of an editor in politics: he gets the
complimentary notices, and in return carries all the wood in the
shape of candidates that can be loaded on his 'long-suffering
back.

Thus I have mentioned the striking figures that attracted me
as I approached the frontier of New Mexico. As for Trinidad r
it is a typical mountain town, full of enterprise and hope, and
with a big faith in coal mines and the cattle trade, of which it is
the center. The town is not yet over its youthful and festive
days. With many first-class business men and exemplary citi-



MOUNTAINS AND MEXICANS. 39

zens, there are many gentlemen whose lives are devoted to sinful
games. Occasionally the festivities are summarily abbreviated.
The last shooting, however, was several weeks ago. The de-
parted was a "formerly of Kansas" man, and was known, from
an obliquity of vision, as " Cock-Eyed Frank." One sound busi-
ness rule, " Pay as you go," is rigidly enforced ; at least I saw
conspicuously posted, the following lines:

"Jawbone don't go.
Give me an ante."

This is submitted for the benefit of the learned in such matters.
While we are speaking of the wayward and erring, I will say
for the benefit of those who believe in Bret Harte's stories, that
I saw a reduced copy of Mr. John Oakhurst. He had just been
propelled into the gutter by an imperious barkeeper. He did not
wear Mr. Oakhurst's black suit, nor his varnished boots, but I
noticed that as he rose from the earth he carefully dusted the few
clothes he had on with his pocket handkerchief. It is pleasant
to meet in real life those characters who have so charmed us in
fiction.

Quite a group of Kansas men were found in Trinidad, in the
solid business circles. One of these was Thomas C. Stevens,
once of Carney, Stevens & Co., of Leavenworth. Mr. Stevens's
descriptions of gentlemen he formerly knew in Kansas, who com-
bined patriotism and business, in the proportion of one part of
the former to about 1,000 of the latter, while not marked by any
special elegance of diction or rhetorical ornament, were models
of clear, powerful, seafaring English.

I had hoped to see Raton Pass by clear daylight, but the train


1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryNoble L. (Noble Lovely) PrentisSouth-western letters → online text (page 3 of 11)