Across The Plains by Robert Louis Stevenson


MONDAY. - It was, if I remember rightly, five o'clock when we were
all signalled to be present at the Ferry Depot of the railroad. An
emigrant ship had arrived at New York on the Saturday night,
another on the Sunday morning, our own on Sunday afternoon, a
fourth early on Monday; and as there is no emigrant train on Sunday
a great part of the passengers from these four ships was
concentrated on the train by which I was to travel. There was a
babel of bewildered men, women, and children. The wretched little
booking-office, and the baggage-room, which was not much larger,
were crowded thick with emigrants, and were heavy and rank with the
atmosphere of dripping clothes. Open carts full of bedding stood
by the half-hour in the rain. The officials loaded each other with
recriminations. A bearded, mildewed little man, whom I take to
have been an emigrant agent, was all over the place, his mouth full
of brimstone, blustering and interfering. It was plain that the
whole system, if system there was, had utterly broken down under
the strain of so many passengers.

My own ticket was given me at once, and an oldish man, who
preserved his head in the midst of this turmoil, got my baggage
registered, and counselled me to stay quietly where I was till he
should give me the word to move. I had taken along with me a small
valise, a knapsack, which I carried on my shoulders, and in the bag
of my railway rug the whole of BANCROFT'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED
STATES, in six fat volumes. It was as much as I could carry with
convenience even for short distances, but it insured me plenty of
clothing, and the valise was at that moment, and often after,
useful for a stool. I am sure I sat for an hour in the baggage-
room, and wretched enough it was; yet, when at last the word was
passed to me and I picked up my bundles and got under way, it was
only to exchange discomfort for downright misery and danger.

I followed the porters into a long shed reaching downhill from West
Street to the river. It was dark, the wind blew clean through it
from end to end; and here I found a great block of passengers and
baggage, hundreds of one and tons of the other. I feel I shall
have a difficulty to make myself believed; and certainly the scene
must have been exceptional, for it was too dangerous for daily
repetition. It was a tight jam; there was no fair way through the
mingled mass of brute and living obstruction. Into the upper
skirts of the crowd porters, infuriated by hurry and overwork,
clove their way with shouts. I may say that we stood like sheep,
and that the porters charged among us like so many maddened sheep-
dogs; and I believe these men were no longer answerable for their
acts. It mattered not what they were carrying, they drove straight
into the press, and when they could get no farther, blindly
discharged their barrowful. With my own hand, for instance, I
saved the life of a child as it sat upon its mother's knee, she
sitting on a box; and since I heard of no accident, I must suppose
that there were many similar interpositions in the course of the
evening. It will give some idea of the state of mind to which we
were reduced if I tell you that neither the porter nor the mother
of the child paid the least attention to my act. It was not till
some time after that I understood what I had done myself, for to
ward off heavy boxes seemed at the moment a natural incident of
human life. Cold, wet, clamour, dead opposition to progress, such
as one encounters in an evil dream, had utterly daunted the
spirits. We had accepted this purgatory as a child accepts the
conditions of the world. For my part, I shivered a little, and my
back ached wearily; but I believe I had neither a hope nor a fear,
and all the activities of my nature had become tributary to one
massive sensation of discomfort.

At length, and after how long an interval I hesitate to guess, the
crowd began to move, heavily straining through itself. About the
same time some lamps were lighted, and threw a sudden flare over
the shed. We were being filtered out into the river boat for
Jersey City. You may imagine how slowly this filtering proceeded,
through the dense, choking crush, every one overladen with packages
or children, and yet under the necessity of fishing out his ticket
by the way; but it ended at length for me, and I found myself on
deck under a flimsy awning and with a trifle of elbow-room to
stretch and breathe in. This was on the starboard; for the bulk of
the emigrants stuck hopelessly on the port side, by which we had
entered. In vain the seamen shouted to them to move on, and
threatened them with shipwreck. These poor people were under a
spell of stupor, and did not stir a foot. It rained as heavily as
ever, but the wind now came in sudden claps and capfuls, not
without danger to a boat so badly ballasted as ours; and we crept
over the river in the darkness, trailing one paddle in the water
like a wounded duck, and passed ever and again by huge, illuminated
steamers running many knots, and heralding their approach by
strains of music. The contrast between these pleasure embarkations
and our own grim vessel, with her list to port and her freight of
wet and silent emigrants, was of that glaring description which we
count too obvious for the purposes of art.

The landing at Jersey City was done in a stampede. I had a fixed
sense of calamity, and to judge by conduct, the same persuasion was
common to us all. A panic selfishness, like that produced by fear,
presided over the disorder of our landing. People pushed, and
elbowed, and ran, their families following how they could.
Children fell, and were picked up to be rewarded by a blow. One
child, who had lost her parents, screamed steadily and with
increasing shrillness, as though verging towards a fit; an official
kept her by him, but no one else seemed so much as to remark her
distress; and I am ashamed to say that I ran among the rest. I was
so weary that I had twice to make a halt and set down my bundles in
the hundred yards or so between the pier and the railway station,
so that I was quite wet by the time that I got under cover. There
was no waiting-room, no refreshment room; the cars were locked; and
for at least another hour, or so it seemed, we had to camp upon the
draughty, gaslit platform. I sat on my valise, too crushed to
observe my neighbours; but as they were all cold, and wet, and
weary, and driven stupidly crazy by the mismanagement to which we
had been subjected, I believe they can have been no happier than
myself. I bought half-a-dozen oranges from a boy, for oranges and
nuts were the only refection to be had. As only two of them had
even a pretence of juice, I threw the other four under the cars,
and beheld, as in a dream, grown people and children groping on the
track after my leavings.

At last we were admitted into the cars, utterly dejected, and far
from dry. For my own part, I got out a clothes-brush, and brushed
my trousers as hard as I could till I had dried them and warmed my
blood into the bargain; but no one else, except my next neighbour
to whom I lent the brush, appeared to take the least precaution.
As they were, they composed themselves to sleep. I had seen the
lights of Philadelphia, and been twice ordered to change carriages
and twice countermanded, before I allowed myself to follow their

TUESDAY. - When I awoke, it was already day; the train was standing
idle; I was in the last carriage, and, seeing some others strolling
to and fro about the lines, I opened the door and stepped forth, as
from a caravan by the wayside. We were near no station, nor even,
as far as I could see, within reach of any signal. A green, open,
undulating country stretched away upon all sides. Locust trees and
a single field of Indian corn gave it a foreign grace and interest;
but the contours of the land were soft and English. It was not
quite England, neither was it quite France; yet like enough either
to seem natural in my eyes. And it was in the sky, and not upon
the earth, that I was surprised to find a change. Explain it how
you may, and for my part I cannot explain it at all, the sun rises
with a different splendour in America and Europe. There is more
clear gold and scarlet in our old country mornings; more purple,
brown, and smoky orange in those of the new. It may be from habit,
but to me the coming of day is less fresh and inspiriting in the
latter; it has a duskier glory, and more nearly resembles sunset;
it seems to fit some subsequential, evening epoch of the world, as
though America were in fact, and not merely in fancy, farther from
the orient of Aurora and the springs of day. I thought so then, by
the railroad side in Pennsylvania, and I have thought so a dozen
times since in far distant parts of the continent. If it be an
illusion it is one very deeply rooted, and in which my eyesight is

Soon after a train whisked by, announcing and accompanying its
passage by the swift beating of a sort of chapel bell upon the
engine; and as it was for this we had been waiting, we were
summoned by the cry of "All aboard!" and went on again upon our
way. The whole line, it appeared, was topsy-turvy; an accident at
midnight having thrown all the traffic hours into arrear. We paid
for this in the flesh, for we had no meals all that day. Fruit we
could buy upon the cars; and now and then we had a few minutes at
some station with a meagre show of rolls and sandwiches for sale;
but we were so many and so ravenous that, though I tried at every
opportunity, the coffee was always exhausted before I could elbow
my way to the counter.

Our American sunrise had ushered in a noble summer's day. There
was not a cloud; the sunshine was baking; yet in the woody river
valleys among which we wound our way, the atmosphere preserved a
sparkling freshness till late in the afternoon. It had an inland
sweetness and variety to one newly from the sea; it smelt of woods,
rivers, and the delved earth. These, though in so far a country,
were airs from home. I stood on the platform by the hour; and as I
saw, one after another, pleasant villages, carts upon the highway
and fishers by the stream, and heard cockcrows and cheery voices in
the distance, and beheld the sun, no longer shining blankly on the
plains of ocean, but striking among shapely hills and his light
dispersed and coloured by a thousand accidents of form and surface,
I began to exult with myself upon this rise in life like a man who
had come into a rich estate. And when I had asked the name of a
river from the brakesman, and heard that it was called the
Susquehanna, the beauty of the name seemed to be part and parcel of
the beauty of the land. As when Adam with divine fitness named the
creatures, so this word Susquehanna was at once accepted by the
fancy. That was the name, as no other could be, for that shining
river and desirable valley.

None can care for literature in itself who do not take a special
pleasure in the sound of names; and there is no part of the world
where nomenclature is so rich, poetical, humorous, and picturesque
as the United States of America. All times, races, and languages
have brought their contribution. Pekin is in the same State with
Euclid, with Bellefontaine, and with Sandusky. Chelsea, with its
London associations of red brick, Sloane Square, and the King's
Road, is own suburb to stately and primeval Memphis; there they
have their seat, translated names of cities, where the Mississippi
runs by Tennessee and Arkansas; and both, while I was crossing the
continent, lay, watched by armed men, in the horror and isolation
of a plague. Old, red Manhattan lies, like an Indian arrowhead
under a steam factory, below anglified New York. The names of the
States and Territories themselves form a chorus of sweet and most
romantic vocables: Delaware, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, Dakota, Iowa,
Wyoming, Minnesota, and the Carolinas; there are few poems with a
nobler music for the ear: a songful, tuneful land; and if the new
Homer shall arise from the Western continent, his verse will be
enriched, his pages sing spontaneously, with the names of states
and cities that would strike the fancy in a business circular.

Late in the evening we were landed in a waiting-room at Pittsburg.
I had now under my charge a young and sprightly Dutch widow with
her children; these I was to watch over providentially for a
certain distance farther on the way; but as I found she was
furnished with a basket of eatables, I left her in the waiting-room
to seek a dinner for myself. I mention this meal, not only because
it was the first of which I had partaken for about thirty hours,
but because it was the means of my first introduction to a coloured
gentleman. He did me the honour to wait upon me after a fashion,
while I was eating; and with every word, look, and gesture marched
me farther into the country of surprise. He was indeed strikingly
unlike the negroes of Mrs. Beecher Stowe, or the Christy Minstrels
of my youth. Imagine a gentleman, certainly somewhat dark, but of
a pleasant warm hue, speaking English with a slight and rather odd
foreign accent, every inch a man of the world, and armed with
manners so patronisingly superior that I am at a loss to name their
parallel in England. A butler perhaps rides as high over the
unbutlered, but then he sets you right with a reserve and a sort of
sighing patience which one is often moved to admire. And again,
the abstract butler never stoops to familiarity. But the coloured
gentleman will pass you a wink at a time; he is familiar like an
upper form boy to a fag; he unbends to you like Prince Hal with
Poins and Falstaff. He makes himself at home and welcome. Indeed,
I may say, this waiter behaved himself to me throughout that supper
much as, with us, a young, free, and not very self-respecting
master might behave to a good-looking chambermaid. I had come
prepared to pity the poor negro, to put him at his ease, to prove
in a thousand condescensions that I was no sharer in the prejudice
of race; but I assure you I put my patronage away for another
occasion, and had the grace to be pleased with that result.

Seeing he was a very honest fellow, I consulted him upon a point of
etiquette: if one should offer to tip the American waiter?
Certainly not, he told me. Never. It would not do. They
considered themselves too highly to accept. They would even resent
the offer. As for him and me, we had enjoyed a very pleasant
conversation; he, in particular, had found much pleasure in my
society; I was a stranger; this was exactly one of those rare
conjunctures.... Without being very clear seeing, I can still
perceive the sun at noonday; and the coloured gentleman deftly
pocketed a quarter.

WEDNESDAY. - A little after midnight I convoyed my widow and
orphans on board the train; and morning found us far into Ohio.
This had early been a favourite home of my imagination; I have
played at being in Ohio by the week, and enjoyed some capital sport
there with a dummy gun, my person being still unbreeched. My
preference was founded on a work which appeared in CASSELL'S FAMILY
PAPER, and was read aloud to me by my nurse. It narrated the
doings of one Custaloga, an Indian brave, who, in the last chapter,
very obligingly washed the paint off his face and became Sir
Reginald Somebody-or-other; a trick I never forgave him. The idea
of a man being an Indian brave, and then giving that up to be a
baronet, was one which my mind rejected. It offended
verisimilitude, like the pretended anxiety of Robinson Crusoe and
others to escape from uninhabited islands.

But Ohio was not at all as I had pictured it. We were now on those
great plains which stretch unbroken to the Rocky Mountains. The
country was flat like Holland, but far from being dull. All
through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, or for as much as I saw
of them from the train and in my waking moments, it was rich and
various, and breathed an elegance peculiar to itself. The tall
corn pleased the eye; the trees were graceful in themselves, and
framed the plain into long, aerial vistas; and the clean, bright,
gardened townships spoke of country fare and pleasant summer
evenings on the stoop. It was a sort of flat paradise; but, I am
afraid, not unfrequented by the devil. That morning dawned with
such a freezing chill as I have rarely felt; a chill that was not
perhaps so measurable by instrument, as it struck home upon the
heart and seemed to travel with the blood. Day came in with a
shudder. White mists lay thinly over the surface of the plain, as
we see them more often on a lake; and though the sun had soon
dispersed and drunk them up, leaving an atmosphere of fever heat
and crystal pureness from horizon to horizon, the mists had still
been there, and we knew that this paradise was haunted by killing
damps and foul malaria. The fences along the line bore but two
descriptions of advertisement; one to recommend tobaccos, and the
other to vaunt remedies against the ague. At the point of day, and
while we were all in the grasp of that first chill, a native of the
state, who had got in at some way station, pronounced it, with a
doctoral air, "a fever and ague morning."

The Dutch widow was a person of some character. She had conceived
at first sight a great aversion for the present writer, which she
was at no pains to conceal. But being a woman of a practical
spirit, she made no difficulty about accepting my attentions, and
encouraged me to buy her children fruits and candies, to carry all
her parcels, and even to sleep upon the floor that she might profit
by my empty seat. Nay, she was such a rattle by nature, and, so
powerfully moved to autobiographical talk, that she was forced, for
want of a better, to take me into confidence and tell me the story
of her life. I heard about her late husband, who seemed to have
made his chief impression by taking her out pleasuring on Sundays.
I could tell you her prospects, her hopes, the amount of her
fortune, the cost of her housekeeping by the week, and a variety of
particular matters that are not usually disclosed except to
friends. At one station, she shook up her children to look at a
man on the platform and say if he were not like Mr. Z.; while to me
she explained how she had been keeping company with this Mr. Z.,
how far matters had proceeded, and how it was because of his
desistance that she was now travelling to the West. Then, when I
was thus put in possession of the facts, she asked my judgment on
that type of manly beauty. I admired it to her heart's content.
She was not, I think, remarkably veracious in talk, but broidered
as fancy prompted, and built castles in the air out of her past;
yet she had that sort of candour, to keep me, in spite of all these
confidences, steadily aware of her aversion. Her parting words
were ingeniously honest. "I am sure," said she, "we all OUGHT to
be very much obliged to you." I cannot pretend that she put me at
my ease; but I had a certain respect for such a genuine dislike. A
poor nature would have slipped, in the course of these
familiarities, into a sort of worthless toleration for me.

We reached Chicago in the evening. I was turned out of the cars,
bundled into an omnibus, and driven off through the streets to the
station of a different railroad. Chicago seemed a great and gloomy
city. I remember having subscribed, let us say sixpence, towards
its restoration at the period of the fire; and now when I beheld
street after street of ponderous houses and crowds of comfortable
burghers, I thought it would be a graceful act for the corporation
to refund that sixpence, or, at the least, to entertain me to a
cheerful dinner. But there was no word of restitution. I was that
city's benefactor, yet I was received in a third-class waiting-
room, and the best dinner I could get was a dish of ham and eggs at
my own expense.

I can safely say, I have never been so dog-tired as that night in
Chicago. When it was time to start, I descended the platform like
a man in a dream. It was a long train, lighted from end to end;
and car after car, as I came up with it, was not only filled but
overflowing. My valise, my knapsack, my rug, with those six
ponderous tomes of Bancroft, weighed me double; I was hot,
feverish, painfully athirst; and there was a great darkness over
me, an internal darkness, not to be dispelled by gas. When at last
I found an empty bench, I sank into it like a bundle of rags, the
world seemed to swim away into the distance, and my consciousness
dwindled within me to a mere pin's head, like a taper on a foggy

When I came a little more to myself, I found that there had sat
down beside me a very cheerful, rosy little German gentleman,
somewhat gone in drink, who was talking away to me, nineteen to the
dozen, as they say. I did my best to keep up the conversation; for
it seemed to me dimly as if something depended upon that. I heard
him relate, among many other things, that there were pickpockets on
the train, who had already robbed a man of forty dollars and a
return ticket; but though I caught the words, I do not think I
properly understood the sense until next morning; and I believe I
replied at the time that I was very glad to hear it. What else he
talked about I have no guess; I remember a gabbling sound of words,
his profuse gesticulation, and his smile, which was highly
explanatory: but no more. And I suppose I must have shown my
confusion very plainly; for, first, I saw him knit his brows at me
like one who has conceived a doubt; next, he tried me in German,
supposing perhaps that I was unfamiliar with the English tongue;
and finally, in despair, he rose and left me. I felt chagrined;
but my fatigue was too crushing for delay, and, stretching myself
as far as that was possible upon the bench, I was received at once
into a dreamless stupor.

The little German gentleman was only going a little way into the
suburbs after a DINER FIN, and was bent on entertainment while the
journey lasted. Having failed with me, he pitched next upon
another emigrant, who had come through from Canada, and was not one
jot less weary than myself. Nay, even in a natural state, as I
found next morning when we scraped acquaintance, he was a heavy,
uncommunicative man. After trying him on different topics, it
appears that the little German gentleman flounced into a temper,
swore an oath or two, and departed from that car in quest of
livelier society. Poor little gentleman! I suppose he thought an
emigrant should be a rollicking, free-hearted blade, with a flask
of foreign brandy and a long, comical story to beguile the moments
of digestion.

THURSDAY. - I suppose there must be a cycle in the fatigue of
travelling, for when I awoke next morning, I was entirely renewed
in spirits and ate a hearty breakfast of porridge, with sweet milk,
and coffee and hot cakes, at Burlington upon the Mississippi.
Another long day's ride followed, with but one feature worthy of
remark. At a place called Creston, a drunken man got in. He was
aggressively friendly, but, according to English notions, not at
all unpresentable upon a train. For one stage he eluded the notice
of the officials; but just as we were beginning to move out of the
next station, Cromwell by name, by came the conductor. There was a
word or two of talk; and then the official had the man by the
shoulders, twitched him from his seat, marched him through the car,
and sent him flying on to the track. It was done in three motions,
as exact as a piece of drill. The train was still moving slowly,
although beginning to mend her pace, and the drunkard got his feet
without a fall. He carried a red bundle, though not so red as his
cheeks; and he shook this menacingly in the air with one hand,
while the other stole behind him to the region of the kidneys. It
was the first indication that I had come among revolvers, and I
observed it with some emotion. The conductor stood on the steps
with one hand on his hip, looking back at him; and perhaps this
attitude imposed upon the creature, for he turned without further
ado, and went off staggering along the track towards Cromwell
followed by a peal of laughter from the cars. They were speaking
English all about me, but I knew I was in a foreign land.

Twenty minutes before nine that night, we were deposited at the
Pacific Transfer Station near Council Bluffs, on the eastern bank
of the Missouri river. Here we were to stay the night at a kind of
caravanserai, set apart for emigrants. But I gave way to a thirst
for luxury, separated myself from my companions, and marched with
my effects into the Union Pacific Hotel. A white clerk and a
coloured gentleman whom, in my plain European way, I should call
the boots, were installed behind a counter like bank tellers. They
took my name, assigned me a number, and proceeded to deal with my
packages. And here came the tug of war. I wished to give up my
packages into safe keeping; but I did not wish to go to bed. And
this, it appeared, was impossible in an American hotel.

It was, of course, some inane misunderstanding, and sprang from my
unfamiliarity with the language. For although two nations use the
same words and read the same books, intercourse is not conducted by
the dictionary. The business of life is not carried on by words,
but in set phrases, each with a special and almost a slang
signification. Some international obscurity prevailed between me
and the coloured gentleman at Council Bluffs; so that what I was
asking, which seemed very natural to me, appeared to him a
monstrous exigency. He refused, and that with the plainness of the
West. This American manner of conducting matters of business is,
at first, highly unpalatable to the European. When we approach a
man in the way of his calling, and for those services by which he
earns his bread, we consider him for the time being our hired
servant. But in the American opinion, two gentlemen meet and have
a friendly talk with a view to exchanging favours if they shall
agree to please. I know not which is the more convenient, nor even
which is the more truly courteous. The English stiffness
unfortunately tends to be continued after the particular
transaction is at an end, and thus favours class separations. But
on the other hand, these equalitarian plainnesses leave an open
field for the insolence of Jack-in-office.

I was nettled by the coloured gentleman's refusal, and unbuttoned
my wrath under the similitude of ironical submission. I knew
nothing, I said, of the ways of American hotels; but I had no
desire to give trouble. If there was nothing for it but to get to
bed immediately, let him say the word, and though it was not my
habit, I should cheerfully obey.

He burst into a shout of laughter. "Ah!" said he, "you do not know
about America. They are fine people in America. Oh! you will like
them very well. But you mustn't get mad. I know what you want.
You come along with me."

And issuing from behind the counter, and taking me by the arm like
an old acquaintance, he led me to the bar of the hotel.

"There," said he, pushing me from him by the shoulder, "go and have
a drink!"


All this while I had been travelling by mixed trains, where I might
meet with Dutch widows and little German gentry fresh from table.
I had been but a latent emigrant; now I was to be branded once
more, and put apart with my fellows. It was about two in the
afternoon of Friday that I found myself in front of the Emigrant
House, with more than a hundred others, to be sorted and boxed for
the journey. A white-haired official, with a stick under one arm,
and a list in the other hand, stood apart in front of us, and
called name after name in the tone of a command. At each name you
would see a family gather up its brats and bundles and run for the
hindmost of the three cars that stood awaiting us, and I soon
concluded that this was to be set apart for the women and children.
The second or central car, it turned out, was devoted to men
travelling alone, and the third to the Chinese. The official was
easily moved to anger at the least delay; but the emigrants were
both quick at answering their names, and speedy in getting
themselves and their effects on board.

The families once housed, we men carried the second car without
ceremony by simultaneous assault. I suppose the reader has some
notion of an American railroad-car, that long, narrow wooden box,
like a flat-roofed Noah's ark, with a stove and a convenience, one
at either end, a passage down the middle, and transverse benches
upon either hand. Those destined for emigrants on the Union
Pacific are only remarkable for their extreme plainness, nothing
but wood entering in any part into their constitution, and for the
usual inefficacy of the lamps, which often went out and shed but a
dying glimmer even while they burned. The benches are too short
for anything but a young child. Where there is scarce elbow-room
for two to sit, there will not be space enough for one to lie.
Hence the company, or rather, as it appears from certain bills
about the Transfer Station, the company's servants, have conceived
a plan for the better accommodation of travellers. They prevail on
every two to chum together. To each of the chums they sell a board
and three square cushions stuffed with straw, and covered with thin
cotton. The benches can be made to face each other in pairs, for
the backs are reversible. On the approach of night the boards are
laid from bench to bench, making a couch wide enough for two, and
long enough for a man of the middle height; and the chums lie down
side by side upon the cushions with the head to the conductor's van
and the feet to the engine. When the train is full, of course this
plan is impossible, for there must not be more than one to every
bench, neither can it be carried out unless the chums agree. It
was to bring about this last condition that our white-haired
official now bestirred himself. He made a most active master of
ceremonies, introducing likely couples, and even guaranteeing the
amiability and honesty of each. The greater the number of happy
couples the better for his pocket, for it was he who sold the raw
material of the beds. His price for one board and three straw
cushions began with two dollars and a half; but before the train
left, and, I am sorry to say, long after I had purchased mine, it
had fallen to one dollar and a half.

The match-maker had a difficulty with me; perhaps, like some
ladies, I showed myself too eager for union at any price; but
certainly the first who was picked out to be my bedfellow, declined
the honour without thanks. He was an old, heavy, slow-spoken man,
I think from Yankeeland, looked me all over with great timidity,
and then began to excuse himself in broken phrases. He didn't know
the young man, he said. The young man might be very honest, but
how was he to know that? There was another young man whom he had
met already in the train; he guessed he was honest, and would
prefer to chum with him upon the whole. All this without any sort
of excuse, as though I had been inanimate or absent. I began to
tremble lest every one should refuse my company, and I be left
rejected. But the next in turn was a tall, strapping, long-limbed,
small-headed, curly-haired Pennsylvania Dutchman, with a soldierly
smartness in his manner. To be exact, he had acquired it in the
navy. But that was all one; he had at least been trained to
desperate resolves, so he accepted the match, and the white-haired
swindler pronounced the connubial benediction, and pocketed his

The rest of the afternoon was spent in making up the train. I am
afraid to say how many baggage-waggons followed the engine,
certainly a score; then came the Chinese, then we, then the
families, and the rear was brought up by the conductor in what, if
I have it rightly, is called his caboose. The class to which I
belonged was of course far the largest, and we ran over, so to
speak, to both sides; so that there were some Caucasians among the
Chinamen, and some bachelors among the families. But our own car
was pure from admixture, save for one little boy of eight or nine
who had the whooping-cough. At last, about six, the long train
crawled out of the Transfer Station and across the wide Missouri
river to Omaha, westward bound.

It was a troubled uncomfortable evening in the cars. There was
thunder in the air, which helped to keep us restless. A man played
many airs upon the cornet, and none of them were much attended to,
until he came to "Home, sweet home." It was truly strange to note
how the talk ceased at that, and the faces began to lengthen. I
have no idea whether musically this air is to be considered good or
bad; but it belongs to that class of art which may be best
described as a brutal assault upon the feelings. Pathos must be
relieved by dignity of treatment. If you wallow naked in the
pathetic, like the author of "Home, sweet home," you make your
hearers weep in an unmanly fashion; and even while yet they are
moved, they despise themselves and hate the occasion of their
weakness. It did not come to tears that night, for the experiment
was interrupted. An elderly, hard-looking man, with a goatee beard
and about as much appearance of sentiment an you would expect from
a retired slaver, turned with a start and bade the performer stop
that "damned thing." "I've heard about enough of that," he added;
"give us something about the good country we're going to." A
murmur of adhesion ran round the car; the performer took the
instrument from his lips, laughed and nodded, and then struck into
a dancing measure; and, like a new Timotheus, stilled immediately
the emotion he had raised.

The day faded; the lamps were lit; a party of wild young men, who
got off next evening at North Platte, stood together on the stern
platform, singing "The Sweet By-and-bye" with very tuneful voices;
the chums began to put up their beds; and it seemed as if the
business of the day were at an end. But it was not so; for, the
train stopping at some station, the cars were instantly thronged
with the natives, wives and fathers, young men and maidens, some of
them in little more than nightgear, some with stable lanterns, and
all offering beds for sale. Their charge began with twenty-five
cents a cushion, but fell, before the train went on again, to
fifteen, with the bed-board gratis, or less than one-fifth of what
I had paid for mine at the Transfer. This is my contribution to
the economy of future emigrants.

A great personage on an American train is the newsboy. He sells
books (such books!), papers, fruit, lollipops, and cigars; and on
emigrant journeys, soap, towels, tin washing dishes, tin coffee
pitchers, coffee, tea, sugar, and tinned eatables, mostly hash or
beans and bacon. Early next morning the newsboy went around the
cars, and chumming on a more extended principle became the order of
the hour. It requires but a copartnery of two to manage beds; but
washing and eating can be carried on most economically by a
syndicate of three. I myself entered a little after sunrise into
articles of agreement, and became one of the firm of Pennsylvania,
Shakespeare, and Dubuque. Shakespeare was my own nickname on the
cars; Pennsylvania that of my bedfellow; and Dubuque, the name of a
place in the State of Iowa, that of an amiable young fellow going
west to cure an asthma, and retarding his recovery by incessantly
chewing or smoking, and sometimes chewing and smoking together. I
have never seen tobacco so sillily abused. Shakespeare bought a
tin washing-dish, Dubuque a towel, and Pennsylvania a brick of
soap. The partners used these instruments, one after another,
according to the order of their first awaking; and when the firm
had finished there was no want of borrowers. Each filled the tin
dish at the water filter opposite the stove, and retired with the
whole stock in trade to the platform of the car. There he knelt
down, supporting himself by a shoulder against the woodwork or one
elbow crooked about the railing, and made a shift to wash his face
and neck and hands; a cold, an insufficient, and, if the train is
moving rapidly, a somewhat dangerous toilet.

On a similar division of expense, the firm of Pennsylvania,
Shakespeare, and Dubuque supplied themselves with coffee, sugar,
and necessary vessels; and their operations are a type of what went
on through all the cars. Before the sun was up the stove would be
brightly burning; at the first station the natives would come on
board with milk and eggs and coffee cakes; and soon from end to end
the car would be filled with little parties breakfasting upon the
bed-boards. It was the pleasantest hour of the day.

There were meals to be had, however, by the wayside: a breakfast
in the morning, a dinner somewhere between eleven and two, and
supper from five to eight or nine at night. We had rarely less
than twenty minutes for each; and if we had not spent many another
twenty minutes waiting for some express upon a side track among
miles of desert, we might have taken an hour to each repast and
arrived at San Francisco up to time. For haste is not the foible
of an emigrant train. It gets through on sufferance, running the
gauntlet among its more considerable brethren; should there be a
block, it is unhesitatingly sacrificed; and they cannot, in
consequence, predict the length of the passage within a day or so.
Civility is the main comfort that you miss. Equality, though
conceived very largely in America, does not extend so low down as
to an emigrant. Thus in all other trains, a warning cry of "All
aboard!" recalls the passengers to take their seats; but as soon as
I was alone with emigrants, and from the Transfer all the way to
San Francisco, I found this ceremony was pretermitted; the train
stole from the station without note of warning, and you had to keep
an eye upon it even while you ate. The annoyance is considerable,
and the disrespect both wanton and petty.

Many conductors, again, will hold no communication with an
emigrant. I asked a conductor one day at what time the train would
stop for dinner; as he made no answer I repeated the question, with
a like result; a third time I returned to the charge, and then
Jack-in-office looked me coolly in the face for several seconds and
turned ostentatiously away. I believe he was half ashamed of his
brutality; for when another person made the same inquiry, although
he still refused the information, he condescended to answer, and
even to justify his reticence in a voice loud enough for me to
hear. It was, he said, his principle not to tell people where they
were to dine; for one answer led to many other questions, as what
o'clock it was? or, how soon should we be there? and he could not
afford to be eternally worried.

As you are thus cut off from the superior authorities, a great deal
of your comfort depends on the character of the newsboy. He has it
in his power indefinitely to better and brighten the emigrant's
lot. The newsboy with whom we started from the Transfer was a
dark, bullying, contemptuous, insolent scoundrel, who treated us
like dogs. Indeed, in his case, matters came nearly to a fight.
It happened thus: he was going his rounds through the cars with
some commodities for sale, and coming to a party who were at SEVEN-
UP or CASCINO (our two games), upon a bed-board, slung down a
cigar-box in the middle of the cards, knocking one man's hand to
the floor. It was the last straw. In a moment the whole party
were upon their feet, the cigars were upset, and he was ordered to
"get out of that directly, or he would get more than he reckoned
for." The fellow grumbled and muttered, but ended by making off,
and was less openly insulting in the future. On the other hand,
the lad who rode with us in this capacity from Ogden to Sacramento
made himself the friend of all, and helped us with information,
attention, assistance, and a kind countenance. He told us where
and when we should have our meals, and how long the train would
stop; kept seats at table for those who were delayed, and watched
that we should neither be left behind nor yet unnecessarily
hurried. You, who live at home at ease, can hardly realise the
greatness of this service, even had it stood alone. When I think
of that lad coming and going, train after train, with his bright
face and civil words, I see how easily a good man may become the
benefactor of his kind. Perhaps he is discontented with himself,
perhaps troubled with ambitions; why, if he but knew it, he is a
hero of the old Greek stamp; and while he thinks he is only earning
a profit of a few cents, and that perhaps exorbitant, he is doing a
man's work, and bettering the world.

I must tell here an experience of mine with another newsboy. I
tell it because it gives so good an example of that uncivil
kindness of the American, which is perhaps their most bewildering
character to one newly landed. It was immediately after I had left
the emigrant train; and I am told I looked like a man at death's
door, so much had this long journey shaken me. I sat at the end of
a car, and the catch being broken, and myself feverish and sick, I
had to hold the door open with my foot for the sake of air. In
this attitude my leg debarred the newsboy from his box of
merchandise. I made haste to let him pass when I observed that he
was coming; but I was busy with a book, and so once or twice he
came upon me unawares. On these occasions he most rudely struck my
foot aside; and though I myself apologised, as if to show him the
way, he answered me never a word. I chafed furiously, and I fear
the next time it would have come to words. But suddenly I felt a
touch upon my shoulder, and a large juicy pear was put into my
hand. It was the newsboy, who had observed that I was looking ill,
and so made me this present out of a tender heart. For the rest of
the journey I was petted like a sick child; he lent me newspapers,
thus depriving himself of his legitimate profit on their sale, and
came repeatedly to sit by me and cheer me up.


It had thundered on the Friday night, but the sun rose on Saturday
without a cloud. We were at sea - there is no other adequate
expression - on the plains of Nebraska. I made my observatory on
the top of a fruit-waggon, and sat by the hour upon that perch to
spy about me, and to spy in vain for something new. It was a world
almost without a feature; an empty sky, an empty earth; front and
back, the line of railway stretched from horizon to horizon, like a
cue across a billiard-board; on either hand, the green plain ran
till it touched the skirts of heaven. Along the track innumerable
wild sunflowers, no bigger than a crown-piece, bloomed in a
continuous flower-bed; grazing beasts were seen upon the prairie at
all degrees of distance and diminution; and now and again we might
perceive a few dots beside the railroad which grew more and more
distinct as we drew nearer till they turned into wooden cabins, and
then dwindled and dwindled in our wake until they melted into their
surroundings, and we were once more alone upon the billiard-board.
The train toiled over this infinity like a snail; and being the one
thing moving, it was wonderful what huge proportions it began to
assume in our regard. It seemed miles in length, and either end of
it within but a step of the horizon. Even my own body or my own
head seemed a great thing in that emptiness. I note the feeling
the more readily as it is the contrary of what I have read of in
the experience of others. Day and night, above the roar of the
train, our ears were kept busy with the incessant chirp of
grasshoppers - a noise like the winding up of countless clocks and
watches, which began after a while to seem proper to that land.

To one hurrying through by steam there was a certain exhilaration
in this spacious vacancy, this greatness of the air, this discovery
of the whole arch of heaven, this straight, unbroken, prison-line
of the horizon. Yet one could not but reflect upon the weariness
of those who passed by there in old days, at the foot's pace of
oxen, painfully urging their teams, and with no landmark but that
unattainable evening sun for which they steered, and which daily
fled them by an equal stride. They had nothing, it would seem, to
overtake; nothing by which to reckon their advance; no sight for
repose or for encouragement; but stage after stage, only the dead
green waste under foot, and the mocking, fugitive horizon. But the
eye, as I have been told, found differences even here; and at the
worst the emigrant came, by perseverance, to the end of his toil.
It is the settlers, after all, at whom we have a right to marvel.
Our consciousness, by which we live, is itself but the creature of
variety. Upon what food does it subsist in such a land? What
livelihood can repay a human creature for a life spent in this huge
sameness? He is cut off from books, from news, from company, from
all that can relieve existence but the prosecution of his affairs.
A sky full of stars is the most varied spectacle that he can hope.
He may walk five miles and see nothing; ten, and it is as though he
had not moved; twenty, and still he is in the midst of the same
great level, and has approached no nearer to the one object within
view, the flat horizon which keeps pace with his advance. We are
full at home of the question of agreeable wall-papers, and wise
people are of opinion that the temper may be quieted by sedative
surroundings. But what is to be said of the Nebraskan settler?
His is a wall-paper with a vengeance - one quarter of the universe
laid bare in all its gauntness.

His eye must embrace at every glance the whole seeming concave of
the visible world; it quails before so vast an outlook, it is
tortured by distance; yet there is no rest or shelter till the man
runs into his cabin, and can repose his sight upon things near at
hand. Hence, I am told, a sickness of the vision peculiar to these
empty plains.

Yet perhaps with sunflowers and cicadae, summer and winter, cattle,
wife and family, the settler may create a full and various
existence. One person at least I saw upon the plains who seemed in
every way superior to her lot. This was a woman who boarded us at
a way station, selling milk. She was largely formed; her features
were more than comely; she had that great rarity - a fine
complexion which became her; and her eyes were kind, dark, and
steady. She sold milk with patriarchal grace. There was not a
line in her countenance, not a note in her soft and sleepy voice,
but spoke of an entire contentment with her life. It would have
been fatuous arrogance to pity such a woman. Yet the place where
she lived was to me almost ghastly. Less than a dozen wooden
houses, all of a shape and all nearly of a size, stood planted
along the railway lines. Each stood apart in its own lot. Each
opened direct off the billiard-board, as if it were a billiard-
board indeed, and these only models that had been set down upon it
ready made. Her own, into which I looked, was clean but very
empty, and showed nothing homelike but the burning fire. This
extreme newness, above all in so naked and flat a country, gives a
strong impression of artificiality. With none of the litter and
discoloration of human life; with the paths unworn, and the houses
still sweating from the axe, such a settlement as this seems purely
scenic. The mind is loth to accept it for a piece of reality; and
it seems incredible that life can go on with so few properties, or
the great child, man, find entertainment in so bare a playroom.

And truly it is as yet an incomplete society in some points; or at
least it contained, as I passed through, one person incompletely
civilised. At North Platte, where we supped that evening, one man
asked another to pass the milk-jug. This other was well-dressed
and of what we should call a respectable appearance; a darkish man,
high spoken, eating as though he had some usage of society; but he
turned upon the first speaker with extraordinary vehemence of tone

"There's a waiter here!" he cried.

"I only asked you to pass the milk," explained the first.

Here is the retort verbatim -

"Pass! Hell! I'm not paid for that business; the waiter's paid
for it. You should use civility at table, and, by God, I'll show
you how!"

The other man very wisely made no answer, and the bully went on
with his supper as though nothing had occurred. It pleases me to
think that some day soon he will meet with one of his own kidney;
and that perhaps both may fall.


To cross such a plain is to grow homesick for the mountains. I
longed for the Black Hills of Wyoming, which I knew we were soon to
enter, like an ice-bound whaler for the spring. Alas! and it was a
worse country than the other. All Sunday and Monday we travelled
through these sad mountains, or over the main ridge of the Rockies,
which is a fair match to them for misery of aspect. Hour after
hour it was the same unhomely and unkindly world about our onward
path; tumbled boulders, cliffs that drearily imitate the shape of
monuments and fortifications - how drearily, how tamely, none can
tell who has not seen them; not a tree, not a patch of sward, not
one shapely or commanding mountain form; sage-brush, eternal sage-
brush; over all, the same weariful and gloomy colouring, grays
warming into brown, grays darkening towards black; and for sole
sign of life, here and there a few fleeing antelopes; here and
there, but at incredible intervals, a creek running in a canon.
The plains have a grandeur of their own; but here there is nothing
but a contorted smallness. Except for the air, which was light and
stimulating, there was not one good circumstance in that God-
forsaken land.

I had been suffering in my health a good deal all the way; and at
last, whether I was exhausted by my complaint or poisoned in some
wayside eating-house, the evening we left Laramie, I fell sick
outright. That was a night which I shall not readily forget. The
lamps did not go out; each made a faint shining in its own
neighbourhood, and the shadows were confounded together in the
long, hollow box of the car. The sleepers lay in uneasy attitudes;
here two chums alongside, flat upon their backs like dead folk;
there a man sprawling on the floor, with his face upon his arm;
there another half seated with his head and shoulders on the bench.
The most passive were continually and roughly shaken by the
movement of the train; others stirred, turned, or stretched out
their arms like children; it was surprising how many groaned and
murmured in their sleep; and as I passed to and fro, stepping
across the prostrate, and caught now a snore, now a gasp, now a
half-formed word, it gave me a measure of the worthlessness of rest
in that unresting vehicle. Although it was chill, I was obliged to
open my window, for the degradation of the air soon became
intolerable to one who was awake and using the full supply of life.
Outside, in a glimmering night, I saw the black, amorphous hills
shoot by unweariedly into our wake. They that long for morning
have never longed for it more earnestly than I.

And yet when day came, it was to shine upon the same broken and
unsightly quarter of the world. Mile upon mile, and not a tree, a
bird, or a river. Only down the long, sterile canons, the train
shot hooting and awoke the resting echo. That train was the one
piece of life in all the deadly land; it was the one actor, the one
spectacle fit to be observed in this paralysis of man and nature.
And when I think how the railroad has been pushed through this
unwatered wilderness and haunt of savage tribes, and now will bear
an emigrant for some 12 pounds from the Atlantic to the Golden
Gates; how at each stage of the construction, roaring, impromptu
cities, full of gold and lust and death, sprang up and then died
away again, and are now but wayside stations in the desert; how in
these uncouth places pig-tailed Chinese pirates worked side by side
with border ruffians and broken men from Europe, talking together
in a mixed dialect, mostly oaths, gambling, drinking, quarrelling
and murdering like wolves; how the plumed hereditary lord of all
America heard, in this last fastness, the scream of the "bad
medicine waggon" charioting his foes; and then when I go on to
remember that all this epical turmoil was conducted by gentlemen in
frock coats, and with a view to nothing more extraordinary than a
fortune and a subsequent visit to Paris, it seems to me, I own, as
if this railway were the one typical achievement of the age in
which we live, as if it brought together into one plot all the ends
of the world and all the degrees of social rank, and offered to
some great writer the busiest, the most extended, and the most
varied subject for an enduring literary work. If it be romance, if
it be contrast, if it be heroism that we require, what was Troy
town to this? But, alas! it is not these things that are necessary
- it is only Homer.

Here also we are grateful to the train, as to some god who conducts
us swiftly through these shades and by so many hidden perils.
Thirst, hunger, the sleight and ferocity of Indians are all no more
feared, so lightly do we skim these horrible lands; as the gull,
who wings safely through the hurricane and past the shark. Yet we
should not be forgetful of these hardships of the past; and to keep
the balance true, since I have complained of the trifling
discomforts of my journey, perhaps more than was enough, let me add
an original document. It was not written by Homer, but by a boy of
eleven, long since dead, and is dated only twenty years ago. I
shall punctuate, to make things clearer, but not change the

"My dear Sister Mary, - I am afraid you will go nearly crazy when
you read my letter. If Jerry" (the writer's eldest brother) "has
not written to you before now, you will be surprised to heare that
we are in California, and that poor Thomas" (another brother, of
fifteen) "is dead. We started from - in July, with plenly of
provisions and too yoke oxen. We went along very well till we got
within six or seven hundred miles of California, when the Indians
attacked us. We found places where they had killed the emigrants.
We had one passenger with us, too guns, and one revolver; so we ran
all the lead We had into bullets (and) hung the guns up in the
wagon so that we could get at them in a minit. It was about two
o'clock in the afternoon; droave the cattel a little way; when a
prairie chicken alited a little way from the wagon.

"Jerry took out one of the guns to shoot it, and told Tom drive the
oxen. Tom and I drove the oxen, and Jerry and the passenger went
on. Then, after a little, I left Tom and caught up with Jerry and
the other man. Jerry stopped Tom to come up; me and the man went
on and sit down by a little stream. In a few minutes, we heard
some noise; then three shots (they all struck poor Tom, I suppose);
then they gave the war hoop, and as many as twenty of the redskins
came down upon us. The three that shot Tom was hid by the side of
the road in the bushes.

"I thought the Tom and Jerry were shot; so I told the other man
that Tom and Jerry were dead, and that we had better try to escape,
if possible. I had no shoes on; having a sore foot, I thought I
would not put them on. The man and me run down the road, but We
was soon stopped by an Indian on a pony. We then turend the other
way, and run up the side of the Mountain, and hid behind some cedar
trees, and stayed there till dark. The Indians hunted all over
after us, and verry close to us, so close that we could here there
tomyhawks Jingle. At dark the man and me started on, I stubing my
toes against sticks and stones. We traveld on all night; and next
morning, just as it was getting gray, we saw something in the shape
of a man. It layed Down in the grass. We went up to it, and it
was Jerry. He thought we ware Indians. You can imagine how glad
he was to see me. He thought we was all dead but him, and we
thought him and Tom was dead. He had the gun that he took out of
the wagon to shoot the prairie Chicken; all he had was the load
that was in it.

"We traveld on till about eight o'clock, We caught up with one
wagon with too men with it. We had traveld with them before one
day; we stopt and they Drove on; we knew that they was ahead of us,
unless they had been killed to. My feet was so sore when we caught
up with them that I had to ride; I could not step. We traveld on
for too days, when the men that owned the cattle said they would
(could) not drive them another inch. We unyoked the oxen; we had
about seventy pounds of flour; we took it out and divided it into
four packs. Each of the men took about 18 pounds apiece and a
blanket. I carried a little bacon, dried meat, and little quilt; I
had in all about twelve pounds. We had one pint of flour a day for
our alloyance. Sometimes we made soup of it; sometimes we (made)
pancakes; and sometimes mixed it up with cold water and eat it that
way. We traveld twelve or fourteen days. The time came at last
when we should have to reach some place or starve. We saw fresh
horse and cattle tracks. The morning come, we scraped all the
flour out of the sack, mixed it up, and baked it into bread, and
made some soup, and eat everything we had. We traveld on all day
without anything to eat, and that evening we Caught up with a sheep
train of eight wagons. We traveld with them till we arrived at the
settlements; and know I am safe in California, and got to good
home, and going to school.

"Jerry is working in - . It is a good country. You can get from
50 to 60 and 75 Dollars for cooking. Tell me all about the affairs
in the States, and how all the folks get along."

And so ends this artless narrative. The little man was at school
again, God bless him, while his brother lay scalped upon the


At Ogden we changed cars from the Union Pacific to the Central
Pacific line of railroad. The change was doubly welcome; for,
first, we had better cars on the new line; and, second, those in
which we had been cooped for more than ninety hours had begun to
stink abominably. Several yards away, as we returned, let us say
from dinner, our nostrils were assailed by rancid air. I have
stood on a platform while the whole train was shunting; and as the
dwelling-cars drew near, there would come a whiff of pure
menagerie, only a little sourer, as from men instead of monkeys. I
think we are human only in virtue of open windows. Without fresh
air, you only require a bad heart, and a remarkable command of the
Queen's English, to become such another as Dean Swift; a kind of
leering, human goat, leaping and wagging your scut on mountains of
offence. I do my best to keep my head the other way, and look for
the human rather than the bestial in this Yahoo-like business of
the emigrant train. But one thing I must say, the car of the
Chinese was notably the least offensive.

The cars on the Central Pacific were nearly twice as high, and so
proportionally airier; they were freshly varnished, which gave us
all a sense of cleanliness an though we had bathed; the seats drew
out and joined in the centre, so that there was no more need for
bed boards; and there was an upper tier of berths which could be
closed by day and opened at night.

I had by this time some opportunity of seeing the people whom I was
among. They were in rather marked contrast to the emigrants I had
met on board ship while crossing the Atlantic. They were mostly
lumpish fellows, silent and noisy, a common combination; somewhat
sad, I should say, with an extraordinary poor taste in humour, and
little interest in their fellow-creatures beyond that of a cheap
and merely external curiosity. If they heard a man's name and
business, they seemed to think they had the heart of that mystery;
but they were as eager to know that much as they were indifferent
to the rest. Some of them were on nettles till they learned your
name was Dickson and you a journeyman baker; but beyond that,
whether you were Catholic or Mormon, dull or clever, fierce or
friendly, was all one to them. Others who were not so stupid,
gossiped a little, and, I am bound to say, unkindly. A favourite
witticism was for some lout to raise the alarm of "All aboard!"
while the rest of us were dining, thus contributing his mite to the
general discomfort. Such a one was always much applauded for his
high spirits. When I was ill coming through Wyoming, I was
astonished - fresh from the eager humanity on board ship - to meet
with little but laughter. One of the young men even amused himself
by incommoding me, as was then very easy; and that not from ill-
nature, but mere clodlike incapacity to think, for he expected me
to join the laugh. I did so, but it was phantom merriment. Later
on, a man from Kansas had three violent epileptic fits, and though,
of course, there were not wanting some to help him, it was rather
superstitious terror than sympathy that his case evoked among his
fellow-passengers. "Oh, I hope he's not going to die!" cried a
woman; "it would be terrible to have a dead body!" And there was a
very general movement to leave the man behind at the next station.
This, by good fortune, the conductor negatived.

There was a good deal of story-telling in some quarters; in others,
little but silence. In this society, more than any other that ever
I was in, it was the narrator alone who seemed to enjoy the
narrative. It was rarely that any one listened for the listening.
If he lent an ear to another man's story, it was because he was in
immediate want of a hearer for one of his own. Food and the
progress of the train were the subjects most generally treated;
many joined to discuss these who otherwise would hold their
tongues. One small knot had no better occupation than to worm out
of me my name; and the more they tried, the more obstinately fixed
I grew to baffle them. They assailed me with artful questions and
insidious offers of correspondence in the future; but I was
perpetually on my guard, and parried their assaults with inward
laughter. I am sure Dubuque would have given me ten dollars for
the secret. He owed me far more, had he understood life, for thus
preserving him a lively interest throughout the journey. I met one
of my fellow-passengers months after, driving a street tramway car
in San Francisco; and, as the joke was now out of season, told him
my name without subterfuge. You never saw a man more chapfallen.
But had my name been Demogorgon, after so prolonged a mystery he
had still been disappointed.

There were no emigrants direct from Europe - save one German family
and a knot of Cornish miners who kept grimly by themselves, one
reading the New Testament all day long through steel spectacles,
the rest discussing privately the secrets of their old-world,
mysterious race. Lady Hester Stanhope believed she could make
something great of the Cornish; for my part, I can make nothing of
them at all. A division of races, older and more original than
that of Babel, keeps this close, esoteric family apart from
neighbouring Englishmen. Not even a Red Indian seems more foreign
in my eyes. This is one of the lessons of travel - that some of
the strangest races dwell next door to you at home.

The rest were all American born, but they came from almost every
quarter of that Continent. All the States of the North had sent
out a fugitive to cross the plains with me. From Virginia, from
Pennsylvania, from New York, from far western Iowa and Kansas, from
Maime that borders on the Canadas, and from the Canadas themselves
- some one or two were fleeing in quest of a better land and better
wages. The talk in the train, like the talk I heard on the
steamer, ran upon hard times, short commons, and hope that moves
ever westward. I thought of my shipful from Great Britain with a
feeling of despair. They had come 3000 miles, and yet not far
enough. Hard times bowed them out of the Clyde, and stood to
welcome them at Sandy Hook. Where were they to go? Pennsylvania,
Maine, Iowa, Kansas? These were not places for immigration, but
for emigration, it appeared; not one of them, but I knew a man who
had lifted up his heel and left it for an ungrateful country. And
it was still westward that they ran. Hunger, you would have
thought, came out of the east like the sun, and the evening was
made of edible gold. And, meantime, in the car in front of me,
were there not half a hundred emigrants from the opposite quarter?
Hungry Europe and hungry China, each pouring from their gates in
search of provender, had here come face to face. The two waves had
met; east and west had alike failed; the whole round world had been
prospected and condemned; there was no El Dorado anywhere; and till
one could emigrate to the moon, it seemed as well to stay patiently
at home. Nor was there wanting another sign, at once more
picturesque and more disheartening; for, as we continued to steam
westward toward the land of gold, we were continually passing other
emigrant trains upon the journey east; and these were as crowded as
our own. Had all these return voyagers made a fortune in the
mines? Were they all bound for Paris, and to be in Rome by Easter?
It would seem not, for, whenever we met them, the passengers ran on
the platform and cried to us through the windows, in a kind of
wailing chorus, to "come back." On the plains of Nebraska, in the
mountains of Wyoming, it was still the same cry, and dismal to my
heart, "Come back!" That was what we heard by the way "about the
good country we were going to." And at that very hour the Sand-lot
of San Francisco was crowded with the unemployed, and the echo from
the other side of Market Street was repeating the rant of

If, in truth, it were only for the sake of wages that men emigrate,
how many thousands would regret the bargain! But wages, indeed,
are only one consideration out of many; for we are a race of
gipsies, and love change and travel for themselves.


Of all stupid ill-feelings, the sentiment of my fellow Caucasians
towards our companions in the Chinese car was the most stupid and
the worst. They seemed never to have looked at them, listened to
them, or thought of them, but hated them A PRIORI. The Mongols
were their enemies in that cruel and treacherous battle-field of
money. They could work better and cheaper in half a hundred
industries, and hence there was no calumny too idle for the
Caucasians to repeat, and even to believe. They declared them
hideous vermin, and affected a kind of choking in the throat when
they beheld them. Now, as a matter of fact, the young Chinese man
is so like a large class of European women, that on raising my head
and suddenly catching sight of one at a considerable distance, I
have for an instant been deceived by the resemblance. I do not say
it is the most attractive class of our women, but for all that many
a man's wife is less pleasantly favoured. Again, my emigrants
declared that the Chinese were dirty. I cannot say they were
clean, for that was impossible upon the journey; but in their
efforts after cleanliness they put the rest of us to shame. We all
pigged and stewed in one infamy, wet our hands and faces for half a
minute daily on the platform, and were unashamed. But the Chinese
never lost an opportunity, and you would see them washing their
feet - an act not dreamed of among ourselves - and going as far as
decency permitted to wash their whole bodies. I may remark by the
way that the dirtier people are in their persons the more delicate
is their sense of modesty. A clean man strips in a crowded
boathouse; but he who is unwashed slinks in and out of bed without
uncovering an inch of skin. Lastly, these very foul and malodorous
Caucasians entertained the surprising illusion that it was the
Chinese waggon, and that alone, which stank. I have said already
that it was the exceptions and notably the freshest of the three.

These judgments are typical of the feeling in all Western America.
The Chinese are considered stupid, because they are imperfectly
acquainted with English. They are held to be base, because their
dexterity and frugality enable them to underbid the lazy, luxurious
Caucasian. They are said to be thieves; I am sure they have no
monopoly of that. They are called cruel; the Anglo-Saxon and the
cheerful Irishman may each reflect before he bears the accusation.
I am told, again, that they are of the race of river pirates, and
belong to the most despised and dangerous class in the Celestial
Empire. But if this be so, what remarkable pirates have we here!
and what must be the virtues, the industry, the education, and the
intelligence of their superiors at home!

Awhile ago it was the Irish, now it is the Chinese that must go.
Such is the cry. It seems, after all, that no country is bound to
submit to immigration any more than to invasion; each is war to the
knife, and resistance to either but legitimate defence. Yet we may
regret the free tradition of the republic, which loved to depict
herself with open arms, welcoming all unfortunates. And certainly,
as a man who believes that he loves freedom, I may be excused some
bitterness when I find her sacred name misused in the contention.
It was but the other day that I heard a vulgar fellow in the Sand-
lot, the popular tribune of San Francisco, roaring for arms and
butchery. "At the call of Abraham Lincoln," said the orator, "ye
rose in the name of freedom to set free the negroes; can ye not
rise and liberate yourselves from a few dirty Mongolians?"

For my own part, I could not look but with wonder and respect on
the Chinese. Their forefathers watched the stars before mine had
begun to keep pigs. Gun-powder and printing, which the other day
we imitated, and a school of manners which we never had the
delicacy so much as to desire to imitate, were theirs in a long-
past antiquity. They walk the earth with us, but it seems they
must be of different clay. They hear the clock strike the same
hour, yet surely of a different epoch. They travel by steam
conveyance, yet with such a baggage of old Asiatic thoughts and
superstitions as might check the locomotive in its course.
Whatever is thought within the circuit of the Great Wall; what the
wry-eyed, spectacled schoolmaster teaches in the hamlets round
Pekin; religions so old that our language looks a halfing boy
alongside; philosophy so wise that our best philosophers find
things therein to wonder at; all this travelled alongside of me for
thousands of miles over plain and mountain. Heaven knows if we had
one common thought or fancy all that way, or whether our eyes,
which yet were formed upon the same design, beheld the same world
out of the railway windows. And when either of us turned his
thoughts to home and childhood, what a strange dissimilarity must
there not have been in these pictures of the mind - when I beheld
that old, gray, castled city, high throned above the firth, with
the flag of Britain flying, and the red-coat sentry pacing over
all; and the man in the next car to me would conjure up some junks
and a pagoda and a fort of porcelain, and call it, with the same
affection, home.

Another race shared among my fellow-passengers in the disfavour of
the Chinese; and that, it is hardly necessary to say, was the noble
red man of old story - over whose own hereditary continent we had
been steaming all these days. I saw no wild or independent Indian;
indeed, I hear that such avoid the neighbourhood of the train; but
now and again at way stations, a husband and wife and a few
children, disgracefully dressed out with the sweepings of
civilisation, came forth and stared upon the emigrants. The silent
stoicism of their conduct, and the pathetic degradation of their
appearance, would have touched any thinking creature, but my
fellow-passengers danced and jested round them with a truly Cockney
baseness. I was ashamed for the thing we call civilisation. We
should carry upon our consciences so much, at least, of our
forefathers' misconduct as we continue to profit by ourselves.

If oppression drives a wise man mad, what should be raging in the
hearts of these poor tribes, who have been driven back and back,
step after step, their promised reservations torn from them one
after another as the States extended westward, until at length they
are shut up into these hideous mountain deserts of the centre - and
even there find themselves invaded, insulted, and hunted out by
ruffianly diggers? The eviction of the Cherokees (to name but an
instance), the extortion of Indian agents, the outrages of the
wicked, the ill-faith of all, nay, down to the ridicule of such
poor beings as were here with me upon the train, make up a chapter
of injustice and indignity such as a man must be in some ways base
if his heart will suffer him to pardon or forget. These old, well-
founded, historical hatreds have a savour of nobility for the
independent. That the Jew should not love the Christian, nor the
Irishman love the English, nor the Indian brave tolerate the
thought of the American, is not disgraceful to the nature of man;
rather, indeed, honourable, since it depends on wrongs ancient like
the race, and not personal to him who cherishes the indignation.


A little corner of Utah is soon traversed, and leaves no particular
impressions on the mind. By an early hour on Wednesday morning we
stopped to breakfast at Toano, a little station on a bleak, high-
lying plateau in Nevada. The man who kept the station eating-house
was a Scot, and learning that I was the same, he grew very
friendly, and gave me some advice on the country I was now
entering. "You see," said he, "I tell you this, because I come
from your country." Hail, brither Scots!

His most important hint was on the moneys of this part of the
world. There is something in the simplicity of a decimal coinage
which is revolting to the human mind; thus the French, in small
affairs, reckon strictly by halfpence; and you have to solve, by a
spasm of mental arithmetic, such posers as thirty-two, forty-five,
or even a hundred halfpence. In the Pacific States they have made
a bolder push for complexity, and settle their affairs by a coin
that no longer that no longer exists - the BIT, or old Mexican
real. The supposed value of the bit is twelve and a half cents,
eight to the dollar. When it comes to two bits, the quarter-dollar
stands for the required amount. But how about an odd bit? The
nearest coin to it is a dime, which is, short by a fifth. That,
then, is called a SHORT bit. If you have one, you lay it
triumphantly down, and save two and a half cents. But if you have
not, and lay down a quarter, the bar-keeper or shopman calmly
tenders you a dime by way of change; and thus you have paid what is
called a LONG BIT, and lost two and a half cents, or even, by
comparison with a short bit, five cents. In country places all
over the Pacific coast, nothing lower than a bit is ever asked or
taken, which vastly increases the cost of life; as even for a glass
of beer you must pay fivepence or sevenpence-halfpenny, as the case
may be. You would say that this system of mutual robbery was as
broad as it was long; but I have discovered a plan to make it
broader, with which I here endow the public. It is brief and
simple - radiantly simple. There is one place where five cents are
recognised, and that is the post-office. A quarter is only worth
two bits, a short and a long. Whenever you have a quarter, go to
the post-office and buy five cents worth of postage-stamps; you
will receive in change two dimes, that is, two short bits. The
purchasing power of your money is undiminished. You can go and
have your two glasses of beer all the same; and you have made
yourself a present of five cents worth of postage-stamps into the
bargain. Benjamin Franklin would have patted me on the head for
this discovery.

From Toano we travelled all day through deserts of alkali and sand,
horrible to man, and bare sage-brush country that seemed little
kindlier, and came by supper-time to Elko. As we were standing,
after our manner, outside the station, I saw two men whip suddenly
from underneath the cars, and take to their heels across country.
They were tramps, it appeared, who had been riding on the beams
since eleven of the night before; and several of my fellow-
passengers had already seen and conversed with them while we broke
our fast at Toano. These land stowaways play a great part over
here in America, and I should have liked dearly to become
acquainted with them.

At Elko an odd circumstance befell me. I was coming out from
supper, when I was stopped by a small, stout, ruddy man, followed
by two others taller and ruddier than himself.

"Excuse me, sir," he said, "but do you happen to be going on?"

I said I was, whereupon he said he hoped to persuade me to desist
from that intention. He had a situation to offer me, and if we
could come to terms, why, good and well. "You see," he continued,
"I'm running a theatre here, and we're a little short in the
orchestra. You're a musician, I guess?"

I assured him that, beyond a rudimentary acquaintance with "Auld
Lang Syne" and "The Wearing of the Green," I had no pretension
whatever to that style. He seemed much put out of countenance; and
one of his taller companions asked him, on the nail, for five

"You see, sir," added the latter to me, "he bet you were a
musician; I bet you weren't. No offence, I hope?"

"None whatever," I said, and the two withdrew to the bar, where I
presume the debt was liquidated.

This little adventure woke bright hopes in my fellow-travellers,
who thought they had now come to a country where situations went a-
begging. But I am not so sure that the offer was in good faith.
Indeed, I am more than half persuaded it was but a feeler to decide
the bet.

Of all the next day I will tell you nothing, for the best of all
reasons, that I remember no more than that we continued through
desolate and desert scenes, fiery hot and deadly weary. But some
time after I had fallen asleep that night, I was awakened by one of
my companions. It was in vain that I resisted. A fire of
enthusiasm and whisky burned in his eyes; and he declared we were
in a new country, and I must come forth upon the platform and see
with my own eyes. The train was then, in its patient way, standing
halted in a by-track. It was a clear, moonlit night; but the
valley was too narrow to admit the moonshine direct, and only a
diffused glimmer whitened the tall rocks and relieved the blackness
of the pines. A hoarse clamour filled the air; it was the
continuous plunge of a cascade somewhere near at hand among the
mountains. The air struck chill, but tasted good and vigorous in
the nostrils - a fine, dry, old mountain atmosphere. I was dead
sleepy, but I returned to roost with a grateful mountain feeling at
my heart.

When I awoke next morning, I was puzzled for a while to know if it
were day or night, for the illumination was unusual. I sat up at
last, and found we were grading slowly downward through a long
snowshed; and suddenly we shot into an open; and before we were
swallowed into the next length of wooden tunnel, I had one glimpse
of a huge pine-forested ravine upon my left, a foaming river, and a
sky already coloured with the fires of dawn. I am usually very
calm over the displays of nature; but you will scarce believe how
my heart leaped at this. It was like meeting one's wife. I had
come home again - home from unsightly deserts to the green and
habitable corners of the earth. Every spire of pine along the
hill-top, every trouty pool along that mountain river, was more
dear to me than a blood relation. Few people have praised God more
happily than I did. And thenceforward, down by Blue Canon, Alta,
Dutch Flat, and all the old mining camps, through a sea of mountain
forests, dropping thousands of feet toward the far sea-level as we
went, not I only, but all the passengers on board, threw off their
sense of dirt and heat and weariness, and bawled like schoolboys,
and thronged with shining eyes upon the platform and became new
creatures within and without. The sun no longer oppressed us with
heat, it only shone laughingly along the mountain-side, until we
were fain to laugh ourselves for glee. At every turn we could see
farther into the land and our own happy futures. At every town the
cocks were tossing their clear notes into the golden air, and
crowing for the new day and the new country. For this was indeed
our destination; this was "the good country" we had been going to
so long.

By afternoon we were at Sacramento, the city of gardens in a plain
of corn; and the next day before the dawn we were lying to upon the
Oakland side of San Francisco Bay. The day was breaking as we
crossed the ferry; the fog was rising over the citied hills of San
Francisco; the bay was perfect - not a ripple, scarce a stain, upon
its blue expanse; everything was waiting, breathless, for the sun.
A spot of cloudy gold lit first upon the head of Tamalpais, and
then widened downward on its shapely shoulder; the air seemed to
awaken, and began to sparkle; and suddenly

"The tall hills Titan discovered,"

and the city of San Francisco, and the bay of gold and corn, were
lit from end to end with summer daylight.

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