Over the Rocky Mountains to Alaska
CHARLES WARREN STODDARD
ST. LOUIS, MO., 1914
Published by B. HERDER 17 South Broadway
FREIBURG (BADEN) Germany
LONDON, W. C. 68 Great Russell Str.
Copyright, 1899, by Joseph Gummersbach.
—BECKTOLD— PRINTING AND BOOK MFG. CO. ST. LOUIS, MO.
To KENNETH O'CONNOR, First-District-of-Columbia Volunteers, Gen'l Shafter's Fifth Army Corps, Santiago de Cuba: IN MEMORY OF OUR HOME-LIFE IN THE BUNGALOW.
The Author returns thanks to the Editor of the Ave Maria for the privilege of republishing these notes of travel and adventure.
Chapter. Page. I. Due West to Denver 7 II. In Denver Town 18 III. The Garden of the Gods 29 IV. A Whirl across the Rockies 40 V. Off for Alaska 47 VI. In the Inland Sea 56 VII. Alaskan Village Life 66 VIII. Juneau 74 IX. By Solitary Shores 86 X. In Search of the Totem-Pole 98 XI. In the Sea of Ice 111 XII. Alaska's Capital 124 XIII. Katalan's Rock 136 XIV. From the Far North 148 XV. Out of the Arctic 159
Due West to Denver.
Commencement week at Notre Dame ended in a blaze of glory. Multitudes of guests who had been camping for a night or two in the recitation rooms—our temporary dormitories—gave themselves up to the boyish delights of school-life, and set numerous examples which the students were only too glad to follow. The boat race on the lake was a picture; the champion baseball match, a companion piece; but the highly decorated prize scholars, glittering with gold and silver medals, and badges of satin and bullion; the bevies of beautiful girls who for once—once only in the year—were given the liberty of the lawns, the campus, and the winding forest ways, that make of Notre Dame an elysium in summer; the frequent and inspiring blasts of the University Band, and the general joy that filled every heart to overflowing, rendered the last day of the scholastic year romantic to a degree and memorable forever.
There was no sleep during the closing night—not one solitary wink; all laws were dead-letters—alas that they should so soon arise again from the dead!—and when the wreath of stars that crowns the golden statue of Our Lady on the high dome, two hundred feet in air, and the wide-sweeping crescent under her shining feet, burst suddenly into flame, and shed a lustre that was welcomed for miles and miles over the plains of Indiana—then, I assure you, we were all so deeply touched that we knew not whether to laugh or to weep, and I shall not tell you which we did. The moon was very full that night, and I didn't blame it!
But the picnic really began at the foot of the great stairway in front of the dear old University next morning. Five hundred possible presidents were to be distributed broadcast over the continent; five hundred sons and heirs to be returned with thanks to the yearning bosoms of their respective families. The floodgates of the trunk-rooms were thrown open, and a stream of Saratogas went thundering to the station at South Bend, two miles away. Hour after hour, and indeed for several days, huge trucks and express wagons plied to and fro, groaning under the burden of well-checked luggage. It is astonishing to behold how big a trunk a mere boy may claim for his very own; but it must be remembered that your schoolboy lives for several years within the brass-bound confines of a Saratoga. It is his bureau, his wardrobe, his private library, his museum and toy shop, the receptacle of all that is near and dear to him; it is, in brief, his sanctum sanctorum, the one inviolate spot in his whole scholastic career of which he, and he alone, holds the key.
We came down with the tide in the rear of the trunk freshet. The way being more or less clear, navigation was declared open. The next moment saw a procession of chariots, semi-circus wagons and barouches filled with homeward-bound schoolboys and their escorts, dashing at a brisk trot toward the railroad station. Banners were flying, shouts rent the air; familiar forms in cassock and biretta waved benedictions from all points of the compass; while the gladness and the sadness of the hour were perpetuated by the aid of instantaneous photography. The enterprising kodaker caught us on the fly, just as the special train was leaving South Bend for Chicago; a train that was not to be dismembered or its exclusiveness violated until it had been run into the station at Denver.
After this last negative attack we were set free. Vacation had begun in good earnest. What followed, think you? Mutual congratulations, flirtations and fumigations without ceasing; for there was much lost time to be made up, and here was a golden opportunity. O you who have been a schoolboy and lived for months and months in a pent-up Utica, where the glimpse of a girl is as welcome and as rare as a sunbeam in a cellar, you can imagine how the two hours and forty-five minutes were improved—and Chicago eighty miles away. It is true we all turned for a moment to catch a last glimpse of the University dome, towering over the treetops; and we felt very tenderly toward everyone there. But there were "sweet girl graduates" on board; and, as you know well enough, it required no laureate to sing their praises, though he has done so with all the gush and fervor of youth.
It was summer. "It is always summer where they are," some youngster was heard to murmur. But it was really the summer solstice, or very near it. The pond-lilies were ripe; bushels of them were heaped upon the platforms at every station we came to; and before the first stage of our journey was far advanced the girls were sighing over lapfuls of lilies, and the lads tottering under the weight of stupendous boutonnieres.
As we drew near the Lake City, the excitement visibly increased. Here, there were partings, and such sweet sorrow as poets love to sing. It were vain to tell how many promises were then and there made, and of course destined to be broken; how everybody was to go and spend a happy season with everybody or at least somebody else, and to write meanwhile without fail. There were good-byes again and again, and yet again; and, with much mingled emotion, we settled ourselves in luxurious seats and began to look dreamily toward Denver.
In the mazes of the wonderful city of Chicago we saw the warp of that endless steel web over which we flew like spiders possessed. The sunken switches took our eye and held it for a time. But a greater marvel was the man with the cool head and the keen sight and nerves of iron, who sat up in his loft, with his hand on a magic wand, and played with trainfuls of his fellowmen—a mere question of life or death to be answered over and over again; played with them as the conjurer tosses his handful of pretty globes into the air and catches them without one click of the ivories. It was a forcible reminder of Clapham Junction; the perfect system that brings order out of chaos, and saves a little world, but a mad one, from the total annihilation that threatens it every moment in the hour, and every hour in the day, and every day in the year.
It did not take us long to discover the advantages of our special-car system. There were nigh fifty of us housed in a brace of excursion cars. In one of these—the parlor—the only stationary seats were at the two ends, while the whole floor was covered with easy-chairs of every conceivable pattern. The dining car was in reality a cardroom between meals—and such meals, for we had stocked the larder ourselves. Everywhere the agents of the several lines made their appearance and greeted us cordially; they were closeted for a few moments with the shepherd of our flock, Father Zahm, of the University of Notre Dame, Indiana; then they would take a bite with us—a dish of berries or an ice,—for they invariably accompanied us down the road a few miles; and at last would bid us farewell with a flattering figure of speech, which is infinitely preferable to the traditional "Tickets, please; tickets!"
At every town and village crowds came down to see us. We were evidently objects of interest. Even the nimble reporter was on hand, and looked with a not unkindly eye upon the lads who were celebrating the first hours of the vacation with an enthusiasm which had been generating for some weeks. There was such a making up of beds when, at dark, the parlor and dining cars were transformed into long, narrow dormitories, and the boys paired off, two and two, above and below, through the length of our flying university, and made a night of it, without fear of notes or detentions, and with no prefect stalking ghostlike in their midst.
It would be hard to say which we found most diverting, the long, long landscape that divided as we passed, through it and closed up in the rear, leaving only the shining iron seam down the middle; the beautiful, undulating prairie land; the hot and dusty desolation of the plains; the delicious temperature of the highlands, as we approached the Rockies and had our first glimpse of Pike's Peak in its mantle of snow: the muddy rivers, along whose shores we glided swiftly hour after hour: the Mississippi by moonlight—we all sat up to see that—or the Missouri at Kansas City, where we began to scatter our brood among their far Western homes. At La Junta we said good-bye to the boys bound for Mexico and the Southwest. It was like a second closing of the scholastic year; the good-byes were now ringing fast and furious. Jolly fellows began to grow grave and the serious ones more solemn; for there had been no cloud or shadow for three rollicking days.
To be sure there was a kind of infantile cyclone out on the plains, memorable for its superb atmospheric effects, and the rapidity with which we shut down the windows to keep from being inflated balloon-fashion. And there was a brisk hail-storm at the gate of the Rockies that peppered us smartly for a few moments. Then there were some boys who could not eat enough, and who turned from the dessert in tearful dismay; and one little kid who dived out of the top bunk in a moment of rapture, and should have broken his neck—but he didn't!
We were quite sybaritical as to hours, with breakfast and dinner courses, and mouth-organs and cigarettes and jam between meals. Frosted cake and oranges were left untouched upon the field after the gastronomical battles were fought so bravely three or four times a day. Perhaps the pineapples and bananas, and the open barrel of strawberries, within reach of all at any hour, may account for the phenomenon.
Pueblo! Ah me, the heat of that infernal junction! Pueblo, with the stump of its one memorable tree, or a slice of that stump turned up on end—to make room for a new railway-station, that could just as well have been built a few feet farther on,—and staring at you, with a full broadside of patent-medicine placards trying to cover its nakedness. On closer inspection we read this legend: "The tree that grew here was 380 years old; circumference, 28 feet; height, 79 feet; was cut down June 25, 1883, at a cost of $250." So perished, at the hands of an amazingly stupid city council, the oldest landmark in Colorado. Under the shade of this cottonwood Kit Carson, Wild Bill, and many another famous Indian scout built early camp fires. Near it, in 1850, thirty-six whites were massacred by Indians; upon one of its huge limbs fourteen men were hanged at convenient intervals; and it is a pity that the city council did not follow this admirable lead and leave the one glory of Pueblo to save it from damnation. It afforded the only grateful shelter in this furnace heat; it was the one beautiful object in a most unbeautiful place, and it has been razed to the ground in memory of the block-heads whose bodies were not worthy to enrich the roots of it. Tradition adds, pathetically enough, that the grave of the first white woman who died in that desert was made beneath the boughs of the "Old Monarch." May she rest in peace under the merciless hands of the baggage-master and his merry crew! Lightly lie the trunks that are heaped over her nameless dust! Well, there came a time when we forgot Pueblo, but we never will forgive the town council.
Then we listened in vain at evening for the strumming of fandango music on multitudinous guitars, as was our custom so long as the muchachos were with us. Then we played no more progressive euchre games many miles in length, and smoked no more together in the ecstasy of unrestraint; but watched and waited in vain—for those who were with us were no longer of us for some weeks to come, and the mouths of the singers were hushed. The next thing we knew a city seemed to spring suddenly out of the plains—a mirage of brick and mortar—an oasis in the wilderness,—and we realized, with a gasp, that we had struck the bull's-eye of the Far West—in other words, Denver!
In Denver Town.
Colorado! What an open-air sound that word has! The music of the wind is in it, and a peculiarly free, rhythmical swing, suggestive of the swirling lariat. Colorado is not, as some conjecture, a corruption or revised edition of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, who was sent out by the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico in 1540 in search of the seven cities of Cibola: it is from the verb colorar—colored red, or ruddy—a name frequently given to rivers, rocks, and ravines in the lower country. Nor do we care to go back as far as the sixteenth century for the beginning of an enterprise that is still very young and possibly a little fresh. In 1803 the United States purchased from France a vast territory for $15,000,000; it was then known as Louisiana, and that purchase included the district long referred to as the Great American Desert.
In 1806 Zebulon Pike camped where Pueblo now stands. He was a pedestrian. One day he started to climb a peak whose shining summit had dazzled him from the first; it seemed to soar into the very heavens, yet lie within easy reach just over the neighboring hill. He started bright and early, with enthusiasm in his heart, determination in his eye, and a cold bite in his pocket. He went from hill to hill, from mountain to mountain; always ascending, satisfied that each height was the last, and that he had but to step from the next pinnacle to the throne of his ambition. Alas! the peak was as far away as ever, even at the close of the second day; so famished, foot-frozen and well-nigh in extremity, he dragged his weary bones back to camp, defeated. That peak bears his name to this day, and probably he deserves the honor quite as much as any human molecule who godfathers a mountain.
James Pursley, of Bardstown, Ky., was a greater explorer than Pike; but Pursley gives Pike much credit which Pike blushingly declines. The two men were exceptionally well-bred pioneers. In 1820 Colonel Long named a peak in memory of his explorations. The peak survives. Then came General Fremont, in 1843, and the discovery of gold near Denver fifteen years later; but I believe Green Russell, a Georgian, found color earlier on Pike's Peak.
Colorado was the outgrowth of the great financial crisis of 1857. That panic sent a wave westward,—a wave that overflowed all the wild lands of the wilderness, and, in most cases, to the advantage of both wave and wilderness. Of course there was a gradual settling up or settling down from that period. Many people who didn't exactly come to stay got stuck fast, or found it difficult to leave; and now they are glad of it. Denver was the result.
Denver! It seems as if that should be the name of some out-of-door production; of something brawny and breezy and bounding; something strong with the strength of youth; overflowing with vitality; ambitions, unconquerable, irrepressible—and such is Denver, the queen city of the plains. Denver is a marvel, and she knows it. She is by no means the marvel that San Francisco was at the same interesting age; but, then, Denver doesn't know it; or, if she knows it, she doesn't care to mention it or to hear it mentioned.
True it is that the Argonauts of the Pacific were blown in out of the blue sea—most of them. They had had a taste of the tropics on the way; paroquets and Panama fevers were their portion; or, after a long pull and a strong pull around the Horn, they were comparatively fresh and eager for the fray when they touched dry land once more. There was much close company between decks to cheer the lonely hours; a very bracing air and a very broad, bright land to give them welcome when the voyage was ended—in brief, they had their advantages.
The pioneers of Denver town were the captains or mates of prairie schooners, stranded in the midst of a sealike desert. It was a voyage of from six to eight weeks west of the Mississippi in those days. The only stations—and miserably primitive ones at that—lay along Ben Holliday's overland stage route. They were far between. Indians waylaid the voyagers; fires, famine and fatigue helped to strew the trail with the graves of men and the carcasses of animals. Hard lines were these; but not so hard as the lines of those who pushed farther into the wilderness, nor stayed their adventurous feet till they were planted on the rich soil of the Pacific slope.
Pioneer life knows little variety. The menu of the Colorado banquet July 4, 1859, will revive in the minds of many an old Californian the fast-fading memories of the past; but I fear, twill be a long time before such a menu as the following will gladden the eyes of the average prospector in the Klondyke:
SOUP. A la Bean.
FISH. Brook Trout, a la catch 'em first.
MEATS. Antelope larded, pioneer style.
BREAD. Biscuit, hand-made, full weight, a la yellow.
VEGETABLES. Beans, mountain style, warranted boiled forty-eight hours, a la soda.
DESSERT. Dried Apples, Russell gulch style. Coffee, served in tin cups, to be washed clean for the occasion, overland style, a la no cream.
In those days Horace Greeley, returning from his California tour, halted to cast his eye over the now West. The miners primed an old blunderbus with rich dust, and judiciously salted Gregory gulch. Of course Horace was invited to inspect it. Being somewhat horny-handed, he seized pick and shovel and went to work in earnest. The pan-out was astonishing. He flew back to New York laden with the glittering proofs of wealth; gave a whole page of the Tribune to his tale of the golden fleece; and a rush to the new diggings followed as a matter of course.
Denver and Auraria were rival settlements on the opposite shores of Cherry Creek; in 1860 they consolidated, and then boasted a population of 4000, in a vast territory containing but 60,000 souls. The boom was on, and it was not long before a parson made his appearance. This was the Rev. George Washington Fisher of the Methodist Church, who accepted the offer of a saloon as a house of worship, using the bar for a pulpit. His text was: "Ho, everyone that thirsteth! come ye to the waters. And he that hath no money, come ye, buy and eat. Yea, come buy wine and milk without money and without price." On the walls were displayed these legends: "No trust," "Pay as you go," "Twenty-five cents a drink," etc.
Colorado Territory was organized in 1861, and was loyal to the Union. Denver was still booming, though she suffered nearly all the ills that precocious settlements are heir to. The business portion of the town was half destroyed in 1863; Cherry Creek flooded her in 1864, floating houses out of reach and drowning fifteen or twenty of the inhabitants. Then the Indians went on the war-path; stages and wagon trains were attacked; passengers and scattered settlers massacred, and the very town itself threatened. Alarm-bells warned the frightened inhabitants of impending danger; many fled to the United States Mint for refuge, and to cellars, cisterns, and dark alleys. This was during the wild reign of Spotted Horse along the shores of the Platte, before he was captured by Major Downing at the battle of Sand Creek, and finally sent to Europe on exhibition as a genuine child of the forest.
Those were stirring times, when every man had an eye to business, and could hardly afford to spare it long enough to wink. It is related of a certain minister who was officiating at a funeral that, while standing by the coffin offering the final prayer, he noticed one of the mourners kneeling upon the loose earth recently thrown from the grave. This man was a prospector, like all the rest, and in an absent-minded way he had tearfully been sifting the soil through his fingers. Suddenly he arose and began to stake out a claim adjoining the grave. This was, of course, observed by the clergyman, who hastened the ceremonials to a conclusion, and ended his prayer thus: "Stake me off a claim, Bill. We ask it for Christ's sake. Amen."
Horace Greeley's visit was fully appreciated, and his name given to a mountain hamlet, long after known familiarly as "Saint's Rest," because there was nothing stimulating to be found thereabout. Poor Meeker, for many years agricultural editor of the New York Tribune, founded that settlement. He was backed by Greeley, and established the Greeley Tribune at Saint's Rest. In 1877 Meeker was made Indian agent, and he did his best to live up to the dream of the Indian-maniacs; but, after two years of self-sacrifice and devotion to the cause, he was brutally betrayed and murdered by Chief Douglas, of the Utes, his guest at the time. Mrs. Meeker and her daughters, and a Mrs. Price and her child, were taken captive and subjected to the usual treatment which all women and children may expect at the hands of the noble red-man. They were rescued in due season; but what was rescue to them save a prolongation of inconsolable bereavement?
When General Grant visited Central, the little mountain town received him royally. A pavement of solid silver bricks was laid for him to walk upon from his carriage to the hotel door. One sees very little of this barbaric splendor nowadays even in Denver, the most pretentious of far Western burgs. She is a metropolis of magnificent promises. Alighting at the airy station, you take a carriage for the hotel, and come at once to the centre of the city. Were you to continue your drive but a few blocks farther, you would come with equal abruptness to the edge of it. The surprise is delightful in either case, but the suddenness of the transition makes the stranger guest a little dizzy at first. There are handsome buildings in Denver—blocks that would do credit to any city under the sun; but there was for years an upstart air, a palpable provincialism, a kind of ill-disguised "previousness," noticeable that made her seem like the brisk suburb of some other place, and that other place, alas! invisible to mortal eye. Rectangular blocks make a checker-board of the town map. The streets are appropriately named Antelope, Bear, Bison, Boulder, Buffalo, Coyote, Cedar, Cottonwood, Deer, Golden, Granite, Moose, etc. The names of most trees, most precious stones, the great States and Territories of the West, with a sprinkling of Spanish, likewise beguile you off into space, and leave the once nebulous burg beaming in the rear.
Denver's theatre is remarkably handsome. In hot weather the atmosphere is tempered by torrents of ice-water that crash through hidden aqueducts with a sound as of twenty sawmills. The management dams the flood when the curtain rises and the players begin to speak; the music lovers damn it from the moment the curtain falls. They are absorbed in volumes of silent profanity between the acts; for the orchestra is literally drowned in the roar of the rushing element. There was nothing that interested me more than a copy of Alice Polk Hill's "Tales of the Colorado Pioneers"; and to her I return thanks for all that I borrowed without leave from that diverting volume.
Somehow Denver, after my early visit, leaves with me an impression as of a perfectly new city that has just been unpacked; as if the various parts of it had been set up in a great hurry, and the citizens were now impatiently awaiting the arrival of the rest of the properties. Some of the streets that appeared so well at first glance, seemed, upon inspection, more like theatrical flats than realities; and there was always a consciousness of everything being wide open and uncovered. Indeed, so strongly did I feel this that it was with difficulty I could refrain from wearing my hat in the house. Nor could I persuade myself that it was quite safe to go out alone after dark, lest unwittingly I should get lost, and lift up in vain the voice of one crying in the wilderness; for the blank and weird spaces about there are as wide as the horizon where the distant mountains seem to have slid partly down the terrestrial incline,—spaces that offer the unwary neither hope nor hospice,—where there is positively shelter for neither man nor beast, from the red-brick heart of the ambitious young city to her snow-capped ultimate suburb.
The Garden of the Gods.
The trains run out of Denver like quick-silver,—this is the prettiest thing I can say of Denver. They trickle down into high, green valleys, under the shadow of snow-capped cliffs. There the grass is of the liveliest tint—a kind of salad-green. The air is sweet and fine; everything looks clean, well kept, well swept—perhaps the wind is the keeper and the sweeper. All along the way there is a very striking contrast of color in rock, meadows, and sky; the whole is as appetizing to the sight as a newly varnished picture.
We didn't down brakes until we reached Colorado Springs; there we changed cars for Manitou. Already the castellated rocks were filling us with childish delight. Fungi decked the cliffs above us: colossal, petrified fungi, painted Indian fashion. At any rate, there is a kind of wild, out-of-door, subdued harmony in the rock-tints upon the exterior slopes of the famed Garden of the Gods, quite in keeping with the spirit of the decorative red-man. Within that garden color and form run riot, and Manitou is the restful outpost of this erratic wilderness.
It is fitting that Manitou should be approached in a rather primitive manner. I was glad when we were very politely invited to get out of the train and walk a plank over a puddle that for a moment submerged the track; glad when we were advised to foot it over a trestle-bridge that sagged in the swift current of a swollen stream; and gladder still when our locomotive began to puff and blow and slaken its pace as we climbed up into the mouth of a ravine fragrant with the warm scents of summer—albeit we could boast but a solitary brace of cars, and these small ones, and not overcrowded at that.
Only think of it! We were scarcely three hours by rail from Denver; and yet here, in Manitou, were the very elements so noticeably lacking there. Nature in her natural state—primitive forever; the air seasoned with the pungent spices of odoriferous herbs; the sweetest sunshine in abundance, and all the shade that makes sunshine most agreeable.
Manitou is a picturesque hamlet that has scattered itself up and down a deep ravine, regardless of the limiting lines of the surveyor. The railway station at Manitou might pose for a porter's lodge in the prettiest park in England. Surely there is hope for America when she can so far curb her vulgar love of the merely practical as to do that sort of thing at the right time and in the right place.
A fine stream brawls through the bed of this lovely vale. There are rustic cottages that cluster upon the brink of the stream, as if charmed by the music of its song; and I am sure that the cottagers dwelling therein have no wish to hang their harps upon any willows whatever; or to mingle their tears, though these were indeed the waters of Babylon that flow softly night and day through the green groves of Manitou. The breeze stirs the pulse like a tonic; birds, bees, and butterflies dance in the air; the leaves have the gloss of varnish—there is no dust there,—and everything is cleanly, cheerful and reposeful. From the hotel veranda float the strains of harp and viol; at intervals during the day and night music helps us to lift up our hearts; there is nothing like it—except more of it. There is not overmuch dressing among the women, nor the beastly spirit of loudness among the men; the domestic atmosphere is undisturbed. A newspaper printed on a hand-press, and distributed by the winds for aught I know, has its office in the main lane of the village; its society column creates no scandal. A solitary bicycle that flashes like a shooting star across the placid foreground is our nearest approach to an event worth mentioning.
Loungers lounge at the springs as if they really enjoyed it. An amiable booth-boy displays his well-dressed and handsomely mounted foxskins, his pressed flowers of Colorado, his queer mineralogical jewelry, and his uncouth geological specimens in the shape of hideous bric-a-brac, as if he took pleasure in thus entertaining the public; while everybody has the cosiest and most sociable time over the counter, and buys only by accident at last.
There are rock gorges in Manitou, through which the Indian tribes were wont noiselessly to defile when on the war-path in the brave days of old; gorges where currents of hot air breathe in your face like the breath of some fierce animal. There are brilliant and noisy cataracts and cascades that silver the rocks with spray; and a huge winding cavern filled with mice and filth and the blackness of darkness, and out of which one emerges looking like a tramp and feeling like—well! There are springs bubbling and steeping and stagnating by the wayside; springs containing carbonates of soda, lithia, lime, magnesia, and iron; sulphates of potassa and soda, chloride of sodium and silica, in various solutions. Some of these are sweeter than honey in the honeycomb; some of them smell to heaven—what more can the pampered palate of man desire?
Let all those who thirst for chalybeate waters bear in mind that the Ute Iron Spring of Manitou is 800 feet higher than St. Catarina, the highest iron spring in Europe, and nearly 1000 feet higher than St. Moritz; and that the bracing air at an elevation of 6400 feet has probably as much to do with the recovery of the invalid as has the judicious quaffing of medicinal waters. Of pure iron springs, the famous Schwalbach contains rather more iron than the Ute Iron, and Spa rather less. On the whole, Manitou has the advantage of the most celebrated medicinal springs in Europe, and has a climate even in midwinter preferable to all of them.
On the edge of the pretty hamlet at Manitou stands a cottage half hidden like a bird's nest among the trees. I saw only the peaks of gables under green boughs; and I wondered when I was informed that the lovely spot had been long untenanted, and wondered still more when I learned that it was the property of good Grace Greenwood. Will she ever cease wandering, and return to weave a new chaplet of greenwood leaves gathered beneath the eaves of her mountain home?
At the top of the village street stands Pike's Peak—at least it seems to stand there when viewed through the telescopic air. It is in reality a dozen miles distant; but is easily approached by a winding trail, over which ladies in the saddle may reach the glorious snow-capped summit and return to Manitou between breakfast and supper—unless one should prefer to be rushed up and down over the aerial railway. From the signal station the view reminds one of a map of the world. It rather dazes than delights the eye to roam so far, and imagination itself grows weary at last and is glad to fold its wings.
Manitou's chief attraction lies over the first range of hills—the veritable Garden of the Gods. You may walk, ride or drive to it; in any case the surprise begins the moment you reach the ridge's top above Manitou, and ceases not till the back is turned at the close of the excursion—nor then either, for the memory of that marvel haunts one like a feverish dream. Fancy a softly undulating land, delicately wooded and decked with many an ornamental shrub; a landscape that composes so well one can scarcely assure himself that the artist or the landscape gardener has not had a hand in the beautifying of it.
In this lonely, silent land, with cloud shadows floating across it, at long intervals bird voices or the bleating of distant flocks charm the listening ear. Out of this wild and beautiful spot spring Cyclopean rocks, appalling in the splendor of their proportions and the magnificence of their dyes. Sharp shafts shoot heavenward from breadths of level sward, and glow like living flames; peaks of various tinges overlook the tops of other peaks, that, in their turn, lord it among gigantic bowlders piled upon massive pedestals. It is Ossa upon Pelion, in little; vastly impressive because of the exceptional surroundings that magnify these magnificent monuments, unique in their design and almost unparalleled in their picturesque and daring outline. Some of the monoliths tremble and sway, or seem to sway; for they are balanced edgewise, as if the gods had amused themselves in some infantile game, and, growing weary of this little planet, had fled and left their toys in confusion. The top-heavy and the tottering ones are almost within reach; but there are slabs of rock that look like slices out of a mountain—I had almost said like slices out of a red-hot volcano; they stand up against the blue sky and the widespreading background in brilliant and astonishing perspective.
I doubt if anywhere else in the world the contrasts in color and form are more violent than in the Garden of the Gods. They are not always agreeable to the eye, for there is much crude color here; but there are points of sight where these columns, pinnacles, spires and obelisks, with base and capital, are so grouped that the massing is as fantastical as a cloud picture, and the whole can be compared only to a petrified after-glow. I have seen pictures of the Garden of the Gods that made me nearly burst with laughter; I mean color studies that were supremely ridiculous in my eyes, for I had not then seen the original; but none of these makes me laugh any longer. They serve, even the wildest and the worst of them, to remind me of a morning drive, in the best of company, through that grand garden where our combined vocabularies of delight and wonderment were exhausted inside of fifteen minutes; and where we drove on and on, hour after hour, from climax to climax, lost in speechless amazement.
Glen Eyrie is the valley of Rasselas—I am sure it is. The Prince of Abyssinia left the gate open when he, poor fool! went forth in search of happiness and found it not. Now any one may drive through the domain of the present possessor and admire his wealth of pictorial solitude—without, however, sharing it further. If it were mine, would I permit thus much, I wonder? Only the elect should enter there; and once the charmed circle was complete, we would wall up the narrow passage that leads to this terrestrial paradise, and you would hear no more from us, or of us, nor we of you, or from you, forever.
On my first visit to Colorado Springs I made a little pilgrimage. I heard that a gentle lady, whom I had always wished to see, was at her home on the edge of the city. No trouble in finding the place: any one could direct me. It was a cosy cottage in the midst of a garden and shaded by thickly leaved trees. Some one was bowed down among the strawberry beds, busy there; yet the place seemed half deserted and very, very quiet. Big bamboo chairs and lounges lined the vine-curtained porch. The shades in the low bay-window were half drawn, and a glint of sunshine lighted the warm interior. I saw heaps of precious books on the table in that deep window. There was a mosquito door in the porch, and there I knocked for admittance. I knocked for a long time, but received no answer. I knocked again so that I might be heard even in the strawberry bed. A little kitten came up out of the garden and said something kittenish to me, and then I heard a muffled step within. The door opened—the inner door,—and beyond the wire-cloth screen, that remained closed against me, I saw a figure like a ghost, but a very buxom and wholesome ghost indeed.
I asked for the hostess. Alas! she was far away and had been ill; it was not known when she would return. Her address was offered me, and I thought to write her,—thought to tell her how I had sought out her home, hoping to find her after years of patient waiting; and that while I talked of her through the wire-cloth screen the kitten, which she must have petted once upon a time, climbed up the screen until it had reached the face of the amiable woman within, and then purred and purred as only a real kitten can. I never wrote that letter; for while we were chatting on the porch she of whom we chatted, she who has written a whole armful of the most womanly and lovable of books, Helen Hunt Jackson, lay dying in San Francisco and we knew it not. But it is something to have stood by her threshold, though she was never again to cross it in the flesh, and to have been greeted by her kitten. How she loved kittens! And now I can associate her memory with the peacefulest of cottages, the easiest of veranda chairs, a bay-window full of books and sunshine, and a strawberry bed alive with berries and blossoms and butterflies and bees. And yonder on the heights her body was anon laid to rest among the haunts she loved so dearly.
A Whirl across the Rockies.
A long time ago—nearly a quarter of a century—California could boast a literary weekly capable of holding its own with any in the land. This was before San Francisco had begun to lose her unique and delightful individuality—now gone forever. Among the contributors to this once famous weekly were Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Prentice Mulford, Joaquin Miller, Dan de Quille, Orpheus C. Kerr, C. H. Webb, "John Paul," Ada Clare, Ada Isaacs Menken, Ina Coolbrith, and hosts of others. Fitz Hugh Ludlow wrote for it a series of brilliant descriptive letters recounting his adventures during a recent overland journey; they were afterward incorporated in a volume—long out of print—entitled "The Heart of the Continent."
In one of these letters Ludlow wrote as follows of the probable future of Manitou: "When Colorado becomes a populous State, the springs of the Fontaine-qui-Bouille will constitute its Spa. In air and scenery no more glorious summer residence could be imagined. The Coloradian of the future, astonishing the echoes of the rocky foothills by a railroad from Denver to the springs, and running down on Saturday to stop over Sunday with his family, will have little cause to envy us Easterners our Saratoga as he paces up and down the piazza of the Spa hotel, mingling his full-flavored Havana with that lovely air, unbreathed before, which is floating down upon him from the snow peaks of the range." His prophecy has become true in every particular. But what would he have thought had he threaded the tortuous path now marked by glistening railway tracks? What would he have said of the Grand Canon of the Arkansas, the Black Canon of the Gunnison, Castle Canon and Marshall Pass over the crest of the continent?
I suppose a narrow-gauge road can go anywhere. It trails along the slope of shelving hills like a wild vine; it slides through gopher-hole tunnels as a thread slides through the eye of a needle; it utilizes water-courses; it turns ridiculously sharp corners in a style calculated to remind one of the days when he played "snap-the-whip" and happened to be the snapper himself. This is especially the case if one is sitting on the rear platform of the last car. We shot a canon by daylight, and marvelled at the glazed surface of the red rock with never so much as a scratch over it. On the one hand we nearly scraped the abrupt perpendicular wall that towered hundreds of feet above us; on the other, a swift, muddy torrent sprang at our stone-bedded sleepers as if to snatch them away; while it flooded the canon to the opposite wall, that did not seem more that a few yards distant. The stream was swollen, and went howling down the ravine full of sound and fury—which in this case, however, signified a good deal.
Once we stopped and took an observation, for the track was under water; then we waded cautiously to the mainland, across the sunken section, and thanked our stars that we were not boycotted by the elements at that inhospitable point. Once we paused for a few minutes to contemplate the total wreck of a palace car that had recently struck a projecting bowlder—and spattered.
The camps along the track are just such as may be looked for in the waste places of the earth—temporary shelter for wayfarers whose homes are under their hats. The thin stream of civilization that trickles off into the wilderness, following the iron track, makes puddles now and again. Some of these dwindle away soon enough—or perhaps not quite soon enough; some of them increase and become permanent and beautiful.
Night found us in the Black Canon of the Gunnison. Could any time be more appropriate? Clouds rolled over us in dense masses, and at intervals the moon flashed upon us like a dark lantern. Could anything be more picturesque? We knew that much of the darkness, the blackness of darkness, was adamantine rock; some of it an inky flood—a veritable river of death—rolling close beneath us, but quite invisible most of the time; and the night itself a profound mystery, through which we burned an endless tunnel—like a firebrand hurled into space.
Now and again the heavens opened, and then we saw the moon soaring among the monumental peaks; but the heights were so cloudlike and the cloud masses so solid we could not for the life of us be certain of the nature of either. There were canons like huge quarries, and canons like rocky mazes, where we seemed to have rushed headlong into a cul de sac, and were in danger of dashing our brains out against the mighty walls that loomed before us. There was many a winding stream which we took at a single bound, and occasionally an oasis, green and flowery; but, oh, so few habitations and so few spots that one would really care to inhabit!
Marshall Pass does very well for once; it is an experience and a novelty—what else is there in life to make it livable save a new experience or the hope of one? Such a getting up hill as precedes the rest at the summit! We stopped for breath while the locomotive puffed and panted as if it would burst its brass-bound lungs; then we began to climb again, and to wheeze, fret and fume; and it seemed as if we actually went down on hands and knees and crept a bit when the grade became steeper than usual. Only think of it a moment—an incline of two hundred and twenty feet to the mile in some places, and the track climbing over itself at frequent intervals. Far below us we saw the terraces we had passed long before; far above us lay the great land we were so slowly and so painfully approaching. At last we reached the summit, ten thousand eight hundred and twenty feet above sea level—a God-forsaken district, bristling with dead trees, and with hardly air enough to go around.
We stopped in a long shed—built to keep off the sky, I suppose. Gallants prospected for flowers and grass-blades, and received the profuse thanks of the fair in exchange for them. Then we glided down into the snow lands that lay beyond—filled with a delicious sense of relief, for a fellow never feels so mean or so small a pigmy as when perched on an Alpine height.
More canons followed, and no two alike; then came plain after plain, with buttes outlined in the distance; more plains, with nothing but their own excessive plainness to boast of. We soon grew vastly weary; for most plains are, after all, mere platitudes. And then Salt Lake City, the Mormon capital, with its lake shimmering like a mirage in the great glow of the valley; and a run due north through the well-tilled lands of the thrifty "saints," getting our best wayside meals at stations where buxom Mormon women served us heartily; still north and west, flying night and day out of the insufferable summer dust that makes ovens of those midland valleys. There was a rich, bracing air far north, and grand forests of spicy pine, and such a Columbia river-shore to follow as is worth a week's travel merely to get one glimpse of; and at last Portland, the prettiest of Pacific cities, and heaps of friends to greet me there.
Bright days were to follow, as you shall soon see; for I was still bound northward, with no will to rest until I had plowed the floating fields of ice and dozed through the pale hours of an arctic summer under the midnight sun.
Off for Alaska.
If you are bound for Alaska, you can make the round trip most conveniently and comfortably by taking the steamer at Portland, Oregon, and retaining your state-room until you land again in Portland, three weeks later. Or you can run north by rail as far as Tacoma; there board a fine little steamer and skim through the winding water-ways of Puget Sound (as lovely a sheet of water as ever the sun shone on), debark at Port Townsend, and here await the arrival of the Alaska steamer, which makes its excursion trip monthly—at least it used to before the Klondyke hoards deranged the time-table and the times.
If this does not satisfy you, you may take passage at San Francisco for Port Townsend or Victoria, and connect at either port with the Alaska boat. Those who are still unsuited had better wait a bit, when, no doubt, other as entirely satisfactory arrangements will be made for their especial convenience. I went by train to Tacoma. I wanted to sniff the forest scents of Washington State, and to get a glimpse of the brave young settlements scattered through the North-western wilderness. I wanted to skirt the shore of the great Sounds, whose praises have been ringing in my ears ever since I can remember—and that is a pretty long time now.
I wanted to loaf for a while in Port Townsend, the old jumping-off place, the monogram in the extreme northwest corner of the map of the United States of America—at least such it was until the Alaskan annex stretched the thing all out of shape, and planted our flag so far out in the Pacific that San Francisco lies a little east of the centre of the Union, and the Hawaiian islands come within our boundaries; for our Aleutian-island arm, you know, stretches a thousand miles to the west of Hawaii—it even chucks Asia under the chin.
But now let me offer you a stray handful of leaves from my note-book—mere suggestions of travel.
At Portland took morning train for Tacoma, one hundred and forty-seven miles. Swarms of people at the station, and some ominous "good-byes"; the majority talking of Alaska in a superior fashion, which implies that they are through passengers, and they don't care who knows it. Alaska boat left Portland two days ago; we are to catch her at Port Townsend, and it looks as if we should crowd her. Train crosses the Columbia River on a monster ferry; a jolly and restful half hour in the cars and out of them.
A very hot and dusty ride through Washington State,—part of it pretty enough and part of it by no means so. Cars full of screaming babies, sweltering tourists, and falling cinders that sting like dumb mosquitoes. Rather a mixed neighborhood on the rail. An effusively amiable evangelist bobs up almost immediately,—one of those fellows whom no amount of snubbing can keep under. Old Probabilities is also on board, discoursing at intervals to all who will give ear. Some quiet and interesting folk in a state of suspense, and one young fellow—a regular trump,—promise better things.
We reach Tacoma at 6.30 p. m.; a queer, scattering town on Commencement Bay, at the head of Puget Sound. Very deep water just off shore. Two boys in a sailboat are blown about at the mercy of the fitful wind; boat on beam-ends; boys on the uppermost gunwale; sail lying flat on the water. But nobody seems to care, not even the young castaways. Perhaps the inhabitants of Tacoma are amphibious. Very beautiful sheet of water, this Puget Sound; long, winding, monotonous shores; trees all alike, straight up and down, mostly pines and cedars; shores rather low, and outline too regular for much picturesque effect. Tacoma commands the best view of the Sound and of Mt. Tacoma, with its fifteen thousand perpendicular feet looming rose-pink in the heavens, and all its fifteen glaciers seeming to glow with an inner tropic warmth. There are eighteen hundred miles of shore-line embroidering this marvellous Sound. We are continually rounding abrupt points, as in a river,—points so much alike that an untutored eye can not tell one from another. Old Probabilities industriously taking his reckonings and growing more and more enthusiastic at every turn—especially so when the after-glow burns the sea to a coal; it reminds him of a volcanic eruption. There are some people who when they see anything new to them are instantly reminded of something else they have seen, and the new object becomes second rate on the spot. A little travel is a dangerous thing.
Pay $3.25 for my fare from Tacoma to Port Townsend, and find a moment later that some are paying only $1 for the same accommodations. Competition is the mother of these pleasant surprises, but it is worth thrice the original price—the enjoyment of this twilight cruise. More after-glow, much more, with the Olympian Mountains lying between us and the ocean. In the foreground is a golden flood with scarlet ripples breaking through it—a vision splendid and long continued. Air growing quite chilly; strong draughts at some of the turns in the stream. Surely, in this case, the evening and the morning are not the same day.
At 9.30 p. m. we approach Seattle—a handsome town, with its terraces of lights twinkling in the gloaming. Passengers soon distribute themselves through the darkness. I am left alone on the after-deck to watch the big, shadowy ships that are moored near us, and the exquisite phosphorescent light in the water—a wave of ink with the luminous trail of a struck match smouldering across it. Far into the night there was the thundering of freight rolling up and down the decks, and the ring of invisible truck-wheels.
Slept by and by, and was awakened by the prolonged shriek of a steam whistle and a stream of sunlight that poured in at my state-room window. We were backing and slowing off Port Ludlow. Big sawmill close at hand. Four barks lie at the dock in front of it; a few houses stand on the hill above; pine woods crowd to the water's edge, making the place look solemn. Surely it is a solemn land and a solemn sea about here. After breakfast, about 8.30 o'clock, Port Townsend hove in sight, and here we await the arrival of the Alaska boat. What an odd little town it is—the smallest possible city set upon a hill; the business quarter huddled at the foot of the hill, as if it had slid down there and lodged on the very edge of the sea! The hotels stalk out over the water on stilts. One sleeps well in the sweet salt air, lulled by the murmur of the waves under the veranda.
I rummage the town in search of adventure; climb one hundred and fifty steep steps, and find the highlands at the top, green, pastoral and reposeful. Pleasant homes are scattered about; a few animals feed leisurely in the grassy streets. One diminutive Episcopal chapel comes near to being pretty, yet stops just short of it. But there is a kind of unpretending prettiness in the bright and breezy heights environed by black forest and blue sea.
A revenue cutter—this is a port of customs, please remember—lies in the offing. She looks as if she were suspended in air, so pure are the elements in the northland. I lean from a parapet, on my way down the seaward face of the cliff, and hear the order, "Make ready!" Then comes a flash of flame, a white, leaping cloud, and a crash that shatters an echo into fragments all along the shore; while beautiful smoke rings roll up against the sky like victorious wreaths.
I call on the Hon. J. G. Swan, Hawaiian Consul, author of "The Northwest Coast; or, Three Years' Residence in Washington Territory." Find him delightful, and delightfully situated in a perfect museum of Indian relics; himself full of the liveliest recollections of Indian life, and quite an authority on Indian tongues and traditions; find also an old schoolmate, after long years of separation, and am most courteously entertained. What a drive we had over the hills and along the beach, where the crows haunt the water's edge like sea-birds! It has been repeatedly affirmed that these crows have been seen to seize a clam, raise it high in the air, let it drop upon a rock, and then pounce upon the fragments and feast furiously. But I have never seen one who has had ocular proof of this.
There was a very happy hour spent at Colonel Douglas' quarters, over at the camp; and then such a long, long drive through the deep wildwood, with its dense undergrowth, said to be the haunt of bear, panther, wild cat, deer, and other large game. Bearberries grew in profusion everywhere. The road, kept in splendid repair by the army men, dipped into a meadow full of savage mosquitoes; but escaping through two gates, we struck again into the forest, where the road was almost overgrown with dew-damp brush, that besprinkled us profusely as we passed.
We paused upon the slope above Port Discovery Bay; saw an old fellow on the porch of a wee cottage looking steadfastly into the future—across the Bay; with pipe in mouth, he was the picture of contentment, abstraction and repose. He never once turned to look at us, though few pass that way; but kept his eyes fixed upon a vision of surpassing beauty, where the vivid coloring was startling to the eye and the morning air like an elixir. Nothing but the great summer hotel of the future—it will surely come some day and stand right there—can rob the spot of its blissful serenity.
In the Inland Sea.
We were waiting the arrival of the Alaska boat,—wandering aimlessly about the little town, looking off upon the quiet sea, now veiled in a dense smoke blown down from the vast forest fires that were sweeping the interior. The sun, shorn of his beams, was a disk of copper; the sun-track in the sea, a trail of blood. The clang of every ship's bell, the scream of every whistle, gave us new hope; but we were still waiting, waiting, waiting. Port Townsend stands knee-deep in the edge of a sea-garden. I sat a long time on the dock, watching for some sign of the belated boat. Great ropes of kelp, tubes of dark brown sea-grass, floated past me on the slow tide. Wonderful anemones, pink, balloon-shaped, mutable, living and breathing things,—these panted as they drifted by. At every respiration they expanded like the sudden blossoming of a flower; then they closed quite as suddenly, and became mere buds. When the round core of these sea-flowers was exposed to the air—the palpitating heart was just beneath the surface most of the time,—they withered in a breath; but revived again the moment the water glazed them over, and fairly revelled in aqueous efflorescence.
"Bang!" It was the crash of an unmistakable gun, that shook the town to its foundations and brought the inhabitants to their feet in an instant. Out of the smoke loomed a shadowy ship, and, lo! it was the Alaska boat. A goodly number of passengers were already on board; as many more were now to join her; and then her prow was to be turned to the north star and held there for some time to come. In a moment the whole port was in a state of excitement. New arrivals hurried on shore to see the lions of the place. We, who had been anxiously awaiting this hour for a couple of long summer days, took the ship by storm, and drove the most amiable and obliging of pursers nearly frantic with our pressing solicitations.
Everybody was laying in private stores, this being our last chance to supply all deficiencies. Light literature we found scattered about at the druggist's and the grocer's and the curiosity shops; also ink, pens, note-books, tobacco, scented soap and playing-cards were discovered in equally unexpected localities. We all wanted volumes on the Northwest—as many of them as we could get; but almost the only one obtainable was Skidmore's "Alaska, the Sitkan Archipelago," which is as good as any, if not the best. A few had copies of the "Pacific Coast Pilot. Alaska. Part I. Dixon's Entrance to Yakutat Bay,"—invaluable as a practical guide, and filled with positive data. Dall and Whimper we could not find, nor Bancroft at that time. Who will give us a handy volume reprint of delightful old Vancouver?
We were busy as bees all that afternoon; yet the night and the starlight saw us satisfactorily hived, and it was not long before the buzzing ceased, as ship and shore slept the sleep of the just. By and by we heard pumping, hosing, deck-washing, the paddling of bare feet to and fro, and all the familiar sounds of an early morning at sea. The ship, however, was motionless: we were lying stock-still. Doubtless everybody was wondering at this, as I was, when there came a crash, followed by a small avalanche of broken timber, while the ship quaked in her watery bed. I thought of dynamite and the Dies Irae; but almost immediately the cabin-boy, who appeared with the matutinal coffee, said it was only the Olympian, the fashionable Sound steamer, that had run into us, as was her custom. She is always running into something, and she succeeded in carrying away a portion of our stern gear on this occasion. Nevertheless, we were delayed only a few hours; for the Olympian was polite enough not to strike us below the water-line, and so by high noon we were fairly under way.
From my log-book I take the following: This is slow and easy sailing—a kind of jog-trot over the smoothest possible sea, with the paddles audibly working every foot of the way. We run down among the San Juan Islands, where the passages are so narrow and so intricate they make a kind of watery monogram among the fir-lined shores. A dense smoke still obscures the sun,—a rich haze that softens the distance and lends a picturesqueness that is perhaps not wholly natural to the locality, though the San Juan Islands are unquestionably beautiful.
The Gulf of Georgia, the Straits of Fuca, and Queen Charlotte Sound are the words upon the lips of everybody. Shades of my schoolboy days! How much sweeter they taste here than in the old geography class! Before us stretches a wilderness of islands, mostly uninhabited, which penetrates even into the sunless winter and the shadowless summer of Behring Sea.
As for ourselves, Old Probabilities has got down to business. He has opened an impromptu peripatetic school of navigation, and triumphantly sticks a pin into every point that tallies with his yard-square chart. The evangelist has his field-glass to his eye in search of the unregenerated aborigines. The swell tourists are much swollen with travel; they loosen the belts of their Norfolks, and at intervals affect a languid interest in this mundane sphere. There are delightful people on board—many of them—and not a few others. There are bevies of girls—all young, all pretty; and all, or nearly all, bubbling over with hearty and wholesome laughter.
What richness! A good, clean deck running the whole length of the ship; a cosy and cheerful social hall, with a first-class upright piano of delicious tone, and at least a half dozen creditable performers to awaken the soul of it; a good table, good weather, good luck, and positively nothing to do but have a good time for three solid weeks in the wilderness. The pestiferous telephone can not play the earwig on board this ship; the telegraph, with metallic tick, can not once startle us by precipitating town tattle; the postal service is cut off; wars and rumors of wars, the annihilation of a nation, even the swallowing up of a whole continent, are now of less consequence to us than the possibility of a rain-shower this afternoon, or the solution of the vexed question, "Will the aurora dazzle us before dawn?" We do not propose to wait upon the aurora: for days and days and days we are going to climb up the globe due North, getting nearer and nearer to it all the while. Now, inasmuch as everything is new to us, we can easily content ourselves for hours by lounging in the easy-chairs, and looking off upon the placid sea, and at the perennial verdure that springs out of it and mantles a lovely but lonely land.
Only think of it for a moment! Here on the northwest coast there are islands sown so thickly that many of the sea-passages, though deep enough for a three-decker to swim in, are so narrow that one might easily skim his hat across them. There are thousands of these islands—yea, tens of thousands,—I don't know just how many, and perhaps no man does. They are of all shapes and sizes, and the majority of them are handsomely wooded. The sombre green of the woods, stretching between the sombre blue-green of the water and the opaline sheen of the sky, forms a picture—a momentary picture,—the chief features of which change almost as suddenly and quite as completely as the transformations in a kaleidoscope. We are forever turning corners; and no sooner are we around one corner than three others elbow us just ahead. Now, toward which of the three are we bound, and will our good ship run to larboard or to starboard? This is a turn one might bet on all day long—and lose nearly every time.
A bewildering cruise! Vastly finer than river sailing is this Alaskan expedition. Here is a whole tangle of rivers full of strange tides, mysterious currents, and sweet surprises. Moreover, we can get lost if we want to—no one can get lost in a river. We can rush in where pilots fear to tread, strike sunken rocks, toss among dismal eddies, or plunge into whirlpools. We can rake overhanging boughs with our yard-arms if we want to—but we don't want to. In 1875 the United States steamer Saranac went down in Seymour Narrows, and her fate was sudden death. The United States steamer Suwanee met with a like misfortune on entering Queen Charlotte Sound. It is rather jolly to think of these things, and to realize that we were in more or less danger; though the shores are as silent as the grave, the sea sleeps like a mill-pond, and the sun sinks to rest with great dignity and precision, nightly bathing the lonely North in sensuous splendor.
It is getting late. Most of us are indulging in a constitutional. We rush up and down the long flush decks like mad; we take fiendish delight in upsetting the pious dignity of the evangelist; we flutter the smokers in the smoking-room—because, forsooth, we are chasing the girls from one end of the ship to the other; and consequently the denizens of the masculine cabin can give their undivided attention to neither cards nor tobacco. What fun it all is—when one is not obliged to do it for a living, and when it is the only healthy exercise one is able to take!
By and by the girls fly to their little nests. As we still stroll in the ever-so-late twilight, at 10 p. m., we hear them piping sleepily, one to another, their heads under their wings no doubt. They are early birds—but that is all right. They are the life of the ship; but for their mirth and music the twilight would be longer and less delightful. Far into the night I linger over a final cigarette. An inexpressible calm steals over me,—a feeling as of deliverance, for the time being at least, from all the cares of this world. We are steaming toward a mass of shadows that, like iron gates, seem shut against us. A group of fellow-voyagers gathers on the forward deck, resolved to sit up and ascertain whether we really manage to squeeze through some crevice, or back out at last and go around the block. I grow drowsy and think fondly of my little bunk.
What a night! Everything has grown vague and mysterious. Not a voice is heard—only the throb of the engine down below and the articulated pulsation of the paddles, every stroke of which brings forth a hollow sound from the sea, as clear and as well defined as a blow upon a drumhead; but these are softened by the swish of waters foaming under the wheel. Echoes multiply; myriads of them, faint and far, play peek-a-boo with the solemn pilot, who silently paces the deck when all the ship is wrapped in a deep sleep.
Alaskan Village Life.
With the morning coffee came a rumor of an Indian village on the neighboring shore. We were already past it, a half hour or more, but canoes were visible. Now this was an episode. Jack, the cabin-boy, slid back the blind; and as I sat up in my bunk, bolstered among the pillows, I saw the green shore, moist with dew and sparkling in the morning light, sweep slowly by—an endless panorama. There is no dust here, not a particle. There is rain at intervals, and a heavy dew-fall, and sometimes a sea fog that makes it highly advisable to suspend all operations until it has lifted. After coffee I found the deck gaily peopled. The steamer was running at half speed; and shortly she took a big turn in a beautiful lagoon and went back on her course far enough to come in sight of the Indian village, but we did not stop there. It seems that one passage we were about to thread was reached at a wrong stage of the tide; and, instead of waiting there for better water, we loafed about for a couple of hours, enjoying it immensely, every soul of us.
Vancouver Island lay upon our left. It was half veiled in mist, or smoke; and its brilliant constellation of sky-piercing peaks, green to the summit, with glints of sunshine gilding the chasms here and there, and rich shadows draping them superbly, reminded me of Nukahiva, one of the Marquesas Islands—the one where Herman Melville found his famed Typee. It seems extravagant to associate any feature in the Alaskan archipelago with the most romantic island in the tropical sea; but there are points of similarity, notwithstanding the geographical discrepancy—daring outlines, magnificent cloud and atmospheric effects, and a fragrance, a pungent balsamic odor ever noticeable. This impalpable, invisible balm permeates everything; it is wafted out over the sea to us, even as the breath of the Spice Islands is borne over the waves to the joy of the passing mariner.
Surely there can be no finer tonic for a fagged fellow with feeble lungs than this glorious Alaskan air. There is no danger of surfeit here; the over-sweet is not likely to be met with in this latitude; and, then, if one really feels the need of change, why, here is a fishing station. The forest is trimmed along the shore so that there is scant room for a few shanties between the water and the wilderness. A dock runs but a little way out into the sea, for the shores are precipitous and one finds a goodly number of fathoms only a few yards from the shingle.
At the top of the dock, sometimes nearly housing the whole of it, stands a shed well stored with barrels, sacks of salt, nets, and all the necessary equipments of a first-class fish-canning establishment. A few Indian lodges are scattered along the shore. The Indians, a hearty and apparently an industrious and willing race, do most of the work about here. A few boats and canoes are drawn up upon the beach. The atmosphere is heavy with the odor of ancient fish. The water-line is strewn with cast-off salmon heads and entrails. Indian dogs and big, fat flies batten there prodigiously. Acres of salmon bellies are rosy in the sun. The blood-red interiors of drying fish—rackfuls of them turned wrong side out—are the only bit of color in all Alaska. Everybody and everything is sombre and subdued.
Yet not all fishing stations are cheerless. The salmon fishery and trading store located at Loring are picturesque. The land-lock nook is as lovely as a Swiss lake; and, oh, the myriad echoes that waken in chorus among these misty mountains! The waters of the Alaskan archipelago are prolific. Vast shoals of salmon, cod, herring, halibut, mullet, ulicon, etc., silver the surface of the sea, and one continually hears the splash of leaping fish.
A traveller has written of his visit to the fishing-grounds on the Naass river, where the tribes had gathered for what is called their "small fishing"—the salmon catch is at another time. These small fish are valuable for food and oil. They run up the river for six weeks only, and with the utmost regularity. At the point he visited, the Naass was about a mile and a half wide; yet so great was the quantity of fish that, with three nails driven into a stick, an Indian would rake up a canoeful in a short time. Five thousand Indians were congregated from British Columbia and Alaska; their faces painted red and black; feathers upon their heads, and imitations of wild beasts upon their dresses. Over the fish was an immense cloud of sea-gulls—so many were there, and so thick were they, that the fluttering of their wings was like a swift fall of snow. Over the gulls were eagles soaring and watching their chance. The halibut, the cod, the porpoise, and the finback whale had followed the little ones out of the deep; and there was confusion worse confounded, and chaos came again in the hours of wild excitement that followed the advent of the small fry, for each and all in sea and air were bent upon the destruction of these little ones.
Seven thousand salmon have been taken at one haul of the seine in this latitude. Most of these salmon weigh sixty pounds each, and some have been caught that weigh a hundred and twenty pounds. Yet there are no game fish in Alaska. Let sportsmen remember that far happier hunting grounds lie within twenty miles of San Francisco, and in almost any district of the Northern or Eastern States. On a certain occasion three of our fellow-voyagers, armed in fashionable fishing toggery, went forth from Sitka for a day's sport. A steam launch bore them to a land where the rank grass and rushes grew shoulder high. Having made their way with difficulty to the margin of a lake, they came upon a boat which required incessant bailing to prevent its speedy foundering. One kept the craft afloat while the others fished until evening. They caught nothing, yet upon landing they found five fish floundering under the seats; these swam in through a hole in the bottom of the boat. I say again, on good authority, there are no game fish in Alaska. There are salmon enough in these waters to supply the world—but the world can be supplied without coming to these waters at all. The truth is, I fear, that the market has been glutted and the business overdone.
One evening we anchored off a sad and silent shore. A few Indian lodges were outlined against the woods beyond. A few Indians stolidly awaited the arrival of a small boat containing one of our fellow-passengers. Then for some hours this boat was busily plying to and fro, bringing out to us all that was portable of a once flourishing, or at least promising, fishery and cannery, now defunct. Meanwhile the mosquitoes boarded our ship on a far more profitable speculation. It was pitiful to see our friend gathering together the debris of a wrecked fortune—for he had been wealthy and was now on the down grade of life—hoping almost against hope to be able to turn an honest penny somehow, somewhere, before he dies.
At times we saw solitary canoes containing a whole family of Indians fishing in the watery waste. What solemn lives they must lead! But a more solemn and more solitary scene occurred a little later. All the afternoon we had been sailing under splendid icy peaks. We came in out of the hot sun, and were glad of the cool, snow-chilled air that visited us lightly at intervals.
It was the hour of 9.30 p. m. The sun was dropping behind a lofty mountain range, and in its fine glow we steamed into a lovely cove under a towering height. A deserted, or almost deserted, fishing village stood upon a green bottom land—a mere handful of lodges, with a young growth of trees beyond, and an older growth between these and the glacier that was glistening above them all. A cannery looking nearly new stood at the top of a tall dock on stilts. On the extreme end of the dock was a figure—a man, and a white man at that—with both hands in his pockets, and an attitude of half-awakened curiosity. The figure stood stock-still. We wondered if it lived, if it breathed, or if it was an effigy set up there in scorn of American enterprise. We slowed up and drew near to the dock. It was a curious picture: a half dozen log-built lodges; a few tall piles driven into the land for steamer or trading schooner to make fast to; a group of Indians by a feeble camp fire,—Indians who never once changed their postures more than to wearily lift their heads and regard us with absolute indifference.
When we were near enough to hail the motionless figure on the dock, we did not hail him. Everybody was wildly curious: Everybody was perfectly dumb. The whole earth was silent at last; the wheels had stopped; the boat was scarcely moving through the water. The place, the scene, the hour seemed under a spell. Then a bell rang very shrilly in the deep silence; the paddles plunged into the sea again; we made a graceful sweep under the shadow of the great mountain and proudly steamed away. Not a syllable had been exchanged with that mysterious being on the dock; we merely touched our hats at the last moment; he lifted his, stalked solemnly to the top of the dock and disappeared. There is a bit of Alaskan life for you!
Sitka, the capital of Alaska, sleeps, save when she is awakened for a day or two by the arrival of a steamer-load of tourists. Fort Wrangell, the premature offspring of a gold rumor, died, but rose again from the dead when the lust of gold turned the human tide toward the Klondike. Juneau, the metropolis, was the only settlement that showed any signs of vigor before the Klondike day; and she lived a not over-lively village life on the strength of the mines on Douglas Island, across the narrow straits. There were sea-birds skimming the water as we threaded the labyrinthine channels that surround Juneau. We were evidently not very far from the coast-line; for the gulls were only occasional visitors on the Alaskan cruise, though the eagles we had always with us. They soared aloft among the pines that crowned the mountain heights; they glossed their wings in the spray of the sky-tipped waterfalls, and looked down upon us from serene summits with the unwinking eye of scorn. It is awfully fine sailing all about Juneau. Superb heights, snow-capped in many cases, forest-clad in all, and with cloud belts and sunshine mingling in the crystalline atmosphere, form a glorious picture, which, oddly enough, one does not view with amazement and delight, but in the very midst of which, and a very part of which, he is; and the proud consciousness of this marks one of the happiest moments of his life.
Steaming into a lagoon where its mountain walls are so high it seemed like a watery way in some prodigious Venice; steaming in, stealing in like a wraith, we were shortly saluted by the miners on Douglas Island, who are, perhaps, the most persistent and least harmful of the dynamiters. It was not long before we began to get used to the batteries that are touched off every few minutes, night and day; but how strange to find in that wild solitude a 120-stamp mill, electric lights, and all the modern nuisances! Never was there a greater contrast than the one presented at Douglas Island. The lagoon, with its deep, dark waters, still as a dead river, yet mirroring the sea-bird's wing; a strip of beach; just above it rows of cabins and tents that at once suggest the mining camps of early California days; then the rather handsome quarters of the directors; and then the huge mill, admirably constructed and set so snugly among the quarries that it seems almost a part of the ore mountain itself; beyond that the great forest, with its eagles and big game; and the everlasting snow peaks overtopping all, as they lose themselves in the fairest of summer skies. Small boats ply to and fro between Douglas Island and Juneau, a mile or more up the inlet on the opposite shore. These ferries are paddled leisurely, and only the explosive element at Douglas Island gives token of the activity that prevails at Gastineaux Channel.
Soon, weary of the racket on Douglas Island, and expecting to inspect the mine later on, we returned across the water and made fast to the dock in the lower end of Juneau. This settlement has seen a good deal of experience for a young one. It was first known as Pilsbury; then some humorist dubbed it Fliptown. Later it was called Rockwell and Harrisburg; and finally Juneau, the name it still bears with more or less dignity. The customary Indian village hangs upon the borders of the town; in fact, the two wings of the settlement are aboriginal; but the copper-skin seems not particularly interested in the progress of civilization, further than the occasional chance it affords him of turning an honest penny in the disposal of his wares.
No sooner was the gang-plank out than we all made a rush for the trading stores in search of curios. The faculty of acquisitiveness grows with what it feeds on; and before the Alaskan tour is over, it almost amounts to a mania among the excursionists. You should have seen us—men, women and children—hurrying along the beach toward the heart of Juneau, where we saw flags flying from the staves that stood by the trading-stores. It was no easy task to distance a competitor in those great thoroughfares. Juneau has an annual rainfall of nine feet; the streets are guttered: indeed the streets are gutters in some cases. I know of at least one little bridge that carries the pedestrian from one sidewalk to another, over the muddy road below. I was headed off on my way to the N. W. T. Co.'s warehouse, and sat me down on a stump to write till the rush on bric-a-brac was over. Meanwhile I noticed the shake shanties and the pioneers who hung about them, with their long legs crooked under rush chairs in the diminutive verandas.
Indian belles were out in full feather. Some had their faces covered with a thick coating of soot and oil; the rims of the eyelids, the tip of the nose and the inner portions of the lips showing in striking contrast to the hideous mask, which they are said to wear in order to preserve their complexion. They look for the most part like black-faced monkeys, and appear in this guise a great portion of the time in order to dazzle the town, after a scrubbing, with skins as fair and sleek as soft-soap. Even some of the sterner sex are constrained to resort to art in the hope of heightening their manly beauty; but these are, of course, Alaskan dudes, and as such are doubtless pardonable.
There is a bath-house in Juneau and a barber-shop. They did a big business on our arrival. There are many billiard halls, where prohibited drinks are more or less surreptitiously obtained. A dance-hall stands uninvitingly open to the street. At the doorway, as we passed it, was posted a hand-lettered placard announcing that the ladies of Juneau would on the evening in question give a grand ball in honor of the passengers of the Ancon. Tickets, 50 cents.
It began to drizzle. We dodged under the narrow awnings of the shops, and bargained blindly in the most unmusical lingos. Within were to be had stores of toy canoes—graceful little things hewn after the Haida model, with prows and sides painted in strange hieroglyphics; paddles were there—life-size, so to speak,—gorgeously dyed, and just the things for hall decorations; also dishes of carved wood of quaint pattern, and some of them quite ancient, were to be had at very moderate prices; pipes and pipe-bowls of the weirdest description; halibut fish-hooks, looking like anything at all but fish-hooks; Shaman rattles, grotesque in design; Thlinket baskets, beautifully plaited and stained with subdued dyes—the most popular of souvenirs; spoons with bone bowls and handles carved from the horns of the mountain goat or musk-ox; even the big horn-spoon itself was no doubt made by these ingenious people; Indian masks of wood, inlaid with abalone shells, bears' teeth, or lucky stones from the head of the catfish; Indian wampum; deer-skin sacks filled with the smooth, pencil-shaped sticks with which the native sport passes the merry hours away in games of chance; bangles without end, and rings of the clumsiest description hammered out of silver coin; bows and arrows; doll papooses, totem poles in miniature. There were garments made of fish-skins and bird-skins, smelling of oil and semi-transparent, as if saturated with it; and half-musical instruments, or implements, made of twigs strung full of the beaks of birds that clattered with a weird, unearthly Alaskan clatter.
There were little graven images, a few of them looking somewhat idolatrous; and heaps upon heaps of nameless and shapeless odds and ends that boasted more or less bead-work in the line of ornamentation; but all chiefly noticeable for the lack of taste displayed, both in design and the combination of color. The Chilkat blanket is an exception to the Alaskan Indian rule. It is a handsome bit of embroidery, of significant though mysterious design; rich in color, and with a deep, knotted fringe on the lower edge—just the thing for a lambrequin, and to be had in Juneau for $40, which is only $15 more than is asked for the same article in Portland, Oregon, as some of us discovered to our cost. There were quantities of skins miserably cured, impregnating the air with vilest odors; and these were waved at you and wafted after you at every step. In the forest which suddenly terminates at the edge of the town there is game worth hunting. The whistler, reindeer, mountain sheep and goat, ermine, musk-rat, marmet, wolf and bear, are tracked and trapped by the red-man; but I doubt if the foot of the white-man is likely to venture far into the almost impenetrable confusion of logs and brush that is the distinguishing feature of the Alaskan wilderness. Beautiful antlers are to be had in Juneau and elsewhere; and perhaps a cinnamon or a black cub as playful as a puppy, and full of a kind of half-savage fun.