The Overland Monthly/Volume 3/Manifest Destiny in the West

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MANIFEST DESTINY IN THE WEST.

THAT remarkable succession of circumstances quoted oftentimes as "Manifest Destiny," is nowhere in history more wonderfully illustrated than in the rapid spread of Americanism from the eastern to the western shores of the North American continent.

Does this opening sentence seem to smack of the national self-praise and confidence in our sacred mission as exemplars of all the highest virtues of republicanism and free institutions? Belief in a manifest destiny ought, indisputably, to inspire us with enthusiasm to fulfill it to the utmost. But it was not of that belief or that sentiment we were thinking when we took up the pen to utter our dogmatical first sentence. It was the result of a mental review of the written and unwritten history of the last eighty years, as it applies to the march of empire in the Western hemisphere.

It was about eighty years ago that Spain finally despaired of holding her discovered territories in the Pacific north of the forty-second parallel, and quietly retired from her most northern post on Vancouver and Quadra's Island, having first made a treaty with Great Britain to the effect that the British lion should not seize it in absence of its original claimant. Perhaps Spain hoped to gain a little strength in some way; or, at the worst, to make an advantageous bargain with some power more beloved than Great Britain by the Spanish heart.

However that may have been, one of the high contracting parties to the beforementioned treaty evidently regarded the agreement more as a matter of courtesy than fact. The British Exploring Expedition, under Vancouver, had made too many pleasing observations on the west coast, and along the picturesque shores of the great inlet named Puget Sound, after one of Vancouver's lieutenants, to cherish a very impressive regard for the sacredness of the contract. On the contrary, Vancouver continued to amuse himself for months with "taking possession" of various points along the coast of what is now United States territory, and in rechristening islands, mountains, capes, and rivers, which were already known and named by the Spaniards.

But the "cloud no bigger than a man's hand," which was to overshadow the heaven of promise then shining on Vancouver, had already appeared. Among the vessels of different nationalities then resorting to the north-west coast to trade with the Indians for furs, which were taken thence to China, were a number of American vessels, owned, some of them, in New York, but chiefly the property of a Boston company. These Yankee traders were the objects of peculiar contempt to the English companies in the same trade, because, as their officers represented, the American captains were unacquainted with the science of navigation which should lead to distinction in discovery, and otherwise inferior as officers and gentlemen. Instead of doing business in grand style, like the English companies, these American captains were guilty of gathering up at the islands on their route aulone shells, sandal-wood, and other trifles, for which they had contrived to make a market in China, and which they sold, in addition to their furs, for cargoes of teas and silks, to be conveyed in their turn to Boston—thus realizing a double profit.

It does not appear that the complaints or criticisms of the British officers had any effect in deterring these trading Yankee captains from the pursuit of gain in their own fashion. Certain it is that their industry and enterprise helped materially to advance the national commerce at a period when that commerce had but just begun to recover from the crushing effects of the Revolutionary War.

It is probable enough that Vancouver shared the prejudices of the English captains against the Bostonians. However that may be, he made the singular mistake of sailing in broad daylight, of a fine May day, directly past the mouth of that great, mystical river which under the name of San Roque was known to, although unexplored by, the Spanish navigators; was spoken of by other navigators, who only guessed its existence, as the "River of the West;" and which had acquired, in some other unknown way, on the other side of the continent, the name of "Oregon."

The reality of this much talked-of river, which it was hoped would open communication for ships with Hudson's Bay and the North Atlantic, was one of the things Vancouver wished particularly to prove or to disprove. Not so was it written in the book of Fate. As we have said, he sailed past it in fair daylight, with his eyes on it, and pronounced the opening in the coast to be only an inlet; into which, if a river flowed, it was of no importance. But he did not know that a few days previous, one of those Boston vessels so obnoxious to British ideas had sailed past that same opening under similarly favorable circumstances; and the captain had formed an opinion of it so different from that Vancouver entertained that he could not get the matter out of his mind. Discovery was not the business he followed. He was no leader of a well furnished expedition, as Vancouver was. But he said to himself: There is the mouth of the much talked-of, long-sought river; and he entered his impressions on his log-book. Still bent upon business, he pursued his course up along the coast, so close in shore that he discovered a bay of considerable size and importance, which now bears his name. After leaving this bay, which he ventured to enter, he again bethought himself of the river he had discovered, and was heading in that direction when he fell in with the British Exploring Squadron. Being hailed, he held a conversation with the officers, to whom he very frankly made known his supposed discovery, with its latitude and longitude. To this communication Vancouver replied that he too had seen the opening, but thought it unimportant. It might have been something in the tone in which the English officers begged to differ from him that fired Captain Gray's heart with a determination to settle the controversy without further delay. Pursuing his course southward he came once more in sight of the opening in the coast, and the weather continuing favorable, sailed without difficulty through the northern channel, across its formidable bar, and brought his vessel to anchor more than twenty miles inside the line of breakers.

We have always felt inclined to envy Captain Gray the triumph of that memorable day. We hope he felt the grandeur of it, and enjoyed it. It is something to discover a large river anywhere. But this one—so long desired, and when beheld so broad, so blue, so beautifully set in picturesque mountain shores!

The glory and contentment were enough for that day. The next, Captain Gray went ashore, and after exploring as well as he could the neighboring country, thickset with noble forests, returned to his ship, and recorded in his log-book the river's name. "I have called it," said he, "Columbia's River." Having remained several days to trade with the natives who crowded about the ship in their canoes, and to explore a few miles more of the river, he put to sea again, and went about his business in more northern waters.

What did Vancouver when the Yankee captain left him? He took counsel of prudence, and sent a lieutenant back with one of the vessels to take a second and closer view of the disputed inlet—if not outlet. When Lieutenant Meares beheld the terrors of the bar he decided not to take the vessel in, but to pursue his investigations in a smaller craft belonging to the ship's outfit. In this gig, or whatever it was, Meares entered the river and proceeded to ascend it. Having reached a small bay on the northern side fifteen or twenty miles inside the bar, he found there a small vessel at anchor belonging to a trading captain of his own nation—an Englishman, named Baker, who gave to the bay his own name, which it continues to bear at this day. Captain Baker had fallen in with Gray, and being told of his discovery, had made haste to confirm the report by actual observation.

When Lieutenant Meares had explored the river some eighty miles from its mouth, which his smaller craft easily permitted him to do, he returned to the commander of the squadron with his report, and Vancouver claimed for the British nation the credit of discovering the great river of the West. The actual river, he said, did not commence for some distance above Gray's anchorage! That was the quibble resorted to some years later, when British claims and boundary lines were being considered. That quibble, however, did not hold, as history assures us. That lucky persistence of Captain Gray's decided the question of right by discovery in favor of Americans.

Decency requiring that England should pay some outward regard to her agreement with Spain concerning the northwest coast of America, and the United States being too poor and weak to set up claims, even if they felt disposed to dispute the right of Spain, the vessels of each nation were withdrawn from that portion of the Pacific, and silence and obscurity reigned once more over those remote seas. In the meantime important political changes had been going on in Europe. Louisiana, which then comprised all the territory not belonging to Spain, west of the sources of the Mississippi, and south of the forty-ninth parallel, had been ceded by France to Spain thirty years before the events just spoken of. But in 1800 France once more regained possession of Louisiana, and in 1803 sold it to the United States.

Could the British lion, hating the fleur de lis, and fearing the growth of the young American eagle, suppress a desire to seize some portion of the spoils of war, or the profits of barter? What had not been openly taken from Spain might be craftily alienated from the United States by the help of one of its princely corporations—and, according to leonine ethics, should be.

When President Jefferson recommended and set on foot the expedition of Lewis and Clarke, with a purpose of examining the country west of the Rocky Mountains, and discovering the sources of the Columbia, the British Government sought to forestall him by means of no common excellence at hand—the expert pioneers of the North-west Fur Company. When Lewis and Clarke left their encampment on the Missouri River in the spring of 1805, to proceed on their great journey toward the Pacific through an unexplored country, one of the leaders of the North-west Company was just on their heels. In October of that year they had reached the head-waters of the southern branch of the Columbia, and very fortunately were able to make their way to the mouth of the lower river before winter set in. Not so fortunate was the British emissary who dogged their footsteps. An accident detained him in the mountains until the snows came on; and when at last he reached the coast it was on Frazer's River, far to the north of the Columbia, and which he mistook for one of the northern branches of that river. Thus, for the second time, Fortune, Fate, Providence, or what you choose to name the invincible destiny, signified to whom the empire should be given.

Although the Congress of the United States did not doubt the American title to the territories lying on the Pacific, north of one certain boundary, and south of one hardly less certain, as having been acquired both by discovery and purchase, yet it was very well understood that England meant to question that title; and therefore when John Jacob Astor, in 1810, conceived his great scheme of establishing a commerce at the mouth of the Columbia, Congress, headed by the President, promised protection and support to his undertakings. Occupation and colonization were safe and sure methods of securing the territory about which it might be inconvenient to go to war. But now again the North-west Company, jealously watching the American movement, endeavored to reach the mouth of the Columbia before Mr. Astor's company; and again, prevented by an accident, only reached that point after Astoria had been built, and garrisoned in the half-military style that the presence of powerful Indian tribes made necessary. The war of 1812, the treachery of Mr. Astor's partners—several of whom had been formerly in the employ of the North-west Company—and the pusillanimous behavior of Congress after the close of the war, virtually defeated for a time the prospects of an American settlement on the shores of the Pacific. The North-west Company, to whom Mr. Astor's British partners had sold out his trading-posts on the Columbia, had obtained possession of the country for purposes of trade; and finally, being merged in the Hudson's Bay Company, retained it under sanction of the convention of 1818, which left the boundary question an open one, and permitted the subjects of either country to hunt, fish, and trade without hinderance in the territory west of the Rocky Mountains for a period of ten years.

It was now that a struggle of diplomacy really began between the Government of Great Britain and that of the United States to bring about a settlement of their conflicting claims to the mouth of the Columbia, and the navigation of that river. Neither nation desired to go to war about it. The United States could not afford it. Great Britain remembered her former experiences in fighting her half-civilized relations on their own soil, and judged it would be an awkward piece of business to attempt a seizure of American territory.

In the decade following the convention of 1818, by a treaty with Spain the southern and south-western boundaries of the United States became fixed, it being agreed that along the forty-second parallel the line should extend to the Pacific; all the territory north of that line to which Spain had ever laid claim, to belong to the United States. The Spanish discoveries extended to latitude 54° 40′. Beyond that, the Russians claimed the coast. This allotment was any thing but agreeable to Great Britain, who, through the explorations of the Hudson's Bay Company, had obtained possession of a large extent of inland territory north of the forty-ninth parallel. The Columbia River, reaching by its great branches far into the interior of the continent, and having its mouth in a climate of almost perpetual spring, must not be given up without a close struggle.

Both Governments weighed their claims over and over in their secret councils of State. The United States founded their claim on the following several points:

The right purchased of Spain, the first discoverer.

The subsequent actual discovery of the Columbia by Captain Gray.

The settlement at the mouth of the Columbia by Mr. Astor; and the principle "that the discovery and occupation of the mouth of a river gives title to the entire territory drained by it."

The treaty of Ghent, in 1814, by which all places taken from the United States during the war of 1812 were restored, Astoria being one of them; and primarily, by the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, by which France came to an agreement with Great Britain concerning the northern boundary of Louisiana—said boundary to be the forty-ninth parallel from a point near or at the Lake of the Woods, indefinitely westward. And also by the treaty of Versailles, in 1763, by which the boundary question between France and Great Britain in North America was definitely settled—France owning the territory south of a line drawn due west from the source of the Mississippi, and Great Britain that east of the Mississippi and north of the forty-ninth parallel. Subsequently, the right of Great Britain to the territory east of the Mississippi was lost through the war of the Revolution, and her claim confined to the territory north of the forty-ninth parallel; no western boundary ever being spoken of.

The last point was that of contiguity.

As for Great Britain's pretensions to the territory drained by the Columbia River, the points sought to be made were these:

Discovery.

Contiguity.

The comparison of claims brought to light a mass of evidence by no means flattering to the hopes of British diplomatists. Spanish records, and Spanish officers, furnished many incontrovertible facts concerning discovery and occupation. The officers and log-books of the despised Yankee trading vessels completed the evidence; and, unfortunately, fixed a certain taint of falsehood, very hard to be borne, upon British officers high in the favor of the Government. As for contiguity: if Great Britain succeeded in establishing her right to extend her territory to the Pacific, north of the forty-ninth parallel, she would still come out several degrees north of the mouth of the Columbia.

Thus affairs remained during the ten years following the convention of 1818. The United States was waiting to regain strength; Great Britain, perhaps, waiting for the same thing. In 1827 the convention was renewed for another ten years; provided, that "on giving due notice of twelve months to the other contracting party," either party might cause the agreement to be annulled and abrogated.

What both contracting parties desired to bring about was the occupation of the country by actual settlers, who would hold it by the right of possession for their own Government. That the English Government was not able to do this was a part of the special providence for which we are putting in this plea. For the Government of the United States seemed about this time to be under a spell, which, while it was pretended to be prudence, looked excessively like timidity. After refusing to sustain Mr. Astor in re-establishing his business on the Columbia, or to listen to the importunities of other private citizens who were enthusiastically enamored of different projects for settling the valley of the Columbia, it quietly ignored the growing power of the Hudson's Bay Company, extending from the mouth of that river to its northern and southern sources. Fourteen years after the convention of 1818 the thirty or forty thousand Indians west of the Rocky Mountains had nearly all become more or less subject to the Hudson's Bay Company, whose employés moved among them with tolerable security, while the American fur companies, who ventured into the mountains from the eastern side, were forced to contend for every inch of the way. That they did contend for it, and encroached every year more and more on savage territory, defying the Indians and Hudson's Bay Company at once, was due to the character of their nation.

But it was not the fur trader who first made Destiny manifest: it was quite a different character. It was the missionary. It is always, or generally, we will say, your missionary who becomes the avant courrier of commerce; and in that capacity might claim to be supported by the State as well as the Church. It seems like inverting the natural order of things; but man proposes, God disposes. News had been received by the various churches in the East, through the medium of the St. Louis Fur Company, that certain Indians west of the Rocky Mountains were inquiring about the white man's God. This was a call the Christian heart could not withstand, imbued as it was at that time with highly romantic notions concerning the red men—views, alas! to be violently dispelled after years of useless labor among them.

In 1834 the first Methodist missionaries, under the protection of the fur traders, went overland to the Rocky Mountains. Why they did not tarry in the neighborhood of their own countrymen, and among the tribe who were inquiring about the God who furnished plenty of horses, guns, and food to his worshipers, has never been made quite plain. However that may be, these two men, Lee by name, chose to pass quite by these interesting savages, and settle nearer the coast, right under the eyes and nose of the Hudson's Bay Company, who had already begun to give farms to some of its retired servants in the Garden of the West, the Wallamet Valley.

It was the policy of the Hudson's Bay Company to treat all Americans who came into their neighborhood, or demanded their hospitality, with the greatest courtesy. They only required that none of these adventurers should attempt to trade with the Indians, whom they had brought into subjection to themselves. Competition they would not have: it would ruin their business, and open the way for American settlement. But with missionaries—why, the case was different. Accustomed as the English all are to revere the Church and its ministers, the officers of the Hudson's Bay Company were prepared to receive the missionaries with even more than their accustomed hospitality and courtesy. Plain men as they were, the right hand at the Governor's elegant table, and the best of lodging, with every privilege of gentlemen, were accorded to them, and the kindest offers of assistance freely made to forward the establishment of their mission.

Fatal misapprehension! In the next ten years, in spite of the restrictions with which the Company, now alarmed, surrounded the embryo settlement, it had become a colony of actual settlers, tillers of the soil, hardy American frontiersmen, who, with the mission—now a mission only in name—for a nucleus, had already arrived at the consideration of a plan for a Provisional Government. The rapid secularization of the Methodist Mission had been an event entirely unforeseen, and the British Government was once more outwitted, or, as we contend, quietly set aside by Destiny.

But the Methodist was not the only mission with which the Hudson's Bay Company had to contend. The Presbyterian Church, moved by the same tales of Indian aspirations which had inspired the Lees to undertake their conversion, had found a small company of devoted souls willing to give their lives to the service of God in the wilderness. Of this company Dr. Marcus Whitman was the leader and governing spirit. Choosing differently from the Lees, he stationed himself east of the Cascade Range, between that and the foot of the Rocky Mountains, where he built up a mission, with several collateral ones, and faithfully taught the God-seeking savages, who brutally murdered him in return, after eleven years of labor.

Dr. Whitman, though a devoted Christian servant, was a no less ardent American. A favorite at Fort Vancouver, the head-quarters of the Hudson's Bay Company, he had many opportunities of acquainting himself with the feeling which animated its officers as subjects of Great Britain; and no one more heartily desired a rapid American settlement than he. Many were the efforts he put forth to induce immigration by making the proper representations to all who came in his way, and by means of correspondence with the East.

Nor was Congress idle at this time. Being pressed for a settlement of the boundary question, Mr. Webster and Lord Ashburton were holding long and secret negotiations, while certain Congressmen and Senators were continually "agitating" to prevent an ill-advised cession of territory, and to induce immigration to Oregon. Although little was known of what was transpiring officially, the secret rivalry ran high, and in 1842–3 the interest felt in the question of the Oregon boundary was intense. The following incident will best illustrate to what expedients British and American subjects were impelled by a desire to "come out ahead:"

In the autumn of 1842, Dr. Whitman happened to be dining at one of the Hudson's Bay Company's posts, only a few hours' ride from his station. At this dinner were present some of the Company's gentlemen, and several Roman Catholic priests from the "upper country"—for the Roman priesthood were encouraged to settle among the Indians wherever the Company's employés went. While the guests were still at table a messenger arrived, bringing the news of the arrival, hourly expected, of the annual overland express from Canada; and also the news that Sir George Simpson's company of Scotch Canadian immigrants, to the number of about sixty, accompanied the express, and were to settle on the north side of the Columbia, between that river and Puget Sound.

Dr. Whitman, whose ears were ever open to catch the least murmur indicating British aggression, heard in silence, until a too enthusiastic and jubilant young priest arose from table, and exclaimed: "Huzza, huzza! the country is ours. The Americans have lost it."

"Not if I live!" burst forth the irate Doctor. "I will bring you a thousand immigrants for your sixty, before a year has passed." And forthwith the doughty champion of Americanism proceeded to take leave of his entertainers, pleading important business as an excuse for unseemly haste. That same evening he drew rein at his own door, and, before dismounting, informed his wife and a brother missionary that he was going to Washington that fall. And he kept his resolution. In a few days he was off, late in the season as it was, and by keeping toward the south succeeded, not without considerable suffering, in making a winter journey across the continent. It does not appear in history how far he was able to influence Webster in his negotiations with Ashburton; but it is well remembered how bitter were his remarks on the contemplated exchange of a valuable portion of the Oregon territory, including Puget Sound, "for a cod fishery!" Codfish were plenty on the Oregon coast, and so he plainly told the Secretary.

Neither can it be definitely stated that he kept his word about bringing a thousand immigrants. He certainly had the satisfaction of accompanying that number back to Oregon, and materially assisting them on their way. But it is probable he found most of these people ready for the movement, as he could not have raised a party of such strength, and by his own personal exertions, in less than a whole summer. It was the agitation of the project of land-grants to immigrants, in Congress, which had induced these natural-born pioneers, the people of Missouri and Illinois, to undertake the great journey. Doctor Whitman found them ready, and, taking them by the hand, led them safely, through months of sun and storm, to the promised land. One year from the utterance of that boastful sentence by a young Canadian priest the Doctor had redeemed his promise, so far as outnumbering Sir George Simpson's immigrants was concerned. From that moment there could be no doubt to whom the Oregon territory belonged.

For the four years following, emigration from the Western States continued to flow into Oregon. With every year's increase, the anxiety to have the boundary question settled was intensified on the part of Great Britain. The United States only seemed apathetic. In truth, our Government could have afforded at that time to let well enough alone. It had several thousand actual settlers in the Oregon territory to support its more technical claims. The Hudson's Bay Company, though still a powerful monopoly, no longer could prevent commerce to such an extent as formerly; while they were compelled to unite with the Americans in supporting a provisional form of government, drawing its form and principles after the American model.

But while Congress was content, the Oregon colony was not. Their six or eight thousand souls were cut off from the aid and succor of the parent country by thousands of miles and months of time. They were surrounded by savages, and only too suspicious of the feelings and intentions of their British allies. Year after year they had memorialized Congress, asking the Government to take pity on them, and give the necessary notice to Great Britain that the convention of mutual occupancy was at an end. After repeated disappointments from promises long deferred in fulfillment, in 1846 the desired notice was given, and a few months after the boundary question was settled: the United States retaining the whole of the territory south of the forty-ninth parallel, and giving up their claim to the coast lying north of that and south of the fifty-fourth parallel—thus, no doubt, averting bloodshed.

England, however, never forgave the loss of the Columbia; but seeing it inevitable, bided her time to make up that loss whenever there should occur a favorable opportunity to ignore that proudest Americanism, the "Monroe Doctrine." Nor was it long before such an opportunity seemed to present itself. We were involved in a war with Mexico, at the same time that Oregon was clamoring for a territorial government, and arms and soldiers to protect herself from Indians. The moment seemed propitious. An entering wedge had been prepared by an Irish subject of Great Britain, who was negotiating for immense grants of land in California, and bending the Mexican Government to his design by alarming their Catholic prejudices against Protestantism, and declaring to them that the Americans were on the point of forcing upon them the hated religion. Incited by such arguments, possibly the California Governor might have been induced to give away several of the most valuable districts under his authority, had not events hastened which put an end to the negotiation.

However it was that our Government had become informed of the intentions of its rival, it was informed, and just in time. Several authors have criticised very severely the course of the United States in seizing upon California as they did. It is said that early in 1845 secret instructions were sent to the commander of our naval force in the Pacific, and that the same year Captain Frémont was dispatched overland to California, ostensibly on a scientific expedition—really on a warlike one. It is recounted how Lieutenant Gillespie traveled incog. to carry other secret instructions to Frémont, who immediately turned back from his scientific pursuits, and joined his land forces with Commodore Sloat's naval forces to subjugate California.

Does any body believe that all this secrecy and "treachery" were necessary to take possession of that country, when its Governor, with his few hundred men, ran away at the first sound of war? The real explanation of the haste and the secrecy was the presence in the Pacific of a British man-of-war, the Collingwood, under the command of Sir George Seymour, with instructions, probably, to seize California the moment that war with Mexico was declared. The commander of the United States forces had exactly the same orders—to wait for the proclamation of war, that there might appear to be a sufficient excuse for the seizure. That he did not wait, but took possession of Monterey just one day in advance of the arrival in Monterey Bay of the Collingwood, shows conclusively that there was a proviso contained in his secret instructions verbally delivered by Lieutenant Gillespie, which meant that he was to wait for a declaration of war, unless he had reason to fear the British Admiral might forestall him. Landing himself a day too late, Admiral Seymour took on board his Irish confederate and sailed away. Thus once more Fortune favored, if not the brave, at all events the vigilant. California, the peerless, became and remained ours.

But what to do with all this length and breadth of territory, unoccupied by any save a race of centaurs? It was true that Thomas H. Benton had said, in a speech delivered at St. Louis in 1844:

"I say the man is alive, full grown, and is listening to what I say, (without believing it, perhaps) who will yet see the Asiatic commerce traversing the North Pacific Ocean—entering the Oregon River, climbing the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, issuing from its gorges, and spreading its fertilizing streams over our wide-extended Union! The steamboat and the steam-car have not exhausted all their wonders. They have not yet even found their amplest and most appropriate theatres—the tranquil surface of the North Pacific Ocean, and the vast inclined planes which spread east and west from the base of the Rocky Mountains. The magic boat, and the flying car, are not yet seen upon this ocean, and upon this plain, but they will be seen there! and St. Louis is yet to find herself as near to Canton, as she now is to London! with a better and safer route, by land and sea, to China and Japan, than she now has to France and Great Britain."

But then nobody believed much in a Pacific railroad; and then, too, we had not conquered California, and did not know much about the Bay of San Francisco. Certainly it was a problem how to connect Oregon and California with the country east of the Mississippi, and how to people it, and what to do with such an extent of unprotected coast. Yet here is where our special Providence comes in.

Not many years before the events just mentioned, a religious fanatic, Joseph Smith by name, gained a powerful influence over a large body of people, leading them from place to place; until finally they settled in Illinois, and built up a city called Nauvoo. But the Illinoisans, being an ill-mannered, bigoted commonwealth, soon took a dislike to the believers in the book of Mormon, and finally drove them out at the point of the bayonet,to seek their fortunes in some distant corner of the world. These persecuted "saints" had reached the western border of Iowa, and were halting for a rest before continuing their exodus, when the Mexican war broke out. Colonel Kane, who was sent to raise a battalion from their ranks, (a refinement of malice in a Government which had failed to protect them) tells us many interesting facts concerning them, in a lecture which he delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Colonel Kane succeeded in raising a battalion, which, together with the remainder of the army, was about returning home, when the discovery of gold in the newly-acquired territory of California created that fearful mental and moral epidemic called the "gold fever."

Did the "saints" raise a stampede for the mines, like any and every other class of people? No. Their mission was to build a great city, which was to contain a wonderful temple, besides other peculiar institutions. Faithful to their faith, they made haste to build it, and behold! in the midst of the continent, when the gold-seekers fainted on their wearisome march to the Pacific, they came suddenly upon a beautiful new city, set in among emerald hills, where, when California first became ours, was only blue air and silence. Says Colonel Kane (we quote from memory): "When the travel-worn gold-hunter reaches the mountain-top overlooking Salt Lake City, and sees for the first time this haven of rest in the middle of his exhausting journey, he falls down upon his knees and thanks God, with tears of joy streaming from his eyes." Here was provided rest, and cleanliness, and fresh food. Who shall say that the City of the Saints was not a special Providence?

But that was not all that Mormonism did for the overland route. All of their number who were too poor, or too sick, or for any other reason could not easily remove to Salt Lake, remained at Council Bluffs for two or three years, and drew there merchants from St. Joseph's and St. Louis, who afterward remained to meet the wants of more permanent settlers. Thus the little trading-post of Council Bluffs became a town of the first importance in Western Iowa.

Opposite Council Bluffs, and a little to the north of the present city of Omaha, is a little town called Florence, the winter-quarters of the Mormon hosts, and where, as their grave-yard shows, many of their number died during the first winter of their compulsory residence at that place. Here, as on the Iowa side of the river, the ground was broken and planted for two or three years, leaving it mellow and sweet for the subsequent settler. All along the highway trodden by the fleeing thousands through the Iowa territory the ground was broken at intervals, and seed dropped in. This was done by order of the Elders, as the only means of providing for the weak and sick who might falter by the way, and be left behind by the stronger and more fortunate. From Nauvoo to Salt Lake City a road was beaten. Scarcely was it passed over by the last of the Mormon refugees before another innumerable caravan of California-bound wayfarers stretched from one end of it to the other. When the gold-fever had abated somewhat, and the only travelers seen upon that road were the annual trains of Mormon recruits, which left the vicinity of Omaha about the first of May, we went out upon it for a day's ride, and beheld it stretched like a garland of roses among the green swells of prairie, as far as the eye could reach. For the breaking of the strong sod by the heavy wheels of loaded wagons had given encouragement to wild roses and other prairie flowers, and the most luxurious growth of these marked the track of the emigrant trains, and pointed out their course—a symbol, let us hope, of that flowery chain of mutual interests and aspirations which binds to-day the Atlantic to the Pacific slope.

Upon Oregon, California, and Utah there followed Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana—each the result of one of those great and sudden impulses which move the "human sea;" not in that "low wash of waves," by which ordinary emigration is symbolized in one of our typical American poems, but in great tidal waves of astonishing power.

Forced to see the direction of events, the people easily accepted their manifest destiny; and in spite of internecine war, and heavy national indebtedness, the Pacific Railroad became not only an acknowledged possibility, but an acknowledged necessity. But even with growing States midway of the continent, joined on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains to those already matured, by good agricultural lands, inviting the settler, there was still a problem to be solved concerning a long stretch of country west of the Rocky Mountains, adjudged to be nearly worthless. That question, of how was a railroad to be made paying which traversed hundreds of miles of uninhabitable waste, has been answered within the last few months. Those wastes are not uninhabitable: on the contrary, they threaten to be overrun with people within the next six months. These fifty or one hundred thousand silver-seekers are not an agricultural people, it is true; but all the more they will need the aid of rapid transportation to supply their wants. Every thing must be taken to them, even their bread. For all which they require, they make returns in gold and silver. It would seem that the railroad has been completed just in time to provide for these people; and that these people have come just in time to give employment to the railroad.

The dream of Thomas Jefferson, and the desire of Thomas H. Benton's heart, have been wonderfully fulfilled, so far as the Pacific Railroad and the trade with the old world of the East is concerned. But even they did not prophesy that Chinamen should build the Pacificward end of the road. It was of the Columbia River, and Puget Sound as a harbor, that the first projectors of a Pacific railroad dreamed. They knew that sailing vessels crossed the Pacific from a point on the coast about opposite the Oregon River, in order to avail themselves of the variable winds of that latitude, when the trades were against them. They did not reckon sufficiently upon the rapid development of steam power as an aid to commerce on the high seas, any more than they foresaw the future importance of the San Francisco Bay, or the Americanization of the whole of California within the present century.

Nor is the scheme of Jefferson, of Astor, of Benton, and other far-seeing men of a past generation, an unlikely one at this day. Another decade may see the ships of China and Japan unlading at the wharves of the Northern Railroad in Puget Sound, than which there is no more safe and commodious harbor in the world. Taking into consideration its capacity and excellence, together with the shorter and more direct course of vessels from this part of the coast, there is much to recommend it to the consideration of the commercial world.

The only lion in the way of making the Sound a great naval dépôt is the British lion, who has his lair upon Vancouver's Island, at the entrance to the Sound. It was an oversight on the part of the United States, the giving up the island of Quadra and Vancouver, on the settlement of the boundary question. Yet, "what is to be, will be," as some realist has it; and we look for the restoration of that picturesque and rocky atom of our former territory as inevitable.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).