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Untitled Document Sumner House, Sumner K. T.
5. Oct. 1858.

Dear Father,

I closed my letter this morning rather abruptly to catch the mail having just landed myself in that Promised Land, supposed to be flowing with milk and honey.

My notions never having been particularly exaggerated I was not surprised at not finding a Boston or New York. Mr. Wheeler had not arrived and I proceeded at once to the Hotel from which my letter is dated, a house whose floors are as destitute of carpets as its walls are of paper or its table of decency. It is quite a large building & resembles its representation in the lithographic fiction which was shown me, more nearly than any other feature of the “City”. The two lower stories only are completed, the upper being merely lathed, and if guests choose to take one of those, a reduction of $1. pr. week is made in his bill the price then being $4 instead of $5 pr week. It is a rude unfinished structure, with no pretensions to comfort or convenience. It is situated at the summit of the “bluff” on which the “City” is

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located and is reached by a rude street of the most preposterous grade imaginable. It is immensely steep; more like the roof of a house than anything Else I can compare it to and so gullied with rains, so interspersed with rocks and the stumps of trees in many cases several feet high, that a New Hampshire teamster of ordinary temerity would shun the task of traversing it. The few carts that go down invariably descend with chained wheels.

This is the only street in the place which has any pretension to a grade, the others being merely footpaths leading up and down the wild ravines to the few log huts and miserable cabins which compose the city. None of the premise are fenced, the whole place being open to the incursions of dogs and pigs which exist in larger numbers and seem in fact to constitute the greater amount of the population.

It was election day yesterday and of course I had an Excellent chance to see the inhabitants and judge of their character and condition. They appeared without any exception to be a shabby, ill-dressed unthrifty people most like the inhabitants of the Irish quarter of a large City, wearing upon their countenances a look of ill concealed dis-

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content akin to despair – as if written over their hearts was the legend fabled by the Italian poet to be inscribed above the gates of Hell: “All hope abandon ye who Enter here.”

There are no churches in the place instead of four as was represented to me; no respectable residences: no society: no women except a few woe-begone desolate looking old-creatures: no mechanical activity: nothing which would seem to indicate a large and intelligent energy: no schools: no children: nothing but the total reverse of the picture which was presented to me. On the engraved romance a “College” was imaged, of which no person here of whom I have inquired have Even so much as heard the idea advanced: there was also a large and Elaborate machine shop, whose actual locality is covered by a rickety old blacksmiths’ shop carried on by a decrepit nigger.

I did not anticipate the clean and healthy thrift of a New England village, nor the noisy splendor of a Metropolis, but I am quite unable to convey to you any definite idea of the disappointment, not unmingled with anger and mortification with which I contemplate the state of affairs here. I wish I could give you a photograph of the place, but a new western village is truly indes-

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cribable in language. It can only be compared to itself. There are perhaps two hundred houses here, twenty or thirty of which are visible from any one point, some without windows and doors, some without chimneys: some without shingles or clapboards, nearly all without cellars and situated on heaps of stones or the stumps of old trees and distributed without any regard to order or regularity. It is so unlike anything I Ever saw or dreamed of that I am not yet prepared to say whether I shall like it or not. My ideas must change somewhat first.

There is apparently no trade, no commercial exchange with other states or other parts of the territory: no commission business: no reshipment or forwarding, and the few small grocery shops seem to contain only those articles demanded by a wretched and destitute population.

Half a mile back of the “bluff” the country expands into an undulating prairie, well watered & somewhat heavily timbered. I walked to the breezy summit of one of

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the highest swells yesterday and could hardly think except with a strong Effort of memory that I was in Kansas.

Before me flowed the muddy Missouri choked with sand and snags, beyond which spread the heavily wooded “bottom” several miles in width, to the forest covered bluffs which limited the eastern horizon.

On Either hand were the hither shores of the river and the cabins of “Sumner”, while westward Extended the vast grassy spaces, unfenced and unpeopled, scarred with a few gray waggon trails, till the Eye could no longer comprehend it in the autumn tinted distance.

I have made some very pleasant acquaintances since I left home: one gentleman from St. Louis in particular whom I met upon the boat and was with two days, till he landed for a tour through the wilds of Missouri, from whom I parted with sincere regret. – There was also on the boat a young fellow with whom I conversed nearly an entire day, not knowing his name, till he mentioned the place where he resided, when I asked him if he knew one of my old class mates who used to

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live there. To my surprise it proved to be his brother. He was traveling with his father, a gentleman high in the legal profession in N. York to whom he introduced me, and through him I obtained an introduction to Judge Johnson of Leavenworth with, whom I had a long conversation on matters in Kanzas.

He told me as all with whom I have spoken have done that Everything is dead here in the winter: there is no business doing and a great many go East to remain till spring. What is best for me to do under the circumstances I do not know: whether to stay here and get posted in the laws, Earning nothing meantime or return East for a few months. My own choice would be decidedly the former if I could support myself. I like the climate and fancy that I feel better than I have before for many months, though that may be attributable to the excitement & change of travel.

There is no money in the territory, though the postponement of the land sales has had the Effect of Easing the stringency somewhat, but the Emigration last spring was all of a particularly poor description owing to the

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financial troubles of the preceeding autumn: they brought no money and consequently did not improve affairs at all. It is thought that the Emigration of the succeeding season will be of a better class and great hopes are entertained for the ensuing year.

The gold fever seems to be rapidly subsiding. The papers in the territory discountenance it, whether because its continuance tends to depopulate the shore towns or because there is really no gold at Pikes Peak, is not fully settled. Parties are leaving some point on the river daily; one left this place a few days ago. The distance is about 700 miles, through a country of polar sterility infested by tribes of hostile Indians.

Wednesday A.M. 6. Oct. 1858

Two weeks ago today that I left home. It seems nearly two years. The weather which since I landed has been dull gloomy and lowering like an Eastern “Sea turn” this morning is clear, cool bright and invigorating. Even the muddy Missouri appears like a new stream and the forests have a nice Eastern look which I have not seen before.-

Life presents itself in new aspects since I have fairly realized where I am and what I am here for. It seems more difficult & uncertain. I look at the future with apprehension, rather than the exultation with which I imagined I

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should welcome the struggle. I am quite sure however that the discipline is what I need to develop that part of my character which has not hitherto been called into exercise, and it remains to be proved whether there is any heroic stuff in my mould and whether or not in my hunger after the western horizon I have Eaten my own happiness.

In a matured & perfected civilization there is much that is superfluous: how much I was never fully aware before though I presume there are many experiences in Haverhill which would far excel mine in Kanzas. =

There are some good points above this on the river which I contemplate examining before I fully decide upon my location. The Hannibal St. Joe R.R. will be completed in 4 mos. at the farthest & will Effect a great change in the present relative importance of towns. I am only staying here now to see Mr. Wheeler.

I will write again in a few days.

With regards to all the family Very Truly

Your Son

J.J.I.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

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