Interesting Stories as Told by Col. Mark Hardin on a Train, 8/6/1891

Interesting Stories as Told by Col. Mark Hardin on a Train – Bill Arp, 8/6/1891

As iron sharpeneth iron, so a man’s face sharpeneth the face of his friend. How it shortens the miles to travel with
a companion who has something to talk about and knows how to talk it. I came with one yesterday from Atlanta.
The day was hot and the dust and cinders disagreeable, but the minutes and the miles flew by and I was home
before I knew it. The other day I found good company on the train, for it was Mark Hardin, the ancient and modern
clerk of the house of representatives, and I soon got him on the trail of his late travels to the Pacific coast and
the new State of Washington. A man who has not traveled some knows but little of what is going on in the world.
He can’t get it from reading history, and there are but few travelers who can tell what they have seen and make it
interesting. But Mark can, and I could listen to him all day on a train. I had been traveling some myself, and was
narrating as how I had been away out to Kansas City and saw them killing cattle and hogs, and how it seemed to
me I had gotten almost to the jumping off place, and so forth, when Mark took oft his coat and squared himself for
business, and bit off his tobacco and said: “Well, yes; Kansas City does seem a good ways off, and I used to think
it was, but not long ago I took a notion to peruse this Western hemisphere, and I started out from Atlanta with a friend
and by the time we got to Kansas City we had traveled a thousand and felt like we must be about half way, and
so we stopped over a day and blowed around and rested and then took a fresh start for the Pacific. Well, sir, they
penned us up in a vestibule train, and took enough provisions aboard to feed an army, and they fastened on-the
kitchen and the cooks, and the dining room, and parlors and reading rooms, and a library and a saloon and everything
else but a carriage and horses, and away we went over plains and valleys, and hills and mountains at thirty-five miles
an hour for 1,740 ‘miles, without stopping ten minutes anywhere, and didn’t stop at all for 5oo miles at a stretch.”
“How about coal and water?” said I. “Blamed if I know,” said Mark.

“Might have stopped while we were asleep, but I never saw any. Don’t need any more than half the way, nohow, for
you just roll and slide down the mountains for half a day at a time. You climb and climb higher and higher until you
-can almost touch the moon and the seven stars, and you can see all creation down below yon, and it makes a man
feel like he was-nobody, and had no kinfolks, and it didn’t matter a cent whether he lived or died. A trip over the Rockies
and the Sierras will take all the vanity out of a man quicker than anything I know. There is nothing left for him but to trust
to his Maker. He feels more helpless than he does on the ocean, for to be drowned is nothing horrible, but for the train to
break a wheel or jump the track on a narrow cliff a thousand feet high and the whole concern to go falling and cracking
to the gulch below is just awful. And there are hundreds of such frightful precipices. Well, when we had got 1,74o miles
West of Kansas City they let us out for thirty minutes and it was just glorious to get on the ground again and feel the solid
earth under your feet, and to my opinion it is the best place-better than water, better than air, better than riding on a train.
Of its dust-we were made and in its bosom we must sleep. But as I was telling you, We boarded the train again and put
on a clean shirt and took a fresh start and rolled away for 1,44o miles more and got to the jumping off place sure enough,
and like old Balboa, stood upon a rock and gazed in majestic silence upon the Pacific Ocean. If I were Byron or Shakespeare
I could tell you about that, but I’m nobody much since I got back and never expect to be. The world is a heap bigger thing
than I thought it was. Why, the fir trees all over Washington are 300 feet high, and you have to make two sights to see to
the top, and I saw a measured acre that had been sold to a saw mill and the timber cut off, and I counted twenty-seven
stumps, and the smallest was eight and a half feet in diameter, and the mill cut up one of the trees into shingles while
I was looking at them and that one tree turned out over 80,000 shingles and left a hundred feet of the top for laths and
fire wood.

And that’s truth if ever I told it, and one day some of us went out in the edge of the timber to shoot some deers and the whole
face of the earth was covered with ferns-ferns as thick on the ground as the palmetto in Florida and it was from six to twelve
feet high and we come actoss a big tree that had been blown down and the deer were said to be just on the other side and
I tiptoed up by the side of the tree to put my gun on it and I pushed it as far as I could and then tried to climb up on the crevices
in the bark, but they shelved down the wrong way and my shoes had got slick and I couldn’t make it and I couldn’t reach‘my
gun any more and had to come off and leave it. I went back next morning with a boy and put him on my shoulder and he
reached and got the gun. I wish you could see that fern. It is in a belt about ten miles wide and 200 miles long across the
country, and so impenetrable that a bear can’t get through it, but there are paths through it every few miles apart-narrow
paths that have been there for a thousand years, they say, and were made by the wild beasts, and the bears and panthers
and mountain lions and the wild hogs, and the deer all use them, and the settlers told me that the animals all understood
these paths to be common property and neutral ground, and never showed fight in them, but if a deer was going and a
bear was coming, and they met in a path the bear squatted down and the deer jumped over him. That is what the old
settlers told me.” And Mark bit off some more tobacco. “I believe it,” said I, “for I remember that Colonel Patton, of the
United States army, told me that his command was stationed one long, dry summer in the hill country South of Utah, and
every water course dried up, and every lake and pool except one, and his command had to go to that and camp and
stay all the fall, and for a radius of a hundred miles the wild beasts came by night for water, and the bears and wolves
and panthers and deer and prairie dogs would drink together and there wasn’t a growl nor a fight, for you see they
were all beset by a common danger and understood it and raised a flag of truce around the water, and Colonel
Patton said that his men all partook of the same feeling and never raised a gun to shoot, notwithstanding they
were nearly all starved for fresh meat.

And that is what the poet alluded to when he wrote that “A touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” Go on, Mark.” “Well,
as I was saying, you never heard of such a climate as they have on the Eastern slope of Washington. The boys won’t wear
shoes the year round and if it wasn’t for the fogs it would be a splendid country to live in. The fogs don’t rise until ten o’clock
in the morning and sometimes they are so thick that you can move it around with a broom and sweep it out of the house. It’s
like a cob web, and you can wrap it around a stick or a broom and carry it out. I never saw them do it, but that’s what they told
me. You can’t raise corn there, but wheat and oats and vegetables just grow immense. I saw Irish potatoes fifteen inches long
and as big as my leg. Half a potato is enough for a moderate sized family. They slice them crossways like we do for Saratoga chips, only the chips are half an inch thick and as big as saucers. Everything grows big out there but the people. I never saw
as many little, scrawny, screwed-up people in my life. They are most all foreigners; low Dutch, Poles, Italians, Swiss, Swedes, Irish, Chinese and every other sort, and not one in ten can speak the English language. They can’t call for a match to light a
pipe with, but they have to make signs for everything.” About this time our train received a shock and put on the brakes and stopped, and we all got out to see what was the matter, and found that we had run into two mules and a double seated buggy,
and two negroes and a white man and seven jugs of whisky. One negro and one mule were killed and the others badly broken
up. Nothing of the buggy could be found except the tires. It was close into town and the people all came running. The wounded were soon cared for and the train went on. Such is life and such is death, when men are coming from a stillhouse loaded
down inside and outside with whisky and try to beat a railroad at a crossing. The next thing will he three or four lawsuits
for damages, I reckon, for a railroad is an institution to be picked at and pursued, right or wrong.

They are our greatest benefactors and civilizers, and not one in five makes any money for the stock-holders, but the
liberty of a ten-dollar cow is of more importance than the lives of passengers or the wreck of an engine. I was on the
train one night when a wandering bull threw our train from the track and the engine down a bank and we had to stay
there until next morning, and a thousand dollars wouldn’t pay the damages, but the owner of the bull got his pay all the
same, and to my mind it is all wrong and I would stop it if I could. A railroad company may be just as careful as human
foresight can be, but if a man is killed the juries go for them to the tune of five or ten thousand dollars. Just let a wreck be
heard of and an Atlanta lawyer will take the first train to the spot and hunt round for a fee like a buzzard sails round for
a carcass. I wonder how mean it is possible for a man to get and:still hold up his head and pretend to be a gentleman.

Last Updated on July 21, 2021 by Bill Arp

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