Today, the final part of our re-reading of the National Republic article from August 1927:

… The first representatives from California had adventurous times in reaching the nation’s capital. John C. Fremont and William M. Gwin almost fought their way back to Washington in order to represent their own state in 1850 — seventy-seven years ago [from 1927, that is].

Indians were on the war path, cholera was scourging the “Great American Desert,” so the supposedly easier Panama route was taken. Senator Fremont’s wife was not well and his daughter was still young. They left San Francisco on January 1, 1850.

Mrs. Fremont at one time wrote one of her close friends telling of the trip.

“Getting to and from steamers in those days of wharfless Pacific ports was dangerous,” she related. “At San Francisco we had to row to the steamer. At Mazatlan, Mexico, the first stop, sailors, after rowing passengers near land, jumped into the water and laid their oars to [make] a compact bridge from boat to shore. Each of us took cold from an imprudent change of dress at Mazatlan. Fevers soon came on. When we reached Panama, I was too exhausted to make the land crossing on mule back. Senator Fremont was crippled. The chilling he received at Mazatlan brought on rheumatic fever in the leg, which had been frostbitten the winter before. We were carried down the gangplank and taken to the house of Mr. Stephens, one of the supervisors of the Panama railroad construction. Four weeks we lay there. The steamer which left East Panama for New York February 1 sailed without us. My little girl’s fever became worse and her splendid hair was cut close. To get me across the isthmus without jarring, the captain of a man-of-war, which was in the harbor, prepared a palanquin. This was a ship’s cot, swung to two poles, with a light awning and curtains over a frame. We had to have a sufficiently strong party to meet a new danger which had grown up on the isthmus — a banditti force, which waylaid and robbed, and sometimes murdered passengers. My men were very proud of my unique equipage. People flocked to look at it as they would at any other show. The carriers stopped to explain it and my condition. The natives at times seemed to be betting whether I would live to reach the other side. At Gorgena we heard of the recent murder of thirteen persons, a whole party, by the banditti. This made us decide to boat down the river. After two days and a night of moving slowly down this stream, we reached Portobello and boarded a New York-bound steamer. I was lashed to a sofa in the main cabin to keep from rolling off, for it was now March and the boat rolled and pitched tremendously. Thin and haggard, we docked at New York City in mid-March, seventy-five days after leaving San Francisco. How good it was to get to regular things again! The warm, carpeted rooms, large bath, the white roses and my dear violets.”

General Fremont’s successor, who was fearful of the long trip because of his wife’s delicate health, left his family at home. Senator John B. Wheeler said in a speech in the Senate, “I can have no correspondence with my family short of a month.” He was lamenting the lack of telegraph and fast mail service between the capital and the Pacific coast.

Fast sailing ships — the fastest known — that went around the Horn, around South America — took five months. It was not until May 10, 1869, that the East and the West were joined by rails.

But “it took the first transcontinental locomotives nine days to go from San Francisco to Chicago,” said Representative Charles F. Curry, of California, who more than fifty years ago made the trip, and from “Chicago to Washington took three more days,” he added.

“The trains had neither sleeping nor dining cars. At night passengers lay on boards placed over seats, or rested heads against window panes. Those who did not bring food for several days had to snatch meals at stations where the train stopped. Seats were not upholstered.”

Senator Francis E. Warren, of Cheyenne, Wyoming, who came to the Senate [in 1890], before any other present senator was there, said, “In 1890 it took me four days and nights to come from Cheyenne to Washington. This year [1926?], I came in two days and two nights. Then only one or two trains reached Cheyenne each day, now eight or nine leave and arrive daily.”

But congressional transportation is [in 1927] still improving, for Representative Roy G. Fitzgerald flies to his congressional duties. He breakfasts in Dayton, Ohio, home, then flies five hundred miles to Washington in three hours and eight minutes and lunches in the Capitol restaurant.


horse-drawn "railway" cars operated by the People's Passenger Railway Company of Philadelphia in the early 1880s (from the National Republic, August 1927)