Carleton Watkins                       The Living Present


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George Murray, wrote in mid-March to Solon Huntington [Fig. 2b] describing life on the steamer Crescent City before its arrival at the mouth of the Chagres River on the Caribbean side of the isthmus.[10]   Such an opportunity would have been afforded by the journey of ship Alexander von Humboldt  that took three months from Panama to San Francisco, much of the time becalmed off the coast between Nicaragua and Mexico.  The endless days with nothing but time on their hands—not even a book to read--would have been a fine opportunity for Collis Huntington, George Murray, or one of the other Otsego County boys to sketch in words the sights and sounds of their time in Panama and the events of more than three months under sail to California. 

          If any of the Otsego County boys wrote about their isthmian experiences the documents have not survived.[11]  In fact to the contrary, when Collis talked about Panama to H. H. Bancroft's scribe in the late 1870s, the story is flagrantly lacking in details, and often what he said does not jibe with information gleaned from other sources.[12] 

          Even the U. S. Government could not get Collis to talk about his time in Panama in 1849.[13]  Nearly forty years later in 1887—by this time a millionaire many times over from his investments in the Pacific Railroad—Collis refused to talk about his Panama adventure when he testified before the U. S. Pacific Railway Commission.  The Commission was investigating whether the U. S. Government had been cheated by Huntington and his partners in the railroad business between 1862 and 1887.  In the Commission's quest for evidence as to whether Collis's testimony could be trusted it dug into his by then distant past.  Based on rumors that had survived the passage of four decades the Chairman asked the scandalous question: "Were the actions of Collis P. Huntington in Panama those of a


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[10] George Murray to Solon Huntington, ALS March 24, 1849 (HEH) is a day-by-day log of the ten days at sea.  . 

[11]The question could be asked:  "Is it reasonable to conclude that if no records are known today that it's because nothing was written?" Collis Huntington was a prolific letter writer with thousands of surviving pages, but if anything was written from Panama not a single page has survived.  The most likely recipients would have been Collis's brother and business partner, Solon Huntington,  or Collis's wife, Elizabeth, both of whom were dutiful custodians of what they received.  

[12] For example Huntington told Bancroft's scribe that he traveled alone to California via Panama, a statement contradicted by the passenger list of the steamship Crescent City.  J. Carlyle Parker, et. al. eds., Liberia Martina Spinazze’s Index to [C. W. Haskins], The Argonauts of California [New York, 1890, pp. 422-423, 494], New Orleans, Polyantho, Inc., 1975].  The names are given on the manifest as:  C. P. Huntington, D. Hammond, G. W. Murray, L. Chamberlin, E. Sabin, and C. I. Watkins (where the "I" is a misreading of the handwritten "E").

[13] Robert E. Pattison, ed., Testimony Taken by The United States Pacific Railway Commission.  Reported by Charles P. Young, of New York, Secretary and Stenographer to the Commission, Washington, D. C:  Government Printing Office, 1887, ten volumes, , vol. I,  pp. 8-43.  Collis P. Huntington was the first to testify on March 3, 1887; Testimony was given at 10 Wall St., New York.