Carleton Watkins                      Steamship Crescent City


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          Collis was the brains behind the planning and logistics required to organize travel for five people besides himself from New York to California. The most important planning decision he faced was to decide between the three possible routes to the west coast: one route was by land across the continent; another was by sea from New York to the Strait of Magellan [Fig. 3a] and up the west coast of South America; and the third possibility was traveling by sea from New York to Panama [Fig. 3b]

          The overland route was unsatisfactory because it was expensive, highly uncertain and required more travel time than the other options.  Deciding between the two sea routes was harder.  The route through the Straight of Magellan was well tested and reliable, but when Collis was making plans for his group, this route was serviced only by wind-powered sailing ships and required no less than nine months at sea to reach San Francisco. 

          Another option for Collis to consider was via the new steamship route from New York City to Chagres (on the east coast of today's Republic of Panama), then to cross the Isthmus of Panama to the Pacific Ocean at Panama City, and from there to travel north by steamship to San Francisco.  The New York to Chagres route in a steam-powered ship took less than two weeks at speeds of ten-to-thirteen knots, which was equal to the average speed for trains of the time, and much swifter than vessels powered only by the wind. 

           In order to pursue the second option Collis would have to book passage from New York on one of the scheduled departures of Steamship Crescent City,[7] which was the only available vessel on this route.  The choices of departure dates in late 1848 and early 1849 with destination Chagres were: December 23, February 5, and March 15.  The fare was eighty dollars per head, which was one third the cost of making the journey via the Strait of Magellan.  However, the Chagres route would require crossing the Isthmus of Panama and securing passage north to San Francisco on another vessel from Panama City.  The December 23 departure may have been considered too close to the Christmas holidays, while February 5 would have required travel out of Oneonta by sled.  With these options before him Collis decided on the March 15, 1849, departure of the Steamship Crescent City from New York.    

           Once they had booked on the March 15 departure, plans had to be made for the transit from isolated Otsego County to New York City.  The


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[7] Ridgley-Nevitt, p. 122-123