Institute on California and the West Railroaded Workshop, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, July 9, 2011: What Is This Railroad to Do for Us?

By Deverell, William | California History, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Institute on California and the West Railroaded Workshop, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, July 9, 2011: What Is This Railroad to Do for Us?


Deverell, William, California History


In the spring of 1868, Mark Twain and Bret Harte sat before the proofs of a new and soon-to-be-important literary magazine. The Overland Monthly was in the final stages of design and content production.

Cover art stumped the two writers--even though there was artwork tentatively chosen. A young California grizzly, the state mascot, stood in the center of the cover, snarling over his shoulder. "He was a good bear," Twain remembered later. "He was a success." But he was, Twain added, "an objectless bear--a bear that meant nothing in particular, signified nothing." What to do?

Taking a pencil, Bret Harte then did something Twain regarded as "nothing less than inspiration itself." With two hastily drawn parallel lines, Harte drew railroad tracks beneath the grizzly's feet. "Behold he was a magnificent success!" Twain wrote. Now the cover of the journal said something; now it had power and meaning. In Twain's eyes (though, being Twain, he might have been kidding), the picture now depicted an epic contest between the future and the past, between nature and inevitable human progress. Here was "the ancient symbol of California savagery snarling at the approaching type of high and progressive Civilization, the first Overland locomotive!" (1)

That is but one way to look at the railroad. If, instead, you assume that the overland locomotive represented anything but high and progressive civilization, you have a different vision of that important drawing. If the transcontinental railroad represents something different, something far lower on the ladder of progress, something darker, even more obscure, then maybe that grizzly is the noble actor in the picture. Maybe that grizzly is defending a status quo forever to be doomed by the railroad's arrival.

Think about the picture yet a third way. If the bear straddles the tracks not in defiance of the coming railroad, if the bear stands there out of loyalty or even friendship to the railroad, if the bear and the railroad are meant to suggest that nature and technology could be coexisting halves of a Gilded Age California coin, then what? And what's the bear snarling at?

That's easy: the bear is snarling at Richard White.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"THE MOST POTENT AGENCY"

In the fall of 1886, Southern Pacific Railroad executive Alban N. Towne wrote a twenty-five-page letter to California historian Hubert Howe Bancroft. (2) Bancroft had recently visited S.P. headquarters in San Francisco. Now Towne obliged Bancroft's request for "information which would better enable you to write up more fully in your great historical work the rise and progress of Railroads in California." Where to begin? Towne admitted that regarding railroad "evolutions" and their "extent and importance" to "commercial transactions," he could hardly segregate California from the nation as a whole.

Towne got right to the task, grappling with the unquestioned, even inevitable, greatness of the railroad enterprise and its history in the far West. (3) He briefly reviewed early support of a transcontinental route across the nation, though he didn't take that history back as far as he might have. He began in 1854 and advanced quickly to 1856 (he could have begun a full generation earlier had he wished, but that might have doubled the length of his long letter). He touched upon the young state of California's interest in a transcontinental "to more strongly cement the bonds of union between the Pacific and Atlantic states," noting not the rising sectional tensions between North and South but, peculiarly, the necessity of such a bond should the United States go to war with any European nation.

As he did in many a railroad letter, Towne turned quickly to numbers, detailing declining freight shipment charges for transcontinental traffic thanks to the coming of the railroad and displacement of the overland roads. He elaborated upon federal and state statute history, specifying various legislative benefits to railroad construction coming on the heels of the Civil War-era Pacific Railroad acts. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Institute on California and the West Railroaded Workshop, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, July 9, 2011: What Is This Railroad to Do for Us?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.