Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/814

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


WHEN the Central Pacific Railroad crossed the high Sierras, and the Crockers, Stanfords, and Huntingtons, till then obscure Sacramento merchants, gained the first of their long series of industrial and political victories, a country blacksmith, the late Henry Vrooman, afterward State Senator and one of the greatest party leaders ever known on the Pacific coast, said to me: "That railroad changes forever all the conditions of human existence in California. It will never again be as easy to live here."

A thousand times since, events have shown that the gold-miners' El Dorado of 1849, which had become as different from the rest of the United States as South Carolina is from Massachusetts, was readjusting itself to new conditions imposed by the iron links that bound it to the Atlantic slope and the valley of the Mississippi. At first the change was slow and almost unnoticed. Until the close of the war, prices, rates of wages, and the general conditions of life in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada remained practically the same as before. Arizona was then but a frontier outpost, and men like Mowry were holding mines with rifle and revolver against the unconquered Apaches. The whole Pacific coast, from the borders of Mexico to Puget Sound, was still forming its own social customs and creating, as did the South, its own literature. The decade of railroad-building was also the decade of the foundation of State universities, magazines, art-schools, and libraries, and, to a remarkable degree, the decade of the beginnings of many private fortunes in mines, commerce, and real estate.

Early conditions of life in California were unusual in the wide range of opportunities offered to men of strong tenacity of purpose. Nearly every one could make money, and a great deal of it, in the decade between 1849 and 1859, but the temptations to spend were enormous. Illustrations of this are usually drawn from the mines, but some of the most characteristic stories come from other sources. In 1853 there were half a dozen men who shot wild fowl and other game in Contra Costa for the San Francisco markets. They could earn fifteen or twenty dollars apiece every day for nine months of the year. One of them saved his money and bought land for a dollar and a quarter an acre that is now covered with buildings; but the rest are forgotten characters, except for a few sentences in the local chronicles respecting their notable bags of game.