W. Fraser (William Fraser) Rae.

Westward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons online

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of silver mining, but the prizes often become con-
verted into blanks. The miner makes what he calls

* Mr. A. S. Evans, in Overland Monthly for March, 1869, p. 279.


6 a strike ; ' he has found the hidden treasure ; his
fortune, he now thinks, is made. Suddenly he dis-
covers that the ore is e refractory ' and will not pay
to work, or the lode which sparkled with metal first
becomes ( disordered ' and then disappears. Mo-
derate success will not suffice to enable him to live
easily and accumulate wealth. He may work for
others and receive ll. daily; but this barely enables
him to subsist. In the early days of mining here,
the prices of the commonest articles were exor-
bitant, while the sums charged for others were pro-
hibitory. Rich men could alone afford to be ill, and
all who fell ill were not rich. A doctor's fee would
have ransomed a captive out of the hands of blood-
thirsty Greek brigands. Laudanum sold at 5s. a
drop. A single pill cost 2Z. For extracting a
tooth 10Z. were charged. Even the trivial luxury
of a cup of tea could not be enjoyed for less than
I/., while the man who wished to eat an egg had to
pay 1 65. for the treat. Competition has now lowered
prices, but there are several things which still com-
mand comparatively high sums. There is no water
in Treasure City ; every drop consumed there has to
be brought in barrels up the steep mountain side,
and a gallon costs as much as a gallon of wine on
the Rhine or the Rhone. There is little wood in
this district: a bundle of sticks costs one pound


sterling. When these things are duly considered,
it will not seem strange that the profits of those who
work what are reputed to be the richest mines should
be neither great nor lasting.

Although thousands will waste their substance
and their strength in developing the silver mines of
Nevada, yet the returns from these mines will pro-
bably suffice to double or quadruple the silver
bullion of the world. That State has already pro-
duced as much silver as all the mines of Peru. What
has been done within the brief space of a few years
is but a trifle compared with what may hereafter be
accomplished. There are numerous mountain slopes
and Canyons yet untested in which many an Eber-
hardt mine may be discovered, or another Corn-
stock lode laid bare. Nor of adventurers willing


to risk all on the venture is there any lack. Per-
haps the capitalist who is not addicted to specu-
lations which differ in name only from staking
money on the chance of a dice-box, on the roll of a
ball, or on the colour of a card drawn at random
from a pack, will act wisely if he watch rather than
aid in the developement of the Nevada mines.
Those who are on the spot may effect a profitable
investment : those who are at a distance must trust
to the representations of others ; must rely upon the
reports of assayers ; must believe that the specimens


shown to them really represent the character of
the mines which they are asked to purchase. The
following story, despite its exaggeration, is fraught
with a useful moral. When new discoveries were
being made daily, the first duty was to get the
specimens assayed. If the result were encouraging
the claim would at once command a high price.
One of these assays was too satisfactory. Accord-
ing to the assay er's report the proportion of silver
in the stone was rather more per ton than if the
whole had been solid silver, while it was added that
gold to the value of 39 dollars was also contained
in it. ' Considering that the specimen assayed was
a fragment of a grindstone, the effort of the assay er
was terrific.'




FOR 200 miles to the west of Elko the scenery con-
tinued to be monotonous, consisting of wide barren
plains bordered by mountain slopes. The Humboldt
river, with its banks fringed with shrubs and plants,
and the land for some distance on either side afford-
ing grazing ground for herds of cattle, alone gave
a slight variety to the scene. Now and then a
prairie wolf slunk aside as the passing train startled
it from its lair. More than one rude monument
was pointed out to me as indicating the spot where
a foul murder had been perpetrated or a bloody
combat had been waged. It was in this locality
that the Indians made a savage onslaught on those
engaged in constructing the line, murdering, scalp-
ing, and plundering several white men. Some
Indians were among the passengers by this train.
I was told that they are carried gratis. In return
they sometimes help to heap wood on the tender
at the appointed stopping-places. They were Sho-
shones, and were said to be very peaceable. With


their vermilion-stained cheeks, their lank black hair,
their low foreheads, prominent noses, and sensual
mouths, and an expression akin to the expression of
a brute rather than that of a human being, they
were as unprepossessing looking mortals as ever
were seen in reality, while the very reverse of the
Indians depicted in works of fiction. Indeed, the
contrast was equivalent to a revolution between the
doings of Eagle Eye, Little Hawk, South West
Wind, and other warriors, now that they heaved
billets of wood on the tender and when they scoured
these plains with a view to achieve some deed of
daring, and with a dislike deemed insuperable to
perform anything that was simply useful. None of
them had any scruples about asking and accepting
alms. The squaws, who were far more hideous
than the men, and the children, who were both ugly
and naked, pestered the passengers for money or
eatables. It was the rare exception for them to
have anything to sell.

An American train resembles a steamer in this,
that all the passengers are thrown together in a way
which is impossible when they are cooped up in
compartments as on an English railway. Every
carriage communicates in such a way that it is pos-
sible at any moment to enjoy a welcome change
by walking from end to end of the train. In my


car there were several Californians on their way
home after a visit to their native places in the
Eastern States. One of them had several bottles of
choice old Bourbon whisky with him, and he was
persistent in asking his acquaintances to ( take a
drink.' The whisky bottle was produced as early
as six in the morning, and was passed from hand to
hand at short intervals till the hour came for going
to bed. The number of drinks must not be taken
as a criterion of the extent of drunkenness. A sip
of liquor constitutes a drink. It is the form rather
than the effect which seems to give pleasure. The
Westerners and Californians hold that, not to drink
at all is the mark of a milksop, while to drink too
much demonstrates a fool. One passenger could
hold his own with most men of his years in drinking,
smoking, shooting, and driving a bargain. He told
some stories, which I should hardly have credited
had they not been confirmed by independent and
impartial testimony. He was thirty years old, and
had seen more of life in all its aspects than many
bold adventurers of double his age. More than one
fortune he had made and squandered. He was
now bound for California, with 150 dollars in his
pocket, determined to enrich himself again. Every-
thing by turns he had essayed ; among others, the
business of an auctioneer in Salt Lake City.


During four years he had driven a roaring trade
among the Mormons by selling to them at high
prices the second-hand and old-fashioned silks and
satins disdained by the fashionable world elsewhere.
Although a Gentile, he yet had succeeded in gain-
ing the good graces and pocketing the spare cash
of the Mormons. Judicious bribery and judicious
reticence had commended him to the leaders among
the Saints. Yet, while keeping his mouth shut,
he did not shut his eyes also. Many examples of
Mormon cruelty and tyranny had been witnessed
by him, and these he detailed in a way which
chilled the listener's blood. Another American,
who had come from a two months' residence at Salt
Lake City, was brimful of stories similar in kind.
To their tales I attributed the greater credit, be-
cause they tallied in the main with what I had
learned from personal observation of the practical
working of Mormonism in the valley of the Great
Salt Lake. It is noteworthy that no American who
has visited Utah is a defender of the system in
operation there. They all regard the Mormons as
unworthy and dangerous citizens. The opinion
seems universal that Congress must speedily legis-
late for Mormonism, not as a peculiar system of
religion, but as a permanent conspiracy against
equality and the impartial administration of justice.


Towards morning there was a commotion among
the passengers. A sudden shock roused all from
their slumbers. Many were greatly frightened, but
no one was seriously hurt. A severe shaking was
the only result of what proved to be a collision
with a herd of cattle. The engine and tender had
been thrown off the rails. Two oxen were crushed
to death. Fortunately, the ground on either side
was level ; had the accident taken place farther on,
where the embankment was very steep, the con-
sequences might have been disastrous. As it was,
a detention of eight hours between Wadsworth and
Clarks' Station and the loss of breakfast were the
only sufferings to be borne. Before many minutes
had elapsed energetic steps were taken to replace
the engine on the rails. The necessary appliances
were at hand, and were put to their respective uses.
This was not the only proof of the completeness
of the arrangements for such a contingency. A
telegraph clerk was in the train, and he had an
instrument for tapping the wires. In the course of
a few minutes the requisite connections were made,
and messages were telegraphed to the stations East
and West. An hour did not pass away before
two locomotives were on the spot. What was still
more important, the passage of trains over the line
was stopped. As the line is a single one, the


timely warning thus given by telegraph doubtless
helped to avert the danger of other collisions.
Some passengers were indisposed to forego their
breakfasts without an effort to provide a substitute.
There was plenty of beef alongside the line, and
the sage-brush could be used for fuel. What more
natural then, they argued, than to light a fire and
cook a steak ? The sage-brush was soon in a blaze,
but the meat could not be procured with equal
rapidity. Cutting through an ox hide and carving
out a steak with a pen-knife was a task which
baffled the passenger who made the attempt.
While the ineffectual endeavour was being made,
the fire threatened to produce serious consequences.
The flames rushed along in the direction of the
telegraph posts and the cars. A German gentle-
man of greater pluck than prudence had ignited
the sage-brush, and he became ludicrously alarmed
at the results of his act. He rushed about in
frantic consternation, making energetic attempts to
stamp out the flames. His vigour in undoing the
mischief he had caused, led to the scorching and
permanent injury of his boots and trousers.

Eight hours after the collision had occurred, the
engine was replaced on the rails and the train was
put in motion again. Not long afterwards the base
of the Sierra Nevada range was reached, and the


wearying sight of plains covered with alkali and
sage-brush was exchanged for picturesque views of
mountain slopes, adorned with branching pine trees,
and diversified with foaming torrents. This was a
gratifying relief, as well as a fascinating prospect.
An anecdote is told of a lumber-man, who jour-
neyed from his native State of Maine to seek his
fortune in the State of California. He was ex-
tremely taciturn and depressed in spirits during the
journey across the plains. When these mountains
came in sight, and his eyes rested upon the familiar
pine trees, he gazed earnestly for a moment, then,
rising to his feet, exclaimed, f Thank God, I smell
pitch once more ; ' and then, sinking back into his
seat, he wept for joy.

Reno is the last halting place of importance
during the Westward journey through the State of
Nevada. It is within a few miles of Virginia City,
the headquarters of the miners who work the
numerous silver and gold mines in this district.
Here, as at other similar places, a large number of
passengers left the train and a new set entered it.
The amount of the local passenger traffic was far in
excess of my expectations. Indeed, the proportion
of through passengers is very small when compared
with the number journeying from one intermediate
station to another. Near Boca, which is 127 miles


distant from Sacramento, the line crosses the
boundary that separates the State of Nevada from
the State of California. The Californians rejoiced
when the train entered their State, and spoke with
pleasure about soon basking in the sunshine which
has made the Pacific slope a modern Garden of
Eden. The ascent now becomes very steep, and
two engines are employed to drag the train. At
short intervals there are strong wooden sheds of
about a thousand feet long, erected to guard the
line against destruction from what we call ava-
lanches, and what here are called ( snow slides.'
Indeed, these sheds are very much like tunnels.
They have been constructed at a vast expense, and
in a solid manner. It has yet to be seen how far
they will subserve their purpose. They have the
drawback of interrupting the view of some of the
most romantic scenery on the line. The glimpses
one gets are just sufficient to tantalise and not
prolonged enough to satisfy. The view of Donner
Lake is the most charming of them all. This lake
is picturesquely situated in a gorge of the Sierras.
It was once the theatre of a terrible tragedy. An
emigrant party, travelling to California in 1846,
was overtaken by the snow within eight miles of
Donner Lake. The party, which was composed of
men, women, and children, numbered eighty in all.


They were blocked in by snow drifts and were
compelled to encamp and wait for the return of
spring. Long before the winter was over and gone,
their stock of provisions was exhausted, the cattle
had all been killed and eaten and even the hides
had been devoured by the half famished party.
Then came the bitter struggle between absolute
starvation and a resort to cannibalism. The desire
to live triumphed over every other consideration
and the bodies of the dead became the sustenance
of the survivors. While this horrible tragedy was
being enacted, an event happened which has given
rise to much speculation among the believers in
supernatural occurrences. A hunter named Blount
living in California beheld in a dream the situa-
tion and condition of the suffering party. The
impression made on him was so intense that he
mentioned the circumstance to other hunters who
were well acquainted with the region around Don-
ner Lake. They told him that his description
tallied with the reality. This intelligence had the
effect of making him resolve upon doing what he
could to rescue the snow-bound emigrants. Being
joined by others he went to their rescue and had
the satisfaction of saving nearly thirty out of the
eighty. The survivors were frostbitten and crip-
pled ; but their physical condition was less deplor-


able than their mental state. They had lived upon
human flesh till they acquired a liking for it. One
of them was detected smeared with blood and fur-
tively roasting a woman's arm, after the supply of
other food was ample. Such a story furnishes
confirmation of the saying that truth outstrips fic-
tion. It is more puzzling' and revolting than any
which the modern writer of sensational novels
has yet produced for the gratification of depraved

Summit Station, though the highest point on this
line, is not so high as Sherman Station on the
Union Pacific. It is 7,042 feet above the level of
the sea. This represents not the altitude of the
Sierra Nevada range, but only the elevation of this
mountain pass. Above the station the peaks of the
mountains tower cloudwards. The scene is one of
unprecedented grandeur. Owing to the delay
caused by the accident I have described, the speed
of the train had been increased. The engine-driver
had been running extra risks in order, as the Ame-
ricans phrase it, to f make time,' so as to arrive ' on
time.' The descent was thus made with exceptional
rapidity. From Summit Station to Sacramento the
distance is 105 miles. Between these places the
descent from a height nearly half as great as that of
Mont Blanc to fifty-six feet above the sea level has



to be made. The velocity with which the train
rushed down this incline, and the suddenness with
which it wheeled round the curves, produced a
sensation which cannot be reproduced in words.
The line is carried along the edge of declivities
stretching downwards for two or three thousand
feet, and in some parts on a narrow ledge which had
been excavated from the mountain side by men
swung from the upper parts in baskets. The speed
under these circumstances seemed terrific. The
axle-boxes smoked with the friction, and the odour
of burning wood pervaded the cars. The wheels
were nearly red hot. In the darkness of the night
they resembled discs of flame. Glad though all
were to reach Sacramento, not a few were specially
thankful to have reached it with whole limbs and
unbruised bodies.

The charm of the last few hours is indescribable.
It owed its effect to the striking contrast between
the experience of the past and the pleasure of the
moment. To nothing can it so aptly be compared
as to that impressive passage in the inspired vision
of the great Italian poet which tells how, after
having painfully traversed the circles of Hell, he at
last entered the ' dolorous realm ' ribbed in ever-
lasting ice, then issuing forth through an outlet, he
returned to the ' bright world,' beheld the beauteous


sights of Heaven, and saw the stars again.* But a
few hours ago we were passing through a region in
which desolation reigned supreme ; a region of sage-
brush and alkali dust, of bitter water and unkindly
skies. Still more recently the icy winds of the
snow-crowned Sierras had chilled us to the bone.
The transition was sudden and the transformation
magical. The sun descended in a flood of glory
towards the Pacific Ocean, while the train was
spinning down the ringing grooves of the mountains.
The canopy of azure overhead, unflecked by a cloud
and spangled with myriads of brilliant stars, sur-
passed in loveliness the brightest and most serene
sky which ever enchanted the dweller on the
luxuriant shores of the blue Mediterranean. No
Italian air was ever more balmy, nor evening breeze
through vineyard or olive grove more grateful to
the senses than the soft wind which, tempered by
the coolness of the distant ocean and odorous with
the rich perfumes of the neighbouring plains, now
fanned our cheeks and gave a fresh zest to life.
The journey is not yet over. San Francisco is still
upwards of a hundred miles to the west. But the
Rocky Mountains, the American Desert, and the

* ' Tanto ch' io vidi delle cose belle,

Che porta il Ciel, perun pertugio tondo:
E quindi uscimmo a rived er le stelle.'

Inferno, canto xxxiv. lines 137-9.
Q 2


Sierra Nevadas are far behind us and a new
country is before our eyes. That the Golden State
is one of extraordinary richness is well known to
every traveller. To some, however, as to me, it
may have been a matter for rejoicing to discover
that California is also a land teeming with unex-
pected natural beauties and rare natural delights.




THE passengers by the train in which I journeyed
across the continent of America ' missed connec-
tions ' at Sacramento. This is the American way
of stating that the train which arrived did not cor-
respond with that which departed. The accident
which I have described was the cause of this. Had
the train been punctual the passengers need not
have rested for the night at Sacramento, as they
might have continued their journey without pause
till San. Francisco was reached. However, they
had no choice. For better or worse a night had to
be passed at Sacramento, the capital of the State of
California, and 125 miles distant from the chief and
most notable city on the Pacific Coast. For my
own part I had intended to stop here on the way
Westward, in order to see something of the most
remarkable among the cities of California.

My first personal experience of a Californian
hotel was partly a severe trial and partly a new


pleasure. The trial consisted in the demands made
upon me by hospitable acquaintances ; the pleasure
in practically learning how persistent and expansive
was Californian good-fellowship. I accompanied
my travelling acquaintances to the hotel for which
they vouched. One of them had been a member of
the Legislature of California, and was consequently
well acquainted with Sacramento, the seat of f the
legislature of a thousand drinks.' A few minutes
after my companions and myself had inscribed our
names in the hotel-register it was proposed that
we should f take a drink.' This proposition was
received with general approval. As a stranger, I
could neither object with good reason nor retire
with courtesy. The ' drink ' was duly enjoyed by
the several members of the party. Hardly was the
libation at an end than the friend of one of those
present made his appearance. After a hearty
greeting to his friend, the ceremony of introducing
those who were strangers to him was performed
with the accustomed solemnities. Then followed
the invitation, ( Let us take a drink.' Again were
healths pledged and glasses emptied at the hotel
bar. The gratification was slightly diminished this
time, seeing that the night was advancing, and the
hour for supper was nigh. But remonstrance was
useless, and would have been regarded as unsocial.


Under these circumstances cheerful submission is
more commendable and wise than flat refusal and
unmannerly opposition. But a third and greater
trial was at hand. Fresh introductions were made,
and new invitations to take a drink were proffered.
With as good a grace as I could command, I sub-
mitted to an ordeal which was now becoming serious
and unpleasant. Happily, the end to the trying
and novel welcome had arrived. Each one was
now permitted to go his own way and make his own

In no respect was my experience exceptional.
The custom of the country is to drink as often as
possible. The bar-keepers ingeniously speculate
on this predilection of their fellow-citizens. It is
common to find a f free lunch ' and a free supper
provided in the more important Californian bar-
rooms. Any one may walk in and take luncheon
or supper gratis. He has several courses from
which to choose, or he may take a portion of each.
Soup, fish, made-dishes, joints, and vegetables, are
on the bill of fare of a ' free lunch.' At the free
supper the variety is equally great. In both cases
the viands are good in quality, are well cooked, and
are served by attentive waiters. Although no
charge is made, yet it is understood that every one
who partakes of either meal must take a drink


afterwards. He need not take more than one, nor
pay more for this than a quarter of a dollar that
is, one shilling. This is the price charged for all
drinks, from a glass of lemonade to a glass of cham-
pagne. The most common drink is ( whisky
straight,' in other words, raw whisky. Each person
helps himself from a bottle presented to him. Not
merely is the quantity taken very trifling, seldom
exceeding the contents of a liqueur glass, but a
small tumblerful of iced water is always handed by
the bar-keeper along with the bottle and glass, and
is generally sent after the whisky by the drinker.
It is the small portion taken and this subsequent
draught of water which enables the operation to be
repeated very frequently without inebriety being
produced. Probably the climate has something to
do with the result. This is the general belief.

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Online LibraryW. Fraser (William Fraser) RaeWestward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons → online text (page 14 of 27)