New Orleans to San Francisco in
It was indeed necessary for the health of the remainder of the family that we hasten
from that place. Our funds, too, were getting low. Though we had left home with, as we
thought, a sufficient sum, only about $700 remained. It would cost a good deal to
transport our baggage to Panama, and we did not know how long we should have to stay
there. Mother asked the negroes who had helped at our father's burial, if they knew of any
one that she could hire to carry the baggage to Panama. As they did, she and my brother
went with them and hired two men and eight mules. Their charges were so high that mother
knew she would not be able to hire mules for us to ride. So she hired a native to carry my
little three-year-old brother, and also to act as guide, and it was decided that the rest
of us should walk to Panama. The native came early on the morning of the 3rd of May, and
after a great deal of fussing and chattering the mules were all loaded and started on
their way. Very many of our things had been left at Chagres, and now another lot had to be
Mother divided the money, giving half to my brother and carrying the rest herself. The
two lots were placed in belts and fastened around the waists of the bearers. Brother
carried the baby in his arms, and his rifle on his shoulder. Mother carried father's
shot-gun on her shoulder, and an umbrella to hold over baby when it rained. The native
guide was to carry my little brother most of the way, but was to let him walk where the
trail was in good condition. All being ready, we began our weary march over the regular
trail traveled by mule-teams from Gorgona to Panama.
Although this trail had been used by the Indians for generations in making their
journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific, it was still so rough that it could be traversed
only on mule-back or on foot, and in the wet season it was not an easy matter to go over
it in any way. Though this was the most expensive route by which to reach the Golden West,
as it was the shortest it was the most traveled, and was necessarily, during the rainy
season, in an execrable condition.
Along this narrow, rough, and muddy trail we picked our way as best we could. The guide
took the lead and the rest followed, generally in Indian file. It rained a great deal of
the time, and we were soon soaking wet. Our wet skirts impeded our progress so much that
whenever it stopped raining mother would wring the water out of them and out of our
sunbonnets. Our shoes were thin and rather low, and got so full of mud and water that they
chafed and hurt our feet. We soon passed the mules that were laden with our baggage.
Although we made but slow progress, we got along faster than the baggage trains,
several of which we passed. Often one or more of the poor, over-laden mules would be stuck
fast in the mire, and the drivers would be cruelly beating them or prodding them with iron
prods. The mules that carried passengers traveled faster, as they were not so heavily
burdened; still, many of these would also get mired. We passed a number of carcasses of
mules that had fallen in their tracks while being hurried on by cruel travelers. The trail
was so narrow that when we met empty trains returning to Gorgona it was with difficulty
that we could pass them.
About noon we arrived at a native hut, where our guide said that we should have to get
our dinner. It had been impossible to bring food with us while making this trip, so mother
ordered dinner. While it was being prepared I inspected the habitation and its
surroundings. The hut was built of poles, covered with palm leaves, and enclosed with the
same on three sides, and left open on the fourth. There was a ground floor and a loft. The
loft was the common sleeping-room for the entire household, and for any native travelers
that happened along. The ascent to it was made by means of a log, with notches cut in it
for steps. I did not see the furniture of the loft, but supposed it consisted chiefly of
cowhides, as they seemed to be used for so many purposes. The furniture of the ground
floor consisted of one or two earthen pots, numerous calabashes, a cowhide, a few horn
spoons, a knife, and some small blocks for stools. The pots were small, and made with
round bottoms. They were of unglazed ware, and looked like our common terra cotta flower
Dinner was announced. It was served in the little earthen pot, which was placed in the
center of the cowhide, and each of us was given a horn spoon with which to eat. It
consisted of two quarts of rice cooked with jerked beef, which was supposed to be
sufficient for mother, six children, and the guide. As we were all expected to eat from
the same pot, we were in a quandary as to how to manage it. But mother solved the problem.
She called for a calabash, and dishing out a liberal portion, gave it to the guide. We
then sat around and ate the remainder. We were still hungry, but as it had taken an hour
to prepare this potfull we could not wait for them to cook any more. So mother paid our
hostess two dollars for our entertainment, and we started on our way.
Towards nightfall we came to another hut like the one we had visited at noon. Mother
ordered supper immediately, for we were all very tired and hungry. The usual contents were
put in the pot, and a little fire kindled on the earthen floor, which was the usual place
for cooking. As soon as this was cooked we ate it, and the pot was put on the fire again
with the second course, which consisted of rice and grated cocoanut sweetened with native
After supper the mistress of the hut climbed up to the loft and threw down a cowhide.
This hide and the one that had served as our supper table were to be our beds for the
night. The hides were placed side by side on the ground, and seven blocks of wood to be
used as pillows were placed at the end. These blocks, which were cut from the trunk of a
tree, were about fourteen inches long, six inches thick, and hollowed out in the center to
fit the head. The woman then told mother that we could go to bed as soon as we chose. The
natives, including our guide, climbed to the loft, and drew up the ladder after them. This
was done as a precaution against tigers, of which the natives stood in great fear both
night and day. As these animals were very numerous, all the surrounding country a
wilderness, and the habitations a great distance apart, the precaution was not unwisely
taken. This particular family probably felt unusually safe that night, for if any of the
hungry marauders should chance to pay a visit, the seven members of our family lying on
the ground would doubtless serve to satisfy their demands. Knowing that fear would avail
us nothing, we lay down on that strange bed, in our wet clothing, and managed to sleep
some in spite of all discomfort.
Next morning after our breakfast of rice and beef, we were given some bananas,
pineapples, and cakes of sugar to serve as our lunch, as we should not reach another hut
until late in the day. Mother paid five dollars for meals, lodging, and lunch, and we
How the rain did pour down that day! We could travel but slowly, and the streams were
so swollen that they were dangerous to cross. Still we braved everything, as it was
useless to do otherwise.
About four o'clock we came to where an American was standing under a tree by the trail.
He said that he was one of a company of American surveyors, who were surveying a road from
Chagres to Panama, and that their camp was about a quarter of a mile to one side of the
trail. Some of the company had been out on the trail that morning, and had met a party of
mounted travelers, who had told of our helpless condition. Accordingly he had been sent to
watch for us, to take us to the camp for the night.
We were both surprised and grateful, for this was the first kindness that had been
shown us by a white man on the Isthmus. Mother consented to go with him, and he took my
youngest sister in his arms, and led the way to the camp. The other surveyors met us, and
gave us a cordial greeting and a hearty welcome. The camp consisted of one large circular
canvas tent, several smaller tents, and a brush cook-house. The large tent was comfortably
furnished with good American camp furniture, and was placed at our service for the night.
The cook, who was an American negro, set on the table a well cooked American supper, which
was relished, indeed, by us. After supper, it was a luxury to be able to take off our wet
clothes, and get in between clean sheets on the inflated rubber beds, where we had a
night's refreshing sleep. In the morning, after a good substantial breakfast, we were sent
on our way, our hearts filled with gratitude for the kindness of those noble men.
That day a party of travelers on mule-back passed us. Among them were two American
women, the first that we had seen on the Isthmus. They were riding astride, for it was
impossible to ride in any other manner over that rough path. That night we spent at
another hut. In addition to the rice and beef we were given some hominy and a whitish kind
of syrup. After supper, the owner of the hut cut down some kind of a palm tree, which
yielded a quantity of sap that looked like milk and water. This he gave us to drink. It
tasted very much like some of the milk sold by milkmen in cities. We had stewed yams, with
roasted bread-fruit for our breakfast the next morning, and started on our way early, as
we hoped to get through to Panama that day.
Our feet were very sore from walking in our wet shoes, and kept us awake a good deal
during the night. They itched and burned so badly that mother thought they were poisoned.
But the native woman at the hut told us that we had gotten jiggers in our feet. These are
small insects of a parasitical nature, and the woman said that the soil was full of them.
She said that they would eat or burrow in the flesh of a person's foot, and would lay
their eggs under the skin and hatch there. In a few days small blisters would form on our
feet. These blisters were the cells containing the jiggers and their eggs, and mother must
open them, scrape them well and wash with strong salt and water to rid us of the pests.
They had got into our feet from the mud that was continually getting into our low shoes,
and as the wet shoes kept our feet soft it was an easy matter for the insects to work
through the skin. We were frightened at what the woman said, for we had seen many natives
with crippled feet. and she said that the jiggers were the cause.
The path was now better than any we had passed over, and continued to improve as we
neared Panama. We children were much amused by the huge armies of ants that we saw on our
way. They would be seen crossing the trail in trains a foot in width, and each one would
be carrying a green leaf, which he held over him as if to shield him from the sun or rain.
When we disturbed them they would scatter without dropping their leaves, and would
immediately fall into ranks and go marching along like a great army of soldiers.