November 28, 1864: Lake Nicaragua
We slept on the ship [last] night and were off at dawn for Virgin City. Our party was about a dozen—all the rest had crossed the day before or in the night. We presented an imposing appearance. Ahead was your humble servant on a poor mule, who went better than he looked, his nose (the mule’s not the writer’s) begirt with a hackamore which answered as a bridle, and with curious native saddle in which it was hard to see which predominated, wood, rawhide, or straw—a small American flag fastened on his umbrella floated to the morning breeze. Next came Higby, M. C. from California, a capital fellow; next Captain Roberts, a millionaire from California, also a capital fellow; then Captain Merry of the America. Not the least of the party was Ossian E. Dodge, the concert singer, on a poor horse, a great linen coat fluttering, and a bunch of bananas hung to his saddle, which every few rods left one of their number along the road, so he had scarcely any when he got through.
As we crossed the summit Lake Nicaragua came in view, with its deep, blue waters, its rich shores, and its sharp volcanic cones. We arrived at Virgin City in due time. All the passengers were there, and soon the whole of the baggage had arrived. Baggage is hauled over on carts of the most primitive character—the wheels cut from some big trees, no iron used in their construction, only wood and rawhide—four or six oxen hitched to each by yokes that are strapped before the horns.
At noon we were on the lake steamer City of Leon and the minute the last baggage was on board the boat left the wharf, leaving behind thirteen passengers who had been tardy without excuse—the brutal captain would not even send a boat for them. They shouted wildly on the wharf, scarcely thirty feet from us, but all in vain—they were left at that miserable hole for a whole month, all because of the bullheaded stubbornness of Captain Hart of that steamer. The passengers will have no redress, of course, as it was owing mostly to their own carelessness that they were left. Nearly a thousand of us were crowded on that boat, with bad food and but little of it, and berths for about one hundred.
The lake is about a hundred miles long by twenty or twenty-five wide. In the middle, on an island, are two volcanic cones rising from the water to 4,200 and 5,100 feet, respectively—perfectly sharp and regular. We ran down the lake about fifty miles before we entered the River San Juan. Toward the foot of the lake are many small rocky islands, all covered with rich vegetation. We continued down the river some miles after dark until we got to where the water was too shallow for our boat, when we came to a little river steamer.