LETTER FROM MARK TWAIN.
Immense Emigration to California -- The Labor Exchange, and What It Has Done.
Changes in the Manner of Life in California.
The Panama Railroad -- How Americans get up a Revolution on the Isthmus.
Hartford, Conn. -- The Paradise of Insurance Mon.
ONE OR TWO CALIFORNIA ITEMS
Special Correspondence of the Chicago Republican.
New York, Aug. 17, 1868
We had a pleasant voyage from California. The travel to and fro has diminished considerably, for it has its regular seasons, and the season is over for the present. It will open again in a few months. The exodus of people from the Atlantic States to California within the past nine months, has been something surprising. The ships of the Pacific Mail Company carried 40,000 persons to San Francisco during that time. The ships of the Opposition Line must have carried about half as many. The former company dispatches four steamers a month, and the latter company two. The officers of the ship I came in from the Isthmus said the last was the lightest passenger trip out ward from New York they had had for eight months, and yet they had up ward of eight hundred persons on board. During more months than one, their passenger list reached about 5,000. When I went out in this vessel five months ago, she had 1,200 souls on board, less fifteen. This grand "rush" to California of 60,000 people in nine months provokes little or no remark, now -- but was the "rush" of '49 greater?
Several things contributed toward inaugurating this new flight of the people westward. California and Oregon suddenly sprang to a considerable importance as wheat producing States -- the brand of the former taking to itself the chief rank in the Eastern markets and still holding it. Farms could be purchased at reasonable figures in both States. Both climates possessed inviting features. The opening of the great China mail line of steamers, and the rapid advancement being made toward the completion of the Pacific rail road suggested that broad, new fields of labor, capital, and enterprise would be thrown open shortly on the Western seaboard and continue to widen and augment in importance with every voyage of the steamers and every section added to the railway. There were contributors; but the chief contributors to the exodus were the untoward condition of things in the Atlantic States last year, and the reduction of fares on the California steamers. Just in the midst of the sorest distress of the winter, when mills and factories were suspending work and thousands of men were being thrown out of employment just too late to enjoy the eight hour system and the augmented wages they had fought so manfully for, the Opposition line and the regular mail line of California steamers began a system of mutual throat-cutting, in the matter of freights and fares, which has continued to the present time. First cabin fares suddenly came down from $400 or $500 to a $150 -- steerage fares even be low $50, often. It was cheaper to spend three weeks at sea between here and California, than to stay at home. Swarms of men who were idle, and who saw no prospect of employment in the States, found California forced upon their attention all at once. There was a great demand there for workingmen of all descriptions; the wages were excellent; transportation thither was cheap. Sixty thousand men seized up on this inviting opportunity to better their fortunes.
The Pacific steamers still carry 3,000 emigrants out of New York every month, and the prospect is good that the "rush" will begin again with the opening of the new season -- say about February. Has the Pacific coast found employment for these people? Yes. For every one that asked it. It can find work for as many more, I think. It need not be supposed that all these emigrants have remained in California. On the contrary, probably half the number, or more, have spread themselves abroad over Oregon, Washington Territory, the British possessions, Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana, and a few have straggled to Japan and China. San Francisco was bewildered for awhile. She found herself besieged by a vast army of unexpected visitors, many of them without a cent, and she did not know what to do with them. As St. Paul justly remarks, in his epistle to the Fenians, "Necessity is the mother of invention." The business men of San Francisco invented the California Labor Exchange. It proved equal to the emergency. For the past six or seven months it has found labor and the customary wages for from fifteen hundred to two thousand immigrants a month -- her full share of the immigration. The others scattered abroad, as I have said. The Labor Exchange not only found employment for fifty, sixty, or seventy men a day, when I left San Francisco, the demand upon it for various classes of laborers and mechanics was greater than the supply. Every "steamer day" (incoming) its offices were crowded with immigrants. They were sent to work in mines, mills, factories, on railroads, and in shops. Yet, still there were orders on the books that could not be filled, as I have just said. With the present light trips of the steamers (500 passengers) the Exchange finds its labors exceedingly light, no doubt.
California is a very good State to go to. It is not so speculative a country as it was, in matters of pure business. It has sobered down considerably and taken upon itself the steady-going habits of legitimate trade and commerce. Formerly, to be a Californian was to be a speculator. A man could not help it. One man tried to be otherwise, but he was only kicking against fate. While everybody was wild with a spirit of speculation, and full of plans for making sudden fortunes, he said he would just farm along quietly, and slowly gain a modest competency, and so be happy. But his first crop of onions happened to be about the only onions produced that year. He sold it for a hundred thousand dollars and retired. People who buy San Francisco lots now cannot help being speculators, any more than if they bought Chicago lots; but I mean that wild speculations in candles, rice, mining stocks, and such things, are not nearly so much in order now as they were formerly. The same remark will apply to the sister State of Nevada. The bullion yield of the two States combined, for the present year, will reach $50,000,000, possibly more. At present prices the California wheat crop for the present year would sell for about $60,000,000, greenbacks. California wheat is worth from forty to fifty cents more here, than any other brand, if I read the market reports aright.
I have been led to write this chapter, from seeing several flings, in the Eastern papers, at the absurdity of emigrating to the Pacific coast. In view of the fact that the emigrants were about as badly off here, as they could well be, and yet were being furnished with work and good wages as fast as they landed in San Francisco, it seemed to me that the point of order of the Eastern press was not well taken.
As far as California politics are concerned, I can only say that everything was promising that the State would go Republican at the Presidential election.
Mr. Colfax made himself very popular when he was out there a few years ago, and the fact that he has been so useful an Odd Fellow is something in his favor in a State where that order flourishes so luxuriantly as it does in California. Besides, the election of Gov. Haight was not strictly a Democratic victory. The Republican candidate was very unpopular, even with his own party, while Mr. Haight stood well with all.
I wish to talk of this far-off land of California while yet I may. This is the last opportunity I shall have of speaking of it in that sense, for by next May, or at least by next July, it will have been hauled over all the mountains by the locomotives of the Pacific railroad, till it will be so near Chicago that you can see it with a good spy-glass on a clear day. And you can visit it in five days then.
A Railroad Mint -- What the Legend Says
This item about railroads suggests that wonderful enterprise, the Panama railroad. We took the train at Panama, clattered for two or three hours through a tangled wilderness of tropical vegetation, and discharged ourselves in Aspinwall. It is only forty-five miles. Going and coming, that little road has carried about 100,000 passengers for the California steamers during the past twelve months -- and charged every soul of them twenty-five dollars fare. About 70,000 of them paid twenty-five dollars apiece in gold; the thirty thousand paid twenty-five apiece, also, but whether it was in gold or greenbacks, I cannot say. One could travel by rail from New York to Chicago -- about 1,100 miles, I think it is -- for less money, when I went over the route last. The road charged them for extra baggage, too. It charges like smoke for freight, likewise. Ten cents a pound for ordinary freights, I am told. It does a heavy freight and passenger business for the French and English lines of steamers in addition. Its stock stands at a premium of 240 in the New York board. It is probably the best railroad stock in the world.
It was a hard road to build. The tropical fevers slaughtered the laborers by wholesale. It is a popular saying, that every railroad tie from Panama to Aspinwall rests upon a corpse. It ought to be a substantial road, being so well provided with sleepers -- eternal ones and otherwise. It is claimed that this small railroad enterprise cost the lives of 10,000 men. It is possible.
I have been told some things which I will jot down here, not vouching for their truth. The Panama railroad was an American project, in the first place. Then the English got a commanding interest in it, and it became an English enterprise. They grew somewhat sick of it, and it began to swap back until it became American again. The Americans finished it. It proved a good investment. But the right of way granted by the Colombian States was limited to only a few years. The American tried to get the term extended. But they were not particularly popular with the Governments of the Isthmus, and could not succeed. Delegations of heavy guns were sent down, but they could not prevail. They offered a few millions of dollars and Government transportation free. President Mosquiera declined. The English saw an opportunity, now. They made an effort to secure to themselves the right of way whose term was so soon to expire. They were popular with the Isthmian chiefs. They made the Central Governments some valuable presents -- gunboats and such things. They were progressing handsomely. Things looked gloomy for Americans.
Possibly you know that they have a "revolution" in Central America every time the moon changes. All you have to do is to get out in the street, in Panama or Aspinwall and give a whoop, and the thing is done. Shout, down with the Administration! and up with somebody else, and revolution follows. Nine-tenths of the people break for home, slam the doors behind them, and get under the bed. The other tenth go and overturn the Government and banish the officials, from President down to notary public. Then for the next thirty days they inquire anxiously of all comers what sort of a stir their little shivaree made in Europe and America! By that time the next revolution is ready to be touched off, and out they go.
Very well; two American gentlemen, who were well acquainted with the Isthmus people and their ways, were commissioned by the Panama Railroad Company, about the time of the opposition English effort, to go down to the Isthmus and make a final trial for an extension of the right of way franchise. Did they take treasure boxes along? Did they take gun boats? Did they take other royal persuaders of like description? Quite the contrary. They took down twelve hundred baskets of champagne and a ship-load of whisky. In three days they had the entire population as drunk as lords, the President in jail, the National Congress crazy with delirium tremens, and a gorgeous revolution in full blast! In three more they were at sea again with the document of an extension of the railroad franchise to ninety-nine years in their pockets, procured for and in consideration of the sum of three millions of dollars in coin and transportation of Isthmian stores and soldiers over the road free of charge. How's that?
That is the legend. That is as one hears it in idle gossip with steamer employees, about the ship's decks on lazy moonlight nights at sea. I don't know whether it is true or not. I don't care, either. I only know that the American company have got the franchise extended to ninety-nine years, and that all parties concerned are satisfied and agreeable.
A GENUINE OLD SALT
Anchored in the harbor of Panama we found the Opposition Steamer, America, in command of Capt. Ned Wakeman, "mariner for forty years." I made a voyage with him once. It was very late at night, but we borrowed the Captain's gig and boat's crew and went out and paid the old gentleman a visit. He was as tempestuous of exterior, as hearty of manner and as stormy of voice as ever, -- and just as good a man as exists anywhere. His legs, and arms, and back, and breast, were just as splendid as ever with grand red and blue anchors, and ships and flags, and goddesses of liberty, done in the perfection of the tattooing art. A stranger would have thought his ship's crew must be at least a mile away when he shouted:
"Bear a hand there, men! Stand by to take that painter! Assist the gentleman up! Glad to see you -- glad to see you all, gentlemen! You are as welcome as the flowers of May!"
We sat down in his private cabin.
"You have been lying up here at anchor a good while, Capt. Wakeman. You must be getting tired of it."
"Tired of it! It's no name for it, sir -- no name for it. Been here six months sir. Never was so tired of a ship before since I made my first voyage, sir. Since I made my first voyage. I didn't know what ships was then. I went down to New York City; never been out of the interior of the State before. But I wanted to go to sea, you know. I been a reading all sorts of cussed bosh about sailors, and voyages, and adventures, and I thought it was be-autiful, don't you see? beautiful! Found some more boys there from different places, and they wanted to go to sea. We cruised around the streets awhile, and one day we see an old gentleman -- a venerable, noble looking old Daniel-come-to-judgment he was, -- and when he backed his sails and ranged up alongside and give us a friendly hail, I knowed that a man with that figure and that voice couldn't own less than seven churches -- I knowed it, sir. He smiled a smile, he did, that was as lovely as Barnegat light in a storm, and he put his hand down gently on my head, so, and says as sweet as syrien:
" 'Wouldn't you like to go on a beautiful voyage to sea, my son?'
" 'Yes, sir,' says I -- 'we all would.'
" 'Ah -- noble boys -- noble youths. What is your name, my little man?'
" 'Edward, sir -- Edward Wakeman.'
" 'Ah -- Edward. Beautiful name. Had a dear brother once by the name of Edward. Dead now. Oh, God. Where do you come from, Edward ?'
" 'Come from the interior, sir.'
" 'Ah -- from the interior, is it? Lovely country -- lovely. Had a cherished nephew born in the interior once. And what is your name, my little man?'
" 'Johnny, sir -- Johnny Barker.'
" 'Ah -- Johnny. Touching name. One of the blessed apostles named Johnny. And where do you come from, Johnny ?'
" 'Connecticut, sir.'
" 'Connecticut, did you say? Ah, happy clime -- glorious clime how I have longed to visit that celestial spot. And what is your name, my little man?'
" 'Augustus William Mayberry, sir!'
" 'Augustus William. Stately name -- beautiful name. Had a beloved relative by the name of Augustus William. Tore up in a carding machine. Oh, God! -- And where do you come from, Augustus ?'
" 'New Hampshire, sir.'
" 'Let me embrace you, noble State -- banner State of the world. Had a worshipped uncle hung there once unjustly -- unjustly. Well now, Edward and Johnny -- beautiful name -- name of blessed disciple and Augustus William -- get your little things ready, and take 'em aboard the 'Polly,' down at the slip. And get you some nice warm mittens, and some nice warm socks, to keep your little hands and feet warm when we're going round the Horn. That's all you'll want. Because when we get up in the Pacific it'll be all warm and delightful and beautiful, like a Garding of Eden, clear up to rellums of eternal summer, where the whales are that we're agoing after.'
"I never felt so happy in my life, sir -- never since I was born, sir. Loved that hoary, venerable old angel as if he was my father, sir. On board the ship, agoing out of that harbor, he was a feeding us boys on raisins, and a beaming on us, and a-Johnnying and Augustus-Williaming us, to that degree that we was intoxicated with happiness, as you might say. Clear up to the minute the pilot's painter was let go, sir. But the minute that pilot was gone, and that pilot boat p'inted towards New York, and the 'Polly' a-scudding for the Equator, he was a different man! He catched the nigger steward by the top of the head and bounced him on the deck a couple of times, and says: "You miserable charcoal hound! Wanted to quit the ship at the last minute, because your family's sick, did you! I'll learn you, you mangy, lying, thieving, off-spring of a tar-barrell! Take that, and see how you like it!"
"And he bounced him again. Next he tackled a sailor, and says:
" 'You sneaking worthless brute! You want to go shore and buy coffee to drink because the ship don't furnish it, do you! I'll learn you, you hog! Smell of that! -- and that! -- and that! you lubber!
And he caved his head in on three sides with a belaying pin, till it was the shape of a plug hot that's been through the wars. Then he made just three jumps aft as high as the yard-arm, and came down a belching fire and smoke, and a-shaking himself up, and a-sawing his arms around like he had a thunderstorm tearing him up inside and says:
" 'You Connecticut son of a thief! Up to that main truck in a jiffy! You New Hampshire ashcat! shin up that mizzenm'st! Goin' to stand around here and suck your thumbs all day? What'd I hire you for, you scum, you dirt, you vermin! You in-terior son of a skunk! Aloft with you! I'll tar your legs off and brain you with 'em! Hell and furies, 'pears like a man can't be master in his own ship!'
" 'And from that day out the howling old nor'wester never called us by no other name but You Connecticut son of a thief! You New Hampshire ash-cat! You in-terior son of a skunk! Never been so tired of a ship since, till they pull this America out of commission for six months, sir! -- never, sir, -- never in the world, sir. Take my bloody oath of it, sir. You hear Ned Wakeman, sir."
The old gentleman told his remarkable dream, and about hanging the negro in the Chincha Islands and about his perilous cruise in a buggy, and about his voyage to the Monkey Islands, and the entertaining legend of the rats of Liverpool, and many other pleasant bits of history and then we bade him goodbye, at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, and rowed away again.
I have been about ten days in Hartford, and shall return there before very long. I think it must be the handsomest city in the Union, in summer. It is the moneyed center of the State; and one of its capitals, also, for Connecticut is so law-abiding, and so addicted to law, that there is not room enough in one city to manufacture all of the articles they need. Hartford is the place where the insurance companies all live. They use some of the houses for dwellings. The others are for insurance offices. So it is easy to see that there is quite a spirit of speculative enterprise there. Many of the inhabitants have retired from business, but the others labor along in the old customary way, as presidents of insurance companies. It is said that a citizen went west from there once, to be gone a week. He was gone three. A friend said:
"What kept you so long? You must have enjoyed yourself."
"Yes, I did enjoy myself, and that delayed me some but that was not the worst of it. The people heard there was a Hartford man aboard the train, and so they stopped me at every station trying to get me to be president of an insurance company!"
But I suppose it was a lie.
I shall be here only a week, yet, before I start out to Cleveland, Chicago, and St. Louis, to collect my rents, but New York will be my headquarters all the time anyhow, and therefore I beg permission to say that all letters addressed to me at the Everett House, Union Square, will reach me.
Return to Chicago Republican index