Letter (WCP446.446)


Salina, Kansas.

May 15th. 1887

My dear Willie

Since I wrote to you last I have been going on west till I am now as mean and can be in the middle of North America, and in a country where people remember herds of buffalo for miles and the meat given for nothing. The country is now like the tops of the chalk hills near Hurst or the downs near Epsom stretched out for hundreds of miles, with great rivers and small ones, running through it and with trees along the river bank only. Most of the country now is cultivated, great fields divided by wire fences and small wooden farm houses, which there are as many railroads about everywhere as there are in England. I have not seen anything very wonderful to tell you of. In Cincinnati & other large cities west they have Tramways in every chief street worked by a rope underground to which the carriage is attached by a bar of iron with a clip which [2] you cannot see, so that the car seems to be running without any thing to pull it. The driver can loosen the slip as he pleases which the rope continually round or driven by a stream engine at the end. They go round sharp curves and up steep hills as easy as can be. [sketch of a tramway drawn below this sentence]

Another clever dodge is in the shops.

A. Is the Cashier in his desk in the middle of the shop, and B is a shopman (or woman) at the counter. Wires go overhead from the desk to all the counters, and little metal boxes run along these wires on a little roller or pulley. The shopman where any thing is paid for puts the bill and the money in the boxes, and with a jerk it runs across to the cashier. He opens it takes the money, receipts the bill, puts the change if any in the box with the bill sends it back. In a large shop these [3] boxes are whizzing overhead all the time, and at first I could not make out what it was.

At Sioux City in Iowa I met a gentleman who has a zool.[ogical] gardens of his own in a farm in the country. He has 8 buffaloes about 20 elks, some wolves, foxes, bears, rabbits, deer, wild cattle, wild geese & ducks, wild pigs, lizards, rattlesnakes & lots of other things. He keeps them to make experiments with. A few days ago I saw a horned toad just like those we had from California only smaller. He did not squirt any blood out of his eyes, & though I have asked lots of people who have caught plenty of these lizards in all parts of the country no one has ever seen them do it. When I get to California I must see if they really do do it, for unless I see it myself nobody will believe it. Several gentlemen here have seen little snakes run down their mother's throat. This is said to happen with the viper in England but the naturalists [4] will not believe it! I have no doubt though it is quite true. You need not envy my good tuck now, for I have got into a county where the meat is all to tough & so badly cooked that I often have to make up as best I can with eggs and bread & butter. The tea also very queer, and there I drink milk.

In three days I am going on to California where I expect to stay a month, & shall no doubt see some more wonderful scenery than any I have seen yet. It has been awfully hot here and for five days I was melting & with window wide open could not bear a sheet over me at night I have been told how to catch rattlesnakes. Pat them gently on the head with a stick & they will coil up, with their head down, & their tail up in the air, rattling [sketch of a coiled up rattlesnake] sh!

I hope the first time I meet one I may have a stick handy! Hoping you are quite well and are working as hard as you can.

I remain | Your affectionate Papa | Alfred R. Wallace [signature]

Please cite as “WCP446,” in Beccaloni, G. W. (ed.), Ɛpsilon: The Alfred Russel Wallace Collection accessed on 25 February 2024, https://epsilon.ac.uk/view/wallace/letters/WCP446