Travel Tuesday: K.A. Burnell Goes Cross-Country in 1869

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"Through to the Pacific" by Frances (Fanny) Flora Palmer for Currier & Ives, printed in 1870, via WikiGallery. Public domain for non-commercial use.
“Through to the Pacific” by Frances (Fanny) Flora Palmer for Currier & Ives, printed in 1870, via WikiGallery. Public domain for non-commercial use.

McMurray Family (Click for Family Tree)

Kingsley Abner “K. A.” Burnell was an evangelist- but not of the “tele-” type since he lived from 1824-1905. K. A. had to be there in person to minister to his flock, and to add to it. (He did extend his evangelic reach through his writings- more on that in future posts.)

“Travel Tuesday” was not much of a concept back then- you could not leave Illinois and be in California later that day. Travel took many days, even weeks. If a person wanted to go from the midwest or east to the Pacific Coast, there were three time-consuming, generally unpleasant choices, after taking a train to get to the departure point:

  1. Overland, via wagon train to California, which could take from 3-7 months and required crossing deserts and mountains, dealing with hostile Native Americans, diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, mountain fever, pneumonia, etc; 3,000 miles but generally least expensive.
  2. Take a ship to Panama in Central America, cross through a jungle with poisonous snakes, insects that carried deadly fevers, etc., then try to get a ship to California once on the Pacific Coast. This route could take from 2-3 months to many more, depending on when one could catch a ship. At about 7,000 miles, it was more expensive than the longer all-ocean route.
  3. Take a ship around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. Rough storms and huge waves, frigid weather, lack of fresh food, “more bugs than beans” in food, and 3-8 months on board ship in a very small room would be a part of this choice. At about 15,000 miles, the advantages of the Panama Canal, completed in 1914, are obvious.

A much better option presented itself in 1869.

Promontory Summit, Utah- Completion of the Transcontinental railroad on 10 May 1869, via wikimedia; public domain.
Promontory Summit, Utah- Completion of the Transcontinental railroad on 10 May 1869, via wikimedia; public domain.

On 10 May 1869, the “Golden Spike” was driven into the rails at Promontory Point, Utah Territory, completing the first transcontinental railway. This limited the overland trip to 1,907 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to San Francisco Bay, California. For an itinerant preacher, who had likely travelled many a railway mile, this must have been a very exciting time- the west was now readily open to his ministry.

Transcontinental railroad poster, 1869, via Wikimedia. Public domain.
Transcontinental railroad poster, 1869, via Wikimedia. Public domain. (Click to enlarge)

Being an adventurous man, deeply committed to his preaching, K.A. of course had to travel the new railroad- he even planned for it as the construction of the railroad progressed. He would have taken a passenger train to Omaha, Nebraska, and then, in less than four days (!), he would arrive in San Francisco, “… avoiding the Dangers of the Sea!” as the poster promises.

The route must have been incredibly beautiful. K.A. most probably felt even closer to his maker as he travelled across the unique lands of the west that he had only seen in engravings in books, or painted and framed on a wall.

Profile of the Pacific Railroad, 1867, via Wikimedia, public domain.
Profile of the Pacific Railroad, 1867, via Wikimedia, public domain. (Click to enlarge.)

The railroad opened on 10 May, 1869. K. A. later wrote, in August of 1869,  “… I determined to spend this summer in Christian work in Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California…”, and he did. We know that K.A. was in Aurora, Illinois in April of 1869, then Leavenworth, Kansas on 11 June 1869. He wrote from Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, on 5 July 1869 where he made a ten-day stop to study the Mormon faith. (he was an open-minded man!) San Francisco, California welcomed him by the second week of July, just 2 months after the opening of the railroad.

K.A. Burnell speaks at Christian Convention in San Francisco, CA, 14 Jul 1869. Daily Alta [CA] Vol. 21, No. 7055, Page 1, Column 5, via California Digital Newspaper Collection.
K.A. Burnell spoke at a Christian Convention in San Francisco, CA, 14 Jul 1869. Daily Alta [CA] Vol. 21, No. 7055, Page 1, Column 5, via California Digital Newspaper Collection. (Click to enlarge.)
K.A. returned east after his summer of evangelizing in the west, and was in Cleveland, Ohio on 11 Sep 1869 at the union prayer meeting at the YMCA in that city. He made “…eight round-trips to California… three trips to Central California, three to the Puget Sound region, and two to the orange groves of the southwest Pacific” before 1888, per the Biographical and Historical Record of Kane County, Illinois.

K. A. Burnell and his second wife, Helen M. (Merrill) [Beckett] Burnell eventually made the west their home. By 1901, they were living in the Los Angeles area. K.A. died 7 Sep 1905 in South Pasadena, and Helen followed him on 2 Mar 1933. Their bodies made their last cross-country trip home, likely over some of those same rails, to graves in Aurora, Kane, Illinois.

 

Notes, Sources, and References: 

  1. Routes to California: http://www.nhusd.k12.ca.us/Pioneer/pages/classrooms/FourthGrade/4thGradeGold/pages/Sea.htmlhttp://goldrushofcalifornia.weebly.com/travel-routes.html
  2. Images per citations in captions.
  3. “Behind the Scenes: The Artists Who Worked for Currier & Ives”- http://www.tfaoi.com/aa/8aa/8aa119.htm
  4. Biographical and Historical Record of Kane County, Illinois, Beers, Leggett & Co, 1888, p.712.

 

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