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George Robert Bird
Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 136
Publication Date: 1918
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This is a memoir by a non-Mormon about his experiences in the prospecting camps of Utah at the turn of the 19th century. Written as a first-person perspective by an outsider, it gives a sympathetic account of the Mormons, but also brings up some darker aspects about their history. It's also pretty racist towards Native Americans, so, as always with these old books, please bear in mind the context and the era in which it was written.
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I WAS one of the multitude of young men who heeded Horace Greeley's advice, "Go West, young man, go West!" in the days when he was the ruling spirit of the New York Tribune. Discredited as a prospective president by the people at the polls, he yet was accepted by many as a prophet of agricultural authority on the "Opportunity of the Great West."
To me, from boyhood, the word "Mississippi" had a winsome charm. I had read of De Soto and the Jesuit Fathers as the first voyagers on the great river of the West, of the Lewis and Clark explorations by the pen of Washington Irving in his Astoria: and to go West, was my one aim as conditions were ripe for it. The great lakes to the North and the cane-brakes to the South were not in it with the West as a drawing card to me. I left the charmed scenery of central New York state in the early spring of '74 headed for the wonderful Porkopolis of Chicago. That city was just beginning to rise from the ashes of the terrible fire of '71 when I first set foot in it. Wide areas resembling San Francisco in 1906 were black with the fire's work, and temporary board structures even at the depots were in common evidence. But there was the tang and the vim of the West in the faces of its hustling population that foretold the vigorous growth of after years. Crossing Ohio, I passed through the famous Western Reserve, supposed to be, in its day, the real West. When I saw the orderly neatness of farm, road, and townsite, I smiled at the invitation of an old college chum of the previous year; "When you are in the West be sure to call on me in the Western Reserve. I live at Youngstown, Ohio."
The "Father of Waters," as the Indians so fitly call the Mississippi, was bank-full when I crossed it one Tuesday morning. The prairies of Illinois and Wisconsin were green with the early spring color that also clothed the trees along the borders of this great stream. I was not disappointed, save with the awkwardly built stern-wheel steamers, that were either wildly swinging down or laboriously puffing up its course. When I stepped off the cars at Dubuque, Iowa, at last fairly West, I delighted in the breezy speech and the freedom of the people; men and women of adaptation to circumstances,-of a width of view like the plains that they were subduing.
For a year Iowa with its agricultural beauties along the Mississippi held me prisoner. Then the craving for the far West took hold of me as I heard the accounts of the returning pioneers of Kansas or Nebraska. The plague of locusts had driven them back and they had returned for supplies for another start.
It will be remembered that Uncle Sam was more than generous in his land gifts at this time. The pre-emption laws allowed pioneers to buy outright one hundred and sixty acres of the best level land in Iowa and Minnesota at one dollar and twenty-five cents an acre. Five years' time was given to pay for this, no other obligation was required beyond the settler's own interests to live on it and improve it.
I saw, as I travelled west, hundreds of these pre-emptors at work building small sod or frame houses, and breaking up the heavy grassed prairies. The cars to western Iowa and Minnesota were crowded every day with land seekers. The Danes, Norwegians and Swedes were mainly in evidence; so new to the country that they could not make themselves understood, but had to talk through their agents when inquiring, or buying. These people's descendants of this day are the intelligent and prosperous farmers of the choicest locations in country and town. Beginning with nothing but their brawn and industry, they are independent citizens of the best prairie states.
I crossed another great river at Omaha, the Missouri. With the imagination of youth, I saw the older population of this country of illimitable plains. The Pawnees, the Sioux, the Omahas, whose gatherings gave the name to Council Bluffs, upon the Iowa side. I saw also the black rolling tide of bison racing before the yelling red hunters or before the redder tongues of prairie fires. While I was denied my hope of running down a buffalo, I was able to see several of them in their wild state, as I went farther west. A great and reckless slaughter had thinned them down but one did not then have to visit a government park to see a buffalo.
It was a great event in that day for the overland express to leave Omaha for San Francisco. People made preparation for this pullman ride with all the gravity of a sea voyage. Baskets of supplies, wraps, rugs, and dust coats filled the arms of the passengers boarding the cars.
The express averaged sixteen miles an hour, including stops. The road-bed was of very light caliber and simply spiked down without fishplates, allowing no forty miles an hour speed. We swayed and teetered along some parts of the road in a way that reminded me of a branch line on the Grand Trunk in Canada, where the train dipped and curtseyed in the cuttings like a sail boat on the lakes. No harm came of it. We stopped often for fuel and water, and to oil up the small, wide-funneled engine, or to cool a hot-box in the heavily freighted baggage car.
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