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Sea to Shining Sea
By Michael Phillips
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 1992 Michael Phillips
All rights reserved.
San Francisco Again
The setting was unbelievable!
When I first walked into the huge ballroom of the Montgomery Hotel at Pa's side, I could not take in all the magnificence of the place. Under the bright lights of chandeliers, the men sauntered around in expensive black suits, and the women in long gowns. Waiters carried food and drinks about on silver trays, and hundreds of important people milled together in that gigantic fancy room.
All I could think was, What are we doing here?
But we were there. And as we walked in, I think Pa sensed my nervousness.
"Come on, buck up, Corrie," he whispered down to me, placing a reassuring hand on my arm. "They invited us. And you're every bit the lady any of these other women are."
He patted my hand. "So don't you go willowy on me or faint or nothin'," he added. "I'm just as nervous as you are."
When the invitation had come a month earlier for Pa and me to attend the Republican reception in June of 1860 at the Montgomery Hotel in San Francisco, at first I didn't think too much of it. But a few days later Pa said, "We oughta go to that shindig, Corrie. It's not every day a couple of country locals like us get the chance to mix with important folks. What do you think?"
"You really want to, Pa?"
"Sure, just so long as you come too."
"I don't know why they invited me," I said. "You're mayor of a town. But why me?"
"Because you're a prominent young lady writer," said Pa. "Ain't no big mystery in that."
"Maybe it was Jessie Fremont's doing," I suggested. "She and Mr. Fremont probably know every important Republican in California. Maybe they told somebody about me before they left for the East."
"Never hurts to know high-up people," said Pa with a wink. "Anyhow, what do you think—you up for a trip to San Francisco?"
And so there we were. Pa in his new suit, fresh-shaved, looked as handsome and important as ever a man could. And I wore my new dress—yellow, with ruffles and a sash, and my hair fixed up with a matching ribbon in it. We walked into the ballroom of the Montgomery Hotel to join all the men who would play a leading role in the upcoming national election of 1860.
"Hey, Hollister!" called out a voice. We both turned to see Carl Denver hurrying our way. He greeted us and shook our hands. "Come with me," he said. "There's someone I want you to meet."
Before we could say much in reply, Mr. Denver had us in tow, steering us through the crowd. Then all of a sudden we were face-to-face with one of the tallest, most handsome men I had ever seen.
"Cal," said Mr. Denver, "I want you to meet two friends of mine from up in Miracle Springs—this is Corrie Hollister and her father, Drummond Hollister, the mayor of Miracle. Corrie, Hollister ... meet Cal Burton, an important fellow here in San Francisco these days."
Pa shook the man's hand. I just stood there watching and listening to him laugh at Mr. Denver's words.
"Come on now, Carl," he said, "you shouldn't lie to these good people. I'm no more important than the shoeshine boy on the street outside."
"Don't let his modesty fool you," said Mr. Denver, turning to me and speaking as if it were confidential. "Cal works for Leland Stanford, and from what I hear, he is moving up fast. You keep your eye on him, Corrie. He might get you a story or two that'll make you famous."
"A story—what are you talking about, Carl?" said Burton, turning away from Pa and toward us.
"Corrie here's a writer, Cal—you know, California's woman reporter."
"Why, of course!" he said. "Now I remember you telling me about her." He took my hand, but instead of giving it a manly shake, he just held it softly for a moment.
My heart started beating fast, and I could feel my face reddening all the way up the back of my neck and cheeks. My eyes had been following my hand as it was swallowed up in his. And now I found myself slowly glancing up as he released it. His eyes bored straight into mine.
I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the touch of his hand, the look in his eyes, and his smile made me feel a little light-headed for the rest of the evening. I'm sure Pa noticed, especially when he caught me staring in Mr. Burton's direction a couple of times. But he was nice enough not to say anything about it.
He was too busy anyway, meeting people and listening to speeches. I met a lot of other people too, but as I think back on the evening, I only remember a few of the names. Cal Burton did take me to meet his boss, the important railroad man and politician, Mr. Stanford. I couldn't say I actually spoke to him, because he was busy talking with some important Republicans about the election and slavery and the need for railroad development in California.
I wish I could recall more of the things I heard everyone talking about, because those were important times for California's future. The election, the railroad, and slavery were the subjects on everyone's minds and the topics of every conversation.
But I don't remember very much, because I couldn't keep my eyes off Cal Burton, and I couldn't keep down the fluttering in my chest. I thought everybody in the huge ballroom must have been able to hear the pounding of my pulse, although nobody seemed to pay much attention.
Cal was tall, with straight light-brown hair, parted in the middle and coming down over his forehead almost to his eyebrows, then falling around the sides just above his ears. He wore a fancy suit, light brown like his hair, and a ruffled shirt and polished boots. What a figure he cut, with those blue eyes that contrasted with the brown of his hair and suit and the tan of his face! He had a friendly smile and a warm tone, yet a thoughtfulness that made his brow crinkle when he was thinking about what to say.
Altogether, Cal Burton had a lively, interesting, intelligent, pleasant face. How could I help giving it a second, or even a third look?
I heard Pa's voice at my side. "He's going to get a headache if you keep looking at him like that!"
"Oh, Pa!" I said, blushing again. "I was just—"
"I know what you was doing, Corrie," Pa added. "And there's nothin' wrong with admitting you like the looks of a good-looking young man." He gave me a smile. "You just might want to not be so obvious about it."
"I didn't know I was."
Pa chuckled. "Everybody in the place is gonna know if you don't pull those eyes of yours back inside your head! Now come on, what do you say you and I go over and hear what some of those men in the fancy suits are saying about the election?"CHAPTER 2
The Presidential Election of 1860
As much as I had been interested in the election of 1856 because of my involvement with the Fremonts, the election of 1860 was a far more important one for the future of the whole nation. Mr. Fremont's being halfway a Californian had stirred up California quite a bit. But now even larger issues were at stake. Everything had grown more serious and heated, and even though it mostly had to do with the South and slavery, Californians were mighty interested too.
Slavery had been an issue for a long time. Pa said he remembered them talking about it back in the East when he was in his teen years. There had been preachers and politicians talking out against it and trying to get it abolished for a lot of years. But there was never anything they could do about it. Throughout the 1850s, although the debate had gotten pretty heated, the government in Washington had been almost completely controlled by the South. The southern states had kept the northern states from making any changes. And the border states were usually more sympathetic with the South, since most of them allowed slavery too.
So even though there had been growing opposition to slavery all through the 1850s, there had been nothing any of the northern politicians could do about it. I had just been growing up during those years, and hadn't known or cared much about it. But now it was 1860, and I was interested. So I asked people lots of questions to find out all I could. And gradually toward the end of the decade that had just passed, it began to look as if a change might be coming.
For one thing, Abraham Lincoln was becoming more and more well known, especially after the famous debates with Stephen Douglas in 1858 when they'd both been running for Congress in Illinois. Lincoln was known to be antislavery, and his abolitionist views made southern politicians angry.
Meanwhile, the country just kept growing, just like Miracle Springs and Sacramento and San Francisco and all of California had grown.
But the westward expansion meant that most new states were in areas where there was no slavery. Minnesota became a state in 1858, and then Oregon in 1859. Counting California too, there were eighteen northern and western states, while the southern and border regions had only fifteen. The southerners who had been in control for all that time started to get nervous because there weren't any new places for slavery to expand. Westward lay the Nebraska Territory and the Dakota Territory and the Colorado Territory and the Washington Territory and the Utah and Nevada and New Mexico territories. And all of those places, if they ever did become states, weren't very likely to side with the powerful slave men from the South.
All these things combined to make the year of 1860, and the election which would be held in November, one of the most important years in the whole history of our country.
Only a month before Pa and I went to San Francisco, the leaders of the Republican party had nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois to be their candidate for president of the United States. Against him would be running the man he already knew so well from his home state—Stephen A. Douglas.
Southerners realized the fate of slavery if Lincoln were elected, especially now that the number of slave states was in a minority. They were determined to defeat him!
That's what some of the men were discussing that evening at the Montgomery. The speeches were all about the future of the Union, they called it, and the reasons why all God-fearing and slavery-hating Californians had to do everything they could to work for Mr. Lincoln's election in California. And it wouldn't be easy—there were many more Democrats in California than Republicans.
Mr. Thomas Starr King made a speech that stirred everybody up about the need to support the northern states, even though we were so far out West. He was the pastor of the Unitarian church in San Francisco, but had only recently arrived from Boston where the man introducing him said he had been a famous preacher and lecturer. He had come from the East only a month or two earlier, and he made it sound as if debate was heated back East over which direction the nation was going to go. As for the election, however, he said he still wasn't sure how much to involve himself, being a minister.
Other men at the Montgomery were talking about issues not directly having to do with the disputes between North and South, but having to do with the future of California itself, and what the election would mean out here.
Economics and money and growth were the issues they were talking about—travel and gold and population changes and the expansion of the railroad both up and down the state and toward the East. Communication with the East was a major concern. Even though Oregon up to the north was now a state too, there had still always been the feeling that we were isolated from the rest of the country, and that the states in the West weren't as important as the other states.
Of course, nobody here believed that! To listen to them talk, California was the most important state! But they wanted everybody else to know it too.
The Pony Express had just started up two months earlier. At least now mail and news didn't take so long to reach back and forth across the huge continent. News used to take three weeks by the fastest stagecoaches to get across the plains and mountains and prairies from Missouri to California. Now it took only nine or ten days from St. Joseph to Sacramento! Since there were telegraph lines from there to the big cities on the East Coast, the whole country was separated from each other by less than two weeks as far as news was concerned.
Mr. Stanford was talking about this very issue. "Mail is one thing," he said, "but people are another. Getting people quickly back and forth between California and the East—that's what it will take before California can truly stand up and fully take its place alongside the other states of these great United States of America."
"Horses and stagecoaches," Mr. Stanford said, "are the transportation and communication methods of the past. But the future lies with machines and inventions." He went on to make a speech about how the equality and impact of full statehood could be achieved only by a railroad line stretching all the way across the country.
While I was listening to all this, I felt a touch on my arm. "Miss Hollister," a voice said, "I wonder if I might have a word with you."CHAPTER 3
An Unexpected Proposition
I turned, and my heart took off racing again at the sight of Cal Burton!
I glanced toward Pa, and before I knew it I was walking across the room at Mr. Burton's side. I was afraid to look at him and at the same time unable to keep my eyes off him.
"There's somebody I want you to talk to," he said as he led me through the maze of people. In another minute I was standing in the middle of a small group of four or five men. One of them began talking to me, but I forgot his name as soon as I'd been told, and I remember only about half of what he said, even though it turned out to be a conversation that changed the whole course of my life.
"I heard about you from Cal here," the man was saying, "and of course I'm on close terms with your editor, Ed Kemble. So I'm not altogether unaware of the role you played on behalf of our Republican party four years ago."
"I didn't do anything that did any good," I said, finally finding my voice.
"Perhaps not," the man went on. "You may have considered all that happened a waste of time and energy, but I would disagree with you."
"The story I wrote about Mr. Fremont was killed," I said.
"True enough. Your article was never printed. But what would you say if I told you I had read it?"
"I don't know," I replied. "I'm not sure I would believe you."
The man laughed, and all the others in the small group listening to our conversation followed his lead. It was the first time I had seen Cal Burton laugh, and I enjoyed the sound of it. His even white teeth and broad smile gave me a whole new reason to like his looks. But the man was still talking to me, so I had to do my best to pay attention.
Excerpted from Sea to Shining Sea by Michael Phillips. Copyright © 1992 Michael Phillips. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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