“Then I may start soon for Oregon?” I demanded.
“You shall start to-morrow,” he answered.
THE WHOA-HAW TRAIL
There are no pleasures where women
—Marie de Romba.
How shall I tell of those stirring times in such way that readers who live in later and different days may catch in full their flavor? How shall I write now so that at a later time men may read of the way America was taken, may see what America then was and now is, and what yet, please God! it may be? How shall be set down that keen zest of a nation’s youth, full of ambition and daring, full of contempt for obstacles, full of a vast and splendid hope? How shall be made plain also that other and stronger thing which so many of those days have mentioned to me, half in reticence—that feeling that, after all, this fever of the blood, this imperious insistence upon new lands, had under it something more than human selfishness?
I say I wish that some tongue or brush or pen might tell the story of our people at that time. Once I saw it in part told in color and line, in a painting done by a master hand, almost one fit to record the spirit of that day, although it wrought in this instance with another and yet earlier time. In this old canvas, depicting an early Teutonic tribal wandering, appeared some scores of human figures, men and women half savage in their look, clad in skins, with fillets of hide for head covering; men whose beards were strong and large, whose limbs, wrapped loose in hides, were strong and large; women, strong and large, who bore burdens on their backs. Yet in the faces of all these there shone, not savagery alone, but intelligence and resolution. With them were flocks and herds and beasts of burden and carts of rude build; and beside these traveled children. There were young and old men and women, and some were gaunt and weary, but most were bold and strong. There were weapons for all, and rude implements, as well, of industry. In the faces of all there was visible the spirit of their yellow-bearded leader, who made the center of the picture’s foreground.
I saw the soul of that canvas—a splendid resolution—a look forward, a purpose, an aim to be attained at no counting of cost. I say, as I gazed at that canvas, I saw in it the columns of my own people moving westward across the Land, fierce-eyed, fearless, doubting nothing, fearing nothing. That was the genius of America when I myself was young. I believe it still to be the spirit of a triumphant democracy, knowing its own, taking its own, holding its own. They travel yet, the dauntless figures of that earlier day. Let them not despair. No imaginary line will ever hold them back, no mandate of any monarch ever can restrain them.
In our own caravans, now pressing on for the general movement west of the Missouri, there was material for a hundred canvases like yonder one, and yet more vast. The world of our great western country was then still before us. A stern and warlike people was resolved to hold it and increase it. Of these west-bound I now was one. I felt the joy of that thought. I was going West!