The American West in the 1850s

These are drawings done in 1856 of Los Angeles and the Mission of San Diego, along with the great basin from the summit of Tejon Pass and a surveying party at the entrance of Livermore’s Pass.  These all appear in a volume of books commissioned by the War Department in the 1850s to determine the best route for a transcontinental railroad.  If I had a time machine, you can bet that I’d be among the explorers who headed West to see what was there.

Every time Ray and I drive cross country to or from Texas, I imagine what life was like in California, Arizona, New Mexico and West Texas before everyone started heading westward. I would have loved to have been on horseback with a few other people, exploring the land where the Native Americans lived, enjoying those vistas, fording rivers and streams, camping out under a bejeweled sky.  I can’t even imagine how beautiful this land must have been in those pristine places where Native Americans lived in harmony with the Earth.

I understand that the western migration disrupted that harmony and the Transcontinental Railroad sealed the fate of Native Americans. There is no denying that or sanitizing that fact. “Progress” changed the face and the character of this nation.

What I can tell from these volumes is that the men (and, yes, they were all men) who undertook the job to survey and explore these different routes had a deep respect for the beauty of this land.  They made meticulous notes of the flora and fauna, geological formations, the geography, and the Native American tribes they encountered.  These books record their travels and their clear veneration of the majesty of this land. There are 13 thick volumes filled with first person accounts of their travels.  It is fascinating to read and to see.

No time machines exist, at least not yet.  For now, I’ll settle for enjoying this lovely books. But if ever there is a time machine created and made available for public use, you’ll know where I’ll be headed.

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