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Report of June 18, 1869, published
in the June 28, 1869 Newspaper
of the George Mortimer Pullman Excursion.
ACROSS THE CONTINENT.
From the Missouri to the Pacific Ocean by Rail.
The Plains, the Great American Desert,
the Rocky Mountains.
One Hundred Hours from Omaha
to San Francisco.
From Our Own Correspondent.
SAN FRANCISCO, Friday, June 18, 1869.
My trip over the Pacific Railroad, from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, from Omaha to San Francisco, though presenting no very extraordinary experiences, was made under some new conditions of travel; and it was altogether so delightful a trip, and so fruitful in ministrations to the eye and the imagination, that it may be written out at somewhat greater length than could be wished. Still, as it is manifest that this jaunt is destined, when its varied attractions become known, to be the most popular of all pleasure-rides, I believe it will be worth while setting down the full details of the journey; and, as well to preserve the unity of the subject as to make the letter, if possible a vade mecum for the tourist, I shall embody the whole story in a single epistle, which will carry the reader from Omaha to San Francisco.
We are at Omaha. By whatever route one comes from the East, one lands there, that being the eastern terminus of the Pacific Railroad.
The time-table of the Union Pacific road is so arranged as to make a close connection with the two great lines from the East — the Chicago and Northwest, and the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Roads. This time is 4:20 P. M. if you chose, however, you may lie over a day or two at Omaha and spend the time pleasantly and profitably viewing the town — one of the most remarkable of Western railroad improvisations, and visiting the workshops of the Union Pacific Railroad, which are on a colossal scale. There are several very fair hotels in Omaha, and unless one is excessively finical, he may be quite comfortable in his tarry here.
It had been may intention, on this trip, to go only as far as Ogden, there diverge to Salt Lake, and finish the transcontinental ride after some stay in the City of the Saints. When, however, the Chicago and Northwest train came into Omaha, on Saturday afternoon, I found occasion to alter my resolution. I learnt that the train was to take out two of the Pullman palace cars on their initial trip across the continent, and that Colonel PULLMAN himself was along, and with him some of my old journalistic friends — SIMONTON, of the Associated Press, Governor BROSS, of the Chicago Tribune, and some others; so the invitation to join the party was not to be refused. Accordingly, at 4:20 P. M., Sunday, we rolled out of the station at Omaha and started westward on our long jaunt.
I see I have spoken above of our "party," but in truth this was no prearranged excursion — it merely happened, as I have said, that Colonel PULLMAN was introducing his new cars on the Pacific Road and he invited a few passengers to ride with him. the Pullman "Palace Sleeping Car" has long been known at the West,where, early in the history of railroad travel, the necessity of making very long journeys suggested the desirability of mitigating,by all the appliances of at, the manifold discomforts incident to these extended rides. This desideratum has been admirably realized by the contrivances and adaptations of GEORGE M. PULLMAN, of Chicago, who has done more than all living me to lift railroad travel to the level of a fine art. The drawingroom sleeping car was so perfect a success that the inventor conceived the notion of adding thereto a drinking or hotel car; and about a year ago these were put on the Chicago, Alton and St. Louis Road, where they are giving such entire satisfaction that their universal use on all long railroad can hardly be a matter of doubt. Let me know say a word as to these cars on the Pacific Road. The Pullman sleeping car was early introduced on the Union Pacific Railroad, but the dining car has not till now been added; while on the Central Pacific neither the sleeping nor the dining car has yet found a place. It was Mr. PULLMAN’S purpose on this excursion to carry both cars clear across the whole stretch of the road, and leave it to the officers and the public to say whether they desired their permanent introduction. There was little chance of hesitation in this matter; and since our arrival here I understand that both styles of the palace car are speedily to be put upon both roads. This is a conclusion on which the traveling public are to be congratulated.
In describing, therefore, the absolutely luxurious circumstances under which we made the ride from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean — a ride thus rendered not only tolerable but comfortable, and not only comfortable but a perpetual delight — I am only foreshadowing what all who desire so to do will presently be able to realize in their own experience.
Well, now we are rushing out into the ocean of the Plains, and we have time to take a look about us and see how we are situated. Behind our locomotive are a couple of baggage cars, then three for passengers, lastly the two Pullman cars — the dining and sleeping palaces, the latter in rear.We have 140 passengers on board, all told.We are seated in the sleeping car,which well merits the name of "Palace," only that there is no inhabitant of a palace, no Prince,Monarch or Czar on earth who rides so royally or with such persicos apparatus of comfort, luxury and splendor.
Add to this that we have excellent company with us. There is BROSS, and old-time traveler in the regions of the New West, a victim of fascinations of the Rocky Mountains, who full of varied informations, and preserving in his ripe age an uncommon boyish freshness of sentiment and joy of nature; there is McCOOK, the new Governor of Colorado, of which Territory he was a citizen when the war broke out, and who will leave us at Cheyenne, whence he diverges southward to Denver; there it FITCH, of the San Francisco Bulletin, and WAITE of the Breevoort House, New-York, facile princeps of hotel-keepers and rhymesters,who plays the part of ‘mine host" on this occasion, and Mr. ELLIOT, who with BEN. HOLLADAY is building a railroad away up into and through Oregon, and entertains us with vivid declinations of the scenic marvels of that wondrous region, and Professor MILLER, of Chicago, an eminent physician of that city; and finally our little society is graced by the presence of Mesdames PULLMAN, SIMONTON, FITCH, ELLIOTT,BROSS and the spirituelle Miss JEANIE STEWART, of Chicago.
We are in the prairies, a stretch of fine, rolling country that runs west for two hundred miles or more and then "gives" into the dread-level of the Plains proper. Sitting by the car window, you shall watch away into the gloaming and as long as light lasts, and you will see all the way a country that will perfectly recall Iowa, (if you came by the Chicago and Northwest,) or Northwestern Missouri, (if you came by St. Louis,) a country undulating in gentle swells, and graced with woods which, though not dense are delightful to the eye — delightsome especially in reminiscence when, twenty-four hours afterward, you find yourself in the vast treeless Plains. This whole region and that for three hundred miles further to the West is watered by the Platte and its effluents, which render it rich for all the uses of agriculture. Its manifold attractions added to the cheapness of land and facilities of the railway are rapidly settling it up, and we all agreed it would be a nice thing to own a thousand acres anywhere around there.We were amazed at the number of fine, fresh-looking places we sped by — real homes, environed by wide-spreading tilled fields; and, from the ladies there came many an exclamation of delight at the sight of the pretty cottages embowered in trees and looking like the abodes of love and joy, and plenty, as, let us hope, the are.
A couple of hours out, dinner was announced — an "event" to those of us who had yet to experience what it is to eat in one of Pullman’s hotels on wheels; so stepping into the car next forward of our sleeping palace, we found ourselves in the dining car, the "International." which, O, muse of gastronomy, inspire me with language fitly to describe! And first as to the mechanism, &c, of the car itself. The "International" is about sixty feet long by ten feet wide, and is supported on eightwheeled trucks, giving sixteen wheels to the car. This arrangement, and an elaborate combination of steel springs, secures such steadiness that no serious jolting unsettles a dish. The body of the vehicle is of wondrous strength, its exterior marvelous fine, while its use is indicated to the outside view by its decorations in carvings and paintings representing fish, fruits, game,&c. This car is devoted exclusively to the purposes of cooking and dining.Midway between the two ends of the car, and occupying its entire width save a narrow passage to the left, is located a compact kitchen, specially designed for the Pullman car, and a marvel of economy of space and of adaptation of means to ends it is.
I am not learned in the mysteries of the batterie de cuisine, but I have it from an expert that it affords facilities for the last triumphs of cookery, and as the proof of the pudding is the eating thereof, I can bear personal witness to the amazing success realized in the adytum of gastronomy.
Now, you may imagine that the presence of a kitchens in the dining car is sacrifice of aesthetics to necessity; but such is not the case, for the apartment is so effectually encased in rich mirrors and carved decorations that you would not dream it to be a kitchen,while the ventilation is so perfect that not the faintest intimation that cooking is going on reaches the nostrils. Immediately beneath the kitchen floor, and communicating by trap doors, are dust-proof ice-boxes and provision cellar, in which are packed the fresh meats and the butter, eggs, and other edibles requiring cool quarters.
Having inspected the cuisine, we come to the dining-saloons, which occupy the two ends of the car. In each of these are placed six tables, making twelve in all; and as at each table four can sit comfortably, forty-eight persons may dine at the same time. These tables are portable, and may be promptly stowed away out of sight. Attached to the side of the car, be each table, is a bell, one stroke upon which instantly brings a waiter to your side.The interior of the dining-saloon is elegantly finished in black walnut,mounted with silver, while all the appointments are in perfect taste, and the effect is strikingly pleasing.
It was a revelation to us, that first dinner on Sunday; and though we continued to dine for four days, and had as many breakfasts and suppers, our whole party never ceased to admire the perfection of the arrangements and the marvelous results achieved. Upon tables covered with snowy linen and garnished with services of solid silver, Ethiopian waiters, flitting about in spotless white, placed as by magic a repast at which DELMONICO himself could have had no occasion to blush; and indeed in some respects it would be hard for that distinguished chef to match our menu; for, in addition to all that ordinarily makes up a first-chop dinner, had we not antelope steak, (the gourmet who has not experienced this — bah! what does he know of the feast of fat things?) our delicious mountain brook-trout, our choice fruits and berries, and, sauce piquante and unpurchaseable, our sweet-scented appetite-compelling air of the prairies? You may depend upon it,we all did justice to the good things; and, as we washed them down with bumpers of sparking Krug, while we sped along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, agreed it was the fastest living we had ever experienced.
(We beat that, however, two days afterward when we made twentyseven miles in twenty-seven minutes, while our Champagne glasses filled to the brim spilled not a drop!) After dinner we repaired to our drawing-room car, and, as it was Sabbath eve, intoned some of the grand old hymns — "Praise God from whom," &c.; "Shining Shore," "Coronation," &c. — the voices of the men singers and of the women singers blending sweetly in the evening air, while our train, with its great, glaring Polyphemus eye, lighting up long vistas of prairie, rushed into the night and the Wild. Then to bed in luxurious couches, where we slept the sleep of the just, and only awoke the next morning.
(Monday.) at 6 o’clock to find ourselves at the crossing of the North Platte, 300 miles from Omaha.
We were on the Plains! The night had borne us athwart the parallels of prairie, and effected a transformation-scene in the meantime. The undulations of ground have flattened into a perfect level. The fair aspect of woods has disappeared, save where along the margin of the Platte the cotton-wood skirts the stream. Still, though the atmosphere holds not here moisture enough to gladden the earth with trees, it has sufficient power of condensation to grow grasses and flowers, on which the eye rests lovingly, and excellent herbage for cattle; and I could see that though the land was not now of that fat, flack humus we had noted, yet where the plow had upturned a furrow it exposed rich soil, so that, with irrigation, agriculture might here win indefinite triumphs.
Who can doubt its vast future — a future swiftly advancing into actual present, for the population of Nebraska has trebled in three years, and last year she increased her corn area by 16,147 acres, or twenty-five percent.
The ride had already carried us beyond the region of settlements. The embry towns, such as "Fremont," are passed, and we bid adieu to cultivated farms, and only occasional "stations" appear. One of these, named "Brady Island,"we passed early Monday morning; but its whole appurtenance, beside the wooden depot house, consists of some half dozen rude adobe huts, one of which bore the strange device "Star Saloon."Here, stopping a moment, I exchanged a few words with some of my friends of the Fifth Cavalry, several companies of which are stationed hereabouts. They pointed out to me their camp, called "Pawnee Camp," a mile off down by the Platte, (along whose margin we had been railing it,) where the eye caught sight of the white tents of the officers glistening in the morning sun. Then comes "McPherson," 277 miles from Omaha.Here there are fine workshops of the Union Pacific Railroad, and a round-house with twenty stalls for locomotives.
Fourteen miles further on is "North Platte Station," where a little congeries of wooden buildings is gathering, principally "saloons." (The large and well-appointed eating-house at this place was unfortunately burned down a few weeks ago, and until this is rebuilt, or PULLMAN gets on his running hotel, wayfarers must needs satisfy themselves with such goods as the local gods provide.) This station is situate at the point of confluence of the two tributaries which form the Platte River, and named respectively the North Platte and the South Platte — the former taking its rise up in the "home of the Crows,"Dakota; the latter among the hills of Colorado. From the point of junction the main stream flows easterly till it pours its waters into the Missouri River, a few miles below Omaha. It is now a swift-flowing, turbulent, muddy stream, (for we are in the June rise;) it is said at all times to have a treacherous, quicksandy bottom, and many a story of adventure, perilous or amusing, did such of our companions as had been old-time pilgrims on the Plains, recount from personal experience or hearsay.
But this is all changed, and now the iron horse bears us swiftly over the substantial viaduct which spans the stream, leaving us in blissful ignorance of the dangers of the passage of the Platte.
For ourselves, we were at the time engaged in the agreeable occupation of breakfasting in our palace dining car, and a charming reunion we had. Having already come 300 miles on the Pacific Road, and dined and slept in the train, we had by this time a tolerably fair notion of what the whole ride was to be. I wish I could describe to you the consciousness of grateful surprise with which we now begin to realize that, instead of the experience of the dangers, hardships and discomforts of which we had read as incident to crossing the continent by rail, we were going to have a really charming jaunt. I suppose it will be conceded that, as newspaper men,we started out with as accurate a notion as the public generally has as to what we might expect on our trip.Yet I will make a clean breast of it and confess that we had looked forward to the prospect with a good many ominous forebodings.We had been informed that the Union Pacific was in very bad condition; that we would suffer for eating and sleeping accommodations; that we would incur great delays; that we would run imminent risks of accident and possible danger of the knife of the merciless Sioux or Cheyenne. It is possible that, being old campaigners,we might, so far as ourselves were concerned, have looked forward to the possibility or even the certainty of such experiences without great trepidation; but then several of my companions had their wives, and not only their wives, but families of small children, and though we might "get along," how would it be with those who required so much more delicate surroundings; and if safe, we had anxiously asked, will they be comfortable? There was now no room for these questions. They had answered themselves. The stories we had heard were the grossest libels, and, as our friends gathered around the breakfast table,the common remark was, "Well, the Pacific Railroad don’t seem to be so much of a failure after all, does it?" In fact the Union Pacific Road, so far as we had come, was not only a good road, but we agreed we had never ridden on a better; while those of our party who had come over the Chicago and Northwestern Road to Omaha asserted that no comparison could be made between the quality of the Union Pacific. Indeed, when one comes to look into the matter, it is manifest that the Union Pacific could hardly be a poor road, for through a stretch of hundreds and hundreds of miles there is a natural roadbed of indefinite extent, affording facilities for making a track of unsurpassed excellence. Of these facilities the constructors have fully availed themselves, and as the best of iron has been used, and the ends of the rails are all secured by the "fish" joint, the road for a thousand miles is all that could be desired. Then, as to the comfort of this mode of travel, if I have succeeded in conveying to the mind of the reader the faintest impression of our own experience, he will readily perceive that we had nothing to desire, both as to ease and elegance. We had with us a good many Californians who had frequently made the voyage from New York to San Francisco by steamer, and they never tired contrasting the comfort of our railroad trip with the discomforts of the sea passage, the heat of the isthmus, &c.
So we whirled forward all day Monday over the prairies. It was a divine day;
" ‘Twas one of the charmed days
When the genius of God doth blow."
And such days are many here. Let us note some of their aspects. And first of all you have overhead a cloudless sky of intense and spiritual azure, that woos the gaze for many a long hour and stirs inexpressible thoughts and yearnings. Around you, stretching on all hands, and sweeping an apparently limitless periphery, is the earth-ocean of the Plains, of the hue of the emerald, save where, far off on the rim of the horizon, it wears the seeming of purple weather; while close on our left as we travelled that day was the South Platte, running like a silver thread through the meadow and dotted with many a green islet. Then, bathing all these is the air of the Plains — that wonderful dry, pure atmosphere, charged with finer essences which have the power to unlock all the avenues of sensibility — to vivify, intoxicate, inspire.
Well, you will have to feed your imagination on these aspects of nature — to absorb and saturate yourself with impressions of unclouded sky and far-reaching vision; for aside from nature there is nothing to be seen.Of life you will behold but little — perhaps a few antelope,which go scampering off to one side of the railroad, wondering what this snorting invasion of their primeval domain may mean; perhaps a plover fluttering its wide wings of a pelican showing its white belly for up against the sky; but of man nothing or next to nothing; though, yes, there is something — there are here and there the bones of oxen recalling the weary journeyings of pilgrims across these Plains in by-gone days, and there is now the railroad on which you are borne, the telegraph line by your side — an enterprise colossal enough to match the feature of the mighty nature which environs you.
Let the reader imagine these scenes and experiences lasting through a stretch of five hundred miles.We make this within twenty four hours from the time of leaving Omaha, so that this brings us up to the afternoon of Monday.We have passed over the first great geographical division of the vast region between the Missouri River and the Pacific Ocean. This is the region of the Plains, "the grandest of al glacial deposits," according to AGASSIZ. And now a change comes over the scene. It is true, you have been actually rising at the rate of ten feet to the mile for the entire five hundred miles, but without being the least conscious of the ascent; while the wide-stretching prairie has presented no height to break the monotony of vision or rest the peering eye.
At length, all of a sudden,there bursts upon your joyous gaze the figure of distant peaks. It is Long’s Peak, full ninety miles off! Presently these heights increase upon us, and rise in front and on either hand — rising in terrace after terrace, till on the topmost crown you decern veils of fleecy splendor which might be taken for clouds, only that they are more intense than the clouds with which they mingle; and you see at length that ‘tis the sheen of snows, which, blending with the illuminated glories of the opened heavens, might form the pathway for the white feet of ascending and descending angels.
And to these features, which of course are constant in the landscape, was added an atmospheric spectacle of rare grandeur. For while in our front was this splendor, which I have faintly limned, we saw on turning round, in our rear and filling the whole eastern rim of the horizon a stupendous black cloud, which proved to be big with one of the terrible storms of the Plains.We had passed swiftly through it, however, had run the gauntlet and left it to wreak its vengeance behind us and form a pillar of cloud that glowered in direful contrast with the revelations of glory and the pillar of fire ahead.
It was amid such scenes that our train came to a halt at Cheyenne at 5 o’clock in the afternoon of Monday. This is the diverting point for Denver, 110 miles south by stage. By stage, as yet, though we saw the railroad track, all of which is completed and bridged, and it will probably be ironed this year. I supposed Cheyenne is not what it was a year or two ago, before the railroad passed far beyond it. It is certainly not the kind of place described by the letter-writers — the pandemonium where classless human nature displayed its wildest excesses. It is yet rough enough, to be sure, but is no longer the scene of the old-time carnivals of crime. Its situation as the terminus of the Colorado Railroad and capital of the new Territory of Wyoming ought to make it a place of considerable importance, and it has the look of bustle and business, as though it felt the stirrings of its future. I inquired of three distinct individuals the population, and got from each the same figure — 1,500; so I presume we may consider that the actual tally — or, at least, as the number which all Cheyenne has agreed upon.
Cheyenne is situated at the foot of the Black Hills, the most easterly spur of the great Rocky Mountain system. It lies itself 6,000 feet above the sea level. Here, therefore, begins the second grand geographical division of the trans-Mississippi country — the Mountain Plateau region. The character of this country — the marked transition from the Plains — does not fall to declare itself to the observer.Yet the reader will misapprehend the aspect of what he is to find, if he fancies that one sees here imposing mountain scenery; that he will find in abundance by-any-by, but not here; for, though the massive forms of those mountains,which constitute the Rocky Mountains system, are in sight, off in the distance, yet one seems to be moving all the time only on an elevated broken plateau. Your altitude addresses itself rather to the sensibility than to the sight. You have the sense of being up, up, at a great height.And so you are, indeed, for when we had gone a couple of hours beyond Cheyenne, to Sherman, we were on the highest summit of the entire railroad line — eight thousand two hundred feet. The air here became thin and wintery, and is so even under a July sun: so after an hour or two spent in watching the variegated forms of broken rock and huge chasm over which we passed, and the snow-caps darkening in the mirk, we were glad to turn in early.
When we arose Tuesday morning, we were just crossing a fork of the North Platte a few miles East of Rawlins, which is seven hundred and ten miles West of Omaha, and which we reached by six in the morning.
I may note, as one of the evidences of the varied improvements which the Union Pacific is making in its road, that the temporary wooden bridge over this fork of the Platte (whose banks form a deep chasm) has just been replaced by a substantial stone structure; and perhaps such proofs that the Company is doing its duty are as deserving of mention as are the flaws that a hypercritical eye may discover here and there. At Rawlins the railroad has a collection of large and finely built workshops. Besides these, Rawlins has perhaps a hundred buildings — if houses that are more canvas than anything else can be called buildings.Nevertheless, I think very likely Rawlings is "standing" for quite a future of its own.
But what a scene of desolation met our view and surrounded us, that whole day’s journey! Here is. indeed, the Great American Desert — a vast barren basin, utterly destitute of life, devoid of living streams, a Sahara without a single relieving oasis, truly the Valley of the Shadow of Death! I had been anxious to see sage brush, of which I had read so much; well, here it was in hideous profusion, a sort of devil’s herbage whereof no living creature may eat. I had also wanted to visit the Alkali Plains — and here they were, stretching out in their white barrenness, although unlovely to the human vision! Anon the scene takes on new aspects of morne and melancholic grandeur. Great bare and mottled rocks rise up on every side to close in the landscape, which now and then opens into new vistas of picturesque desolation, where succeed each other blasted heaths, beetling crags, which wind and flood and lightning have worn and scorched, and exceeding high mountains, such as that to which the fiend took up the Son of Man in the Temptation.
Is it fancy, or is there really something in the very geographical nomenclature of this region which corresponds with its desolation? There is "Red Desert," for instance, and "Black Buttes," and "Separation," and "Bitter Creek." At the latter place is a station, and around are encamped, in tabernacles of canvas or mud, some seventy of the railroad employees. There is no drinkable water in this region, and all that is used has to be brought from a distance of sixty miles.
The Company sank deep wells here, but all the water was salty and brackish and unusable. A few weeks ago they had a rain here — the first in ten months! Nor does humanity here seem to be less vile than nature; for you can see, if you jump off the train for a few minutes, the fruits of practical miscegenation in the rantlings of white men and squaws, and if you do not see you will easily learn of something worse than that — of murders and outrages committed here by cut-throat outlaws. But these things are probably over with now, for the swift justice that has been meted out to such desperadoes by the Company’s officers is likely to give the effectual quietus. As an illustration of this I may mention an incident related to me by one of the Division Superintendents who came aboard our train. It appears that a gang of these ruffians, ten days ago, attempted to stop the running of the road by coercing the hands to knock off work. Hearing of this, the Superintendent ran down his train from an upper station with a lot of picked men on board, seized the gang, chose out two of the ringleaders, gave them swift trial and then — swung them off with a short shrift, to the gratifications of gods and men.
Amid all this death of nature we occasionally greeted the sight of humanity — not indeed human habitations (save that of the railroad hands,) but of human travel: we saw from time to time parties of emigrants or pilgrims (Mormon, most likely) with their long caravans of white canvas-covered wagons, going lumbering through the wilderness.
This spectacle served to recall to the minds of our elder traveling companions many a reminiscence of "crossing the Plains."What a contrast between then and now! The slow, toilsome, tedious jogging of the mule-drawn trains over the vast, dreary waste — a dozen or fifteen miles made at the end of the day — then the night bivouac, with defensive preparations against the Indians; now,whirling along at the rate of thirty miles an hour, with sumptuous repasts during the day and luxurious couches during the night! What a contrast even with the comparative rapidity of the overland mail coaches, for Governor BROSS informs me that three years ago he was ten days and nights in making this distance we have just traversed in two! There is another subject to engage the attention and break the monotony of this desolate scene; and that is that precisely in this region are rich and inexhaustible deposits of coal — a fact of immense significance in the future of the railroad and the country.We struck the coal region very early in the morning, at Carbon, and during the whole day we have seen prolific indications of it along our entire route. During the day we passed several pits where the Company is working it; it crops out from all the hillsides, and, indeed, in many places it can be dumped right from the mouth of the pit into the cars. I have already, in a previous letter, indicated some of the important bearings which this discovery must have upon the development of that region; but there is another that may be touched upon, and that is the influence which the abundance of coal along the line of the Union Pacific is likely to have in drawing closer the interconnection between it and the Central Pacific. The latter must needs come to the former for its fuel.
At the same time, the Central Pacific may send the Union Pacific cheap labor, by giving it all the Chinese hands it may need. (I learned that the Union Pacific is contemplating the trying this experiment.) So you see by exchanging coolies for coal, the mutual dependence and support of the two roads will be very well exemplified.
We reached Green River (846 miles west of Omaha) at noon of Tuesday, and from this point on, the country begins to be a little less absolutely abandoned to the Fiend.We are now past the rocky ridge, which forms the divide of the continent, and henceforth all the running waters go the seek the Pacific Ocean. Green River is itself grateful to the eye, and has here and there picturesque banks and touches of verdure that seem of ravishing beauty as contrasted with the "desarts vast and antres dire" through which we were passing in the forenoon.
Later in the afternoon you pass a wonderfully striking and picturesque succession of architectural hills or buttes, where nature seems to have sought to exhaust herself in all manner of fantastic forms of castles, cathedrals and pyramids, crumbling and majestic, fashioned, perhaps, by the Titans in some sportive mood. From this on the mountains grow bolder and more precipitous, and fold in closer and closer around you, till finally they break into wondrous canyons, narrow and rugged. The first of these is Echo Canyon (993 miles from Omaha,) and, further on,Weber Canyon (1,008 miles from Omaha.) It was 10 o’clock Tuesday night before we reached Echo, so we had little opportunity to see these striking objects. Yet if the vision was obscured, the darkness served to intensity their weird and wild grandeur. It is a scene fit for the pencil of GUSTAVE DORE, those beetling walls of rock, where far up you see only a little rift of lurid sky, while below are bottomless pits and the sound of rushing waters. That night we went to bed with Dantesque dreams of a new Inferno; but we awoke early Wednesday morning to find ourselves at Promontory,the western terminus of the Union Pacific Railroad, the eastern commencement of the Central Pacific.We had made the long stretch of 1,084 miles in a little over sixty hours.
As we have passed over the whole of the Union Pacific Railroad, this might be the proper place to enter into some reflections on the character of the road, as a road. But I have really little to say that has not already appeared in the course of this letter.Yet this may be added. For near a thousand miles it is as good as could possibly be desired. The last hundred or hundred and fifty miles we passed over when we were asleep; but when we compared notes in the morning,we could not discover that this part of the track had been rough enough to disturb in the least our slumbers. I suppose,however, I have from the officers of the road a pretty accurate conception of the character of this part of the Union Pacific. The track was laid before the frost was out of the ground, and when the thaw came it was left in a bad condition of ballast.
This drawback alone might by this time have been overcome; but the past Spring proved to be one of unprecedented wetness for this region, and this greatly retarded the work of "surfacing up." Then, again, after the labor of construction was over, there was a kind of stampede among the workmen, and this made new delay. All these difficulties, however, have now disappeared. The finishing touches are being given to the imperfect parts; and it is probable that by the time you publish this letter, the track will have been made of uniform excellence.
I should not insist thus emphatically on this matter, were it not for the fact that it is possible the public may still cherish the same false impressions as to the condition of the road which we had previously to coming over it. Let me, then, so far as it is in my power, close this controversy by saying that there is not a person in our party who would not willingly make affidavit that, as a whole, the Union Pacific Railroad is in as good condition as any road in the United States.
Promontory might be called Premonitory, or the symptom of a town, for that is all it is. But probably even the symptom will come to naught; for as the point of junction of the road is not to be here, but at or near Ogden, the temporary eruption of life and business will likely soon disappear from here. It is not a fit point for the terminus of either road.
The Central Pacific Road does not make close connection with the Union Pacific, and I believe the usual experience is that passengers arriving by the format at Promontory have to wait over till afternoon for the Central Pacific westward-bound train. Our own experience was more fortunate, as we get off, by special arrangement, at about 11 A. M. As, however, we had even by this arrangement, several hours to stay at Promontory, I propose to one of my traveling companions, Dr. MILLER, that we should make the ascent of one of the lofty hills that environ the basin in which the station of Promontory lies.We chose the height directly south, as we inferred that we might thence get a good view of Great Salt Lake. The distance to the mountain seemed to be under a mile, but in reality it proved to be over four.However, as we had started out amid the chaffing of our friends, we persevered in our determination. The ascent was toilsome, and the rarified air of the peak (some 6,000 feet high) made us pant a little; but we were well prepaid when we reached the summit, for, thence looking southward, sure enough Salt Lake stretched far beneath our feet! It was a picture long to be remembered. There was the lake itself, its bright green looking like a great emerald; around its margin was a white deposit of alkali, which transformed by the alchemist sun, wore the semblance of a silver rim about the jewel, while surrounding both was the frame of stupendous mountains, dark at their base, and ending in flashing summits of snow. Amid the rocks on the topmost peak we plucked some mountain daisies—
"Wee, modest, crimson-tipped flower;"
talked a while with a couple of Saints who were up there hunting a bear which had been seen prowling about, and then had to make our way quickly down and back, as the engine was screeching the rappel.
From Promontory westward there is a long stretch of several hundred miles which is one dreary monotone of sage-brush and desolation.
Ordinarily, the trains go through this country at night; but our earlier start rendered us less fortunate. The railroad follows the Humboldt Valley for 250 miles — a valley walled in to the north by high volcanic table-hands, and presenting but little of interest in all its wide stretch.
For a while the encampments of the Chinese hands on the Central Pacific attract by their novelty, and in may amuse you, while the train stops a few minutes, to chart with the grinning, good natured Celestials. (I learned from one of them that they get $30 per month in gold and "find" themselves.) But the scene is tedious in the last degree, and you will be glad to turn in early, as we did Wednesday evening.
"Elko," a station 222 miles west of Promontory, is the point of divergence from the White Pine country — a rough stage ride of 120 miles south; but this we passed during the night, and when we were called to breakfast early Thursday morning, we found ourselves at Humboldt, 406 miles west of Promontory and 1,490 miles west of Omaha.
Humboldt used to be a mining place of some note; but the mines are now abandoned and the town deserted. A few miles beyond this, we came to the "sink of the Humboldt," a considerable sheet of water, looking like a lake; in this the Humboldt River loses itself and disappears under ground. The country still cheats our home and, for still another hundred miles beyond Humboldt, has the character of a Siberia or Tartar Steppe — fit only for a penal settlement, into which the Government might advantageously make a general jail-delivery of all the criminals of the country.
And then comes a change grateful to our souls as that which greets the traveler who, after passing the Desert of Lahore, sees suddenly the Vale of Cashmere smiling at his feet. The transition is made by gentle glidings that steal upon the senses like soft interludes of music. You emerge, first of all, into the valley of the Truckee, a clear-flowing stream that goes babbling and fretting over its rocky bed, and slopes up in wood-clad braes,which are infinitely pleasing to the eye after the dull infinity of sage-brush plains; then loom up before you vista after vista of distant hills, dressed in splendid pines; a little while, and you lose the vision of beauty, and again a little while it reappears with heightened enchantment, till at length you reach Truckee, and there you meet, in personal presence, the majestic forms and towering crests of the Sierra Nevada.
Here they are! This is mountain scenery! We got to Truckee at noon of Thursday. This is the centre of a very extensive lumber trade, and must grow to be a place of some importance.
All around for hundreds of miles — and, indeed, extending clear up into Oregon — is an immense area of splendid pine forests. From here came all the ties used on the Central Pacific Railroad, and during the past year or two all the lumber forwarded fro Truckee has been for the use of the railroad; but now that it has been finished, the people are shipping large quantities of timber to Sacramento, and are making a thriving and lucrative business out of it. Truckee was almost entirely destroyed by fire last August, but is now rebuilt in clean, fresh pine. It boasts a newspaper and a theatre, and claims 2,000 habitants.
From Truckee the road carries you up a succession of steep grades that will give you ample opportunity to study the triumphs of railroad engineering, and through great tunnels that rival the labor of Simplon.
The distance from Truckee to Summit is 14 miles, and in this distance the ascent is 1,176 feet. You rise up and up, over Alp on Alp, till the external snows stretch all around you; then through another tunnel, emerging from which you find yourself on the Summit, with Donner Lake — said to be the loftiest sheet of water in the world — reposing in wondrous beauty beneath your feet. Here, and for several hours through the Sierra Nevada, there is a royal feast of fat things for the imagination. It would be impossible to conceive of mountain scenery of more varied sublimity than meets the vision during this ride; where majestic, frowning peaks overhang you and bottomless abysses lie below, and where the splendor of snow and the music of soughing pines invite to "Summer high in bliss among the hills of God!" We passed through all this in the early afternoon of Thursday, while the whole vast landscape was bathed in glory of sunshine. It richly repaid us for many an hour of dreary desert travel, and I should be glad to attempt to picture it in detail, as I shall in a future communication,) but this letter is already too long, and general epithets would be wholly inadequate to convey any conception of its wondrous grandeur. And so we traversed the mountains and swept down the foot-hills, and lo! we were in the rich valley of the Sacramento — in California, in El Dorado! It was sunset of Thursday when we reached the City of Sacramento, and here we remained over night.At 6 o’clock Friday morning we took the railroad to Vallejo, and thence by steamer twenty miles to San Francisco, where we arrived at 11 A.M. — one hundred from Omaha.
Some of us had not been very well on starting; the ladies, indeed, were
all feeling poorly. They and all of us at the end of our journey found
ourselves not only wholly free from fatigue, but completely rehabilitated
in body and spirits.Were we very far from wrong if we voted the
Pacific Railroad a success? W. S.
Courtesy of Becky Winter and Bruce C. Cooper.