From: "Across America," Literary World
(July 1874): 21-22.
Across America. By James Fowler Rusling. 1902.
Many books descriptive of the overland journey from the Atlantic to
the Pacific have been written; but of them all we know of none that
is more useful and instructive than this volume. It is not the work
of a practised writer; but its author is evidently intelligent, observing,
and possessed of sound judgment. He gives his readers a very clear idea
of the regions he visited - their topographical and meteorological characteristics,
and agricultural and mineral resources. In fine, he tells about them
just what an intending immigrant would desire to know, so far as hat
can be done in a rapid narrative of personal experience. He writes like
a practical man accustomed to look beneath the surface of things, curious
about opportunities and capabilities, and an ardent friend of material
and moral progress. We are specially glad to notice in his book the
evidences of an earnest desire for the social and intellectual improvement
of those who have peopled the new countries through which he journeyed.
He is not an enthusiast or a bigot, but evidently one who fully understands
how essential to good government and individual as well as national
prosperity are the influences, at once stimulating and restraining,
of sound moral principle.
The author made his journey under orders from the Secretary of War,
to inspect the affairs of the Quartermaster's Department of the army
on the Pacific coast, in 1866, and travelled most of the distance from
Fort Riley, Kansas, to the Columbia River, in stage-coaches. The narrative
of his progress is readable, though by no means brilliant, and is remarkable
for its freedom from affection; he rarely seems to aim at undue effect,
and seldom indulges in the due writing which tempts and tries many travellers.
Of the principal points of interest which marked his journey he gives
brief but very satisfactory accounts, dealing with their present and
future rather than with their past, and conveying a distinct and, so
far as we can judge, just impression of their condition at the time
of his observation. His portraiture of the Indians, as represented but
the various tribes which he encountered, seems to be singularly faithful,
and dictated but a sincere wish to tell the truth about this interesting
but misrepresented people. He views them with that "horse-sense"
which is often mentioned in his book, and his conclusions well deserve
the attention of philanthropists and all thoughtful readers. He is very
cautious in his statements; but it is safe to say that he has abandoned
forever the poetical and popular idea of the "noble red man."
No writer, we think, has ever written more intelligently and pointedly
about the Mormons, though it is evident that he cherished fixed opinions
about this people before he visited them. He awards them full credit
for their good qualities and for their material achievements; but he
finds in their system of society very dangerous elements, and in their
religious policy, intolerable evil. His interview with Brigham Young
and other dignitaries enlightens the reader as to Mormanism more effectually
than a volume written by an ordinary observer could do; and his report
of the revelations by a high Federal official - probably a United States
judge - contains some statements that are simply astounding. In view
of the fact that Mormon affairs have lately engaged the attention of
Congress, his candid and minute statements as to Mormon practices and
spirit have a special value. Writing about Denver, he makes this reference
to a good man whose memory is tenderly cherished in New England: -
"Her Episcopal Bishop (Randall) we found scouring the country with
all the earnestness and zeal of an old-time missionary or Methodist
itinerant. Band and gown, stole and chasuble, and other ritualistic
millenary (sir) he affected but little; but he preached Christ and Him
crucified with a tenderness and power that touched all hearts, and Colorado
already had come to love and honor him. 'Seek ye first the kingdom of
God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto
you,' was his text in as sound and appropriate discourse the Sabbath
we were in Denver, as we had heard in a long time. Every sentence struck
home, like a rapier or a bullet, at some sin most prevalent in Colorado,
and Denver might well 'make a note of it.' Subsequently we heard of
him in the mines and among the mountains, preaching in quartz-mills,
and by the road-side, - wherever he could gather a handful of hearers,
- always engaged in the Master's work and always leaving a deep impression
The author tells much about Gen. Sherman, whose companion he was during
a party of his journey, and many anecdotes of that eccentric officer.
Farther on we find a kingly reference to the late Gen. Steele, with
a report of that general's testimony to Grant's deserts in the Vicksburg
campaign. A very interesting sketch of Kit Carson points out some of
his noble qualities, and seems to justify Gen. Sherman's remark about
him, "Why, his integrity is perfect." Commenting upon the
frightful profanity of teamsters on the plains, the author says: -
"An old army friend used often to parade a pet theory of his, that
a man could not associate much with horses without directly deteriorating.
'The horse,' he would say, 'may gain largely, but it will only be at
the expense of the man. Our cavalry and artillery officers always were
the wickedest men in the service, and all because of their equine associations.
The animals, indeed, became almost human; but in the same proportion
the men became animals!' I always thought him about half-right; but
if this be true as to lutimacy with horses, what must be the effect
oof men of long and constant associations with mules and oxen!"
The theory advanced by "and old army friend" is certainly
specious, but it is not wholly true. The effect of equine intimacy on
men depends mainly on the circumstances under which the intimacy exists.
In the army, on the plains, and on the race-course, the absence of conventional
restraints encourage immorality; but it is absurd to stigmatize horses
as a cause of evil tendencies for which they are in fact only a convenience.
It is not the horse that debases man; bit is the use that man puts him
to. We might cite the fact that the clergymen of a certain denomination
are proverbially lovers of horses; but the point seems to demand no
The closing chapter of the book is crowded with instructive facts about
Oregon and California. These words about the climates of the two States
are interesting: -
"The year before at Fort Vancouver [which is in Washington Territory,
very near Oregon] they had had one hundred and twenty consecutive days
of rain, in one year, without counting the intervening showers; and
they said it wasn't much of a year for rain, either.' Another year,
they didn't see the sun there for eighty days together, without reckoning
the occasional fogs. No wonder the Oregonians are called 'web-feet.'
They do say, the children there are all born web-footed, like ducks
and geese, so as to paddle about, and thus get along well in that amphibious
region. Perhaps this is rather strong, even for Darwinism; but I can
safely vouch for Oregon's all-sufficing rains and fogs, whatever their
effects on the species."
"At sunrise [in San Francisco, in May] it would be hot, even sultry,
and you would see persons dressed in white linen. By nine or ten A.M.,
the wind would rise, - a raw, damp wind, sometimes with fog, sweeping
in from the Pacific, - and in the evening you would see ladies going
to the opera with full winter furs on ... The truth seemed to be that
for hardy persons the climate was excellent, the air bracing and stimulating,
- but invalids were better off in the interior."
Although Col. Rusling is guilty of writing "sort of half awoke,"
"considerable of a traveller," was as capital a shot as he
was rare and penman," etc., he has made a useful and entertaining
book. No more faithful panorama of the Trans-Mississippi country and
the Pacific States, as these regions were in 1866, has ever been painted.