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Frank Russell Firth, 


The Life of Otis Everett Allen, 



"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." — Matt. v. 

But Wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age." 

— Wisdom of Solomon, iv 









Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise 

(That last infirmity of noble minds) 
To scorn delights and live laborious days ; 

But the fair guerdon, when we hope to find. 
And think to burst out into sudden blaze, 

Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears. 
And slits the thin-spun life, 
But not the praise. 

• •••••• 

And hears the unexpressive nuptial song, 
In the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love. 

There entertain him all the saints above, 
In solemn troops and sweet societies, 

That sing, and, singing, in their glory move. 
And wipe the tears forever from his eyes. 

— Mill 'ok. 

. . . What is excellent, 
As God lives, is permanent ; 
Hearts are dust, hearts' loves remain ; 
Hearts' love will meet thee ao;ain. 

— Emerson 


By Rev. E. E. HALE. 

I have read this little book, again and again. It seems 
to me to contain suggestions and lessons of great value, 
as well as of the most pathetic interest, for the boys and 
young men who are growing up all around us. 

It is for this reason, that many of us who have found 
that this biography of an American boy is welcome to 
others not far from his own age, have urged the father of 
Frank Firth to publish, for general use, a volume which 
has, hitherto, only been printed for private circulation 
among his friends. 

I knew him, though not as well as I wish, from his very 
boyhood, and I can testify to that interest which even 
from childhood he excited in those who met him. But I 
remember that, in those days of his early boyhood, I sup- 
posed that the leading interest of his life would be in mat- 
ters, — perhaps of literature, or of some occupation more 
quiet, and involving less personal contact with other men, 
than the career which, in fact, he shaped for himself. To 
see how, under the admirable training of which this book 
is the record, this delicate and sensitive nature gradually 
prepared itself for the most vigorous work of subduing the 
world, was a charming part of every interview I had with 

V 1 INTR 0£> UC TIOiV. 

him as he grew in years. You never met him but you de- 
termined to see more of him ; you said, " How proud and' 
fond they must be of him at home ; how fortunate for the 
country it is, that it has such young men," — and you had 
new hopes for your own children. 

I should find it hard to say now, whether I think this 
memoir will be more useful to parents or to boys looking 
forward upon life. To fathers and mothers, I should cer- 
tainly say, that there is hardly a page here which does not 
give a hint of worth in the education of their own chil- 
dren. If my suspicion is correct, that this boy, under any 
culture which permitted selfishness, or even much self- 
consciousness, would have dropped back into some intro- 
spective and perhaps even inefficient life, — the book is 
full of encouragement for all of us, who may be tempted to 
think that with our best prayers, wishes, and efforts, 
nothing can be done in the training of our children, which 
shall materially improve the bent given to them in the dis- 
position to which they are born. To boys and young men 
the suggestion is the same. You cannot read this book, 
without seeing that this boy's arrow flew high because 
he aimed high. He was satisfied with nothing less than 
the highest, and there is the reason why he stept steadily 
higher and higher. Looking at the little record, we are 
tempted to say he never failed. He would not have said 
so. But we see how with a purpose as pure as his, and a 
will as resolute as his, partial failure becomes a step to real 
success, and that he could not have afforded to lose one 
of those periods, which, to his eager nature, must have 
seemed most tedious as they passed by. 

I have the pleasure of knowing some of the young men 


who follow him in the Institute of Technology, where his 
school training ended, — a school to which success like his 
gives real distinction. In the hope that those young men 
may be in training for careers as noble as his seemed 
likely to be, one cannot but look with eager interest on 
the plans of the founders of that school, and the work of 
the young men who will give to it its character, Will they 
not remember that they have advantages such as theii 
fathers never had ? And may not the country claim from 
them something in proportion to their advantages ? Thia 
boy would have said that the country might make such 
claim. He met it. This little book is enough to show 
that he had found out somewhere, what is at once the 
privilege and the duty of the young American, who has 
been blessed with the higher education of our time. To 
subdue the World ! That duty is given to all of us. 

But to such young men, — who receive, concentrated 
from the most accomplished teachers, the best and noblest 
results of the whole work of all time, — for them, as they 
look round them upon life, graduating from such a school 
as this, or from either of the older universities, the ques- 
tion of life has but one noble answer. This boy saw it. 
Thank God, many other boys see it ! And the country is a 
country to live in, and to die for, because they see it. Not 
in the ranks of battle only, not in fleet or in hospital only, 
can they live for her and die for her. By " levelling her 
people ; " by bringing to bear at once, though in the prai- 
rie or on the sierra, the last results of the laboratory or 
the atelier ; by nobly resolving that for her not one gen- 
eration shall be lost between the ignorant innocence of 
the desert and the ripe civilization of the best manhood of 


society ; such boys, springing into life, show that they 
know what the young American is for ! and for what his 
education has been directed. I have seen those very near 
to me brought home dead from battle. I have known one 
dearest to me to lie unburied beneath the sea, where he 
gave his life in the vain hope of saving others. Side by 
side with their sacrifice do I rate the sacrifice of the 
young gentleman and lady who have left our upholstery of 
life to live among the miners whom they instruct, or the 
offering which those men make who carry spoken gospel, 
not to easy throngs in home churches, but to red savages 
in mountains, or to herdsmen on the plains ; yes, or such 
martyrdom in which such young men as Everett Allen 
and Frank Firth die, — in the building up of essential 
agencies of more compact and noble life for this people. 

Four such young men of the very bloom of our best 
trained youth, — four young men very dear to me, two of 
them very near to me, left us on such high adventure in 
the year Frank Firth left us. And now, all of them 
have been promoted to higher service. They are of this 
world no longer. But to the four next who shall come to 
an old friend, — to an old minister, to ask his blessing as 
they go, — I shall have to say the same word which I 
would have said to them, — that they are in the noblest 
duty of the young American. 

The true gentleman of the noblest periods of history has 
never doubted in this matter. Sydney, Raleigh, The- 
mistocles, Miltiades, never waited to ask what was the pro- 
fession of a young man who had the best training of his 
time. It was to found new states, — the noblest duty yet 
laid out for man. 


It is with a chastened pleasure that to boys and young 
men and fathers and mothers we, who have read this 
book, commend it. 

I speak for them as for myself, in asking for it a large 
circulation among the young. 

May 2, 1873. 


Frank Russell Firth was born in Clappville (now 
Rochdale), a village in the southern part of the town of 
Leicester, Massachusetts, on the 26th of May, 1847. His 
father, Abraham Firth (born in Leicester, England), was 
then station-agent of the Western Railway at that place. 
His mother, Maria Louisa Firth, was from Charlton, an 
adjoining town, her family name being Russell. 

For a few years, Frank was an only child ; and being 
claimed by both his grandmothers as an only grandson, 
he was the centre of a great deal of love and admiration, 
and also the object of much anxiety, as his health was 
very delicate. His early life did not differ greatly from 
that of other children, and the incidents which follow are 
related as characteristic rather than remarkable. 

By way of punishment for small misdemeanors, his 
mother tried the plan of shutting him in a closet. One 
day the little fellow was missed. After a fruitless search 
had been made, he emerged from his prison, and calmly 
said, using the name by which he was in the habit of call- 
ing himself, " Tub-er-tay naughty. Had to shut him in the 
closet." He was a strict disciplinarian for himself, often 
coming to his mother to report small sins of which she 


could not otherwise have known. With his clear eye and 
manly ways he seemed the impersonation of truth. 

His active brain and fingers were always employed. At 
home, he often shared his mother's household occupations, 
beside learning, under her guidance, his first lessons from 
books. He was happiest, however, with his father at 
the station. His earliest knowledge of figures he gained 
perched on a high stool in the office, peering into the great 
freight-books. The trains had a strong fascination for 
him, and he numbered among his friends many of the 
brakemen upon them. 

When he was eight years old, he began to be very useful 
to his father, who, in addition to his railway duties, kept 
flour and grain for sale in the " granary " near by. Frank 
used to go to Worcester with envelopes buttoned inside 
his jacket, containing hundreds of dollars, which sums he 
was to place in the bank. He is still remembered by the 
bank officers as their youngest depositor. His railway 
experience really began at this time, and he already had 
visions of a future when he should "run a railroad." 

He would amuse himself, while riding in the cars, by 
counting the rails as he passed over them. When his 
father went away, he would mount a stool to sell the tick- 
ets, and his little hand would be raised to give the signals 
to the freight conductors to stop or to move on. He also 
made entries on the cash and order books, as well as a 
record of all sales on account. 

Through the meadow behind his father's house ran a 
little brook, across which Frank built a dam, and in due 
time had many water-wheels in working order. The gate 
for shutting oif the water was rather frail ; a shower 


would cause a rush sufficient to carry it away ; so it was 
not an unusual thing for the family to be awakened at 
night by the noise of the wheel, when the millwright 
(then aged eight) would get up to attend to it. 

He also took to literary labors, and the result was, " The 
Clappville Herald, published weekly, by F. R. Firth, two 
cents a copy, $1.00 per annum." The paper was in manu- 
script, and made up of selections copied by its "pub- 
lisher." Its political sentiments are shown by the follow- 
ing extract, found in a copy still extant : — 


" A is an African, torn from his home ; 
B is a Bloodhound, to catch all that roam," etc. 

When he was between nine and ten years old he began 
to attend the village school. Exhibition clay came, and 
Frank rose to speak his piece. He had chosen Barham's 
famous " Misadventures at Margate." He began : — 

" I was in Margate last July ; I walked upon the pier ; 
I saw a little vulgar boy ; I said, ' What make you here ? ' " 

The audience were not destined to hear the rest. The 
embarrassment of having so many eyes fixed upon him 
was too much ; he could not go on. He had no intention, 
however, of being discouraged. At the next exhibition 
he put forth all his strength of will, and spoke the 
" Charge of the Light Brigade " with great success. 
Later, he took part often in public school exercises ; but 
he was never at his ease on such occasions, as they were 
little to his taste. 

In 1857, his father removed to Worcester, to be agent 


there of the Boston and Worcester Railway. During the 
next four years, Frank was quite absorbed in his school. 
He also was a constant attendant at the Sunday school of 
the Church of the Unity (Unitarian), and he awakened in 
both his teacher and the minister (Rev. Mr. Shippen) an 
undoubting faith in his character and ability, as well as 
an affectionate interest, which never afterward lost sight 
of him. 

At this time he developed a great taste for arithmetical 
calculation, constantly doing long sums mentally. He 
would beg his friends to tell him how old they were, and 
when told, would, in an incredibly short time, give their 
aires in minutes. In the same manner he would reduce 


miles to barleycorns, or gallons to gills. 

During a fever which he had at this time, his mind con- 
stantly recurred to such problems, to the great alarm of 
the family. 

Frank and several of his cousins usually passed the 
summer at his grandfather Russell's, in Charlton. With 
one of them he engaged in mimic scientific explora- 
tions or practical experiments, — digging artesian wells, 
blasting rocks, drilling holes in search of emery, or hunt- 
ing up arrowheads and pottery on Indian Hill. When 
the first Atlantic cable was completed, they manufactured 
pitch-pine torches, and in the evening Frank instituted a 
procession, formed of his cousins and his sister, who was 
ever an admiring follower where he led. 

He had another faithful admirer in his grandmother, 
who always believed in whatever he did. In after years 
her pride and affection never faltered, nor did he ever fail 
in the love and reverence which were her due. 


His grandfather, though a farmer, has always had me- 
chanical tastes, and has on his place a blacksmith's shop 
and a carpenter's bench, at both of which Frank passed 
many busy hours. 

Near the blacksmith's shop ran a little brook which was 
a never-failing delight. In the clam and muscle shells of 
its bed the cousins searched for pearls. Here, also, a dam 
was built, and soon a small saw-mill was in operation, which 
sawed miniature logs into very neat little slices. A quiet 
corner of the brook was arranged as an aquarium, and fishes 
were caught with a net in an adjoining pond and conveyed 
to their new home. Fishing with a hook was never an 
amusement for Frank. In fact, he would not take the life 
of even a mosquito. He was in great agony when he saw 
a mouse caught in a trap, and for several years was un- 
willing to eat meat, the thought of the death of animals 
caused him such pain. For that reason, he always spoke 
with horror of the profession of a naturalist. In later 
years, he was convinced that it was not always wrong to 
take life ; and, though he would not fish himself, he has 
been known to spend a morning, baiting a hook and re- 
moving from it the fish caught by a timid friend. 

In 1859, with his father and mother, he made his first 
trip to the West. They visited Niagara Falls, Chicago, 
and St. Louis. A school composition written on his re- 
turn, about the journey from Chicago to St. Louis, shows 
that he was keenly observant of the objects along the 
road. He speaks of the prairies, the railway tracks 
" straight as an arrow," the men he saw working bellows 
to supply air for the people in the coal mines, the " steamers 
and propellers plying in the dark muddy water of the 


Mississippi," and the lager-beer shops and gardens of 
St. Louis. He was then twelve years old. Three years 
later, he went still farther west, extending his travels to 

In i860, after a long and painful illness, his beautiful 
mother died. She had been Frank's constant companion, 
and her loss caused him a deep and silent grief. After 
her death he remained for a time with an uncle, refusing 
to come home, as he could not bear to see the rooms 
where she had been. 

The home still remained, though the mother was gone, 
for an aunt faithfully cared for the children. 

Frank was so constantly poring over his books that his 
delicacy of appearance was more marked than ever. Wise 
people shook their heads and said he would never live to 
grow up. He once overheard such a remark, and, as he 
said afterwards, determined he would live. He no longer 
refused to eat meat ; later he went to the gymnasium, and 
by every sort of out-of-door exercise began to acquire the 
physical vigor which he exhibited in after years. 

His visits to the woods of Maine assisted much in this 
development. In the summer of 1861, he first went with 
an uncle on an excursion into the wilds of Somerset 
County. They took long tramps through rough places, 
his companions stopping occasionally for trout-fishing ; 
but, as his uncle says, " it always hurt Frank's feelings to 
see the little trout taken out of the water to die" ; so 
they desisted from that sport after the first day. Once 
they surprised a fine covey of partridges. His uncle was 
preparing to take a shot ; but Frank said he would rather 
go without eating till he got home, than have one of the 


birds killed, so the indulgent uncle let them all fly away. 
Frank brought home sketches of the deserted logging- 
camps where they had passed their nights. The next 
winter he again slept in the same quarters, though this 
time there was no lack of company, for he found there 
twenty men, all strangers to him, engaged in hauling logs 
to be floated down Dead River. A few minutes after 
arriving, Frank was reading the war news to an eager 
crowd of listeners. His uncle says : " I never saw men 
in camp give such good attention to reading as they 
gave that night ; and when bed-time came, there was 
not a man in the crew but would have been glad to 
give up his berth to Frank." He visited the woods 
during the two succeeding winters, as well as in the 
intervening summers, sometimes climbing mountains so 
steep that it was necessary to draw one's self up by 
the bushes, and often sleeping in the open air on a 
fragrant bed of cedar-boughs. One of his Maine sketches 
is a view of Mount Katahdin, taken as he was crossing 
Moosehead Lake on a little steamer. He also took long 
rides about the country with his uncle, who was then 
deputy-sheriff, and whom he assisted in securing his 
prisoners and in making out his returns. His uncle 
speaks of the especial interest Frank had in talking with 
old people. He is still remembered by the family of a 
revolutionary soldier, with whom he once had a long 

In Maine lived Frank's Grandmother Firth. She was a 
birthright member of the society of Friends ; but, marrying 
out of their society, had lost her membership in accord- 
ance with their rules, and she did not again unite with 


them, although retaining their forms of speech, and their 
hostility to human slavery and to war. She could relate 
tales of events in English history, which happened near 
the place of her birth, — Loughborough, in England. 
Frank never tired of hearing of Richard III and Bosworth 
Field ; and the old traditions, poems, and ballads which 
she recited, had a strange interest for him. 

Frank was never without some sort of pet. His earliest 
ones had been some green snakes, which he taught to 
twine themselves around his neck. When one of the 
pets died, he used to make a coffin for it, and usually 
performed some funeral service, while his sister and her 
friends acted as mourners. He would afterwards place a 
wooden slab to mark the place of interment. 

By and by the father brought home a new wife who 
became a mother to the children. She also was a Miss 
Russell, though she came from Plymouth, Mass., and her 
family were not related to the Russells of Charlton. Frank 
loved and honored her as he had his own mother. She 
thus writes of him : — 

" Frank had early learned the lesson of obedience, a 
lesson never forgotten, and accepted by him in its broad- 
est sense, — obedience to authority and obedience to duty. 
I have often thought of him, standing in the same stead- 
fast spirit as Casablanca amidst the flames, if authority, 
recognized by him as such, required it ; or walking firmly 
to the cannon's mouth if duty led that way. What sac- 
rifices of a strong, young will such an idea of obedience 
required on his part, let any child of earnest purpose 

" That which the boy asked of himself towards his 



superiors in authority, the man had a right to ask from 
those in his service, and ' Mr. Firth ' became a strict 

For a long time Frank had spent much of his leisure in 
observing the working of an engine used for sawing wood 
at the Boston & Worcester Railroad station. He now be- 
gan to work with his jackknife on small wooden patterns, 
and one by one as they were finished he took them to the 
foundry. Finally, all the castings were brought home and 
fitted together, and the result was a horizontal stationary 
engine, of the following dimensions : length of stroke, 1 J 
inches ; diameter of cylinder, |- inch ; length of main con- 
nection, 5 inches ; throw of eccentric, f inches ; diameter 
of balance-wheel, 6 inches. The engine has four valves, 
two steam and two exhaust, each working independently. 
They are operated by two rocker shaf.s and arms, both 
being driven by one eccentric in a novel way, original with 
the builder, whose initials, F. R. F., are found on the 
casting which supports the main connection. Weight of 
engine, with black-walnut stand, 17 pounds. 

Many evenings during the winter of 1863-4, by means 
of steam from a boiler (improvised from a soup-kettle), 
placed on the kitchen stove at home, the little engine 
worked to a charm. 

In 1863, Frank graduated from the High School in Wor- 
cester, but remained there for another year, pursuing a 
few extra studies. To occupy his leisure he took to wood- 
engraving, copying many of the illustrations in Dickens' 
works. His blocks are really very nice specimens of 
carving. He also made various collections, which are still 
preserved, of coins, postage-stamps, autographs, and of 


curiosities in general. Several books he filled with the 
patriotic envelopes issued during the war. 

He was naturally very sensitive, and shrank from all 
horrible sights. With the desire of self-conquest always 
evinced by him, he sought to overcome this feeling. He 
obtained bloody relics of battle-fields, visited the hospitals, 
and always tried to see the sufferers by street or railway 
accidents. Later in life, he came to regard this as a 
morbid practice, and avoided such sights. 

In the spring of 1864, Frank had a desire to go to West 
Point, on account of the advantage there afforded for the 
study of engineering. A letter obtained to send with his 
application, written by Mr. Harris R. Greene, under whose 
instruction Frank had been for five years, characterized 
him a " young man of more than ordinary scholarship and 
of more than ordinary ability," and mentioned that his 
marks had ranged from 98 to 100 on a maximum of 100, 
and that he had taken two prizes in the school. 

Frank did not obtain the appointment. At that time 
there were so many applications for the sons of soldiers, 
that the chance of others was small. 

He had taken the so-called " classical course " at school, 
fitting him for college ; but, as a college education would 
not prepare him for his chosen career, it was thought best 
for him to wait a year before deciding where to continue 
his studies. 

During a part of that year he worked as clerk in the 
Boston and Worcester freight office, at Worcester, thus 
gaining a practical insight into that department of a rail- 

It was finally determined that he should go to the Insti- 



tute of Technology, in Boston, then just starting upon its 
second year. In September, 1865, he entered, a year in 
advance, thus becoming a member of the pioneer class of 
the Institute. A month after, the family removed to Bos- 
ton, Frank's father being called to the superintendency 
of the Boston & Worcester Railway. During the next 
three years, Frank was, as always, a careful student. 

One of his classmates thus writes : — 

" He was regarded as entirely unique among us. There 
was very little fellowship, though a great deal of good feel- 
ing between him and his companions. His habits of study 
were such as to prevent much familiar intercourse with 
others. Always book in hand, his studying was largely 
done in the odd moments between lectures and in the 
snatches of time to be caught during recitation. The 
games which most young men find necessary to keep alive 
their energies, he did not join in ; but he showed a desire 
to master their science and to learn about them by shorter 
methods than playing. His power of abstraction was so 
great that he mastered facts very readily, and in recitation 
he was very keen, and a sharp questioner." 

He was not, however, so occupied with his studies as to 
be debarred from the newly-opened opportunities of a 
large city. 

It can only have been by means of great industry and 
the economical use of every odd moment that he was 
able to devote so many evenings to amusement. Into 
concert-room and theatre he carried the same keen and 
alert spirit which marked his every-day life. Wit and 
humor were not kept waiting for his laughter, nor pathos 
for his quick emotion, strong though scarcely shown. His 


taste was delicately appreciative, rather than critical ; in- 
deed, where he liked, he did not care to criticise, but would 
idealize, rather ; and it was ever the best and purest that 
met with his approval. 

Miss Maggie Mitchell, with her interpretation of the 
pathetic, wayward child-woman, was one of his great favor- 
ites, and many a happy two hours has he spent, charmed 
by the simple witcheries of " Fanchon," of " Little Bare- 
foot," or of some sister character. 

He lost no opportunity of seeing Madame Ristori in her 
grand impersonations, and he was seldom absent when 
Madame Parepa-Rosa's voice could be heard ; indeed, he 
admired the latter on her first coming to Boston, before 
she gained the popularity she has since enjoyed. 

One of his old friends, referring to opportunities of this 
sort, writes : — 

"I think that until he had them, he always fought 
against recreation; but his Boston experience seemed fully 
to wake him up to the use of pleasure, though he never 
could be persuaded to let pleasure master him." 

His visits to the Athenaeum library, access to which had 
been kindly procured for him by a friend, were a source 
of great enjoyment. He also passed many hours at the 
Eliot-street gymnasium. 

During all this time, he was faithful in his attendance 
at church, usually going with the family to the Rev. 
James Freeman Clarke's Chapel, but often walking to 
Roxbury to hear there the Rev. Dr. Putnam. 

In 1863, he began the plan of summer excursions. 
With his friend, Ben Watson, as a companion, he left 
Plymouth in a lobster smack which was to find her market 


in New York City. She touched at the end of Cape Cod, 
where the boys landed, and the same night they entered 
Provincetown, the " City of Fish-Flakes," which last were 
a source of continual amusement to Frank. Thence they 
walked along the Cape to Plymouth, a distance of one 
hundred and twelve miles, completing the trip in five 
days. Mr. Watson says : — 

" We found the people very kind, and always ready to 
take us in for meals or lodging, very often refusing to take 
any pay. The longest walk we took at once was between 
Yarmouth and Sandwich, — about twenty-nine miles." 

The next summer, with a third companion, the two 
started in the same smack, this time completing the trip 
to New York City. The first day, Frank and one of the 
friends resolved to begin to acquire the tan they so much 
admired in sea-farers ; so they went to sleep on deck in the 
sun with their arms bared to the elbow. The burns thus 
caused were so severe that they did not wish to repeat the 

From New York they took steamer to Newburg. July 
nth, they bade good-by to the Hudson, and (with the ex- 
ception of a few days passed at Mt. Washington, Mass.), 
were travelling till August 3d, when they reached the 
Connecticut River, at Springfield, and took the cars for 
home, having " walked some three hundred miles and con- 
sumed ninety-five quarts of milk." They had climbed 
Mount Greylock, visited the Hoosac Tunnel, and the 
Shaker Village. 

Mr. Watson says : — 

" During this time, we slept out-of-doors almost every 
night, and very rarely took a regular meal at a table, but 



we lived in fine style on bread and milk, berries, smoked 
beef, maple sugar, and hard bread. The latter articles we 
would buy in some town and carry with us in our knap- 
sacks. We were often taken for returned soldiers, and in 
the cities we had very advantageous offers to enlist." 

From passing so many nights in barns they became 
familiar with the sounds of various domestic animals, and 
on their return were able to astonish their friends by 
frightfully good imitations of them. 

In the summer of 1865, with his tried companion, Frank 
spent about ten days walking through the White Moun- 
tains. 1866 found the two friends visiting the Forks 
of the Kennebec. Later in the same summer, Frank 
started alone by steamer for the Provinces. " St. John's," 
he wrote, " seemed strange and foreign ; large ship-yards 
and great piles of lumber all around the deep, narrow, 
steep-walled harbor." Halifax he found a "real English 
provincial town, old family mansions, moss, and respec- 
tability, shaded walks, knockers, chimney-pots, curtained 
beds, carafes for water, barracks, sunset guns, gala dress, 
and soldiers' parade, — everything as un-American as 
Quebec." (He had visited Quebec the preceding spring.) 

At Pictou he found " some little employment" for him- 
self in the mines. This was a new experience which he 
highly enjoyed. 

In the summer of 1 S6y, he improved his last vacation by 
a more extended excursion. Saturday, May 18th, saw hin- 
the only passenger on the " Annie Royden," East-India- 
man, bound for Liverpool. His first letter written on 
board said : " It seems like a dream that I ever was any- 
where but here. My trunk and dressing-case and cookies 


argue that I Ve friends somewhere on earth, or had before 
I ceased to grow old ; for now we have no landmarks, — 
it is only on the authority of the nautical almanac that I 
have reason to believe the days are not identical." 

He found a friend on board the ship, in the captain, who 
was " twenty-seven, and a jolly sort of man when you get 
acquainted," and with whom he spent many evenings at 
euchre. He had taken guide-books, and meant to prepare 
for the coming sights ; but he said, " Real application to 
study is impossible. I would rather be a naturalist than 
the captain of a sailing vessel. I should think monasteries 
and nunneries could be best maintained on the water." 

The events of the day were, breakfast at eight, dinner at 
two, and tea at six. " The water is a mixture of Hooghly 
and Cochituate," he said. " My lemons and maple sugar 
quite prop me up." 

As at Nova Scotia he was a miner, so here he became a 
seaman, and kept his " log " for the friends at home. For 
example : " Wednesday, 29th. Blowing hard from west. 
Barometer slowly sinking since last night. Temperature, 
50 . Stern windows closed to-day in anticipation of rough 
weather. Barometer 28.95 in evening, lower than it has 
been since captain left Calcutta. Expecting a gale, so 
part of our sails are taken in. Sat in overcoat all day." 

The gale came on, as the " log " for Thursday, 30th, 
shows : — 

" Began to blow early in the morning. Frequent rain 
sa nails. . . . About 7 p. m. a wave came over the side 
and drenched several sailors. Pork and beef casks on deck 
broke loose. We are followed, not met by the waves. 
Log shows thirteen knots an hour." 


His friends were not put off with this alone. " When 
you write me," he says, " don't tell how thermometer 
stands, or prospect of rain. You would n't be writing to 
me any more than I have been to you, so I '11 break in 
upon the log." 

Now we get glimpses of himself: — 

" I have Boston time by my watch, and 't was like old 
times to go to bed at seven o'clock, as I did last night ; but 
then, 't was ten here. . . . Never had any idea of how 
a great ship pitches and heaves, before. Fine time taking 
in the idea; got it well shaken down." 

The gale blew them along so that June 6th they entered 
the Mersey, having had a passage of but nineteen days 
from pilot to pilot. "A steamer could n't have brought us 
from Newfoundland much sooner. 'T was a good passage 
and a pleasant one, and always to be remembered. . . . 
Within three or four miles of land, one feels the air almost 
close, hardly wishes to be nearer." He was not sorry, on 
the whole, to leave the sea, for he said : " Captain offers to 
take me to Calcutta and make a sea-captain of me, for forty 
pounds, — cheap, but no object. I don't want anymore 
curry at present." 

At the end of three days, which were spent in seeing 
the usual objects of interest about Liverpool, he went on 
to Manchester. Here he was naturally interested in the 
mills and machine-shops, several of which he examined, 
and next turned his steps toward Marsden, the little town 
where his father had gone to school as a boy. 

Frank sought out the old schoolmaster, who was still 
living there, and wrote home about him as follows : — 

" School was not keeping, but Joseph Webster sat at his 


desk. . . . When I introduced myself, he said he re- 
membered you well, and at once took from his closet his 
accounts for 1826-7, an d I saw how three quarters' school- 
ing for Abraham and Samuel Firth had been properly paid 
for, and when the books they us 2d were each purchased. 
The last receipt was August 20th, and ' gone to America ' 
closed the account." 

After making excursions to Ripon, Fountain Abbey, 
etc., he went on to York and saw the grand old minster. 

At Leeds, he again inspected iron-works, and then con- 
tinued his journey to Halifax, wishing to see this town, 
because, as well as Marsden. it had been one of his father's 
homes in the old days. 

At Leicester, he was joined by his friend and classmate, 
Mr. James Tolman, who continued with him during the 
remainder of the journey. 

After seeing Kenilworth and Warwick, they visited 
Oxford, whose ever-potent charm was enhanced by the 
kindness of a family of relatives whom Frank found there. 

" June 24th," he wrote, " we came to London, and there 
we were entirely at home. The names on the 'busses, 
the streets and public buildings, were old friends. We 
walked into the city from Euston Square station, past 
Gray's and Lincoln's Inn, down Fleet Street, under Temple 
Bar, into the Strand. The Lord Mayor did n't unlock the 
gates for us, because they were open." 

The next week was spent in the keenest enjoyment of 
London and its sights. They visited the British Museum 
three times, where Frank took special interest in the auto- 
graphs and old books. Kensington Museum delighted 
him ; "I'd give the seven miles of paintings at Versailles," 


he said, "and throw in the palace itself, for that Kensing- 
ton collection." 

They presented letters of introduction to the superin- 
tendent of the Southeastern Railway, and went to see 
railway shops on the Surrey side of the river ; also, to 
Greenwich Observatory, and " stepped into East Longi- 
tude" there. They heard Spurgeon at the Tabernacle, 
John Stuart Mill at a reform meeting in St. James' Hall, 
and later, heard Simms Reeves sing the " Bay of Biscay." 

July 2d, they left London, and after a pleasant excur- 
sion to the Isle of Wight, to visit some relatives of Mr. 
Tolman, they " celebrated the Fourth by stepping into 
Europe, and for torpedoes in the evening, heard the Paris 
cabmen snap their whips." 

Frank's first letter from Paris, dated " Vanity Fair, July 
5th," and signed, " Your happy, roving Frank," said, " This 
is a Paris Sunday. The people are out, shops all open 
until noon and since tea, and these few minutes I have 
been thinking of you, are my only religious service to- 
day. . . . We are up six flights in the Rue St. Honore, 
in the strangest old building, a real puzzle of a place, 
very like a prison. We pay fifty cents a day for lodgings. 
We have found the cheap way of Paris. It ail depends on 
where you get your food. ... We go to a cremerie. 
. . . At the Royal Mews, in London, we saw carriages 
like the pumpkin Cinderella went to the ball in ; but Na- 
poleon's carriages we have seen to-day at Versailles are 
indeed ' some punkins.' They outshine Vic's drays 

" I 've heard ' Romeo and Juliet,' as like ' Faust,' in 
music and incident, as two things, not the same, can be ; 


also, have seen the famous ' Hernani/ and Moliere's ' Mis- 
anthrope' at the ' Comedie.' " 

Five days in Paris were filled with industrious sight- 
seeing, there being more objects of interest than usual, on 
account of the Great Exposition ; and then, with full ap- 
preciation of its beauty and its wonders, they bade good- 
by to the gay capital, and turned their faces mountain- 

The principal points of their Swiss tour were as fol- 
lows : — 

From Paris to Neuchatel, Lausanne, Vevey, Chillon, 
down Lake Geneva to Geneva, to Cluse, thence on foot to 
Chamouni ; up the Jardin and Flegere, over the Mauvais 
Pas and Col de Balme, afoot from Chamouni to Martigny, 
and up the Grand St. Bernard to the Hospice ; back again 
to Martigny, and so over the Alps to Italy. 

Every hour in Switzerland was filled with delight. The 
weather, also, was favorable. Frank wrote : " We have 
seen Mt. Blanc free from shadow of a cloud at all times 
of the day (and by moonlight), and from many points ; so 
we count ourselves fortunate. Good wishes have proved 
very potent." 

The great wonder of the mountains and the little nov- 
elties of daily life were alike charming. On their way 
down into the valley from a mountain, one evening, they 
lay for a while at their ease upon a great rock, with a 
* stunning landscape " stretching miles before them, and 
" were served a supper of goats' milk by a couple of nut- 
brown maids." . . . 

" I 've just eaten a real Swiss dinner-supper," he wrote ; 
" boiled eggs, coffee, honey, bread and butter ; is n't it 


nice, when each article is the best of its kind, and a tol- 
erable landscape thrown in ? ' : Even the earth yielded them 
its sweetness. " As for new-mown hay, we have n't been 
out of the scent of it in' Switzerland, except when the 
grass was snow," he said. 

Amid so much that was new and lovely, the friends at 
home were warmly remembered. " Don't call it super- 
stition," he wrote, " but it is a real pleasure to show Mt. 
B'anc and St Bernard to the tintypes." 

These happy days were also very active. Many a mile 
did the friends swing along together on foot, delighted 
sometimes to show a chance pedestrian that Americans 
knew how to walk. For example : " These Englishmen 
annoy us a little. We have to outwalk and outclimb them 
whenever it comes to a trial, as it often does. Coming 
down from the 'jarclin' the home-stretch was a little 
severe ; the Islanders did n't look happy when they came 
in just too late." 

One of the pleasantest episodes was a night spent at 
the Hospice of St. Bernard, as " guests of the hospitable 
fathers," where, after having been thoroughly drenched by 
the storm which still howled without, they enjoyed the 
bright fire and excellent fare, and passed the evening in 
listening to song and story from travellers of different 
nations, gathered into that safe refuge. 

The next morning they trudged down the mountain 
again towards Martigny. Thence Mr. Tolman went by 
diligence, and Frank on foot, to Brieg (twenty miles), 
along the Rhine valley. Over the Simplon Pass they 
both walked, with a boy guide, to Dorao d'Ossola. Next 
day a private carriage took them to Baveno, on Lake Mag- 


giore. " The clouds would n't let us see Monte Rosa, but 
they could n't help our seeing most lovely gardens, hill- 
sides, houses, etc. They must have been characteristic 
Italian scenery, for everything was new to us." At Ba- 
veno they heard reports about the cholera, which caused 
them to turn about, " letting one Italian day suffice." 
They took steamer across the lake, and "saw where the 
drop-scenes find their subjects, — mountains, ruins, islands, 
haze, etc. ; you know how drop-scenes look." They landed 
at Locarno, and were conducted by officials and followed 
by the town's-people to a smoking-room, where, one by 
one, they were " marched through stifling sulphur fumes 
around a chafing-dish, and then released." " Italy was 
taken in the plunge-bath way. The trip, through, was 
a good deal longer than its hours, and will be remembered 
like the first circus." 

They walked over the St. Gothard Pass, finding it the 
" most bleak and desolate mountain pass ,: they had yet 
seen. Mr. Tolman took diligence over the Furca Pass. 
Frank, as usual, walked ; " saw all there was to see, and 
had a slide down a snow-field on a stone for a sled. ' 
They met at the Glacier of the Rhone, " the noblest, broad- 
est, eternal ice-river" they had seen. After a night at the 
Faulhorn with " weather all that could be desired," they 
went on through the Grindelwald Valley, up the Wengern 
Alp, seeing two avalanches on the Jungfrau during their 
ascent. " I 'm glad," Frank wrote, " we saw the lower Alps 
first ; for after these Bernese monsters, a half-dozen more 
than twelve thousand feet high, and with such charming, 
picturesque surroundings, I never could have enjoyed as I 
did even Mt. Blanc and Mer de Glace." From the Wen- 


gern Alp down to Lauterbrunnen ; " the Valley of L.," 
he said, " is, without exception, as seen from above, the 
most lovely place I ever looked upon ; every element of a 
perfect picture, all the effects ot climate, light and shade, 
cultivation and wildness, the Staubbach hanging from 
the top of the limiting precipice." Thence their route 
included Interlaken, Berne, Zurich, and Munich. 

Munich they found " more American-like than any 
city yet seen." They especially enjoyed the picture gal- 
leries, where they learned to " pick out the masters " ; the 
churches, the bronze foundry, and the collection of sculp- 
ture. Of the latter, Frank said, " The two pieces I cared 
for were the Sleeping Satyr (Barberini Faun), and Silenus 
holding the infant Bacchus ; these two it was worth going 
some distance to see." 

Several evenings were spent at the theatres ; and one 
evening they sat in the Beer Hall, with their " pints " of 
Bavarian beer before them, and listened to " Sounds from 
Home " played by Gungl's orchestra. 

In Germany their school study of languages proved 
practically useful. Frank wrote : " I find I can work along 
in German much more readily than I could at first in 
French. We have not had the smallest difficulty in mak- 
ing ourselves understood, and we now and then talk with 
Germans about the ' wunderschon ' and ' hiibsch ' views ! 
They all know a little English, and we know more Ger- 

After leaving Munich and touching at Heidelberg, the 
two travellers sailed down the Rhine from Mayence to 
Cologne, taking time, of course, to see the cathedral 
there, and then continued their course, by river and by 


rail, to Amsterdam. The following letter gives Frank's 
own account of their visit to Holland and Belgium : — 

London, August 18, 1867. 

"Dear Father and Mother: It is so pleasant to date one's 
self ' London/ that I can't help enjoying that luxury just 
once more. . . . Last Sunday evening (Aug. 11), we 
walked about the canal streets of Amsterdam. Dwellings 
and warehouses are frequently the same building, and no 
distinction is made in the busy town between streets to 
live in and streets to trade in. We went through the 
Jews' quarter ; streets were narrow and close ; washing 
hung out on racks from upper windows, the passage below 
crowded with children. (Never saw so many in an Irish 
neighborhood of twice the size.) They were trading 
among themselves actively, in small fish (which they fried 
publicly and sold hot), small fruit, vegetables, and a sort of 
pancake. At the railway station many small 'Aarons' 
meet each train and insist upon seizing your baggage to 
carry it. Two followed us a quarter of a mile, talking and 
attempting to grab our bags ; my follower finally tried to 
spit upon me and then followed a little way behind, shout- 
ing ; but we did n't give in. The whole atmosphere of 
Amsterdam is that of Plymouth about the water-side, 
everything sluggish and sunshiny ; the fine old leaning 
houses all seemed sleepy. I shall remember it untd I 
see you. 

" Monday afternoon, passing by rail from Amsterdam 
to Rotterdam, the uniform scenery was made up of rich, 
flat farms. The fields were sometimes defined by lines of 
living trees. The roads which crossed the track gave us 


glimpses now and then of forest tunnels one or two miles 
long. The houses and gardens were made by people 
whose idea of comfort was pretty much our own. We 
did n't see one of the typical Dutchmen (as common as 
Jonathans). We crossed the bed of Haarlem Lake, and, 
much of the way, had the sea-view shut out by the dike. 
We spent two hours in Rotterdam. The town was full of 
people (Annual Fair lasting a week), and we saw an un- 
expected show of booths and strolling players. If there 
is a harmless popular amusement in England or Central 
Europe that we have not seen, then fetch it on. We went 
by steamer from Rotterdam among the islands in the 
Delta of the Rhine, a couple of hours, moonlight part of 
the way, and then by rail from Moerdijh to Antwerp. 
" Next day we climbed the famous cathedral tower, saw 
the pictures in the museum, but enjoyed much more the 
Rubenses I had seen elsewhere. In the Low Countries the 
laboring people generally wear the heavy wooden shoes 
(sabots), and in the morning you meet many women carry- 
ing fresh milk in pails hung by a yoke. The drink is 
neither wine nor beer, but Schiedam schnapps, or, in Eng- 
lish, gin. Spent the afternoon of Tuesday in Brussels, 
and early next morning walked over Waterloo. The 
ground is smooth and rolling, all rich and well cultivated. 
We went to the top of the Lion Hill, Belgian Memorial 
Earth Mound, then by lane through the fields to Hougo- 
mont, saw the broken walls, the well, and the whole situa- 
tion. The forests in the neighborhood of Waterloo are 
darker and denser (without any underbrush whatever) 
than any I know in America. You can look into black 
darkness from the travelled road by daylight. {Note. — The 


only mosquitos we have seen or heard in Europe, attacked 
us at Mount St. Jean, where we slept in the house in 
which Victor Hugo wrote his famous account of the battle 
of Waterloo.) We spent the next day in Brussels, visited 
the very fine cathedral, rich in painted windows and wood 
carving. Saw, as we have frequently elsewhere, educated, 
interesting people kneeling at the altar, bowing and cross- 
ing themselves ; where the organ is sounding, boys sing- 
ing, and sunlight streaming down in many-colored rays, 
while other parts of the great church are cold and tomb- 
like, every one must feel a sort of present Heaven, where 
angels sing, and, at the same time, a sense of darkness and 
coldness, which, by contrast, made those we saw shudder 
as they moved closer to the candles, pictures, and singers 
about the altar. We have now seen half the famous great 
churches of Europe. We cannot describe them one by 
one, but we have a cathedral idea which only experience 
like ours gives. 

"London, Monday Morning 

(Very early for London), 6.30 A. M. 
" From Brussels we went by rail to Ghent. ... In 
these Low Country railway stations, the signs Way Out, 
Parcels Office, Refreshment Room, Ticket Office, etc., are 
in four languages, Dutch or Flemish, French, German, and 
English. The people all speak a- few English words, and 
the Dutch signs are all ludicrously English. ' Huis te huir' 
(House to hire or let), ' Stoomboot' (Steamboat). We tried 
to buy some milk to drink, tried German, French, and 
English, and found it was ' mellac ' we wanted. Belgium 
is the pleasantest quiet farming country we have seen, a 
sort of farmer's paradise. We liked people and country 



very much. From Ghent we went to Ostende, and at eleven 
in the evening, by the light of the full moon, started for 
London, closing the forty-four days of continental travel. 
The whole continental tour will cost one hundred and 
twenty dollars in gold, and is, I consider, cheap for the 
money. Next morning by daylight we came up the 
Thames. ... I am really very much attached to London. 
No other city has the real charm, while London has none 
of the unsatisfying glare. Yesterday morning I found 
Temple Church closed ; so went up to Mr. Martineau's 

and heard Mr. of Falmouth. Mr. M. is in the 

country. Jimmy and I then went down to Westminster 
Abbey, re-read epitaphs, and fixed in our minds the im- 
pressive whole. In the evening we packed and wrote 
home, and this is the plan we have laid : We leave here 
by the Great Northern, reaching Boston early in the even- 
ing ; leave there to-morrow morning and sleep at Newcastle. 
Wednesday morning, go from Newcastle to Edinburgh, 
reaching there n a. m., and Thursday we go to Glasgow. 
Friday we sail, Saturday touch at port of Londonderry, 
and with good luck, surprise you at breakfast five days 
after you receive this. 

" In Europe we could know nothing of American politics. 
Since our return we see that affairs are quite interesting, 
and not a little disturbed. 

" Now good-by and love to all, Frank, 

Late of Europe, going to emigrate if there 's •'any chance 
for a young man out in your woods." 

The above plan was carried out with the exception of 
an additional week in Scotland. While in Glasgow, they 



went down the Clyde to one of the famous ship-yards. 
On the same excursion they " saw where Highland Mary 
died, and stood beside her grave." Loch Lomond, Loch 
Katrine, the Trossachs glen (peopled by the shadowy per- 
sonages of the Lady of the Lake), Stirling Castle, and 
Bannockburn, received each a hasty visit, much enjoyed 
in spite of the prevailing Scotch mist. " Of course we 
didn't see the top of Ben Lomond," Frank wrote, "but 
we did see the heath-covered hill-sides, the beautiful 
islands of both lakes, and, in fact, a good deal of High- 
land scenery, — were almost saturated with it." 

The friends took steamer at Glasgow for home, August 
30th, quite ready to rest on their coming voyage. Frank 
appreciated both the repose and the oatmeal which the 
" Caledonia " afforded, and often spoke of the latter dainty 
as the chief charm of his homeward passage. On the 15 th 
of September he arrived in Boston, and, fulfilling his 
promise, surprised the family at breakfast. 

From both letters and words, it was plain that he looked 
upon this journey as part of his education, as well as a 
great pleasure. At one time while abroad, having received 
news of the consolidation of the Boston & Worcester and 
Western Railways, which he supposed might displace his 
father, he wrote thus : " I shall fill myself with what I see, 
for I can do more for the family by making the most of my 
present opportunities than in any other way, now and here. 
I shall have a good time, — if the past is a sample, — a 
very good time." 

Towards the end of the trip he said, " We have employed 
ourselves mainly in seeing and learning ; have not gone in 
the beaten tracks altogether, and look upon few of our 
days as unprofitably spent." 


Mr. Tolman writes of his companion : — 

" His energy and perseverance were marked character- 
istics, and wqre shown in the diligence with which he 
worked to gain admission to some of the manufactories, 
and in the general planning of our time, which was so ar- 
ranged as to fill every hour of the day with sight-seeing, 
leaving scarcely the necessary time for sleep and corre- 
spondence. As he was called shy and reserved, I was 
surprised to find that he easily made travelling acquaint- 
ance, and we obtained much addition to our pleasure 
from this fact. . . . He was fully impressed with the 
American idea ; he wanted to see everything done on a 
grand scale, and rapidly. In Germany, there was a good 
deal of grumbling because of the slow method adopted to 
transport travellers. . . . Anything like a swindle upon 
the travelling public made him very indignant, and he did 
not submit very gracefully to extortion." 

From boyhood he had had the idea that he should pre- 
fer England to America. In all school discussions he 
was found on the English side. He wrote for the school 
paper a " Defence of ye much-abused and unpopular Tories 
in ye Revolution of ye British Colonies in ye Continent 
of America." He was inclined to think that we ought 
still to be under British rule ; and when the Prince of 
Wales was in this country, looked upon him as his future 
rightful sovereign. Now, though he still loved England, 
it was no longer first in his affections. He wrote, " Next 
to America, England is the country of all those I have 
seen that I would prefer to live in, if / were not a day- 
laborer? The first air we heard him play, the day he 
returned, was, " Home again, from a Foreign Shore ! ' 



Henceforth all other countries were " foreign shores," and, 
as he often said, he " would be no other than an American 

On the first of October the Institute opened, and our 
traveller became a school-boy again. He held a high 
position in his class, as in previous years, with apparently 
little effort. In fact, his constant complaint during that 
year was, that he had " not enough to do." He was never 
idle, however, as was shown by the constantly changing 
relays of Athenaeum books on the table at home. Some- 
times he might be seen doing his problems in the cal- 
culus, between the acts of the play or opera. He enjoyed 
the society of a few friends, but was never found in gen- 
eral company. 

On the 26th of May, 1868, he was twenty-one years 
old. On that day he procured some work from an en- 
gineer's office in the city, and made known his resolve 
henceforth to support himself, which resolve was faith- 
fully kept He already had a small capital to begin with, 
which he had gained, in the folio winor manner : A gentle- 
man having some bonds of various Western and Southern 
railways, about whose value he was doubtful, and lacking 
time himself for such business, entrusted their collec- 
tion to Frank, who immediately wrote to the different 
business managers, and received many letters with printed 
headings. This was his first essay in railway correspon- 
dence, as well as in financial affairs. It proved a success, 
the amount of his share was more than he expected, and 
he was unwilling to take the whole of it. 



The period of his boyhood ends here. We have dwelt 
so long upon the incidents of that time, because it will 
give his friends pleasure to recall them, and because we 
think they furnish a key to his subsequent career. 

The annual examination held June 1st formed the ter- 
mination of his course of study, and he began to prepare 
to carry out his long-cherished plan of going to the West 
to seek his fortune. On the 15th of June he set out. 

He made a little call on an old school-fellow at West 
Point, but resisted entreaties to stay for class-day, as his 
"plans were laid." On the way he "looked Buffalo over, 
spent a day at Niagara, lounging about Goat Island and the 
Three Sisters, reading ' Old Curiosity Shop,' and pound- 
ing fossils out of the rocks, seeing the preparations for 
the new suspension bridge, and examining, the railroad 
bridge critically." 

At Detroit he stopped to present his credentials to Mr. 
Joy, the " Railway King of the West." This is one of 
them : — 

" Mass. Institute of Tech'y, June 2, 1868. 
" The bearer of this, IMr. Frank R. Firth, of Boston, hav- 
ing completed the full course of studies in this Institute, 
has recently passed his graduating examination and will 
receive his diploma in civil engineering at the time ap- 
pointed for conferring degrees next October. 

" The abilities, industry and attainments which have won 
for Mr. Firth a very eminent position in his class cannot 
fail to secure his success as a Civil Engineer, or in what- 
ever department of applied science he may be employed. 


"Pres. Mass. List. Tech'y." 


Mr. Firth also had letters of introduction from some 
of the Boston capitalists who are interested in Western 

After waiting for some time, he had an interview of a 
few minutes with Mr. Joy. That gentleman acted with 
his usual promptness. " You 're Mr. Firth ? " he asked. 
Then he looked through the letters, and said at once, " I 
will give you work in Kansas ; I shall be ready in a fort- 
night ; you shall begin as engineers usually begin." 

From Chicago, Mr. Firth, as we must henceforth call 
him, wrote his friends of his success. " The trunk had 
better come out as soon as it pleases," he said ; " I don't 
know what special outfit I shall require ; boots (very 
long-legged) will make an engineer of me, I think, as 
effectually as my prospective C. E." 

The wonders of Chicago, the Pullman cars, stock-yards, 
water-works, elevators, etc., absorbed him for the next 
few days. Mr. H. E. Sargent, who acted as his host in 
Chicago, wrote to Mr. Firth's father : — 

" You ought to feel very proud of Frank. / certainly 
should, in introducing him to our people, and my interest 
in his future will be very great. I never saw a^«;^man 
so generally posted on all useful topics and subjects." The 
interest which Mr. Sargent then expressed in Mr. Firth 
never failed through all his subsequent career, and whether 
in sickness or health, he had no truer or more affectionate 
friend to look to, nor could Mr. Sargent have done more 
for him had he been his own son. 

Mr. Firth proposed next, while awaiting his orders, to 
"travel off somewhere and see something." Cincinnati, 
Louisville, and Mammoth. Cave were chosen. 


July 7th, he started, by order of Mr. Joy, to report to 
Mr. O. Chanute, then engineer of the Kansas City bridge 
as well as of the projected Fort Scott Railroad. By the 
way, he visited the Clinton, Rock Island, Burlington, and 
Quincy bridges. He made himself known to the several 
engineers, and " talked with them about the structures, 
. . . getting the value of some days of 'red book'." 

He was at this time collecting material for his thesis 
(for which he had chosen the subject of bridge construc- 
tion), to be handed in at the Institute before getting his 
degree in October. A letter written to his sister on the 
journey is an excellent example of the mingled current of 
fun and seriousness which ran through all he wrote and 
said : — 

"Inspecting bridges does not fully satisfy me. I am 
now building one of paper from Missouri to Massachusetts ; 
expect that it will be complete in four days, and possess 
peculiar advantages ; cost is six cents, and if it breaks down 
nobody is hurt. We must come to paper for bridges, 
sooner or later." 

In the same letter he said : " You should n't lausrh at 
English people for their mistakes about the East, — the 
common ideas of the Western towns are almost as false. 
Quincy, where I have been, goes far beyond Springfield in 
the freshness and attractiveness of the private residences. 
The dresses are all in the same style, the airs hummed are 
just the same, the political talk is naturally about the same 
persons, and the Chickering pianos have a familiar sound." 

Arrived in Kansas City, after climbing the bluff to see 
the town, he found Mr. Chanute, who kindly asked him to 
bis house, and promised to give him "every advantage for 


trying every branch of the service, and having the neces- 
sary practice in each." 

Mr. Chanute writes : — 

" We were at that time just taking charge of the Kansas 
and Neosho Valley Railroad (now Mo. R., Ft. Scott, and 
Gulf R R.), which had been begun by a local company 
and had some twenty-one miles graded, from Kansas City 
to Olathe. I told him I intended to walk over this grading 
the next day to examine its condition, and when I re- 
turned, we would organize a party and give him a place in it. 
He said at once that he would like to accompany me over 
the road, as he had had some practice afoot in Switzerland 
the previous year-; and with some misgivings as to whether 
he would hold out, I consented. I remember the next day 
was one of the hottest of that year, and our walk lay up 
the valley of a little stream, bounded by high hills, and 
through weeds higher than our heads. Four of us left 
Kansas City about 10 a. m., but only two, Mr. Firth and 
myself, held out to Olathe, the others having been com- 
pelled to obtain horses, and follow the highway." 

They reached Olathe the next morning, and found there 
the party who were making preliminary surveys, Mr. 
Chapman being engineer in charge. Mr. Firth joined 
them as assistant, his pay being two dollars per day, and 

A new life now began for him. He wrote from camp 
near Spring Hill, July 19th : — 

" We are camped on the prairie, close by roads where 
overland trains for Indian Territory pass. The mail for 
Fort Scott goes each way once a day, and now and then 
we see a stray Indian on horseback, with colored ribbons 


around his hat. Law forbids driving herds of Mexican or 
Texan cattle through this part of Kansas, en account of a 
hoof disease they give the domestic ones ; so they are 
driven through the western part, and shipped by rail. 
Our road is to bring them all by and by. The corps con- 
tains twelve men, one boy, two horses, one pony, and more 
men are coming. We live in three tents, besides the 
kitchen, and have a great, springless wagon to jolt to and 
from work in, and move the city from point to point. The 
officers are chief engineer, three assistant engineers, three 
non-professional assistant engineers, three axemen, one 
cook, one teamster, and one boy. . . . Rice, one of the 
civil assistants, is my special friend. . . . There are a 
great many snakes here, — no mosquitos. . . . We suffer 
more for want of water than for anything else. ... I have 
fresh milk morning and evening, from a house close by, 
and have just got well into this manner of life." 

The only other wants he mentions are " letters from 
home, and reading matter." " After a day's work," he said, 
" we are completely fagged out, have to lie down flat, und 
can read newspapers or novels with a relish, while we can- 
not study." A " Globe " edition of Shakespeare was :»ent 
him at that time. It went with him through all his after 
experience, and he even had it on the train at the time 
of the accident which caused his death. His family have 
it now, well worn and stained, but very precious. 

He was quite annoyed by the visits of the men to a 
store in the village, where " an old joker sells lemonade, 
and they buy whiskey," the liquor law being then in 

Mr. F. G. Rice, mentioned above, writes : — 



" I remember as plainly as yesterday when Mr. Firth 
came into camp. We had quite an argument whether he 
was an Englishman or a Frenchman. We were sleeping 
in what are called wall tents, six in a tent. As I was a 
stranger in the party, the same as Mr. Firth, we slept to- 
gether, he using the little knapsack he had on his travels 
in Europe, for a pillow. He was my companion all the 
time he was in the party. After he went in the other 
party, he used to come over quite often and stay all night 
with me. Every evening, regularly, he would take his 
knapsack and go to a stream for a bath, if it was not 
stormy. . . . The first day he was out in the party 
he was back-flagman ; that is the easiest position in en- 
gineering, and is usually filled by a boy. When we came 
in at night, I heard the engineer in charge say he was the 
best back-flagman he ever had, that he was always ready, 
and seemed to understand his business. The next day 
he acted as topographer, which position he occupied until 
he went into another party as rodman. . . . When he 
first joined the party, he seemed afraid that the work 
would not last long enough ; he would ask the engineer 
what he should do the next day. I have spent a great 
many pleasant hours reading papers and magazines which 
he was kind enough to loan me. I don't think he ever 
went out on the line without having a number of papers 
in his pockets. If we stopped for five minutes, he would 
commence reading ; and when they were ready to pro- 
ceed, he would be one of the first to be ready. ... I 
never knew him to find fault but once, and that was one 
day when we first started out. It was very warm indeed, 
and water was very scarce. We did not get our dinner 



till nearly three o'clock, and then it consisted of chicken 
soup and bread, and only half enough of that. For the 
first week or two, I thought he would not be able to stand 
it ; but he told me he was going to rough it through, and 
some day he intended to be superintendent of a rail- 

Mr. Chanute says of Mr. Firth at this time : " I know 
that he was always exceedingly willing and eager to learn, 
and frequently did more than was required of him." 

The next Sunday letter, written from the same camp, is 
"founded on fact," and is full of detailed description of the 
new country : its townships, six miles square ; its one-hun- 
dred-and-sixty-acre farms ; its eighty-acre corn-fields, with 
corn ten feet in height ; its wonderful meals for ",two bits 
(twenty-five cents)," and its " famous melon-patches." He 
enclosed some leaves • of a plant called " rosin weed, or 
north and south plant," of which he said : " The indepen- 
dent fronds are almost exactly in the meridian, giving you 
north and south at once (not which is which, of course)." 

July 30th, Mr. Firth was ordered to join a party who 
passed his camp on the way to survey the line south from 
Paola. He now served as rodman, Capt. Cozzens being in 
command. The company, with three exceptions, was 
made up of ex-rebels. One of the " exceptions " was Mr. 
Morison, of Massachusetts, who was temporarily acting as 

The change was a welcome one for Mr. Firth. Pie 
wrote : " Here I have definite work which I have not had 
before. I am at the very bottom of the ladder ; my work 
consists in holding a rod up, and moving a target up or 
down as the leveller signals. It seems like punching a 



ticket as preparation for the railway service, but Mr, 
Chanute values the discipline, and I'm not going to 
object. ... I carry a straight rod twelve feet long, a 
hatchet, and in the slack of my shirt a supply of wooden 
pins, a note-book in my overalls pocket, and I have a pencil 
tied to my button-hole. You can imagine how I look, with 
red shirt, blue overalls, and that equipment. . . . They 
talk of peach pudding and chicken for our three o'clock 
Sunday dinner. . . . South of Paola the country is much 
poorer than north of it." 

The country, in fact, was full of miasma, and the two 
unhealtbiest months were approaching. The next letter 
said, " I have been really sick." 

The Twin Springs doctor prescribed for him, the camp 
was moved to a more healthy situation, with " plenty of 
cold, clear water," and in a few days he was on duty 
again. Camp-life with his present party seems to have 
been a novel experience. " I serve," he said, " to illustrate 
the fraternal feeling that can prevail between North and 
South. . . . The personal histories of our men, which 
I am learning, are interesting enough. ... The cap- 
tain is very kind to me, does everything in his power for 
me, offers everything he has to me, and says an encour- 
aging word now and then. . . . We have a flute and 
excellent singers in the company, and these moonlight 
nights it is delightful to hear the old negro melodies, as 
the men lie around in the easiest of positions ; a better 
chorus of male voices I don't care to hear. . . . But for 
the drinking, our party would be entirely agreeable." 

August 1 6th, by permission of Mr. Chanute, Mr. Firth 
left the camp, and after staying a night with his "first 


party," went with Mr. Chap. nan to Kansas City. The 
next fortnight he passed in that place, writing the thesis 
on " Bridge Construction." It was " a digest of notes and 
observations, to the tune of fifty pages, *' and was highly 
commended by the professor to whom it was sent. 

During this time he was the guest of Mr. Chanute, 
thereby strengthening a very pleasant acquaintance. 
After his out-of-door life of the last two months, a " pleas- 
ant and well-ordered" home was very delightful to him. 
Much as he enjoyed camp, he had felt the want there, for 
he said of it : " There 's no such thing as time of your 
own, no evenings, no Sundays, no retirement at all. The 
experience in method, carefulness, responsibility, and 
associations with all kinds of American types, makes a 
year in the field a season well spent." 

The " season ' : was not yet over. August 30th found 
him in " Old Barracks, Paola," with Mr. Chapman's party. 
They were ordered back to Spring Hill, from which 
point they were to " mark out work for the contractors, 
and work their way south again." Mr. Firth remained 
with them, acting as leveller, until September 13th, when 
he rejoined his " own ,: party (under Capt Cozzens), four 
miles below Ossawatomie. 

Speaking of a visit to that town, he said : " I wanted to 
send you some relic of John Brown's house ; but he did n't 
live in Ossawatomie, but twelve miles west." 

He still performed the duties of leveller (with the excep- 
tion of a few days when he was rodman), though it was not 
till early in October that he received his appointment to that 
position, with one hundred dollars a month, and board. He 
wrote September 15 th : " My rodman and I have done a good 


day's work, levelled three and a quarter miles and drawn 
profiles of the work. My rodman is Lon Wiggin, one of the 
best singers in camp, besides being a much better rodman 
than I was, I think. . . . If the road should follow the route 
we have surveyed, the traveller will get as false an idea of 
Kansas as the mere river traveller does of the Mississippi- 
divided States." 

He elsewhere said : " This district is peopled by natural 
paupers ; no chickens, no eggs, no butter, no beef, no sweet 
potatoes, and nothing but their laziness and lack of capital, 
which is the result of previous laziness, to thank for it. 
They will not drive less than two horses, and will not walk 
to a place they wish to reach, but rather walk the same 
distance to hire a team to carry them to the first point." 

These people were generous, by his own showing. 
" Peaches are very plenty here, twenty-five cents a bushel, 
and free to railway men. While the party camped near 
Mound City, a great dish of peeled and cut peaches was 
sent to camp every evening, with two or three quarts of 
the richest cream ; and the whole ' outfit ' was invited to ? 
grand supper before they came away." 

September 17th, the first frost came. On the i8tb 
Capt. Cozzens was superseded by Capt. Runk, of whom 
Mr. Firth wrote : " He says little, but makes his work 
out and means to have it done, and that without delay." 
As to the direction of their survey, he said : " Between the 
valleys of the Neosho and Marmatan there is a great, unset 
tied band of reserved land ; our line is down this ' divide,' 
the water-shed between the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers." 

After a certain amount of field work, the party would 
camp at some convenient point, in order to finish maps 


and profiles, and copy note-books to be sent to head-quar- 
ters ; and, this accomplished, they would move on again. 
A letter written in October, said : " For six weeks I have 
not slept twice in the same township. It somehow piles up 
weeks of experience, this settling down and living," though 
only for twelve hours, in some place all new and not to be 
visited a^ain." 

Even the common Western expressions had their interest 

for him. " is preparing his ' outfit,' " he wrote. " He 

uses the word in ten thousand senses. Every instrument 
or article is an ' outfit ' to him. He will wind up his ' outfit/ 
spread out his ' outfit,' have an early breakfast for the ' out- 
fit ; ' and if he sees a strange object, asks, ' What outfit's 
that ? ' " 

Many a long, active day was spent on the prairie, ended 
perhaps by a walk across country, by shaded canons, and 
through a brook or two, to the camp which had moved dur- 
ing the day; finding it by "a sort of sense of locality, 
a geographical instinct that grows in one unconsciously, 
so that without any of the conventional landmarks, roads, 
houses, spires, etc., people can make and keep appoint- 
ments in the wilderness, . . . defining localities particu- 
larly by their drainage." 

At leisure moments Mr. Firth always turned with eager- 
ness to his reading, finding interest in subjects the most 
diverse, He wrote, " I 've read King John, the last ' Littell ' 
I received (every article), and am now reading 'Jane Eyre/ 
and Isaiah." In such hours as these Kansas vanished 
" like the smoke its name signifies." All the letters re- 
ceived at home during this period were written in good, 
even high spirits, and were full of the new, free life. He 



was learning, also, to take care of himself. He said : " I "m 
a notably prudent old boy now. Sometimes I assume ^ 
character, advise myself, and laugh myself into rea* 
common-sense, precaution, and care." 

Early in November, though the beautiful Indian-sum- 
mer days still lingered, the party began to find it necessary 
to prepare for winter, and the hazy evenings out-of-doors 
lit by the dull glow of distant prairie fires, were soon ex- 
changed for hours beside the comfortable stove, and can- 
dle-light within the canvass walls. By the middle of the 
month the creeks were up, delaying the mails, and winter 
stood close at hand. " The early evening is a noisy time 
here," he wrote, "all hands cutting or bringing wood for 
the fires. Last thing before we lie down we fill our stove, 
open the door, and the firelight fades into dreams." 

November 29th, Mr. Firth wrote from camp, near Twin 
Springs : " The weather ' beats me ' : lovely and vile. 
When you Ve lost all patience with rain and darkness and 
mud, summer comes again, and next day the water at 
the door is solid, and your coffee-cup is your finger-warmer. 
. . . Why was n't Egypt plagued with mud ? Pharaoh 
would have needed extra hardening to have held out then, 
if business had called him through the corn-fields." And 
again, December 6th : " Eight inches of snow upon the 
ground, and the wind roaring through the great oaks." 

In December it became so very cold, the snow lying 
thick on the ground, that the most courageous of the 
party could not but be glad that work in the field was 
almost ended. They looked back with satisfaction on the 
fact that they had " run one hundred and seventy-five 
miles in two and a half weeks, much of it through timber, 
and across a number of creeks." 


For some time Mr. Firth's letters had often spoken 
of his coming visit home, disguising in fun of all sorts his 
strong desire to see his old friends once more. " Look 
out for the comet about to enter your system," he said. 
" Father sent me postage-stamps enough to come by 
mail ; but as there may be delays, I prefer the ordinary 

He reached home about the 20th of December, and 
remained a fortnight. Every hour of his stay was filled. 
There were all the friends to see in Charlton, Rochdale, 
Plymouth, and Boston, and the theatre was doubly attrac- 
tive from his long abstinence. The time glided away so 
rapidly that his friends could scarcely realize he had been 
at home, except by looking at the Christmas presents he 
had taken so much pleasure in buying with his own 

Ill earlier days, while dependent on his father, Mr. Firtl? 
had chosen to live with Spartan frugality, spending only 
what was absolutely necessary, though no restriction war 
ever placed upon him in that respect ; but once fairly in 
possession of an income, his generous gifts kept pace with 
his growing resources, and no pleasure was greater to him 
than the ability of thus giving expression to his warm 
feelings ; nor did he, later, deny himself those nice or 
beautiful articles for which he had always had a taste. 

The vacation ended, he travelled westward for the 
second time. The rails on his own road were then laid 
only to Olathe, and on reaching that point, January 8th, he 
started to walk to Paola. " I packed my knapsack," he 
wrote, " slung my leather boots over my arm, and knee- 
deep in my 'gums/ struck out for a bourne from which 
no traveller had returned for some days." 


Apropos of the muddy roads, over which it had taken 
the stage from Fort Scott three days and three nights to 
make a journey of eighty miles, Mr. Firth wrote : " Travel- 
ling in the last century in the interior of England no 
longer puzzles one who has seen the price every rich 
farming district must pay for its soil." 

From Paola he set out to find Capt. Runk's camp, " fol- 
lowing the stakes of his line over the prairie." 

He was soon settled once more in the now familiar tent 
life, working as hard as the weather permitted, though not 
so steadily as he would have liked. " The truth of it is," 
he said, " we 're having a very dull time, hampered by 
storms and rising water." 

A letter written at this time shows that then, as always, 
he felt keenly the suffering of animals. He said : " We 
see cattle here starved for economy's sake, and fodder rot- 
ting in the corn-fields, kept for a higher price. . . . The 
worst feature of all their shirking, thriftless mismanage- 
ment is their abuse of cattle. I say what I think as often 
as I have opportunity, and they allow that it is all true, 
but say they have n't any capital, which is anything but a 

It troubled Mr. Firth that he could not get on with his 
work fast enough. He had sometimes to wait for those 
ahead of him in the field ; and of one such occasion of en- 
forced leisure he wrote : " I have been reading Scott, lying 
in the tall grass, ... an anecdote of real border warfare 
now and then keeping one clear of Sir Walter's magic 
transformation of old-time border ruffians." 

His literary pleasures were shared with those about him. 
Speaking of his companions, he said : " I keep them read- 


ing during the long evenings, and generally find some- 
thing to suit all tastes ; ' Kenil worth/ ' Mary Barton,' 
' Foul Play/ and ' Woman's Kingdom/ have been read 
by all." 

It was in these days that he obtained, in the absence 
of the camp-cook, his first experience in the culinary 
art, and made, according to his own testimony, excellent 

For some time he had been feeling that, while he loved 
its "wandering freedom," he had learned whatever his 
present life could teach. In fact, he was quite discon- 
tented, and could be cheerful only by an effort. " I walked 
myself into good humor and courage," he said. Having 
written about the state of things to his father and Mr. 
Sargent, he received letters advising his return home. He 
by no means considered that his time had been lost, how- 
ever. " If I do not learn to do many things here," he said, 
" I do learn to be careful. I am laughed at a little for tak- 
ing so many precautions." And again : " I checked levels 
yesterday, and found that the difference between two in- 
dependent lines of above seven miles each, was eleven 
hundredths of a foot, or one inch and three tenths for fif- 
teen miles of work ; so I am satisfied that I have mastered 
the practical part of levelling." When away from camp 
for a few days, the leveller who took his place found, on 
comparing Mr. Firth's record with that of an intersecting 
line, that the two differed by nine feet ; but on further ex- 
amination, Mr. Firth's was found quite correct. He said 
himself, that in one hundred and fifty miles of work, he 
never had to ro back a foot because of mistakes. 

Towards the latter part of February, 1869, he wrote to 


Mr. Chanute, asking to be transferred to a party on con- 
struction, and added, " I trust I do not make personal 
advantage my chief aim ; at any rate, I try to be faithful 
and energetic in all company matters." 

A favorable answer was soon received, for on March 
15 th he wrote : — 

" In my pocket is an order to report to the captain who 
has charge of the construction of section four of the road. 
I join him as first assistant, and regard the change as in 
fact promotion. . . . My whole connection with this com- 
pany of men has been pleasant ; we have roasted, thirsted, 
frozen, and feasted together, travelled several hundreds of 
miles upon our work, and camped in company in some 
forty places. I shall always remember them, and the 
very pleasant scenes and times we have enjoyed ; but 
I am glad to break my shell, and expand into new sur- 
roundings and more responsibility." 

Mr. Chanute thus speaks of the division (No. IV) to 
which he was ordered : " This was the most difficult and 
interesting division on the road, having a greater variety 
of work, and requiring greater attention than any other, 
and it was for that reason that he was assigned to it." 

Captain Runk, whose company Mr. Firth was leaving, 
afterwards wrote to him as follows : " During all my ex- 
perience in my profession, I never have been attached to 
or had charge of a party where I found a person compre- 
hending and executing his duties with more efficiency, 
promptness, and ability, than yourself. The fulness of your 
notes is good testimony as to your efficiency with the 
transit, and the record of your levels is as complete as any 
I ever saw rendered." 



On the 15th of March, Mr. Firth, finding no convey- 
ance at hand, " fell back on natural resources," and walked 
thirty miles to " Hell's Bend," to join his new party, where 
he found one hundred and twenty men shovelling and 
wheeling, and work in full activity. He acted as first as- 
sistant, under Capt. Kirkpatrick, his pay being the same 
as before, $100 a month. 

The party was stationed not far from Twin Springs, and 
Mr. Firth occupied, with the captain, " such a cozy shanty, 
24 by 12, with real doors and windows." He wrote, April 
4th: — 

" We have two rooms, office and quarters, light, clean, 
w r arm, and, best of all, roomy, with chairs to sit on, and a 
table to write upon, which I have so much missed. A 
neighbor furnishes meals for ten men and myself, at two 
bits apiece." 

The captain proved a congenial companion. Mr. Firth 
wrote : — 

" It is pleasant to pass my evenings with him, and I 
count myself fortunate." 

The work seems to have been no less to his taste. 
" Captain gave me three miles at end of the division, and 
told me not to come back till I had done everything 
that was necessary ; that 's experience of the right 
sort." " 

March 27th, he said : " I have now to do directly with 
many men ; and encourage them, while walking or rest- 
ing, to tell me what they've been doing since they did 

At this time he constantly spoke of disorderly proceed- 
ings in the neighborhood, though he also said, " I 've never 




had an uncivil word from a man " " Any one of the large 
cities is far more unsafe than this country." 

As spring advanced, his out-of-door life became more 
and more pleasant, and he expressed, sometimes quaintly 
enough, his enjoyment of nature. " To-day (March 28) 
. . . the buds are budding and the bees beeswaxing," he 
said. ..." Birds are very plenty here, meadow-larks, 
singing quails, whistling redbirds saying, ' pretty, pretty, 
pretty/ bob-whites declaring their name, and a great many 
unintelligible chatterers, besides booming turtle-doves." 

Mr. Firth's ultimate aim was to be a practical railway 
man, and his plan was to learn all about a railroad from its 
beginning. Thinking he had had enough of this prelimi- 
nary experience, and considering, also, the mental and 
social advantages of which he had so long been deprived, 
he seriously thought at this time of returning to the 

March 28th, he wrote : — 

" In six weeks we shall have the work all laid out, and 
a large part of it executed. The experience will then be 
complete. I shall have taken part in railway construction 
from the beginning to the end, the proper first experience 
of a railway man." 

A visit from Mr. Chanute in May, however, " put several 
things in a new light." Mr. Chanute writes : — 

" I went down to see him, and told him it would be much 
better and safer for him to make haste slowly, and remain 
with us ; as although he had ability to take a higher 
position, he yet lacked experience of work and men, and 
might fail if surrounded with less friendly influences. He 
at once consented to remain, and has since repeatedly 


thanked me for preventing what his maturer judgment 
taught him would have been a mistake." 

Mr. Firth decided to stay at least until August, and 
wrote of the work : " Building the road becomes interest- 
ing and exciting. . . . Those dear old rails are coming 
nearer and nearer." 

May 26th, he said : " My best birthday present is pro- 
motion. A division in Cherokee Lands is placed at my 
disposal." And again : " My experience on this division 
has been very pleasant indeed. I came here not knowing 
a single soul, and now I am on speaking terms with one 
hundred particularly, and four hundred more. I almost 
forget that my name is Frank." 

He was not to leave his friends, however. The hostile 
settlers on the Cherokee Reservation prevented the road 
from being constructed at that time, and on the 23d of 
June, he became division engineer in place of Capt. Kirk- 
patrick. He really had performed the duties for some 
time, as the captain had been much with his family, who 
were living some few miles away. 

It was eleven months since he began at the bottom of 
the ladder in field practice, and he now had but two supe- 
riors on the road, — Col. Smith, the Resident Engineer, 
and Mr. Chanute, the Chief. 

He wrote : " What I always wanted was oportunity, 
and now I have it." . . . " It seems very odd to me 
when I say that a great railway bank must be made fuller 
on a given side, a ditch cut at a certain point, masonry 
pulled down and rebuilt, rocks blasted out of the way, 
trees cut down, great rock-cuts made deeper or wider, 
etc. ; that all these things should be done without ques- 



tion, and that I should be appealed to to settle matters 
in dispute between laborers. But I do like to parade up 
the line in my broad-brimmed hat, with flowing blue 
overalls tucked into my boots, and an unexceptionable 
linen coat, followed by my ' subs/ carrying instruments, 
measuring-rods, and axes. It will be the ruin of me." 

His friends had no such fear, for the same letter said, 
" Xo titles, please ; F. R. Firth, Twin Springs, Linn Co., 
Kansas, is sufficient to find me." Such was always his 
feeling. At another time he said : " If you please, I would 
rather not be addressed as Mr. ; simply, F. R. Firth. My 
grandma left me the Quaker instinct, and to my feeling 
rings and studs, hair-oil and complimentary titles, are 

His pay was now advanced to $150 a month, without 
subsistence. He had been sending checks to his father 
for investment, from time to time. As his capital was in- 
creasing, he began to have an eye on the money market, 
remarks in his letters showing that he kept track of the 
fluctuating values of stocks. Alluding to his accumula- 
tions, he wrote : " If I could economize like Thoreau, I 
might begin the life and study of philosophy, for nine 
cents a day is secured." 

June 12th, he said : "Within the past week two shanties 
have been built close by, and a village is really growing 
up where we opened the ball." The place is now called 
Les Cygnes. He said of it : " This is an unhealthy 
district ; but knowing that, I take special precautions. 
:st. Am not out-of-doors after sunset ; 2d. Breakfast first 
thing in the morning ; 3d. Never miss a regular meal ; 



4th. Eat nothing which is at all unphysiological. The 
result has been perfect health and sounder sleep than 
usual for the last month." 

He had need to keep his health, for three months of very 
hard work followed. There was " a river to cross three 
times, a lake, a broad marsh, half a dozen hills to cut 
through, and very little prairie work." 

Mr. Rice says-: " I was with him nearly two months at 
Les Cygnes. Although I had to work hard, I had a very 
pleasant time while I was there. . . . He used to be 
bothered a great deal, nights, by bugs getting into the 
ink. He would have a saucer of water on the table, and 
when one would get into the ink, he would take it out 
carefully, and, after washing it, let it go. There were some 
bugs that I think visited the office every night. Mr. Firth 
would have a particular name for each one, and talk to them 
the same as if they were human. 

" He was very careful not to expose his men too much. 
Every morning a heavy fog would rise from swamps in 
the neighborhood. He would keep the men in the office 
until the sun was high enough to drive it away. He was 
very careful of his own health, and seemed to be afraid that 
he would be taken sick and could not finish the work." 

He determined to make his the " star division," and his 
whole heart was in his work. His letters became shorter 
now, and were all on one subject. One of them said : "At 
one point we now have carpenters, graders, and pile- 
drivers, working close together ; blows of the hammer, 
cutting of timber, blasting of rocks, making a pleasant 
chorus, for me at least. . . . Mr. Aiken and I walked a 


mile by moonlight to admire a ditch finished that after- 
noon, and listen to the running water." 

Mr. Firth was constantly going about with his friend, 
Mr. Aiken, the superintendent of contractors, from whom 
he said he received "many useful hints," the two only 
disagreeing about the merits of their respective horses. 

Mr. Firth's pony (Kit) was a great pet, and annual 
contributions were sent in her name to the Massachusetts 
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 

Mr. Chanute writes, that during this time Mr. Firth's 
" work was so well done, and the accounts he. gave of it 
so clear and precise, that Mr. Smith repeatedly called my 
attention to it." 

Speaking of a visit from Mr. Chanute and Mr. Smith, 
Mr. Firth said : " All their criticism was praise." And 
again : " Mr. Smith is my tower of strength ; whatever I 
do, he sustains me in it." 

Damages caused by a freshet helped to make the days 
busier. July 25th, Mr. Firth wrote: "Saturday keeps 
coming round, always welcome but hardly ever expected." 

Outside interests were not quite forgotten, however. 
" What is the general feeling in regard to the Alabama 
Claims ? " he wrote. " Are we all ready for a war ? If it 
comes, I am ready." At the same time he said : " I watch 
for that locomotive. . . . Seven months deprived of 
sounds I like so well, have made me hungry for bells and 
whistles and rumbling wheels." 

The division was at length finished. Mr. Firth wrote, 
September 29th : " The track is laid to the end of my 
fifteen miles, and in a couple of days I shall finish my 
accounts. It does not seem right to me that trains should 


be coming and going, men working and business being 
carried on here, in which I have no concern ; so a hen 
feels when her ducks take to water. Reason concedes 
that it is proper that a railway shall be used after it is 
built ; for all that, I feel like ordering the intruders off. 
My time has certainly come." 

The last month had been very unhealthy, so that at one 
time Mr. Firth had written : " I should have to think 
awhile to recall five men of all I know who are not injured 
in health." On leaving, he said : " It will certainly be 
pleasant to cease to be a prisoner after dark, and to see 
the faces of healthy people about me" ; and it was joyfully 
that he wrote in his last letter from Les Cygnes : " Boston 
via Chicago will be the label for my button-hole." 

He now proposed, after having seen how roads were 
surveyed, located, and built, to learn how they were oper- 
ated ; so he bade good-by to Kansas, with some regret, 
after all ; for " the disagreeable things," he said, " have 
been trivial, and good health, active service, and my little 
household have given me unceasing pleasure." 

The following note, received after reaching Boston, ex- 
plains itself : — 

"Kansas City, Oct. 15, 1869. 
" F. R. Firth, Esq. 

My Dear Sir: ... I cannot allow our connection to 
close without expressing to you how perfectly satisfactory 
your attention to the work has been, and complimenting 
you upon the skill with which your division was finished. 
Beginning a perfect novice with us a little over a year ago, 
we have all been quite pleased with your rapid progress, 


and are sorry that your future plans do not lead you to 
remain with us. 

Accept, however, my best wishes for your future pros- 
perity, and believe me 


O. Chanute, 

Chief Engineer." 

The autumn was occupied in "inspection of and by 
relations," as Mr. Firth called it, and in visits among his 
many friends. His accounts of life in the field were ever 
new to them. They all felt that a man had come back in 
place of the boy, they had parted with so little while before. 
Winter came, and brought the many attractions of 
theatre, concert, and opera, all keenly appreciated. He 
had the opportunity of seeing " Hamlet ,: played by Mr. 
Fechter (then almost unknown in Boston), whose entirely 
novel rendering of the character surprised and delighted 
him. " I, too, never realized the human interest of which 
the play is so full, before," he wrote to a friend. 

At this time Mr. Firth took a course in bookkeeping at 
a commercial college, hoping to improve his hand-writ- 
ing. Some people, it is true, have since doubted his 
success ; but he certainly tried. 

He also became a visitor for the Boston Provident Asso- 
ciation, his duty being to visit the poor of a certain district 
(Oneica Street, we believe) and ascertain their needs, draw- 
ing from the treasury of the association for their relief. 
The secretary of the society considered Mr. Firth one 
of the most judicious visitors he had known. Towards the 
really deserving he was liberal ; but he was quick at detect- 
ing impostors, and such had no countenance from him, 


One old woman we know still remembers him as her 
" darlin' visitor." 

He assisted his father at the railway office a part of each 
day, and spent many hours at the Athenaeum, as here- 
tofore. He was more in the society of friends than 
formerly, his Western life having removed some of that 
shyness which had before deterred him from it. 

Notwithstanding all this employment, he was restless, 
— longing for steady occupation. As no opportunity for 
a satisfactory position on an Eastern railway offered, his 
thoughts were tending westward. A letter to Mr. Chanute, 
written in December, brought a reply promising him the 
building of a division on the new Leavenworth, Lawrence 
and Galveston road, and requesting him to report at Law- 
rence, on the first of March, 1870. 

Now, for the third time, he left Boston, and though he 
still desired to, and did, pay his taxes there, henceforth 
his true home was to be Kansas. 

On arriving at Lawrence, he was assigned, as his first 
duty, the examination of the Kansas River for a railway 
bridge (since built substantially on the line which he 
located), — "a work much .to my mind," he said. Mr. 
Chanute writes : — 

" He then began making a set of land record maps of 
our line, so that he might have some practice in learning 
the best way of preserving a record of the right of way, 
land titles, etc., of a new railway. This information he 
subsequently put to good use on the A. & N. R. R., where 
such matters were, found to be in considerable confusion." 

This work occupied him for the next fortnight, which 
time he passed in Lawrence, making the Leavenworth, 


Lawrence and Galveston office his head-quarters, and 
spending a " couple of hours " every evening at the 
public reading-room. 

There were two other Boston boys in the office, both of 
whom accompanied Mr. Firth, when, about the middle of 
March, he went to Iola to take charge of his division (No. 
IV), which was twelve miles long. He was glad to find 
his old friend, Mr. Aiken, at work there, as well as his 
" faithful Hector," who had been with him at Les Cynges. 

The brick house occupied by the railway offices served 
as lodgings for Mr. Firth and his assistants. He took 
great pride in his " family," which he said was " very har- 
monious." The droll stories that were brought together 
from the varied experiences of its members, gave him much 
hearty enjoyment. He sometimes, however, passed pleas- 
ant evenings by himself. For instance : " To-morrow," he 
wrote, " the party go to the south, and I shall have ghostly 
company from the dear old books." 

He threw himself just as earnestly into his work here as 
he had done when on the Fort Scott Railway. April 
24th, he wrote : — 

"There is twenty times the satisfaction in every day 
of these duties, than in such weeks as I spent in Boston ; 
mind, I don't say enjoyment, but honest, hearty satisfac- . 
tion, entirely without anxiety or hurry. I am not such a 
nervous, uneven-tempered, angular piece as you knew me 
at home." 

Here is a sample of one of his satisfactory days, April 
26th : " I rode, after breakfast, five miles to Deer Creek, 
where there is a large party digging out bridge founda- 
tions. I gave them further instructions, centred the daps 


(you won't find this in any dictionary), examined earth- 
work and accepted several hundred feet of finished grad- 
ing ; then returned to town in forty minutes, and dined. 
After dinner, examined other work near town ; then sent 
one of my boys, with instruments, five miles south of here 
to work, and remain over night, and the two others I 
directed to set finishing stakes upon a quarter of a mile of 
work, two miles from town. I worked upon estimates in 
the office until four, slept from four till five, and then walked 
down the line, to see if the trees at Elm Creek had been 
chopped down as I ordered them to be this morning, and 
that the first grading force south of town was working 
properly. The air was cool and fresh, and I was at my 
boarding-house at six, where I read ' Littell ' by an open 
window, until half-past, when my two favorite sons arrived, 
and we eat. Since tea I have worked two hours on esti- 

There were some hours of recreation, however ; for he 
mentioned, one evening in April, going to see " Fanchon " 
performed in an unfinished store by a " Mammoth Combi- 
nation Theatre Company, from New York." 

He said in a letter to a friend : " You ask that I should 
write what I am thinking of. Most of my waking thoughts, 
and unfortunately sleeping thoughts too, occasionally, are 
about how much bracing will be necessary for an abutment; 
shall I oblige a man to haul material eight hundred feet 
or allow him to cart it away, and replace in the bank at his 
own expense ? How much of a gratuity shall I allow the 
men who found clay instead of earth to build their bank 
from ? how shall I arrange that work may be done in three 
places to most advantage ? etc. I have enough to think 


of, and questions of a sort that have to be decided, you 
know. I issue an order at the beginning of every week, 
specifying what must be done before Saturday night, when 
the party shall pass the night at Carlyle, and when at 
Humboldt, etc., and make it a rule to visit all work which 
requires attention, alternate days, myself" 

" If I should write albmy rules, you would tire very soon, 
— read a few through, please, and see if they suit you : 

" No work shall be paid for which is not complete in 
every respect ; and a distance or height shall never be 
estimated by the eye in examining work. 

" Every measurement of importance (as about bridge 
work) shall be made twice, starting from the other end the 
second time. 

" Every number called out shall be repeated, and the 
signal — ' all right ' — made if correct. 

" Two persons shall keep the record of instrument ele- 
vation in levelling, and check upon each other. 

" The correction of an error must in no case be post- 
poned, etc. 

" There are, I think, fifty rules, and they make an 
undiscovered error an impossible occurrence." 

He also said : " I postpone no work that I may do it on 
Sunday, and never call upon another to take one step upon 
that day when it can be dispensed with, only, when there is 
somewhat to do, I do it without hesitation ; and, having a 
clear conscience, calculate as correctly upon that day as 
upon another." 

Judge Thacher, of Lawrence, attorney for the Leaven- 
worth, Lawrence and Galveston Railway, writes : — 

" I was" present at one of the pay-days and was im- 


pressed with his (Mr. Firth's) scrupulous care in attend- 
ing to the minutest details of the accounts. It was evident 
that the men placed implicit reliance upon his statements 
of what they had received from the company, and the 
amounts due them." 

Mr. Firth said : " It is pleasant to deal with men who 
are satisfied with their earnings." 

Their improvidence, however, was a great annoyance to 
him, and in regard to it, he wrote : " Having spent their 
lives on public works, they will linger in their old age in 
public charitable institutions." 

Some of the laborers were Swedes, and, in his leisure 
moments, Mr. Firth was trying to learn to speak their 

His purpose of doing six months' work in four, by in- 
dustry and systematic management, was being accom- 
plished at the expense of his own strength. June 22d, 
he wrote : "My head aches, not as a whole, but in sections, 
mainly in what I call the northeast corner (over the left 
eye)." In a characteristic manner he gave the reasons for 
" being sick at all." 

" ist. The pitifully low living (only rice, crackers, and 
eggs, which are fit for food). 

" 2d. The nights are very damp and the days very 
hot ; in spite of the precautions I take, I feel the effect of 
this, and so do all my boys. 

" 3d. The immediate occasion was over-exertion. I 
cired myself out and had no opportunity to rest, so that 
.after a week's headache, the sickness has come. ... I 
can defend the outer works, but when the enemy enters 
I am at his mercy." 



June 26th, he announced himself "as well as ever" ; but 
the disease was only subdued for a time, by force of will 
He said afterwards, speaking of this time : " What ih 
strangest to me is, that I should have had the strength to 
keep the fever at arm's-length so long. It would not do 
that I should have it until the day that I finished my work, 
and had matters so that I might leave them." 

July 3d, the work was substantially completed. On 
that day he wrote : " I grow weaker and yellower every 
day. I can sit contented with my hands in my lap, hours 
together. . . . My boys are very full of attention, and 
do all they can forme. I will come home as a last resort ; 
but I will keep to my purpose unless chronic sickness is 
to be the price. It is my own good luck that sends this 
at the very properest time, while serious work is sus- 
pended and I lose nothing. ... I could n't help cry- 
ing in reading your letter, though it seemed to me just as 
if some one else were doing so." 

The home-letter advised his going to Lawrence to see 
a physician, and the next day he set out, thinking Mr. 
Chanute would give him a " leave of absence to recover." 
After an " awful journey " of thirty miles by stage, he 
reached Lawrence late at night. Fortunately, a Maine 
friend, whom he had not seen for five years, recognized his 
voice when he was groping about in the passage-way of 
the railway office, and took care of him, for he was too 
weak even to stand alone. He afterwards said of this 
friend, " he did more than a brother for me." 

The next day, a physician pronounced his case to be 
typho-malarial fever, and he was taken to the house of the 
Rev. Mr. Starrett, where he found a home and kind care 


for a long lime. The next ten days were a blank to him ; 
but those about him, though strangers, were unremitting 
in their attentions. For a time his life wavered in the 
balance ; but July 15th, with trembling hand, he wrote : 
" My head is clear. .... Lawrence friends are very kind, 
and ready to do anything for me. I had a delightful 
call from Mr. Chanute, who will send a line to you." 
Again : " I am a cat. I always drop on my feet, and it 
troubles me that you should have felt such anxiety. I 
think I could nowhere have received better care than 
here." And again : " I am sitting fully dressed, wait- 
ing to ride out with the doctor when he shall come." 

A friend from Leavenworth went to see him, offering to 
escort him to Mr. Sargent's, in Chicago ; but neither his 
entreaties nor those of his own family could induce Mr. 
Firth to come away to recruit. " I should be ashamed to 
show my face in Boston," he said. " I will stand by my 
post while I have strength. ... I will not retreat when it 
is not necessary. . . . Kansas caused my sickness and 
Kansas shall pay for it. . . .A morning-glory shoots up 
no faster than my strength increases." As soon as he 
was able to bear it, he had " a play of Shakespeare every 
day," — his nurse kindly reading for him. Nearly every 
day he wrote a letter home. Once he said : — 

" The other night when I woke, Jupiter shone very 
brightly through the window, and while I sat up and 
watched him, my sickness and weakness seemed an idle 
loss of time in such a grand old universe. If a person 
had not one friend, how different recovery would be. . . . 
I feel happy, happy, happy, that I live, though I should 
have died quite unconsciously. . . . Did you ever lose 



the sense of water's freshness and know the exquisite joy 
of recovering it ? . . . Were you ever confined to a room 
so long that the air outside was intoxicating and the green 
of grass and trees a delicious treat ? " He thus wrote to 
his grandmother : " Rest assured, grandma, that one of 
my constitutional peculiarities is, that I never suffer any 
serious injury from disease or accident, and that in spite 
of all creation, I shall live until the work I was born to do 
is finished. I hope there is a considerable quantity of it." 

The newspapers were now devoured with avidity. Mr. 
Firth took a great interest in the Franco-Prussian war, as 
the following extract shows : — 

" I sincerely hope Napoleon is really dead ; but in that 
case, instead of the French army becoming demoralized, I 
should expect greater solidity under a new commander- 
in-chief ; and the war becoming one for the protection of 
France, and no longer for the aggrandizement of Louis 
Senior, and securing the succession of Louis Junior, all 
Frenchmen will come forward, and a popular government 
will inaugurate itself; that is, the present representative 
body must become supreme, and a national committee of 
safety be chosen, in whom the country will have faith." 
Much later he wrote on the same subject : " In our time 
we shall know a gay France no more. It seems her fate 
to teach the world lessons, and always to suffer from her 
own experiments." 

His father passed the summer of 1870 in Europe. Mr. 
Firth was following his travels very closely, and by letters 
was constantly suggesting objects of interest or desirable 

As he began to think of work again, he learned that the 


Lawrence, Leavenworth and Galveston road was at that 
time " checkmated " ; but he said : " I shall not be thrown 
out of business, for Mr. Joy is my grand chief." August 
23d, he was able to call upon Colonel Smith, who had 
also been ill with a fever. Though the construction on 
the road was discontinued, that gentleman gave him some 
office work which well suited his convalescence. He 
could apply himself but a few hours each day at first, but 
he lengthened the time with his increasing strength. 
August 28th, he wrote : — 

" My map-work has become very pleasant. My only 
companion in the office is Captain Strong. As the w T ork 
of neither is hindered by the wagging of tongues, we dis- 
cuss, predict, and combine all the facts w r e have learned 
from different sources. I only fear that more important 
service may call me away." 

The call came in this form. 

" Kansas City, Sept. 3d. 
" C. C. Smith, or F. R. Firth : — 

" I want Mr. Firth to go to Atchison to take charge of 

a road there. When can he be spared and get ready ? 

"O. Chanute." 

Enclosing a copy of the above, Mr. Firth wrote : "Just 
after the telegraph had brought to-day's glorious news of 
McMahon's surrender, the enclosed dispatch came to me. 
If I had only learned in the same way, that father arrived 
safely to-day, it could have done little more. ... I leave 
in Lawrence many excellent friends and pleasant associa- 
tions. Think of living beside the Missouri and among 
hills ! but you have n't been familiar with stagnant creeks 
and barren flats. I shall enjoy it heartily." 


The highlands were as delightful as he anticipated, 
though, with the new duties of the next few months, he 
had scarcely time to look about him. As he expressed it, 
he wore blinders as part of his harness. 

His position was that of resident engineer, Mr. Chan- 
ute being his chief. The history of the road with which 
he was connected, is thus given by the " Chicago Railway 
Review," of Oct. 5, 1871. "With the determination of 
late so characteristic of these ' rival ' towns to become 
' railway centres/ Atchison determined at any rate to 
secure in her own behalf a line in which she saw promise 
of fame and fortune. A half-score of her public-spirited 
citizens undertook the construction of a road north, under 
the name of the Atchison and Nebraska City. This was 
in 1869. Atchison County voted $150,000, and Doniphan 
County $150,000 in bonds, to the enterprise. The few 
thousand dollars of money needed to organize the company 
was supplied by the citizens above referred to, and with 
the proceeds of the bonds, grading was completed to the 
State line (Nebraska), thirty-eight miles. Being unable to 
prosecute the work, negotiations were entered into with 
different parties, which finally resulted in the transfer of 
the franchises of the company to Mr. Joy, who reorganized 
the company under the name of the Atchison and Ne- 
braska." The section of country through which the route 
of the railway lay, was one of the first settled portions of 

Mr. Chanute writes : — 

"The condition of the work on the Atchison and 
Nebraska Railroad, when he (Mr. Firth) took charge of 
it, was about as bad as it could be. The grading had 


been wretchedly done, the cuts were not taken out to 
grade, the embankments were too narrow, in many cases, 
to lay the track at all, some of them were washed away 
altogether ; so, on a line which was said to be completed, 
we had to keep a large force ahead of the track-layers to 
repair the road-bed, so that it might be used. The ties 
were delivered in insufficient quantities at inaccessible 
places, were of bad timber, bad size, and badly made. The 
bridges were simply unsafe. Almost all of them had to 
be taken down, thrown away, and new ones built in their 
stead, before we laid the track." 

September 1 7th, Mr. Firth wrote : — 

" Already the new atmosphere of the class of people with 
whom I have to deal, makes itself felt. I have to do with 
employers of labor instead of laborers, and shall learn and 
gain by the improvement in a hundred ways." . . . 

The first days were occupied in active preparations for 
track-laying. " I have been up and down and round about," 
he wrote, " looking for and at wood," and later, he was 
" unloading iron by moonlight." The articles sent for did 
not come as soon as he wished, and it was u without frogs 
and fish-plates " that the work was finally begun. It pro- 
gressed well, however, and October 30th he wrote : " I 
have been in the way of issuing to every foreman, conduc- 
tor, etc., etc., a plan in detail, on the morning of each day, 
the business of one dovetailing into the appointments of 
another, so that most could be accomplished with least 
loss of time. I have succeeded completely in such arrange- 
ments, and have operated two trains, and employed one 
hundred and forty men, graders, trackmen, carpenters, 
etc., besides doing a little freight business, laying ahead 


one half mile of track a day, hauling all supplies for track- 
laying, without clashing or serious accident." 

His enthusiasm remained as fresh as ever. " You 
would like to see the first crossing of a bridge," he wrote. 
" The carpenters, graders, and trackmen crowded together, 
the cars and locomotive waiting the signal to run on and 
test it, then the careful feeling of it, as the train slowly 
moves forward and rests upon it. It is always a joyful 
feeling to see the locomotive across the stream one never 
crossed before." 

Even the accidents were not without interest. " This 
wrecking business," he wrote, " affords excellent occasion 
for contrivance, and is on that account exciting and advan- 

Early in November, the grading necessary to prepare 
for the steam-transfer across the Missouri River, at Atchi- 
son, was begun, adding another to Mr. Firth's " rather 
numerous pleasures and anxieties." In connection with 
this ferry, he made a survey and topographical map of the 
river, which was subsequently used in locating and letting 
the contract for the proposed bridge. 

The first passenger train on the Atchison and Nebraska 
began to run as far as Doniphan, six miles, November 28th, 
on which occasion Mr. Firth wrote : " We can run with 
perfect safety twenty-five miles an hour, new as the 
road is." At Christmas time they had reached Fanning 
(twenty-three miles from Atchison). " Christmas," he 
said " is merry, and so is every day which leaves its mark 
in added improvement." 

The laying of iron began September 22, 1870, and on 
the first of January, 1871, trains were running to White 


Cloud. The Boston "Advertiser," of January 13th, con- 
tained the following : — 

" Late Kansas papers give a glowing account of the 
opening of the Atchison and Nebraska Railroad to White 
Cloud, a distance of thirty-five and a half miles from Atch- 
ison. The party on the occasion had the judges, municipal 
officers of Atchison, and other citizens of influence. The 
Atchison and Nebraska Railroad is progressing beyond 
White Cloud, and will yet be continued to Lincoln, the 
capital of Nebraska. It is one of the ' Joy roads,' as they 
are called at the W T est, and so is sure of completion, and 
of having the work clone in a creditable way. Its resident 
engineer is Mr. F. R. Firth, under whom it is being built 
and who is acting superintendent of the part already opened, 
Mr. Chanute being engineer in chief. Mr. Firth is a 
young man of good Massachusetts stock, of rare general 
ability, and superior qualifications for the profession of his 
choice. He is a graduate of the Institute of Technology. 
His rapid promotion, and the compliments he has received 
in other ways, have not surprised his friends here." 

Mr. Chanute writes : " Mr. Firth had full charge of the 
construction of the work, my own visits not having aver- 
aged more than once a month after the first organization 
had been perfected. The track reached the State line of 
Nebraska in January, 1871, and he had done so well that 
Mr. Joy made him acting superintendent." 

He now had greater responsibility than ever before. 
He wrote : " I pay a round price in care for the honor of 
being in sole charge of the work. I am eating, drinking, 
sleeping, and absorbing railway through my pores. ... I 
am drifting far behind the times, and when I see you shall 


be entirely ignorant of all the familiar people and events 
of two years past." 

A letter of January 15th said: " Now that construction 
is ended for the time, another class of duties comes upon 
me, that of retrenching expenses and making the road 
begin to pay the $125,000 which I have spent upon it 
already, entirely apart from the $400,000, or thereabouts, 
which our material for track-laying cost." He adds : " I 
am even called up in the night, occasionally, like a real 
superintendent, though it all seems like play. ... I do 
like to try and realize how fortunate I have been. I know 
that in many respects I am not wholly fitted for my po- 
sition. I think that lack of experience, more than any- 
thing else, is at fault, and am trying my best to become 
an old head." 

He was constantly planning to increase the income of 
the road, — at one time busied about procuring a mail 
contract, and at another changing the time of trains, in 
order thus to secure more travel. 

In November he had written : " I have kept all our earn- 
ings in an envelope, and have about $18 against an expen- 
diture of more than $150,000." 

Writing to Mr. Chanute in January, he said : " The one 
thing I wish more than any other, is to be able to send 
money to Mr. Joy, as we shall do in no very long time." 
Their earnings were then about $150 per day. 

Notwithstanding his hopes, February 4th, he wrote : " I 
have felt almost sick with anxiety, because I was notified 
to spend no more money until Mr. Joy should visit the 
road, and I knew that without continuing to repair, we 
should kill some of our passengers and gain a bad reputa- 


tion. I had decided to have nothing more to do with the 
road unless I could be free to make it safe and thoroughly 
good. All that concern is over, and I can sleep .quietly, 
for my king, Mr. Joy, said yesterday, ' Everything is going 
on just as I wish.' I am doing as good work as I can, and 
as economically as I know how to do it." 

At this time he was constantly receiving cautions about 
overworking, both from friends at home and from those 
about him. Mr. Rice (who had been on the Fort Scott 
road), says : " When I came up to Atchison, Mr. Firth was 
resident engineer and had just commenced track-laying. I 
never saw a person work so hard in all my life as he did. 
He seemed to think if he did not attend to everything 
himself, it would not be done as it ought to be. I remem- 
ber one night Mr. Twichell, of Boston, came up to the 
office. It was about eleven o'clock. Mr. Firth was very 
busy posting up his books. Mr. Twichell begged and en- 
treated him not to work so hard. He said the company 
were able to hire men to do the work. Mr. Firth said, ' I 
know that ; but it is only amusement for me ; and be- 
sides, when I do it myself, I know that it is finished and 
correct.' " 

The reward of his labors was slow in coming. In March 
he wrote : " Every interest of the little road has become 
so personal a matter to me, that my sleep o' nights is good 
or bad, according to the day's receipts ; and when a train 
has failed to arrive, I have for a couple of hours been 
unable to read or write, with no desire to talk. . . . We 
never have twenty passengers upon a train, and in the 
matter of freight, I try to think that every week we carry 
more. Full or empty, though, my trains are safe." And 



again : " Poor No. 2 [locomotive] lies idle and dusty on a 
side track with no work to do ; but, though we receive 
little, we spend much." 

One constant source of expense was the encroachment 
of the river upon the road-bed. Month after month Mr. 
Firth was obliged to carry on a struggle with the Missouri, 
an antagonist for whom he had a respect and liking, how- 
ever. The Mississippi seemed to him a very stupid and 
spiritless creature, not to compare with his neighbor and 
enemy, the " Great Muddy." " The current connects one 
with all the world," he said, " and it is a daily pleasure to 
be beside the strong, far-coming, far-going stream ; an ex- 
cellent means in some obscure way of bringing one to the 
point and keeping one uneasy." Uneasy it certainly kept 
them, in more senses than one. April 17th, Mr. Firth 
wrote : — 

" In the mountains, two thousand miles away, the snow 
melted rapidly, and up came the Missouri, seven feet, and 
rolled and roared, and tore down its banks, and bullied us 
in half a dozen places ; but we were not frightened, and 
now the old fellow is in former limits, narrow and rapid 
and dirty, his broad bars offensive with the black mud just 
plastered over them. . . . Until you hear and see banks 
falling in, hour by hour, and many times in an hour, you 
will hardly realize what a power this river has to come out 
of its course." 

It was not always that their enemy let them off so 
easily as on this occasion. In a letter to Mr. Chanute, 
written later in the season, Mr. Firth says : " Friday morn- 
ing, the river, by a sudden change, commenced cutting in 
towards our line furiously, above Iowa Point. We fought, 


and are still fighting, with the largest trees we can handle, 
but can only hope to hold the present line long enough to 
construct one upon a new location which I have already 
chosen. We could not afford to attempt to resist the whole 
river which is now upon us, and the new line, although 6,ooo 
feet long, will be cheaply constructed. If we can possibly 
hold the present line, I shall ; but if it is certain that we 
cannot, I shall not hesitate to build the new line, which I 
can do in very quick time." 

In spite of all efforts, the river finally " got the best of 
Mr. Clark, the road-master," and the proposed change had 
to be made. On two other occasions the river cut away the 
track, and they had to "pick up and move." February 24th, 
1 87 1, Mr. Firth wrote to Mr. Chanute : " The road-bed for 
two hundred feet has settled and slid from under the 
track. This morning it was four feet below grade." By 
using " all the rock on hand at Iowa Point," a solid footing 
was secured, and trains were running as usual the next 
day. The sliding bluffs which the road skirted for a con- 
siderable distance, caused them much trouble. Mr. Firth 
was continually driven to devise expedients for keeping 
the road-bed in order ; and, indeed, it was only by great 
vigilance that trains were run over it in safety during the 
first year. 

In May, we find him still going on with his usual 
work, having decided, by the advice of Mr. Chanute, 
and other friends, to retain his position on the road, and 
to give up the opportunity which he might have had, of 
building the bridge over the Kansas River, at Lawrence. 

May 1st, he wrote: "I find the cares greater than the 
satisfaction, with many things to do, and limited means 


of accomplishing what is necessary. Our business is 
lighter than ever." 

May 5 th, the first rail was laid in Nebraska, Col. Abell, 
president of the road, driving the first spike. During this 
month Mr. Firth received his appointment as superin- 
tendent, and May 22d he said : " I have arranged to spend 
three days as superintendent in Kansas, and four as 
engineer in Nebraska." Having received from his father, 
to whom he had sent for railroad documents, a report of the 
Boston & Albany Railroad, he wrote : " By playing with 
blunt ones, I shall gain the skill for handling edged tools, 
and then I '11 compete with you in total number of trains, 
number and speed of express trains, freedom from acci- 
dent, etc., etc." 

Though baffled and hampered in some respects, in 
others he was able to carry out his ideas in a satisfactory 
manner. In regard to some new stations which he was 
having built, he wrote : " The problem was, to combine 
freight and passenger houses in one. I adopted passenger- 
house architecture for passenger part, and freight for 
freight. The passenger part is towards the town. The 
building looks very well. The object was, economical use 
of room and general handiness for use, not beauty. I put 
a spreading roof around passenger part, but did not make 
a flaring roof upon the freight ; using the space rather for 
merchandise. At all events, it is the only one of its kind, 
but I hope and trust it will be copied." Another experi- 
ment in a different direction proved also quite successful. 
April 7th, he wrote : " My first theatre train, last evening, 
was an entire success. I think our gross receipts are one 
hundred and twenty-five dollars." 


And again, in July : "We are dispensing with contrac- 
tors almost wholly, laying our own tracks, building our own 
depots, putting up our tanks, turn-tables, etc., and shall 
keep our own boarding-train, boarding the men ourselves. 
A company with its men properly chosen, can do all these 
things, cheaply and honestly. . . . This is rather novel 
practice here in the West, and I am working very care- 
fully, but with marked success so far. We have laid our 
track for less than four hundred dollars a mile, and can run 
thirty miles an hour upon this bran-new track, with safety, 
and do so." 

Mr. Chanute, speaking of Mr. Firth's dispensing with 
contract work, says : " This did not apply to grading and 
general railroad building. . . . When he first proposed the 
plan, I opposed it. ... I consented, however, to his try- 
ing the experiment, and found to my surprise that he gave 
the work such close attention, that he actually did it 
cheaper than it could be contracted at. This, however, 
was partly due to the shortness of his road, which enabled 
aim to give close supervision to details ; but most of the 
saving was undoubtedly due to his talent for organizing 
and directing." 

One of the greatest pleasures connected with his present 
position, was the opportunity it gave him for helping others. 
He wrote his friends that he was now able to "start any 
deserving and valuable men " who wished to follow his 
profession. He would like, he said, " men whom he could 
consider as rivals as well as companions." Accordingly, 
several persons went out to him at different times. To 
one of them he thus wrote : — 

" I know your cousin, and, if I am not mistaken, I have 


met you. At all events, every engineer is a friend of who- 
. ever practises, or desires to practise, the profession. The 
West is, beyond question, the best school for practice, on 
account of the rapidity with which work is done, and, con- 
sequently, the great variety of difficulties one learns to 
encounter in a short time, and the certainty of advance- 
ment when deserved. The call for engineers, for ten 
years, has been beyond the supply, and men nowise quali- 
fied for the duties style themselves engineers, and waste 
a great deal of money for their employers. Every man 
who proves himself energetic, industrious, accurate, and 
responsible, can gain a position of trust in as many months 
here as he would require years in the East. But no step 
must be neglected in working one's way forward. You 
must know the duties of every man under your direction 
from experience, and no matter how much theory a man 
may have, when he begins practice, he must carry an axe 
or a level rod, put up with rough fare, and camp in strange 
company. The first year is always a hard one, and one 
must be prepared to go wet or dry, sick or hungry, as the 
case may be, and make the best of it. It would be diffi- 
cult to find an opening at once, in a place of trust, even in 
the West, but it is easy to find employment as a common 
hand. I did so when I came here, and roughed it for ten 
months under canvas, then lived in a shanty, then in a 
little brick house, and now have offices lighted with gas, 
etc. I can only speak to you, of course, from my own 
experience, but am sure that I would do the same thing 
again, and advise you to make up your mind to begin at 
the bottom and work your way forward. . . . Engineering 
is a satisfactory, healthy profession, and educates every 


faculty a man has ; biit the price to be paid is an unsettled 
life, and continual change of friends and surroundings." 

Mr. Firth afterwards said, speaking of a young engineer 
who had become a little impatient of "the slow, hardening 
process which makes men out of boys," " You know I 
once thought I was n't appreciated, and that the hill was 
rolling over a trifle faster than I climbed up." 

Upon the Atchison and Nebraska Road, Mr. Firth had 
found already some of his former companions, and others 
came by his invitation. He wrote in October, 1871 : — 

" Many old Fort Scott men are here, and it is pleasant 
to have a track-layer or a spiker allude to having seen me 

Two of the surveying party, to which he first belonged, 
now joined him, of one of whom Mr. Firth wrote : — 

" It was Mr. Holmes who permitted me to use the 
level, so that I was able to prove my capacity to use an 

He soon had about him a body of men in whom he 
took great pride and satisfaction. March 5th, he wrote : — 

" I think we have the virtues of a new road with the 
steadiness of an old one." And again : " I never knew 
men so much interested in the welfare of each other, and 
so enthusiastic for the progress of the work, as the present 
organization. By meeting every man three times a week 
upon his work, one can cheer, encourage, and rally them, 
and, without hurrying, hasten matters." 

In June he said : " I have a set of men here, selected 
from the dozens and fifties who have applied, and not a 
second-rate one among them. Every one remarks the 
harmony with which my men, in all departments, co-ope- 


rate, and I have the perfect satisfaction of knowing that 
whatever directions are given will be fulfilled to the letter, 
and that every man will do his duty cheerfully, and feel 
proud to do it well. It is a pleasure to have such a corps 
at command, and I would not exchange them for father's." 
And again : " I used to feel anxious, but now I don't 
know what that is. The trains are never behind time ; no 
man ever fails to accomplish what he is set to do upon 
the day named ; and such a thing as a dispute, or soreness, 
or ill-feeling among the men, is unknown. 

In July, he wrote : " I might leave the road to-morrow 
morning for a week, confident that every movement would 
be made according to plan, although every day requires a 
different programme, and there are three trains to be kept 
simultaneously in motion upon a single-track road, fifty 
miles long, and without a telegraph line." 

His feeling for his associates constantly appears in his 
letters. In the latter part of the year 1871, he wrote : " I 
have men who will work night or day, in storm or fair 
weather, — Sundays, holidays, and all, if necessary ; who 
would rather lose a hand than have an accident happen ; 
and who care more for the advantage of the road than for 
their own. ... I never hear swearing or foul language 
among our men ; not because they are silent when I am 
near, but because I have n't a profane man." 

His men justified the confidence he placed in them. 
One of them wrote to him : " As you say you will not 
forget my interest, I will look well to that of the company, 
and still continue to make your interest my own." 

Another, writing to thank Mr. Firth for an extra sum 
of money sent him with his month's wages, said, apropos 


of a rumor that some one was to take his place : " If that 
is the case, I assure you I will do everything in my power 
to assist him as long as it is to your interest. Outside of 
that, I have none on the Atchison and Nebraska Railway. 

Do not hesitate to give charge to Mr. , or any other man, 

if you think he can do better for you than I have. I shall 
always feel sure of your friendship, no matter how things 
go. That is all I ask for past services, — that belongs to 
me." Another wrote in 1872 : " I do not know anything, 
sir, that would give me more pain than I would feel if I 
were to do any act that would justly forfeit your esteem. 
I feel that I would be wanting in the commonest feelings 
of humanity if I did not at all times both entertain and 
express for you the highest regard as an associate, and my 
entire esteem as a man." 

There was a tenderness in the sentiment which Mr. 
Firth inspired in those in his employ. For example, Mr. 

wrote : "It has occurred to me that my remarks 

this morning might have a tendency to injure your feel- 
ings. . . . Indeed, so far as I am individually concerned. 
I wish to place on record that I never dealt with any man 
that seemed to wish to do more right than yourself." 

Mr. B., writing of injury done by a gale, said : " I hope 
you will not worry over this thing, for I assure you it wor- 
ries me very much." Another expresses himself as fol- 
lows : " I trust that I may do nothing, in your absence or 
when you are here, which will make you unhappy for a 
single moment." 

One who had left the Atchison and Nebraska, w T rotc to 
Mr. Firth : " It is a source of regret to me that I ever 
resigned my position under yourself." Another says : 


"There were once or twice rumors started that Mr. Firth 
was going to resign. I don't think there was a man on 
the road but what said he hoped he would not leave, and 
if he did, he would follow him to whatever road he went." 

The idea of building railroads in Japan was very attrac- 
tive to Mr. Firth, and he often talked of going there some- 
time. He wrote : " I have a corps of men all ready to go 
with me, and we often anticipate the expedition." 

" I want you to know my men," he said, when his fa- 
ther thought of coming to visit him. His wish has been 
fulfilled, since his own work was done, and the sympathy 
of these faithful friends has been very precious to the family 
in their affliction. 

With such a corps, it is no wonder that Mr. Firth could 
say, as he did in June, 1871 : " Blue days of old A. & N. 
are past. We shall make a good record, whether any one 
reads it or not." And in July : " The Atchison and Ne- 
braska will probably be no more than self-supporting for a 
year ; but in three years, it will begin to repay its capital. 
. . . My instructions when I came were to make it a 
third-class road. I made it second-class, and now, after a 
little, I shall advance the standard to first-class. ... It 
will be three years in becoming first-class, but I have that 
always in view, and now know that the business will au- 
thorize me." 

No pains were spared to reach the proposed standard 
as nearly, and as early as the means at his command 
would permit, and that these efforts were appreciated, is 
shown by favorable mention in the various local papers. 
One of them says : — 

" We pronounce this road the best and smoothest new 



road over which we ever passed ; " and a series of res- 
olutions passed by a company of excursionists, par- 
ticularly mentions the " smoothness of the road-bed, and 
the excellence of the road's equipments." As a part of 
these, we find noticed two handsome and substantial 
twelve-wheeled passenger-cars, furnished with the Miller 
coupling and a patent brake, and " patent ventilators, and 
smoke and cinder guards," these carriages having been 
recently manufactured for the company, and added to their 
rolling stock. Mr. Firth said : — 

" Our engines are beauties, except the ' Antelope/ and 
she looks like an old lady dressed as a modern belle." 

In August, he wrote : " I have not drawn the three 
thousand [salary], because I do not think the road can well 
afford it ; but whenever I wish, I can have it, and as soon 
as I can afford it (officially), I shall take it (personally). 

But in September, he said, showing how business had 
been improving during the summer : " I 'm drawing my 
two hundred and fifty dollars a month, now ; " and in Au- 
gust the road's receipts averaged two hundred and fifty 
dollars a day. 

Work was all the time being pushed on at " the front." 
Mr. Firth mentioned, in a letter written July ist, that 
they had laid three quarters of a mile of track in three 
hours and a half. 

Early in the season Mr. Firth had begun a series of 
excursions which lasted late into the autumn. They were 
sometimes free, or for half fares, as on occasion of picnic 
parties or of opening the road to a new point ; some were 
made from Atchison to the Nebraska towns, others from 
Rulo, Falls City, etc., to Atchison ; thus promoting pleas- 


ant, mutual relations between the Kansas and Nebraska 
portions of the road. The company, on such occasions, 
generally resolved itself into a meeting and passed resolu- 
tions, after the American fashion, showing a very cordial 
feeling to the road and towards their neighbors. Mr. Firth 
himself was usually passing from car to car on the way, 
taking a general care, and ready to answer all questions. 

On the 24th of June occurred a great masonic picnic, 
the largest of the season, of which occasion Mr. Firth was 
very glad to write that the railway company had " handled 
between seven and eight hundred people without the least 
accident." The train was run as far as the new bridcre, 
two hundred and fifty-five feet in length, over the Nemaha, 
in order to allow the passengers to examine the structure, 
and was then backed a mile or more to the picnic ground. 
Mr. Firth mentioned the picturesque effect of "a thousand 
people in bright-colored holiday dress, Indians on the out- 
skirts of the party," while in the background was seen the 
grove, and " Old Muddy, with a smile on his dirty face." 

On the 4th of July, a train for the first time passed over 
the Nemaha bridge (first crossing), and the event was cele- 
brated by a small excursion party to Rulo and Falls City. 

The railway company had purchased a picnic ground, 
and during the summer were arranging and making it 
more attractive and convenient. Late in November, Mr. 
Firth wrote : — 

" Our excursion Thursday was the success of the season. 
It was one of the dreariest, stormiest days of all the year ; 
but from St. Joseph, Leavenworth, and Atchison together, 
we had two hundred people, ladies and gentlemen, and 
such a gay time, I think, was never seen in cars. Sing- 


ing, speaking, waltzing in the aisles, music of the quadrille 
band, and all sorts of games." On such a day the grove 
was, of course, out of the question, and a table was spread 
under cover. 

Mr. Firth was now universally known as " Major," a title 
which had been first given him by one of the newspapers, 
and which ever after clung to him, in spite of his often 
expressed objection to it. 

In September, 1871, he was made Chief Engineer, as 
well as Superintendent of the Atchison and Nebraska, Mr. 
Chanute retiring from the position in order to become Su- 
perintendent of the Leavenworth, Lawrence and Galveston 
railway. The two gentlemen parted with the most cordial 
regard on both sides. Indeed, the younger had an espe- 
cially strong feeling for his chief, of whom he spoke as 
" one of my models." 

The Atchison and Nebraska road now owned six loco- 
motives, but still needed a telegraph-line, which Mr. Firth 
hoped to have before the end of the season. 

He constantly called the attention of the public to the 
road by means of communications adressed to various 

The progress of the railway during the summer is stated 
in a letter written by him to the " Railroad Gazette," from 
which the following is an extract : — 

" The road crosses the St. Joseph and Denver City rail- 
road at Troy Junction, sixteen miles west of St. Joseph, 
and passes through Doniphan, Troy, Highland, Iowa Point, 
and White Cloud. In the spring, Mr. Joy purchased of 
the Burlington and Southwestern Railway Company, their 
property in the Nemaha valley, with the ten miles of track 


already laid from Rulo west, but never used. The loca- 
tion of the Burlington and Southwestern in. Nebraska had 
been completed to Humboldt, thirty-three miles from 
Rulo, the track laid to a point two miles east of Falls 
City, and the grading nearly finished as far as Humboldt. 
No bridging, however, had been done west of Falls City. 
During April, May, and June, the six and a half miles of 
grading necessary to connect the original Atchison, Ne- 
braska, and State Line with the Burlington and South- 
western track, were completed, and July 4th, the road was 
open to Falls City, county seat of Richardson County. 
Since that time the grading to Humboldt has been com- 
pleted, grading nine miles farther nearly finished, a new 
location of line, two miles in length (made necessary by 
the inroad of the Missouri between Iowa Point and White 
Cloud), graded and finished, and ten miles of track laid on 
main line. Want of iron delayed us nearly three weeks. 
From State Line, north, the work is thoroughly done ; 
bridging substantial, ditching sufficient, and, though not 
expensive, it is a good road-bed, and such as the present 
business warrants. With increasing business, the stand- 
ard can be raised without the loss of any work already 
done. We use Howe truss bridges, and lay a fifty-pound 
rail (Cambria Works), with first-class ties, build substan- 
tial, creditable stations, and have equipment which will 
compare well with that of any road west of the Mississippi, 
being of the same with that of other 'Joy* 
roads, — a well-known standard. 

" The road is being steadily improved between Atchison 
and State Line, bridges replaced, etc., and the condition 
of the track is excellent. At Rulo, the line of the road 


leaves the Missouri and takes a northwesterly course up 
the valley of the great Nemaha, into the rich, unpublished 
country, Southern Nebraska, through land which would 
warrant any statement I could make in its praise. This 
is the first road to lay open to settlement this truly beau- 
tiful section, and it will be our pleasure and duty to aid in 
its development. We shall offer every facility to immigra- 
tion, and shall co-operate with the land owners, agents, 
town companies, etc., in bringing these lands into notice. 
Do not understand me that the country is unsettled ; by 
no means. Falls City, Rulo, and Salem are well-built, well- 
to-do, growing places, and there are many large, finely 
improved farms, but the population is very small in com- 
parison with the land's capacity. Only its previous inac- 
cessibility, and the immediate neighborhood of so well 
ventilated [i. c. widely advertised] a country as Southern 
Kansas, has deprived it of its due share of public atten- 
tion. Nebraska has had no domestic troubles to give it 
notoriety, and has lost the consequent advantages. 

"The objective point of one branch of our line is Lincoln, 
Nebraska. Of another, some point upon the Union Pacific 
Railroad not determined. . . . The lands of Southern 
Nebraska are cheap, accessible, and as good as the best. 
The especial peculiarity of the country is that all the land 
is good. The best land here is no better than the best 
land elsewhere, of course ; but it is not often, so far as our 
knowledge of the West goes, that one can find soil almost 
uniformly rich, and the slopes so flat that the uplands bear 
crops almost as well as the bottoms. The climate is better 
suited to northern people than that of more southern places, 
and the present settlers are not ' squatters,' but hard- 


working farmers, who have something to show for their 
labor." ' 

In accordance with the views above expressed, Mr. Firth 
issued a circular of invitation for a meeting to be held in the 
Nemaha Grove, September 28th, saying that the time had 
come for " organized co-operation to draw the attention of 
farmers, stock raisers, emigrants, — all but speculators, — 
to a country from which no man can return disappointed," 
and stating that the railway company wished to join with 
the land owners in order to establish a "land office at 
which those looking for farms and homes might receive 
full and correct information." At the close of the circular 
Mr. Firth said : " Our Nebraska friends will meet with this 
in view ; but others from abroad will be expected only to 
examine our new road, picnic with us, and condemn the 
land they will see if they can conscientiously." 

In response to this call, a convention was held at the 
appointed place and time, by the "merchants, business 
men and farmers of Southern Nebraska and Northern 
Kansas," the company being guests of Mr. Firth. After 
dinner, the meeting was called to order, and speeches were 
made by Hon. S. C. Pomeroy and General B. F. String- 
fellow, relative to the advantages of that section of the 
country and the best means of developing it The 
"modest Major" followed with a brief address, explaining 
the purposes of the convention and pledging the hearty aid 
of the Atchison and Nebraska, whose interests, he said, 
though itself owning no land, were identical with those of 
the people of Southern Nebraska. A committee appointed 
for the purpose met and reported a constitution and by-laws 
for the " Southern Nebraska Emigrant Society " ; officers 


were elected, Mr. J. F. Gardner, of Falls City, being presi- 
dent, and Mr. F. R. Firth one of the directors, and resolu- 
tions were offered, advising that the Nemaha Valley should 
be systematically advertised, and that proper arrangements 
should be made for directing emigration thither. Business 
completed, the party, after partaking of a supper ordered 
by their host, at White Cloud, returned to Atchison. Soon 
after, a large poster was printed, by order of Mr. Firth, 
announcing to the public that Southern Nebraska was 
open to immigration, setting forth the advantages of the 
fertile valley, "not the cheapest land, but the best," and 
stating that farm produce could be shipped to St. Louis 
and Chicago without change of cars. Acting upon his 
strong faith in the value of Nemaha land, Mr. Firth him- 
self purchased a farm on the line of his road. At one 
time he had in his office an ear of Nebraska corn " weigh- 
ing one pound, eight and a half ounces, and containing 
1,254 grains." 

The autumn of 1871 was so busy a time that he was 
obliged to give up a proposed visit to Boston ; but late in 
November he wrote : " Winter has set in in dead earnest 
and in the old-fashioned New-England way." Conse- 
quently construction was discontinued. The road had 
reached Table Rock, eighty-four miles from Atchison, 
which point remained its terminus for the winter. 

Mr. Firth still found a little work to do, however 
December 3d, he wrote : " I have been very busy for 
three days, running the steam-transfer here. The river 
fell, and the crossing of cars stopped ; and as the Kansas 
City, St. Joseph, and Council Bluffs folks made no effort 
to put it again in order, I volunteered to do so if they 


would furnish me all the men and material I wanted. This 
they did, and I continue in charge of the ferry." 

Mr. Firth's activity was a marvel to all who knew him. 
Thus, one of his letters said : " During the week I have 
walked fifty miles, ridden on horseback, in stage, private 
conveyance, freight-cars, passenger-cars, and locomotives. 
Spent one moonlight evening on top of a freight-train, 
went bathing in the Missouri, and have had a free-and- - 
easy week." Once, when a slight accident happened to a 
train on which he was riding, he immediately started for 
Atchison on a hand-car, assisting to propel it himself, and 
on arriving, set out asrain with aid for the train. While 
" prospecting " for further extension, he often went on long 
jaunts. For example : " From 6.30 this morning until 
eight this evening (save an hour's snoozing), I have been 
on horseback. Wyatt and I have been reconnoitring the 
country between here and Lawrence." Again, in a letter 
of September, 1871 : " Wednesday afternoon, went up the 
road in my woollens, and had one of those long walking 
and ridins: tours at the front. Mr. Holmes and I rode on 
the prairie until nearly eleven p. M., slept in a little 
farm-house, and at six yesterday I was here again, and 
rather tired. All our work goes well, — so well one almost 

During the winter of 1 87 1-2, he walked through to Lin- 
coln (from Table Rock), when he had to stop on the road 
and thaw the frost out of his face. In March, 1872, he 
wrote : " Made journey to the end of track, camped out 
one night, and delivered a speech more than an hour long 
in a crowded school-house, which a single small candle 
very feebly illuminated." 


One of his men says : " I don't think anything ever 
transpired on the road but what he knew about it." His 
power of apparently being at all points at once was re- 
garded by his men as something almost supernatural. 
" It is lonely upon the road now," said a brakeman, after 
the accident ; " we never knew when the Major wouk 
come out from behind a bush and signal us to whistl 
brakes and take him on." 

Mr. Firth was in the habit of passing over and observ- 
ing other roads as well as his own. From Falls City, he 
wrote Tuesday, October 24, 1871 : " Since I left Atchison, 
last Thursday, at ten a. m., I have travelled about fifteen 
hundred miles, and spent some hours at Lincoln, Chicago, 
Burlington, and Galesburg ; rode altogether two hundred 
miles upon four different engines equipped with the 
Westinghaus brake, for the purpose of becoming familiar 
with it." 

The following illustrates the rapidity with which he 
travelled : " I was at the Massasoit (Atchison), at mid- 
night last night, having, since two p. m., been in four States. 
. . . Saturday, p. m., I took tea in Missouri, spent the 
evening in Kansas, slept half the night in Missouri, woke 
in Iowa, eat breakfast in Nebraska, and saw the sun set in 
Iowa." And again : " Had to go to St. Louis, and so 
made a call at Chicago." 

Mr. Firth's note-books of 1870-71 contain some frag- 
mentary jottings of interest, such as the following : " The 
object of ballasting is to make a firm, undisturbed road- 
bed ; this it does in virtue of its own solid compactness, 
and by its perfect drainage. It is paid by the lessening 
of running expenses, by the preservation of unhurt iron, 


by the prevention of decay in ties. ... A railway com- 
pany might produce its own ties by locust or black-walnut 
trees planted by the road-side, allowing 500 to the acre ; 
upon a strip 25 feet wide, one mile long, there would be 
(3.03 acres) 1,5 15 trees ; 2,600 ties needed per mile. Upon 
the inside of curves they could not be permitted. (The 
right of way, 100 feet wide, measures 12.12 acres per 
mile.)" The same book contains a suggestion that the 
government should collect and preserve the results of 
railway surveys, which, he said, being made with a view 
to actual, expensive construction, were taken in great 
detail. He thought that while the work was fresh, it was 
the proper time to inaugurate such a system as would 
render at once available "an immense amount of topo- 
graphical information, now buried in unconnected data." 

The memoranda continue: "It is an American curse 
that men are all impatient for the opportunity to do what 
they cannot do. . . . 

" An excitable man is an expensive one. 

" If you distrust a man, come upon him before the time 

" Do not praise unfinished work. 

" My expei ience convinces me that it would be well to 
enroll men, regularly enlist them, for railway service, letting 
them subscribe to a contract which should be short and 
distinct, and the punishment for violating it, immediate 
dismissal. First, obedience to orders. Second, temperance 
and good behavior. Third, to do whatever the interests 
of the company demanded, when directed. Fourth, to 
make no claim for extra service, or irregular service. 
— although gratuities may advantageously be bestowed 


" Men should only be responsible directly to one 

" Pay no attention to trivial errors of an assistant. 
Never ask a man to do what you cannot and would not 
do yourself. 

" It is not virtue to want ambition. 

" Every man should keep a horse, and learn how food 
can affect immediately every physical action. 

" Two hours at some future day are worth three now ; 
do I not increase in value ? why then postpone ? 

" Never be without occupation for intervals. 

" A peculiarly fitting time of day for each ceremony : 
funeral at sunset ; marriage in morning ; execution, — 
midnight ; business contract at midday." 

One can fancy that the note, " Social improvements which 
money could accomplish," pointed to Mr. Firth's intention 
to make a fortune early, and retire from his profession. 
The following, also, may have been a suggestion for the 
occupation of some future leisure hours. 

" Books which should be written : Railway Accidents, — 
causes, with a view to prevention." 

We add a few more extracts : — 

" Maxims, 

" Speak as little as possible. 

"Say nothing which will have no interest an hour hence. 

" Believe nothing which will injure your friend's good 
name ; my friend against twenty accusers. 

" The highest attainment ; the power to be idle, and 
content to divert yourself from an absorbing pursuit." 

The power of withdrawal from work was one which he 


had lately been acquiring, as during the past summer he 
had had more " leisure to cultivate society," for which his 
inclination, also, had been growing. He wrote, in the 
autumn of 1871 : "I am only in this respect changed, 
that I feel no hesitation in speaking to man, woman, or 
child to whom I have anything to say and pay no regard 
to what people will think, in doing what I think is best. 
.... With the large appreciation I now have of the 
necessary mutual dependence of people for kindly, 
friendly offices, and the criminal wrong-headedness of iso- 
lation,, there is no danger of becoming a misanthrope, or a 
voluntary prisoner." 

In September, with a friend, he entertained the whist 
club to which he belonged at his office, the latter made 
attractive by means of evergreens, flowers, photographs, and 
borrowed tables and chairs. After a leap-year ball, he 
wrote home that he should dance hereafter, at every ball 
he attended, — " a resolution I never really formed before." 

A letter of February 2, 1872, said : " I spend an hour 
or more every evening, in visiting my friends, and forget 
the initials 'A. and N7 for a few hours." 

At the homes, where he ever found a cordial welcome, 
he was a favorite with all, talking politics with the father, 
indulging in fun and repartee with the young people, and 
always ready to play with the children. He seldom made a 
call without leaving some reminder of himself, in the form 
of a book, a piece of music, or a magazine. In the neigh- 
boring cities he had social as well as business connections. 
Many of his private letters received during the past year 
were written in acknowledgment of favors which he had 
conferred on Kansas friends. One was found, thanking 


him for sending home, with his debts paid, a } 7 oung man 
who had fallen into bad ways and company. 

The Atchison and Nebraska railway passes through the 
Indian Reserve, occupied by the Sacs and Foxes. In the 
Quakers at the mission there Mr. Firth found warm 
friends, often stopping to see them on his way up or down 
the line. He also had pleasant relations with the Indiana 
themselves. He wrote : — 

" The Indians made and sold us the best cross-ties 1 
ever saw ; " and again : " Saturday, being away, I missed 
a call from six Iowa chiefs who came down with Mrs. 
Lightfoot's Indian school in a car I had promised them 
long ago. The chiefs expressed to Mr. Deitz, by inter- 
preter, that they should feel honored by a visit from me, 
and invited me to let them know when I would sit in coun- 
cil with them." 

Of Mr. Firth's strong and steadily-growing feeling for 
the West and Western people, it is hardly possible to say 
too much. Letter after letter was written in the same 
strain. For instance : — 

" I wish Southern people knew Northerners as they are, 
and I wish still more that Northerners knew Southern and 
Western people, for they do not understand them, and can- 
not be just to them for lack of acquaintance with them. 
The westernizing process has been very rapid with me for 
the past six months, and I am sure I am none the worse 
for it. ... I have not changed my standard for judging of 
people and things very radically in these few years, for tc 
become a Western man is to add to, not alter the Eastern 
man." The whole-hearted work and ways of his daily com- 
panions were a constant delight to him. " Western young 


men," lie said " (if you choose to call them Western, they 
are as often English and German as Americans), give 
themselves to their work, having chosen it, and do not 
drop their tool because the clock strikes six, or allow an 
insult to their employers to pass without notice. ... I 
know twenty men who would throw themselves under the 
wheels of a train to save a life, or would do just such 
manly, self-denying deeds as Bret Harte records, without 
taking a thought of its being more than an act of duty. 
There is a flavor to Western life, and a ring of true metal 
about real Western men, which has a charm for those who 
believe that human nature is not wholly bad, and that 
virtue is not conditional on grammatical speech." 

In still another letter : " They decorate soldiers' graves 
in the West just as in the East. You must remember that 
it is all one country." Even the air, earth, and water of 
his new home came in for a share of his affections. In 
spite of a touch of the " chills " from which he had suffered 
in the autumn, he wrote home -in November: " I am con- 
verted to the Kansas climate ; when it storms, little can be 
said for it ; but when it is fair, nothing can compare with it." 

This admiration for the West included its railway men. 
He wrote : " I enjoy very much my extending and already 
somewhat extended railway acquaintance. I meet people 
continually whom I have never seen before, but have known 
by name, who have also heard of me, so we are friends 
from the beginning." When a new question arose, he 
often consulted his neighbors of older experience, the 
Superintendents of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, and 
Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroads, and, as he said, received 
from them " all the assistance " he ever asked. 


Meanwhile, Mr. Firth himself was taking his rank among 
railway officials, and as a friend wrote of him, already had 
a " reputation well-established for economy of construction 
and management." He was popular, too, to an extent 
which surprised even his best friends. One of his associ- 
ates writes : " Mr. Firth had a peculiar manner of talking, 
that to a stranger sounded overbearing. He always talked 
business in as few words as possible. I have heard quite 
a number say that when they first commenced talking 
wilh him, they thought he was almost impudent ; but after 
they got acquainted, they found him a perfect gentle- 

His slight, boyish figure was a surprise to those who 
had previously known him by reputation, and they were 
no less astonished at the readiness with which his mind 
grasped any subject or question brought before it, explain- 
ing the expression used by a Western paper, that he was 
" smart as lightning." 

As he scorned everything like fawning, the regard of 
those with whom he was associated did not come as the 
result of any effort on his part, but was called forth by his 
real worth. 

Mr. Firth's fairness in dealing, and his fidelity to his 
word, soon gained for him the honor and confidence of 
those living on the line of the railway. 

One of the local papers said : " The officers and employ- 
ees of the Atchison and Nebraska will do more to accommo- 
date shippers and the travelling public, than any set ol 
men we ever saw in charge of a railroad." 

A Leavenworth paper alluded to the " debt of grati- 
tude" due Mr. Firth, and the "Kansas Chief" (White 


Cloud) said that he had " secured for the road the good- 
will of the entire country along the route." 

He was, however, unwilling to resort to any schemes 
for the advancement of sectional interests, as is shown in 
the following extract from a letter written at the time 
when a neighboring road was plotting to further the inter- 
ests of its terminal town : — 

" This protective policy is opposed to the truest Amer- 
ican ideas, for few men like to have it decided for them 
where they must buy and how they shall ship ; and in the 
West, more especially, the arbitrary closing of a channel 
is, as it should be, an unpopular action." 

He was himself falling into Western ways of thinking. 

" The West," he wrote, " is unequivocally Free Trade, 
and I cannot see how a man not interested in coal, iron, or 
salt, can conscientiously be otherwise." 

With a mind full of railway projects and details, he still, 
as in former times, kept up an interest in the topics of the 
day, and did not forget that he was a citizen of the republic : 
" I consider my political life as dating from Grant's inau- 
gural," he wrote, " and shall try to keep myself informed 
upon the problems and acts of government, as if I had a 
share in it." 

He was " glad that Kansas led off on the XVth article" ; 
speaking of which, he said : " Wnat we do write of and 
think of, is petty, trivial in comparison ; but for all that, 
we none the less feel the grand fact. This is a nation to 
fight for ; it is the freest country upon the face of the earth* 
God save it — with our help — while we may, and so long 
as none is freer." 

That he was ready to give his help, was shown in his 


relations to the colored people. A negro boy was employed 
in the railway shops at Rulo. Until that time, no person of 
his race had ever been allowed in the town, and the inno- 
vation was followed by threats of violence ; but " Bostwick 
secured six revolvers and let Rulo know that the boy 
should remain." 

The colored people appreciated Mr. Firth's position re- 
garding them, as was shown by a conversation which took 
place in an Atchison street, while he was lying ill in his 
room : — 

" Are you any relation to Major Firth?" said a colored 

" I am his father." 

" Let me shake hands with you. There is n't a black 
man in Atchison who would n't die for Major Firth. He 
was the first railway man to employ us. We all pray that 
he may get well." 

From time to time, friends at home sent Mr. Firth 
accounts of the pleasures they were enjoying in theatre, 
opera, and concert. " Thanks for the play-bills," he wrote ; 
" I will have my revenge, and see better players than 
Fechter and Seebach, and hear sweeter singers than. 
Nilsson, to my heart's content, in the next half century. 
After the aspera we shall see stars, as the Kansas motto [Ad 
astro, per aspera], than* which none is better, suggests." 

He enjoyed seeing and hearing Nilsson, when for the 
Christmas holidays he came to Boston which he had last 
left in February, 1870. He had a very happy visit at home, 
As one of his little cousins said, he never was so " jolly " 
before. In fact, he had seemed for a long time to be grow- 
ing younger in feeling, while he grew older in years, and 


overcoming the reserve which had made him grave as a 
boy, his natural love of fun had free play. His friends 
heartily enjoyed his bright visit, little thinking that the 
gay good-by with which he left them was the last word 
that most of them were ever to hear from his lips. 

During the winter, Mr. Firth prepared for distribution 
maps of the Atchison and Nebraska road and its con- 
nections, a copy of which, with some additions, is found 
at the close of this volume. 

In February, 18^2, through the newspapers, he called for 
bids from contractors for the grading of the road-bed from 
Sterling to Lincoln (both in Nebraska), a distance of 
thirty-five miles, and March 2d, an eighty-thousand-dollar 
contract was closed, and the work begun at once. -The 
next day Mr. Firth wrote : " Vacation is really over." 
Again, March 26 : " Our business is increasing at all 
points, and one must be dismal indeed who cannot feel 
cheered by the increasing prosperity of his road." April 
9th : " Congratulate me on my first hundred miles of road 
completed ; " and May 1st : " Our earnings upon the Atchi- 
son and Nebraska, this last month, amount to $15,000, and 
are, of course, increasing." 

In the preceding March, Mr. O. E. Allen, of Northboro', 
Massachusetts, had come to Atchison with a letter from 
Mr. W. F. Weld, of Boston, asking Mr. Firth to initiate 
him into the railway service. Mr. Allen was a member 
of the senior class at Harvard College, but left study for 
work thus early, in order to become acclimatized before 
the summer. 

He actecj as clerk and general assistant for Mr. Firth, 
and there soon sprung up between the two young men a 
most devoted friendship. 



Mr. Firth wrote : " Nothing since I came west has 
been so pleasant for me as the finding in Allen an inti- 
mate friend who likes to do everything I like to do, and 
dislikes what I dislike, and who is a hearty, wholesome 
fellow withal." In a letter written June 6th, but never 
mailed, he said : " Allen and I can find nothing to quarrel, 
or even disagree about ; it is ludicrous to find ourselves 
saying the same thing in the very same words, as we some- 
times do." Mr. Allen wrote : " Mr. Firth and I are like a 
pair of lovers." Their common taste for out-door exercise 
formed a bond of sympathy between them. In May, 
Mr. Firth wrote : " Sunday before last, Allen and I walked 
forty-eight miles, from Tecumseh to Lincoln, without 
being the worse for it." 

Together the friends fitted up some lodgings in a new 
building opposite the railway offices in Atchison, and 
much enjoyed having a place they might call home. They 
selected their furniture with an eye to beauty as well as 
comfort ; from their Eastern homes pictures and books 
were sent, and, leaving a piano until they could afford it, 
Mr. Firth was able to write : " Our rooms are all that we 
hoped, airy, comfortable, and home-like, — a great relief 
after four years of Arab life." May 25th, they had their 
house-warming and received their friends, little Pip, the dog 
whom they owned together, assisting his two masters in 
their duties as hosts. Their housekeeping received many 
compliments from the pleasant company assembled. 

Among the objects which had been chosen for orna- 
ment or use, Mr. Firth particularly mentioned the book- 
case, "a very good-looking fellow and excellent company." 
He had long relied on such society as these shelves now 


jffered. As may be seen from his letters during the 
whole period of his Western life, he had been continually 
receiving books, periodicals, and papers from his father, 
and, as soon as he had a place in which to put them, he 
sent for a collection which should make the foundation of 
a library. " You may think my order a large one," he 
said, " but you cannot know how hungry one gets for 
book-case friends." In addition to his old companions, — 
Marcus Aurelius, Shakespeare, Emerson, Motley, Buckle, 
Tyndall, Thackeray, Reade, and many others, — he now 
sent for a large number of books on different subjects, such 
as books of reference, scientific works : Carlyle's French 
Revolution and Hero Worship, Helps' writings, Plutarch's 
Lives and Morals, Don Quixote, Goethe's novels, the 
British Dramatists, Smith's Wealth of Nations, Redfield's 
Railway Law, some of the old English and other poets, 
Unitarian hymn-books, with the " hymns we know and 
like so well" and the Church of England service. To this 
order his father added some selections of his own, with 
all of which Mr. Firth was much pleased. " What a hard- 
looking set they '11 be," he wrote, " after going around the 
world with me, full of dust of all lands, and stained with 
water of all seas ; associated with friends, and restorers of 
my life, whatever it may be, when it is passed." 


He had always spoken in home letters of the books in 
which he happened to be interested at the time, and liked 
to exchange ideas and criticism with his correspondents. 
11 1 have been reading the ' Virginians ' in a very leisurely 
way, and have enjoyed the flavor of the olden time very 
much, " — he said one day ; " I had really forgotten that 
the port of Boston was closed and the custom-house 


removed to Salem on account of the Boston tea-party." 
And again : " I open Emerson often, and always feel a 
certain moderation and dignity — serenity — given to me 
in the reading." His familiarity with this author may 
have led him to such thoughts as the following: — 

" The Sphinx is a favorite symbol of mine — Nature — 
who changes not but ever faces us with her problem. She 
will utter no secret, but permits prying man to study 
the inscriptions on her forehead, cheeks, and sides." 

Both in writing and in conversation, Mr. Firth's re- 
markable quickness of wit, and strong faculty of compar- 
ison and analogy, caused him to introduce allusions 
seemingly obscure, and to pass from one subject to an- 
other with a suddenness which would puzzle a slower 

Of the intellectual companions whom he now had close 
at hand and ready to answer his summons at a moment's 
notice, no one, we think, gave him more frequent and 
w r eicome counsel than Marcus Aurelius, whose philo- 
sophical and analytical method of thought was so conge- 
nial to his own. Of this and of some other characteristics 
we now take the opportunity to speak. With him, the 
natural impulse was to find the " why " of action and emo- 
tion, and to arrive at the truth, the real interior meaning 
of things. The following extracts, written only for his own 
eye, will show this quality of mind. 

" The man who travels around the world from west to 
east, lives one more day, but no longer time ; nor does he 
who loses a day by contrary travel, live a shorter time. 
Suppose the swiftness of motion of the one increased in- 
definitely, and that of the other to be as the motion of the 


earth ; then, while the one lived an indefinite number of 
days, the other would live but one. The number of days 
in a man's life is no proper measure of its length. It is 
the curse of these conventions- of time and space that a 
day is considered a day, whether long or short ; a month 
a month, though shorter than an hour. The truer meas- 
ures are events. The time of the world is measured by 
celestial events, and the time of life should be, equally, by 
human. Are you young ; are you old ? You may be, and 
you may not be ; nor can I tell one whit better by seeing 
your birth-note." Then follows a suggestion for drawing 
time-maps, whereon the distances of different places from 
any common centre should be regulated by the time re- 
quired to travel those distances ; and after further exam- 
ination into the nature of time and space, he ends thus : 
" Time without space cannot be imagined, nor the con- 
trary. Time cannot have preceded matter, any more than 
matter can outlive mind." 

" It is surely good to be sometimes sick, — as necessary 
as mistakes are to confirm a man in his caution. The vir- 
tues of an active and a passive life seem to be quite differ- 
ent ; in place of courage, patience ; instead of resistance, 
submission ; yet the paradox holds, that we may conquer 
by yielding, and purchase victory in general, by defeats in 

" The same treatment which we accept graciously from 
one person, we will not tolerate from another, and I think the 
sympathy or equality between ourself and another is greater 
in the latter case. When the parties are quite unequal, 
one has no thought of redress, and this difference may be 
so great as to destroy the idea of retaliation. Would a 


horse bear equally severe treatment from another horse ? 
[as from a man ?] or a man accept from another man what 
does not anger him when coming from the horse? We 
feel offended in proportion as it is in our power to return 
the affront, and when it is utterly beyond our power, then 
there is no offence. If a man could punish a machine, 
torture a locomotive, or burn fire, he would have other feel- 
ings when he suffered from them. An expression that I 
should not regard, but that a friend has applied it to me, 
stings. All this leads ultimately to the conclusion that 
love and hate are only capable of existing between crea- 
tures possessing similar faculties." He then continues the 
same line of reasoning, to prove the personal nature of 
God. " A man cannot love a stick (unless it simply 
stand as representative of an imagined creature, having 
powers like his own), nor hate fire, or water, or poison, or 
a knife. If God were altogether different from man, we 
oould not love him." 

The character of a mind must determine the nature of 
its religious thought, and his intellect being such as it was, 
he was often obliged, for truth's sake, to travel a long and 
weary way about, in order to reach the goal, and under- 
stand what simpler minds are content to take for granted, 
or to see by intuition. In theological discussions he rare- 
ly took any part when at home ; but a dear friend of his at 
Atchison, a gentleman of other opinions from his own, says 
that they had several free conversations on the subject, 
and that Mr. Firth always avowed his convictions to be 
Unitarian. As no society of the same views existed in 
Atchison, he had of late attended the Episcopal church. 
While in Boston, he might have been seen occasionally at 


the Catholic, and in the churches of the several Evangeli- 
cal bodies, drawn there by the music, by a noted preacher, 
or by his own sense of fairness, which forbade his rejecting 
views, before he had heard them stated and defended by 
their upholders. He brought, in a word, the same open- 
ness and candor here, which he carried into his scientific 

But his practical religion was a daily, living fact. It 
touched him much more nearly than systems of belief or 
schemes of salvation. His purpose pointed to the highest, 
straight as a beam of light. 

" You learned," he wrote to a friend, " how divine self- 
conquest, at the price of almost self-annihilation, is. You 
were wrong to call that overcoming the world ; it is a rarer, 
nobler accomplishment, not at all conflicting with the max- 
ims I quoted. The Stoic, having overcome the world, may 
hope to subject himself absolutely to duty and honor. 
Don't you see how unlike these supplementary parts of 
the hero are ? for either lacking, he cannot follow principle 
to the death." 

Mr. Firth was always something of a Stoic, especially in 
his younger days, when, as he has himself confessed, he 
found a certain attraction in doing a thing because it was 
hard for him to do it. Indeed, he was made of stern stuff; 
but, from the first, he turned the power of his strong will 
towards all good accomplishment, subjecting it, to use his 
own words, " to duty and honor." Nor was his strength 
hard and barren ; but, like a solid rock, it underlay a 
wealth of good deeds and human kindness. 

Action was his easiest speech. His reserved and sen- 
sitive nature, and the difficulty of expressing his feelings, 


enhanced by their very intensity, made him seem stiff 
and cold, and formed a barrier between himself and others, 
even his nearest friends ; but that reserve once broken 
through, either from within or without, his few, short 
words concentrated the glow of many longer speeches. 
He could feel quickly the joys and sorrows of others 
though, like many another man with head full of plans 
and heart in his work, he was almost unable at times to 
attend to anything else, and his letters seemed then to 
scarcely respond to those from home. 

In boyhood he had not formed many close friendships, 
nor did he till much later add greatly to their number, 
though ready to offer courtesy and assistance wherever 
he could do so. He has been seen, when leaving the 
house of a friend at the same time with a little Irish girl 
whom he knew, to take from her her basket of cold food 
and carry it as far as their roads lay together. 

When ill or exhausted, he did not escape those times of 
depression to which a nervous and high-strung temper- 
ament is liable ; but returning strength, and hearty, satis- 
factory work, always restored the balance. He tried to 
meet all events with calmness. " I work here as con- 
scientiously as in me lies," he wrote in 1S71, "and am 
well contented that what is within my control goes well ; 
while Marcus Aurelius taught me long ago to be undis- 
turbed by what happened over which I had no control. 
All I want to tell you is, that I think I have the secret of 
peace of mind ; it is to do your own part as fully and 
well as you can, and feel neither fear nor hope about the 

Of things which he felt most deeply, he did not care to 


speak much, and it was only from brief glimpses that those 
who knew him best could guess his quiet depth of senti- 
ment. He liked to remember anniversaries of happy days, 
cherished little reminders of people whom he cared for, 
and while living among strangers, far from home, he used 
to carry the key of his father's house always in his pocket. 
Yet even in writing, the expression of such feeling was 
difficult to him, and many a sentence, begun full of emo- 
tion, he turned off with a joke. 

He was ever ready to look up to what he felt above him, 
and though critical and hard to please, had always his 
heioes, whom he delighted to honor. To devote himself 
to some person, some work, some idea, was his impulse ; 
and his imagination was ever fired by any touch of such 
devotion in books, or real life. To a loyal spirit like this, 

'- To take 
So barren seems, when it can make 
Such bliss, for the beloved sake, 
Of bitter tasks." 

His aim being so honest and so pure, he was ready, 
when convinced he was wrong, to turn fairly about, confess 
himself so, and alter his course, letting no false pride stand 
in the way. " May I overcome the desire to manifest in- 
dignation at ignorance. I have been very unreasonable 
to-day, and am sorry," he wrote in his private journal. 
Indeed, his metal was good steel, needing only life's grad- 
ual burnishing. It was controlled intensity, 

"A sword of fire, in a sheath of snow." 

Judge Thacher, of Lawrence, wrote to Mr. Firth's 
father, August 21, 1872 : " I met your son last June, at 


Topeka, before the State Board of Assessors of railroad 
property. He there represented his road, and I distinctly 
remember the plain, pithy, and concise way that the 
details of his road were presented by him. No road had 
a more useful, careful, or influential representative, and, 
in addition to a carefully prepared statement of assets 
resources, and liabilities, he also made an oral, off-hand 
argument to show why the board should not make too 
high a valuation of his road. His reasoning was clear, con- 
vincing, and persuasive, and his road secured the lowest 
assessment of any, save one, I believe. He bade me good- 
by before the board closed, saying he must hurry back to 
Atchison to urge on his business." 

His last time-table, No. 9, which was to take effect 
June 5th, 1872, at 4 a. m., shows a length of road of one 
hundred and twelve miles, with nineteen stations, the last 
being Sterling, Nebraska, and eight trains running daily. 
At the end of this table we find a new name, " M. M. 
Towne, Assistant Superintendent." Some time before, 
Mr. Firth had asked for a helper, as he was hard pressed 
with the largely-increased business of the road. He now 
wrote : " I shall be much more at liberty, freed from details 
which others can attend to equally well, with time to give 
to our general relations, and to cultivate our business, by 
which I can most effectually serve the road." 

He had long ago promised to enter Lincoln July 4th, 
and now he seemed likely to be able to keep his word. 
On Thursday, June 6th, he wrote from the office on the 
boarding-train at the end of the track, one hundred and 
twenty-two miles from Atchison : " I see our large bridge 
party busy upon the fifteenth crossing of the Nemaha. . . . 


We have twenty-four miles of iron yet to lay, and intend 
to reach Lincoln July 1st. . . . While we are laying a 
mile of track a day at the front, and with storm succeed- 
ing storm as they have done this season, you understand 
that one or two persons must be on the qui vive? 

While he was writing, another storm was rising. Its 
results were such that for the next two nights Mr. Firth 
found no time for sleep. He was seen on the second 
night (Friday), working with his men, knee-deep in mud, 
taking hold wherever help was needed in getting upon the 
track freight cars thrown off by the yielding of submerged 

He made a little call in Atchison, Saturday morning, 
and when he again started up the line, Mr. Allen accom- 
panied him. They stopped to examine bridge No. 35, 
which crossed a ravine. The central support was pro- 
nounced unsafe by Mr. Firth. Carpenters were set at 
work, and instructed to stop trains and transfer passen- 
gers, and if their repairing was not finished at night, to be 
on hand with lights. 

The friends then went on beyond White Cloud, Mr. 
Firth looking carefully over his track, bridges, cuts, and 
embankments, for every record of the storm. They waited 
at White Cloud, on their return, for the mail train for 
Atchison, which arrived six hours late. 

And now the week's work is done, the damages by 
flood and accident repaired, and the weary superintendent 
swings himself lightly upon the locomotive, saying all is 
ready for Monday. He will sit upon the forward part, 
with his feet resting on the pilot [or cow-catcher], that he 
may again see his track and more quickly discern the ex- 


pected signal of a coming freight train. Soon Mr. Allen 
joins him, as he "always goes where Firth is," and the two 
dear friends pass pleasant moments together, all uncon- 
scious that one is soon to meet his instant death, and the 
other to endure hours of torture. Of those happy moments 
we have no record, and can only rejoice in the true friend 
ship which we know must have brightened the time as they 
sped on their homeward way. 

In the mean time, the men left at the bridge had been 
busy at their task, and, as the night drew on, had com- 
pleted it. Mr. Taylor, their foreman, says that new sub- 
sills had been put under some of the supports, and that 
every part of it had been carefully examined by himself, 
as well as by his men, and pronounced safe by all. A 
freight train of twelve cars, some of which were loaded, 
was then waiting on the north side of the ravine for the 
signal to cross. Attached to it was the heaviest locomo- 
tive in the service, weighing thirty-two tons. 

On a previous page, Mr. Firth has described the emo- 
tions of men in charge of such a bridge when a locomotive 
and cars first go over it, and the same anxiety is felt when 
it is first tried after repairs. 

Mr. Taylor took the best place for critical observation 
while the train went upon and over the bridge, and at the 
same time placed his men in other positions where they 
could together have a view of it in every part. 

It stood this crucial test. 

Not only did the train pass safely, but no perceptible 
deflection in the bridge was seen by any of these experi- 
enced observers. That Mr. Taylor had a right, after that, 
to consider the bridge safe, and to send word to his Super- 


intendent, " There is no longer danger here," will not be 
questioned by the men of his calling. And word did 
reach Mr. Firth, on his way down, of the passage of this 

Mr. Taylor remembered, he says, how thorough and how 
cautious his chief was ; he " never knew an engineer take 
such pains where risks of life were involved " ; confirming 
the words of another trusted employee, that Mr. Firth 
"had not a man who would not go anywhere he directed, 
because each knew he was not the sort to run unnecessary 
risks, or to send a man where he would not go himself." 

Mr. Taylor again examined the foundations, including 
that upon the shoulder of the ravine on the north side. 
" If," he says, " it had yielded, or if any danger lurked 
there, it was hidden from human sight." [For a descrip- 
tion of this bridge, and a statement of the causes of its fall, 
see Appendix.] 

Signals f o warn approaching trains were no longer neces- 
sary. The dangers and labors of that trying week were 
over. So it seemed to these men, and they left for their 
several homes, more than ready for that blessed rest be- 
tween Saturday night and Monday morning, which the 
faithful laborer only can fully know. 

The removal of this last obstruction from his road was 
reason enough for the buoyant cheerfulness of the Super- 
intendent, of which we have spoken. " I never saw him 
when he felt better," said one. " The Major had had as 
hard a time as anybody," said another, " but nobody had 
been hurt. Nothing worse than a few hours' detention had 
happened to any train, and we all hoped and believed that 
the great rains which had come right after one another for 


a. month, were over, as we had never known so many of 
them before." ■ 

The conductor of this train was Mr. F. G. Rice. He had 
been told by Mr. Firth, when he first met him that day, that 
bridge No. 35 was unsafe, and Mr. Rice had instructed his 
engineman to stop just before reaching it. The informa- 
tion subsequently received by Mr. Firth of its having been 
crossed by the freight train, was not known to Mr. Rice. 
The reason may have been that safety did not require the 
conductor to know this, and that, from their respective 
places on the train, neither could see the other without 
inconvenience and delay. 

It was about nine o'clock when the train approached the 
bridge. A whistle to apply the brakes was sounded and 
the speed slackened to four or five miles per hour. Mr. 
Firth then signalled the engineman to "go ahead." The 
locomotive had not gone upon the bridge more than fifteen 
feet, when it plunged to the bottom of the ravine ! 

The tender followed, resting upon the rear end of the 
locomotive, while the cars of the train remained in safety 
upon the track, just north of what had now become a chasm. 

On its way down, the pilot either came in contact with 
the rails of the falling bridge, or with that part of the 
bridge yet standing (probably the former), and was thrust 
over upon the locomotive where the two young men were 

It was this that instantly killed the younger. 

It was a part of this, which, missing his body, caught the 
right arm of the elder between itself and the front of the 
locomotive, known as the saddle, and held the arm as in a 
vise. He was almost buried, at the same moment, in the 


nauseous mud and water of the bottom, and cut off from 
immediate help by the d6bris from the pilot and bridge 
timbers. His arm, unhappily, was behind him when it 
was struck by the pilot, and this enforced position, from 
which escape, unaided, was impossible, brought the upper 
part of his body against the hot front of the smoke-arch 
to be burned ; but his immediate danger was suffocation. 

Conductor Rice was the first to descend into the ravine, 
and to know that which has forever saddened many 

So sudden had been the fall, that neither the engine- 
man (Mr. Strahan) nor the fireman (Mr. Drummond) 
had time to escape. They were first thrown forward 
against the boiler. They then sprang for the windows of 
the cab, and thence jumped to the ground, a distance of 
ten or twelve feet. Fortunately both escaped with only 
bruises which did not prevent their rendering effective 
service afterward. 

It was three a. m. of Sunday, the 9th of June, before Mr. 
Firth was released. Of that time, during which the min- 
utes must have stretched to hours and the hours to eter- 
nities, the sufferer never spoke afterwards, except in the 
most general terms. All, however, who were with him 
bear testimony to his wonderful heroism ; to his self-con- 
trol ; to his clear comprehension of what was necessary to 
be done and how best to do it ; and to his thorough appre- 
ciation of the untiring efforts of his men to free him from 
his awful situation. 

On the one hand, he saw that a want of caution might 
cause the locomotive to settle further and crush him ; while 
on the other, no time should be lost because of his suffer- 


insrs, and also because one of the sudden rises of the 
creek might occur and drown him. 

But his ever-recurring thought was for his companion. 
"Where is Allen?" "Is Allen safe?" "Why don't 
Allen come ? " were his inquiries. Evasive answers were 
given, such as, that Allen was "doing well." They feared 
the effect, should they say, " He is dead." 

The body of his friend was easily extricated and rever- 
ently cared for ; and it was not till the next day, at Atch- 
ison, that in answer to his startling question, " Is Allen 
dead ? " the truth was confessed. 

Mr. Drummond, the fireman, says that when he reached 
Mr. Firth, he found him " doubled up under the smoke- 
arch, his feet up, and his body in the mud and water." It 
was Mr. Drummond who removed the mud from his face, 
thus enabling him to breathe freely, and liberated his left 
arm. He asked for "water, water." Brandy was found 
and given him. He said, " Help me, help me." On 
being assured that everything possible would be done for 
him, he said, " I believe you." 

" He gave directions to his men," said one of the pas- 
sengers in the train, " as if his final release were only a 
question of time, and his life w r ere not imperilled." When 
told of the progress that was made, he would say, " That 's 
good ! encourage me." Feeling his head with his left hand, 
he said, " My head is cut ; but it is all right, if you can 
get my arm out." At another time he said : " My arm 
pains me dreadfully. I believe it is broken ; but don't 
cut it." He thought if the engine could be jacked up two 
or three inches, he could pull his arm out. Stretching 
out his hand, he said, " Jones, take hold," and made many 


attempts to free himself. Once he said, " Don't think I 
am frightened. I have not had any sleep for forty -eight 
hours, and am only nervous." 

It was necessary to secure the locomotive where it was, 
and it required time and caution to find and adjust, in the 
dark, the ropes and timbers necessary. Two men at most 
and during the greater part of the time one only, could 
work directly in removing the part of the pilot which held 
him ; so contracted was the available space, and so great 
the care that was thought necessary. It is enough, that 
all did their best. 

In spite of his indomitable will, Mr. Firth's mind wan- 
dered at times, as the night wore on ; but such reliefs were 
not of long duration. 

Two expressions of a more general nature than any we 
have given, have been attributed to him. One was, " I 'm 
crushed by an engine. Tell my friends how I came to 
my death, doing my duty to my country and my railroad 
company." This sentiment was in harmony with all his 
life, for duty was the master thought of his being. 

The other expression was : "Jesus, save me, save me ! " 
We know not if the words that came to his lips were 
spoken in full consciousness or not ; but in that night of 
agony we cannot doubt that angels ministered to him, and 
that around him were the " everlasting arms " of the 
Father, whom with reverent, intelligent thought he earn- 
estly sought to know, and in whose service his life of 
faithful, useful goodness was lived. 

Surgical aid was sent for from White Cloud and Atch- 
ison. Drs. Cochrane and Burge of the latter place 
arrived about the time of Mr. Firth's deliverance. Ac- 


companying them was Mr. M. M. Towne, the Assistant 
Superintendent. It would be a pleasant duty to record 
the names of all who remained with him on this nisfht, 
working for his relief or assuaging his sufferings, and of 
those who went for help of any kind from near or far. 
This we can hardly hope to do. We can only give such as 
have been made known to us. They are Messrs. F. Tay- 
lor, J. C. Moore, and A. P. Jones ; Conductors Rice, 
Graves and Filson ; Fireman Drummond ; Engineman 
Strahan, and Trainman Finnegan ; Mr. Firth's young 
friend, Mr. J. W. Lincoln, and, later, Messrs. Clark and 

The last blow for his deliverance was at length given. 
Piece by piece the obdurate wood and iron had yielded, 
and the form which six hours before was instinct with an 
amazing force in every part, was brought out of that miry 
pit, mutilated and prostrate. It had escaped death as if 
by miracle ; it had endured shocks and agonies which 
would have proved mortal to one less hardened by labor 
and training, or less youthful. 

Thankfulness was in every heart. So great was the 
faith in his vitality and victorious will, that it was the gen- 
eral belief he would surely survive. It was said : "They 
could not kill him." " Nobody else would have lived 
through it." " We expected he would hold out because 
he said he should." 

He was wrapped in a blanket and carried to the house 
of a neighboring farmer, Mr. Flick, where he was attended 
by the surgeons. Everything possible was done for him 
by Mr. Flick and his family. Chloroform was given him, 
and then, at peace after such a heart-rending struggle, he 


was taken in the train to Atchison, where he arrived about 
five o'clock in the morning. What a contrast to the ex- 
pected return there at ten o'clock the night before ! Ah, 
if God ever gave to man the choice between immediate 
death and life on such conditions, the answer must be, 
" No, no, not life ! " 

Soon Dr. J. H. Stringfellow came to give his young 
friend his most skilful, tender, and unremitting services. 

It was found necessary to amputate Mr. Firth's right 
arm above the elbow. His head had a cut about five 
inches long, over the left parietal bone ; there were deep 
and broad burns upon his back, shoulders, neck, and arms ; 
bruises in various parts of his body, and, underlying all, 
the want of sleep, and the prostration of his nervous system. 
The practised eyes of his surgeons pronounced the case 
very critical, and rest was the one indispensable condition. 

The appalling news had gone through the town like the 
lightning's nash. There was not a heart unmoved. Men 
and women, by a common impulse, thronged to his cham- 
ber with their offers of personal service, and also of what- 
ever their houses contained. In the several churches, 
prayers for his recovery were offered. 

It was the mourning of a city. One of its chiefs, and 
the youngest of all, had fallen with his armor on, while 
extending and perfecting one of the works on which its 
hopes of the future rested. Indeed, a personal interest in 
such improvements runs through Western communities, 
and naturally attaches, also, to the men who direct them. 
If such men were chosen by the citizens, with a direct 
responsibility to them, the relation would hardly be closer. 

Because of this, and also because of the work he had 


already done ; because of his character, his youth, his 
heroism, his sufferings, and the startling nature of the 
event, which had at the same time removed from their 
midst another young man, less known, but of the highest 
promise, — all that was generous and tender in a people 
deficient in neither quality, instantly and universally re- 

Upon Mr. Towne rested the duty of making the event 
known to the friends at Boston. About nine A. M. he 
sent the following message. 

Atchison, Kansas, June 9th, 1872. 
A. Firth : — 

Engine fell through bridge last night. O. E. Allen 
killed ; your son seriously injured. Right arm amputated, 
and he is cut about the head. Doctors consider him in a 
very critical condition. Will telegraph daily. One of our 
men will start to-day or to-morrow, with the remains of 
Allen. Notify his mother. 

M. M. Towne, 

Ass't Supt. 

The bright Sunday noon brought this terrible message 
to Mr. Firth's home. 

The first care was for the widowed mother who had lost 
her only son. When arrangements had been made for 
sending to her the dreadful tidings, the next work was for 
Mr. Firth's father to arrange pressing business matters, so 
as to leave on Monday for Atchison. In the mean while the 
blessed telegraph 'kept the family informed of the sufferer's 
condition, and gave them hope of reaching him while liv- 
ing. Also, to their great comfort, came word at midnight 


that Mr. Kendall, of Leavenworth, skilled in the care of the 
sick (whose kindness and interest in Mr. Firth had been 
shown at the time of his illness at Lawrence), was with 
him, and would remain until they arrived. Indeed, he did 
more than that, — bringing from Leavenworth a known 
and trusted surgeon, Dr. Weaver, to add his skill to that 
already employed. Nor did Mr. Kendall's own wise and 
welcome care cease until there was no more need for 
earthly watching. 

Monday saw Mr. and Mrs. Firth and daughter on their 
anxious journey, cheered by the kind offices of friends who 
did all that could be done to speed them on their way, or 
encourage them with messages from the sick-room. The 
cordial and efficient sympathy of the railway officials can 
never be forgotten by that sad company. At Chicago, 
friends welcomed them, and after a few moments for 
refreshment, they were rushing over the prairies in a spe- 
cial train, to Quincy, provided by the generous liberality 
of Mr. Robert Harris, of the Chicago, Burlington and 
Quincy Railroad. From Quincy to St. Joseph, the same 
marked courtesy was extended to them by Mr. G. H. Net- 
tleton, of the Hannibal and St. Joseph, and from St. Joseph 
to Winthrop, by Mr. D. H. Winton, of the Kansas City, 
St. Joseph and Council Bluffs railways, the distances on 
the three roads exceeding five hundred miles. 

Sixty hours from Boston brought the travellers to Atch- 
ison, and, in the early dawn of Thursday, they stood by the 
sick-bed, warmly welcomed by their precious invalid. 
With justifiable pride, he enjoyed the high compliment 
implied in the giving of an extra train, " partly to father, 
and partly to me," he said ; "and now I am glad father will 


have an opportunity to know something of these generous 
Western railway men whom I value so highly." 

With all the welcome a sick man could give, he showed 
his joy in their coming, having his room decorated with 
forest boughs, arid calling attention to the flowers friends 
had sent him. 

Through nearly one week of alternate hope and fear on 
the part . of relatives and friends, his life trembled in the 
balance. But the hurts were all too great for healing. 
The skilful care of attentive surgeons, the loving service 
of friends, could not save his precious life. 

On Wednesday, June 19th, the spirit left the shattered 
body, to pass unfettered on its upward way. 

The lucid intervals of that sickness have left treasured 
memories ; of tender thought of the dead companion whom 
he mourned far beyond his own losses and sufferings ; of 
a brave spirit, looking unflinchingly at his own life with 
his right arm gone forever ; of thought of friends both 
~iear and far. For the most part, however, the uncon- 
sciousness which saved him fearful suffering from his 
dreadful wounds, veiled the noble spirit seen only in occa- 
sional glimpses, as the blue of heaven between the clouds 
of earth. 

But we should fail utterly in speaking of that sick-room, 
did we not attempt some slight tribute to the constant, 
thoughtful kindness, which, within and without that cham- 
ber, ministered both to the sick youth and his anxious 
family. Words cannot express it, but in the soil of grate- 
ful hearts it lies, we trust maturing for new service when 
others' needs shall call ; the only way in which such disin- 
terested gifts can be fitly repaid. 


On a lovely June evening the still form was carried to 
the Episcopal church which he had attended, and, after 
service there, was laid at rest in a beautiful rural cemetery, 
just as the last rays of the setting sun fell upon the knoll 
where the new grave was made. Nor was it altogether 
painful to leave the dear, lifeless body in that land where 
he had done his manhood's work, and where he had won 
for himself hosts of true friends, who will long keep for 
him a place of love in their hearts, and honor in their 

There remains for them, and for all to whom the knowl- 
edge may come, an example of honor, fidelity, integrity, 
thoughtfulness for others, industry, large practical and 
scholarly attainments, and brilliant success in his chosen 

Conspicuously he had the dearest love of all who were 
near him, the highest respect of his widely-scattered ac- 
quaintances, and the rarest devotion of the men who served 
under him. 

To his friends at home he has left memories of a pure 
boyhood and the opening of a splendid manhood. 

For the sake of others, such a life seemed to merit, 
nay, to demand this record, however inadequate it may 
be ; but let no one infer that the life was perfect. While 
it calls for no defence, such a claim has not been 
thought of. 

In its own simplicity we leave it, inexpressibly thankful 
to Him who gave it, for all that it was. 

But our eyes will glance to the future which awaited 
him here, and which shone so brightly when the summons 
to depart came. O, the loss ! the loss ! we find ourselves 


repeating ; loss to his friends ; to his profession ; to the 
community in which he moved ; and to his country. 
Where is the compensation? Alas! we know not. It 
must suffice that he was in the line of his duty, and that 
results are with God. 

We speak lightly, often, of the engineer's work as only 
one means of gaining a livelihood. " Every road leads to 
the end of the world," so every work faithfully done, and 
every life nobly lived, lead to the highest goal. But the 
opening of a new country to the opportunities of civiliza- 
tion, the building of bridges and roads on which coming 
generations shall pass to life and duty in new regions, are 
works fraught with illimitable consequences and opportu- 
nities which must move any thoughtful mind engaged in 
such a service. Such considerations add nobility to the 
mechanical work of this calling, and must give deeper 
content in a career pursued often under great trials and 

We cannot think of this young life as finished, but 
rather with its broad foundations grandly laid, like some 
proud monument whose firm base is founded wide and 
deep on earth, but whose perfected shaft stretches up 
beyond our sight to catch the rays of light as they spring 
unclouded from their living source. 



Otis Everett, son of Thomas Prentiss Allen and 


Sarah A. Lord Allen, and grandson of Joseph Allen, of 
Northborough, was born June 17, 1850, at Sterling, Massa- 
chusetts, where his father was settled as parish minister in 
1846. His baptismal name was that of his mother's step- 
father, who had died shortly before, — one of the most 
kind, gracious, gentle, and upright of men. 

His father, who had united the cares of a family school 
with his parish duties, removed from Sterling and held 
charge, from 1855 till 1864, of the classical school, in con- 
nection with the Friends' Academy in New Bedford ; and, 
afterwards, was assistant for four years in the West New- 
ton English and Classical School. So that Everett's boy- 
hood was passed, and his strongest friendships and asso- 
ciations were formed, in these two places. 

It was, as we look back on it, an active, happy, energetic 

He had the advantage of a large family connection, 
excelled in manly games, especially base-ball, was fairly 
proficient in his studies, and always under excellent in- 
struction ; while his holidays, mostly spent in the woods 
or in long walking excursions, brought him acquainted 
with the fields, by-roads, and something of the natural 
history of the neighborhood ; so that he entered college 


at the age of eighteen, with a vigorous frame, a quick hand 
and eye, an excellent fund of health, and an indomitable 
good humor, which prepared him for what he found, a 
student life of great enjoyment. 

He had little ambition of college distinction, unless it 
were in his favorite game, holding good rank in the 
" Harvard Nine.". He kept, however, a respectable posi- 
tion in his class. In "several departments — chiefly, I be- 
lieve, history — he gained a good stock of knowledge. 
Having an attraction to medical studies, he gave special 
attention for two years to chemistry, in which he made 
more marked proficiency than in any other college pur- 

His friendships while in Cambridge were strong and 
cordial, and I believe that few, if any, have had more than 
he of the general acquaintance and good-will of his class. 
This, with a small circle of warm friends of the best sort, 
made the chief and the most gratifying success, as it is by 
all odds the most valuable of his interrupted college life. 

His character was not of a sort to develop early. Buoy- 
ant, restless, easily moved, wayward sometimes, and with 
a certain lack of self-reliance, he was still a very boy in 
temper and feeling, up to the time when a new career 
began to ripen him so fast to a vigorous and intelligent 

It was his purpose and wish, partly out of regard to the 
strong feeling expressed about it by his father, before his 
death in November, 1848, to graduate honorably with his 
class. But his drift was quite clearly towards an active 
life, and to some of his friends it seemed that the sooner 
he entered on it the better. 


In the course of his senior year in college, a place was 
offered him, and eagerly accepted, in the superintendent's 
office, of the Atchison and Nebraska Railroad. He was 
advised that the change of climate would be safest in the 
early spring, and he accordingly left Cambridge in March, 

For the three months that followed, as his letters show 
so pleasantly and plainly, he devoted himself eagerly to 
the work of his new position. The change from a life of 
books to one of action he thoroughly enjoyed. His work 
brought him into very near companionship with young 
Firth ; and their friendship was all the stronger for the 
differences of their temperament, training, and experience. 

This friendship, so full of mutual help, and with no 
touch of rivalry, was sealed by the tragical accident, al- 
ready described, which brought both the lives to a sudden 

The story of these last months will be found in the fol- 
lowing extracts from Everett's letters to his mother. 

January 11. I am very much in doubt about what I 
shall do after I graduate. I fear I shall have to give up 
medicine. If so, I shall go right into business. 

February 4. Mr. Weld has promised to do what he can 
for me. I am going to see him this week, and I shall tell 
him that I am ready to do anything, anywhere. They 
are going to start something new out in Kansas, and my 
chance seems to be there, — something to do with the 
depot, or freightage, or something of that kind. Hard 
work, but sure advance if you are a faithful workman. I 
do hope that I shall be successful in getting the place. 

February 12. Mr. Weld has written West. 


Atchison, March 24. We left this place Wednesday 
last, and rode in the regular express to Table Rock, the 
present terminus. There we had an engine and rode 
eight miles to the end of the track. There, ninety-three 
miles from here, they have a boarding-train, which consists 
of freight cars, two fitted with bunks, two for eating, one 
for cooking and storage, and the last for the division men, 
who have their bunks there, and the steward's office. 

The company can give the men splendid board and save 
money on it. They buy of the farmers, eggs at seven 
cents per dozen, butter — and splendid butter — at ten 
cents per pound, etc. 

The ride up to Table Rock was the most beautiful, by 
far, that I have ever taken. The Omaha River is about as 
broad, — well, half-way between the Cold Harbor and that 
other river in Northboro'; but its valley is remarkably fine, 
beautiful rolling prairie ; the land as rich as land can be 
on top of the knolls, as well as in the valley. We rocle on 
the cow-catcher a good part of the way, and had a splendid 
view, but we had to keep a sharp lookout for cattle, which 
were very apt to be thrown into our laps ! 

When we got to the end of the track, Elk Creek, we 
were met at the cars — no station — by a man who had 
come half a mile to ask Mr. Firth to spend the night with 
him. We shared a bed up in the loft of his house, where 
we could n't stand straight. 

Next day, we walked to Tecumseh, ico miles from here, 
and seven miles from Elk Creek. 

We walked — all this walking is on the grade, you know 
— with the assistant engineer, looking at the part graded, 
culverts, etc., and ploughing our way over a prairie, where, 


next July, the trains will run regularly. Understand, the 
grading is n't begun in a great many places. 

There are six miles of track to lay to Tecumseh, and a 
great deal of grading to do, and yet we shall run regularly 
there a week from to-morrow. We rush, out here, as you 

Six miles, or seven, we walked on to Sterling, a place of 
a dozen buildings. We drove up to a nice, substantial 
little house, and were shown into the sitting-room, hung 
with pictures, — albums, books, etc. [Here they passed the 
night ] After breakfast, we took a team to go farther up 
the line. We went about seven miles and met the man 
we wanted to find, the assistant engineer of that part of 
the road, at a log house, where lives one of the few op- 
posers of the road. He is his own cooper, smith, and 
everything. He is from Kentucky, and his son has fol- 
lowed him in becoming a splendid hunter. 

Despite his opposing the road, he asked us into his house, 
and Mr. Firth did his business, while Mr. Adams told us 
about fighting off the Indians, when every one else left ; 
and all about hunting, etc. His son has killed twelve deer 
this year. 

He ended by asking me up to shoot, as did a Mr. Mann 
of Sterling, and they really meant it, and I shall go. . . . 
We got back yesterday, spending Friday night at Table 

I haven't been homesick at all, I have so much to do. 
I am in the superintendent's office, copy orders, arrange 
papers, count iron and stock of various kinds when it is 
shipped to us here, and am learning the business fast. 

Mr. Firth and I have got rooms together, right opposite 



the office. Three rooms he is going to hire, and lets me 
one of them. So we shall be almost chums. We have 
got on very nicely, and shall continue to do so, I think. 

Board is poor here, but keeping house is cheap, and the 
best place to live in the world. I would not live East, and 
no one would after they saw this country. People do 
make lots of fun here, jokes, etc., but they work. Lots of 
love to all. Mr. Firth and I are to be great friends. 

April 7. We got back yesterday from a longer and still 
pleasanter journey up the line. We left here last Tuesday 
at 3.30 p. M., and got to the end of the track in use at 8.50 
— eighty-five miles. There we waited, and Mr. Firth 
worked and I helped till 12 o'clock. We then walked a 
mile to what is called the Old Town of Table Rock. It 
is seventeen years old. 

We intended to sleep there, and walk to Pawnee City 
early in the morning, and had just got into bed when the 
tardy stage came along. We got right up, took it, and 
got finally to bed at Pawnee at 2.30. It was an awfully 
rough road, but we both slept nearly the whole way over. 

The next day we started bright and early with a hired 
team, and with the usual incidents of travel, taking turns 
reading aloud and driving, we got to Beatrice at supper- 

The next day Mr. Firth went to Lincoln on the cars 
and came down the line, while I drove the team straight 
across the country to a place called Laona, which consists 
of one farm-house. 

It was jolly, driving over the rolling prairie alone ; prai- 
rie chickens as thick as hens in a barn-yard, really, and no 
road except two wheel ruts, and every now and then roads 
running off. 



How I got through I don't know ; but at one I drove 
into Laona, and had the afternoon there, which I spent in 
playing ball with one of the best players in this country. 
He used to play in one of the Brooklyn clubs. 

Mr. F. got down there late at night from Lincoln, and 
we started for here early Friday morning. Mr. F. and 
the division engineer wanted to talk business, so I rode a 
mule and they had the buggy. We drove down to Te- 
cumseh before dinner, and I to Pawnee, twenty-two miles, 
afterwards. There I got supper, and then walked over to 
Table Rock, seven miles, darker than all fury, in seventy 
minutes. Dark — it was dark naturally ; but, did you ever 
see a prairie fire ? I saw eight that night, and one close 
to me ; I could see the flame flicker, and you know the 
flame of a prairie fire does not flicker a great deal. I 
don't know when I have enjoyed a walk so much ; every- 
thing perfectly still, except, now and then, the sleepy peep 
of a prairie chicken, or the rustling of the high grass as a 
rabbit sprang through it from under my feet. As I crossed 
one stream — the road always tumbles down into a stream 
and then up again — I was startled to see two balls of 
fire, and then two more, and then a whole lot, and then a 
herd of deer sprang up and ran right across the road. I 
counted nine. 

The prairie is not flat ; it is up and down all the time, 
and hardly ever a stone, and no timber, save in belts along 
the river courses. 

April 14. I have been up the road again this week. 
We opened a new part of the road last Tuesday, and took 
a party up from here to the end of the track, just 100 
miles to Tecumseh, and brought down a party from there. 



So Mr. F. and I had to make two round trips. We went 
to a party Tuesday and got back at 3.30 a. m., and then 
worked all the rest of the night. 

Wednesday, we took our party from here and found big 
preparations made for a supper at Tecumseh. We had 
toasts, etc., and had only four hours sleep. Then Thurs- 
day we came down and had to go right back again to 
escort the Tecumseh party. Then we had to receive the 
county bonds voted to us on the completion of the road 
to Tecumseh. The amount was $80,000, and we felt a 
good deal of responsibility about them. We had a very 
nice time indeed. 

Out here we have a way of giving excursions to the 
people when we finish a road to any point. We give such 
an one this week. There will be ten or twelve cars full of 
people, who wish to come down one day and up the next, 
and have a ball here. It will be a good deal of fun. 

May 31. I spent three weeks at White Cloud as agent, 
to relieve the regular agent. It was a great compliment 
to me to let me go, because it is a very important station. 
Every opportunity is given me to learn the business in all 
its branches ; I am capable of carrying on any station, 
with a week's practice ; but I aim higher, though that is a 
good stepping-stone. 

I am superintendent's secretary ; have various duties, 
all of which require me to be posted on the road and the 
men. I even give advice, and have it taken, about the 
wording of general orders, etc. I write answers to appli- 
cations, and, in fact, keep going on something from 7 a. m. 
till 1 1 p. m. I am doing my best to learn and get along 



We have laid nearly thirty miles of track since I came 
out here, and have now only twenty-five or thirty miles to 
lay to Lincoln, where we shall arrive July 1st without fail. 

You ought to see the track go down, — a mile a day, and 
on very good days, more than that. When you come out 
you can ride over the track that I have walked over when 
it was a marsh. 

June 4. We are still going right on and are within 
twenty -five miles of Lincoln now. I have been unusually 
hard at work for the last week, because we have just got a 
new time-card, and I have to correct proofs and send out 
about 350 copies. 

Then I have to write letters to newspapers round here, 
calling their attention to the advantages of the new 
arrangement to their locality, and they often publish them 
in full. 

Don't come here this summer, but come sure in the 
fall. The old settlers expect a very unhealthy summer, 
because there has been so much rain and vegetation is so 

But four days after the date of the extract, came the 
accident which proved instantly fatal to the writer, and 
which brought all these active plans and hopeful anticipa- 
tions to a close. His story and that of his friend, with 
which it was so closely linked, have been told elsewhere. 
We add only a few words from a letter of his mother : — 

"When Everett (Mr. Allen) left me, he dropped off his boy- 
hood and clothed himself in the dignity of the true, manly na- 
ture which was • his rightful inheritance. He went, determined 
to win his way to a position which would make his mother proud 
of him, — as though I had not always been proud of the bright, 



beautiful, courteous boy, who believed in his mother as few boys 
do, and who never lost his baby purity in the contact with other 
boys, or his high sense of honor or integrity of purpose. And 
when he found in your son a young man of like spirit, just 
enough older to be a guide and yet not too old for constant 
companionship, he felt that his cup was very full, and his 

chances of success very great. ... I felt that would have 

a right to blame me, if the boy failed of a splendid and noble 
manhood. And in this comes the only ray of light. He did not 
fail ; and though he had no time to really show himself, yet he 
had had time to convince us all that we, his home friends, were 
not mistaken in him. ... Of course, we know they are to- 
gether, and if we have no reason for this faith, let us hold to it ; 
else where were our heaven ? What would it be without those 
nearest and dearest to us ? . . . God help us to live such lives 
as shall fit us to walk with them when we come into the light of 
that wonderful life beyond the grave." 

APPENDIX. 1 * c 


Sung in Northborough, Mass., June 12, 1872, at the burial of 
Otis Everett Allen, who died in the discharge of his duty on 
the railroad near Atchison, Kansas, June 8, 1872, at the age of 
twenty-two : — 

( Auld Lang Syne.) 

" The sweet June day is almost clone ; 

The shadows, lengthening, fall ; 
And tenderly the setting sun 

Shines in on bier and pall. 
And shadows gather on the heart, 

And eyes with tears are dim, 
While sadly now, before we part, 

We sing his funeral hymn. 

" No more, in thronging college halls, 

Our brother's face is seen ; 
No more that vigorous footstep falls 

On pleasant college green. 
The voice is still, and cold the hand, 

The strong, free life is fled ; 
And kindred, classmates, friends, we stand 

In presence of the dead. 

" The work is done he did so well ; 

Closed is the swift career ; 
At duty's chosen post he fell, 

Without a pain or fear. 
Amid the forms he loved the best, 

Beneath the springing sod, 
We lay the broken frame to rest, — 

The life is hid with God. 




The bridge, which must now be long associated with 
the names of Firth and Allen, was one and a half miles 
north of Highland Station, and was of the usual trestle 
kind. In that soil, almost free from rocks, the streams 
have been able to open for themselves, at frequent inter- 
vals, such channels of variable depth and width, as can 
only be crossed by bridges. This was the thirty-fifth in 
a distance of only twenty-seven miles from Atchison. It 
was about ninety-six feet long and eighteen feet high. It 
was supported by four rows of upright posts, each post 
twelve by twelve inches, and each row resting upon four 
large sub-sills imbedded in the earth. On the north side 
of the ravine, i. e. the side towards White Cloud, there 
was a shoulder of eight or ten feet in width about half-way 
down the bank. The posts nearest to that side rested 
upon this shoulder. 

The bridge was not built by Mr. Firth, but was among 
the structures in use when that part of the road came 
into the possession of the Atchison and Nebraska Rail- 
road Company. It had been repaired as occasion re- 
quired. Its timbers were sound, and it was considered, 
both by Mr. Firth and by his foreman who had charge of 
it, as safe as any on the road. One of its supports had been 
affected by the floods, which had nearly filled the ravine 
during the latter part of May and the beginning of June. 
. It was this fact which arrested the attention of Mr. Firth 


as he went up the line on the 8th of June, and made 
necessary the work upon it that day. 

The new sub-sills were nine to ten feet long-, twelve 
inches thick, and from eighteen to twenty inches wide. 
Mr. Taylor says his orders were " to remain at the bridge 
until it was safe." 

An examination into the immediate cause of its fall 
subsequently showed it to have been a settling of the sub- 
sills in the shoulder. These were found to have pene- 
trated into a quicksand. This shoulder had been under 
water several days before ; but at the time of which we 
are speaking, the water in the channel was less than three 
feet deep. Of course, while under water, the earth, or 
outer shell of the quicksand, was softened ; and each train 
must have forced the sills a little deeper, until they rested 
only upon the treacherous sand. This was the hidden 
danger spoken of by Mr. Taylor, over which, however, 
trains had passed and repassed in safety for several years, 
and which he had not been able to detect in two careful 
examinations of the spot on that afternoon. 

If ever there was an accident of which it could be truth- 
fully stated that none concerned in it were to blame, this 
was one. Not only was there no want of ordinary caution 
on the part of Mr. Taylor and his men ; but, as the narra- 
tive has shown, they were more than usually observant ; 
and if no other evidence existed, the safe passage of the 
freight train is his and their vindication. 

That passage, as has been already stated, was known to 
the superintendent. He knew also, from experience, the 
competency of the foreman he had left at the bridge. 
When Mr. Taylor said it was safe, and could point to 
such a confirmation of his judgment, there was no longer 


room for mistrust It would not then have been caution, 
but timidity, which would have led the most careful man- 
ager to hesitate about sending his trains over it. 

The painful reflection is, that the risk was not special, but 
general, and attaches to all such structures in such a soil. 

We have seen how disturbed the track of the Atchison 
and Nebraska had been by floods. To Mr. Firth, who knew 
every inch of his road, it was most natural and proper, 
nay inevitable, that he should improve every opportunity 
for observation. Hence, the habit of sitting in front of 
the boiler of the locomotive. And besides this general 
reason, on that night there was the special one stated in 
the narrative. 

But death and injury came from an incident of which 
no previous experience could have given warning to the 
young men. This was the doubling of the pilot upon them. 
Had the timbers of the bridge broken, or had the whole 
structure fallen, either of which accidents was far more 
likely to occur than that a support in the rear should sink 
under them, the pilot would have kept its proper position 
and gone first into the mud of the bottom. In that event, 
the young men, both of singular activity, would have been 
free, and all the probabilities against a fatal result. 

Had Mr. Firth and his friend been in a passenger car, 
as we now see, they would have escaped ; but with the 
light which Mr. Firth then had, and his high sense of per- 
sonal responsibility for the conaition of his road and the 
safety of his trains, that was not the place for him. It is, 
alas ! possible that his standard of fidelity was too high ; 
but fatal as its results' have been to us and ours, we leave 
to others the inculcation of a lower one. 





Rev. P. N. Meade, the rector of Trinity Church, read 
the service and preached a sermon from the 40th chapter 
of Isaiah, 7th and 8th verses. The choir sang " The Silent 
Land," " Let me know my end," and, by request of the 
family, Montgomery's hymn, beginning, — 

" Go to the grave in all thy glorious prime, 
In full activity of zeal and power," — 

closing, at the church, with the hymn Mr. Firth had heard 

there on a previous Sunday, the pleasure derived from 

which he had at the time expressed to members of the 

choir: — 

" Softly now the light of day 
Fades upon my sight away." 

At the grave, in Mount Vernon cemetery, appropriate 
selections were also sung. 

Grateful acknowledgments are due to the rector and 
to each one of the choir, for their tender and heartfelt 


x Atchison, Kansas. 

Abraham Firth, Esq. : 

Respected Sir,- — On behalf of the employees of the 
Atchison and Nebraska Road, we have the honor to en- 
close a draft for $911.25, subscribed by them for the erec- 
tion of a monument in the memory of your son, our late 
superintendent and chief engineer, F. R. Firth. 



This testimonial is the spontaneous tribute of men who, 
associated with him in daily work, honored and loved him, 
and who desire, in some material way, to testify the high 
esteem and respect in which they held him. 

His devotion to duty, his untiring energy, and his 
sterling integrity of character endeared him alike to all 
employees of the company, to the people of the country 
traversed by the road he so ably and successfully man- 
aged, and to all he came into contact with. His work 
was his life, and he brought to it a clear and vigorous 
intellect, a mind remarkably well stored with information, 
organizing and executive ability of the highest character, 
and an industry and energy that never seemed to weary 
or want rest. Young as he was, the high place he held 
made him neither arrogant nor vain. He required at all 
times, of his employees, a strict performance of their 
duties ; but he was ever courteous, kind, and just. 

He met with his death in the discharge of his duty. He 
bore, with unshrinking fortitude and courage, the dreadful 
pain of that night of agony and terror, and the long suf- 
fering that finally terminated in his death. 

Remembering with affection his noble manhood and 
sterling worth, and mourning sincerely his untimely death, 
we desire to assure you, and all of his surviving relatives, 
of our deep sympathy with you in your affliction, and of 
our high regard and esteem for your son. And we there- 
fore ask you to receive and appropriate to the erection of 
a monument to his memory the money herewith sent. 

For the Employees of the A. and A r . Railroad Company. 


Boston, Mass., October 14th, I872. 

To the Subscribers to the Fund for the Monument to F. R. Firth : 

The committee to whom you entrusted your subscrip- 
tion for the above purpose, sent me, promptly, its sum ; 
being nine hundred and eleven dollars and twenty-five 
cents ($911.25), with an able and welcome letter. 

Upon the subscription papers are 364 names, all, as I 
understand, employees of the Atchison and Nebraska 
Railroad. Having then been in my son's service, and so 
held personal relations with him, this testimony has an 
added, and a priceless value. 

In my own name, and in the name of each member of 
my family, I would profoundly thank you, one and all. 

And while this tribute is in the highest degree honor- 
able to your late superintendent, it is no less so to you. 
This appreciation of his worth, and this manifestation 
of it by his fellow-laborers, will arrest the attention and 
command the reverence of the generous and thoughtful 
wherever it shall be known. 

You send me the gift without conditions as to where 
the monument shall be erected ; but you evidently ex- 
pected it would be in his native State. It was the original 
purpose of his family to have removed his body here in 
due time ; but the unbounded love and honor shown his 
memory by the people of Atchison had led us to hesitate, 
and now your grand act has reversed our first decision. 

Both his grave and monument will be at Atchison, 
where his work as a man was chiefly done. 

With unspeakable gratitude, I am very truly and cor- 
dially your friend, 

Abraham Firth. 


The monument is of Scotch (Aberdeen) granite ; is square in 
form and about ten feet high. Its base is finely moulded ; its 
sides plain, surmounted with a richly moulded cap, and has an 
apex top. 

The plinth is of Cape Ann (Mass.) granite, three and a half 
feet square. On the base, in large letters, is the family name, 

The following are the inscriptions upon its four sides : — 

"Frank R. Firth, 

Born in 

Leicester, Mass. 

May 28, 1847. 

Died June 19, 1872, 

from the effect of a 

Railway accident." 

" Erected by the men in the service of the Atchison and Nebraska Rail- 
road Company, in memory of their beloved and respected Superintendent." 

"Wisdom is the gray hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age." 

" Faithful unto death." 




The following are among the resolutions passed at a 
meeting of the officers and employees of the Atchison and 
Nebraska Railroad, held June 20, 1872 : — 

Resolved, That in the death of our superintendent, we 
are called upon to mourn the loss of a bright ornament to 
his profession, a faithful, energetic, and conscientious offi- 
cer, a firm and unwavering friend to the interests of our 
city and our road, and, above all, a friend and counsellor 
to whom we could at all times look with profound respect. 

" Resolved, That during our connection with this road, 
nothing, from the first, has ever occurred to mar the har- 
mony existing between us and our late superintendent; but 
that our intercourse has daily strengthened the warm 
friendship and -profound respect with which we have ever 
regarded him. 

" Resolved, That we tender our heartfelt sympathy to 
the bereaved family in their deep affliction, and, while we 
feel that all words are powerless, we point to the brief but 
brilliant career of our associate, as affording the best con- 
solation to his afflicted relatives' and friends. 

" Resolved, That in respect to his memory, we will attend 
the funeral this afternoon in a body, and that we will wear 
the usual badge of mourning for thirty days." 

From Mr. O. Chanute. 

" I think I may say that I have never, during an experi- 
ence of now some twenty-four years on public works, met 
a man of his age of greater promise, nor more happily fitted 
for the business of life, by nature and by education. He 


possessed the gift, now rare, of character, and united to a 
constant desire for knowledge the power of organizing and 
governing men. 

" Living in an age of material development, he threw all 
his energies into that work. Seeing half a continent yet 
to subdue, he devoted himself to the management of the 
most powerful engine that has yet been tried for that pur- 
pose. In other ages, he might have been a scholar, or a 
priest, or a statesman ; in the nineteenth century, and in 
the United States, he aspired to excel as a railroad man. 
Had he lived, he would undoubtedly have rendered the 
country signal services, and been rewarded with fame and 
fortune; and yet it is unfortunate for all at the present day, 
that noble aims are so limited, and the rewards of such a 
material nature. - 

. . . " In fact, I think he was one of the best engi- 
neers of his age in the country, uniting with a sound 
judgment, thorough scientific attainments and a rare ex- 
ecutive ability. Everything he did was well done, as well 
as judiciously and economically done. 

" In addition to this, he had a firm and noble character, 
a high sense of justice, and an exacting standard of integ- 


From the "Atchison Champion" of yune 20th. 

" Major F. R. Firth died at five o'clock last evening, from the effects 
of the injuries he received on the 8th inst. " 

" Rarely have we been called upon to publish intelligence 
that has been read with more sincere sorrow throughout 
all this region of country, than will be the brief paragraph 
above printed. 

" During his brief residence in our city, Major Firth 
won and steadily held the confidence, respect, and genuine 
esteem of this entire community, as well as of the people 
of all the country traversed by the Atchison and Nebraska 
road. His reputation, too, had extended far and wide, and 
especially throughout all Kansas, Nebraska, and Western 


Missouri, he was regarded as one of the most able, ener- 
getic, and intelligent young railroad managers in the coun- 
try. . . . He was but twenty-five years old, full of health, 
energy, and vital power, and as pure in heart as he was 
sound in body and strong and clear in brain. 

" We made Major Firth's acquaintance shortly after his 
arrival in this city, and early conceived for him a high and 
sincere respect and esteem. We have rarely known a 
man so young as he, who was so well and so generally 
informed, who had as clear and vigorous an intellect, or 
who was endowed with so much energy, industry, and 
organizing and executive capacity. Nor have we ever 
known one who bore a sudden elevation to a position of 
high responsibility and great power with more becoming 
modesty and manly self-possession. It made him neither 
arrogant nor vain. He went about his new duties with a 
patient industry, an indomitable energy, a painstaking 


carefulness and zeal, and an inflexible integrity that were 
inherent in him, and that no circumstances or position in 
which he was placed could ever affect or destroy. His 
habits were as correct and his life as manly and pure as 
his energy and integrity were undoubted. A strong, 
noble manhood in him fittingly supplemented high capa- 
cities and the faithfulest devotion to duty. 

" We heard of the dreadful accident that has put an end 
to his young and promising life, just as we were leaving 
New York for Boston, on Monday, a week ago, and rarely 
have we been so shocked and grieved. We have hoped 
against hope, ever since that time, that he might be 
spared. We record his death with unfeigned sorrow, and 
pen this tribute to his brief but brilliant career, and his 
manly and modest worth, with respectful and affectionate 

From the " Chicago Railway Review." 

Mr. Firth gained, with a rapidity very rare, the highest 
practical skill from experience, — a result due to an apti- 
tude for practical engineering worthy to be called genius, 
seconded by a knowledge of the sciene that was singularly 
varied and profound. His, too, was a wonderful enthusi- 
asm and an exhaustless energy, rendering easy the yoke 
and light the burdens of labor and responsibility in every 
department of railway engineering, construction, and opera- 
tion. He took a high and manly pride in achievements cer- 
tainly rare in one so young ; in the rapidly-expanding road 
he sought to realize his beau ideal ; and step by step, as it 
advanced through a country rich in resources but corn- 



paratively unpeopled, he, with fine spirit and sagacity, 
marked out policies of operating management, looking to 
rapid settlement and development. His nobility of nature, 
and energy and skill in his profession, were supplemented 
with personal qualities the most winning. His every word 
and act inspired respect ; his word was truth with the 
public, as well as law with those associated with him in 
management and work. Amid the ceaseless and compli- 
cated routine of construction and operation, he found time 
to retain mastership of his science, and especially to keep 
read up in the engineering literature of the day. 

a While deploring the loss to his profession, and to the 
public interested in legitimate railway construction and 
prudent management, we may also be permitted to tender 
our heartfelt sympathies to the family bereft of the only 
son and brother in whom centred love so deep, so just a 
pride, and so fond an expectation." 

Mr. J. F. Joy, his chief, under date of January 13, 1872, 
wrote to Mr. Firth : — 

" I have your letter in relation to the offer " (referring to 
a proposition just made by the president of another rail- 
road) " We shall much regret to lose you upon our road- 
. . . We do not wish to stand in your way, but rather 
to congratulate you on the better position and prospects 
offered and before you, — though they are simply what are 
due to your merits and ability." 

As an illustration of Mr. Firth's spirit and self-respect, 
we cannot forbear quoting, in this connection, from a letter 
of his to an officer of the road to which it refers, dated 
January 28th, 1872: — 


" I am no seeker for office, am satisfied here, and have 
the confidence and approval of my employers. If I enter 
your service, it will be not as any man's friend or nominee, 
but as an engineer and railway man, ready to devote what 
energy and capacity I have, wholly to your service. . . . 
If I doubted my ability to perform the duties thoroughly 
and honestly, I should refuse to consider any offer. I. do 
not say that I should not be glad to assume greater respon- 
sibilities than I have, but I wish to receive no favor or 
support on personal grounds." 


" A short distance from Lincoln is the town of Firth, 
which has been just laid out. It is named in honor of the 
memory of the late lamented superintendent of the road." 
— Western Paper, Sept. 1872. 

Firth is in the county of Lancaster and state of 
Nebraska. Its railway station is 125 miles north of 
Atchison, 21 miles south of Lincoln, and between Sterling 
and Hickman on the A. & N. R. R. 


The books belonging to Mr. Firth were left in Atchison 
for a Free Public Library, whenever one should be estab- 
lished there on a permanent basis. It was also the pur- 
pose of his family to add to their number out of his estate, 
and in his name ; it being their clear conviction that in 


this they should be doing as he would have desired. It 
was not expected, however, that his name would be con- 
nected with the gift. 

In the spring of 1873, the managers of the Young Men's 
Christian Association of Atchis.on, having determined to 
establish a Library, in connection with their institution, 
this collection was transferred to them. 

At a public meeting held on the evening of June 4, 
1873, for the purpose of dedicating their rooms, Maj. W. F. 
Downs, President of the Association, in the course of his 
remarks, quoted from its constitution the following pro- 
vision : — 

"The corporate name of this Association is the Young Men's 
Christian Association of Atchison, Kansas, and its object is declared 
to be (Sec. 1, Art. 1 of the Constitution), the improvement of the 
moral, mental, and physical condition of the young men, by means in 
harmony with the gospel, and also the establishment and develop- 
ment of a f»*ee library, to be known and irrevocably designated as the 
' Firth Library.' 

5 •>■) 

Maj. Downs also said, referring to the Library : " Its 
value to the young men of Atchison cannot be estimated." 
And added : " We prize it, not only for its value as a library, 
but as a dear remembrance of one who greatly endeared 
himself to us as a man and a brother." 

At the same meeting Gen. B. F. Stringfellow, of Atchi- 
son, spoke in behalf of the Association, and referred to his 
departed young friend in a manner honorable to both. 
The traits of character which had impressed themselves 
so deeply upon his mind, have been referred to in this 
memoir ; but a testimony so conspicuous and authorita- 
tive cannot, under all, the circumstances, be wholly omitted 


"When Frank Russell Firth was a boy in years and 
experiences, and at an age when most youths are still 
hesitating as to the profession they will adopt, he had won 
a reputation and position which required such knowledge 
and judgment as are seldom to be found save in mature 

He came among us then a stranger. His youth, and 
even more youthful appearance, his seemingly delicate 
frame, his modesty, his genial and unpretending manner, 
all combined to excite our astonishment at his selection 
for a place of such responsibility, and to command for him 
our warmest sympathies. 

I, too, a mere boy, had come to the far West, — then, as 
now, the tempting field for the ambitious youth of our 
country. I had felt the want of intelligent friendship, and 
had seen the danger of the loss of cultivated social inter- 

From this mere sympathy, when by accident I first 
made his acquaintance, I tendered him a welcome to my 
house. My purpose was simply to give to a youth far 
from his friends a place to which he could feel he was 
always welcome in his hours of loneliness ; and where he 
might, among friends, find some compensation for the loss 
of his home. My poor hospitality was a thousand-fold 
repaid by the pleasure of his society. I found in him a 
companion from whom age could receive instruction ; 
childhood amusement ; all, kindness and sympathy. 

To you who knew him, and could appreciate the vigor 
and culture of his intellect ; his moral worth, of an order 
high as his intellect ; his genial, kindly nature ; his ever- 
ready generosity, — I need not ^say how grateful is the 


reflection that, by an act of simple hospitality, I was ena- 
bled to secure the inestimable acquaintance and friendship 
of such a man. 

How freely would Major Firth have contributed to your 
object. He would not alone have contributed money, 
which he seemed only to look on as an instrument of noble 
and generous uses, but by his personal contributions of 
social and intellectual pleasures, would have rendered your 
hall attractive to all who sought intellectual entertainment. 

Without pretension, he was, in his simplest conversa- 
tions, instructive and entertaining. I have listened to 
him repeatedly in astonishment, when by the fireside he 
would be induced to describe countries he had visited 
when a boy, but had studied and appreciated with the 
intellect of a man. Never idle, his pockets ever filled, 
even in his rambles, with some instructive reading, he was 
ever ready to contribute to the rational pleasures of his 
associates. And yet you all know he was no pedant, nor 
mere book-worm, — ever ready to participate in the grace- 
ful, light, and even seemingly trifling yet harmless amuse- 
ments of a refined social circle. He made his studies 
.1 source of pleasure, as well as of profit, to others as to 

Extracts fro77i letters written by men i)i Mr. FirtWs employ. 

" It was never in his power, until after he sent for me to 
come here, to show to me how truly noble he was, and I 
shall always look back to this seemingly short year as the 
brightest and happiest of my life, and to the day that 
parted us as the saddest." 


" He was a kind and generous friend to me. I never 
can forget him or his many acts of kindness to me." 


He was my best friend." 

" When he lived I had a friend ; but now I have no friend 
to look to like him." 

" He was the best friend T ever had. I always tried to 
do my duty and be a credit to him. I don't think I ever 
gave him any cause to regret the interest he had in my 
welfare. Although doing a great deal for me, he never 
hesitated to reprimand me if I did wrong. For the four 
years I was acquainted with him, I never knew him to do 
anything beneath the dignity or honor of a gentleman." 

" He discharged his every duty without fear, and re- 
warded each employee as his own merits deserved." 

" I shall always refer with pride to the many evidences 
of his approval in my possession, and to his often repeated 
thanks, which, with him, meant all that his language ex- 

" It was a pleasure to make a thing look good and stout, 
and straight and true, when Mr. Firth was here, as he 
always saw everything, and a smile from him was good 
pay for a hard day's work." 

Extracts fro7ii private letters of friends. 

"We express the deep sympathy of our hearts in the 
great and irreparable loss of your son, in the fu)l bloom of 


early manhood, just as he had entered the front rank of 
his chosen and honorable profession, for which his gentle- 
manly deportment, abilities of a high order, and great force 
of character so well fitted him." 

Signed by all the Superintendents of Railways in Boston. 

" He had, in his boy-manhood, accomplished far more 
than the average of men credited with more than ordinary 
ability, in a long life, and his example and wonderful suc- 
cess will have great influence. His rare talent, his bravery 
1 and perseverance, won extreme admiration ; but my heart 
went out to him as it never did to another, save the near- 
est of kindred." 

" His real life is untouched." It was "more noble in its 
aspirations, it seems to me, than that of any young man 
of his age I ever knew." " Excelsior " was " his motto in 
small as well as in great things." 

" It is something to think what a brave, heroic life 
Frank's was, and how many years were condensed into 
those few. . . . May all the brave, good deeds of his life 
come, like holy angels, to comfort you. ... I can never 
recall Frank but as living. He seems to me just ap- 
proaching the house, just holding out his hand with that 
pleasant, shy smile of greeting." 

" Sad as it is to give him up, it seems sadder still to 
think of what life might have been after such an experi- 


ence of clanger, suffering, and loss, and I would rather 
think of him, as I do, as entering at once upon those new 
duties and that higher life which we feel must be the posi" 
tion of such an active and faithful spirit." 

"The loss so suddenly of our best and bravest and 
dearest, is a wound that goes deep and lasts long. There 
is no real comfort for such. sorrows, except in the hardest 
daily work and the highest spiritual trust, and the gradual 
passing of the days and months and years. God does not 
mean us to be comforted too soon. Sorrow has a tender 
and invisible work to do in every one of us, and He takes 
care that it shall be done to the uttermost, and as we 
grow wise with time and thought, we learn to be thankful 
for it. How, indeed, can we be anything but thankful for 
every gift from the hand of Him who can only bless ! 

" A soul so good and noble as your boy will never be 
lost out of the universe. He labored here for the com- 
mon good, and now he has left his engines and his railway 
works for some still higher calling." 

" Human care and foresight could have done no more 
than was done. The very act of going upon the forward 
part of the engine, which made the fall fatal to your son 
and his dear friend, was an act of extreme care and caution. 
Is not such self-forgetful sacrifice akin to His who ' saved 
others, but could not save Himself ? I like to feel the 
kinship of such sacrifice with the free-will offering of the 
cross, and learn from the mighty Sufferer how to bear the 
cross that is laid upon us." 


" Frank is safe. No temptations can reach him. No 
disastrous change can come within his circle. He drinks 
of the living river. He sings the new song." 


" Where is the hardship, then, if no tyrant, nor yet an 

unjust judge, sends thee away from the State, but nature 

who brought thee into it ? the same as if a proctor who 

had employed an actor, dismisses him from the stage. 

" ' But I have not finished the five acts, but only three of 

" Thou sayest well, but in life the three acts are the 
whole drama ; for what shall be a complete drama is deter- 
mined by Him who was once the cause of its composition, 
and now of its dissolution ; but thou art the cause of 
neither. Depart then, satisfied, for He, also, who releases 

thee is satisfied." 

Marcus Aureltus. 

" Show those qualities, then, which are altogether in thy 
power ; sincerity, gravity, endurance of labor, aversion to 
pleasure, contentment with thy position and with few 
things, frankness, no love of superfluity, freedom from tri- 
fling, magnanimity.* 



" My love involves the love before ; 
My love is vaster passion now ; 
Though mixed with God and nature thou, 
I seem to love thee more and more. 

" Far off thou art, but ever nigh ; 
I have thee' still, and I rejoice. 
I prosper, circled by thy voice ; 
I shall not lose thee though I die ! 

"In Memoriam. 

" Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown 

of life." 

Rev. ii. 10. 

"Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of 
God, commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well 
doing, as unto a faithful Creator." 

1st Peter iv. 19. 

" For God created man to be immortal, and made him to 
be an image of his own eternity." 

Wisdom of Solomon ii. 23.