San Francisco Examiner/June 19, 1904
WIJU (Korea), April 21. — For days we had forced our horses along a road which swarmed with white-clad coolies. Their shoulders were stooped forward, their faces bent toward the ground, their backs burdened with rice and fish, soy and saki, and all the food supplies of an Oriental army. The villages were deserted. All doors and windows were missing and the houses appeared blank and sightless, mutely protesting against the general devastation. Here and there, along the road, old men and women and children sold food to the toiling coolies; and it was even possible, by proper skirmishing and fair purchase, to obtain beans for our pack-horses from the secret granaries among the hills.
And then one day, late in the afternoon, there came a change. We had dismounted and were leading our horses up the steep slope of a pass between two valleys, when a long line of horse carts, each horse led by a soldier, poured down upon us from the summit.
The thousands of Korean coolies had given place to the regular army transport. We drew our horses to one side among the rocks and waited for the line to pass. And we waited and continued to wait while the sun went down and twilight came on. But the line thickened instead of ceasing. Hundreds of pushcarts poured down in the midst of the horsecarts. Each pushcart was manned by three soldiers, and they brought the carts down so fast and thick that it was beyond us to count them.
And still they poured down from the summit of the pass, horsecarts and pushcarts, soldier-drivers, officers and occasional cavalrymen. It was but one train of many transport trains, and for the first time one began to get a true conception of what the feeding and munitioning of an army means; also we were overjoyed with knowledge of the fact that at last, after months of endeavor, we were approaching our goal.
Finally, in desperation, we forced our horses into the living stream, whenever it thinned a trifle, and slowly stemmed it to the summit. It was easier going down against it on the other side, and in the darkness we rode into the large town where we were to spend the night.
But the town was filled with soldiers. Every inch of floor space in every house was occupied. The Korean kitchen (in relation to the rest of the house) is a hole in the ground; yet every kitchen was filled with tired soldiers. So we urged our weary horses on into the darkness, and ten li farther along made ourselves lords and masters of a deserted village.
Next day, early a-saddle, we found the road as far as the eye could see across the valleys, from pass to pass and the crests of the passes, gorged with baggage trains, coming and going in double lines. There were squads of cavalry and detachments of infantry, officers mounted and officers afoot, parties of the Red Cross outfit, bunches of pioneers drifting along and repairing the road, men of the telegraph corps at work on the military wires, coolies, bullock carts, pack bullocks, trains of the little indomitable Korean ponies, tiny braying jack-asses, squealing horses—and down through it all a lone Chinese from Manchuria, looking neither to the right nor left, but heading southward with incurious eyes and expressionless face for a land where peace still smiled.
There were not two roads, nor three, but many. Right sternly was the beautiful valley marred and scarred by the feet of war-dykes and ditches were broken down, the paddy fields churned into muck and scored with great grooves by the wagon wheels, and everywhere the patient toil of the peasant people was stamped into the earth and destroyed. And always one received, gazing into the faces of the men who had done these things, an impression of strength. Yellow peril became a tangible thing, shaped itself in the intellect, and remained to be pondered, and pondered, and be pondered yet again.
April 22. — I stood on the summit of Wiju Castle in a sort of summer pavilion and tried to convince myself that I was gazing out upon what Captain Okada was pleased to term “the theatre of war.” “I am all of a tremble with excitement,” confessed a correspondent beside me, a man who had been through a dozen campaigns. But for myself I was curiously apathetic.
There was nothing stirring to be seen. Below me, and seen across the battlement of Wiju’s outer wall, lay the wide valley of the Yalu—a stretch of sandy flats separated by various channels of the river. From the farther banks rose the mountains of Manchuria. And that was all. The stage was empty.
It was a dreamy, peaceful day. Well does Korea merit its ancient name, Chosen—land of the morning calm. There was not a breath of air, the land shimmered in the heat and the valleys and distant mountains were vague and indistinct in the blue, summer haze. Nothing moved in all that wide expanse, and the peace and quietness of it conveyed not a hint of war.
The work of Jack London and other American journalists is freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.