Excursion Over The Prairie

The members of the great excursion party to the Falls of St. Anthony have dispersed in various directions.  Some have gone to St. Louis, and some have pushed for home by the most direct route, while others have taken the Canada road in order to pass a day or two at Niagara.  I have penetrated thus far into the prairies west of the Mississippi, and have been well repaid for my stay.  There is probably no map yet published on which you will find the name of this town.  It was laid out only last February.  It lies on the line of the Mississippi and Missouri Railroad, and is about thirteen miles west of Davenport.

I have rarely enjoyed an excursion more than the drive over the prairie to this place.  For the latter half of the way the land was unfenced and uncultivated as Nature had left it.  The prairie pink, in its scarlet livery, the moccasin flower, the wild flox, and many other varieties of flowers were in full bloom.  The weather was delicious.  There was a softness and yet an invigorating freshness in the air, as it swept over these stupendous plains, such as I had never experienced elsewhere.  The absence of forests and of surface water gives the peculiarity of which I speak.  Commend me to the prairie breeze for health and enjoyment.  Walcott is the first station on the railroad now under contract between Davenport and Iowa City.  The rails will be laid and the cars begin to run next November.  Meanwhile a town in anticipation is springing up.  We were surprised to find at Walcott an excellent hotel, where we were entertained by Mr. Myer, the landlord, in a manner that would have done credit to Warrineer’s house in Springfield, in its palmist days.  To sportsmen who would try grouse or quail shooting on the prairies in September, we commend a visit to the Walcott House.  A gentleman of our party was so much pleased with the appearance of things here that he subscribed $500 for a school house, and we walked forth and selected a site for it on a pleasant slope facing the “public square.”

There are not many trees in Walcott.  Indeed, if strict truth must be told, there is not one.  But such land—and such a place for trees.  There is not only an utter absence of trees on some of these prairies, but no vestige of the stump of a tree and no sign of a bush higher than the little compass plant, which, stretching its leaves north and south, directs the wanderer over these immense solitudes.  But there is an abundance of good bituminous coal near the town, and when the railroad is completed, lumber from Minnesota will be brought here at a trifling expense.  It was a marvel to me until I came and examined the country for myself how it was that land taken up at the government price should double, and often quadruple, in value in the course of a year.  But when you see the quality of the soil, already cleared for the plough, its amazing fertility, the absence of any waste land, the salubrity of the climate, and the rapidly increasing railroad facilities, the wonder is, not that land should rise so fast in value, but that immigration, great as it is, should not be greater.  Two years since a plenty of government land could have been taken up in Scott county.  It is now all worth from $5 to $100 an acre; and you must go west of Fort Des Moines if you would find any untenanted land in Iowa.

The great highway to Nebraska must be through Iowa over this Missouri and Mississippi railroad, soon to be completed to Iowa City, and which, when completed to Iowa City, and which, when completed to Council Bluffs, will offer the safest and most expeditious mode of getting to Nebraska and Kansas from the Atlantic States.  The two rivers are 300 miles apart.  Northern capitalist should lend their aid to this road not only from motives of patriotism, but because it will undoubtedly prove a safe ten percent investment.  Gen. Dix, late Senator in Congress from New York, is the president of the road, and Henry Farnam, the chief superintendent and engineer.

In a speech made at Davenport on the return of the boats of the great excursion from St. Paul’s, General Dix remarked:

“Let it not be supposed that we are to stop at the Missouri river.  The character of the country still invites us onward, and we shall go on.  Our surveyors and engineers have been beyond Council Bluffs into Nebraska, as far as the Platte or Nebraska river; others have been several hundred miles further west, and they report that it has the same fertility of soil which enriches Iowa so greatly.  Gentlemen, we may as well come to the point at once.  We are on the way to the Pacific; and we intend to go there.  It will require years of perseverance, but the work will be accomplished in good time.  I may reasonably expect, with the ordinary chances of life, to live to see it.  So long as the same rich soil is spread out before us, we may continue on the line we are now working.  The country as it is settled and its productive powers are developed, will furnish the means of sustaining the work.  The State of Iowa now provides all the money to grade the road through her territory by subscriptions within herself.  She has not received a single dollar from subscribers on the seaboard.  She only asks of the Atlantic States, where her improvements will virtually terminate, to furnish the rails and the running apparatus to put the road in operation.  The gentlemen who have constructed the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad, are engaged in the construction of this, and it is their opinion that the one will be as productive as the other.”

My horse is at the door, and I must take leave of Walcott—not without the hope, however, of revisiting the place next September, when the prairies are alive with game.           Boston Boy

June 27, 1854
Boston Evening Transcript,
Boston, MA.