Story type: Essay
The American man only develops himself and spreads himself and grows “for all he is worth” in the Great West. He is more free and limber there, and unfolds those generous peculiarities and largenesses of humanity which never blossomed before. The “environment” has much to do with it. The great spaces over which he roams contribute to the enlargement of his mental horizon. There have been races before who roamed the illimitable desert, but they traveled on foot or on camelback, and were limited in their range. There was nothing continental about them, as there is about our railway desert travelers, who swing along through thousands of miles of sand and sage-bush with a growing contempt for time and space. But expansive and great as these people have become under the new conditions, we have a fancy that the development of the race has only just begun, and that the future will show us in perfection a kind of man new to the world. Out somewhere on the Santa Fe route, where the desert of one day was like the desert of the day before, and the Pullman car rolls and swings over the wide waste beneath the blue sky day after day, under its black flag of smoke, in the early gray of morning, when the men were waiting their turns at the ablution bowls, a slip of a boy, perhaps aged seven, stood balancing himself on his little legs, clad in knicker-bockers, biding his time, with all the nonchalance of an old campaigner. “How did you sleep, cap?” asked a well-meaning elderly gentleman. “Well, thank you,” was the dignified response; “as I always do on a sleeping-car.” Always does? Great horrors! Hardly out of his swaddling-clothes, and yet he always sleeps well in a sleeper! Was he born on the wheels? was he cradled in a Pullman? He has always been in motion, probably; he was started at thirty miles an hour, no doubt, this marvelous boy of our new era. He was not born in a house at rest, but the locomotive snatched him along with a shriek and a roar before his eyes were fairly open, and he was rocked in a “section,” and his first sensation of life was that of moving rapidly over vast arid spaces, through cattle ranges and along canons. The effect of quick and easy locomotion on character may have been noted before, but it seems that here is the production of a new sort of man, the direct product of our railway era. It is not simply that this boy is mature, but he must be a different and a nobler sort of boy than one born, say, at home or on a canal-boat; for, whether he was born on the rail or not, he belongs to the railway system of civilization. Before he gets into trousers he is old in experience, and he has discounted many of the novelties that usually break gradually on the pilgrim in this world. He belongs to the new expansive race that must live in motion, whose proper home is the Pullman (which will probably be improved in time into a dustless, sweet-smelling, well-aired bedroom), and whose domestic life will be on the wing, so to speak. The Inter-State Commerce Bill will pass him along without friction from end to end of the Union, and perhaps a uniform divorce law will enable him to change his marital relations at any place where he happens to dine. This promising lad is only a faint intimation of what we are all coming to when we fully acquire the freedom of the continent, and come into that expansiveness of feeling and of language which characterizes the Great West. It is a burst of joyous exuberance that comes from the sense of an illimitable horizon. It shows itself in the tender words of a local newspaper at Bowie, Arizona, on the death of a beloved citizen: “‘Death loves a shining mark,’ and she hit a dandy when she turned loose on Jim.” And also in the closing words of a New Mexico obituary, which the Kansas Magazine quotes: “Her tired spirit was released from the pain-racking body and soared aloft to eternal glory at 4.30 Denver time.” We die, as it were, in motion, as we sleep, and there is nowhere any boundary to our expansion. Perhaps we shall never again know any rest as we now understand the term–rest being only change of motion–and we shall not be able to sleep except on the cars, and whether we die by Denver time or by the 90th meridian, we shall only change our time. Blessed be this slip of a boy who is a man before he is an infant, and teaches us what rapid transit can do for our race! The only thing that can possibly hinder us in our progress will be second childhood; we have abolished first.