|California: a pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate,
April, May, June, 1877.
By Mrs. Frank Leslie.
Chapter 30 Chapter 31 Chapter 32 Chapter 33
HOTEL CARS versus EMIGRANT TRAINS.
ON arriving at the station, we find that we have exchanged our beloved Wagner Home for the famous Pullman Hotel Car, exhibited at the Centennial Exposition, and built at a cost of $35,000. We are greeted on entering, by two superb pyramids of flowers, one from Mr. Potter Palmer, and the other with compliments of the Pullman Car Co.; then new-found Chicago friends arrive in rapid succession, to wish us God-speed, and, in the midst of a cheerful bustle and excitement, we are off, able to look about us at our new home. First, we are impressed with the smooth and delightful motion, and are told it is owing to a new invention, in the shape of paper wheels applied to this car, and incredible though the information sounds, meekly accept it, and proceed to explore the internal resources of our kingdom. We find everything closely resembling our late home, except that one end of the car is partitioned off and fitted up as a kitchen, storeroom, scullery--reminding one, in their compactness and variety, of the little Parisian cuisines , where every inch of space is utilized, and where such a modicum of wood and charcoal produces such marvelous results.
Our chef , of ebon color, and proportions suggesting a liberal sampling of the good things he prepares, wears the regulation snow-white apron and cap, and gives us cordial welcome and information; showing us, among other things, that his refrigerator and larder are boxes adroitly arranged beneath the car, secured by lock and key, and accessible at every station. At six the tables are laid for two each, with dainty linen, and the finest of glass and china, and we presently sit down to dinner. Our repast is Delmonican in its nature and style, consisting of soup, fish, entrees , roast meat and vegetables, followed by the conventional dessert and the essential spoonful of black coffee.
We are not a late party that night, retiring at ten, and in the morning are startled by an announcement from the "Sultana," a tall, willowy woman, with dark, almond-shaped eyes, who affects brilliant tints, and lounges among her cushions and wraps of crimson and gold, with a grace peculiarly her own, and with a luxuriance so Eastern, as to have won for her the sobriquet of Sultana. We are startled by the announcement that her rest had been disturbed by the howling of wolves! The young lady who does the romantic for our party turns pale with envy, especially when the brakeman, appealed to as authority, admits that there is a small coyote wolf about the prairies, even so far East, which might possibly have been heard. All day, until sunset, we sweep along over rolling prairie lands of a rich, tawny yellow, with here and there a tiny town, and here and there a lonely settler's cabin, with a little winding footpath stretching up to it.
At Dixon, the train stopped for the passengers' supper, and we stole away for a little exercise and solitude. A storm was imminent, the distant thunder muttered ominously, the lightning came in pulses, and from the far, dusky reaches of the prairie, blew a wind stronger and freer, yet softer, than other winds, with a fragrance sweeter than flowers on its breath. Some strange, wild influence in the scene sent a new sensation tingling through one's blood. All sorts of poetic fancies and inspirations seemed hovering close above one's head, when a dash of rain recalled the realism of life, and sent us hastening back to the car, where all the lamps were lighted and the tables laid for dinner.
"What a dismal scene!" exclaimed some one, looking out of the window.
"We are very fortunate to be snugly ensconced, with plenty of lights and dinner in prospect," replied the Sultana, drawing her cashmere about her shoulders.
By breakfast-time the scenery had changed, the rolling prairie giving place to a succession of low bluffs--steep, hilly, brown, and infinitely wild; then came a quiet little lake, dotted over with wild ducks; more hills growing green in the hollows; swamp-willows budding redly; herds of grazing cattle and wild, shaggy horses; until, at last, we roll into a long, flat, straggling town, and are told it is Council Bluffs.
"And why Council Bluffs?" we suavely inquire of the wise man who gives us this information.
"Because, on these bluffs the Indians assembled in council; also because, beneath the shadow of the Bluffs in 1853, a little company of enterprising spirits held a council as to the propriety of building the City of Omaha, upon the opposite shores of the Missouri; also because the Conductor counsels us to re-enter the car, as the train is about to start; also--"
"Enough! enough! your last reason is conclusive." And a few minutes later we are rolling over the magnificent bridge, said to be one of the finest in the world, and almost a thousand feet in length. The stream--weak coffee as to complexion, pea-soup as to consistence--rolls sluggishly between its iron piers. As for the bridge itself, its cost, its construction, its ingenuity, is it not written in all the guide-books, all the travels, all the diaries of all the voyageurs ? and to these various sources the statistical reader is referred for information.
Arrived in Omaha, the true beginning, perhaps, of our California trip, we took a carriage, and set forth to view the town. We found it big, lazy, and apathetic; the streets dirty and ill-paved; the clocks without hands to point out the useless time; the shops, whose signs mostly bore German names, deserted of customers, while principals and clerks lounged together in the doorways, listless and idle. This depressing state of affairs is, presumably, temporary, for we were told that, two years ago, Omaha was one of the most thriving and busy cities of the West, claiming for itself, indeed, a place as first commercial emporium of that vast section; and, certainly, its position at the terminus of the three great Eastern roads, and the beginning of the one great Western one, would naturally entitle it to that pre-eminence, when aided by the enterprise and the dollars of such men as have, in twenty years, built a great city from a wayside settlement.
Doubtless, when the hard times, which seem to affect everybody and everything, from the baby's Christmas toys to the statesman's visions of international commerce, are over, Omaha will shake off the lethargy depressing her at present, and rise to the position her citizens fondly claim for her. We saw some tasteful private residences, with conservatories and stables; the High School building, which might justly be called a palace of learning; the military headquarters, and barracks of the armory of the State; the Grand Central Hotel, a large and imposing edifice, admirably conducted; and also the less imposing, but more remarkable house erected by the brilliant and erratic George Francis Train, who, arriving at Omaha one day, was told there was no accomodation to be had for his party.
"No rooms to be had!" exclaimed he. "Then I'll build me a hotel!"--and he did, within six weeks.
Returning to the station, we found the platform crowded with the strangest and most motley groups of people it has ever been our fortune to encounter. Men in alligator boots, and loose overcoats made of blankets and wagon rugs, with wild, unkempt hair and beards, and bright, resolute eyes, almost all well-looking, but wild and strange as denizens of another world.
The women looked tired and sad, almost all of them, and were queerly dressed, in gowns that must have been old on their grandmothers, and with handkerchiefs tied over their heads in place of hats; the children were bundled up anyhow, in garments of nondescript purpose and size, but were generally chubby, neat and gay, as they frolicked in and out among the boxes, baskets, bundles, bedding, babies'-chairs, etc., piled waist high on various parts of the platform. Mingling with them, and making some inquiries, we found that these were emigrants, bound for the Black Hills, by rail to Cheyenne and Sioux City, and after that by wagon trains. A family of French attracted attention by the air of innate refinement and fitness which seems to attach to every grade of society in la belle France , and we chatted with them for some moments. A great many families claimed German nationality, and Ireland, England and Scotland were represented, as well as our own country. One bright little creature--perhaps three years of age--was quite insulted at being called a baby, and exclaimed, indignantly:
"No, no, me not baby!"
"What are you, then? A young lady?" we inquired.
"No, me 'ittle woman. Me helps mammy sweep," replied the mite; and apologizing for our blunder, we handed her some silver for candy, which she accepted with alacrity; and as we watched her setting off on her shopping expedition, a neat, pretty old lady, perched upon a big bundle, said, with much conscious pride:
"That's my grandchild, ma'am."
We congratulated her, and passed on, to visit the emigrant lodging-house and outfitting-shop adjoining the station. The shop, although large, was crowded, and the air insufferably close; long counters ran across the room, and upon them, and upon lines stretched above, lay or hung, every variety of equipment desirable for pioneer life--clothes, blankets, mats, tins, hats,
shoes, babies' rattles, impartially mixed and exhibited, while some attention to the sthetic needs of humanity was shown, in various stuffed heads of moose and deer, with quails perched upon their antlers.
In the eating-room we "assisted," by inspection, at a good, substantial, homely dinner, neatly served at twenty-five cents a plate, and a placard informed the guests that children occupying seats at table would be charged full price; a precautionary measure not unreasonable, as it seemed to us, in view of the swarms of innocents who had certainly never encountered a Herod!
Lodging is the same price as dinner, and the superintendent of this
part of the house triumphantly informed us that the sheets were changed
ON THE INCLINED RAILWAY TO THE FOOT OF NIAGARA FALLS.