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A pedestrian in a foreign land (1857-58)

misty mountains

An American rounds Cape Horn, coming ashore in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. As he becomes acquainted with the people, his affection for the country grows... and what better than to travel the roads and lodge in their humble homes?  Read the PDF

James A. Rankin (1832-1870)
Freelance Travel Correspondent in Chile

James A. Rankin was born in Menard County, Illinois in 1832. His father, Amberry Rankin (1806-1883), was a well-respected farmer, and his mother, Arminda Rogers (1803-1892), was a teacher. In 1855 he was initiated into the local masonic lodge. His 1856 passport application describes him as nearly 6 feet tall, with light hair, fair complexion and dark hazel eyes. In March of that year James embarked in New York on the Sophia Walker, bound for Valparaíso, Chile; travelling by way of Río de Janeiro and Cape Horn, he finally arrived in late February 1857.

The young man kept a travel diary. In it, he recorded his impressions of the sea voyage, his new surroundings, the Chilean people and their way of life. In particular, he wrote at length about two extended walks, as well as a shorter excursion near Valparaíso. The majority of these writings were published in the Illinois State Journal, under the pseudonym of Quito; some others appeared in the Daily Alta California, under his initials J.A.R.

Back in the US around April 1858, James settled for a time in central California, where he continued to write and sketch (one example has survived). He then returned to South America, finding employment with Henry Meiggs, the preeminent developer of the railroad networks of both Chile and Peru. James died in 1870, in a runaway train accident in the port city of Iquique, and was buried there. Fortunately for future generations, his published articles have survived for us to enjoy.

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The story of James Rankin was published by the Menard County Review (IL), Friday, November 16, 2018, section 1, page 8. Thanks to Virginia Rubley of Athens Public Library, Special Collections Room, for her assistance in publicizing this “Forgotten Son of Athens”.

1859 Article by Rankin describing the Solano Mineral Springs