This book is a personal chronicle of the days in the early part of the last century when adventurous young men went west, it's a memoir of 1905-1909 composed in the late 1940’s by Lew Hahn--who by the time he penned these memories had a long history as a successful businessman. But as a young man he and his friends experienced some of the wonders the West had to offer. He and four of his close friends were promised jobs in Nevada and-sensing adventure and possible riches, they decided to leave their homes, their families and girlfriends and all that they knew and loved to make their way west and take advantage of the silver and gold fields that were still in development and production and to learn more about themselves.
The adventure which follows sketches a phase in American life which has disappeared. Horace Greeley the famous newspaper publisher is often quoted as saying, “Go West Young Man”. Going west made sense because the East was civilized and for a young man, unexciting and without opportunity. And so it became the ambition of a large segment of American youth to go west, not to become cowboys, but for the adventure and to make a new life in a land where there were no rules.
The great frontier offered exploration, riches and adventure, an always effective lure for young Americans. The frontier provided an opportunity that could no longer be found in the stabilized communities of the East and Mid-West. Much of the allure of the West of 1900-1910 was lost almost immediately as the United States expanded and life became easier--and as the law came into wider enforcement. Back then the West was a rough and tumble life where fortunes could be made and lost overnight. And they often were.
This was a special time in the United States, it was 40 years after the Civil War, about the same time as the Spanish American War and some few years before The Great War, later dubbed WWI. Only a few years after this adventure, thousands of young men and women came back from the war in Europe having traveled greater distances and seen more lands and strange sights than Marco Polo ever dreamed. By then the idea of going out-west to Nevada or to Arizona or Texas had lost much of it’s glamor and romance. Our shrinking frontier still had it‘s picturesque aspects but by the 1950’s the whole United States had become much more homogenized, with one area being much the same as another.
Blame the new “coast-to-coast USA” on good automobiles and interstate highways; on gas stations with free maps and long-distance telephone; blame it too on the media: radio and Hollywood movies and great newspapers and national magazines with huge circulations all did their part to tame the whole of the United States. By the 1950’s, travel to the west was no longer exploration--it had lost most of it’s danger--and left little room for any hope of strange and unfamiliar scenes and habits in even the most remote parts of our land.
But in 1905 there was a magical appeal to the West. One could get lost in the West, and maybe never be found again. It was a time before civilization found it's way to Nevada, when horses were the norm and the telephone was in it's infancy. The book is available on Kindle--and the following excerpt is part of the second chapter:
Those friends who had come to the New York train station to see us off and wish us such good fortune, doubtless were sleeping soundly in their familiar beds, while we were boring through the storm and the night into what, no one could say. Inside our tourist sleeper with its rattan-covered seats, we five were variously engaged. Young Hops (the youngest), was writing in a small leather-covered book which he was using as a diary. Farrel, with his impish grin, was stealing a glimpse at what the first was writing. Then he read it out to the three of us across the aisle. “Hops” squirmed with embarrassment but his tormentor was unmoved to any show of mercy.
In the days to come Hops, whose real name was Freddie Armbruster, “Peskey “, who was William Hesketh, and “Bunny”, actually Eugene Pattberg, would so frequently be the butts of Frank Farrel’s curious and persistent sense of humor that, had his smiling expression been absent, it would have left the three with a deep sense of something missing.
I think we were all impressed that night with the thought that, in spite of the high hopes which led us on, we were leaving the comparatively sheltered life to which we had been born, and were venturing upon a new career which would be full of dangers and uncertainties in the new and crude mining camp which was our objective. Our train plowed its way unhesitatingly through the wild storm with the locomotive occasionally shrieking out its fear and dissatisfaction. We slept well that night—but each with our own plans and concerns. In the morning, everything was different.
In the morning we awoke to find our cars rattling along the shore of Lake Erie, and finally that afternoon, the train made it's way into the station where we finally disembarked with all of our things, only to have to find a stage coach connection. We sat on top of the coach while the driver leaned forward and cracked his whip over the backs of the galloping horses. It was night again, and a vicious wind blew through our clothing and struck us with the chill of interstellar space. Our train from New York had arrived late, it was already dark and it appeared to be a matter of pride with the driver that we should not miss our connection. On he pushed through the city's traffic to the next station which we made with only a few moments to spare.
As the coach swayed and bounced we were hard put to keep our places on top of the heaped up luggage. Any hand grip or suitcase handle was fair game to keep from falling. Although it seemed as though we already had reached the wild and woolly west, we were in fact only in Chicago, going from one railroad station to another on a Parmelee bus, which in those days was drawn by horses.
Five boys traveling together could hardly escape the sympathetic interest of fellow passengers and train crew alike. As we watched with interest the limitless prairie lands sliding by our windows, or excitedly scanned the mountains stretching out on the horizon, there was no lack of kindly folks to explain the things we saw. The train, now pulled by double engines, puffed its way west to the Rockies, we were thrilled by the scenery on all sides.
In Denver we had a stop-over for two days because some very good friends of Bunny's family lived there. These good folks quite generously took us in and put us up at their comfortable home and gave us the chance to see something of the Queen City of the Plains. At the zoological garden I ran into my first adventure. I had a camera with me and wanted to take a picture of a small herd of bison in a large enclosure. However, the fence seriously interfered with the picture, so I climbed over it and was busily engaged in focusing the camera upon the Bison when a shout called my attention to a large bull advancing threateningly upon me. I lost interest in the picture but managed to get back over that fence before the humpbacked creature reached me.
Our broken journey was resumed upon the Denver and Rio Grand Railway and our heads were more or less continuously poked out of the opened windows of our car as we marveled at the beautiful mountain scenery. The Royal Gorge interested us to no end and we took full advantage of the short stop made for the benefit of sight seeing.
The long journey, within the narrow confines of our two tourist sections had offered us an opportunity to know each other somewhat better. We had thought we were pretty well acquainted before starting out, but upon being thrown together in such close contact, we began to form new appraisals of each other. Bunny and Peskey rang true. They proved to be warm-hearted and friendly, unselfish and dependable. They would do as team-mates to "ride the river".
Farrel was a curious individual. He was friendly enough and well-liked but appeared proud to say there was no human being who meant anything to him. I can recall no instance in which he ever failed to take his part, or proved other than a good companion, and yet one always had the feeling he had not succeeded in getting close to him. Young Hops, I soon came to realize, was really too young for our undertaking. Later on after we were established in Nevada, I lost track of him but subsequently learned he had returned to the east and his home. The rest of us stuck together as long as that proved to be possible.
On the train we had plenty of time to reflect on the stories which Henry Weber had told us of the opportunities in Goldfield. He had described the men of the mining camps as a tough lot. Six guns were as common an adjunct of the well-dressed mining camp man as handkerchiefs were in the effete east.
As we were encouraged to picture the westerners, they were big and rough and honest, but thin-skinned and resentful of real or fancied insults, jealous of their own reputations for courage and not to be trifled with. It seemed that many a man who had intended no reflection upon one of these Argonauts had met a sad and untimely end through some misunderstanding which he had had no chance to explain.
It was small wonder that as the train moved relentlessly on toward Nevada and the camps, we began to believe that our undertaking was something which required an almost reckless brand of courage. Weber had told us, with dramatic emphasis, the way in which prospectors would set forth on journeys over the deserts and through the mountains, prodding before them a couple of laden burros, as they searched for rich mineral-bearing lands.
From our conversations both back in New York and along the way on the train, we boys felt totally familiar and eager to begin with the processes. We could visualize the prospector coming into an established camp with a canvas bag of samples of rock which he would take to an assay office for testing. Then we could see him when he got his assay certificates and found the ore was rich enough to indicate his claims had the making of a good mine. No matter how closely he tried to keep his important secret, the knowledge would somehow get out and other men would dog his footsteps night and day in order to follow him into the section in which he had made his strike.
Then the rush would commence. In two or three days, there might be a thousand or fifteen hundred men where formerly there had been nothing but the brooding silence of the barren hills. Thus would a new camp be formed and its early days usually witnessed all sorts of violence. Misunderstandings about the location of claims, conflicts in the grabbing of tent sites, almost anything could lead to gun play. We were duly warned to be on our guard if we ever came into contact with such men.
We watched eagerly from the windows of our train when we reached what we considered to be cattle country. Sure enough there were scattered bunches of cows and, now and then, had the exciting experience of seeing a cowboy on a loping bronco. Eventually the train crossed the state line into Nevada and, of course, everything along the way immediately assumed a new interest to us. We saw lofty mountains and wide expanses of fairly level ground covered sparsely with gray-green growth which we took to be sage brush. As we began to approach our point of debarkation, we became more and more impatient when we learned our train was running some hours late. An inquiry of the porter developed the information that we should not reach Hazen until midnight, actually it was nearly 2 o'clock in the morning when we got there, but for the two hours prior to that time the porter in our car had been begging us, that upon reaching the station on no account should we leave it's protection before daylight. He told us with eyes rolling and mouth twitching about some rough men who only the week before had captured and lynched some inoffensive people who had left the train at night at Hazen.
Even as I write this I find myself unable to doubt the sincerity of that porter. I know not what may have been the cause of his alarm for us but it was genuine and he practically knelt in the aisle and begged us, as we valued our lives end loved our mothers to heed his injunction. By the time the train had pulled up at the little Hazen station, other passengers were poking their heads through the curtains of their berths and joining their implorations with those of the porter. We must be sure we did not leave the slim protection of the railway station until broad daylight.
Thus counseled, we gathered all our worldly possessions and debarked from the train to the little station--the underlying fears which we dared not acknowledge to each other, grew within us and we had not the slightest desire or disposition to leave what we regarded as the friendly shelter of the station. Nothing could have tempted us to such rashness. We found however, that no matter how much protection that diminutive building gave us, it was not comfortable for five tired boys to spend the four remaining hours until daybreak.
To begin with, the station was cold and cheerless, being just a box of small dimensions, with a wooden bench which ran around three walls. This bench was punctuated at intervals approximately the width of a human posterior by curved iron arms. Of course we were dog tired, for we had not slept since the previous night. I think I always shall remember, and sometimes I even think I still can feel the discomfort which attended our efforts to lie down on those seats. To put one's head under one iron arm and curl one's mid-section around another, then to pass one's legs through a third required more ability as a contortionist than I possessed. Finally, I gave up the effort and sat up as I tried to enjoy the spectacle of the other fellow's efforts to get some rest.
Slowly the hours dragged their weary way past us in that little Hazen station. The first weak light of dawn drew me forth from the door to look about. My eyes took in the blackish butte across from the station and traveled slowly over the sage brush country, at last to come to rest in amazement at a comfortable-looking small hotel a couple of hundred yards away. As I gazed in wonderment, the door opened and a man who proved to be the proprietor, came out on the verandah, sniffed the cool dawn air and began to sweep the porch.
I lost no time rushing back into the station, waking the others and leading the rush for that hotel. Probably, if that porter who had warned us to stay in the station had been there just then, an incipient riot would have been started. The realization that we had spent those uncomfortable hours in the station when we might have had the comfort of beds at the hotel was too much for us. We did find excellent accommodations at the hotel. After the consolation of a thoroughly satisfying breakfast, we got a room and washed up, then we loafed about t he hotel until it was time to catch our next train southward to Goldfield.
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