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From the Clyde to California
Chapter IV.—Corinne—The Great American Desert


We now resolved to bid adieu to Salt Lake City, regretting that we had not a few days to spend in visiting the rich silver mountains and gold mines of its neighbourhood, more particularly the notorious Emma, of which we had heard so much, and which is only thirty miles distant. Taking train, we concluded to spend a short time at Ogden, where, on arrival, we had scarcely stepped on to the platform, when one of the railway officials, who originally hailed from Paisley, hearing our Scottish accent, at once claimed kindred with us, and like all others with whom we had met on our journey, there was no limit to Mr John Crawford's attention and kindness. Finding us strangers, and having a few hours to spare, he at once proposed to leave off duty and act as our guide, and even pressed us very much to lodge with him for the night. The former offer we accepted, the latter we declined. Having arranged about our baggage, he then proceeded to show us over the city, in course of which we thought there was to be no end to his introducing us to Scotsmen, who, a few years ago, had settled there with little or nothing to begin with, now carrying on extensive businesses of their own, and many owning large blocks of property, the result of their indefatigable perseverance. As we passed along, our friend occasionally drew our attention to the extraordinary fertility of the district, which in his own recollection was an unproductive, barren waste, with nothing to recommend it but the natural beauty of the situation and the advantage of little streams of water from the mountains that had been intercepted by an artificial canal, and distributed over the soil so as to produce the luxuriance now before US. We were taken round till reaching our friend's residence, more than a mile distant from the station, where he owned a plot of two acres, on which were erected two very compact and comfortable houses; one acre was used as an orchard, the other acre was growing alfalfa, of which he gets four crops in the twelve months, producing sufficient to keep two cows and a quey all the year round. Here the wife and a little son and daughter were busily engaged, the young ones pulling fruit, and the mother, with a machine, taking the heart out of apples and stones out of apricots, and cutting them up into thin slices, so as to be easily dried. All round their dwelling were set long broad tables, as if prepared for a public banquet. These tables were covered with various kinds of fruit, cut into thin slices and drying in the heat of the sun, so as to preserve them for winter use. After we had been introduced to the family, the young ones exerted themselves very much to secure from the upper branches of the trees the best and ripest of the fruit to make us a Present before leaving. In the course of conversation, our friend said he had all along been a working-man, he had no debt, and what he had shown us was his own saving. The trees were the growth of fifteen years, at which time he had purchased his plot, when all around was a desert covered with sage brush and sun-flowers, with scarcely a tree within sight. Now all around were streets and dwellings, with gardens and orchards, producing every kind of vegetable, flower, and fruit. In conversation, it transpired that our new acquaintance was brother-in-law to a very much-respected and long-established merchant in Glasgow, with whom we have had frequent dealings. Our friend said that Over twenty years ago, having become a convert to the Mormon faith, the other members of his family ever after looked upon him as a black sheep. True to his faith, he preferred to sacrifice the society of his friends rather than his religious convictions. About eighteen years ago he left his native country, landed in America, and decided to make that country his home. There was no railroad over the desert at that time. The journey then occupied several months—his gun being his best friend by the way, often securing him a supply of fresh meat; and as we parted, he said that he never had any cause to regret the course he had taken.

Resuming our journey westward by the Central Pacific Railway, after leaving Ogden and for a considerable distance we passed several villages and well-cultivated farms, orchards And gardens. The district owes its fertility in a great measure to artificial irrigation by the water from the creeks and mountains being intercepted by canals and turned on to the land at suitable places, this being altogether accomplished by the persevering industry of the Mormons, who are the principal inhabitants until we come near Corinne, about thirty miles from Ogden.

At Corinne we were informed that the Gentiles have always been in possession of this place, and are likely to keep it. There is some very good land here that can be got on very moderate terms; but the want of water for irrigation is the chief obstacle to its being taken up. About forty miles from where we started, we came close by the northern extremity of the Salt Lake, where for many miles we have a beautiful view of it, with the Monument Rock (in Ailsa Craig fashion) towering out of the water and forming a very prominent object in the scenery. The lake is said to be about ninety miles long and fifty miles broad. Within the last three years the American Government had it surveyed to ascertain if there were any visible outlet from it or any whirlpool that would indicate an underground outlet—but none has been discovered. We observed flowing into it, at several points, the Jordan, the Weber and the Bear rivers, all of considerable size. There are besides these a number of other streams continually flowing into it, and although there is no outlet from it, yet there is never any perceptible rise or fall in its waters, which are very dense and salt, six gallons when evaporated leaving one gallon of solid salt.

Passing through the great American desert, we get into Clover Valley. Here is Wells Station, where there is a village of about three hundred inhabitants and railway workshops. This place derives its name from a great many wells that are in a plain situated near to the village. These are over thirty in number, and are very deep, a line having been put down 1500 feet without reaching the bottom.

Near to this is the source of the Humboldt River, which for the next four hundred miles runs through a valley of the same name, supplying in its course several irrigating canals. The railway follows very much the same track until reaching the Humboldt Bridge, where the river crosses to the left of the line, then very shortly ceases to exist as a river, the water gradually spreading out into a large sheet extending over an immense plain, until, by process of irrigation and evaporation, it becomes altogether imperceptible, except in its fertilising effects on the extensive hay meadows and grazing pastures which in the distance extend far beyond the range of the naked eye. It is said that there are over four hundred thousand head of cattle constantly grazing on these pastures.

Amongst the many novelties that attracted our attention in passing through the desert, were the emigrant mule trains we occasionally overtook by the way. All were following the old emigrant road, which in some instances runs close by the railway, at times taking the higher lands for a nearer route. In several cases we observed them encamped near a railway station, or at some spot where their mules could forage food for themselves. As seen from the car windows, jolting slowly along, they exhibited a very melancholy and worn-out appearance, and, judging from their looks, they envied very much the rapid motion of the train as it passed.

At a few points along the line, it appeared that rock blasting had been carried on with great vigour, judging from the immense blocks that had been thrown a great distance from the cutting. Occasionally we observed on the margin of the line little ridges, which appeared to be graves of workmen who had died, or had been killed while the line was being constructed. No doubt was left as to this being the case, on observing three side by side, with a rude wooden cross placed at the head of each. There was one grave that could scarcely fail to attract attention, both from its prominent position and the clean, tidy enclosure that surrounded it. It is known as "The Maiden's Grave." This is at "Gravelly Ford," where the Humboldt River spreads out for a short distance, and is easily crossed; it was a fine camping place, where emigrants rested and set their cattle free to graze. Here is the story of the maiden, as it has been recorded.

"She was one of a party of emigrants from Missouri, and at this ford, while they were in the camp, she sickened and died. Her loving friends laid her away to rest in a grave on this point of the land, in plain sight of the ford. But while her remains were crumbling into dust, and she was fading from the memory of all, perhaps, but her immediate relatives, the railroad builder came along, and found the low mound and decayed head-board that marked her resting-place. With that admiration of and devotion to woman which characterise Americans of even the humblest class, they made a new grave, and surrounded it with an enclosure—a picket fence, painted white—and by the side of it erected a cross, the emblem of the Christian's faith, which bears on one side this legend—'The Maiden's Grave;' and on the other her name—'Lucinda Duncan.' All honour to the men whose respect for true womanhood led them to the performance of this praiseworthy act—an act which would have been performed by no race under the heavens but ours, and not even by them, indeed, to the remains, under similar circumstances, of a representative of the sterner sex."

Continuing our course we reach Humboldt House, one of the regular dining stations of the line, and the most pleasant we have yet reached. Perhaps it is rendered all the more attractive from the fact that, for nearly four hundred miles, we have seen little or no cultivation by the way, not even a good-sized tree. Here, in the midst of a desert, we are all at once landed in a little paradise, surrounded with shady trees; a few fields with heavy crops, also a garden and orchard well stocked with vegetables, flowers, and fruits; and water, though brought from a great distance, is very liberally supplied to fountains, fish ponds, &c.

Everything is done to make the hotel and its surroundings pleasant and comfortable for the tourists who choose to stop by the way, to visit the sulphur mines and springs that abound in the neighbourhood. The station is extensively used for loading sulphur. Having spent half-an-hour here we resume our journey, and very soon reach the White Plains, which are very appropriately named, the whole district being covered with a deposit of salt, resembling very much a slight fall of snow, or the hoar frost that is often seen in winter mornings. About twenty miles further on, and half-a-mile to the left, we came in view of the springs, which are said to be boiling hot. Their locality is easily made out from the steam that they give off ascending like mist in the air, A little further on, and to the right, nearly two miles distant, we observe at the base of the mountains extensive works in connection with the salt springs. The water is pumped from the springs into the pits, and allowed to evaporate by the heat of the sun; the salt is then shoveled out of the pits, and taken down to the railway, where there are several loading stations with large quantities lying in bulk ready for shipment. The salt is said to be very pure, but, as seen lying at the station, it has a very dirty appearance.

In passing along there were many things that attracted our attention, but what seemed to us the greatest novelty were the flumes, many of which we had observed by the way, though we had no opportunity of a close inspection till now that we had reached a station in the neighbourhood of works where one terminates. A flume is just a Scotch water trough, though somewhat different in form and construction. A Scotch water trough has a bottom, and two sides, while a flume has two sides but no bottom, its section being very like the letter V with its points a little extended, till it is about from two and a half to three feet wide at the mouth, the intersection of the two sides being placed downward and set upon trestles supported by a bracket on each side, the trestles being placed about six feet apart. At this point the flume is from eighteen to twenty feet above the ground, and seemed to be the same height, so far as we could see it along an easy ascending incline. We are informed that along its course, in some places, when crossing valleys, it was from seventy to eighty feet above the ground, and about fifteen miles long, in which distance it had a grade of nearly one hundred feet to the mile. Flumes are principally used to convey water from mountains to mines, public works, and sometimes for irrigation and domestic purposes. This mode of conveyance is preferred where the water has to be carried across valleys or over a district with a gravelly bottom, and which if carried in canals would be probably altogether lost before reaching its destination. These contrivances are also used for conveying timber from the mountains to the mines, log succeeding log, only one occupying the width of the flume at one time, and the distance of fifteen miles is accomplished in less than half-an-hour.


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