Sienkiewicz in Iowa

The Polish writer Henryk Sienkiewicz is best known world-wide for "Quo Vadis?" But in the eighteen-seventies he traveled across America, relating his experiences in letters sent back home. The following paragraph describes his journey by train through Iowa, on the way from Illinois to California.

Iowa, however, already counts as one of the civilized states, and the West really doesn't begin until the other side of the Missouri, after the fairly large city of Omaha, which lies on the transcontinental railroad. However, not wanting to get ahead of myself in my story, let me return to Clinton. After half an hour's stop the train rolled on. The track led through completely treeless terrain, climbing sharply, as we approached the great high plain that occupies the whole central part of the United States, forming steppes, or as they say here prairies. Farms still flash by on both sides of the track, but already less often than in Illinois. In places by the moonlight I see fields planted with corn, whose high stalks, black, withered, and sad, still stand from last summer. The further west we steam, the more deserted the country becomes. Iowa, although criss-crossed by railroads in all directions, represents a sort of gateway to the great wasteland occupying the space from the Missouri to the Sierra Nevada. The countryside is level all over, flat, just crumpled in places into gentle valleys and hills. No trace of trees. The eye loses itself in the distance, finding nothing on which it could rest. The limits of civilization could also be observed in the traveling companions filling the cars. Instead of carefully dressed, more or less elegant gentlemen, the train was occupied by bearded and mustachioed types in worn clothing, carrying dirty bundles of belongings and with revolvers stuck in their belts. The talk was loud and animated. Curses rang out. Clouds of smoke gathered under the roofs of the cars. The doors slammed, opened and closed by powerful arms. In the conversations could be heard the oft-repeated names Sioux and Pawnee, the names of the Indians living in Nebraska and Dakota.

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