The following letters, as is generally known, were written to The New York Tribune during a journey through Kansas, Utah, and California, last summer.
No one can be more conscious than the writer that they present the slightest possible claims to literary merit or enduring interest. Their place is among the thousand ephemeral productions of the press on which the reading public, if good-natured, bestows a kindly glance, then charitably forgets them. Ten years hence, hardly a hundred persons will be able, without sustained effort, to recollect that these letters were ever printed. Hurriedly written, mainly in wagons or under the rudest tents, while closely surrounded by the (very limited) appliances and processes of pioneer meal-getting, far from books of reference, and often in the absence of even the commonest map, they deal with surfaces only, and these under circumstances which preclude the idea of completeness of information or uniform accuracy of statement. The value of such a work, if value it have, must be sought in unstudied simplicity of narration, in the freshness of its observations, and in the truth of its averments as transcripts of actual experiences and current impressions.
By consulting and studying the reports of eminent official explorers and pioneers, from Lewis and Clark to Fremont and Lander, who have traversed the Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Basin, a far more complete and reliable book might have been made, but one extending to several volumes, and of which the public does not seem to stand in conscious, urgent need. That herewith submitted, though of far humbler pretensions, has at least the merit of owing little or nothing to any other.
If any excuse for printing these letters were wanted, it might be found in the fact that much of the ground passed over by the writer was absolutely new—that is, it had never before been traversed and described. The route up Solomon’s Fork and the upper portion of the Republican, from the forks of the Kansas to Cherry Creek; that from Denver to the gold-diggings in the Rocky Mountains, near Ralston’s fork of Clear Creek; the trail from Denver to Laramie, along the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains; and that from Salt Lake southwestwardly through central Utah to Pleasant Valley, and thence northwestwardly to the Humboldt at Gravelly Ford, are believed to stand in this category. But another reason for printing these hasty sketches is found in the fact that very great and rapid changes in most of the region lying directly between Missouri and California are inevitable. The Leavenworth Express route, through the heart of what in June is the Buffalo region, which was hardly four weeks old when I traveled it, was soon after abandoned, and has reverted to the domain of the wolf and the savage; while the rude beginning of a settlement I found, scarcely three weeks old, at “Gregory’s Diggings,” has since been “Mountain City,” with its municipality, its newspaper, and its thousands of inhabitants; and is now in its decline, having attained the ripe age of nearly half-a-year; Captain Simpson has, since July, completed his exploration of a military and mail route through Central Utah, whereby more than a hundred miles of that I traveled are saved and the detested Humboldt wholly avoided; and Carson Valley, under the impetus of rich mineral discoveries, is rapidly increasing in population and consequence, and about to stand forth, the nucleus of the embryo Territory of Nevada. Whoever visits California a few years hence, will doubtless find it greatly changed from the California so hastily run over but faithfully described by me in August, 1859. Should, then, a few copies of this book, lost in the dustiest recess of some all-embracing, indiscriminate library, evade the trunk-makers to the close of the next decade, the antiquary of 1870 may derive gratification if not instruction from a contrast of the populous, enterprising, and thrifty Central North America of his day, with that same region overrun and roughly depicted by me in the summer of 1859. Should such prove the fact, I commend my hasty letters to his generous indulgence.
New York, Nov. 1, 1859.