The route across Panama far exceeded the other two for speed and convenience, and the ways to die were less dramatic. The first leg, New York to Panama, took but nine days with a short layover in Havana. Once the passengers arrived, the journey across the isthmus was more vexing than life threatening. Ahead of them were five days in a dugout canoe, on the back of an unpredictable mule, and atop their own sore feet. The trip exposed them to tropical heat, outbreaks of cholera, malaria, and yellow fever, and coffee sweetened by natives chewing sugar cane and spitting into the cup. Then they arrived in the three-hundred-year-old city of Panama, which one American described as a "dirty, noisy, and unpleasant place to stay in." The sun was too hot, the water too noxious to drink, and the native lemonade too "sloppy" to swallow. Here they waited on the docks until a vessel could ferry them up the west coast to San Francisco.
When the California steamed into the Bay of Panama for a brief layover and to take on more coal, her captain looked out upon the docks and saw mountains of old trunks, dirty bedding, rucksacks, ropes, tents, pots, pans, utensils, spades, and pickaxes. The stories of gold in the far reaches of the Union had incited riots at the steamship offices back east. Already, the first Atlantic steamer had arrived on the Caribbean side of Panama filled with passengers. Two days later a bark arrived carrying another sixty. By the middle of January, five other ships had off-loaded more passengers to begin the trek upriver and over the mountains to Panama City.
The California had room for 200 passengers, but over 500 waited at the docks. The captain ordered lumber, built berths in the ship's open spaces, and left Panama two weeks later with 365 passengers and 36 crew "crammed into the ship and overflowing onto the deck and the housetops." But by then, a total of four steamers, two barks, three brigs, and a schooner had deposited 726 passengers on the opposite shore to make their way to the Pacific side, and more were coming in daily on vessels embarking from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New Orleans.
Use of this excerpt from Ship and Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright © 1998 by Gary Kinder. All rights reserved.
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