McCloud and I now took his skiff, and for two days floated down the Wisconsin River till we reached the Mississippi, boarded the first steamboat we could hail, and let our own little craft adrift. In due time we reached St. Louis and boarded another steamer for New Orleans.
At a wood-yard, about dark, a lot of negroes, little and big, came on board to sell brooms. The boat’s clerk seemed to know negro character pretty well, so he got out his violin and played for them. For a while the young colored gentry listened in silence, but pretty soon he struck a tune that suited them, and they began to dance in their own wild style.
In seven days from St. Louis we landed in New Orleans, and found the government steamer, Falcon, advertised to sail in two days. We went together to one of the slave warehouses. Outside and in all was neat end clean, and any day you could see men, women and children standing under the shed as a sign of what they had within, and the painted signs “For Sale” displayed conspicuously. We were very civilly treated, and invited to examine the goods offered for sale. There were those of all ages and all colors, for some were nearly white and some intensely black, with all the shades between. All were to be sold, separately, or in families, or in groups as buyers might desire. All were made to keep themselves clean and neatly dressed, and to behave well, with a smile to all the visitors whether they felt like smiling or not. Some seemed really anxious to get a good master, and when a kind, pleasant looking man came along they would do their utmost to be agreeable to him and inquire if he did not want to buy them. We talked it over some between ourselves, and when we thought of the market and the human chattels for sale there, McCloud spoke up and said:—“I am almost persuaded to be an abolitionist.”
I now went on board the steamer Falcon, in command of a government officer, to try to learn something about the family of Capt. Culverwell who perished alone in Death Valley. He told me he had once belonged to the Navy and had his life insured, and as I was an important witness for his family I wanted to learn where they lived. The Captain looked over a list of officers, but Culverwell’s name was not there. I then wrote a letter to Washington stating the facts of his death, and my own address in Sacramento, California. I also stated that I would assist the widow if I could, but I never received an answer.
We soon started down the river, having on board about one hundred passengers, men going to work on the Panama Railroad. At Chagres we found a small stern wheeled river steamer and took passage on it for Gorgona, as far as the steamer could well go up the river. While going up we met a similar boat coming down, and being near a short bend they crashed together, breaking down our guards severely, but fortunately with no damage to our wheel. A few miles above this a dark passing cloud gave us rain in streams, and we had to drift in near shore to wait for the storm to pass. I never before saw water fall so fast, and yet in half an hour the sun was out and burning hot.