Sur-
mounting
. . .


"Surmounting every barrier and trampling on people":

Real Roads, Rail Roads, and Visions of the West

 

contents:

Native Oral Poetry, "They Came from the East"

Tecumseh, "Speech of Tecumseh" (1774)

Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (1782)

Benjamin Franklin, "Information to Those Who Would Remove to America" (1784)

Philip Freneau, "On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country" (1785)

Washington Irving, "Traits of Indian Character" (in Sketch Book, 1820 )

John Ridge, Essay on Cherokee Civilization (1826)

Black Hawk, Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk (1833)

William Cullen Bryant, "The Prairies" (1833)

Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Celestial Railroad" (1843)

Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes (1844)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854) [sect. 1] [sect. 2]

Walt Whitman, Preface to 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass (1855) , "Facing West from California’s Shores" (1860, 1867)

Walt Whitman, "Democratic Vistas" (1867-1870, 1871), "Passage to India" (1871, 1881)

Hamlin Garland, "Up the Coulee" (1891)

Zitkala-Sa [Gertrude Bonnin]: "Impressions of an Indian Childhood" (1900), "The School Days of an Indian Girl" (1900)

Willa Cather, "Old Mrs. Harris" (1932)

 

Native Oral Poetry, "They Came from the East"

 

They came from the east when they arrived.

Then Christianity also began.

The fulfillment of the prophecy is ascribed to the east . . .

Then with the true God, the true Dios,

came the beginning of our misery.

it was the beginning of tribute,

the beginning of church dues,

the beginning of strife with purse-snatching,

the beginning of strife with blow guns;

the beginning of strife by trampling on people,

the beginning of robbery with violence,

the beginning of forced debts,

the beginning of debts enforced by false testimony,

the beginning of individual strife,

a beginning of vexation.

 

 

Tecumseh.gif (8580 Byte) Tecumseh, "Speech of Tecumseh" (1774)

Brothers--When the white men set foot on our grounds, they were hungry; they had no place on which to spread their blankets, or to kindle their fires. They were feeble; they could nothing for themselves. Our fathers commiserated their distress, and shared freely with them whatever the Great Spirit had given his red children. They gave them food when hungry, medicine when sick, spread skins for them to sleep on, and gave them grounds, that they might hunt and raise corn. Brothers, the white people are like poisonous serpents: when chilled, they are feeble and harmless; but invigorate them with warmth, and they sting their benefactors to death.

 

The white people came among us feeble; and now we have made them strong, they wish to kill us, or drive us back, as they would wolves and panthers.

 

Brothers--The white men are not friends to the Indians, at first, the only asked for land sufficient for a wigwam; now, nothing will satisfy them but the whole of our hunting grounds from the rising to the setting sun.

 

 

crevecoeur.jpg (31697 Byte) Hector St. Jean de Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer (1782)

We are a people of cultivators scattered over an immense territory, communicating with each other by means of good roads and navigable rivers, united by silken bands of mild government, all respecting the laws without dreading the power, because they are equitable. We are all animated with the spirit of an industry which is unfettered and unrestrained, because each person works for himself ("Letter III: What Is an American?")

 

He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labours and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world. Americans are the western pilgrims who are carrying along with them that great mass of arts, sciences, vigour, and industry which began long sine in the East; they will finish the great circle ("Letter III: What Is an American?")

 

You know the position of our settlement; I need not therefore describe it. To the west it is inclosed by a chain of mountains, reaching to _____; to the east, the country is as yet but thinly inhabited; we are almost insulated, and the houses are at a considerable distance from each other. From the mountains we have but too much reason to expect our dreadful enemy; the wilderness is a harbour where it is impossible to find them. It is a door through which they can enter our country whenever they please ("Letter XII: Distresses of a Frontier Man")

 

Do you, my friend, perceive the path I have found out? It is that which leads to the tenants of the great _____ village of _____, where, far removed from the accursed neighborhood of Europeans, its inhabitants live with more ease, decency, and peace than you imagine; who, though governed by not laws, yet find in uncontaminated simple manners all that laws can afford ("Letter XII: Distresses of a Frontier Man"

 

franklin.gif (59337 Byte) Benjamin Franklin,
"Information to Those Who Would Remove to America" (1784)

Strangers are welcome, because there is room enough for them all, and therefore the old Inhabitants are not jealous of them . . . . Land being Cheap in that Country, from he vast Forests still void of Inhabitants, and not likely to be occupied in an Age to come . . . . Multitudes of poor People from England, Ireland, Scotland, and Germany, have be this means in a few years become wealthy Farmers, who, in their own Countries, where all the Lands are full occupied, and the Wages of Labour low, could never have emerged from the poor Condition wherein they were born . . . .

 

freneau.jpg (2009 Byte) Philip Freneau,
"On the Emigration to America and Peopling the Western Country" (1785)

To western woods, and lonely plains,

Palemon from the crowd departs,

Where Nature’s wildest genius reigns,

To tame the soil, and plant the arts--

What wonders there shall freedom show,

What might states successive grow!

 

From Europe’s proud, despotic shores

Hither the stranger takes his way,

And in our new found world explores

A happier soil, a milder sway,

Where no proud despot holds him down,

No slaves insult him with a crown.

 

What charming scenes attract the eye,

On wild Ohio’s savage stream!

There Nature reigns, whose works outvie

The boldest pattern art can frame;

There ages past have rolled away,

And forests bloomed but to decay.

 

From these fair plains, these rural seats,

So long concealed, so lately known,

The unsocial Indian far retreats,

To make some other clime his own,

When other streams, less pleasing flow,

And darker forests round him grow.

 

Great Sire of floods! whose varied wave

Through climes and countries take its way,

To whom creating Nature gave

Ten thousand streams to swell thy sway!

No longer shall they useless prove,

Nor idly through the forests rove;

 

Nor longer shall your princely flood

From distant lakes be swelled in vain,

Nor longer through a darksome wood

Advance, unnoticed to the main,

Far other ends, the heavens decree--

And commerce plans new freights for thee.

 

While virtue warms the generous breast,

There heaven-born freedom shall reside,

Nor shall the voice of war molest,

Nor Europe’s all-aspiring pride--

There Reason shall new laws devise,

And order from confusion rise.

 

Forsaking kings and regal state,

With all their pomp and fancied bliss,

The traveller owns, convinced though late,

No realm so free, so blest as this--

The east is half to slaves consigned,

Where kings and priests enchain the mind.

 

O come the time, and haste the day,

When man shall man to longer crush,

When Reason shall enforce her sway,

Nor these fair regions raise our blush,

Where still the African complains,

And mourns his yet unbroken chains.

 

Far brighter scenes a future age,

The muse predicts, these States will hail,

Whose genius may the world engage,

Whose deeds may over death prevail,

And happier systems bring to view

Than all the eastern sages knew.

 

irving1.gif (4222 Byte) Washington Irving "Traits of Indian Character" (in Sketch Book, 1820 )

There is something in the character and habits of the North American savage, taken in connection with the scenery over which he is accustomed to range, its vast lakes, boundless forests, majestic rivers, and trackless plains, that is, to my mind, wonderfully striking and sublime. He is formed for the wilderness, as the Arab is for the desert. His nature is stern, simple, and enduring; fitted to grapple with difficulties, and to support privations. . . .

 

But I forbear to dwell on these gloomy pictures. The eastern tribes have long since disappeared; the forests that sheltered them have been laid low, and scarce any traces remain of them in the thickly-settled states of New England, excepting here and there the Indian name of a village or a stream. And such must, sooner or later, be the fate of those other tribes which skirt the frontiers, and have occasionally been inveigled from their forests to mingle in he wars of white men. In a little while, and they will go the way that their brethren have gone before. The few hordes which still linger about the shores of Huron and Superior, and the tributary streams of the Mississippi, will share the fate of those tribes that once spread over Massachusetts and Connecticut, and lorded it along the proud banks of the Hudson; of that gigantic race said to have existed on the borders of the Susquehanna; and of those various nations that flourished about the Potomac and the Rappahannock, and that peopled the forests of the vast valley of Shenandoah. They will vanish like a vapor from the face of the earth; their very history will be lost in forgetfulness; and ‘the places that now know them will know them no more for ever.

 

John Ridge, Essay on Cherokee Civilization (1826)

I might indulge in sad review of the past, and point to Nations once powerful, that as Lords of the creation roamed America’s Forests. The sun of our glory is set, and we are left the Shadow of what once was a reality! Powerful in war & sage in peace, our Chiefs now sleep with their heroic deeds in the bosom of the Earth! It was not their destiny to become great. Had they concentrated their Council fires, their empire might have stood like a Pyramid, for ages yet unborn to admire. It was for Strangers to effect this, and necessity now compels the last remnant to look to it for protection. It is true, we enjoy self Government, but we live in fear, and uncertainty foretells our Fall. Strangers urge our removal, they point to the west and there they say we can live happy. Our National existence is suspended on the faith and honor of the United States alone. We are in the paw of a Lion--convenience may induce him [to] crush and with faint Struggle we may cease to be!

 

blackhawk.gif (19987 Byte) Black Hawk, Life of Ma-Ka-Tai-Me-She-Kia-Kiak or Black Hawk (1833)

Passing down the Mississippi, I discovered a large collection of people in the mining country, on the west side of the river, and on the ground that we had given to our relation, DUBUQUE, a long time ago. I was surprised at this, as I had understood from our Great Father, that the Mississippi was to be the dividing line between his red and white children., and that he did not wish either to cross it. I was much pleased with this talk, as I knew that it would be much better for both parties. I have since found the country much settled by the white further down, and near to our people, on the west side of the river. I am very much afraid, that in a few years, they will begin to drive and abuse our people, as they have formerly done. I may not live to see it, but I feel certain that the day is not distant.

 

bryant1.jpg (18816 Byte) William Cullen Bryant, "The Prairies" (1833)

These are the gardens of the Desert, these

The unshorn fields, boundless and beautiful,

For which the speech of England has no name--

The Prairies. I behold them for the first,

And my heart swells, while the dilated sight

Take in the encircling vastness. Lo! they stretch,

In airy undulations, far away,

As if the ocean, in his gentles swell,

Stood still, with all his rounded billows fixed,

And motionless forever.--Motionless?--

No--they are all unchained again. The clouds

Sweep over with their shadows, and, beneath,

The surface rolls and fluctuates to the eye:

Dark hollows seem to glide along and chase

The sunny ridges. Breezes of the South!

. . . .

As o’er the verdant waste I guide my steed,

Among the high rank grass that sweeps his sides

The hollow beating of his footsteps seems

A sacrilegious sound. I think of those

Upon whose rest he tramples. Are they here--

The dead of other days? --and did the dust

Of these fair solitudes once stir with life

And burn with passion? Let the might mounds

That overlook the rivers, or that rise

In the dim forest crowded with old oaks,

Answer: A race, that long has passed away,

Built them . . . .

 

Thus change the forms of being. Thus arise

Races of living things, glorious in strength,

And perish, as the quickening breath of God

Fills them, or is withdrawn. The red man, too,

Has left the blooming wilds he ranged so long,

And, nearer to the Rocky Mountains, sought

A wilder hunting-ground. . . . .

 

. . . I listen long

To his [the bee’s] domestic hum, and think I hear

The sound of that advancing multitude

Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground

Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice

Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn

Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds

Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain

Over the dark brown furrows. All at once

A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,

And I am in the wilderness alone

 

 

hawthorne.jpg (12902 Byte) Nathaniel Hawthorne, "The Celestial Railroad" (1843)

The passengers being all comfortably seated, we now rattled away merrily, accomplishing a greater distance in ten minutes than Christian probably trudged over in a day. It was laughable, while we glanced along, as it were, at the tail of a thunderbolt, to observe two dusty foot travellers in the old pilgrim guise, with cockle shell and staff, their mystic rolls of parchment in their hands and their intolerable burdens on their backs. The preposterous obstinacy of these honest people in persisting to groan and stumble along the difficult pathway rather than take advantage of modern improvements, excited great mirth among our wiser brotherhood.

 

fuller.gif (11704 Byte) Margaret Fuller Summer on the Lakes (1844)

The great drawback upon the lives of these settlers, at present, is the unfitness of the women for their new lot. It has generally been the choice of the men, and women follow, as women will, doing their best for affection’s sake, but too often heartsickness and weariness. Beside it frequently not being a choice of conviction of their own minds that it is best to be here, their part is the hardest, and they are not fitted for it. The men can find assistance in field labor, and recreation with the gun and fishing rod. Their bodily strength is greater, and enables them to bear and enjoy both these forms of life.

 

The women can rarely find any aid in domestic labor. All its various and careful tasks must be performed, sick or well, by the mother and daughters, to whom a city education has imparted neither the strength nor skill now demanded . . . .

 

Their grand ambition for their children, is to send them to school in some eastern city, the measure most likely to make them useless and unhappy at home.

 

 

thoreau.gif (15283 Byte) Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

"Economy"

I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot . . . . if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance.

Such is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with regard to the railroad even we may say it as broad as it is long. To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet. Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot , and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over,--and it will be called, and will be, "A melancholy accident." No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long, but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time . . .

 

"What I Lived for"

If we do not get our sleepers, and forge rails, and devote days and nights to the work, but go to tinkering upon our lives to improve them, who will build railroads? And if railroads are not built, how shall we get to heaven in season? But if we stay at home and mind our business, who

will want railroads? We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us. Did you ever think what those sleepers are that underlie the railroad? Each one is a man, an Irish-man, or a Yankee man. The rails are laid on them, and they are covered with sand, and the cars run smoothly over them. They are sound sleepers, I can assure you. And every few years a new lot is laid down and run over; so that, if some have the pleasure of riding on a rail, others have the misfortune to be ridden upon. And when they run over a man that is walking in his sleep, a supernumerary sleeper in the wrong position, and wake him up, they suddenly stop the cars, and make a hue and cry about it, as if this were an exception. I am glad to know that it takes a gang of men for every five miles to keep the sleepers down and level in their beds as it is, for this is a sign that they may sometime get up again.

 

"Sounds"

The whistle of the locomotive penetrates my woods summer and winter, sounding like the scream of a hawk sailing over some farmer’s yard, informing me that many restless city merchants are arriving within the circle of the town, or adventurous country traders from the other side. As they come under one horizon, they shout their warning to get off the track to the other, hard sometimes through the circles of two towns. Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here’s your pay for them! screams the countryman’s whistle; timber like long battering rams, going twenty miles an hour against the city’s walls, and chairs, enough to seat all the weary and heavy laden that dwell within them . . . . when I hear the iron horse make the hills echo with his snort like thunder, shaking the earth with his feet, and breathing fire and smoke from his nostrils,(what kind of winged horse of fiery dragon they will put into the new Mythology I don’t know,) it seems as if the earth had got a race now worthy to inhabit it. If all were as it seems, and men made the elements their servants for noble ends! If the cloud that hangs over the engine were the perspiration of heroic deeds, or as beneficent to men as that which floats over the farmer’s fields, then the elements and Nature herself would cheerfully accompany men on their errands and be their escort.

I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which hugs the earth is but the barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and harness his steed. Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the vital heat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early!. . . .

They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well conducted institution regulates a whole country . . . .

Commerce is unexpectedly confident and serene, alert, adventurous, and unwearied. It is very natural in its methods withal, far more so than many fantastic enterprises and sentimental experiments, and hence its singular success. I am refreshed and expanded when the freight train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Wharf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical slimes, and the extent of the globe . . . .

 

 

withman.jpg (25273 Byte) Walt Whitman, Preface to 1855 Edition of Leaves of Grass" (1855)

The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem. In the history of the earth hitherto the largest and most stirring appear tame and orderly to their ample largeness and stir. Here at last is something in the doings of man that corresponds with the broadcast doings of the day and night. Here is not merely a nation but a teeming nation of nations. Here is action untied from strings necessarily blind to particulars and details magnificently moving in vast mass. Here is the hospitality which forever indicates heroes . . . Here are the roughs and beards and space and ruggedness and nonchalance that the soul loves. Here the performance disdaining the trivial unapproachd in the tremendous audacity of its crowds and groupings and the push of its perspective spreads with crampless and flowing breath and showers its prolific and splendid extravagance. One sees it must indeed own the riches of the summer and winter, and need never be bankrupt while corn grows from the ground or the orchards drop apples or the bays contain fish or men beget children upon women.

 

Other states indicate themselves in their deputies . . . . but the genius of the United States is not best or most in its executives or legislatures, nor in its ambassadors or authors or colleges or churches or parlors, nor even in its newspapers or inventors . . . but always most in the common people. Their manners speech dress friendships--the freshness and candor of their physiognomy--the picturesque looseness of their carriage . . . their deathless attachment to freedom--their aversion to anything indecorous or soft or mean--the practical acknowledgment of the citizens of one state by the citizens of all other states--the fierceness of their roused resentment--their curiosity and welcome of novelty--their self-esteem and wonderful sympathy--their susceptibility to a slight--the air they have of persons who never knew how it felt to stand in the presence of superiors--the fluency of their speech--their delight in music, the sure symptom of manly tenderness and native elegance of soul . . . their good temper and openhandedness--the terrible significance of their elections--the President’s taking off his hat to them not they to him--these too are unrhymed poetry. It awaits the gigantic and generous treatment worthy of it. . . . .

 

The American poets are to enclose old an and new for America is the race of races. Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a people. To him the other continents arrive as contributions . . . he gives them reception for their sake and his own sake. His spirit responds to his country’s spirit . . . he incarnates its geography and natural life and rivers and lakes. Mississippi with annual freshets and changing chutes, Missouri and Columbia and Ohio and Saint Lawrence with the falls and beautiful masculine Hudson, do not embouchure [pour out, as from a river mouth] where they spend themselves more than they embouchure into him. The blue breadth over the inland sea of Virginia and Maryland and the sea off Massachusetts and Maine and over Manhattan bay and over Champlain and Erie and over Ontario and Huron and Michigan and Superior, and over the Texan and Mexican and Floridian and Cuban seas and over the seas off California and Oregon, is not allied by the blue breadth of the waters below more than the breadth of above and below is tallied by him. When the long Atlantic coast stretches longer and the Pacific coast stretches longer h easily stretches with them north or south. He spans between them also from east to west and reflects what is between them . . . .

 

"Facing West from California’s Shores" (1860, 1867)                                                                                                                        

 

Facing west from California’s shores,

Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,

I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity [Asia]

the land of migration, look afar,

Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled;

For starting westward from Hindustan [India], from the Vales of

Kashmere,

From Asia, from the north, from the he God, the sage, and the hero,

From the south, from the flowery peninsulas and the spice islands,

Long having wander’d since, round the earth having wander’d,

Now I face home again, very please’d and joyous,

(But where is what I started for so long ago?

And why is it yet unfound?)

 

 

Henry David Thoreau, "Walking" (1862)

 

I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,--to regard man as an inhabitant, one with and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society . . . . For a walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels . . . .

 

Some do not walk at all; others walk in the highways; few walk a Roads are made for horses and men of business. I do not travel in them . . . because I am not in a hurry to get to any tavern or grocery or depot to which they lead . . .

 

When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and cal as it may seem that I finally and inevitably settle southwest, toward son ular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction . . . . The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems exhausted and richer on that side . . . . I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress from east to west . . . . We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race; we go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure . . . .Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down. He is the Great Western Pioneer who nations follow . . . .

 

[Henry David Thoreau continued - "Walking", 1862]

If the moon looks larger here than in Europe, probably the sun looks larger also. If the heavens of America appear infinitely higher, and the stars brighter, I trust that these facts are symbolical of the height to which the philosophy and poetry and religion of her inhabitants may one day soar . . .

 

The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world. Every tree sends its fibres forth in search of the Wild . . . . Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps . . . . My spirits infallibly rise in proportion to the outward dreariness. Give me the ocean, the desert, or the wilderness! . . . In short, all good things are wild and free . . . .

 

The sun sets on some retired meadow, where no house is visible, with all the glory and splendor that it lavishes on cities, and, perchance, as it has never set before--where there is but a solitary marsh-hawk to have his wings gilded by it, or only a musquash [muskrat] looks out form his cabin, and there is some little black-veined brook in the midst of the marsh, just beginning to meander, winding slowly round a decaying stump. We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us at home at evening.

 

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn.

 

 

Walt Whitman

"Democratic Vistas" (1867-1870, 1871)

 

Lon ere the second centennial arrives, (there will be some forty to fifty great States, among them Canada and Cuba. When the present century closes, our population will be sixty or seventy millions. The Pacific will be ours, and the Atlantic mainly ours. There will be daily electric communication with every part of the globe. What an age! What a land! Where, elsewhere, on so great? The individuality of one nation must, then, as always, lead the world. Can there be doubt who the leader ought to be?

 

"Passage to India" (1871, 1881)                                                                                                                                                                

 

Singing my days,

Singing the great achievements of the present,

Singing the strong light work of engineers,

Our modern wonders, (the ponderous Seven [wonders of the world] outvied),

In the Old World the east the Suez canal

The New by its mighty railroad spann’d [transcontinental railroad completed 1869]

. . . .

In one again, different, (yet thine, all thine, O soul, the same,)

I see over my own continent the Pacific railroad surmounting every

barrier,

I see continual trains of cars winding along the Platte carrying

freight and passengers,

I hear the locomotives rushing and roaring, and the shrill

steamwhistle,

I hear the echoes reverberate through the grandest scenery in the

world

. . . .

 

Sail forth--steer for the deep waters only,

Reckless O soul, exploring, I with thee, and thou with me,

For we re bound where mariner has not yet dared to go,

And we will risk the ship, ourselves and all.

O my brave soul!

O farther farther sail!

O daring joy, but safe! are they not all the seas of God?

O farther, farther, farther sail!

 

 

garland.jpg (12786 Byte) Hamlin Garland, "Up the Coulee" (1891)

The ride from Milwaukee to the Mississippi is a fine ride at any time, superb in summer. To lean back in a reclining-chair and whirl away in a breezy July day, past lakes, groves of oak, past fields of barley being reaped, past hay-fields, where the heavy grass is toppling before the swift sickle, is a panorama of delight, a road full of delicious surprises, where down a sudden vista lakes open, or a distant wooded hill looms darkly blue, or swift streams, foaming deep down the solid rock, send whiffs of cool breezes.

 

It has majesty, breadth. The farming has nothing apparently petty about it. All seems vigourous, youthful, and prosperous . . . .

 

zitkala-sa.gif (5056 Byte) Zitkala-Sa [Gertrude Bonnin],
"Impressions of an Indian Childhood" (1900)

From some of my playmates I heard that two paleface missionaries were in our village. They were from that class of white men who wore big hats and carried large hearts, they said. Running direct to my mother, I began to question her why these two strangers were among us. She told me, after I had teased much, that they had come to take away Indian boys and girls to the East . . . .

 

"The School Days of an Indian Girl" (1900)

 

We had been very impatient to start on our journey to the Red Apple Country [Indiana], which, we were told, lay a little beyond the great circular horizon of the Western prairie. Under a sky of rosy apples we dreamt of roaming as freely and happily as we had chased the cloud shadows on the Dakota plains. We had anticipated much pleasure from a ride on the iron horse, but the throngs of staring palefaces disturbed and troubled us. On the train, fair women, with tottering babies on each arm, stopped their haste and scrutinized the children of absent mothers. Large men, with heavy bundles in their hands, halted near by, and rivet their glassy blue eyes upon us . . . .

 

After my first three years of school, I roamed again in the Western country through four strange summers. During this time I seemed to hang in the heart of chaos, beyond the touch or voice of human aid. My brother, being almost ten years my senior, did not quite understand my feelings. My mother had never gone inside of a schoolhouse, and so she was not capable of comforting her daughter who could read and write. Even nature seemed to have no place for me. I was neither a wee girl nor a tall one; neither a wild Indian nor a tame one.

 

cather.jpg (12158 Byte) Willa Cather, "Old Mrs. Harris" (1932)

She did not regret her decision; indeed, there had been no decision. Victoria had never once thought it possible that Ma should not go wherever she and the children went, and Mrs. Harris had never thought it possible. Of course she regretted Tennessee, though she would never admit it to Mrs. Rosen:--the old neighbours, the yard and garden she had worked in all her life, the apple trees she had planted, the lilac arbour, tall enough to walk in, which she had clipped and shaped so many years. Especially she missed her lemon tree, in a tub on he front porch, which bore little lemons almost every summer, and folks would come for miles to see it.

 

But the road led westward, and Mrs. Harris didn’t believe that women, especially old women, could say when or where they would stop. The were tied to the chariot of young life, and had to go where it went, because they were needed . . .

 

The Templetons troubles began when Mr. Templeton’s aunt died and left him a few thousand dollars, and he got the idea of bettering himself. The twins were little then, and he told Mrs. Harris his boys would have a better chance in Colorado--everybody was going West. He went alone first, and got a good position with a mining company the mountains of southern Colorado. He had been bookkeeper in the bank in his home town, had "grown up in the bank," as they said. He was industrious and honourable, and the managers of the mining company liked him, even if they laughed at his polite, soft-spoken manners. He could have held his position indefinitely, and maybe got a promotion. But the altitude of that mountain town was too high for his family. All the children were sick there; Mrs. Templeton was ill most of the time and nearly died when Ronald was born. Hilary Templeton lost his courage and came north to the flat, sunny, semi-arid country between Wray and Cheyenne, to work for an irrigation project.