Our three travelers were seated in a Pullman car on the Erie Railway. Frank remarked that they were like the star of empire, as they were taking their way westward.
A Pullman Railroad Car

Fred replied that he thought the star of empire had a much harder time of it, as it had no cushioned seat to rest upon, and no plate-glass window to look from.

"And it doesn't go at the rate of thirty miles an hour," the Doctor added.

"I'm not sure that I know exactly what the star of empire means," said Frank. "I used the expression as I have seen it, but can't tell what it comes from."

He looked appealingly at Doctor Bronson. The latter smiled kindly, and then explained the origin of the phrase.

"It is found," said the Doctor, "in a short poem that was written more than a hundred and fifty years ago, by Bishop Berkeley. The last verse is like this:

"Westward the course of empire takes its way;

The first four acts already past,

A fifth shall close the drama with the day:

Time's noblest offspring is the last."

"You see the popular quotation is wrong," he added. "It is the course of empire that is mentioned in the poem, and not the star."

"I suppose," said Fred, "that the Bishop referred to the discovery of America by Columbus when he sailed to the West, and to the settlement of America which began on the Eastern coast and then went on to the West."

"You are exactly right," was the reply.
Valley of the Neversink

Frank added that he thought "star of empire" more poetical than "course of empire."

"But course is nearer to the truth," said Fred, "than star. Don't you see that Bishop Berkeley wrote before railways were invented, and before people could travel as they do nowadays? Emigrants, when they went out West, went with wagons, or on horseback, or on foot. They traveled by day and rested at night. Now, don't you see? They made their course in the daytime, when they couldn't see the stars at all, and when the stars were out, they were asleep, unless the wolves or the Indians kept them awake. They were too tired to waste any time over a twinkling star of empire, but they knew all about the course."

There was a laugh all around at Fred's ingenious defense of the author of the verse in question, and then the attention of the party was turned to the scenery along the route. Although living near the line of the Erie Railway, neither of the boys had ever been west of his station. Everything was therefore new to the youths, and they took great interest in the panorama that unrolled to their eyes as the train moved on.

They were particularly pleased with the view of the valley of the Neversink, with its background of mountains and the pretty town of Port Jervis in the distance. The railway at one point winds around the edge of a hill, and is far enough above the valley to give a view several miles in extent.

Frank had heard much about the Starucca Viaduct, and so had Fred, and they were all anxiety to see it. Frank thought it would be better to call it a bridge, as it was only a bridge, and nothing more, but Fred inclined to the opinion that "viaduct" sounded larger and higher.
Starucca Viaduct

"And remember," said he to Frank, "it is more than twelve hundred feet long, and is a hundred feet above the valley. It is large enough to have a much bigger name than viaduct."

Frank admitted the force of the argument, and added that he didn't care what name it went by, so long as it carried them safely over.

When they were passing the famous place, they looked out and saw the houses and trees far below them. Fred said they seemed to be riding in the air, and he thought he could understand how people must feel in a balloon.

Doctor Bronson said he was reminded of a story about the viaduct.

"Oh! tell it, please," said the two boys, in a breath.

"It is this," answered the Doctor. "When the road was first opened, a countryman came to the backwoods to the station near the end of the bridge. He had never seen a railway before, and had much curiosity to look at the cars. When the train came along, he stepped aboard, and before he was aware of it the cars were moving. He felt the floor trembling, and as he looked from the window the train was just coming upon the viaduct. He saw the earth falling away, apparently, the treetops far below him, and the cattle very small in the distance. He turned pale as a sheet, and almost fainted. He had just strength enough to say, in a troubled voice, to the man nearest him,

"Say, stranger, how far does this thing fly before it lights?"
Niagara Falls, from the American Side

"I don't wonder at it," said Fred. "You see, I thought of the same thing when the train was crossing."

The railway brought the party to Niagara, where they spent a day visiting the famous waterfall and the objects of interest in the vicinity. Frank pronounced the waterfall wonderful, and so did Fred. Whereupon the Doctor told them of the man who said Niagara was not at all wonderful, as any other water put there would run down over the Falls, since there was nothing to hinder its doing so. The real wonder would be to see it go up again.

They looked at the Falls from all the points of view. They went under the Canadian side, and they also went under the Central Fall, and into the Cave of the Winds. They stood for a long time watching the water tumbling over Horseshoe Fall, and they stood equally long on the American side. When the day was ended, the boys asked the Doctor if he would not permit them to remain another twenty-four hours.

"Why so?" the Doctor asked.

"Because," said Frank, with a bit of a blush on his cheeks, "because we want to write home about Niagara and our visit here. Fred wants to tell his mother about it, and I want to write to my mother and to Mary, and, and—"

"Miss Effie, perhaps," Fred suggested.
Cave of the Winds

Frank smiled, and said he might drop a line to Miss Effie if he had time, and he was pretty certain there would be time if they remained another day.

Doctor Bronson listened to the appeal of the boys, and when they were through he took a toothpick from his pocket and settled back in his chair in the parlor of the hotel.

"Your request is very natural and proper, but there are several things to consider," he answered. "Niagara has been described many times, and those who have never seen it can easily know about it from books and other accounts. Consequently, what you would write about the Falls would be a repetition of much that has been written before, and even your personal impressions and experiences would not be far different from those of others. I advise you not to attempt anything of the kind, and, at all events, not to stop here a day for that purpose. Spend the evening in writing brief letters home, but do not undertake a description of the Falls. If you want to stay a day in order to see more, we will stay, but otherwise we will go on."

The boys readily accepted Doctor Bronson's suggestion. They wrote short letters, and Frank did not forget Miss Effie. Then they went out to see the Falls by moonlight, and in good season they went to bed, where they slept admirably. The next day the journey was resumed, and they had a farewell view of Niagara from the windows of the car as they crossed the Suspension Bridge from the American to the Canadian side.

On they went over the Great Western Railway of Canada, and then over the Michigan Central. On the morning after leaving Niagara they rolled into Chicago. Here they spent a day in visiting the interesting places in the Lake City. An old friend of Doctor Bronson came to see him at the Tremont House, and took the party out for a drive. Under the guidance of this hospitable citizen, they were taken to see the city hall, the stockyards, the tunnel under the river, the grain elevators, and other things with which everyone who spends a short time in Chicago is sure to be made familiar. They were shown the traces of the great fire of 1870, and were shown, too, what progress had been made in rebuilding the city and removing the signs of the calamity. Before they finished their tour, they had absorbed much of the enthusiasm of their guide, and were ready to pronounce Chicago the most remarkable city of the present time.

As they were studying the map to lay out their route westward, the boys noticed that the lines of the railways radiated in all directions from Chicago, like the diverging cords of a spider's web. Everywhere they stretched out except over the surface of Lake Michigan, where railway building has thus far been impossible. The Doctor explained that Chicago was one of the most important railway centers in the United States, and owed much of its prosperity to the network they saw on the map.

"I have a question," said Frank, suddenly brightening up.

"Well, what is it?"

"Why is that network we have just been looking at like a crow calling to his mates?"

"Give it up. Let's have it."

"Because it makes Chi-ca-go."

"What's that to do with the crow?" Fred asked.

"Why, everything," Frank answered. "The crow makes ye-caw-go, doesn't it?"

"Now, Frank," the Doctor said, as he laughed over the conundrum, "making puns when we're a thousand miles from home and going west! However, that will do for a beginner, but don't try too often."

They agreed to call it quits, and resumed their study of the map.

They decided to go by the Northwestern Railway to Omaha. From the latter place they had no choice of route, as there was only a single line of road between Omaha and California.

From Chicago westward they traversed the rich prairies of Illinois and Iowa, a broad expanse of flat country, which wearied them with its monotony. At Omaha they crossed the Missouri River on a long bridge, and while they were crossing, Frank wrote some lines in his notebook to the effect that the Missouri was the longest river in the world, and was sometimes called the "Big Muddy," on account of its color. It looked like coffee after milk has been added. It was once said by Senator Benton to be too thick to swim in, but not thick enough to walk on.

Now they had a long ride before them. The Union Pacific Railway begins at Omaha and ends at Ogden, 1016 miles farther west. It connects at Ogden with the Central Pacific Railway, 882 miles long, which terminates at San Francisco. As they rode along they had abundant time to learn the history of the great enterprise that unites the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and enables one to travel in a single week from New York to San Francisco. The Doctor had been over the route previously. He had once crossed the Plains before the railway was constructed. Consequently, he was an excellent authority, and had an abundant store of information to draw from.

"The old way of crossing the Plains and the new way of doing the same thing," said Doctor Bronson, "are as different as black and white. My first journey to California was with an ox wagon, and it took me six months to do it. Now we shall make the same distance in four days."

"What a difference, indeed!" the boys remarked.

"We walked by the side of our teams or behind the wagons, we slept on the ground at night, we did our own cooking, we washed our knives by sticking them into the ground rapidly a few times, and we washed our plates with sand and wisps of grass. When we stopped, we arranged our wagons in a circle, and thus formed a 'corral,' or yard, where we drove our oxen to yoke them up. And the corral was often very useful as a fort, or camp, for defending ourselves against the Indians. Do you see that little hollow down there?" he asked, pointing to a depression in the ground a short distance to the right of the train. "Well, in that hollow our wagon train was kept three days and nights by the Indians. Three days and nights they stayed around, and made several attacks. Two of our people were killed and three were wounded by their arrows, and others had narrow escapes. One arrow hit me on the throat, but I was saved by the knot of my neckerchief, and the point only tore the skin a little. Since that time I have always had a fondness for large neckties. I don't know how many of the Indians we killed, as they carried off their dead and wounded, to save them from being scalped. The most important thing with the Indians was to save their own. We had several fights during our journey, but that one was the worst. Once a little party of us were surrounded in a small 'wallow,' and had a tough time to defend ourselves successfully. Luckily for us, the Indians had no firearms then, and their bows and arrows were no match for our rifles. Nowadays they are well armed, but they are not inclined to trouble the railway trains."

Frank asked if the Doctor saw any buffaloes in his first journey, and if he ever went on a buffalo hunt.
Herd of Buffaloes Moving

"Of course," was the reply. "Buffaloes were far more numerous then than now, and sometimes the herds were so large that it took an entire day, or even longer, for one of them to cross the road. Twice we were unable to go on because the buffaloes were in the way, and so all of us who had rifles went out for a hunt. I was one of the lucky ones, and we went on in a party of four. Creeping along behind a ridge of earth, we managed to get near two buffaloes that were slightly separated from the rest of the herd. We spread out, and agreed that, at a given signal from the foremost man, we were to fire together, two at one buffalo and two at the other. We fired as we had agreed. One buffalo fell with a severe wound, and was soon finished with a bullet through his heart. The other turned and ran upon us, and, as I was the first man he saw, he ran at me. Just then I remembered that I had forgotten something at the camp, and, as I wanted it at once, I started back for it as fast as I could go. It was a sharp race between the buffalo and me, and, as he had twice as many legs as I could count, he made the best speed. I could hear his heavy breathing close behind me, and his footsteps, as he galloped along, sounded as though somebody were pounding the ground with a large hammer. Just as I began to think he would soon have me on his horns, I heard the report of a rifle at one side. Then the buffalo stumbled and fell, and I ventured to look around. One of the people from camp had fired just in time to save me from a very unpleasant predicament, and I concluded I didn't want anymore buffalo hunting for that day."

Hardly had the Doctor finished his story when there was a long whistle from the locomotive, followed by several short ones. The speed of the train was slackened, and, while the passengers were wondering what was the matter, the conductor came into the car where our friends were seated and told them there was a herd of buffaloes crossing the track.

"We shall run slowly through the herd," the conductor explained, "and you will have a good chance to see the buffalo at home."

They opened the windows and looked out. Sure enough, the plain was covered, away to the south, with a dark expanse like a forest, but, unlike a forest, it appeared to be in motion. Very soon it was apparent that what seemed to be a forest was a herd of animals.

As the train approached the spot where the herd was crossing the track, the locomotive gave its loudest and shrillest shrieks. The noise had the effect of frightening the buffaloes sufficiently to stop those which had not crossed, and in the gap thus formed the train moved on. The boys were greatly interested in the appearance of the beasts, and Frank declared he had never seen anything that looked fiercer than one of the old bulls, with his shaggy mane, his humped shoulders, and his sharp, glittering eyes. He was quite contented with the shelter of the railway car, and said if the buffalo wanted him he must come inside to get him. Give him a good rifle, so that they could meet on equal terms.
Seal Rocks, San Francisco

Several of the passengers fired at the buffaloes, but Fred was certain he did not see anything drop. In half an hour the train had passed through the herd, and was moving on as fast as ever.

On and on they went. The Doctor pointed out many places of interest, and told them how the road was built through the wilderness.

"It was," said he, "the most remarkable enterprise, in some respects, that has ever been known. The working force was divided into parties like the divisions of an army, and each had its separate duties. Ties were cut and hauled to the line of the road. The ground was broken and made ready for the track. Then the ties were placed in position, the rails were brought forward and spiked in place, and so, length by length, the road crept on. On the level, open country, four or five miles of road were built every day, and in one instance they built more than seven miles in a single day. There was a construction train, where the laborers boarded and lodged, and this train went forward every day with the road. It was a sort of moving city, and was known as the 'End of Track.' There was a post office in it, and a man who lived there could get his letters the same as though his residence had been stationary. The Union Pacific Company built west from Omaha, while the Central Pacific Company built east from Sacramento. They met in the Great Salt Lake valley. Then there was a grand ceremony over the placing of the last rail to connect the East with the West. The continent was spanned by the railway, and our great seaboards were neighbors."

Westward and westward went our travelers. From the Missouri River, the train crept gently up the slope of the Rocky Mountains, until it halted to take breath at the summit of the Pass, more than eight thousand feet above the level of the sea. Then, speeding on over the Laramie Plains, down into the great basin of Utah, winding through the green carpet of Echo Canyon, skirting the shores of Great Salt Lake, shooting like a sunbeam over the wastes of the alkali desert, climbing the Sierra Nevada, darting through the snow sheds and tunnels, descending the western slope to the level of the Pacific, it came to a halt at Oakland, on the shore of San Francisco Bay. The last morning of their journey our travelers were among the snows on the summit of the Sierras. At noon they were breathing the warm air of the lowlands of California, and before sundown they were looking out through the Golden Gate upon the blue waters of the great Western ocean. Nowhere else in the world does the railway bring all the varieties of climate more closely together.

San Francisco, the City by the Sea, was full of interest for our young adventurers. They walked and rode through its streets. They climbed its steep hillsides. They gazed at its long lines of magnificent buildings. They went to the Cliff House, and saw the sea lions by dozens and hundreds, within easy rifle shot of their breakfast table. They steamed over the bay, where the navies of the world might find safe anchorage. They had a glimpse of the Flowery Kingdom, in the Chinese quarter. They wondered at the vegetable products of the Golden State as they found them in the marketplace. Long letters were written home, and before they had studied California to their satisfaction it was time for them to set sail for what Fred called "the underside of the world."


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Emigrant: Someone who leaves a country to settle in a new country.
Viaduct: A bridge with several spans that carries road or rail traffic over a valley or other obstacles.
Railway: A transport system using rails used to move passengers or goods.
Locomotive: The power unit of a train that pulls the coaches or wagons.
stockyard: An enclosed yard, with pens, sheds etc. or stables, where livestock is kept temporarily before being slaughtered, treated, sold, or shipped.
Grain Elevator: A large structure for the storage of grain, such as corn or wheat.
Buffalo: A humpbacked and shaggy wild ox.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: Niagara Falls.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the country of the United States on the map of the world.

Trace a rough path simulating the boys' railway journey across the United States:

  • New York City, NY (NYC)
  • Niagara Falls, NY (Near Buffalo, NY)
  • Cross into Canada
  • Cross back into Michigan, USA
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Omaha, Nebraska
  • Ogden, Utah
  • San Francisco, California

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.