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It was a gloomy, chilly evening in mid-April 1877 when Miriam Leslie, her husband Frank, a Skye terrier named Follette, ten of the Leslies’ friends, and their families gathered at the New York Central railroad depot in New York City. Porters carefully serpentine around crates of fruits, vegetables, spices, and vintage red wine until they reached the area of the loading dock where the travelers’ expensive trunks, leather hat boxes, and gold embossed luggage were waiting. The parade of baggage handlers scooped up the cargo and carried it aboard.
Stylishly dressed men and women congregated around the platform leading to the passenger car like moths circling a bright light. They conversed excitedly with one another about the impending trip as the train belched a steady stream of steam into the air. They pretended not to notice the activity about them and blithely sipped champagne served to them by valets wearing white gloves and adorned in waistcoats.
At twenty minutes past eight, Miriam Leslie climbed the steps of a magnificent coach, turned to the crowd, and raised her glass in a toast to all assembled. She called their attention to the name scrolled across the side of the coach which read Wagner Sleeping Car. The group applauded approvingly, and then Miriam announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the inventor of this extraordinary coach, Senator Webster Wagner.” Another round of applause was offered as the distinguished, gray-haired statesman gave a quick bow and waved at those showing their appreciation for his work.
The Wagner sleeping and parlor cars were each forty-feet long. Thick, olive colored curtains and silk shades accentuated the rows of windows that lined the coach; chandeliers painted with elaborate designs hung from the ceilings. The walls were covered in a rich, dark walnut; the seating was covered in plush upholstery, and the fixtures were brass. Small wash rooms bookended the parlor car. The sleep car was lavish, with plush, comfortable seats that unfolded into sleeping berths and privacy partitions made from mulberry silk.
Miriam and Frank had commissioned Wagner to construct the luxurious cars for the purpose of transporting the magazine publisher, his wife, and several of their friends across the country from New York to San Francisco. When the train whistle blew, the ten members of the Leslies’ party said their goodbyes to those who had come to see them off on the journey and boarded the passenger car. The vehicle pulled away from the station at approximately 8:30 in the evening. Another blast of the train whistle announced the official departure to points West.
The long-distance excursion was covered in the April 18, 1877, edition of the San Francisco Examiner. According to the report, the tour would take six weeks from start to finish. “The party includes one or two artists,” the article noted, “and having engaged a palace car with the privilege to ‘switch off’ when and where they please, they will stop whenever a bit of scenery promises to prove of interest or worth sketching. It is to be hoped, too, that we shall have some pen pictures as a result of this journey. Mrs. Frank Leslie, besides being a brilliant conversationalist, wields a very charming pen, and a look at California through her spectacles would be racy and artistic.” Miriam had every intention of recording what she experienced on the trip in her memoir.
Miriam Florence Folline was born in New Orleans on June 5, 1836, to aristocratic parents who appreciated travel. She grew up with an eye toward seeing the world. Miriam’s father, Charles, was away from home a great deal when she was growing up, and tales of his business ventures and visits to various parts of the country fueled her desire to embark on as many journeys as possible. Her family moved to New York when Miriam was a young girl. She attended the finest schools and learned to speak several languages, including German and Spanish.
Considered by most to be “attractive in both mind and body,” Miriam never lacked for male companionship. Her first romantic encounter ended in scandal when a jeweler’s clerk named David Peacock took a fancy to the stunning teenager. Miriam would visit Mr. Peacock at the jewelry store where he worked and persuaded him to let her borrow several pieces of the shop’s inventory to wear about town. When her mother, Susan, learned of her behavior, she was furious. She believed Peacock’s actions compromised her daughter’s virtue and demanded he marry Miriam. Conditions were made by Charles and Susan prior to the union. Miriam would not be allowed to live with Peacock. She would remain at home, and Peacock would financially support her. After a discreet amount of time, the marriage was annulled.
Miriam’s older brother, actor Augustus Noel, also known as Frank Folline, was involved in a sordid romance of his own at the time, one that would ultimately benefit his sister. Augustus had traveled West in 1854 with the Gold Rush and during a stay in Grass Valley, California, met the notorious entertainer Lola Montez. Lola and Augustus fell in love, and she hired him to be a part of her stage show scheduled to tour Australia. The pair, as well as the rest of the troupe, set sail for the country in early June 1855 from San Francisco. A year later they returned to America via the same route but were caught up in a storm prior to reaching the California coast. Augustus fell overboard and was drowned. Lola was heartbroken and blamed herself for the accident. In a letter to the Folline family, the entertainer expressed her sadness and invited Miriam to consider joining her in her stage show. Lola had seen a picture of Miriam while with Augustus and raved about her beauty. Lola believed Miriam’s looks would attract an audience. Miriam happily accepted the offer to tour with the famous woman known as the Countess of Landsfeld. The chance to see the world would finally be realized.
Miriam traveled with Lola Montez’s troupe for more than a year. She gained a host of admirers at each venue she appeared. Her followers included wealthy bankers, celebrities, and politicians. She was a much sought-after guest at many important functions in New York and Washington. In the fall of 1857, Miriam met archaeologist, railroad president, and newspaper editor Ephraim G. Squier. The couple wed in October 1857. Together, the Squiers journeyed from one location to the next, meeting with dignitaries, dining with royalty from foreign countries, and attending political events such as President Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural ball. It was at that ball that the twenty-nine-year old Miriam met Frank Leslie, the man who owned the paper where her husband was soon to be employed.
Miriam and Frank were instantly taken with one another, and, although both were married to other people, the two began a passionate affair. After Miriam shared with Frank that Ephraim was struggling with his businesses, particularly the railroad, Frank offered Ephraim a job as editor of his illustrated newspaper. Miriam was then named editor of the Leslie Lady’s Magazine. She excelled at the position, contributing numerous articles about life and travel. In a short time, Miriam was editing several of Frank’s many publications.
By mid-1873, after being involved in an affair for more than eight years, both Miriam and Frank divorced their spouses and were free to marry each other. The couple wed on May 31, 1873, and purchased a new home in New York on Fifth Avenue. The new Mrs. Frank Leslie wasted no time establishing herself among the most elite in New York society. She was, however, no more faithful to her third husband than she had been the second. American poet and frontiersman Joaquin Miller and Miriam began a thirty-year affair shortly after the Leslies’ honeymoon ended.
Although Miriam had taken advantage of the many opportunities to visit destinations around the world with her husbands and lovers, travel continued to excite her. Embarking on a cross-country trip in specially designed railroad carriages with good friends and the promise of witnessing some of America’s most beautiful locations gave Miriam a thrill. She was anxious to report on the excursion in future editions of Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. She hoped those reports would promote train travel and encourage readers to take to the rails.
When the members of the Leslie party first stepped into the Wagner coaches they were pleasantly surprised by the opulent interior. Once the guests adjusted themselves to the pristine setting, they agreed to refer to the palace car simply as “home.” “And very soon after reaching such a decision,” Miriam explained in her journal, “the car assumed the pleasant aspect suggested by the word, as the bouquets, shawls, rugs, sofa-cushions, and various personalities of the three ladies of the party were developed and arranged upon or around a table in the central division of the car, which was to represent the general salon, our end being partitioned off by curtains to serve as bowers for such of the party as had given hostages to society in the shape of husband or wife; while the other end, also screened by curtains, became a pleasant Bohemia where the artists, litterateurs and photographers of the party sleep and work.”
The Leslie excursion’s first significant scenic stop was Niagara Falls. Harry, also known as Henry Ogden, sketched a view of the falls from Prospect Point. His artwork was included with Miriam’s description of the sight she wrote in her book about the trip West.
“The first impressions of Niagara depended much upon the approach, crossing the high suspension bridge of the railroad, a few miles below, the traveler experiences a feeling of disappointment; the height of the fall is diminished by the perspective. But when he comes to view it from a lower level, this disappointment is overcome by surprise at the sudden growth of the gigantic torrent.
“As we came toward it, we first saw a narrow strip of lazy, smooth, slow water of the deepest blue, just flecked here and there with streaks of foam, slipping away between steep gray walls of rock, not unlike the palisades of the Hudson; a light bridge is then seen spanning the straight, clean-cut groove; now we catch the first sight of white pouring water, solid and immense, and a cloud of dense white steam hanging over the narrow blue river at what seems to be its source.
“We are here between seasons. Winter is the season for Niagara – summer for visitors. But Niagara at all seasons is indescribably magnificent.”
Miriam’s pleasure trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate was covered by newspapers across the country. At every important point along the route stops were made and photographs were taken of the Leslies and their traveling companions. Articles about their visits to Toledo, Ohio, Elkhart, Indiana, and Chicago, Illinois, were well publicized. According to the April 13, 1877, edition of the Chicago Tribune, the Leslies and party “arrived via a special car over the Michigan Southern Railway from New York. The party will remain until Sunday morning when they take their departure for Omaha in a special car over the Northwestern Road.
Miriam offered her own report about their arrival into the Windy City and what was to come. She was particularly taken with Chicago. After dining at the Grand Pacific Hotel, Miriam and her entourage toured the town. “We found the fashionable avenues, Wabash, Calmut, Prairie and Michigan, wide, straight, and interesting as drives, from the number and diversity of handsome private dwellings, generally detached, and built in all varieties of styles and ornamentation; even the frame buildings are costly and ornate, and the brick richly decorated with brown-stone copings and carvings. A favorite material, also, is a soft, creamy, yellow stone, similar to that so popular in Paris, and, possibly, the association, recalling the good-natured satire that good Chicagoeans, when they die, go to Paris, may have added to the pleasing effect.”
When Miriam and company departed the Windy City on April 16, 1877, they abandoned their Wagner coaches for the stylish Pullman hotel cars. The plush car named the “President” was designed for extended trips over steel rails. The extravagant conveyance was previously used by the Emperor of Brazil, Dom Pedro II, in the spring of 1876 to travel across the country and then placed on exhibit at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. Frank Leslie made arrangements to have the car waiting for Miriam and their companions at the depot of the Chicago and North Western Railway.
“While our party was viewing the exterior of the vehicle,” Miriam later wrote, “Mr. George Pullman himself strolled up. Pointing to his wheels, he made the somewhat alarming announcement that they were made of paper! In proportion to its weight, he said, good paper, properly prepared, is one of the strongest substances in the world. It offers equal resistance to fracture in all directions. While the toughest woods are sometimes liable to crack and split under severe trial, an ordinary iron becomes brittle from the constant jarring on the smoothest of steel rails, paper possesses a certain amount of elasticity very desirable in a car wheel. Paper wheels, he said, were subjected to an enormous hydraulic pressure and, when surrounded with a flange of steel, were the most perfect wheels yet invented.
“The excursionists were ushered into the interior of the ‘President,’ where every comfort is provided. A spacious saloon, through the magic of a drop curtain, can be made sitting room, smoking room, drawing room, and retiring room at pleasure. Whatever one longs for in his own house is procurable. The kitchen is a gem of its kind, with every convenience from a mammoth roaster to a charcoal broiler. Pots, kettles, pans, and knives are ranged around the apartment in perfect order. It is located in the rear of the car, and two large tanks suspended from the roof are supplied with water from the outside by means of a hose. Our cook was an artist in his line, and dyspepsia and indigestion were obsolete terms on board the ‘President.’
Between April 16 and April 21, 1877, the Leslies and their associates had traveled over the rolling hills and vast prairies of Iowa and Nebraska and through the Black Hills of South Dakota. While en route to Wyoming the sojourners came upon the aftermath of a blizzard that had overtaken the area. “We passed through our first snowshed,” Miriam recorded in her journal. “[It was] very like a covered bridge or wooden tunnel in effect, and were informed that the Union Pacific Railroad had been obliged to construct hundreds of miles of these, and stone fences at different points of the road, to obviate the drifting snow banks, capable of not only detaining, but of burying, a train.”
The party reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, on April 21, 1877. Miriam and her friends had been told that the town was filled with men and women of dubious reputation with a pension for stealing. The group was hesitant at first about leaving the safety of the car. They decided to venture out only if an armed guard accompanied them.
“With a dash of grim, suggestive humor, purely Western, Cheyenne was dubbed in its infancy ‘Hell on Wheels’,” Miriam recalled in her memoir. “Probably it no longer deserves this title; but in spite of its fine churches and its peaceful and law-abiding populace, one cannot but suspect that the devil has still a lien on the town. Our first study of its distinctive features is by moonlight and lamplight that creates giant shadows and throws only feeble glimmers by way of illumination; a Dore-ish sort of effect, wherein every careless street lounger takes on the aspect of a prowling assassin and the very dogs are clothed in mystery. The street lamps are infinitesimally few and far between, and the lights hung out from shops and saloons are chiefly in the way of lurid red and blue transparencies. Every ten paces one is confronted by a luminous sign with the legend ‘Faro’ or ‘Keno’ in great white letters; or that this is the ‘Monte Saloon’ and that is the ‘Arcade’ or the ‘Montana.’ Plenty of loungers around these doorways watch us as we pass: savage-looking miners, high-booted and shaggy-haired; typical ‘roughs,’ with big dogs lurking at their heels; scouts in buckskin; and here and there a boy in blue from Fort Carlin or Russell, three miles north of the town. The sidewalks are crowded with such vagabond strollers; but it is an orderly crowd, and there is little noise and no visible drunkenness, although it seems to the casual observer that every second house hangs out the sign of a barroom.”
From Cheyenne, Miriam and company pressed on toward Colorado. The group stopped in Denver and boarded horse drawn carriages in order to see the downtown area of the city. The women in the party visited the spacious stores and purchased fineries from the sophisticated array of dresses and hats available. In the evening, Miriam and friends dined with members of the Colorado Legislature. “These gentlemen, almost without exception, impressed us not only as men of strength, purpose, and ability, but conspicuous for that genial heartiness of manner, and the gentle kindness of feeling which make the Western gentleman a new and charming type,” Miriam noted in her daily journal. “Without trenching too far on private grounds, one may venture, perhaps, to say, that never was this genial manner and fine feeling better exemplified than in the Governor of the Centennial State.”
The Leslie party’s congenial hosts were equally taken with the visitors from the East and were anxious to show them more of the state in which they were so proud. The morning after the meal with the politicians, the entourage was escorted on a jaunt to Colorado Springs.
“We took passage upon the narrow-gauge railway called the Denver and Rio Grande, running south from that city, and immediately began the steady upward grade by which it climbs the ‘divide’ between the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers,” Miriam explained in her memoir. “At the highest point lies Summit Lake, in the shadow of a great Sugarloaf Mountain, with a background of purple foothills and the snows of Pike’s Peak. The waters of this little lake run impartially north and south, and in descending we soon bade goodbye to the snow, and welcomed the buffalo grass and cactus plants telling of a higher temperature. We saw ourselves surrounded on every side by their weird, fantastic forms – turrets, winged castles, needle-like shafts heaped piles that might have been the home of ghoul or sprite of the desert, and detached columns of red sandstone of every height and proportion, from a toadstool to a Corinthian pillar.
“Colorado Springs, presumably so called because the Springs are five miles away, is not without attractions. There are five roads leading away from it; Pike’s Peak looks condescendingly down on it. The air is said to be excellent for asthmatics, who therefore abound here; and its morals are guarded by the sternest of liquor laws.”
The experience the party had in Utah was as exhilarating as the scenic encounter they’d had in Colorado. “Round cape like projections and through steep walls of red sandstone, our train goes winding, swinging from side to side like a ship among the waves,” Miriam shared in her memoirs. “At the very gateway of Echo Canyon, on the crest of a great hill north of the track, is a weatherworn ruin all built in crumbling red stone. They call it ‘Castle Rock.’ Its doorway is the mouth of a cave one hundred fifty feet deep, and its columns are the work of no meaner architects than Nature and Time themselves. But nothing we have seen along the way is more suggestive of man’s planning and execution than this ‘Castle Rock,’ crowning the summit of a steep divide, overlooking the long descent of the canyon and the winding road crawling through it.
“And then follow wonders as fast as the minutes chase each other. No one can see them all, far less describe them; there is left on the mind a confusion of huge outlines, colossal bulk, glowing color, and unimaginable shapes. There are needle-like spires, red and gray, carved and fretted like chessmen as tall as houses; roughly squared columns, mighty domes, and boulders like headless birds, spreading huge wings for a flight that is never taken; sheer walls of sandstone eaten into holes and niches till they look like mountains of petrified sponge; rocks that are gray, rocks that are ruddy as if washed in a perpetual sunset, rocks of tawny or creamy yellow, belted with orange and dashed with white; and layers upon layers of stratified sandstone.
“The ground is covered with loose, broken rock from which you may pick up curious pieces perforated like honeycombs, crusted with white and yellow crystals, and flecked with every imaginable color; and you may carry home, as a priceless paperweight, a bit of Echo Canyon, painted in pale green and rich ocher red, with a grain of garnet color shot through.”
Miriam’s appreciation for the territory of Utah was not limited to the landscape. According to an article in the May 2, 1877, edition of the Desert News, she enjoyed meeting the women who resided in the “Land of Latter-Day Saints.” “Mormon women were different from what I had expected them to be,” Miriam told a reporter, “more intelligent, more womanly, and better contented with their lot. They expressed themselves as not preferring polygamy, but looking upon the practice as part of their religion.”
From Utah, the Leslies and their band of followers traveled to Nevada. The moonlight ride across the alkali plains ended in the town of Elko in mid-May 1877. Before arriving at the town in the northeast section of the state, Miriam and company had their eyes fixed on the scenery and noticed what looked like “dark cones” sprinkled among the sagebrush, around which small, moving figures could be seen racing after the train. As the cars slowed approach in the depot the voice of a young woman called out “Indians!”
The train hadn’t come to a complete stop before the artists in the Leslie group jumped out of the car, sketchbooks in hand. A number of women and children from the Shoshone tribe had left their tepees and were gathering at the depot. The artists captured the scene with pen and ink drawings. Additional sketches were made of the area and its inhabitants during the group’s short stay.
“The town of Elko is a considerable one as towns go on the Humboldt Desert,” Miriam wrote of the location. “The bright, white-painted hotel and the two or three neat stores and station buildings have a thriving and busy look in the cheerful, early sunlight.
“According to the guidebooks, Elko has a future as a watering place, boasting of six hot and cold mineral springs, one of which is agreeably known as the ‘Chicken Soup Spring’ and requires only pepper and salt and a willing imagination to make it a perpetual free soup kitchen. A bathhouse is already erected, and a large hotel is to follow which, it is confidently expected, will bring fashion and civilization by the carload into Elko.”
The next stop for the Leslie crew was at the junction of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, the short line that connects the main transcontinental track to the riches of the Comstock Silver Mines. On May 26, 1877, the travelers reached Carson City, the capital of Nevada. “Carson considers itself a fine, thriving, full-grown town – quite an old established one, having had twenty years’ time to improve and beautify itself and to run up its population to three thousand, five hundred souls,” Miriam wrote about the municipality.
“It is not fair to look upon – few of these Western centers of young civilization are. It is only a straggling place, set on a flat plain with the glorious, snowy Sierra stretching away north and south. There are the usual broad streets with stone-paved channels of clear, running water on either side in lieu of our muddy gutters of the East; sparse rows of cottonwood trees with smooth, pale yellow bark; square, two-storied houses in a most severely simple style of domestic architecture; planked sidewalks; stores; saloons; long, low railroad buildings and platforms; and a little square enclosure of fresh, thick, green grass, in the midst of which a fountain is playing.
“We leave our car and wander off on a stroll through the streets. They don’t invite the pedestrian to a very extended ramble; in ten minutes one could make brisk circuit of them all. There is the main street, running north and south, with its two goodly stone buildings, the Mint and the Capital, and its straggling show of shops (most of them with open windows and doors and a view inside the proprietors making ready to open business for the day).”
Leaving Carson City, Miriam and friends traveled to the boomtown of Virginia City. The fifty miles erratic line of train tracks the Pullman car followed consisted of sweeping, sharp curves and steady up-grades.
“Like a ship in a storm, our great unweilding car goes swinging around jutting promontories and sharp, cape like spurs,” Miriam detailed in her journal. “One or two of the more imaginative members of the party avow themselves seasick. Nowhere on the journey have we passed through a wilder and more desolate land than this; nowhere have we found ourselves so completely in the mountains, or felt so shut in and overshadowed by their grandeur.
“Only two miles from Gold Hill lies the Silver City itself, with its close-packed population impartially distributed above and below the surface. Every man who has handled a silver dollar has heard of the famous Comstock Lode and is familiar with the names of such bonanza kings as Jones, Sharon, Flood, and O’Brien, whose magnificent wealth has rendered the West famous; but it is doubtful if many persons are as familiar with the aspect of this unique city that is the home of our silver wealth.
“In this first glance the whole aspect of the city is one of intense shabbiness and instability; the low frame houses strike one as only elaborate tents hastily thrown together to meet a temporary need. The sound of the place concentrates, not around the homes, but about these long, low sheds, these smokestacks and flumes, this network of crossing and recrossing railroad switches, these great, gray mounds of crushed quartz – signs of a tremendous labor that never rests, never stops for breathing space, never for one moment relaxed its grip upon the men who are its tools. The mines and shafts are the city; the houses are the accessories.”
It was a wet, chilly afternoon when Miriam and friends left Virginia City bound for the Sacramento Valley. In early June, the sojourners’ train arrived in Sacramento. The vehicle stopped under a long, covered passageway lined with refreshment booths and lunch counters and crowded with people. Miriam and the others exited their car and flagged down a pair of horse-drawn carriages to take them through town.
“In less than five minutes we are rattling over an uneven pavement, through a blaze of semitropical sunshine and a cloud of dust, up K Street,” Miriam recalled. “Shall we ever forget that half hour in Sacramento? Under that blue mid-summer sky, in that clear atmosphere and soft, bracing, flower-scented air, it seems to us the very most delectable spot that man might ever call home. It looks so quaint and foreign, with its low, wide buildings and wooden arcades, its great, broad, sunny streets, planked sidewalks, and white and yellow adobe houses, each half-buried in its lovely, crowded garden.
“Oh, there never were such homes and such gardens as we see in Sacramento! Every street down which we whirl is shadier and prettier and more picturesque than the last; every cottage, just a little more enticing to eyes that have looked at the bare Plains and the savage mountain passes for so many days.”
San Francisco was the next city on the cross-country trek. When the Leslie troupe disembarked, the sky overhead was gray and a strong wind was blowing clouds of dust. Hackmen, carriage drivers, newsboys, and vendors were competing for the attention of potential customers. Miriam and the others took a carriage to the Palace Hotel where they would be staying for a couple of days. “It was not without a thrill of joy that we welcome the prospect of clean linens, a bath, and a luxurious hotel apartment,” Miriam later recalled.
After the Leslie party had a chance to rest and freshen up, they emerged from their rooms ready to explore the city. “The climate of San Francisco seems a point as difficult to settle as the standard of feminine beauty or the intrinsic value of Wagner’s music,” Miriam shared in her journal. “Everyone agrees that it is exhilarating, that the air is highly charged with ozone, that the brain-worker can accomplish more here than anywhere else, and wear himself out faster. But this ozone is borne upon high, cold winds, alternating with fogs and dampness fatal to any rheumatic or neuralgic tendencies and unfavorable to pulmonary complaints.
“To live in lodgings and to eat in a restaurant in the city is as San Franciscan as much as it is Parisian, and even families possessing houses and domestic conveniences are often to be found at one of these establishments, dining or lunching, just for variety and also, perhaps to see and to be seen.
“A fashionable restaurant for gentlemen is ‘The Poodle Dog;’ ‘Campi’s’ is as Italian as Naples; and the ‘Maison Doree’ is Delmonican in every respect. The code of social law in San Francisco permits young ladies to visit these establishments, even at the risk of occasionally encountering a male acquaintance.
“On the whole, we would not advise the widowed mother of a family of lads and lassies to carry them to San Francisco for social training. Although there is a large class of charming, unexceptional, and rigidly moral society, there are several other classes shading into it by almost imperceptible degrees. The bygone days, when every man was a law unto himself, have left their impress in the form of a certain recklessness and willfulness pervading every circle.”
The California extravaganza for the Leslies and their traveling companions would not have been complete without a tour of Yosemite. The sight that first moved Miriam was of a great white gleaming structure reaching to the clouds with a streak of bright water flashing down the side. “El Capitan is not a peak or a summit,” Miriam remarked in her journal, “it can hardly be called a mountain, but rather, as we have called it, a wall, two miles in length, 3,300 feet in height, white as ivory and of a grandeur, majesty, and power of expression inconceivable to one who has not seen and felt its influence. To know the Yosemite, to see El Capitan, to get a picture into your mind which will be a lifelong delight to yourself, but utterly ‘not transferable,’ you must do just what we did, go yourself and bring it away.
“Next to El Capitan, we were most impressed, as we drove on through the valley, with the South Dome, or, as the Indians called it, Tis-oa-ack, the Goddess of the Valley, a great shining silvery dome, as perfect as if one cut a globe through with a knife. A little patch of snow rested upon its summit and glittered in the sunshine, and at its edge one tiny shrub, as it looked, which our guide told us was a pine tree of goodly size, as seen through a telescope, for no one has as yet been able to reach the summit of this mountain, the dome itself being tiled as it were with great, smooth, overlapping slabs of granite, curving at an angle of about sixty degrees, and impossible of passage to any natural appliances except wings. No doubt the craving curiosity and love of dominion inherent in man will impel somebody before long to drag all sorts of tools and laborers up the miles of precipice to the foot of this dome and construct some means of ascent, but for the present it lies beyond his grasp, and, if we had our way, should never be invaded.”
The Leslies and company began their homeward journey in early June 1877. They arrived safely in New York on June 7, 1877. The total cost for the transcontinental jaunt was $15,000. Miriam penned a book about the venture entitled California: A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate. In addition to the descriptions of the pleasure trip from New York to San Francisco, the volume included numerous illustrations. One of the stories included in the book is about the gracious life to be had in a Palace car. The testimonial was written as a rebuttal to those who insisted train travel was monotonous and uncomfortable.
“This is the reality of train travel,” Miriam explains in her book. “Look through my glasses – not couleur de rose, I assure you – and take twenty-four hours on the Pullman hotel car as a fair sample of the rest. Peep in at us by lamplight, when the porter is majestically working his way between the berths, making them up in strict rotation, regardless of the prayers of sleepy wretches whose numbers come last in his list.
“The porter is a severe autocrat who patronizes the women and condescends to be playful with the men. His daily life is passed in struggles to suppress our light baggage and keep track of lost penknives, sketchbooks, gloves, and purses. Berth after berth is spread with fresh, clean sheets and heavy rugs, piled with little square pillows, and duly shut in with voluminous curtains; while under each are stowed the occupants’ belongings – the satchel, the half-cut magazine that is never read, the portfolio and sketchbooks, a pair of slippers, or a whiskbroom.
“We are divided by a curtain across the aisle: we women, each rejoicing in a whole section all to herself, at one end; and at the other, the turbulent masculine element, ‘doubled up,’ so to speak, in upper and lower berths and making night gleeful in their own peculiar fashion.
“And do you sleep? The springy roll of the cars, the slight monotonous rocking of your easy, roomy bed, and the steady roar and rattle of the train lull you into dreamland as a child is rocked by his nurse’s lullaby… Then the waking – perhaps with a flash of new-risen sunshine across your pillows, or only the first scarlet streak of dawn above the tawny divides. You draw the blankets and rugs closer round your shoulders, for it is chilly, and pushing the pillows higher, you lie staring out for the next hour or two upon the shifting wonder of the great Plains.”
Miriam Leslie’s book, California: A Pleasure Trip from Gotham to the Golden Gate, was a popular seller and received excellent reviews. For those who could afford it, cross-country trips by rail increased.
Ironically, the trip West and back again left the Leslies in debt. Miriam and Frank struggled financially until Frank’s death in January 1880. Miriam inherited all of her husband’s bills, property, and businesses – including his illustrated newspaper. She proved to be an extraordinary business woman, paying off all of Frank’s creditors and transforming the newspaper into a financial success within five years of Frank’s death.
Miriam penned six books and more than fifty articles in her lifetime. The book about her railroad journey across the country was the most popular of all her titles.