Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

By the great body of them, the day passage up the river, is occupied in the following fashion; At seven in the morning they breakfast, and at eight sit down at cards. At ten, cards baving by that time ceased to interest them, they will be seen packed away in layers in the berths with which the state. rooms are lined. At twelve, they are at dinner; after dinner they are again at cards, and then again are laid up in their berths to sleep. Tea is followed in the same way, except that, in the evening, the card-playing is longer and more animaed, and is extended deep into the night. To each change of occupation, from cards to sleep, from sleep to eating, and from eating to cards, a drink at the bar is a necessary preliminary.

Now, there are one or two circumstances which may serve to explain so peculiar a social condition as that which I have described. In the first place steamboating on the Missouri is eminently adapted to stimulate habits of reckless extravagance and excitability. The season lasts from May to November, during which it is no uncommon thing for a boat, costing twenty-six thousand dollars, to net from thirty to forty thousand. Large profits and great risk produce large salaries. It is not unusual for the two pilots to receive eight hundred dollars a month. The wages of the subordinate officers and of the deck-hands are proportionally high; the consequence is, that those engaged in boating on the Missouri are exposed to one of the most demoralizing of all business influences — extravagant gains during one part of the year and entire idleness in the other. We need not wonder that those thus tempted should become reckless and extravagant, if not desperate. Still more deleterious is the effect of the lumbertraffic on those engaged in it. Prior to the rafting season, all is industry and life. The woods resound with the click of the axe. The banks of the river, and sometimes, in the case of the Mississippi, of its remotest tributaries, are crowded with rafts. Then, when the spring floods come, raft after raft dashes down the stream. Immense profits are made. Terrible risks are encountered. The humblest hands receive wages running to ten dollars a day. Then, when the excitement and the labor are alike over, the raftsman finds himself suddenly at liberty. He plunges, in too many cases, into the wildest dissipation. The taverns he frequents are the vilest of haunts, capable of generating as a malaria that which he may impart to them as a sporadic disease. It has been my lot more than once to accompany parties of returning raftsmen on their way up the river. I do not wonder that foreigners who find them forming a frequent ingredient in our steamboat population, shonld declaim on the frantic profligacy Western life produces. How unjust this declaration is, I shall presently show more fully.

There is, however, another dangerous influence which is here at work, on which I must be permitted to dwell before proceeding to consider what is really the great security of the country and the main body on whom the Church can operate. I refer now, to the land speculators who form so prominent a portion of those whom the superficial observer meets in the hotels and places of public resort in the large towns. . I trust that what I have now to say will not be considered as applying to the legitimate real-estate agent. Few callings are more respectable than this-none more essential to the development of a new and only partially settled country. Far different, however, is the character of the speculator, whom I now pause to notice.

Observe for a moment the way in which paper towns are manufactured throughout Kansas and Nebraska. Even in the inland the traveller is surprised at seeing a series of wooden stakes driven in on a prairie height, or on a rivulet bottom, with a sign up, calling the place a “ City.” It is still worse on the Missouri river. The immense fortunes which have been made by the original proprietors at Leavenworth, at St. Joseph's, and at Council Bluffs, have led to the purchase and laying out of town sites on almost every available spot on the banks of the river from the Kansas line to Sioux City, embracing a front, taking both sides together, of one thousand miles. It is true that the prizes which are offered are great. Of this, Leavenworth City, situated on the Kansas side of the river, nearly five hundred miles above its confluence with the Mississippi, is a striking illustration. The first public sale of

lots in that town took place in October, 1854, shortly after the passage of the Nebraska-Kansas bill, prior to which not even a squatter's title could be made. In the following April the population ran up to 500. In the succeeding October it amounted to 1200. Now, it can hardly be estimated at under 10,000. Property which was bought at two, three, or five dollars an acre is cut up into lots of 24 feet by 150, and sold at prices running from four hundred to four thousand dollars a lot. The hour-hand which may indicate the growth in Eastern cities, the movement of which, though sure, can not be detected by the momentary observer, here gives place to the minutehand, each of whose throbs may be noted as it pursues its rapid round. Buildings can actually be seen to grow. It is true that a great part of this is due to the flimsiness with which they are put together. But this is only an additional proof of that extraordinary development which sacrifices durability, as well as comfort, to the necessity which requires something that may be called a residence at once. It is through the wonderfal emigrations by which this necessity is produced that town lots here compete in price with those of our great Atlantic cities, and that the first, and even the second purchasers, have made fortunes in a few months.

All this, with the corresponding growth of the towns which have so wonderfully marked the Iowa bank of the Mississippi River, has excited the speculative fever to its highest point. Men have rushed to the Missouri Valley from every section of the Union, influenced by that delirious lust for a speedy and great fortune which so utterly enslaves the moral and intellectual powers of those whom it seizes. It is Hawthorne, if I recollect rightly, who in one of his impressive, though lurid narratives, gives us a sketch of a party who started on a hunt for a jewel of inestimable value which was supposed to exist in a neighboring mountain. Their haggard and frenzied pursuit of this vast prize; the degrees by which the flame burned out all their true and right affections; the maniac restlessness of eye, and more than maniac drying up of the heart; may well be used to describe those who have entered upon the great Western property-hunt. They form a class by them.

VOL. VI.-18

selves, to be readily distinguished from the bona fide real estate agent. The town plot drawn out in front of the hotel, or in one of its parlors; the feverish muttering between the two or three projectors by whom it is hung up; the utter absorption of all other topics in this one-will serve, not imperfectly, to indicate those whom this passion has seized.

I pass from this class of speculators without stopping to notice those in whom fraud, as well as frenzy, is the motive power. It is enough for me to say that whatever may be the principle on which this kind of speculation is framed, the mechanism of Western town-building is that of a gigantic lottery. Nine out ten of the tickets draw only blanks. I can not illustrate this better than by the statement that there is no section of one hundred miles on the Missouri bank between Kansas City and Council Bluffs that has not now four times as inany paper towns laid out on it as we can find on any equal section in the East. In most of these towns (though sometimes there is not a house finished in it) the nominal price of town lots ranges higher than in any similar portions of the towns of Trenton, of Burlington, of Bristol, of Rahway, of New-Brunswick. At White Cloud, for instance, in 1857, almost an imperceptible town near the northern line of Kansas, where then no government title had been obtained, lots for residences were placed at a higher rate than in that charming, and, at the same time, to the literary man most advantageously seated of all Massachusetts residences--the ancient city of Cambridge.

It is not pretended that any but a small fraction of these towns will rise to an importance sufficient to justify their present valuation. To sustain them, in fact, would require a population twice as dense as the densest portion of England. It would require a population of twenty millions to live in the towns, and a back population of a hundred millions on which the towns are to live themselves. It would cause, in fact, the Missouri River to be hedged in by two continuous cities, each five hundred miles long. Such a result as this the proprietors of no one “city” calculate upon. What they claim is, that their town is to be the favored one, and that it is by invest

ments with them that the great prize is to be drawn. The argument in each case is very much the same. “The M. and M. Railroad," or "The Great Pacific Railroad,” or “The Davenport and Council Bluffs Railroad,” or, "The Hannibal and St. Josephs Railroad," or, "The Dubuque and Sioux City Railroad," or "The Keokuk and Des Moines Railroad,” or “ The Great California Central,” “ will certainly terminate at this point." "Such a site as we have, also !” “No crumbling bank," cries one city, " to be washed away before your foundations are finished.” “No low bottom," retorts another, “to be submerged by the first freshet.” “No unapproachable bluff," screams a third, “which will require all the horse-power of the territory to surmount, and all its wealth to level.” Upon one thing all agree, and that is, that nine-tenths of the “cities" now laid out will be blanks. The only point on which they differ is as to which shall draw the prize.

Now to the two classes I have just mentioned—those employed on the rivers and the speculators-religion, if it be introduced at all, must be introduced by other than our present missionary instrumentalities. Preaching to such classes is like preaching to a railway car at a depot. All is hurry. Scarcely is a sentence finished before the train starts. If you wish to be heard, you must take the course the world takes. It sends its news-agents and its advertisement-venders into the cars, to hand a notice to one passenger, or to sell a book to another. The Church should do the same. I can not but think that no agency could be more effective than the dissemination of such tracts as Mr. Ryle's in the same way that the world's tracts are disseminated. Nor do I see that the expense would be great. The wages of the boys who form the world's colporteurs do not exceed two hundred dollars annually. They take passage on a particular train or steamboat, and distribute as they go. So also must we.

But the service, and the preaching! Now, as to the service. To a population such as that of whom I speak, our service is of no use as an arrestive police. When these fevered speculators; when these wild and undisciplined boat-hands; when these restless traders and trappers—themselves, like the

W

[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »