The Panama Railroad Travelogues: Four Years on the Pacific Coast
Four Years on the Pacific Coast
After twelve days and some hoursí sail from San Francisco, the old, walled city of Panama rose to view. The steamerís gun was fired; she dropped her anchor; and a fleet of boats and bungoes were seen approaching. They neared and surrounded the ship. Most or all of them were manned by swarthy-visaged, half-naked Carthaginians, and a mongrel race of natives, whose appearance and gestures were equally repulsive.
Such a perfect Babel as that steamerís deck presented! Some running to and fro, looking for baggage, some bargaining and bantering with the boatmen, boatmen fighting with one another for a berth next the gangways, ladies screaming at the top of their voices, children bawling in unison, and parrots joining in the chorus! Curses and oaths, singing and shouting , filled up the intervals of this hurly-burly scene. I stood agape with astonishment at witnessing the haste and recklessness with which they rushed, helter-skelter, down the gangways, and tumbled (some of them headlong) into the boats. More than one individual I saw floundering in the water; and carpet bags and valises were floating about quiet merrily.
The hideous-looking boatmen kept up a continual jargon and fighting with one another; and perhaps, just as some person was going to step into a boat, some native would give it a shove away, and the person, pressed hard from behind, if not remarkably nimble, would get a ducking.
I was determined to wait until the last, rather than go with such a rush; and I did wait, until the coast was clear. Then our party, which consisted of four or five ladies and gentlemen, secured seats in a boat, and bade good bye to the Uncle Sam. We had gone but a short distance from the ship, when we heard the report of a gun booming over the water. The steamer Panama, which left in company with us, had arrived. She had about five hundred passengers on board; and, with the eight hundred who had just left the Uncle Sam, the hotels in Panama would be likely to be rather crowded. It behooved us to hasten, in order to secure a place on the shore, if nowhere else.
As we neared the shore, the water was full of natives, who waded off almost up to their necks, surrounded the boat, and arrested its progress. The boatmen are agreed with the natives on the shore to manage thus, in order to secure as many pieces of money as possible. No entreaties or threats could induce the boatmen to budge one inch nearer to the shore. There was no alternative but to place ourselves upon the backs of these natives, and (as the expression is) ride post-back to the shore. Before placing ourselves in this rather unladylike position, there was much screaming, and laughing, and crying, and scolding; but it all terminated in one general paid-back ride to the shore. The natives being so submerged, one could not judge well of their muscular developments; and some of the more corpulent ladies were afraid to trust their immense proportions on the back of a slender native, for fear of being dropped. This accident did happen to some of them; and it was ever accompanied with much laughing and joking at the suffererís expense. Finally, we were all landed, - some in one shape, and some in another. More than a dozen natives surrounded me, all holding their hands for a bit, (ten cents,) each claiming the honor of having carried me on his back to the shore. They all bore such a striking resemblance to one another, and having on no garments by which they could be distinguished, I was sorely troubled to know to whom I was indebted for my novel ride. It was settled, however, to their satisfaction.
The natives took our trunks upon their backs, (not us, this time,) and our party started for the Louisiana Hotel. When we arrived there, it was literally jammed full; but, knowing we should fare no better by going elsewhere, we crowded ourselves in with the multitude.
This was in the afternoon, and our appetites were considerably sharpened by the rather scantily furnished tables which had been spread on board the steamer for one or two days previous to our arrival.
Six or seven of us ladies were shown to a room on the second floor, which overlooked the courtyard in the centre of the range of buildings. Each story was surrounded by a balcony. Our room had no windows, but two very extensive doors, which opened like folding-doors on to the balcony. The partitions all through the house only ran two thirds of the height to the ceiling; so there was plenty of ventilation and plenty of noise circulating through the house. There was not a particle of paint or paper in the whole building. The walls and partitions were of rough boards, and these were all whitewashed. The great vaulted passages leading through the house, and the great wide, worn staircases, presented a cheerless and gloomy aspect. In our room were six or seven cots over which were thrown two sheets and a straw pillow to each cot. This constituted the entire stock of furniture, if we except two old rickety chairs and our trunks.
From the balcony opposite our door we could watch the proceedings in the cook-room; and it amusing to watch those half-naked natives knock over the fowl, of which there were numbers in the back yard, about half-divest them of their feathers, hurry them into a kettle, and by the time they were well heated through, run with them to the tables, if they were not met on the way there by the half-famished passengers, who would snatch the half-cooked viands from their hands, and beat a hasty retreat to their rooms.
In vain we waited to be summoned to supper. Finally one of our party made a descent upon the cooks and procured the wherewith to appease, in a measure, our hunger.
The Uncle Samís passengers had intended to get mules, and start that night from Panama to cross the isthmus; and this could have been accomplished, had not the natives been so shrewd. When they saw the steamer Panama coming in directly after the Uncle Sam, they rightly conjectured, that, if they kept their mules out of sight until all from both steamers were landed, there would be such a demand for mules they could get any price they saw fit to ask. Therefore, when mules were called for by those of the passengers who reached the shore first there were none to be found. No entreaty or persuasion could induce them to bring one forward; but we were told there would be plenty on the morrow. That afternoon a party of us took a stroll around the city, visited the oldest and largest cathedral in the place, walked upon the battlements which surround this ancient and once flourishing city, but now, in many places, wearing the aspect of decay and ruin. Some portions of the wall were falling into ruins; but in some places it was sufficiently wide for two carriages to drive abreast; but there were no vehicles there then. There were the sentry-boxes, built at short intervals along the battlements, which, in days gone by, had sheltered the wearied sentinel during his nightly patrol.
I saw in some places the ruins of old churches and convents. Some portions of the high stone walls would be standing, out of the aides of which were growing bushes and small trees. The sight of those trees growing out of high stone walls at once attracted my attention. For how many ages must those old walls have been exposed to burning suns and deluging rains, to have thus afforded sustenance for those scraggy shrubs and trees! The stones were all moss-grown, and rank vines were running in great profusion over the decaying ruins. An air of silent desertion seemed to pervade those ruinous remains, which gave rise to melancholy reflections. They forcibly reminded one of the mutability of all things earthly. Just as the setting sun was casting its red beams upon the high and narrow stained-glass windows of the rich old cathedral, we were wandering under its vaulted roof, feasting our astonished senses with a sight of the massive gold and silver ornaments which were displayed in such rich profusion upon the walls. What an air of mystery and gloom seemed to surround us! How our voices echoed and reverberated in the far-off niches and recesses of this gloomy-looking edifice. Several times I was startled by the appearance of some old monk, with his cowl closely drawn, who would start from some niche in the wall, where he had remained unperceived, and, without uttering a word, hold out a silver plate, whereupon you were expected to deposit a piece of money. When once more in the open air, I experienced a sense of freedom from the feelings of mystery and gloom, which unavoidably cluster around one while traversing those silent cathedrals.
We then repaired to the vestibule of a convent, not with the expectation of gaining admittance, however. There was a wooden frame which turned in the wall, after the manner of those yard-gates which turn upon a pivot, and on which stood a pitcher of water and a glass. After drinking, a person is expected to leave a piece of money beside the pitcher. Every few moments, this frame is turned by an unseen hand; but, when the pitcher and glass appear again, the money, if there had been any beside it, had disappeared.
It being a moonlight evening, several of us ladies, accompanied by one gentleman, started to prosecute our walk through some other parts of the city. We passed through several streets, or, as they appeared to me, lanes; but they looked so gloomy! And, then, those old ruins seemed such grand lurking-places for the revengeful Spaniard, with his murderous stiletto, that we all frightened ourselves by such imaginings, and ran back again to the hotel as quickly as possible.
What a night was that at Panama! So many returning Californians, and some such wild ones, too! They seemed determined to make night hideous with their singing and shouting. There was little sleep for any one in Panama that night.
As soon as daylight dawned, the natives began to swarm in the streets with their mules, opposite to the hotels, and the people commenced bargaining for the use of them. The railroad was completed from Aspinwall to within eighteen miles of Panama. Eighteen miles! When we came to traverse the route, it seemed thirty, at least. As the rains had commenced, we were advised to travel the Cruces route, as the Gorgorna route would be impassable on account of the mud.
Some of the passengers who had before traversed the Cruces route advised all the ladies to dispense with the side-saddle altogether, as it would be utterly impossible for them to retain their seats, unless upon the gentlemanís Spanish saddle. Most of us were provided with India-rubber boots, and pants, and a large sombrero, as a protection for our heads.
The natives asked twenty dollars for the use of a good, plump-looking mule, to take us to Obispo, at which place was the terminus of the railroad; but one could get a miserable-looking animal which in all probability, would die on the way; and leave you to prosecute the remainder of your journey on foot, for twelve and fifteen dollars. For my mule I paid twenty; and, many times during the journey, I had occasion to congratulate myself for have secured such a gentle, kind, serviceable little animal I really became so attached to him during the journey, that I parted from him with regret. Generally, the natives from whom you hire your mules, and pay for them in advance, trot along with the company, and are ready, upon your arrival, to take the animal.
There was great frolicking and laughing with the ladies while fixing away on the mules. I shall never forget my feelings when I found myself seated astride my mule, arrayed in boots and pants, with my feet firmly planted in the stirrups, ready for any emergency.
About five oíclock in the morning, I left the hotel, in company with thirty or more of the passengers. They all travelled in parties of thirty and forty together. Most of the children were carried across by the natives. They were seated astride their necks, with their little hands clasped across the nativesí foreheads; while they have hold of the childrenís legs in front. Those who have infants generally get some gentleman to take them in front of him on the saddle.
One of our passengers (a widow lady, with two little children) was very sick indeed when she arrived at Panama. She was advised to remain: there for the present; but, although she felt convinced that her days on earth were numbered, she preferred to go on with the company. She was placed in a hammock: each of her little children (one twelve months, and the other three years) were carried on the backs of natives, who walked by her side.
When only six miles - out from Panama, she breathed her last-drawn sigh. They stopped, dug a grave for the mother by the lonely way-side, and deposited her remains therein. It was a sad spectacle. Well was it for those little orphans that their extreme youth prevented them from realizing the extent of their affliction.
A kind-hearted woman - although the roughest-looking one in the company - volunteered to take charge of the babes until they arrived in New York. Upon arriving at Obispo, a collection of two hundred dollars was taken for the children. Often, since, I have thought of that lonely grave by the way-side, with no stone, or even board, to mark the spot, and upon which no tear of affection will ever fall, She buried her husband in San Francisco, three weeks previous to her departure for the Atlantic States. She was getting home by charity; and, being a delicate, feeble woman, could not endure the fatigue of the journey. Deep-seated sorrow had sapped the fountains of life, and she died among strangers, far from friends and home.
Two others of our number died, and were buried on the way. One was a gentleman whose mule had died, and he was footing it along, when he suddenly fell, and expired. Probably his death was caused by disease of the heart. One steerage passenger, who was walking across, died from overheating himself.
For the distance of six miles, our route lay over a good, paved road, and we galloped along, exceedingly delighted with the scenery, our mules, and the good road. "If this is crossing the Isthmus," said one, "I shall never believe again the horrid accounts I have heard respecting the trip;" but, before the termination of the journey, she thought the one-half had not been told.
Soon the road became more rugged, and we began to enter the rocky defiles, ascend the steep mountain passes, and descend into dark, rocky ravines. The sun, which had been shining with tropical fervency, now withdrew his rays, and the rain descended in torrents. The deafening thunder seemed to shake those old mountains to their very base. In an instant we were soaking wet; for, oh, how it did pour! In a short time it was over, and the sun shining bright and hot as ever. Two such showers as this we encountered during that mule-back trip.
The scenery through the mountains almost defies description. There are defiles through the solid rock, so narrow as to admit only one mule at a time; while, on each side, the rocks rise to the height of fifteen, twenty, and, in some places, thirty feet. These rocks are surmounted by tall trees, whose dense foliage, blending overhead, completely excludes the sight of the blue sky above.
Sometimes these narrow passes are so descending, as to render it almost impossible to retain your seat upon the mule. In some places there are regular stepping-stones, into each of which little little holes have been worn by the mulesí feet; that so many times, and oft, have traversed those dangerous passes. I could compare the descent to nought but placing a mule at the top of a flight of steps, getting upon his back, and riding down. Those mules are so careful and sure-footed, and so well accustomed to travelling through those frightful places, that there is no necessity whatever of guiding them. You have only to place the bridle over the pommel of the saddle, (those Spanish saddles have a high pommel in front,) and look out for yourself. In descending, we were obliged to lean far back on the animalís back, and grasp the crupper with all our might. It seemed as if our safety depended solely upon the strength of the crupper. How I cried sometimes, with fright! but then I was careful not to let any one see me, and generally took the time for such ebullition of feeling when it was raining hard, and the water would unavoidably be coursing down my face.
How careful those mules were! That day I learned to love them. In going down those rocky flights, they would hold their heads low down, then put one foot over and plant it firmly in one of those little holes, then the other in the same way, then bring their hind feet on to the same shelf, then go down - on to another, and so on to the bottom. Then perhaps commence, and make an ascent equally as toilsome. They have nothing to eat or drink on the way, and never once attempt to nip the herbage that grows, in some places, by the way-side.
Once, as there were about fifty mules all in a line, ascending one of those steep mountain passes, the one in advance, which was laden with three large trunks, made a misstep, and fell. These animals are so sure-footed that they never stumble except when giving out, and never fall, unless to die. This one was very weak, and failing fast, but might have succeeded in reaching the top of this dangerous pass, had not the trunks swayed on one side, and hit the rocks, thereby causing him to fall. When passing up those rocky flights, it is utterly impossible for a mule to step backwards, off one of those shelves, without falling, and as utterly impossible to turn the mule about, on account of the extreme narrowness of the way. The fallen mule, in making desperate attempts to rise with those heavy trunks lashed to him, as a natural consequence kept falling back, thereby crowding hard upon those behind him. I was seated on the fifth mule in the rear of the fallen one. Such a shouting and bawling as there was with the natives, who were trying to disencumber the poor beast of the trunks, and, at the same, prevent him from throwing himself any farther back, as, by so doing, he would endanger the lives of those behind him.
How firmly my little mule planted his feet upon the shelf he was on, rounded himself into as small a compass as possible, and awaited his fate. He seemed to comprehend the whole; and, by his looks, I fancied he said, as a token of assurance to me, "I will die here rather than take one step backwards." Finally they disengaged the trunks from the animal, and hoisted them up on to the banks above. As the mule was evidently dying, they cut his throat, and lifted him up also. This scene detained us more than an hour; for those natives seemed to make no progress towards extricating the mule from his painful position, but were running to and fro, bawling at the top of their voices, hunting ropes, and ordering one another. The passengers who were far behind were calling loudly to know what was the cause of the detention. Some were cursing the tardy natives; the women were crying with fear: and, if a daguerreotype view could have been taken of the scene, I think it would have had a tendency to deter some from ever crossing the Isthmus of Darien on muleback.
Upon entering one of those defiles, the natives who are on foot (and there are generally quite a number with each party) go in advance, and keep up a loud shouting, to prevent any party which may be coming in an opposite direction from entering, as it would be death to one or other of the partiesí mules, should they meet. We occasionally passed over the carcasses of mules in these places, which had been killed to afford others a passage. We were so fearful that the natives would not make noise enough, that we joined in shouting, and felt truly grateful when we emerged from the bowels of the earth.
The day previous to our arrival at Panama, the steamer Illinois arrived at Aspinwall, with a load of passengers from New York for California. In crossing, we all met at different points on the way.
Sometimes, upon arriving at a defile, we would hear a loud shouting within; then we would halt, rein our mules out on each side of the way, and await their egress. Some, upon emerging from the defile, looked very much jaded and fatigued; others were laughing and joking. How earnestly we eyed them, as they appeared one after another, thinking perhaps we might see some friend or acquaintance from home.
Upon thus meeting, each party would accost the other with all the freedom and familiarity of old acquaintances; and some of the remarks which were passed were really laughable. Upon the back of one mule were seated two persons, a young man and an elderly woman. At sight of them, some of the gentlemen of our party hurrahed, which was answered by the woman with a wave of her calash, (she wore one of those large old-fashioned green ones,) and a "Hurrah for California!" "That is right," said one, addressing the young man, "take your mother with you; if we had, we might have been spared much suffering." And thus they joked. Some who had been rather unsuccessful advised the emigrant to turn back, even then. "Why?" said they, "is there not plenty of gold in California?" "Yea, there is gold enough; but you may not be lucky enough to get any of it."
They gave us no encouragement as to the route over which they had passed. All said, "Expect to find it as bad and worse than you can possibly conceive of." This was disheartening, I assure you. Sometimes the trail would be quite passable, and then one could enjoy the scenery. The tropical foliage is beautiful; and among the leaves and branches were hopping birds of beautiful plumage, rendering the woods vocal with their sweetest songs. Monkeys and parrots we saw in abundance.
On the way we passed several hotels, - nothing more than canvas shanties, with large signs attached, bearing the appellations of "Astor House," "St. Charles Hotel," "Revere House," etc. They were kept by Americans, and at them one could procure plenty of fruit and liquors of all kinds; but the wise ones were very abstemious, as a great deal of the sickness on the isthmus is engendered by eating and drinking to excess in a climate so excessively warm. Oh, how tired we grew! and yet, at every hotel, the distance seemed to increase rather than decrease.
Upon first entering the forests on the isthmus, my attention was directed to what looked like ropes hanging from the trees. I soon found them to be vines that had run up on the trees, out on the branches, and were suspended therefrom in every direction. They were leafless, and the color of a rope.
We crossed the Chagres River once only before reaching Obispo. How dark and deep it looked, as we were going down a steep declivity directly into it! We were assured it was quite shallow, and not dangerous to ford; and that, if we allowed our mules to take their own course, we should be carried safely across.
One young lady from Marysville was very much frightened, and kept constantly asserting that she should be drowned, she knew. Upon reaching the brink of the river, she suddenly reined in her mule, just as he was going to step in. He became amended at such treatment, and shook her off plump into the river. Such a screaming! You would have thought a dozen women were in the river. She was brought out, and placed again upon her mule, with instructions how to proceed, and was carried safely over. The water was not up to our stirrups, in the deepest place; but it looked black and deep, down in that dark ravine. I breathed more freely when safely across.
Once we came to a little slough, over which was built a narrow bridge of poles. I happened to be ahead at that place, and called to know whether I should cross the bridge, or follow the trail through the slough, which looked very miry. They told me to let the mule act his own pleasure. He first tried the strength of the bridge by placing his foot upon it, and feeling all about, as far as he could reach; then he turned, and went down the trail to the slough, and there reconnoitered in the same way; then he turned to the bridge again. I conclude he thought that the safest way of crossing. Upon reaching it, he stopped, made one leap, and cleared it at a bound, and came very near clearing himself of me, too. I was wholly unprepared for such an emergency, and came very near losing my equilibrium. All the other mules came leaping over except one, which, I expect, was so far gone, he could not jump. He stepped upon the bridge: it broke beneath his weight, and he fell. The lady was thrown from his back; and, altogether, there was quite a scene.
After this, we met two gentlemen on muleback, and of them we inquired the distance to Obispo. The reply from one was, "I should think it was a dozen miles, and the very worst road you ever travelled." -" Oh, no," said the other, "not so bad as that. This is the gentlemanís first trip to California. When he has crossed the Isthmus two or three times, he will not get so quickly discouraged. It is about two miles to Obispo; and rather a rough road, to be sure, but not, worse than you have passed, I presume." How those cheering words revived my drooping spirits! I felt (and every lady of the company, I presume, felt the same) as if I could not retain my seat upon my mule but a little longer. Every part of my body ached so hard, I could not tell where the pain was most severe. If I had been placed upon the rack, and every joint drawn asunder, I could not have been much lamer or sorer than I then was.
It was two oíclock in the afternoon, and we had been riding since five in the morning, without once leaving our mules, over a road which, for its rugged, uneven, and dangerous passes, beggars description.
Suddenly we heard the shrill whistle of a steam engine. Our lagging spirits revived. We toiled on, and reached the top of an eminence which - overlooks the beautiful valley of Obispo; and there, far below us, we beheld a scene calculated to inspire the most despondent with renewed hope and courage. There was the terminus of the railroad; and on the track were twelve long cars, headed by an engine, which was puffing and blowing and sending forth whistle after whistle, long, loud, and clear, its echoes awakening the hitherto unbroken solitude of the primeval forests of New Granada.
Those of the company who had sufficient life and strength remaining to make any demonstration of joy, did so. As we descended the mountain, we were perceived, and welcomed by firing of cannon and loud cheering.
Several hundred United States troops had arrived there, en route for California. They were all out on the plaza. Four or five large American flags were floating upon the breeze from the roofs of large temporary hotels which had been erected along the line of the railroad; and, as fast as the road progressed, they were transported along to the terminus. Here I saw a railroad for the first time since leaving Baltimore, a lapse of four years.
When we arrived in the valley, and halted in front of the depot, I suppose our forlorn, jaded appearance excited the sympathy of those there assembled, for many stepped forward to assist us in dismounting. They lifted us from our saddles, and placed us, not upon our feet, - for not one of the ladies in the company could stand, - but flat upon the ground in the mud.
One lady in particular - who rode nearly the whole way, holding her babe on the saddle in front of her - fainted, the moment they lifted her from her mule, and it was a long time before she recovered her consciousness.
Upon leaving Panama, she had consigned it to the care of a gentleman, who was going to take it across the Isthmus on the saddle with himself; but whose mule gave out, and fell with him. In endeavoring to save the infant from injury, he received several severe contusions on his back and head, from the effects of which he did not recover during the journey to New York. This so frightened the mother, that she took the babe herself; and, in consequence of thus exerting her strength to take care of herself and child,- when those who had no child to attend to could scarcely retain their seats, - she came very near dying.
After remaining a few moments in the mud, I made an attempt to walk. I would go a few steps, and then fall; pick myself up again, take a few more steps, and then tumble the other way. I attributed my inability to walk partly to my India-rubber boots slipping on the muddy ground, and partly to the benumbed and stiffened state of my limbs. While I was thus staggering about in the vain endeavor to reach a hotel, a gentleman came along, picked me up, and carried me to the desired haven.
Cars were in readiness to take us immediately to Aspinwall, where the steamer North Star was waiting to convey us to New York. Many of the gentlemen took passage in them; but the ladies were too exhausted to think of proceeding farther that day; and, as the specie and baggage had not all arrived, there was no danger of the North Star sailing until the next night.
So we all retired, and did not rise again until the next morning. Our accommodations at Obispo were similar to those at Panama - great rush, nothing to eat, and not much to lie upon.
In the morning, as we were well-nigh famished, a gentleman of the party invited a friend if mine and myself to breakfast with him, as he had been to the trouble of purchasing something, and hiring it cooked expressly for himself. The breakfast consisted of broiled chicken, fried plantains, and eggs. That meal cost five dollars, and it was the only one I had while at Obispo. That forenoon, our baggage arrived, and, while out on the plazas, it was exposed to one of the hardest showers I ever witnessed. Woe to the contents of those trunks which were not water-proof!
I must not leave the beautiful valley of Obispo without descanting upon its loveliness. It was inclosed by lofty hills, whose sides and summits were clothed with the most beautiful tropical foliage. There grew the tall palm-tree, laden with its milky fruit; the luscious pine-apple; also bananas, and plantains in abundance.
There were, perhaps, twenty native bamboo-huts, thatched with the woven fibre of the palm-leaf, scattered about the valley; around the doors of which, and under the leafy shade of the lime and palmetto, lounged the indolent natives, of both sexes. And why should they exert themselves, when nature has so abundantly supplied their wants?
They appeared perfectly happy and contented in their ignorance. No soaring aspirations for fame caused them to pass sleepless nights and anxious days. They were slaves to no goddess of fashion; and, if they had any pride, I cannot conceive to what point it tended, unless it was an overweening desire to excel in roasting monkeys. Oh, this was a sunny spot! I can see it, even now, in my mindís eye, as it appeared when viewed from the top of that mountain height, after a day of toilsome travel.
That old adage, "It is always the darkest just before day," was never more fully illustrated than when, after such a toilsome, dangerous dayís ride as we had accomplished, that lovely, pleasant valley burst upon our view. That last two miles of mule-back travel I shall never forget. Whether it surpassed all other portions of the route in steep and dangerous passes, or whether we were so completely worn out with fatigue, that everything appeared more dark and gloomy than it really was, I cannot say but that old maxim kept ringing in my ears, and cheering me on - "It is always the darkest just before day." And, certainly, I could not compare that sunshiny valley, at the terminus of our route, to other than the brightest day that ever followed the darkest night.
About four oíclock in the afternoon, we seated ourselves in the cars bound to Aspinwall Those cars on the Isthmus had cane seats and backs, and were, therefore, not so comfortable for the sick, sore, and lame, as if they had been otherwise.
We were borne over the track quite slowly, as the many short curves which the road made prevented their going with greater speed. The rail-road seemed to follow the bed of the Chagres River. We crossed it several times. The scenery was grand and sublime, commingled with the beautiful. On one side of the track, perhaps, a towering mountain raised its rocky sides far above us; while, on the opposite side, the eye might wander far, far down a steep precipice, causing a shudder to run through the frame at the thought of an accident occurring at such a spot.
How frightened the parrots, paroquets, and monkeys, must have been, when the iron horse first startled those leafy solitudes with his fiery snort! Never again will profound stillness reign triumphant along the course of the Chagres River. Those feathered songsters, of brilliant plumage, lured to its vine-clad banks by the gentle ripple of its tiny waves, will fly, startled from their leafy coverts, at the approach of the iron steed.
By and by, the town of Aspinwall appeared to view. The country all about looked so sunken and marshy, as to impress the beholder at once with an idea of its unhealthy location. It was quite a place, however, and at that time seemed to be all alive with people. We passed from the cars directly on board the steamer, as it was near night, and we wished to get possession of our rooms before sailing. I ascertained the steamer would not get away before midnight, as it was an almost endless task to select the baggage, and get it on board.
Being very weary, I concluded to lie down, and get a nap in the first part of the evening, in order to be awake, and be on deck, when we left Aspinwall. When next I opened my eyes, it was broad day-light. Aspinwall was far out of sight, and we on the broad Atlantic.
Amid all the bustle and confusion preparatory to sailing, even firing of guns, I had slept soundly. One lady, thinking I would like to see Aspinwall by lamp-light, endeavored to awaken me; said she spoke my name several times, and shook my arm, but still I slept on; and she left me to the enjoyment of my dreams. Upon going on deck, I met again all the Uncle Samís passengers, and saw many strangers who had come on board at Aspinwall. On the North Star I had only two room-mates, and was minus baby and parrot.
Now that I was on the Atlantic, I felt that the distance between home and myself would be speedily annihilated. Nothing occurred worthy of note during the passage; and, on the ninth day after leaving Aspinwall, we made Sandy Hook.
Mrs D. B. Bates
Mrs D. B. Bates1861