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The Denver Express From "Belgravia" for January, 1884   By: (1837-1892)

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By A. A. Hayes

From "Belgravia" for January, 1884


Any one who has seen an outward bound clipper ship getting under way, and heard the "shanty songs" sung by the sailors as they toiled at capstan and halliards, will probably remember that rhymeless but melodious refrain

"I'm bound to see its muddy waters, Yeo ho! that rolling river; Bound to see its muddy waters, Yeo ho! the wild Missouri."

Only a happy inspiration could have impelled Jack to apply the adjective "wild" to that ill behaved and disreputable river which, tipsily bearing its enormous burden of mud from the far Northwest, totters, reels, runs its tortuous course for hundreds on hundreds of miles and which, encountering the lordly and thus far well behaved Mississippi at Alton, and forcing its company upon this splendid river (as if some drunken fellow should lock arms with a dignified pedestrian), contaminates it all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

At a certain point on the banks of this river, or rather as it has the habit of abandoning and destroying said banks at a safe distance therefrom, there is a town from which a railroad takes its departure, for its long climb up the natural incline of the Great Plains, to the base of the mountains; hence the importance to this town of the large but somewhat shabby building serving as terminal station. In its smoky interior, late in the evening and not very long ago, a train was nearly ready to start. It was a train possessing a certain consideration. For the benefit of a public easily gulled and enamored of grandiloquent terms, it was advertised as the "Denver Fast Express"; sometimes, with strange unfitness, as the "Lightning Express"; "elegant" and "palatial" cars were declared to be included therein; and its departure was one of the great events of the twenty four hours in the country round about. A local poet described it in the "live" paper of the town, cribbing from an old Eastern magazine and passing off as original the lines

"Again we stepped into the street, A train came thundering by Drawn by the snorting iron steed Swifter than eagles fly. Rumbled the wheels, the whistle shrieked, Far rolled the smoky cloud, Echoed the hills, the valleys shook, The flying forests bowed."

The trainmen, on the other hand, used no fine phrases. They called it simply "Number Seventeen"; and, when it started, said it had "pulled out."

On the evening in question, there it stood, nearly ready. Just behind the great hissing locomotive, with its parabolic headlight and its coal laden tender, came the baggage, mail, and express cars; then the passenger coaches, in which the social condition of the occupants seemed to be in inverse ratio to their distance from the engine. First came emigrants, "honest miners," "cowboys," and laborers; Irishmen, Germans, Welshmen, Mennonites from Russia, quaint of garb and speech, and Chinamen. Then came along cars full of people of better station, and last the great Pullman "sleepers," in which the busy black porters were making up the berths for well to do travelers of diverse nationalities and occupations.

It was a curious study for a thoughful observer, this motley crowd of human beings sinking all differences of race, creed, and habits in the common purpose to move westward to the mountain fastnesses, the sage brush deserts and the Golden Gate.

The warning bell had sounded, and the fireman leaned far out for the signal. The gong struck sharply, the conductor shouted, "All aboard," and raised his hand; the tired ticket seller shut his window, and the train moved out of the station, gathered way as it cleared the outskirts of the town, rounded a curve, entered on an absolutely straight line, and, with one long whistle from the engine, settled down to its work. Through the night hours it sped on, past lonely ranches and infrequent stations, by and across shallow streams fringed with cottonwood trees, over the greenish yellow buffalo grass near the old trail where many a poor emigrant, many a bold frontiersman, many a brave soldier, had laid his bones but a short time before... Continue reading book >>

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