“In 1873, the year before the Adair’s went West, Mark Twain published his amazing The Gilded Age, and captured the tone of inevitable private abundance at the core of the Western project…”
June 18 —
“Do you see these papers? Well, they are evidence that I have taken up Seventy-five Thousand Acres of Land in this county–think what an enormous fortune it will be some day! Why, Nancy, enormous don’t express it–the word’s too tame! I tell you, Nancy–”
“For goodness sake, Si –”
“Wait, Nancy, wait—let me finish—I’ve been secretly boiling and fuming with this grand inspiration for weeks, and I must talk or I’ll burst! I haven’t whispered to a soul—not a word—have had my countenance under lock and key, for fear it might drop something that would tell even these animals here how to discern the gold mine that’s glaring under their noses. Now all that is necessary to hold this land and keep it in the family is to pay the trifling taxes on it yearly—five or ten dollars—the whole tract would not sell for over a third of a cent an acre now, but some day people will be glad to get it for twenty dollars, fifty dollars, a hundred dollars an acre! What should you say to” [here he dropped his voice to a whisper and looked anxiously around to see that there were no eavesdroppers,] “a thousand dollars an acre!
“Well you may open your eyes and stare! But it’s so. You and I may not see the day, but they’ll see it. Mind I tell you, they’ll see it. Nancy, you’ve heard of steamboats, and may be you believed in them—of course you did. You’ve heard these cattle here scoff at them and call them lies and humbugs,—but they’re not lies and humbugs, they’re a reality and they’re going to be a more wonderful thing some day than they are now. They’re going to make a revolution in this world’s affairs that will make men dizzy to contemplate. I’ve been watching—I’ve been watching while some people slept, and I know what’s coming.
“Even you and I will see the day that steamboats will come up that little Turkey river to within twenty miles of this land of ours—and in high water they’ll come right to it! And this is not all, Nancy—it isn’t even half! There’s a bigger wonder—the railroad! These worms here have never even heard of it—and when they do they’ll not believe in it. But it’s another fact. Coaches that fly over the ground twenty miles an hour—heavens and earth, think of that, Nancy! Twenty miles an hour. It makes a man’s brain whirl. Some day, when you and I are in our graves, there’ll be a railroad stretching hundreds of miles—all the way down from the cities of the Northern States to New Orleans—and its got to run within thirty miles of this land—may be even touch a corner of it. Well, do you know, they’ve quit burning wood in some places in the Eastern States? And what do you suppose they burn? Coal!” [He bent over and whispered again:] “There’s whole worlds of it on this land! You know that black stuff that crops out of the bank of the branch?—well, that’s it. You’ve taken it for rocks; so has every body here; and they’ve built little dams and such things with it. One man was going to build a chimney out of it. Nancy I expect I turned as white as a sheet! Why, it might have caught fire and told everything. I showed him it was too crumbly. Then he was going to build it of copper ore—splendid yellow forty-per-cent. ore! There’s fortunes upon fortunes of copper ore on our land! It scared me to death, the idea of this fool starting a smelting furnace in his house without knowing it, and getting his dull eyes opened. And then he was going to build it of iron ore! There’s mountains of iron ore here, Nancy—whole mountains of it. I wouldn’t take any chances. I just stuck by him—I haunted him—I never let him alone till he built it of mud and sticks like all the rest of the chimneys in this dismal country. Pine forests, wheat land, corn land, iron, copper, coal—wait till the railroads come, and the steamboats! We’ll never see the day, Nancy—never in the world—never, never, never, child. We’ve got to drag along, drag along, and eat crusts in toil and poverty, all hopeless and forlorn—but they’ll ride in coaches, Nancy! They’ll live like the princes of the earth; they’ll be courted and worshiped; their names will be known from ocean to ocean! Ah, well-a-day! Will they ever come back here, on the railroad and the steamboat, and say ‘This one little spot shall not be touched—this hovel shall be sacred—for here our father and our mother suffered for us, thought for us, laid the foundations of our future as solid as the hills!’ ”
The Gilded Age