The New Eldorado. A Summer Journey to Alaska
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As we left the main track of the Northern Pacific Railroad at Livingston to visit the Yellowstone Park, so at Garrison we again take a branch road to Butte City, situated fifty-five miles southward, and which is admitted to be the greatest mining city of the American continent. Here, on the western slope of the main range of the Rocky Mountains, stands the “Silver City,” as it is generally called, though one of its main features is its copper product, which rivals that of the Lake Superior district in quantity and quality, giving employment to the most extensive smelting works in the world. There are thirty thousand inhabitants in Butte, and it is rapidly growing in territory and population. Its citizens seem to be far above the average of our frontier settlers in intelligence and thrift. The Blue Bird silver mine is perhaps the richest in this locality, yielding every twelve months a million and a half of dollars in bullion; while the Moulton, Alice, and Lexington mines each produce a million dollars or more in silver yearly. There are several other rich mines, among them the Anaconda copper mine, which gives an aggregate each year larger in value than any we have named. The Parrott Copper Company, also the Montana and Boston Copper Company, each show an annual output of metal valued at a million of dollars. In place of there being any falling off in these large amounts, all of the mines are increasing their productiveness monthly by means of improved processes and enlarged mechanical facilities. But we have gone sufficiently into detail to prove the assertion already made, that Butte City is the greatest mining town on the continent. Eight tenths of its population is connected, either directly or indirectly, with mining.
“It would seem that the United States form the richest mineral country on the globe,” said an English fellow-traveler to whom these facts were being explained by an intelligent resident.
“That has long been admitted,” said the American.
“And what country comes next?” asked the Englishman.
“Australia,” was the reply. “But the United States,” continued the American, “have another and superior source of wealth exceeding that of all other lands, namely, their agricultural capacity. There are here millions upon millions of acres, richer than the valley of the Nile, which are still virgin soil untouched by the plow or harrow.”
Not mining, but agriculture forms the great and lasting wealth of our broad and fertile Western States, rich though they be in mineral deposits, especially of gold and silver.
Before proceeding further on our journey, let us pause for a moment to consider the magnitude of this imperial State of Montana, which measures over five hundred miles from east to west, and which is three hundred miles from north to south, containing one hundred and forty-four thousand square miles. This makes it larger in surface than the States of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio, and Indiana combined.With its vast stores of mineral wealth and many other advantages, who will venture to predict its future possibilities? It would be difficult to exaggerate them. The precious metals mined in the State during the last year gave a total value of over forty million of dollars, which was an increase of six million over that of the preceding year. Between forty and fifty million dollars in value is anticipated as the result of the local mining enterprise for the current twelve months, and yet we consider this to be the second, not the first, interest of Montana; agriculture take the precedence.
Returning to Garrison, after a couple of days passed at Butte City examining its extremely interesting system of mining for the precious metals, we once more resume our western journey.
Along the less populous portions of the route groups of dirty, but picturesque looking Indians are seen lounging about, wrapped in fiery red blankets. These belong to various native tribes, such as the Sioux, Blackfeet, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes. Bucks, squaws, and papooses gather about the small railroad stations, partly from curiosity, and partly because they have nothing else to do; but they are ever ready to sell trifles of their own rude manufacture to travelers as souvenirs, also gladly receiving donations of tobacco or small silver coins. The men are fat, lazy, and useless, scorning even the semblance of working for a livelihood, leaving the squaws to do the trading with travelers. These are “wards” of our government, who receive regular annuities of money and subsistence, including flour, beef, blankets, and so on. Support is thus insured to them so long as they live, and no American Indian was ever known to work for himself, or any one else, unless driven to it by absolute necessity.
When the author first crossed these plains, nearly thirty years ago, before there was any transcontinental railroad, the Indian tribes were very different people from what we find them to-day. The men were thin in flesh, wiry, active, and constantly on the alert. They were ever ready for bloodshed and robbery when they could be perpetrated without much danger to themselves. Contact with civilization has changed all this. They have become fat and lazy. They have borrowed the white man’s vices, but have ignored his virtues. When not fighting with the pale faces, the tribes were, thirty and forty years ago, incessantly at war with each other, thus actively promoting the fate which surely awaited them as a people. Their pride, even to-day, is to display at their belts not only the scalps of white men and women taken in belligerent times, but also the scalps of hostile tribes of their own race.
We believe most sincerely in fulfilling all treaty obligations between our government and the Indians, to the very letter of the contract, nor have we any doubt that our official agents have often been unfaithful in the performance of their duties; but when we attempt to create saints and martyrs out of the Red Men, we are certainty forcing the canonizing principle. They are entitled to as much consideration as the whites, but they are not entitled to more. They are crafty and cruel by nature; this is, perhaps, not their fault, but it is their misfortune. Nothing is really gained in our fine-spun moral theories by attempting to deceive ourselves or others. The plain truth is the best.
A little way from the railroad station on the open prairie the camps of these aborigines may often be seen, consisting of a few rude buffalo hides or canvas tents, while a score of rough looking ponies are grazing hard by, tethered to stakes driven into the soil. Here and there in front of a tent an iron kettle, in which a savory compound of meat and vegetables is simmering, hangs upon a tripod above a low fire built on the ground, presided over by some ancient squaw, all very much like a gypsy camp by the roadside in far off Granada.
The male aborigines wear semi-civilized clothing made of dressed deerskins, and woolen goods indiscriminately mixed; their long coarse black hair, decked with eagle’s feathers, hangs about their necks and faces, the latter often smeared with yellow ochre. Now and then a touch of manliness is seen in the bearing and facial expression of the bucks; but the larger number are debauched and degraded specimens of humanity, who impress the stranger with some curiosity, but with very little interest. Like the gypsies of Spain, they are incorrigible nomads, detesting the ordinary conventionalities of civilized life. The Indian women are clad in leather leggings, blue woolen skirts and waists, having striped blankets gathered loosely over their shoulders. No one can truthfully ascribe the virtue of cleanliness to these squaws. The papooses are strapped in flat baskets to the mothers’ backs, being swathed, arms, legs, and body, like an Egyptian mummy, and are as silent even as those dried-up remains of humanity. Whoever heard an Indian baby cry? The mothers seemed to be kind to the little creatures, whose faces, like those of the Eskimo babies, are so fat that they can hardly open their eyes.
We are sure to see about these railroad stations in the far West an occasional “cowboy,” clad in his fanciful leather suit cut after the Mexican style, wearing heavy spurs, and carrying a ready revolver in his belt. His long hair is covered by a broad felt sombrero, and he wears a high-colored handkerchief tied loosely about his neck. He enjoys robust health, is sinewy, clear-eyed, and intelligent in every feature, leading an active, open-air life as a herdsman, and being ever ready for an Indian fight or a generous act of self-abnegation in behalf of a comrade. He will not object on an occasion to join a lynching-party who happen to have in hand some horse-thief or a murderous scoundrel who has long successfully defied the laws. These cowboys are splendid horsemen, sitting their high-pommeled Mexican saddles like the Arabs. They are oftentimes educated young men, belonging to respectable Eastern families, seeking a brief experience of this wild, exposed life, simply from a love of independence and adventure. They are chivalric, and nearly always to be found on the side of justice, however quick they may be in the use of the revolver. Their life is spent amid associations, and in regions, where the slow process of the law does not meet the exigencies constantly occurring. The reader may be assured that they are nevertheless governed by a sense of “wild justice,” in which an element of real equity predominates. To realize the skill which they acquire, one must see half a dozen of them join together in “rounding up” a herd of several hundred cattle, or wild horses, scattered and feeding on the prairie, and from the herds collect and sort out the animals belonging to different owners, all being distinctly branded with hot irons when brought from Texas or elsewhere. In doing this it is often necessary to lasso and throw an animal while the operator is himself in the saddle and his horse at full gallop. No equestrian feats of the ring equal their daily performances, and no Indian of the prairies can compare with them for daring and successful horsemanship. Indeed, an Indian is hardly the equal of a white man in anything, not even in endurance. “An intelligent white man can beat any Indian, even at his own game,” says Buffalo Bill. Each one of the aborigines has his pony, and some have two or three, but they are as a rule of a poor breed, overworked and underfed. They are never housed, never supplied with grain, but subsist solely upon the coarse bunch grass of the prairie. The poor, uncared-for animals which are seen as described about the natives’ encampments tell their own doleful story. The Indian ponies and the squaws are alike always abused.
As we cross these plains straggling emigrant teams are often seen, called “prairie schooners.” The wagons as a rule are much the worse for wear, being surmounted by a rude canvas covering, dark and mildewed, under which a wife and four or five children are generally domiciled. A few domestic utensils are carried in, or hung upon the body of, the vehicle, – a tin dipper here, a water-pail there, a frying-pan in one place, and an iron kettle in another. These wagons are usually drawn by a couple of sorry-looking horses, and sometimes by a yoke of oxen. Beside the team trudges the father and husband, the typical pioneer farmer, hardy, independent, self-reliant, bound west to find means of support for himself and brood. Many such are seen as we glide swiftly over the iron rails, causing us to realize how steadily the stream of humanity flows westward, spreading itself over the virgin soil of the new States and Territories, and producing a growth in population no less legitimate than it is rapid. These pioneers are almost invariably farmers, and by adhering to their calling are sure to make at least a comfortable living.
While stopping at a watering-place in the early morning, the picturesque figure of a hunter was seen with rifle in hand. Over his shoulder hung the body of an antelope, while some smaller game was secured to his leathern belt. He had just captured these in the wild brown hills which border the plateau where our train had stopped. Cooper’s Leather-Stocking Tales were instantly suggested to the mind of the observer, as he watched the careless, graceful attitude and bearing of the rugged frontiersman, whose entire unconsciousness of the unique figure which he presented was especially noticeable.
After traveling more than five hundred miles in Montana, which is surpassed in size only by Alaska and Dakota, we enter northern Idaho, attractive for its wild and picturesque scenery, – a territory of mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and prairies combined, second only to Montana in its mineral wealth, and possessing also some of the choicest agricultural districts in the great West, where Nature herself freely bestows the best of irrigation in uniform and abundant rains. While traveling in Idaho we find that the route passes through a magnificent forest region, where the trees measure from six to ten feet in diameter, and are of colossal height, such growing timber as would challenge comment in any part of the world, consisting mostly of white pine, cedar, and hemlock.
We soon cross into the State of Washington, its northern boundary being British Columbia and its southern boundary Oregon, from which it is separated for more than a hundred miles of its length by the Columbia River. Its form is that of a parallelogram, fronting upon the Pacific Ocean for about two hundred and fifty miles, and having a length from east to west of over three hundred and sixty miles. This State has immense agricultural areas, as well as being rich in coal, iron, and timber. We pause at Spokane Falls for a day and night of rest. It is on the direct line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and is the principal city of eastern Washington, having the largest and best water-power on the Pacific slope. Government engineers report the water fall here to exceed two hundred thousand horse-power, a small portion only of which is yet improved, and that as a motor for large grain and flouring mills. Here we find a thrifty business community numbering over twelve thousand, the streets traversed by a horse railroad, and the place having electric lights, gas and public water works, with a Methodist and a Catholic college. It commands the trade of what is termed the Big Bend country and the Palouse district, and is the fitting-out place for the thousands of miners engaged in C?ur d’Alene County. In spite of the late disastrous fire which she has experienced, Spokane, like Seattle, will rapidly rise from her ashes. Official reports show that over nine million acres of this State are particularly adapted to the raising of wheat. Our route, after a brief rest at Spokane Falls, lies through Palouse County, where this cereal is raised in quantities proportionately larger than even in Dakota, and at a considerably less cost. Thirty-five to forty bushels of wheat to the acre is considered a royal yield in Dakota and the best localities elsewhere, but here fifty bushels to the acre are pretty sure to reward the cultivator, and even this large amount is sometimes exceeded. One enthusiastic observer and writer declares that Palouse County is destined to destroy wheat-growing in India by virtue of its immense crops, its favorable seasons, its economy of production, and its proximity to the seaboard.
In the western part of the State, on Puget Sound, the lumber business is the most important industry, giving profitable employment to thousands of people. The productive capacity of the several sawmills on the sound is placed at two million feet per day, and all are in active operation. A new one of large proportions was also observed to be in course of construction. The forests which produce the crude material are practically inexhaustible. The pines are of great size, ranging from eight to twelve feet in diameter, and from two hundred to two hundred and eighty feet in height. No trees upon this continent, except the giant conifers of the Yosemite, surpass these in magnitude. United States surveyors have declared, in their printed reports, that this State contains the finest body of timber in the world, and that its forests cover an area larger than the entire State of Maine.
The most productive hop districts that are known anywhere are to be found in the broad valleys of this State, where hop-growing has become a great and increasing industry, yielding remarkable profits upon the money invested and the labor required to market the crop. The course of the railroad is lined with these gorgeous fields of bloom, hanging on poles fifteen feet in height, planted with mathematical regularity. Large fruit orchards of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, and other varieties are seen flourishing here; and residents speak confidently of fruit raising as being one of the most promising future industries of this region, together with the canning and preserving of the fruits for use in Eastern markets. We are reminded, in this connection, that the United States crop reports also represent Washington as producing more bushels of wheat to the acre than any other State or Territory within the national domain. This grand region of the far northwestern portion of our country is three hundred miles long, from east to west, and two hundred and forty miles from north to south, giving it an area in round numbers of seventy thousand square miles. That is to say, it is nearly as large as the States of New York and Pennsylvania combined.
The immigration pouring into the new State of Washington is simply enormous, its aggregate for the year 1889 being estimated at thirty-five thousand persons, the majority of whom come hither for agricultural purposes, and to establish permanent homes. One train observed by the author consisted of nine second-class cars filled entirely with Scandinavians, that is, people from Norway and Sweden, presenting an appearance of more than average sturdiness and intelligence.
As the Pacific coast is approached we come to the famous Stampede Tunnel, which is nearly ten thousand feet long, and, with the exception of the Hoosac Tunnel in Massachusetts, the longest in America. On emerging from the Stampede Tunnel the traveler gets his first view of Mount Tacoma, rising in perpendicular height to nearly three miles, the summit robed in dazzling whiteness throughout the entire year.
The city of Tacoma takes its name from the grand towering mountain, so massive and symmetrical, in sight of which it is situated. We cannot but regret that the newly formed State did not assume the name also.
This is the western terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and is destined to become a great commercial port in the near future, being situated so advantageously at the head of the sound, less than two hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean. Its well-arranged system of wharves is already a mile and a half long, while there is a sufficient depth of water in any part of the sound to admit of safely mooring the largest ships. The reports of the United States Coast Survey describe Puget Sound as having sixteen hundred miles of shore line, and a surface of two thousand square miles, thus forming a grand inland sea, smooth, serene, and still, often appropriately spoken of as the Mediterranean of the North Pacific. It is indented with many bays, harbors, and inlets, and receives into its bosom the waters of numerous streams and tributaries, all of which are more or less navigable, and upon whose banks are established the homes of many hundred thrifty farmers.
History shows that long ago, before any Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Spanish voyagers planted colonies on Puget Sound. From them the Indians of these shores learned to grow crops of cereals, though according to the ingenious Ignatius Donnelly’s “Atlantis” they brought the art from a lost continent. Puget Sound may be described as an arm of the Pacific which, running through the Strait of Fuca, extends for a hundred miles, more or less, southward into the State of Washington. Nothing can exceed the beauty of these deep, calm waters, or their excellence for the purpose of navigation; not a shoal exists either in the strait or the sound that can interfere with the progress of the largest ironclad. A ship’s side would strike the shore before her keel would touch the bottom. Storms do not trouble these waters; such as are frequently encountered in narrow seas, like the Straits of Magellan, and heavy snow-storms are unknown. The entire expanse is deep, clear, and placid.
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