Obrázky stránek



finds no bounds, and therefore there are none of the common attributes of lake beauty; but the colour of the lake is bright, and within a walk of the city the traveller comes to the bluffs or low round-topped hills from which he can look down upon the shores. These bluffs form the beauty of Wisconsin and Minnesota, and relieve the eye after the flat level of Michigan. Round Detroit there is no rising ground, and therefore, perhaps, it is that Detroit is uninteresting.

I have said that those who are called on to labour in these States have their own hardships, and I have endeavoured to explain what are the sufferings to which the town labourer is subject. To escape from this is the labourer's great ambition, and his mode of doing so consists almost universally in the purchase of land. He saves up money in order that he may buy a section of an allotment, and thus become his own master. All his savings are made with a view to this independ

Seated on his own land he will have to work probably harder than ever, but he will work for himself. No taskmaster can then stand over him and wound his pride with harsh words. He will be his own master; will eat the food which he himself has grown, and live in the cabin which his own hands have built. This is the object of his life; and to secure this position he is content to work late and early and to undergo the indignities of previous servitude. The Government price for land is about five shillings an acre—one dollar and a quarter--and the settler may get it for this price if he be contented to take it not only untouched as regards clearing, but also far removed from any completed road. The traffic in these lands has been the great speculating business of western men. Five or six years ago, when the rage for such purchases was at its height, land was becoming a scarce article in the market! Individuals or companies bought it up with the object of reselling it at a profit; and many no doubt did make money. Railway companies were, in fact, companies combined for the purchase of sand. They purchased land, looking to increase the value of it five-fold by the opening of a railroad. It may easily be understood that a railway, which could not be in itself remunerative, might in this way become a lucrative speculation. No settler could dare to place himself absolutely at a distance from any thoroughfare. At first the margins of nature's highways, the navigable rivers and lakes, were cleared. But as the railway system grew and expanded itself, it became manifest that lands might be rendered quickly available which were not so circumstanced by nature. A company which had purchased an enor


mous territory from the United States Government at five shil-
lings an acre might


itself all the cost of a railway through that territory, even though the receipts of the railway should do no more than maintain the current expenses. It is in this way that the thousands of miles of American railroads have been opened; and here again must be seen the immense advantages which the States as a new country have enjoyed. With us the purchase of valuable land for railways, together with the legal expenses which those compulsory purchases entailed, have been so great that with all our traffic railways are not remunerative. But in the States the railways have created the value of the land. The States have been able to begin at the right end, and to arrange that the districts which are benefited shall themselves pay for the benefit they receive.

The Government price of land is 125 cents, or about five shillings an acre; and even this need not be paid at once if the settler purchase directly from the Government. He must begin by making certain improvements on the selected land, clearing and cultivating some small portion, building a hut, and probably sinking a well

. When this has been done,—when he has thus given a pledge of his intentions by depositing on the land the value of a certain amount of labour, he cannot be removed. He cannot be removed for a term of years, and then if he pays the price of the land it becomes his own with an indefeasible title. Many such settlements are made on the purchase of warrants for land. Soldiers returning from the Mexican wars were donated with warrants for land,—the amount being 160 acres, or the quarter of a section. The localities of such lands were not specified, but the privilege granted was that of occupying any quarter-section not hitherto tenanted. It will of course be understood that lands favourably situated would be tenanted. Those contiguous to railways were of course so occupied, seeing that the lines were not made till the lands were in the hands of the companies. It may therefore be understood of what nature would be the traffic in these warrants. The owner of a single warrant might find it of no value to him. To go back utterly into the woods, away from river or road, and there to commence with 160 acres of forest, or even of prairie, would be a hopeless task even to an American settler. Some mode of transport for his produce must be found before his produce would be of value,-before indeed he could find the means of living. But a company buying up a large aggregate of such warrants would possess the means of making such allotments valuable and of reselling them at greatly increased prices.

[ocr errors]

The primary settler, therefore,—who, however, will not usually have been the primary owner,-goes to work upon his land amidst all the wildness of nature. He levels and burns the first trees, and raises his first crop of corn amidst stumps still standing four or five feet above the soil; but he does not do so till some mode of conveyance has been found for him. So much I have said hoping to explain the mode in which the frontier speculator paves the way for the frontier agriculturist. But the permanent farmer very generally comes on the land as the third owner. The first settler is a rough fellow, and seems to be so wedded to his rough life that he leaves his land after his first wild work is done, and goes again further off to some untouched allotment. He finds that he can sell his improvements at a profitable rate and takes the price. He is a preparer of farms rather than a farmer. He has no love for the soil which his hand has first turned. He regards it merely as an investment; and when things about him are beginning to wear an aspect of comfort,-when his property has become valuable, he sells it, packs up his wife and little ones, and goes again into the woods. The western American has no love for his own soil, or his own house. The matter with him is simply one of dollars. To keep a farm which he could sell at an advantage from any feeling of affection,—from what we should call an association of ideas,-would be to him as ridiculous as the keeping of a family pig would be in an English farmer's establishment. The pig is a part of the farmer's stock in trade, and must go the way of all pigs. And so is it with house and land in the life of the frontier man in the western States.

But yet this man has his romance, his high poetic feeling, and above all his manly dignity. Visit him, and you will find him without coat or waistcoat, unshorn, in ragged blue trousers and old flannel shirt, too often bearing on his lantern jaws the signs of ague and sickness; but he will stand upright before you and speak to you with all the ease of a lettered gentleman in his own library. All the odious incivility of the republican servant has been banished. He is his own master, standing on his own threshold, and finds no need to assert his equality by rudeness. He is delighted to see you, and bids you sit down on his battered bench without dreaming of any such apology as an English cottier offers to a Lady Bountiful when she calls. He has worked out his independence, and shows it in every easy movement of his body. He tells you of it unconsciously in every tone of his voice. You will always find in his cabin some newspaper, some book, some token of advance in education. When he questions you about the old country he astonishes you by the extent of his knowledge. I defy you not to feel that he is superior to the race from whence he has sprung in England or in Ireland. To me I confess that the manliness of such a man is very charming. He is dirty and perhaps squalid. His children are sick and he is without comforts. His wife is pale, and you think you see shortness of life written in the faces of all the family. But over and above it all there is an independence which sits gracefully on their shoulders, and teaches you at the first glance that the man has a right to assume himself to be your equal. It is for this position that the labourer works, bearing hard words and the indignity of tyranny,--suffering also too often the dishonest ill-usage which his superior power enables the master to inflict.

“ I have lived very rough,” I heard a poor woman say, whose husband had ill-used and deserted her. “I have known what it is to be hungry and cold, and to work hard till my bones have ached. I only wish that I might have the same chance again. If I could have ten acres cleared two miles away from any living being, I could be happy with my children. I find a kind of comfort when I am at work from daybreak to sundown, and know that it is all my own." I believe that life in the backwoods has an allurement to those who have been used to it, that dwellers in cities can hardly comprehend.

From Milwaukee we went across Wisconsin and reached the Mississippi at La Crosse. From hence, according to agrecment, we were to start by steamer at once up the river. But we were delayed again, as bad happened to us before on Lake Michigan at Grand Haven.



It had been promised to us that we should start from La Crosse by the river steamer immediately on our arrival there; but on reaching La Crosse we found that the vessel destined to take us up the river had not yet come down. She was bringing a regiment from Minnesota, and under such circumstances some pardon might be extended to irregularities. This plea was made by one of the boat clerks in a very humble tone, and was fully accepted by us. The wonder was that at such a period all means of public conveyance were not put absolutely out of gear. One might surmise that when regiments were constantly being moved for the purposes of civil war, when the whole North had but the one object of collecting together a sufficient number of men to crush the South, ordinary travelling for ordinary purposes would be difficult, slow, and subject to sudden stoppages. Such, however, was not the case either in the northern or western States. The trains ran much as usual, and those connected with the boats and railways were just as anxious as ever to secure passengers. The boat clerk at La Crosse apologised amply for the delay, and we sat ourselves down with patience to await the arrival of the second Minnesota regiment on its way to Washington.

During the four hours that we were kept waiting we were harboured on board a small steamer, and at about eleven the terribly harsh whistle that is made by the Mississippi boats informed us that the regiment was arriving: It came up to the quay in two steamers, 750 being brought in that which was to take us back, and 250 in a smaller one. The moon was very bright, and great flaming torches were lit on the vessel's side, so that all the operations of the men were visible. The two steamers had run close up, thrusting us away from the quay

in their passage, but doing it so gently that we did not even feel the motion. These large boats—and their size may be understood from the fact that one of them had just brought down 750 men,—are moved so easily and so gently that they come gliding in among each other without hesitation and without pause. On English waters we do not willingly run ships against each other; and when we do so unwillingly, they bump and crush and crash upon each other, and timbers fly while men are swearing. But here there was neither crashing nor swearing, and the boats noiselessly pressed against each other as though they were cased in muslin and crinoline.

I got out upon the quay and stood close by the plank, watching each man as he left the vessel and walked across towards the railway. Those whom I had previously seen in tents were not equipped, but these men were in uniform and each bore his musket. Taking them all together they were as fine a set of men as I ever saw collected. No man could doubt on seeing them that they bore on their countenances the signs of higher breeding and better education than would be seen in a thousand men enlisted in England. I do not mean to argue from this that Americans are better than English. I do not mean

here that they are even better educated. My assertion goes to show that the men generally were taken from a higher level in the community than that which fills our own

to argue

« PředchozíPokračovat »