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The Diary of James Brogden, August 1871 – December 1872

10 September 1871

10 September 1871

My last letter finished with some account of our short sojourn at Salt Lake City, and the Mormons. The fact is that notwithstanding the sermon or lecture in the Tabernacle, and the confirmation of the doctrine by the young Missionary who said many in England were joining the Mormon Church, we were struck with the apparent simplicity of their adherents. One cannot conceive that even the leaders believe what is taught. All the land about the Salt Lake belongs to the Church, and some day this organisation will be powerful, as it is already rich. The exodus of the people from Nauvoo was the most extraordinary event in their history, leaving behind them their possessions and venture to cross such a trackless Desert as that by which Salt Lake is approached. Brigham Young’s house is not grand. I have brought away with me, some of their books, but they relate principally to their catechism, and exhaust ones patience to read them.

We left Salt Lake City at 2.30pm on the 10th Sept and made a days journey passing the immense plains by the side of the Lake, ascending for 10 miles a tremendous elevation of 8500 feet, then thro’ a pass at the top of the mountains, and then in pitch dark night with thunder and lightning rolling down the grade for hours, pelting away till the iron brakes were red hot. Thus we arrived in the vast Valley of the Humboldt, a district becoming celebrated for its Silver Mines, down which we ran all day till night. The Valley is most magnificent, about 15 miles wide and enclosed by lofty snow-covered mountains, the soil is page 15 fertile, but unfortunately it scarcely ever rains. The Humboldt River, however is a powerful stream, but after running some 350 miles, it disappears in a marsh. The scenery all day was strange and grand, beginning with sand-stone Cliffs worn away by ages, and afterwards thro’ parts where those large Wellingtonias and trees of the Fir tribe abound. When we awoke in the morning it was pitch dark and intensely cold; the darkness being caused by our passage thro’ the Snow Sheds. In about half an hour afterwards we reached the Summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and then, taking another engine, commenced the most remarkable descent weI ever went over. After running thro’ 40 miles of Snow Sheds we got out of them and out of the region of the snow. An “Observation Car” was very considerately sent on the Train, into which most of the Passengers entered in order to see the view as we rolled along. I cannot undertake to describe the stupendous scenery in this descent of the Sierra Nevada; - the frightful chasms, thousands of feet deep, over which the Train flew along a narrow ledge; the awful Cliffs with the road cut along the face with 1200 feet below and many hundred above. This part of the road must be seen to form an adequate idea of the work. It took us 4 hours at 30 miles an hour to get down to the great plain at the foot of the Sierra; - the grade in many places being 116 feet to the mile, - the curves constant and some exceedingly sharp and small. One can hardly conceive how beautifully the “bogie” cars roll over the curves , - no squeaking, no grinding; they seem like a billiard ball though the cars are page 16 nearly 70 feet long and weigh 25 tons. The train is controlled by atmospheric brakes which act on every car, and are managed entirely by the driver. The air pumps which brake the wheels are driven by the steam from the boiler. Thus we whirl along thro the gold digging regions of California until we arrive at the Town of Sacramento. Here the land in somewhat flat but fertile – the fruits are exceedingly fine in flavor and abundant. We then steamed across the great plain, passed thro’ a lofty range of Clay Slate Hills, over another extensive and rich plain highly cultivated and at length reached the shores of the Bay crossing over to San Francisco (called) “Frisco”) in a Ferry Boat.

We went to the Occidental Hotel paying 3 dollars per day for rooms and living which is much cheaper than we have been charged before. We took advantage of the few hours at our disposal next day to look round the town. It is a busy improving place, somewhat after the style of New York. The outskirts stretch away some distance, - and many of the houses are of wood. The view in the harbour is fair but I confess to a little disappointment, as my expectations as to the Golden Gate of the Pacific were raised rather high. In the evening we had to ship on board the “Moses Taylor” called the “rolling Moses; she had the engines like the New York Ferry Boats, the beams working up some height above the deck. We did not like her at first, she being an old boat. However we got fair berths and sailed. Whoever has to travel this route let him beware of the touters and imposition!