The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 17/Number 101/Communication with the Pacific

The Atlantic Monthly  (1866) 
Communication with the Pacific by Charles Carleton Coffin

Featured in Volume 17, Number 101 of The Atlantic Monthly. (March 1866)


IT is remarkable that, while we have been fighting for national existence, there has been a constant growth of the Republic. This is not wholly due to the power of democratic ideas, but owing in part to the native wealth of the country,—its virgin soil, its mineral riches. So rapid has been the development that the maps of 1864 are obsolete in 1866. Civilization at a stride has moved a thousand miles, and taken possession of the home of the buffalo. Miners with pick and spade are tramping over the Rocky Mountains, exploring every ravine, digging canals, building mills, and rearing their log cabins. The merchant, the farmer, and the mechanic follow them. The long solitude of the centuries is broken by mill-wheels, the buzzing of saws, the stroke of the axe, the blow of the hammer and trowel. The stageman cracks his whip in the passes of the mountains. The click of the telegraph and the rumbling of the printing-press are heard at the head-waters of the Missouri, and borne on the breezes there is the laughter of children and the sweet music of Sabbath hymns, sung by the pioneers of civilization.

Communities do not grow by chance, but by the operation of physical laws. Position, climate, latitude, mountains, lakes, rivers, coal, iron, silver, and gold are forces which decree occupation, character, and the measure of power and influence which a people shall have among the nations. Rivers are natural highways of trade, while mountains are the natural barriers. The Atlantic coast is open everywhere to commerce; but on the Pacific shore, from British Columbia to Central America, the rugged wall of the coast mountains, cloud-capped and white with snow, rises sharp and precipitous from the sea, with but one river flowing outward from the heart of the continent. The statesman and the political economist who would truly cast the horoscope of our future must take into consideration the Columbia River, its latitude, its connection with the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Lakes, and the St. Lawrence.

How wonderful the development of the Pacific and Rocky Mountain sections of the public domain! In 1860 the population of California, Oregon, and the territories lying west of Kansas, was six hundred and twenty-three thousand; while the present population is estimated at one million, wanting only facility of communication with the States to increase in a far greater ratio.

In 1853 a series of surveys were made by government to ascertain the practicability of a railroad to the Pacific. The country, however, at that time, was not prepared to engage in such an enterprise; but now the people are calling for greater facility of communication with a section of the country abounding in mineral wealth.

Of the several routes surveyed, we shall have space in this article to notice only the line running from Lake to the head-waters of the Missouri, the Columbia, and Puget Sound, known as the Northern Pacific Railroad.

The public domain north of latitude 42°, through which it lies, comprises about seven hundred thousand square miles,—a territory larger than England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Holland, all the German States, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden.

The route surveyed by Governor Stevens runs north of the Missouri River, and crosses the mountains through Clark's Pass. Governor Stevens intended to survey another line up the valley of the Yellow Stone; and Lieutenant Mullan commenced a reconnoissance of the route when orders were received from Jeff Davis, then Secretary of War, to disband the engineering force.


Recent explorations indicate that the best route to the Pacific will be found up the valley of this magnificent river. The distances are as follows:—From the Mississippi above St. Paul to the western boundary of Minnesota, thence to Missouri River, two hundred and eighty miles, over the table-land known as the Plateau du Coteau du Missouri, where a road may be constructed with as much facility and as little expense as in the State of Illinois. Crossing the Missouri, the line strikes directly west to the Little Missouri,—the Wah-Pa-Chan-Shoka,—the heavy-timbered river of the Indians, one hundred and thirty miles. This river runs north, and enters the Missouri near its northern bend. Seventy miles farther carries us to the Yellow Stone. Following now the valley of this stream two hundred and eighty miles, the town of Gallatin is reached, at the junction of the Missouri Forks and at the head of navigation on that stream. The valley of the Yellow Stone is very fertile, abounding in pine, cedar, cotton-wood, and elm. The river has a deeper channel than the Missouri, and is navigable through the summer months. At the junction of the Big Horn, its largest tributary, two hundred and twenty miles from the mouth of the Yellow Stone, in midsummer there are ten feet of water. The Big Horn is reported navigable for one hundred and fifty miles. From Gallatin, following up the Jefferson Fork and Wisdom River, one hundred and forty miles, we reach the Big Hole Pass of the Rocky Mountains, where the line enters the valley of the St. Mary's, or Bitter Root Fork, which flows into the Columbia. The distance from Big Hole Pass to Puget Sound will be about five hundred and twenty miles, making the entire distance from St. Paul to Puget Sound about sixteen hundred miles, or one hundred and forty-three miles shorter than that surveyed by Governor Stevens. The distance from the navigable waters of the Missouri to the navigable waters of the Columbia is less than three hundred miles.


"Rivers are the natural highways of nations," says Humboldt. This route, then, is one of Nature's highways. The line is very direct. The country is mostly a rolling prairie, where a road may be constructed as easily as through the State of Iowa. It may be built with great rapidity. Parties working west from St. Paul and east from the Missouri would meet on the plains of Dacotah. Other parties working west from the Missouri and east from the Yellow Stone would meet on the "heavy-timbered river." Iron, locomotives, material of all kinds, provisions for laborers, can be delivered at any point along the Yellow Stone to within a hundred miles of the town of Gallatin, and they can be taken up the Missouri to that point by portage around the Great Falls. Thus the entire line east of the Rocky Mountains may be under construction at once, with iron and locomotives delivered by water transportation, with timber near at hand.

The character of the country is sufficient to maintain a dense population. It has always been the home of the buffalo, the favorite hunting-ground of the Indians. The grasses of the Yellow Stone Valley are tender and succulent. The climate is milder than that of Illinois. Warm springs gush up on the head-waters of the Yellow Stone. Lewis and Clark, on their return from the Columbia, boiled their meat in water heated by subterraneous fires. There are numerous beds of coal, and also petroleum springs.

"Large quantities of coal seen in the cliffs to-day,"[1] is a note in the diary of Captain Clark, as he sailed down the Yellow Stone, who also has this note regarding the country: "High waving plains, rich, fertile land, bordered by stony hills, partially supplied by pine."[2]

Of the country of the Big Horn he says: "It is a rich, open country, supplied with a great quantity of timber."

Coal abounds on the Missouri, where the proposed line crosses that stream.[3]

The gold mines of Montana, on the head-waters of the Missouri, are hardly surpassed for richness by any in the world. They were discovered in 1862. The product for the year 1865 is estimated at $16,000,000. The Salmon River Mines, west of the mountains, in Idaho, do not yield so fine a quality of gold, but are exceedingly rich.

Many towns have sprung into existence on both sides of the mountains. In Eastern Montana we have Gallatin, Beaver Head, Virginia, Nevada, Centreville, Bannock, Silver City, Montana, Jefferson, and other mining centres. In Western Montana, Labarge, Deer Lodge City, Owen, Higginson, Jordan, Frenchtown, Harrytown, and Hot Spring. Idaho has Boisee, Bannock City, Centreville, Warren, Richmond, Washington, Placerville, Lemhi, Millersburg, Florence, Lewiston, Craigs, Clearwater, Elk City, Pierce, and Lake City,—all mining towns.

A gentleman who has resided in the territory gives us the following information:—

"The southern portion of Montana Territory is mild; and from the testimony of explorers and settlers, as well as from my own experience and observation, the extreme northern portion is favored by a climate healthful to a high degree, and quite as mild as that of many of the Northern and Western States. This is particularly the case west of the mountains, in accordance with the well-known fact, that the isothermal line, or the line of heat, is farther north as you go westward from the Eastern States toward the Pacific.

"At Fort Benton [one hundred and thirty miles directly north from Gallatin], in about 48° of north latitude, a trading post of the American Fur Company, their horses and cattle, of which they have large numbers, are never housed or fed in winter, but get their own living without difficulty. . . . .

"Northeastern Montana is traversed by the Yellow Stone, whose source is high up in the mountains, from thence winding its way eastward across the Territory and flowing into the Missouri at Fort Union; thus crossing seven degrees of longitude, with many tributaries flowing into it from the south, in whose valleys, in connection with that of the Yellow Stone, there are hundreds of thousands of acres of tillable land, to say nothing of the tributaries of the Missouri, among which are the Jefferson, Madison, and Gallatin forks, along which settlements are springing up, and agriculture is becoming a lucrative business. These valleys are inviting to the settler. They are surrounded with hills and mountains, clad with pine, while a growth of cotton-wood skirts the meandering streams that everywhere flow through them, affording abundance of water-power.

"The first attempt at farming was made in the summer of 1863, which was a success, and indicates the productiveness of these valleys. Messrs. Wilson and Company broke thirty acres last spring, planting twelve acres of potatoes,—also corn, turnips, and a variety of garden sauce, all of which did well. The potatoes, they informed me, yielded two hundred bushels per acre, and sold in Virginia City, fifty miles distant, at twenty-five cents per pound, turnips at twenty cents, onions at forty cents, cabbage at sixty cents, peas and beans at fifty cents per pound in the pod, and corn at two dollars a dozen ears. Vines of all kinds seem to flourish; and we see no reason why fruit may not be grown here, as the climate is much more mild than in many of the States where it is a staple.

"The valley at the Three Forks, as also the valley along the streams, as they recede from the junction, are spacious, and yield a spontaneous growth of herbage, upon which cattle fatten during the winter. . . . .

"The Yellow Stone is navigable for several hundred miles from its mouth, penetrating the heart of the agricultural and mineral regions of Eastern Montana. . . . . The section is undulating, with ranges of mountains, clad with evergreens, between which are beautiful valleys and winding streams, where towns and cities will spring up to adorn these mountain retreats, and give room for expanding civilization. . . . .

"On the east side of the mountains the mines are rich beyond calculation, the yield thus far having equalled the most productive locality of California of equal extent. The Bannock or Grasshopper mines were discovered in July, 1862, and are situated on Grasshopper Creek, which is a tributary of the Jefferson fork of the Missouri. The mining district here extends five miles down the creek, from Bannock City, which is situated at the head of the gulch, while upon either side of the creek the mountains are intersected with gold-bearing quartz lodes, many of which have been found to be very rich. . . . .

"While gold has been found in paying quantities all along the Rocky chain, its deposits are not confined to this locality, but sweep across the country eastward some hundreds of miles, to the Big Horn Mountains. The gold discoveries there cover a large area of country."[4]

Governor Stevens says: "Voyagers travel all winter from Lake Superior to the Missouri, with horses and sleds, having to make their own roads, and are not deterred by snows."

Alexander Culbertson, the great voyager and trader of the Upper Missouri, who, for the last twenty years, has made frequent trips from St. Louis to Fort Benton, has never found the snow drifted enough to interfere with travelling. The average depth is twelve inches, and frequently it does not exceed six.[5]

Through such a country, east of the mountains, lies the shortest line of railway between the Atlantic and Pacific,—a country rich in mineral wealth, of fertile soil, mild climate, verdant valleys, timbered hills, arable lands yielding grains and grass, with mountain streams for the turning of mill-wheels, rich coal beds, and springs of petroleum!


There are several passes at the head-waters of the Missouri which may be used;—the Hell-Gate Pass; the Deer Lodge; and the Wisdom River, or Big Hole, as it is sometimes called, which leads into the valley of the Bitter Root, or St. Mary's. The Big Hole is thus described by Lieutenant Mullan:—

"The descent towards the Missouri side is very gradual; so much so, that, were it not for the direction taken by the waters, it might be considered an almost level prairie country."[6]

Governor Stevens thus speaks of the valley of the Bitter Root:—

"The faint attempts made by the Indians at cultivating the soil have been attended with good success; and fair returns might be expected of all such crops as are adapted to the Northern States of our country. The pasturage grounds are unsurpassed. The extensive bands of horses, owned by the Flathead Indians occupying St. Mary's village, on the Bitter Root River, thrive well winter and summer. One hundred horses, belonging to the exploration, are wintered in the valley; and up to the 9th of March the grass was fair, but little snow had fallen, and the weather was mild. The oxen and cows, owned here by the half-breeds and Indians, obtain good feed, and are in good condition."[7]

This village of St Mary's is sixty miles down the valley from the Big Hole Pass; yet, though so near, snow seldom falls, and the grass is so verdant that horses and cattle subsist the year round on the natural pasturage.

Lieutenant Mullan says of it: "The fact of the exceedingly mild winters in this valley has been noticed and remarked by all who have ever been in it during the winter season. It is the home of the Flathead Indians, who, through the instrumentality and exertions of the Jesuit priests, have built up a village,—not of logs, but of houses,—where they repair every winter, and, with this valley covered with an abundance of rich and nutritious grass, they live as comfortably as any tribe west of the Rocky Mountains. . . . .

"The numerous mountain rivulets, tributary to the Bitter Root River, that run through the valley, afford excellent and abundant mill-seats; and the land bordering these is fertile and productive, and has been found, beyond cavil or doubt, to be well suited to every branch of agriculture. I have seen oats, grown by Mr. John Owen, that are as heavy and as excellent as any I have ever seen in the States; and the same gentleman informs me that he has grown excellent wheat, and that, from his experience while in the mountains, he hesitated not in saying that agriculture might be carried on here in all its numerous branches, and to the exceeding great interest and gain of those engaged in it. The valley and mountain slopes are well timbered with an excellent growth of pine, which is equal, in every respect, to the well-known pine of Oregon. The valley is not only capable of grazing immense bands of stock of every kind, but is also capable of supporting a dense population.

"The provisions of Nature here, therefore, are on no small scale, and of no small importance; and let those who have imagined—as some have been bold to say it—that there exists only one immense bed of mountains at the head-waters of the Missouri to the Cascade Range, turn their attention to this section, and let them contemplate its advantages and resources, and ask themselves, since these things exist, can it be long before public attention shall be attracted and fastened upon this heretofore unknown region?"[8]


We have been accustomed to think of the Rocky Mountains as an impassable barrier, as a wild, dreary solitude, where the storms of winter piled the mountain passes with snow. How different the fact! In 1852-53, from the 28th of November to the 10th of January, there were but twelve inches of snow in the pass. The recorded observations during the winter of 1861-62 give the following measurements in the Big Hole Pass: December 4, eighteen inches; January 10, fourteen; January 14, ten; February 16, six; March 21, none.

We have been told that there could be no winter travel across the mountains,—that the snow would lie in drifts fifteen or twenty feet deep; but instead, there is daily communication by teams through the Big Hole Pass every day in the year! The belt of snow is narrow, existing only in the Pass.

Says Lieutenant Mullan, in his late Report on the wagon road: "The snow will offer no great obstacle to travel, with horses or locomotives, from the Missouri to the Columbia."

This able and efficient government officer, in the same Report, says of this section of the country:—

"The trade and travel along the Upper Columbia, where several steamers now ply between busy marts, of themselves attest what magical effects the years have wrought. Besides gold, lead for miles is found along the Kootenay. Red hermatite, iron ore, traces of copper, and plumbago are found along the main Bitter Root. Cinnabar is said to exist along the Hell Gate. Coal is found along the Upper Missouri, and a deposit of cannel coal near the Three Butts, northwest of Fort Benton, is also said to exist. Iron ore has been found on Thompson's farms on the Clark's Fork. Sulphur is found on the Loo Loo Fork, and on the tributaries of the Yellow Stone, and coal oil is said to exist on the Big Horn. . . . . These great mineral deposits must have an ultimate bearing upon the location of the Pacific Railroad, adding, as they will, trade, travel, and wealth to its every mile when built. . . . .

"The great depots for building material exist principally in the mountain sections, but the plains on either side are not destitute in that particular. All through the Bitter Root and Rocky Mountains, the finest white and red cedar, white pine, and red fir that I ever have seen are found."[9]


The geological formation of the heart of the continent promises to open a rich field for scientific exploration and investigation. The Wind River Mountain, which divides the Yellow Stone from the Great Basin, is a marked and distinct geological boundary. From the northern slope flow the tributaries of the Yellow Stone, fed by springs of boiling water, which perceptibly affect the temperature of the region, clothing the valleys with verdure, and making them the winter home of the buffalo,—the favorite hunting-grounds of the Indians,—while the streams which flow from the southern slope of the mountains are alkaline, and, instead of luxuriant vegetation, there are vast regions covered with wild sage and cactus. They run into the Great Salt Lake, and have no outlet to the ocean. A late writer, describing the geological features of that section, says:—

"Upon the great interior desert streams and fuel are almost unknown. Wells must be very deep, and no simple and cheap machinery adequate to drawing up the water is yet invented. Cultivation, to a great extent, must be carried on by irrigation."[10]

Such are the slopes of the mountains which form the rim of the Great Basin, while the valley of the Yellow Stone is literally the land which buds and blossoms like the rose. The Rosebud River is so named because the valley through which it meanders is a garden of roses.

And here, along the head-waters of the Yellow Stone and its tributaries, at the northern deflection of the Wind River chain of mountains, flows a river of hot wind, which is not only one of the most remarkable features of the climatology of the continent, but which is destined to have a great bearing upon the civilization of this portion of the continent. St. Joseph in Missouri, in latitude 40°, has the same mean temperature as that at the base of the Rocky Mountains in latitude 47°! The high temperature of the hot boiling springs warms the air which flows northwest along the base of the mountains, sweeping through the Big Hole Pass, the Deer Lodge, Little Blackfoot, and Mullan Pass, giving a delightful winter climate to the valley of the St. Mary's, or Bitter Root. It flows like the Gulf Stream of the Atlantic. Says Captain Mullan: "On its either side, north and south, are walls of cold air, and which are so clearly perceptible that you always detect the river when you are on its shores."[11]

This great river of heat always flowing is sufficient to account for the slight depth of snow in the passes at the head-waters of the Missouri, which have an altitude of six thousand feet. The South Pass has an altitude of seven thousand eight hundred and eighty-nine feet. The passes of the Wasatch Range, on the route to California, are higher by three thousand feet than those at the head-waters of the Missouri, and, not being swept by a stream of hot air, are filled with snows during the winter months. The passes at the head-waters of the Saskatchawan, in the British possessions, though a few hundred feet lower than those at the head-waters of the Missouri, are not reached by the heated Wind River, and are impassable in winter. Even Cadotte's Pass, through which Governor Stevens located the line of the proposed road, is outside of the heat stream, so sharp and perpendicular are its walls.

Captain Mullan says: "From whatsoever cause it arises, it exists as a fact that must for all time enter as an element worthy of every attention in lines of travel and communication from the Eastern plains to the North Pacific."[12]


That this line is the natural highway of the continent is evident from other considerations. The distances between the centres of trade and San Francisco, and with Puget Sound, will appear from the following tabular statement:—

Approximate Distances.

to San Franciscoto Puget SoundDifference
Chicago2,448 miles[13]1,906 miles542 miles
St. Louis2,345 "1,981 "364 "
Cincinnati2,685 "2,200 "486 "
New York3,417 "2,892 "525 "
Boston3,484 "2,942 "542 "

The line to Puget Sound will require no tunnel in the pass of the Rocky Mountains. The approaches of the Big Hole and Deer Lodge in both directions are eminently feasible, requiring little rock excavation, and with no grades exceeding eighty feet per mile.

All of the places east of the latitude of Chicago, and north of the Ohio River, are from three hundred to five hundred and fifty miles nearer the Pacific at Puget Sound than at San Francisco,—due to greater directness of the route and the shortening of longitude. These on both lines are the approximate distances. The distance from Puget Sound to St. Louis is estimated—via Desmoines—on the supposition that the time will come when that line of railway will extend north far enough to intersect with the North Pacific.


The census of 1860 gives thirty thousand miles of railroad in operation, which cost, including land damages, equipment, and all charges of construction, $37,120 per mile. The average cost of fifteen New England roads, including the Boston and Lowell, Boston and Maine, Vermont Central, Western, Eastern, and Boston and Providence, was $36,305 per mile. In the construction of this line, there will be no charge for land damages, and nothing for timber, which exists along nearly the entire line. But as iron and labor command a higher price than when those roads were constructed, there should be a liberal estimate. Lieutenant Mullan, in his late Report upon the Construction of the Wagon Road, discusses the probability of a railroad at length, and with much ability. His highest estimate for any portion of the line is sixty thousand dollars per mile,—an estimate given before civilization made an opening in the wilderness. There is no reason to believe that this line will be any more costly than the average of roads in the United States.

In 1850 there were 7,355 miles of road in operation; in 1860, 30,793; showing that 2,343 miles per annum were constructed by the people of the United States. The following table shows the number of miles built in each year from 1853 to 1856, together with the cost of the same.

18522,541$ 94,000,000
Total expenditure for five years,$554,507,000

This exhibit is sufficient to indicate that there need be no question of our financial ability to construct the road.

In 1856, the country had expended $776,000,000 in the construction of railroads, incurring a debt of about $300,000,000. The entire amount of stock and bonds held abroad at that time was estimated at only $81,000,000.[14]


The desire of the people for the speedy opening of this great national highway is manifested by the action of the government, which, by act of Congress, July 2, 1864, granted the alternate sections of land for twenty miles on each side of the road in aid of the enterprise. The land thus appropriated amounts to forty-seven million acres,—more than is comprised in the States of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and New York! If all of these lands were sold at the price fixed by government,—$2.50 per acre,—they would yield $118,000,000,—a sum sufficient to build and equip the road. But years must elapse before these lands can be put upon the market, and the government, undoubtedly, will give the same aid to this road which has already been given to the Central Pacific Road, guaranteeing the bonds or stock of the company, and taking a lien on the road for security. Such bonds would at once command the necessary capital for building the road.


Puget Sound, with its numerous inlets, is a deep indentation of the Pacific coast, one hundred miles north of the Columbia. It has spacious harbors, securely land-locked, with a surrounding country abounding in timber, with exhaustless beds of coal, rich in agricultural resources, and with numerous mill-streams. Nature has stamped it with her seal, and set it apart to be the New England of the Pacific coast.

That portion of the country is to be peopled by farmers, mechanics, and artisans. California is rich in mineral wealth. Her valleys and mountain-slopes yield abundant harvests; but she has few mill-streams, and is dependent upon Oregon and Washington for her coal and lumber. An inferior quality of coal is mined at Mount Diablo in California; but most of the coal consumed in that State is brought from Puget Sound. Hence Nature has fixed the locality of the future manufacturing industry of the Pacific. Puget Sound is nearer than San Francisco, by several hundred miles, to Japan, China, and Australia. It is therefore the natural port of entry and departure for our Pacific trade. It has advantages over San Francisco, not only in being nearer to those countries, but in having coal near at hand, which settles the question of the future steam marine of the Pacific.

Passengers, goods of high cost, and bills of exchange, move on the shortest and quickest lines of travel. No business man takes the way-train in preference to the express. Sailing vessels make the voyage from Puget Sound to Shanghai in from thirty to forty days. Steamers will make it in twenty.


Far-seeing men in England are looking forward to the time when the trade between that country and the Pacific will be carried on across this continent. Colonel Synge, of the Queen's Royal Engineers, says:—

"America is geographically a connecting link between the continents of Europe and Asia, and not a monstrous barrier between them. It lies in the track of their nearest and best connection; and this fact needs only to be fully recognized to render it in practice what it unquestionably is in the essential points of distance and direction."[15]

Another English writer says:—

"It is believed that the amount of direct traffic which would be created between Australia, China, and Japan, and England, by a railway from Halifax to the Gulf of Georgia, would soon more than cover the interest upon the capital expended. . . . . If the intended railway were connected with a line of steamers plying between Victoria (Puget Sound), Sydney, or New Zealand, mails, quick freight, passengers to and from our colonies in the southern hemisphere, would, for the most part, be secured for this route.

"Vancouver's Island is nearer to Sydney than Panama by nine hundred miles; and, with the exception of the proposed route by a Trans-American railway, the latter is the most expeditious that has been found.

"By this interoceanic communication, the time to New Zealand would be reduced to forty-two, and to Sydney to forty-seven days, being at least ten less than by steam from England via Panama."[16]

Lord Bury says:—

"Our trade [English] in the Pacific Ocean with China and with India must ultimately be carried through our North American possessions. At any rate, our political and commercial supremacy will have utterly departed from us, if we neglect that great and important consideration, and if we fail to carry out to its fullest extent the physical advantages which the country offers to us, and which we have only to stretch out our hands to take advantage of."[17]

Shanghai is rapidly becoming the great commercial emporium of China. It is situated at the mouth of the Yangtse-Kiang, the largest river of Asia, navigable for fifteen hundred miles. Hong-Kong, which has been the English centre in China, is nine hundred and sixty miles farther south.

With a line of railway across this continent, the position of England would be as follows:—

"""Puget Sound,33"

Mr. Maciff divides the time as follows by the Puget Sound route:—

Southampton to Halifax,9days.
Halifax to Puget Sound,6"
Puget Sound to Hong-Kong,21"

The voyage by Suez is made in the Peninsular and Oriental line of steamers. The passage is proverbially comfortless,—through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, across the Bay of Bengal, through the Straits of Malacca, and up the Chinese coast, under a tropical sun. Bayard Taylor thus describes the trip down the Red Sea:—

"We had a violent head-wind, or rather gale. Yet, in spite of this current of air, the thermometer stood at 85° on deck, and 90° in the cabin. For two or three days we had a temperature of 90° to 95°. This part of the Red Sea is considered to be the hottest portion of the earth's surface. In the summer the air is like that of a furnace, and the bare red mountains glow like heaps of live coals. The steamers at that time almost invariably lose some of their firemen and stewards. Cooking is quite given up."[18]

Bankok, Singapore, and Java can be reached more quickly from England by Puget Sound than by Suez.

Notwithstanding the discomforts of the passage down the Red Sea, the steamers are always overcrowded with passengers, and loaded to their utmost capacity with freight. The French line, the Messageries Imperials de France, has been established, and is fully employed. Both lines pay large dividends.

The growth of the English trade with China during the last sixteen years has been very rapid. Tea has increased 1300 per cent, and silk 950.[19]

The trade between the single port of Shanghai and England and America in the two great staples of export is seen from the following statement of the export of tea and silk from that port from July 1, 1859, to July 1, 1860:—

Tea, lbs.Silk, bales.
Great Britain,31,621,00019,084
United States,18,299,0001,554

The total value of exports from England to China in 1860 was $26,590,000. Says Colonel Sykes:—

"Our trade with China resolves itself into our taking almost exclusively from them teas and raw silk, and their taking from us cotton, cotton yarns, and woollens."[20]

The exports of the United States to the Pacific in 1861 were as follows:—

To China,$5,809,724
Islands of the Pacific484,000

By the late treaty between the United States and China, that empire is thrown open to trade; and already a large fleet of American-built steamers is afloat on the gleaming waters of the Yang-tse. Mr. Burlingame, our present Minister, is soon to take his departure for that empire, with instructions to use his utmost endeavor to promote friendly relations between the two countries. That this country is to have an immense trade with China is evident from the fact that no other country can compete with us in the manufacture of coarse cotton goods, which, with cotton at its normal price, will be greatly sought after by the majority of the people of that country, who of necessity are compelled to wear the cheapest clothing.

Shanghai is the silk emporium of the empire. A ton of silk goods is worth from ten to fifteen thousand dollars. Nearly all of the silk is now shipped by the Peninsular and Oriental line, at a charge of $125 to $150 per ton; and notwithstanding these exorbitant rates, Shanghai merchants are compelled to make written application weeks in advance, and accept proportional allotments for shipping. In May, 1863, the screw-steamer Bahama made the trip from Foochow to London in eighty days with a cargo of tea, and obtained sixty dollars per ton, while freights by sailing vessels were but twenty dollars; the shippers being willing to pay forty dollars per ton for forty days' quicker delivery. With the Northern Pacific line constructed, the British importer could receive his Shanghai goods across this continent in fifty days, and at a rate lower than by the Peninsular line.

The route by the Peninsular line runs within eighty miles of the Equator; and the entire voyage is through a tropical climate, which injures the flavor of the tea. Hence the high price of the celebrated "brick tea," brought across the steppes of Russia. The route by Puget Sound is wholly through temperate latitudes, across a smooth and peaceful sea, seldom vexed by storms, and where currents, like the Gulf Stream of Mexico, and favoring trade-winds, may be taken advantage of by vessels plying between that port and the Asiatic coast.

Japan is only four thousand miles distant from Puget Sound. The teas and silks of that country are rapidly coming into market. Coal is found there, and on the island of Formosa, and up the Yang-tse.


The climate of Puget Sound is thus set forth by an English writer, who has passed several months at Victoria:—

"From October to March we are liable to frequent rains; but this period of damp is ever and anon relieved by prolonged intervals of bright dry weather. In March, winter gives signs of taking its departure, and the warm breath of spring begins to cover the trees with tinted buds and the fields with verdure. . . . . The sensations produced by the aspects of nature in May are indescribably delightful. The freshness of the air, the warbling of birds, the clearness of the sky, the profusion and fragrance of wild roses, the widespread, variegated hues of buttercups and daisies, the islets and violets, together with the distant snow-peaks bursting upon the view, combine in that month to fill the mind with enchantment unequalled out of Paradise. I know gentlemen who have lived in China, Italy, Canada, and England; but, after a residence of some years in Vancouver Island, they entertained a preference for the climate of the colony which approached affectionate enthusiasm."[21]

The climate of the whole section through which the line passes is milder than that of the Grand Trunk line. The lowest degree of temperature in 1853—54 at Quebec was 29 below zero; Montreal, 34; St. Paul, 36; Bitter Root Valley, forty miles from Big Hole Pass, 20.

In 1858 a party of Royal Engineers, under Captain Pallissir, surveyed the country of the Saskatchawan for a line to Puget Sound which should lie wholly within the British possessions. They found a level and fertile country, receding to the very base of the mountains, and a practicable pass, of less altitude than those at the head-waters of the Missouri; but in winter the snow is deep and the climate severe. That section of Canada north of Superior is an unbroken, uninhabitable wilderness. The character of the region is thus set forth by Agassiz. He says:—

"Unless the mines should attract and support a population, one sees not how this region should ever be inhabited. Its stern and northern character is shown in nothing more clearly than in the scarcity of animals. The woods are silent, and as if deserted. One may walk for hours without hearing an animal sound; and when he does, it is of a wild and lonely character. . . . . It is like being transported to the early ages of the earth, when mosses and pines had just begun to cover the primeval rock, and the animals as yet ventured timidly forth into the new world."[22]


The census returns of the United States indicate that, thirty-four years hence, in the year 1900, the population of this country will exceed one hundred millions. What an outlook! The country a teeming hive of industry; innumerable sails whitening the Western Ocean; unnumbered steamers ploughing its peaceful waters; great cities in the unexplored solitudes of to-day; America the highway of the nations; and New York the banking-house of the world!

This is the age of the people. They are the sovereigns of the future. It is the age of ideas. The people of America stand on the threshold of a new era. We are to come in contact with a people numbering nearly half the population of the globe, claiming a nationality dating back to the time of Moses. A hundred thousand Chinese are in California and Oregon, and every ship sailing into the harbor of San Francisco brings its load of emigrants from Asia. What is to be the effect of this contact with the Orient upon our civilization? What the result of this pouring in of emigrants from every country of the world,—of all languages, manners, customs, nationalities, and religions? Can they be assimilated into a homogeneous mass? These are grave questions, demanding the earnest and careful consideration of every Christian, philanthropist, and patriot. We have fought for existence, and have a name among the nations. But we have still the nation to save. Railroads, telegraphs, steamships, printing-presses, schools, platforms, and pulpits are the agents of modern civilization. Through them we are to secure unity, strength, and national life. Securing these, Asia may send over her millions of idol-worshippers without detriment to ourselves. With these, America is to give life to the long-slumbering Orient.

So ever toward the setting sun the course of empire takes its way,—not the empire of despotism, but of life, liberty,—of civilization and the Christian religion.

  1. Lewis and Clark's Expedition to the Columbia, Vol. II. p. 392.
  2. Ibid., p. 397.
  3. See Pacific Railroad Report, Vol. I. p. 239.
  4. Idaho: Six Months among the New Gold Diggings, by J. L. Campbell, pp. 15-28.
  5. Pacific Railroad Report, Vol. I. p. 130.
  6. Ibid., Vol. XII. p. 169.
  7. Governor Stevens's Report of the Pacific Railroad Survey.
  8. Pacific Railroad Survey. Lieutenant Mullan's Report.
  9. Lieutenant Mullan's Report on the Construction of Wagon Road from Fort Benton to Walla-Walla, p. 45.
  10. New York Tribune, December 2, 1865, correspondence of "A. D. R."
  11. Report of Captain Mullan, p. 54.
  12. Report of Captain Mullan, p. 54.
  13. Hall's Guide,—via Omaha, Denver, and Salt Lake.
  14. Report of the Secretary of the Treasury, 1857.
  15. Paper read before the British North American Association, July 21, 1864.
  16. Vancouver's Island and British Columbia, Maciff, p. 343.
  17. Speech by Lord Bury, quoted by Maciff.
  18. India, China, and Japan, p. 23.
  19. Statistical Journal, 1862.
  20. Statistical Journal, 1862, p. 15.
  21. Vancouver and British Columbia, Maciff, p. 179.
  22. Agassiz, Lake Superior, p. 124.

This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.