(Photo by Bachrach)
May Humphreys Stacey
May 12, 1857. Today I take my departure for the West, belonging to the expedition of Mr. E. F. Beale, who intends surveying the Great Wagon Road, or rather that section of it lying between Fort Defiance and the Mohave River, on the borders of California. The road before me is dangerous and difficult, but I am convinced that energy and the determination to succeed, in other words to do my best, will carry me forward. Leaving Chester in the eight o'clock train of cars, I arrived in Philadelphia about nine. Not meeting Mr. Smith,1 as was expected, at the depot, Mr. Beale intrusted to my supervision the transportation of some merchandise, belonging to the expedition, from the Baltimore depot to that of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, which trust I performed, and met Mr. Smith, who made me his clerk pro tempore, his duties being too numerous for him to attend to unaided. During the whole day I have been very busily engaged. I have supervised the shipment of numerous parcels to New Orleans, via Pittsburg. Tonight at eleven we got underway from Philadelphia for Pittsburg.
p22 May 13. Last night traveling in the dark prevented me from seeing any of the country through which we passed at lightning speed. We arrived at Harrisburg just at daylight, and disembarked for the purpose of getting on board the freight train containing our goods, and also two horses and jackasses, that left Philadelphia at six yesterday, but which we passed last night. Owing to some mistake in our information the freight train did not stop, and we had the mortification of seeing our train run past without stopping. There was nothing else for us to do but to wait until some other train came along, that would take us up. Upon inquiry we found that no train came along until one P.M., so we concluded to see something of the town of Harrisburg. So right after a miserable breakfast that we got at a hotel near the depot we started on our tour of observation. Not knowing anything about the locality, we walked right ahead until we reached the Capitol Building, the only decent looking place in the town. The party were unanimous in the opinion that Harrisburg was the meanest place that they had ever visited. We were all thankful when the train arrived, and we were again in motion for Pittsburg. The scenery is most beautiful after you leave Harrisburg, and before you reach the bridge across the Susquehanna, and indeed I may safely say from Harrisburg to Altoona the views were superior to any that I have ever before seen. At Altoona night overtook us and my observations ceased with the sun. We arrived at Pittsburg at half past one in the night, raining, and all exhausted with fatigue.
May 14. Got up this morning at five and immediately went down to the freight depot to ascertain something in p23 regard to our merchandise and animals. We learned that it would not arrive before eight, and so we returned to the hotel and got breakfast, which was much better than the one we got in Harrisburg the day before. After we returned to the depot we found all our freight discharged. We got our numbers correctly, which took some time and labor. Mr. Smith hit upon a novel way of getting dinner. He proposed to go on board the steamboat about dinner-time and make inquiry in regard to transportation of freight. Calling me to one side we went on board the William Wallace, and ascertained all we wished to know in regard to our business. We were about coming away when the clerk invited us to dinner. The invitation was accepted and we dined very well, better than we would have done if we had gone to the hotel, as the rest of the party were obliged to do.
May 15. Last night Mr. Smith said to me, "Mr. Beale will arrive tonight in the one o'clock train, and I wish that you would go to the railroad station and meet him there, and tell him where we are stopping." I went to the bartender in the hotel and told him that I wished to be called at one. He promised to have me called, and I went up to my room and lay with my clothes on. I was awakened by the sound of a gong, and opening my eyes saw that it was daylight. Thinks I to myself, here is the devil to pay. I jumped up and being almost dressed it did not take me long to complete my toilet. I immediately went over to the Monongahela (?) House and inquired if Mr. Beale had arrived. The Clerk said that he had not, which was gratifying to me, as the inattention of the barkeeper would not result disadvantageously to anyone. Mr. Beale arrived p24 in the morning train, and we were soon very busy getting our freight on board the Sir William Wallace Steamboat, packet between Pittsburg and Cincinnati. We will not be able to get them all on board till tomorrow.
May 16. This morning engaged in hurrying on board the remainder of our freight, consisting of the wagons. We will go today sometime or other. — Afternoon. Everything was on board at one and we were ready for departure, but the boat was detained, waiting for bills of lading. However, at four this afternoon we started, the whole party delighted to be again en route for the far West, and very well pleased to get out of Pittsburg, the meanest place of its size in the U. S. We saw only one good thing in Pittsburg, and that was the magnificent supply of draught horses which the town possesses. I had stopped and looked at these immense dray horses with perfect admiration. The town is noted for its fine animals, and, indeed, throughout the whole of Pennsylvania west of the mountains, there are a very superior breed of draught animals. Pittsburg and Alleghany City are both seen to the best advantage from the river, and they are, at a distance, very pretty towns; but as soon as you get into them it is like entering the portals of Hell. Sandy, Mr. Beale's man, very justly remarked, "It is a one horse town."
May 17. Today is Sunday, but does not seem like the quiet, orderly Sunday at home. Instead of the melodious pealing bell is heard the hoarse whistle and the incessant puffing of the exhaust tubes. Every man works as hard on Sunday as any other day, and if you had lost your reckoning you would not recover it by observation. Nothing has occurred today worthy of observation, except that we are p25 running rapidly through a most magnificent and beautiful country. We stopped at a place opposite Pomeroy, to take in coal, and the captain having informed us he would not start for an hour, we went ashore and walked back into the country to the entrance to a coal mine. Along through this whole country is seen nothing but the excavations of coal mines. There seems to be an inexhaustible supply of this very important necessary of man. It is well that some article can be substituted for wood, which although we still see an abundance of, must in the very nature of things become too high for the purposes for which it is now used.
May 18. Today we were all on the qui vive for Cincinnati, and busy making preparations for leaving the Sir William Wallace, a very fine little boat; but we do not care anything about the boat, and we think of her officers, who, to a man, are the most polite and agreeable men we have seen since leaving home. Indeed, we felt more at home on this boat than anywhere else we have been. Porter is very sick today, and has been for the last three days very much under the weather. To the fatigue attending his journey from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and the exposure there, added to the bad water, which is very hard on one unaccustomed to it, his sickness is in a measure attributable. As usual upon the rivers of the Mississippi Valley, his sickness has taken a bilious type resembling very much fever and ague, without all the symptoms. We arrived in Cincinnati today at three o'clock, and made an arrangement with another boat to continue us forward to New Orleans. The Queen of the West, the boat secured, is a very fine boat. I have been standing out in the rain today, taking an account of the freight coming on board, p26 and to my very great joy, I am glad to say that everything came out "all right."
May 19. This morning we learned that our boat would not leave until a late hour in the day, and having some few things to purchase, Mr. Smith and myself took a walk up through the town. Much to my regret we had not the good fortune to see the Burnett House, a hotel quite extensively known throughout the United States, and having the reputation of being the finest hotel in the country. We saw the Post Office, and it is a splendid building, resembling in structure, not in color, Girard College. . . . We left Cincinnati at half past four bound for New Orleans. Messrs. Beale, Heap and Thorburn started by railway to Louisville for the purpose of examining some mules that they understood to be there. They rejoin us when we arrive. Cincinnati is a very fine town; it has very beautiful buildings in it, and is altogether superior to Pittsburg. To one having friends in the place, it must be very interesting. But to us, who are pushing right through, we have not time to see either all, nor part of that which we would like.
May 20. Got into Louisville at six this morning, and after breakfast Mr. Smith and myself went up into the town to see Mr. Beale. We did not know where he was staying, but we thought he would be in the best house in the town, so went up to the Galt House, this having the reputation of being the best hotel in the place, and found Mr. Beale.2 We received his instructions which were to get to New Orleans as fast as possible; he and the gentlemen with him having come to the determination to push p27 on in a faster boat and reach New Orleans before us. Today I met with a misfortune. Having felt like taking a walk after tea, I put on my overcoat, it being quite cool, and walked up to the hurricane deck, but before doing so I laid my knife, which had been previously in my overcoat pocket, in my berth. When I returned in the course of twenty minutes, the knife had vanished, and that will be the end of it, I imagine.
May 21. Nothing has occurred today out of the ordinary routine of steamboat travel, and therefore my entry in this journal must be small. I am getting very tired of the miserable inactive life I am leading. Our decks are so much cluttered up with freight that we can take no exercise and I do literally nothing but eat and sleep and talk. I have heard nothing of my knife, and have given it up, and come to the determination of buying one in New Orleans. We are a few miles above Cairo and will arrive there tomorrow morning sometime.
May 22. We reached Cairo at the mouth of the Ohio at four o'clock this morning. I had not an opportunity of seeing it, being asleep at the time of passing. I am told that the scene was very rich, where the two rivers meet, flowing afterwards together under the name of Mississippi, the "Father of Waters." We ran today, in twenty-four hours, •two hundred and sixty miles, very excellent running when we take into account the immense freight with which the boat is burdened.
May 23. Tragedy we got into conversation with a Southerner who was returning home from a visit to his father. He had with him a negro boy, who had stabbed a white man, and would have been hung for it but for his interference. p28 He said that he was taking him up to his place on the Arkansas River to break him in. We have heard a great deal of the comfort in which the negroes live in slavery. We have heard it said that they are more contented than our free black men. For my part, I never saw a meaner set of black men than I saw today at a wood pile, where we drew in to replenish our supply. They were coarsely dressed, squalid and above all, they had the dejected expression which degrades the human being to the level of the beast. What surprises the Northerner more than anything else, is the tenacity with which they cling to their institutions. They insist that without their negroes we would all starve and go naked. The remark made by the captain of the boat, gave a flat contradiction to this, and the same time opened our eyes to a very important truth. He said, "I take full cargoes down and return empty."
May 24. Sunday. What an immense difference we find between the quiet Sundays at home and the bustling ones on board these river steamboats. One has an air of calmness and inactivity, whilst the other is taken up with the various phases of the steamboat life. At home we see none but well dressed and agreeable individuals; on the steamboat dusty, dirty deck hands are running backwards and forwards, obeying the orders of the officers in charge. We stopped this afternoon at Vicksburg, a town noted throughout the whole U. S. for the rascality of the inhabitants. To us it appeared very quiet, it being Sunday; even the bar‑rooms were closed. We are informed that a great change for the better has occurred in this town, and that now-a‑days a man can walk about without the constant fear of p29 having a bullet through his head. Owing to the large quantities of freight which the boat had to discharge, we were detained until evening before we could again start on our journey. While here, we saw two large fish caught called the "Buffalo," which could not have weighed less than •from fourteen to sixteen pounds.
May 25. Another town visited, noted like its predecessor for its rascality, Natchez, the great hotbed of all vices. Travelers on the Mississippi eye the passenger from this town with great suspicion, because they expect someone who will cheat them out of their gains. The scenery this afternoon has been very beautiful. The negro cabins have improved in tidiness. Tomorrow night or Wednesday morning will see us most likely in New Orleans.
May 26. This morning we arrived in the Crescent City. I did not see the approach to the city, it being night, and I in my bunk. It is the finest city in the west, and were it not for the awful epidemics which prevail in the summer season, it would be the situation which would rank with any other in the Union. Everyone leaves New Orleans during the months of July, August, and the early part of September that can get away.
May 27. Nothing of importance occurred today, with the exception of my having failed in discovering my relatives in this town. I hired a cab man who cheated me and gave him the direction indicated in the directory. He said he knew where the place was, and we started; after driving •a mile or so we found the street but could not find, to save us, the number, so I ordered him to return, which he did along the levee, where we saw many ships lying idle as in New York.
p30 May 28. Spent the day at the St. Charles; saw there some of Walker's3 officers who returned with him, last evening, from his very unfortunate expedition to Nicaragua. They were about as hard a looking set as one is likely to see in a month's journey. Walker, himself, is staying at this hotel, but he keeps himself very close, and I have not yet seen him. He is described as being a small man with light hair and complexion, no beard, and very undistinguished looking. This afternoon I rejoined the rest of our party, who are quartered in the U. S. Barracks, •five miles below the City of New Orleans. The place is arranged very prettily indeed, and would make an excellent summer residence. There are eleven buildings two stories high, having rooms together for some four hundred men. We, of course, do not take any room, yet we occupy an entire building.
May 29. Mr. Beale, having purchased a very nice blooded little mare, asked me if I would like to try her. I told him nothing would give me more pleasure. He then said, "You can ride up to the city." I went and had her saddled, got on her and rode out of the enclosure towards the city. As I was riding along it occurred to me that perhaps I might have a better chance to find my aunt's place of residence, on horseback, than I had in a carriage. With this idea I turned into Greatman Street and when I approached the number 26, I rode slow and watched with great attention the number of the houses. At last opposite 15, I saw 26 and on the door C. Van Dycke.4 I drew up and hitched my horse, and knocked at the door, which was opened by a negro servant. I inquired if Madame Van p31 Dycke was in, and she replied that she was. I asked to see her and was ushered into the parlor. Presently, a lady, whose face I at once recognized, walked in. I bowed and opened the interview by saying that Miss Amelia Shives had intrusted to my care a letter for her which I gave her, and then told her my name was Stacey, May Stacey. "Stacey?" she said. "Yes, ma'am," I replied. "Stacey, Stacey." She then threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. Directly, two young ladies walked into the room, both of whom I recognized, one being Virginia and the other Mary. I spent a very pleasant hour with them, and then duty calling me away, I took my departure, first receiving an invitation to dinner on Sunday next, which I will accept, if possible.
May 31. Nothing has occurred today worthy of mention.
1 "Old Alex Smith," in charge of the stores for the expedition. In a letter to his father, dated at Harrisburg, May 13, 1857, Stacey writes, "Old Alex Smith and I get on first rate. I am his clerk. Last night he said to Williams, the mineralogist, that 'Stacey was his right hand man.' "
2 Beale's official account of the expedition does not begin until the departure from San Antonio, Texas, June 25, 1857.
3 William Walker, the "Gray-Eyed Man of Destiny."
4 It will be recalled that Stacey's mother was Sara Van Dycke.
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