Part 2 out of 4
the hills. It had not been used as a stage-route for
years, but the freighting kept it deep with dust, that
writhed and twisted and crawled lazily knee-high to
our horses, like a living creature. We felt the swing
and sweep of the route. The boldness of its stretches,
the freedom of its reaches for the opposite slope, the
wide curve of its horseshoes, all filled us with the
breath of an expansion which as yet the broad low
country only suggested.
Everything here was reminiscent of long ago. The
very names hinted stories of the Argonauts. Coarse
Gold Gulch, Whiskey Creek, Grub Gulch, Fine
Gold Post-Office in turn we passed. Occasionally,
with a fine round dash into the open, the trail drew
one side to a stage-station. The huge stables, the
wide corrals, the low living-houses, each shut in its
dooryard of blazing riotous flowers, were all familiar.
Only lacked the old-fashioned Concord coach, from
which to descend Jack Hamlin or Judge Starbottle.
As for M'liss, she was there, sunbonnet and all.
Down in the gulch bottoms were the old placer
diggings. Elaborate little ditches for the deflection
of water, long cradles for the separation of gold,
decayed rockers, and shining in the sun the tons and
tons of pay dirt which had been turned over pound
by pound in the concentrating of its treasure. Some
of the old cabins still stood. It was all deserted now,
save for the few who kept trail for the freighters, or
who tilled the restricted bottom-lands of the flats.
Road-runners racked away down the paths; squirrels
scurried over worn-out placers; jays screamed and
chattered in and out of the abandoned cabins. Strange
and shy little creatures and birds, reassured by the
silence of many years, had ventured to take to
themselves the engines of man's industry. And the warm
California sun embalmed it all in a peaceful forgetfulness.
Now the trees grew bigger, and the hills more
impressive. We should call them mountains in the East.
Pines covered them to the top, straight slender pines
with voices. The little flats were planted with great
oaks. When we rode through them, they shut out
the hills, so that we might have imagined ourselves
in the level wooded country. There insisted the effect
of limitless tree-grown plains, which the warm drowsy
sun, the park-like landscape, corroborated. And yet
the contrast of the clear atmosphere and the sharp air
equally insisted on the mountains. It was a strange
and delicious double effect, a contradiction of natural
impressions, a negation of our right to generalize from
Always the trail wound up and up. Never was it
steep; never did it command an outlook. Yet we
felt that at last we were rising, were leaving the level
of the Inferno, were nearing the threshold of the high
Mountain peoples came to the edges of their clearings
and gazed at us, responding solemnly to our
salutations. They dwelt in cabins and held to
agriculture and the herding of the wild mountain cattle.
From them we heard of the high country to which
we were bound. They spoke of it as you or I
would speak of interior Africa, as something inconceivably
remote, to be visited only by the adventurous,
an uninhabited realm of vast magnitude and
unknown dangers. In the same way they spoke of
the plains. Only the narrow pine-clad strip between
the two and six thousand feet of elevation they felt
to be their natural environment. In it they found the
proper conditions for their existence. Out of it those
conditions lacked. They were as much a localized
product as are certain plants which occur only at
certain altitudes. Also were they densely ignorant of
trails and routes outside of their own little districts.
All this, you will understand, was in what is known
as the low country. The landscape was still brown;
the streams but trickles; sage-brush clung to the
ravines; the valley quail whistled on the side hills.
But one day we came suddenly into the big pines and
rocks; and that very night we made our first camp in a
meadow typical of the mountains we had dreamed about.
I do not know exactly how to make you feel the charm
of that first camp in the big country. Certainly I can
never quite repeat it in my own experience.
Remember that for two months we had grown
accustomed to the brown of the California landscape,
and that for over a week we had traveled in the
Inferno. We had forgotten the look of green grass,
of abundant water; almost had we forgotten the taste
of cool air. So invariably had the trails been dusty,
and the camping-places hard and exposed, that we
had come subconsciously to think of such as typical
of the country. Try to put yourself in the frame of
mind those conditions would make.
Then imagine yourself climbing in an hour or
so up into a high ridge country of broad cup-like
sweeps and bold outcropping ledges. Imagine a forest
of pine-trees bigger than any pines you ever saw
before,--pines eight and ten feet through, so huge
that you can hardly look over one of their prostrate
trunks even from the back of your pony. Imagine,
further, singing little streams of ice-cold water, deep
refreshing shadows, a soft carpet of pine-needles
through which the faint furrow of the trail runs as
over velvet. And then, last of all, in a wide opening,
clear as though chopped and plowed by some back-
woodsman, a park of grass, fresh grass, green as a
This was our first sight of the mountain meadows.
From time to time we found others, sometimes a half
dozen in a day. The rough country came down close
about them, edging to the very hair-line of the magic
circle, which seemed to assure their placid sunny
peace. An upheaval of splintered granite often tossed
and tumbled in the abandon of an unrestrained passion
that seemed irresistibly to overwhelm the sanities
of a whole region; but somewhere, in the very forefront
of turmoil, was like to slumber one of these little
meadows, as unconscious of anything but its own
flawless green simplicity as a child asleep in mid-ocean.
Or, away up in the snows, warmed by the fortuity of
reflected heat, its emerald eye looked bravely out to
the heavens. Or, as here, it rested confidingly in the
very heart of the austere forest.
Always these parks are green; always are they clear
and open. Their size varies widely. Some are as
little as a city lawn; others, like the great Monache,
are miles in extent. In them resides the possibility
of your traveling the high country; for they supply
the feed for your horses.
 Do not fail to sound the final e.
Being desert-weary, the Tenderfoot and I cried out
with the joy of it, and told in extravagant language
how this was the best camp we had ever made.
"It's a bum camp," growled Wes. "If we couldn't
get better camps than this, I'd quit the game."
He expatiated on the fact that this particular
meadow was somewhat boggy; that the feed was too
watery; that there'd be a cold wind down through
the pines; and other small and minor details. But
we, our backs propped against appropriately slanted
rocks, our pipes well aglow, gazed down the twilight
through the wonderful great columns of the trees to
where the white horses shone like snow against the
unaccustomed relief of green, and laughed him to
scorn. What did we--or the horses for that matter
--care for trifling discomforts of the body? In these
intangible comforts of the eye was a great refreshment
of the spirit.
The following day we rode through the pine
forests growing on the ridges and hills and in the
elevated bowl-like hollows. These were not the so-
called "big trees,"--with those we had to do later,
as you shall see. They were merely sugar and yellow
pines, but never anywhere have I seen finer specimens.
They were planted with a grand sumptuousness
of space, and their trunks were from five to
twelve feet in diameter and upwards of two hundred
feet high to the topmost spear. Underbrush, ground
growth, even saplings of the same species lacked
entirely, so that we proceeded in the clear open aisles
of a tremendous and spacious magnificence.
This very lack of the smaller and usual growths,
the generous plan of spacing, and the size of the trees
themselves necessarily deprived us of a standard
of comparison. At first the forest seemed immense.
But after a little our eyes became accustomed to its
proportions. We referred it back to the measures of
long experience. The trees, the wood-aisles, the
extent of vision shrunk to the normal proportions of an
Eastern pinery. And then we would lower our gaze.
The pack-train would come into view. It had become
lilliputian, the horses small as white mice, the men
like tin soldiers, as though we had undergone an
enchantment. But in a moment, with the rush of a mighty
transformation, the great trees would tower huge again.
In the pine woods of the mountains grows also a
certain close-clipped parasitic moss. In color it is
a brilliant yellow-green, more yellow than green. In
shape it is crinkly and curly and tangled up with
itself like very fine shavings. In consistency it is dry
and brittle. This moss girdles the trunks of trees
with innumerable parallel inch-wide bands a foot or
so apart, in the manner of old-fashioned striped
stockings. It covers entirely sundry twigless branches.
Always in appearance is it fantastic, decorative,
almost Japanese, as though consciously laid in with its
vivid yellow-green as an intentional note of a tone
scheme. The somberest shadows, the most neutral
twilights, the most austere recesses are lighted by it
as though so many freakish sunbeams had severed
relations with the parent luminary to rest quietly in
the coolnesses of the ancient forest.
Underfoot the pine-needles were springy beneath
the horse's hoof. The trail went softly, with the
courtesy of great gentleness. Occasionally we caught sight
of other ridges,--also with pines,--across deep
sloping valleys, pine filled. The effect of the distant
trees seen from above was that of roughened velvet,
here smooth and shining, there dark with rich
shadows. On these slopes played the wind. In the
level countries it sang through the forest progressively:
here on the slope it struck a thousand trees at
once. The air was ennobled with the great voice, as
a church is ennobled by the tones of a great organ.
Then we would drop back again to the inner country,
for our way did not contemplate the descents nor
climbs, but held to the general level of a plateau.
Clear fresh brooks ran in every ravine. Their water
was snow-white against the black rocks; or lay dark
in bank-shadowed pools. As our horses splashed
across we could glimpse the rainbow trout flashing
to cover. Where the watered hollows grew lush were
thickets full of birds, outposts of the aggressively
and cheerfully worldly in this pine-land of spiritual
detachment. Gorgeous bush-flowers, great of petal
as magnolias, with perfume that lay on the air like
a heavy drowsiness; long clear stretches of an ankle-
high shrub of vivid emerald, looking in the distance
like sloping meadows of a peculiar color-brilliance;
patches of smaller flowers where for the trifling space
of a street's width the sun had unobstructed fall,--
these from time to time diversified the way, brought
to our perceptions the endearing trifles of earthiness,
of humanity, befittingly to modify the austerity of
the great forest. At a brookside we saw, still fresh
and moist, the print of a bear's foot. From a patch
of the little emerald brush, a barren doe rose to
her feet, eyed us a moment, and then bounded away
as though propelled by springs. We saw her from
time to time surmounting little elevations farther and
The air was like cold water. We had not lung
capacity to satisfy our desire for it. There came with
it a dry exhilaration that brought high spirits, an
optimistic viewpoint, and a tremendous keen appetite.
It seemed that we could never tire. In fact we never
did. Sometimes, after a particularly hard day, we
felt like resting; but it was always after the day's
work was done, never while it was under way. The
Tenderfoot and I one day went afoot twenty-two
miles up and down a mountain fourteen thousand
feet high. The last three thousand feet were nearly
straight up and down. We finished at a four-mile
clip an hour before sunset, and discussed what to
do next to fill in the time. When we sat down, we
found we had had about enough; but we had not
discovered it before.
All of us, even the morose and cynical Dinkey, felt
the benefit of the change from the lower country.
Here we were definitely in the Mountains. Our
plateau ran from six to eight thousand feet in
altitude. Beyond it occasionally we could see three more
ridges, rising and falling, each higher than the last.
And then, in the blue distance, the very crest of the
broad system called the Sierras,--another wide region
of sheer granite rising in peaks, pinnacles, and minarets,
rugged, wonderful, capped with the eternal snows.
When you say "trail" to a Westerner, his eye
lights up. This is because it means something
to him. To another it may mean something
entirely different, for the blessed word is of that rare
and beautiful category which is at once of the widest
significance and the most intimate privacy to him
who utters it. To your mind leaps the picture of
the dim forest-aisles and the murmurings of tree-top
breezes; to him comes a vision of the wide dusty
desert; to me, perhaps, a high wild country of wonder.
To all of us it is the slender, unbroken, never-
ending thread connecting experiences.
For in a mysterious way, not to be understood, our
trails never do end. They stop sometimes, and wait
patiently while we dive in and out of houses, but
always when we are ready to go on, they are ready
too, and so take up the journey placidly as though
nothing had intervened. They begin, when? Sometime,
away in the past, you may remember a single
episode, vivid through the mists of extreme youth.
Once a very little boy walked with his father under a
green roof of leaves that seemed farther than the sky
and as unbroken. All of a sudden the man raised
his gun and fired upwards, apparently through the
green roof. A pause ensued. Then, hurtling roughly
through still that same green roof, a great bird fell,
hitting the earth with a thump. The very little boy
was I. My trail must have begun there under the
bright green roof of leaves.
From that earliest moment the Trail unrolls behind
you like a thread so that never do you quite lose
connection with your selves. There is something a
little fearful to the imaginative in the insistence of it.
You may camp, you may linger, but some time or
another, sooner or later, you must go on, and when
you do, then once again the Trail takes up its
continuity without reference to the muddied place you
have tramped out in your indecision or indolence or
obstinacy or necessity. It would be exceedingly
curious to follow out in patience the chart of a man's
going, tracing the pattern of his steps with all its
windings of nursery, playground, boys afield, country,
city, plain, forest, mountain, wilderness, home,
always on and on into the higher country of responsibility
until at the last it leaves us at the summit of the
Great Divide. Such a pattern would tell his story as
surely as do the tracks of a partridge on the snow.
A certain magic inheres in the very name, or at
least so it seems to me. I should be interested to
know whether others feel the same glamour that I do
in the contemplation of such syllables as the Lo-Lo
Trail, the Tunemah Trail, the Mono Trail, the Bright
Angel Trail. A certain elasticity of application too
leaves room for the more connotation. A trail may
be almost anything. There are wagon-trails which
East would rank as macadam roads; horse-trails that
would compare favorably with our best bridle-paths;
foot-trails in the fur country worn by constant use as
smooth as so many garden-walks. Then again there
are other arrangements. I have heard a mule-driver
overwhelmed with skeptical derision because he
claimed to have upset but six times in traversing a
certain bit of trail not over five miles long; in charts
of the mountains are marked many trails which are
only "ways through,"--you will find few traces of
predecessors; the same can be said of trails in the
great forests where even an Indian is sometimes at
fault. "Johnny, you're lost," accused the white man.
"Trail lost: Injun here," denied the red man. And
so after your experience has led you by the campfires
of a thousand delights, and each of those campfires
is on the Trail, which only pauses courteously
for your stay and then leads on untiring into new
mysteries forever and ever, you come to love it as the
donor of great joys. You too become a Westerner, and
when somebody says "trail," your eye too lights up.
The general impression of any particular trail is
born rather of the little incidents than of the big
accidents. The latter are exotic, and might belong to
any time or places; the former are individual. For
the Trail is a vantage-ground, and from it, as your
day's travel unrolls, you see many things. Nine
tenths of your experience comes thus, for in the long
journeys the side excursions are few enough and
unimportant enough almost to merit classification with
the accidents. In time the character of the Trail thus
Most of all, naturally, the kind of country has to
do with this generalized impression. Certain surprises,
through trees, of vista looking out over unexpected
spaces; little notches in the hills beyond which
you gain to a placid far country sleeping under a sun
warmer than your elevation permits; the delicious
excitement of the moment when you approach the
very knife-edge of the summit and wonder what lies
beyond,--these are the things you remember with a
warm heart. Your saddle is a point of vantage. By
it you are elevated above the country; from it you
can see clearly. Quail scuttle away to right and left,
heads ducked low; grouse boom solemnly on the
rigid limbs of pines; deer vanish through distant
thickets to appear on yet more distant ridges, thence
to gaze curiously, their great ears forward; across the
canon the bushes sway violently with the passage of
a cinnamon bear among them,--you see them all
from your post of observation. Your senses are
always alert for these things; you are always bending
from your saddle to examine the tracks and signs that
continually offer themselves for your inspection
Our trail of this summer led at a general high
elevation, with comparatively little climbing and
comparatively easy traveling for days at a time. Then
suddenly we would find ourselves on the brink of a
great box canon from three to seven thousand feet
deep, several miles wide, and utterly precipitous. In
the bottom of this canon would be good feed, fine
groves of trees, and a river of some size in which
swam fish. The trail to the canon-bed was always
bad, and generally dangerous. In many instances we
found it bordered with the bones of horses that had
failed. The river had somehow to be forded. We
would camp a day or so in the good feed and among
the fine groves of trees, fish in the river, and then
address ourselves with much reluctance to the ascent
of the other bad and dangerous trail on the other
side. After that, in the natural course of events,
subject to variation, we could expect nice trails, the
comfort of easy travel, pines, cedars, redwoods, and
joy of life until another great cleft opened before us
or another great mountain-pass barred our way.
This was the web and woof of our summer. But
through it ran the patterns of fantastic delight such
as the West alone can offer a man's utter disbelief in
them. Some of these patterns stand out in memory
with peculiar distinctness.
Below Farewell Gap is a wide canon with high
walls of dark rock, and down those walls run many
streams of water. They are white as snow with the
dash of their descent, but so distant that the eye
cannot distinguish their motion. In the half light of
dawn, with the yellow of sunrise behind the mountains,
they look like gauze streamers thrown out from
the windows of morning to celebrate the solemn
pageant of the passing of many hills.
Again, I know of a canon whose westerly wall is
colored in the dull rich colors, the fantastic patterns
of a Moorish tapestry. Umber, seal brown, red, terra-
cotta, orange, Nile green, emerald, purple, cobalt
blue, gray, lilac, and many other colors, all rich with
the depth of satin, glow wonderful as the craftiest
textures. Only here the fabric is five miles long and
half a mile wide.
There is no use in telling of these things. They,
and many others of their like, are marvels, and exist;
but you cannot tell about them, for the simple reason
that the average reader concludes at once you
must be exaggerating, must be carried away by the
swing of words. The cold sober truth is, you cannot
exaggerate. They haven't made the words. Talk
as extravagantly as you wish to one who will in the
most childlike manner believe every syllable you
utter. Then take him into the Big Country. He will
probably say, "Why, you didn't tell me it was
going to be anything like THIS!" We in the East have
no standards of comparison either as regards size or
as regards color--especially color. Some people
once directed me to "The Gorge" on the New
England coast. I couldn't find it. They led me to it,
and rhapsodized over its magnificent terror. I could
have ridden a horse into the ridiculous thing. As for
color, no Easterner believes in it when such men as
Lungren or Parrish transposit it faithfully, any more
than a Westerner would believe in the autumn foliage
of our own hardwoods, or an Englishman in the
glories of our gaudiest sunsets. They are all true.
In the mountains, the high mountains above the
seven or eight thousand foot level, grows an affair
called the snow-plant. It is, when full grown, about
two feet in height, and shaped like a loosely
constructed pine-cone set up on end. Its entire
substance is like wax, and the whole concern--stalk,
broad curling leaves, and all--is a brilliant scarlet.
Sometime you will ride through the twilight of deep
pine woods growing on the slope of the mountain,
a twilight intensified, rendered more sacred to your
mood by the external brilliancy of a glimpse of vivid
blue sky above dazzling snow mountains far away.
Then, in this monotone of dark green frond and dull
brown trunk and deep olive shadow, where, like
the ordered library of one with quiet tastes, nothing
breaks the harmony of unobtrusive tone, suddenly
flames the vivid red of a snow-plant. You will never
Flowers in general seem to possess this concentrated
brilliancy both of color and of perfume. You
will ride into and out of strata of perfume as sharply
defined as are the quartz strata on the ridges. They
lie sluggish and cloying in the hollows, too heavy to
rise on the wings of the air.
As for color, you will see all sorts of queer things.
The ordered flower-science of your childhood has
gone mad. You recognize some of your old friends,
but strangely distorted and changed,--even the dear
old "butter 'n eggs" has turned pink! Patches of
purple, of red, of blue, of yellow, of orange are laid
in the hollows or on the slopes like brilliant blankets
out to dry in the sun. The fine grasses are spangled
with them, so that in the cup of the great fierce
countries the meadows seem like beautiful green
ornaments enameled with jewels. The Mariposa
Lily, on the other hand, is a poppy-shaped flower
varying from white to purple, and with each petal
decorated by an "eye" exactly like those on the
great Cecropia or Polyphemus moths, so that their
effect is that of a flock of gorgeous butterflies come
to rest. They hover over the meadows poised. A
movement would startle them to flight; only the
proper movement somehow never comes.
The great redwoods, too, add to the colored-
edition impression of the whole country. A redwood,
as perhaps you know, is a tremendous big tree sometimes
as big as twenty feet in diameter. It is exquisitely
proportioned like a fluted column of noble
height. Its bark is slightly furrowed longitudinally, and
of a peculiar elastic appearance that lends it an almost
perfect illusion of breathing animal life. The color
is a rich umber red. Sometimes in the early morning
or the late afternoon, when all the rest of the forest
is cast in shadow, these massive trunks will glow as
though incandescent. The Trail, wonderful always,
here seems to pass through the outer portals of the
great flaming regions where dwell the risings and
fallings of days.
As you follow the Trail up, you will enter also the
permanent dwelling-places of the seasons. With us
each visits for the space of a few months, then steals
away to give place to the next. Whither they go you
have not known until you have traveled the high
mountains. Summer lives in the valley; that you
know. Then a little higher you are in the spring-
time, even in August. Melting patches of snow
linger under the heavy firs; the earth is soggy with
half-absorbed snow-water, trickling with exotic little
rills that do not belong; grasses of the year before
float like drowned hair in pellucid pools with an air
of permanence, except for the one fact; fresh green
things are sprouting bravely; through bare branches
trickles a shower of bursting buds, larger at the top,
as though the Sower had in passing scattered them
from above. Birds of extraordinary cheerfulness sing
merrily to new and doubtful flowers. The air tastes
cold, but the sun is warm. The great spring
humming and promise is in the air. And a few thousand
feet higher you wallow over the surface of drifts
while a winter wind searches your bones. I used to
think that Santa Claus dwelt at the North Pole.
Now I am convinced that he has a workshop somewhere
among the great mountains where dwell the
Seasons, and that his reindeer paw for grazing in the
alpine meadows below the highest peaks.
Here the birds migrate up and down instead of
south and north. It must be a great saving of trouble
to them, and undoubtedly those who have discovered
it maintain toward the unenlightened the same
delighted and fraternal secrecy with which you and I
guard the knowledge of a good trout-stream. When
you can migrate adequately in a single day, why
spend a month at it?
Also do I remember certain spruce woods with
openings where the sun shone through. The shadows
were very black, the sunlight very white. As I looked
back I could see the pack-horses alternately suffer
eclipse and illumination in a strange flickering manner
good to behold. The dust of the trail eddied
and billowed lazily in the sun, each mote flashing
as though with life; then abruptly as it crossed the
sharp line of shade it disappeared.
From these spruce woods, level as a floor, we came
out on the rounded shoulder of a mountain to find
ourselves nearly nine thousand feet above the sea.
Below us was a deep canon to the middle of the
earth. And spread in a semicircle about the curve
of our mountain a most magnificent panoramic view.
First there were the plains, represented by a brown
haze of heat; then, very remote, the foot-hills, the
brush-hills, the pine mountains, the upper timber,
the tremendous granite peaks, and finally the barrier
of the main crest with its glittering snow. From the
plains to that crest was over seventy miles. I should
not dare say how far we could see down the length of
the range; nor even how distant was the other wall of
the canon over which we rode. Certainly it was many
miles; and to reach the latter point consumed three days.
It is useless to multiply instances. The principle
is well enough established by these. Whatever
impression of your trail you carry away will come from
the little common occurrences of every day. That is true
of all trails; and equally so, it seems to me, of our
Trail of Life sketched at the beginning of this essay.
But the trail of the mountains means more than
wonder; it means hard work. Unless you stick to
the beaten path, where the freighters have lost so
many mules that they have finally decided to fix
things up a bit, you are due for lots of trouble. Bad
places will come to be a nightmare with you and a
topic of conversation with whomever you may meet.
We once enjoyed the company of a prospector three
days while he made up his mind to tackle a certain
bit of trail we had just descended. Our accounts did
not encourage him. Every morning he used to squint
up at the cliff which rose some four thousand feet
above us. "Boys," he said finally as he started, "I
may drop in on you later in the morning." I am
happy to say he did not.
The most discouraging to the tenderfoot, but in
reality the safest of all bad trails, is the one that skirts
a precipice. Your horse possesses a laudable desire
to spare your inside leg unnecessary abrasion, so he
walks on the extreme outer edge. If you watch the
performance of the animal ahead, you will observe
that every few moments his outer hind hoof slips off
that edge, knocking little stones down into the abyss.
Then you conclude that sundry slight jars you have
been experiencing are from the same cause. Your
peace of mind deserts you. You stare straight ahead,
sit VERY light indeed, and perhaps turn the least bit
sick. The horse, however, does not mind, nor will
you, after a little. There is absolutely nothing to do
but to sit steady and give your animal his head. In
a fairly extended experience I never got off the edge
but once. Then somebody shot a gun immediately
ahead; my horse tried to turn around, slipped, and
slid backwards until he overhung the chasm.
Fortunately his hind feet caught a tiny bush. He gave
a mighty heave, and regained the trail. Afterwards
I took a look and found that there were no more
bushes for a hundred feet either way.
Next in terror to the unaccustomed is an ascent by
lacets up a very steep side hill. The effect is
cumulative. Each turn brings you one stage higher, adds
definitely one more unit to the test of your hardihood.
This last has not terrified you; how about the
next? or the next? or the one after that? There is
not the slightest danger. You appreciate this point
after you have met head-on some old-timer. After
you have speculated frantically how you are to pass
him, he solves the problem by calmly turning his
horse off the edge and sliding to the next lacet below.
Then you see that with a mountain horse it does not
much matter whether you get off such a trail or not.
The real bad places are quite as likely to be on
the level as on the slant. The tremendous granite
slides, where the cliff has avalanched thousands of
tons of loose jagged rock-fragments across the passage,
are the worst. There your horse has to be a goat
in balance. He must pick his way from the top of
one fragment to the other, and if he slips into the
interstices he probably breaks a leg. In some parts
of the granite country are also smooth rock aprons
where footing is especially difficult, and where often
a slip on them means a toboggan chute off into space.
I know of one spot where such an apron curves
off the shoulder of the mountain. Your horse slides
directly down it until his hoofs encounter a little
crevice. Checking at this, he turns sharp to the left
and so off to the good trail again. If he does not
check at the little crevice, he slides on over the curve
of the shoulder and lands too far down to bury.
Loose rocks in numbers on a very steep and narrow
trail are always an abomination, and a numerous
abomination at that. A horse slides, skates, slithers.
It has always seemed to me that luck must count
largely in such a place. When the animal treads on
a loose round stone--as he does every step of the
way--that stone is going to roll under him, and he
is going to catch himself as the nature of that stone
and the little gods of chance may will. Only furthermore
I have noticed that the really good horse keeps
his feet, and the poor one tumbles. A judgmatical
rider can help a great deal by the delicacy of his
riding and the skill with which he uses his reins. Or
better still, get off and walk.
Another mean combination, especially on a slant,
is six inches of snow over loose stones or small
boulders. There you hope for divine favor and flounder
ahead. There is one compensation; the snow is soft
to fall on. Boggy areas you must be able to gauge
the depth of at a glance. And there are places, beautiful
to behold, where a horse clambers up the least
bit of an ascent, hits his pack against a projection,
and is hurled into outer space. You must recognize
these, for he will be busy with his feet.
Some of the mountain rivers furnish pleasing
afternoons of sport. They are deep and swift, and below
the ford are rapids. If there is a fallen tree of any sort
across them,--remember the length of California
trees, and do not despise the rivers,--you would
better unpack, carry your goods across yourself, and
swim the pack-horses. If the current is very bad, you
can splice riatas, hitch one end to the horse and the
other to a tree on the farther side, and start the
combination. The animal is bound to swing across
somehow. Generally you can drive them over loose. In
swimming a horse from the saddle, start him well
upstream to allow for the current, and never, never,
never attempt to guide him by the bit. The Tenderfoot
tried that at Mono Creek and nearly drowned
himself and Old Slob. You would better let him
alone, as he probably knows more than you do. If
you must guide him, do it by hitting the side of his
head with the flat of your hand.
Sometimes it is better that you swim. You can
perform that feat by clinging to his mane on the
downstream side, but it will be easier both for you
and him if you hang to his tail. Take my word for
it, he will not kick you.
Once in a blue moon you may be able to cross
the whole outfit on logs. Such a log bridge spanned
Granite Creek near the North Fork of the San Joaquin
at an elevation of about seven thousand feet.
It was suspended a good twenty feet above the water,
which boiled white in a most disconcerting manner
through a gorge of rocks. If anything fell off that
log it would be of no further value even to the
curiosity seeker. We got over all the horses save
Tunemah. He refused to consider it, nor did peaceful
argument win. As he was more or less of a fool,
we did not take this as a reflection on our judgment,
but culled cedar clubs. We beat him until we were
ashamed. Then we put a slip-noose about his neck.
The Tenderfoot and I stood on the log and heaved
while Wes stood on the shore and pushed. Suddenly
it occurred to me that if Tunemah made up his silly
mind to come, he would probably do it all at once,
in which case the Tenderfoot and I would have about
as much show for life as fossil formations. I didn't
say anything about it to the Tenderfoot, but I hitched
my six-shooter around to the front, resolved to find
out how good I was at wing-shooting horses. But
Tunemah declared he would die for his convictions.
"All right," said we, "die then," with the embellishment
of profanity. So we stripped him naked, and
stoned him into the raging stream, where he had one
chance in three of coming through alive. He might
as well be dead as on the other side of that stream.
He won through, however, and now I believe he'd
tackle a tight rope.
Of such is the Trail, of such its wonders, its
pleasures, its little comforts, its annoyances, its dangers.
And when you are forced to draw your six-shooter
to end mercifully the life of an animal that has served
you faithfully, but that has fallen victim to the leg-
breaking hazard of the way, then you know a little
of its tragedy also. May you never know the greater
tragedy when a man's life goes out, and you unable
to help! May always your trail lead through fine trees,
green grasses, fragrant flowers, and pleasant waters!
ON SEEING DEER
Once I happened to be sitting out a dance with
a tactful young girl of tender disposition who
thought she should adapt her conversation to the
one with whom she happened to be talking. Therefore
she asked questions concerning out-of-doors. She
knew nothing whatever about it, but she gave a very
good imitation of one interested. For some occult
reason people never seem to expect me to own evening
clothes, or to know how to dance, or to be able
to talk about anything civilized; in fact, most of
them appear disappointed that I do not pull off a
war-jig in the middle of the drawing-room.
This young girl selected deer as her topic. She
mentioned liquid eyes, beautiful form, slender ears;
she said "cute," and "darlings," and "perfect dears."
Then she shuddered prettily.
"And I don't see how you can ever BEAR to shoot
them, Mr. White," she concluded.
"You quarter the onions and slice them very thin,"
said I dreamily. "Then you take a little bacon fat
you had left over from the flap-jacks and put it in
the frying-pan. The frying-pan should be very hot.
While the onions are frying, you must keep turning
them over with a fork. It's rather difficult to get
them all browned without burning some. I should
broil the meat. A broiler is handy, but two willows,
peeled and charred a little so the willow taste won't
penetrate the meat, will do. Have the steak fairly
thick. Pepper and salt it thoroughly. Sear it well
at first in order to keep the juices in; then cook
rather slowly. When it is done, put it on a hot
plate and pour the browned onions, bacon fat and
all, over it."
"What ARE you talking about?" she interrupted.
"I'm telling you why I can bear to shoot deer,"
"But I don't see--" said she.
"Don't you?" said I. "Well; suppose you've
been climbing a mountain late in the afternoon when
the sun is on the other side of it. It is a mountain of
big boulders, loose little stones, thorny bushes. The
slightest misstep would send pebbles rattling, brush
rustling; but you have gone all the way without
making that misstep. This is quite a feat. It means
that you've known all about every footstep you've
taken. That would be business enough for most
people, wouldn't it? But in addition you've managed
to see EVERYTHING on that side of the mountain
--especially patches of brown. You've seen lots of
patches of brown, and you've examined each one
of them. Besides that, you've heard lots of little
rustlings, and you've identified each one of them. To
do all these things well keys your nerves to a high
tension, doesn't it? And then near the top you look
up from your last noiseless step to see in the brush
a very dim patch of brown. If you hadn't been looking
so hard, you surely wouldn't have made it out.
Perhaps, if you're not humble-minded, you may
reflect that most people wouldn't have seen it at all.
You whistle once sharply. The patch of brown
defines itself. Your heart gives one big jump. You
know that you have but the briefest moment, the
tiniest fraction of time, to hold the white bead of
your rifle motionless and to press the trigger. It has
to be done VERY steadily, at that distance,--and you
out of breath, with your nerves keyed high in the
tension of such caution."
"NOW what are you talking about?" she broke in
"Oh, didn't I mention it?" I asked, surprised.
"I was telling you why I could bear to shoot deer."
"Yes, but--" she began.
"Of course not," I reassured her. "After all, it's
very simple. The reason I can bear to kill deer is
because, to kill deer, you must accomplish a skillful
elimination of the obvious."
My young lady was evidently afraid of being
considered stupid; and also convinced of her inability to
understand what I was driving at. So she temporized
in the manner of society.
"I see," she said, with an air of complete enlightenment.
Now of course she did not see. Nobody could see the
force of that last remark without the grace of further
explanation, and yet in the elimination of the obvious
rests the whole secret of seeing deer in the woods.
In traveling the trail you will notice two things:
that a tenderfoot will habitually contemplate the
horn of his saddle or the trail a few yards ahead
of his horse's nose, with occasionally a look about at
the landscape; and the old-timer will be constantly
searching the prospect with keen understanding eyes.
Now in the occasional glances the tenderfoot takes,
his perceptions have room for just so many impressions.
When the number is filled out he sees nothing
more. Naturally the obvious features of the landscape
supply the basis for these impressions. He sees
the configuration of the mountains, the nature of their
covering, the course of their ravines, first of all. Then
if he looks more closely, there catches his eye an odd-
shaped rock, a burned black stub, a flowering bush,
or some such matter. Anything less striking in its
appeal to the attention actually has not room for
its recognition. In other words, supposing that a
man has the natural ability to receive x visual
impressions, the tenderfoot fills out his full capacity with
the striking features of his surroundings. To be able
to see anything more obscure in form or color, he
must naturally put aside from his attention some one
or another of these obvious features. He can, for
example, look for a particular kind of flower on a side
hill only by refusing to see other kinds.
If this is plain, then, go one step further in the
logic of that reasoning. Put yourself in the mental
attitude of a man looking for deer. His eye sweeps
rapidly over a side hill; so rapidly that you cannot
understand how he can have gathered the main features
of that hill, let alone concentrate and refine his
attention to the seeing of an animal under a bush.
As a matter of fact he pays no attention to the main
features. He has trained his eye, not so much to see
things, as to leave things out. The odd-shaped rock,
the charred stub, the bright flowering bush do not
exist for him. His eye passes over them as unseeing
as yours over the patch of brown or gray that represents
his quarry. His attention stops on the unusual,
just as does yours; only in his case the unusual is
not the obvious. He has succeeded by long training
in eliminating that. Therefore he sees deer where
you do not. As soon as you can forget the naturally
obvious and construct an artificially obvious, then you
too will see deer.
These animals are strangely invisible to the
untrained eye even when they are standing "in plain
sight." You can look straight at them, and not see
them at all. Then some old woodsman lets you sight
over his finger exactly to the spot. At once the figure
of the deer fairly leaps into vision. I know of no
more perfect example of the instantaneous than this.
You are filled with astonishment that you could for
a moment have avoided seeing it. And yet next time
you will in all probability repeat just this "puzzle
The Tenderfoot tried for six weeks before he
caught sight of one. He wanted to very much.
Time and again one or the other of us would hiss
back, "See the deer! over there by the yellow bush!"
but before he could bring the deliberation of his
scrutiny to the point of identification, the deer would
be gone. Once a fawn jumped fairly within ten feet
of the pack-horses and went bounding away through
the bushes, and that fawn he could not help seeing.
We tried conscientiously enough to get him a shot;
but the Tenderfoot was unable to move through the
brush less majestically than a Pullman car, so we had
ended by becoming apathetic on the subject.
Finally, while descending a very abrupt mountain-
side I made out a buck lying down perhaps three
hundred feet directly below us. The buck was not
looking our way, so I had time to call the Tenderfoot.
He came. With difficulty and by using my
rifle-barrel as a pointer I managed to show him the
animal. Immediately he began to pant as though
at the finish of a mile race, and his rifle, when he
leveled it, covered a good half acre of ground. This
would never do.
"Hold on!" I interrupted sharply.
He lowered his weapon to stare at me wild-eyed.
"What is it?" he gasped.
"Stop a minute!" I commanded. "Now take
three deep breaths."
He did so.
"Now shoot," I advised, "and aim at his knees."
The deer was now on his feet and facing us, so
the Tenderfoot had the entire length of the animal
to allow for lineal variation. He fired. The deer
dropped. The Tenderfoot thrust his hat over one
eye, rested hand on hip in a manner cocky to behold.
"Simply slaughter!" he proffered with lofty scorn.
We descended. The bullet had broken the deer's
back--about six inches from the tail. The Tenderfoot
had overshot by at least three feet.
You will see many deer thus from the trail,--in
fact, we kept up our meat supply from the saddle,
as one might say,--but to enjoy the finer savor of
seeing deer, you should start out definitely with that
object in view. Thus you have opportunity for the
display of a certain finer woodcraft. You must know
where the objects of your search are likely to be found,
and that depends on the time of year, the time of days
their age, their sex, a hundred little things. When
the bucks carry antlers in the velvet, they frequent
the inaccessibilities of the highest rocky peaks, so
their tender horns may not be torn in the brush, but
nevertheless so that the advantage of a lofty viewpoint
may compensate for the loss of cover. Later you
will find them in the open slopes of a lower altitude,
fully exposed to the sun, that there the heat may
harden the antlers. Later still, the heads in fine
condition and tough to withstand scratches, they plunge
into the dense thickets. But in the mean time the
fertile does have sought a lower country with patches of
small brush interspersed with open passages. There
they can feed with their fawns, completely concealed,
but able, by merely raising the head, to survey the
entire landscape for the threatening of danger. The
barren does, on the other hand, you will find through
the timber and brush, for they are careless of all
responsibilities either to offspring or headgear. These
are but a few of the considerations you will take into
account, a very few of the many which lend the
deer countries strange thrills of delight over new
knowledge gained, over crafty expedients invented
or well utilized, over the satisfactory matching of
your reason, your instinct, your subtlety and skill
against the reason, instinct, subtlety, and skill of one
of the wariest of large wild animals.
Perversely enough the times when you did NOT see
deer are more apt to remain vivid in your memory
than the times when you did. I can still see distinctly
sundry wide jump-marks where the animal I was
tracking had evidently caught sight of me and lit out
before I came up to him. Equally, sundry little thin
disappearing clouds of dust; cracklings of brush,
growing ever more distant; the tops of bushes waving
to the steady passage of something remaining persistently
concealed,--these are the chief ingredients often
repeated which make up deer-stalking memory. When I
think of seeing deer, these things automatically rise.
A few of the deer actually seen do, however, stand
out clearly from the many. When I was a very small
boy possessed of a 32-20 rifle and large ambitions,
I followed the advantage my father's footsteps made
me in the deep snow of an unused logging-road.
His attention was focused on some very interesting
fresh tracks. I, being a small boy, cared not at all
for tracks, and so saw a big doe emerge from the
bushes not ten yards away, lope leisurely across the
road, and disappear, wagging earnestly her tail.
When I had recovered my breath I vehemently
demanded the sense of fooling with tracks when there
were real live deer to be had. My father examined me.
"Well, why didn't you shoot her?" he inquired dryly.
I hadn't thought of that.
In the spring of 1900 I was at the head of the
Piant River waiting for the log-drive to start. One
morning, happening to walk over a slashing of many
years before in which had grown a strong thicket of
white popples, I jumped a band of nine deer. I shall
never forget the bewildering impression made by the
glancing, dodging, bouncing white of those nine
snowy tails and rumps.
But most wonderful of all was a great buck, of I
should be afraid to say how many points, that stood
silhouetted on the extreme end of a ridge high above
our camp. The time was just after twilight, and as
we watched, the sky lightened behind him in prophecy
of the moon.
The tenderfoot is a queer beast. He makes
more trouble than ants at a picnic, more work
than a trespassing goat; he never sees anything,
knows where anything is, remembers accurately your
instructions, follows them if remembered, or is able to
handle without awkwardness his large and pathetic
hands and feet; he is always lost, always falling off
or into things, always in difficulties; his articles of
necessity are constantly being burned up or washed
away or mislaid; he looks at you beamingly through
great innocent eyes in the most chuckle-headed of
manners; he exasperates you to within an inch of
explosion,--and yet you love him.
I am referring now to the real tenderfoot, the fellow
who cannot learn, who is incapable ever of adjusting
himself to the demands of the wild life. Sometimes
a man is merely green, inexperienced. But give him
a chance and he soon picks up the game. That is
your greenhorn, not your tenderfoot. Down near
Monache meadows we came across an individual leading
an old pack-mare up the trail. The first thing, he
asked us to tell him where he was. We did so. Then
we noticed that he carried his gun muzzle-up in his
hip-pocket, which seemed to be a nice way to shoot
a hole in your hand, but a poor way to make your
weapon accessible. He unpacked near us, and promptly
turned the mare into a bog-hole because it looked
green. Then he stood around the rest of the evening
and talked deprecating talk of a garrulous nature.
"Which way did you come?" asked Wes.
The stranger gave us a hazy account of misnamed
canons, by which we gathered that he had come
directly over the rough divide below us.
"But if you wanted to get to Monache, why
didn't you go around to the eastward through that
pass, there, and save yourself all the climb? It must
have been pretty rough through there."
"Yes, perhaps so," he hesitated. "Still--I got
lots of time--I can take all summer, if I want to--
and I'd rather stick to a straight line--then you
know where you ARE--if you get off the straight
line, you're likely to get lost, you know."
We knew well enough what ailed him, of course.
He was a tenderfoot, of the sort that always, to its
dying day, unhobbles its horses before putting their
halters on. Yet that man for thirty-two years had
lived almost constantly in the wild countries. He
had traveled more miles with a pack-train than we
shall ever dream of traveling, and hardly could we
mention a famous camp of the last quarter century
that he had not blundered into. Moreover he proved
by the indirections of his misinformation that he had
really been there and was not making ghost stories
in order to impress us. Yet if the Lord spares him
thirty-two years more, at the end of that time he will
probably still be carrying his gun upside down, turning
his horse into a bog-hole, and blundering through
the country by main strength and awkwardness. He
was a beautiful type of the tenderfoot.
The redeeming point of the tenderfoot is his
humbleness of spirit and his extreme good nature.
He exasperates you with his fool performances to
the point of dancing cursing wild crying rage, and
then accepts your--well, reproofs--so meekly that you
come off the boil as though some one had removed you
from the fire, and you feel like a low-browed thug.
Suppose your particular tenderfoot to be named
Algernon. Suppose him to have packed his horse
loosely--they always do--so that the pack has
slipped, the horse has bucked over three square miles
of assorted mountains, and the rest of the train is
scattered over identically that area. You have run
your saddle-horse to a lather heading the outfit. You
have sworn and dodged and scrambled and yelled,
even fired your six-shooter, to turn them and bunch
them. In the mean time Algernon has either sat his
horse like a park policeman in his leisure hours,
or has ambled directly into your path of pursuit on
an average of five times a minute. Then the trouble
dies from the landscape and the baby bewilderment
from his eyes. You slip from your winded horse and
address Algernon with elaborate courtesy.
"My dear fellow," you remark, "did you not see
that the thing for you to do was to head them down
by the bottom of that little gulch there? Don't you
really think ANYBODY would have seen it? What in
hades do you think I wanted to run my horse all
through those boulders for? Do you think I want
to get him lame 'way up here in the hills? I don't
mind telling a man a thing once, but to tell it to
him fifty-eight times and then have it do no good--
Have you the faintest recollection of my instructing
you to turn the bight OVER instead of UNDER when you
throw that pack-hitch? If you'd remember that, we
shouldn't have had all this trouble."
"You didn't tell me to head them by the little
gulch," babbles Algernon.
This is just the utterly fool reply that upsets your
artificial and elaborate courtesy. You probably foam
at the mouth, and dance on your hat, and shriek wild
imploring imprecations to the astonished hills. This
is not because you have an unfortunate disposition,
but because Algernon has been doing precisely the
same thing for two months.
"Listen to him!" you howl. "Didn't tell him!
Why you gangle-legged bug-eyed soft-handed pop-
eared tenderfoot, you! there are some things you
never THINK of telling a man. I never told you to
open your mouth to spit, either. If you had a hired
man at five dollars a year who was so all-around
hopelessly thick-headed and incompetent as you are,
you'd fire him to-morrow morning."
Then Algernon looks truly sorry, and doesn't
answer back as he ought to in order to give occasion
for the relief of a really soul-satisfying scrap, and
utters the soft answer humbly. So your wrath is
turned and there remain only the dregs which taste
like some of Algernon's cooking.
It is rather good fun to relieve the bitterness of
the heart. Let me tell you a few more tales of the
tenderfoot, premising always that I love him, and
when at home seek him out to smoke pipes at his
fireside, to yarn over the trail, to wonder how much
rancor he cherishes against the maniacs who declaimed
against him, and by way of compensation to build up
in the mind of his sweetheart, his wife, or his mother
a fearful and wonderful reputation for him as the
Terror of the Trail. These tales are selected from
many, mere samples of a varied experience. They
occurred here, there, and everywhere, and at various
times. Let no one try to lay them at the door of our
Tenderfoot merely because such is his title in this
narrative. We called him that by way of distinction.
Once upon a time some of us were engaged in
climbing a mountain rising some five thousand feet
above our starting-place. As we toiled along, one of
the pack-horses became impatient and pushed ahead.
We did not mind that, especially, as long as she
stayed in sight, but in a little while the trail was
closed in by brush and timber.
"Algernon," said we, "just push on and get ahead
of that mare, will you?"
Algernon disappeared. We continued to climb. The trail
was steep and rather bad. The labor was strenuous, and
we checked off each thousand feet with thankfulness. As
we saw nothing further of Algernon, we naturally
concluded he had headed the mare and was continuing on
the trail. Then through a little opening we saw him
riding cheerfully along without a care to occupy his
mind. Just for luck we hailed him.
"Hi there, Algernon! Did you find her?"
"Haven't seen her yet."
"Well, you'd better push on a little faster. She
may leave the trail at the summit."
Then one of us, endowed by heaven with a keen intuitive
instinct for tenderfeet,--no one could have a knowledge
of them, they are too unexpected,--had an inspiration.
"I suppose there are tracks on the trail ahead of
you?" he called.
We stared at each other, then at the trail. Only
one horse had preceded us,--that of the tenderfoot.
But of course Algernon was nevertheless due for his
"I haven't looked," said he.
That raised the storm conventional to such an occasion.
"What in the name of seventeen little dicky-birds
did you think you were up to!" we howled. "Were
you going to ride ahead until dark in the childlike
faith that that mare might show up somewhere? Here's
a nice state of affairs. The trail is all tracked up
now with our horses, and heaven knows whether she's
left tracks where she turned off. It may be rocky there."
We tied the animals savagely, and started back on
foot. It would be criminal to ask our saddle-horses
to repeat that climb. Algernon we ordered to stay
"And don't stir from them no matter what happens,
or you'll get lost," we commanded out of the
wisdom of long experience.
We climbed down the four thousand odd feet,
and then back again, leading the mare. She had
turned off not forty rods from where Algernon had
taken up her pursuit.
Your Algernon never does get down to little
details like tracks--his scheme of life is much too
magnificent. To be sure he would not know fresh
tracks from old if he should see them; so it is
probably quite as well. In the morning he goes out after
the horses. The bunch he finds easily enough, but
one is missing. What would you do about it? You
would naturally walk in a circle around the bunch
until you crossed the track of the truant leading
away from it, wouldn't you? If you made a wide
enough circle you would inevitably cross that track,
wouldn't you? provided the horse started out with
the bunch in the first place. Then you would follow
the track, catch the horse, and bring him back. Is
this Algernon's procedure? Not any. "Ha!" says
he, "old Brownie is missing. I will hunt him up."
Then he maunders off into the scenery, trusting to
high heaven that he is going to blunder against
Brownie as a prominent feature of the landscape.
After a couple of hours you probably saddle up
Brownie and go out to find the tenderfoot.
He has a horrifying facility in losing himself.
Nothing is more cheering than to arise from a hard-
earned couch of ease for the purpose of trailing an
Algernon or so through the gathering dusk to the
spot where he has managed to find something--a very
real despair of ever getting back to food and warmth.
Nothing is more irritating then than his gratitude.
I traveled once in the Black Hills with such a
tenderfoot. We were off from the base of supplies
for a ten days' trip with only a saddle-horse apiece.
This was near first principles, as our total provisions
consisted of two pounds of oatmeal, some tea, and
sugar. Among other things we climbed Mt. Harney.
The trail, after we left the horses, was as plain as a
strip of Brussels carpet, but somehow or another
that tenderfoot managed to get off it. I hunted him
up. We gained the top, watched the sunset, and
started down. The tenderfoot, I thought, was fairly
at my coat-tails, but when I turned to speak to him
he had gone; he must have turned off at one of the
numerous little openings in the brush. I sat down
to wait. By and by, away down the west slope of
the mountain, I heard a shot, and a faint, a very faint,
despairing yell. I, also, shot and yelled. After various
signals of the sort, it became evident that the
tenderfoot was approaching. In a moment he tore by
at full speed, his hat off, his eye wild, his six-shooter
popping at every jump. He passed within six feet
of me, and never saw me. Subsequently I left him
on the prairie, with accurate and simple instructions.
"There's the mountain range. You simply keep
that to your left and ride eight hours. Then you'll
see Rapid City. You simply CAN'T get lost. Those
hills stick out like a sore thumb."
Two days later he drifted into Rapid City, having
wandered off somewhere to the east. How he had
done it I can never guess. That is his secret.
The tenderfoot is always in hard luck. Apparently,
too, by all tests of analysis it is nothing but
luck, pure chance, misfortune. And yet the very
persistence of it in his case, where another escapes,
perhaps indicates that much of what we call good luck
is in reality unconscious skill in the arrangement
of those elements which go to make up events. A
persistently unlucky man is perhaps sometimes to be
pitied, but more often to be booted. That philosophy
will be cryingly unjust about once in ten.
But lucky or unlucky, the tenderfoot is human.
Ordinarily that doesn't occur to you. He is a
malevolent engine of destruction--quite as impersonal
as heat or cold or lack of water. He is an unfortunate
article of personal belonging requiring much looking
after to keep in order. He is a credulous and
convenient response to practical jokes, huge tales,
misinformation. He is a laudable object of attrition
for the development of your character. But somehow,
in the woods, he is not as other men, and so you do
not come to feel yourself in close human relations to him.
But Algernon is real, nevertheless. He has
feelings, even if you do not respect them. He has his
little enjoyments, even though he does rarely contemplate
anything but the horn of his saddle.
"Algernon," you cry, "for heaven's sake stick
that saddle of yours in a glass case and glut yourself
with the sight of its ravishing beauties next WINTER.
For the present do gaze on the mountains. That's
what you came for."
He has, doubtless, a full range of all the appreciative
emotions, though from his actions you'd never suspect
it. Most human of all, he possesses his little vanities.
Algernon always overdoes the equipment question.
If it is bird-shooting, he accumulates leggings and
canvas caps and belts and dog-whistles and things
until he looks like a picture from a department-store
catalogue. In the cow country he wears Stetson hats,
snake bands, red handkerchiefs, six-shooters, chaps,
and huge spurs that do not match his face. If it is
yachting, he has a chronometer with a gong in the
cabin of a five-ton sailboat, possesses a nickle-plated
machine to register the heel of his craft, sports a
brass-bound yachting-cap and all the regalia. This
is merely amusing. But I never could understand
his insane desire to get sunburned. A man will get
sunburned fast enough; he could not help it if he
would. Algernon usually starts out from town without
a hat. Then he dares not take off his sweater
for a week lest it carry away his entire face. I have
seen men with deep sores on their shoulders caused
by nothing but excessive burning in the sun. This,
too, is merely amusing. It means quite simply that
Algernon realizes his inner deficiencies and wants to
make up for them by the outward seeming. Be kind
to him, for he has been raised a pet.
The tenderfoot is lovable--mysterious in how he
does it--and awfully unexpected.
One day we tied our horses to three bushes, and walked
on foot two hundred yards. Then we looked down.
It was nearly four thousand feet down. Do you
realize how far that is? There was a river meandering
through olive-colored forests. It was so distant
that it was light green and as narrow as a piece of
tape. Here and there were rapids, but so remote that
we could not distinguish the motion of them, only
the color. The white resembled tiny dabs of cotton
wool stuck on the tape. It turned and twisted,
following the turns and twists of the canon. Somehow
the level at the bottom resembled less forests and
meadows than a heavy and sluggish fluid like
molasses flowing between the canon walls. It emerged
from the bend of a sheer cliff ten miles to eastward:
it disappeared placidly around the bend of another
sheer cliff an equal distance to the westward.
The time was afternoon. As we watched, the
shadow of the canon wall darkened the valley.
Whereupon we looked up.
Now the upper air, of which we were dwellers for
the moment, was peopled by giants and clear
atmosphere and glittering sunlight, flashing like silver
and steel and precious stones from the granite domes,
peaks, minarets, and palisades of the High Sierras.
Solid as they were in reality, in the crispness of this
mountain air, under the tangible blue of this mountain
sky, they seemed to poise light as so many balloons.
Some of them rose sheer, with hardly a fissure; some
had flung across their shoulders long trailing pine
draperies, fine as fur; others matched mantles of the
whitest white against the bluest blue of the sky.
Towards the lower country were more pines rising in
ridges, like the fur of an animal that has been alarmed.
We dangled our feet over the edge and talked about it.
Wes pointed to the upper end where the sluggish lava-like
flow of the canon-bed first came into view.
"That's where we'll camp," said he.
"When?" we asked.
"When we get there," he answered.
For this canon lies in the heart of the mountains.
Those who would visit it have first to get into the
country--a matter of over a week. Then they have
their choice of three probabilities of destruction.
The first route comprehends two final days of
travel at an altitude of about ten thousand feet, where
the snow lies in midsummer; where there is no feed,
no comfort, and the way is strewn with the bones of
horses. This is known as the "Basin Trail." After
taking it, you prefer the others--until you try them.
The finish of the second route is directly over the
summit of a mountain. You climb two thousand
feet and then drop down five. The ascent is heart-
breaking but safe. The descent is hair-raising and
unsafe: no profanity can do justice to it. Out of a
pack-train of thirty mules, nine were lost in the
course of that five thousand feet. Legend has it that
once many years ago certain prospectors took in a
Chinese cook. At first the Mongolian bewailed his
fate loudly and fluently, but later settled to a single
terrified moan that sounded like "tu-ne-mah! tu-ne-
mah!" The trail was therefore named the "Tu-ne-
mah Trail." It is said that "tu-ne-mah" is the very
worst single vituperation of which the Chinese
language is capable.
The third route is called "Hell's Half Mile." It is
Thus like paradise the canon is guarded; but
like paradise it is wondrous in delight. For when
you descend you find that the tape-wide trickle
of water seen from above has become a river with
profound darkling pools and placid stretches and
swift dashing rapids; that the dark green sluggish
flow in the canon-bed has disintegrated into a noble
forest with great pine-trees, and shaded aisles, and
deep dank thickets, and brush openings where the
sun is warm and the birds are cheerful, and groves
of cottonwoods where all day long softly, like snow,
the flakes of cotton float down through the air.
Moreover there are meadows, spacious lawns, opening
out, closing in, winding here and there through
the groves in the manner of spilled naphtha, actually
waist high with green feed, sown with flowers like a
brocade. Quaint tributary little brooks babble and
murmur down through these trees, down through
these lawns. A blessed warm sun hums with the joy
of innumerable bees. To right hand and to left,
in front of you and behind, rising sheer, forbidding,
impregnable, the cliffs, mountains, and ranges hem
you in. Down the river ten miles you can go: then
the gorge closes, the river grows savage, you can only
look down the tumbling fierce waters and turn back.
Up the river five miles you can go, then interpose
the sheer snow-clad cliffs of the Palisades, and them,
rising a matter of fourteen thousand feet, you may
not cross. You are shut in your paradise as
completely as though surrounded by iron bars.
But, too, the world is shut out. The paradise is
yours. In it are trout and deer and grouse and bear
and lazy happy days. Your horses feed to the fatness
of butter. You wander at will in the ample
though definite limits of your domain. You lie on
your back and examine dispassionately, with an
interest entirely detached, the huge cliff-walls of the
valley. Days slip by. Really, it needs at least an
angel with a flaming sword to force you to move on.
We turned away from our view and addressed
ourselves to the task of finding out just when we were
going to get there. The first day we bobbed up and
over innumerable little ridges of a few hundred feet
elevation, crossed several streams, and skirted the
wide bowl-like amphitheatre of a basin. The second
day we climbed over things and finally ended in a
small hanging park named Alpine Meadows, at an
elevation of eight thousand five hundred feet. There
we rested-over a day, camped under a single pine-
tree, with the quick-growing mountain grasses thick
about us, a semicircle of mountains on three sides,
and the plunge into the canon on the other. As
we needed meat, we spent part of the day in finding
a deer. The rest of the time we watched idly for bear.
Bears are great travelers. They will often go
twenty miles overnight, apparently for the sheer
delight of being on the move. Also are they exceedingly
loath to expend unnecessary energy in getting
to places, and they hate to go down steep hills. You
see, their fore legs are short. Therefore they are
skilled in the choice of easy routes through the
mountains, and once having made the choice they
stick to it until through certain narrow places on
the route selected they have worn a trail as smooth
as a garden-path. The old prospectors used quite
occasionally to pick out the horse-passes by trusting
in general to the bear migrations, and many a
well-traveled route of to-day is superimposed over
the way-through picked out by old bruin long ago.
Of such was our own trail. Therefore we kept
our rifles at hand and our eyes open for a straggler.
But none came, though we baited craftily with
portions of our deer. All we gained was a rattlesnake,
and he seemed a bit out of place so high up in the air.
Mount Tunemah stood over against us, still
twenty-two hundred feet above our elevation. We
gazed on it sadly, for directly by its summit, and for
five hours beyond, lay our trail, and evil of
reputation was that trail beyond all others. The horses,
as we bunched them in preparation for the packing,
took on a new interest, for it was on the cards that
the unpacking at evening would find some missing
from the ranks.
"Lily's a goner, sure," said Wes. "I don't know
how she's got this far except by drunken man's luck.
She'll never make the Tunemah."
"And Tunemah himself," pointed out the Tenderfoot,
naming his own fool horse; "I see where I start in to walk."
"Sort of a `morituri te salutamur,' " said I.
We climbed the two thousand two hundred feet,
leading our saddle-horses to save their strength.
Every twenty feet we rested, breathing heavily of
the rarified air. Then at the top of the world we
paused on the brink of nothing to tighten cinches,
while the cold wind swept by us, the snow glittered
in a sunlight become silvery like that of early April,
and the giant peaks of the High Sierras lifted into a
distance inconceivably remote, as though the horizon
had been set back for their accommodation.
To our left lay a windrow of snow such as you
will see drifted into a sharp crest across a corner of
your yard; only this windrow was twenty feet high
and packed solid by the sun, the wind, and the weight
of its age. We climbed it and looked over directly
into the eye of a round Alpine lake seven or eight
hundred feet below. It was of an intense cobalt blue,
a color to be seen only in these glacial bodies of
water, deep and rich as the mantle of a merchant
of Tyre. White ice floated in it. The savage fierce
granite needles and knife-edges of the mountain crest
hemmed it about.
But this was temporizing, and we knew it. The
first drop of the trail was so steep that we could flip
a pebble to the first level of it, and so rough in its
water-and-snow-gouged knuckles of rocks that it
seemed that at the first step a horse must necessarily
fall end over end. We made it successfully, however,
and breathed deep. Even Lily, by a miracle of
lucky scrambling, did not even stumble.
"Now she's easy for a little ways," said Wes,
"then we'll get busy."
When we "got busy" we took our guns in our
hands to preserve them from a fall, and started in.
Two more miracles saved Dinkey at two more places.
We spent an hour at one spot, and finally built a
new trail around it. Six times a minute we held our
breaths and stood on tiptoe with anxiety, powerless
to help, while the horse did his best. At the
especially bad places we checked them off one after
another, congratulating ourselves on so much saved
as each came across without accident. When there
were no bad places, the trail was so extraordinarily
steep that we ahead were in constant dread of
a horse's falling on us from behind, and our legs did
become wearied to incipient paralysis by the constant
stiff checking of the descent. Moreover every
second or so one of the big loose stones with which
the trail was cumbered would be dislodged and come
bouncing down among us. We dodged and swore;
the horses kicked; we all feared for the integrity of
our legs. The day was full of an intense nervous
strain, an entire absorption in the precise present.
We promptly forgot a difficulty as soon as we were
by it: we had not time to think of those still ahead.
All outside the insistence of the moment was blurred
and unimportant, like a specialized focus, so I cannot
tell you much about the scenery. The only outside
impression we received was that the canon floor
was slowly rising to meet us.
Then strangely enough, as it seemed, we stepped
off to level ground.
Our watches said half-past three. We had made
five miles in a little under seven hours.
Remained only the crossing of the river. This
was no mean task, but we accomplished it lightly,
searching out a ford. There were high grasses, and
on the other side of them a grove of very tall
cottonwoods, clean as a park. First of all we cooked
things; then we spread things; then we lay on our
backs and smoked things, our hands clasped back
of our heads. We cocked ironical eyes at the sheer
cliff of old Mount Tunemah, very much as a man
would cock his eye at a tiger in a cage.
Already the meat-hawks, the fluffy Canada jays,
had found us out, and were prepared to swoop down
boldly on whatever offered to their predatory skill.
We had nothing for them yet,--there were no
remains of the lunch,--but the fire-irons were out,
and ribs of venison were roasting slowly over the
coals in preparation for the evening meal. Directly
opposite, visible through the lattice of the trees, were
two huge mountain peaks, part of the wall that shut
us in, over against us in a height we had not dared
ascribe to the sky itself. By and by the shadow of
these mountains rose on the westerly wall. It crept
up at first slowly, extinguishing color; afterwards
more rapidly as the sun approached the horizon.
The sunlight disappeared. A moment's gray intervened,
and then the wonderful golden afterglow laid
on the peaks its enchantment. Little by little that
too faded, until at last, far away, through a rift in
the ranks of the giants, but one remained gilded
by the glory of a dream that continued with it after
the others. Heretofore it had seemed to us an
insignificant peak, apparently overtopped by many, but
by this token we knew it to be the highest of them all.
Then ensued another pause, as though to give the
invisible scene-shifter time to accomplish his work,
followed by a shower of evening coolness, that seemed
to sift through the trees like a soft and gentle rain.
We ate again by the flicker of the fire, dabbing a
trifle uncertainly at the food, wondering at the
distant mountain on which the Day had made its final
stand, shrinking a little before the stealthy dark that
flowed down the canon in the manner of a heavy smoke.
In the notch between the two huge mountains
blazed a star,--accurately in the notch, like the
front sight of a rifle sighted into the marvelous
depths of space. Then the moon rose.
First we knew of it when it touched the crest of
our two mountains. The night has strange effects on
the hills. A moment before they had menaced black
and sullen against the sky, but at the touch of the
moon their very substance seemed to dissolve, leaving
in the upper atmosphere the airiest, most nebulous,
fragile, ghostly simulacrums of themselves you could
imagine in the realms of fairy-land. They seemed
actually to float, to poise like cloud-shapes about to
dissolve. And against them were cast the inky silhouettes
of three fir-trees in the shadow near at hand.
Down over the stones rolled the river, crying out
to us with the voices of old accustomed friends in
another wilderness. The winds rustled.
TROUT, BUCKSKIN, AND PROSPECTORS
As I have said, a river flows through the canon.
It is a very good river with some riffles that
can be waded down to the edges of black pools
or white chutes of water; with appropriate big trees
fallen slantwise into it to form deep holes; and with
hurrying smooth stretches of some breadth. In all of
these various places are rainbow trout.
There is no use fishing until late afternoon. The
clear sun of the high altitudes searches out mercilessly
the bottom of the stream, throwing its miniature
boulders, mountains, and valleys as plainly into
relief as the buttes of Arizona at noon. Then the
trout quite refuse. Here and there, if you walk far
enough and climb hard enough over all sorts of
obstructions, you may discover a few spots shaded by
big trees or rocks where you can pick up a half dozen
fish; but it is slow work. When, however, the
shadow of the two huge mountains feels its way
across the stream, then, as though a signal had been
given, the trout begin to rise. For an hour and a
half there is noble sport indeed.
The stream fairly swarmed with them, but of course
some places were better than others. Near the upper
reaches the water boiled like seltzer around the base
of a tremendous tree. There the pool was at least ten
feet deep and shot with bubbles throughout the
whole of its depth, but it was full of fish. They rose
eagerly to your gyrating fly,--and took it away with
them down to subaqueous chambers and passages
among the roots of that tree. After which you broke
your leader. Royal Coachman was the best lure, and
therefore valuable exceedingly were Royal Coachmen.
Whenever we lost one we lifted up our voices
in lament, and went away from there, calling to mind
that there were other pools, many other pools, free
of obstruction and with fish in them. Yet such is the
perversity of fishermen, we were back losing more
Royal Coachmen the very next day. In all I managed
to disengage just three rather small trout from
that pool, and in return decorated their ancestral halls
with festoons of leaders and the brilliance of many flies.
Now this was foolishness. All you had to do was
to walk through a grove of cottonwoods, over a
brook, through another grove of pines, down a sloping
meadow to where one of the gigantic pine-trees
had obligingly spanned the current. You crossed
that, traversed another meadow, broke through a
thicket, slid down a steep grassy bank, and there you
were. A great many years before a pine-tree had
fallen across the current. Now its whitened skeleton
lay there, opposing a barrier for about twenty-five
feet out into the stream. Most of the water turned
aside, of course, and boiled frantically around the end
as though trying to catch up with the rest of the
stream which had gone on without it, but some of it
dived down under and came up on the other side.
There, as though bewildered, it paused in an uneasy
pool. Its constant action had excavated a very deep
hole, the debris of which had formed a bar immediately
below. You waded out on the bar and cast along
the length of the pine skeleton over the pool.
If you were methodical, you first shortened your
line, and began near the bank, gradually working
out until you were casting forty-five feet to the very
edge of the fast current. I know of nothing pleasanter
for you to do. You see, the evening shadow
was across the river, and a beautiful grass slope at your
back. Over the way was a grove of trees whose birds
were very busy because it was near their sunset, while
towering over them were mountains, quite peaceful
by way of contrast because THEIR sunset was still far
distant. The river was in a great hurry, and was talking
to itself like a man who has been detained and
is now at last making up time to his important
engagement. And from the deep black shadow beneath
the pine skeleton, occasionally flashed white bodies
that made concentric circles where they broke the
surface of the water, and which fought you to a finish
in the glory of battle. The casting was against the
current, so your flies could rest but the briefest possible
moment on the surface of the stream. That moment
was enough. Day after day you could catch your
required number from an apparently inexhaustible supply.
I might inform you further of the gorge downstream,
where you lie flat on your stomach ten feet
above the river, and with one hand cautiously
extended over the edge cast accurately into the angle
of the cliff. Then when you get your strike, you tow
him downstream, clamber precariously to the water's
level--still playing your fish--and there land him,--if
he has accommodatingly stayed hooked. A three-pound
fish will make you a lot of tribulation at this game.
We lived on fish and venison, and had all we
wanted. The bear-trails were plenty enough, and
the signs were comparatively fresh, but at the time
of our visit the animals themselves had gone over
the mountains on some sort of a picnic. Grouse,
too, were numerous in the popple thickets, and
flushed much like our ruffed grouse of the East.
They afforded first-rate wing-shooting for Sure-Pop,
the little shot-gun.
But these things occupied, after all, only a small
part of every day. We had loads of time left. Of
course we explored the valley up and down. That
occupied two days. After that we became lazy.
One always does in a permanent camp. So did
the horses. Active--or rather restless interest in
life seemed to die away. Neither we nor they had
to rustle hard for food. They became fastidious
in their choice, and at all times of day could be
seen sauntering in Indian file from one part of the
meadow to the other for the sole purpose apparently
of cropping a half dozen indifferent mouthfuls. The
rest of the time they roosted under trees, one hind
leg relaxed, their eyes half closed, their ears
wabbling, the pictures of imbecile content. We were
very much the same.
Of course we had our outbursts of virtue. While
under their influence we undertook vast works. But
after their influence had died out, we found ourselves
with said vast works on our hands, and so came to
cursing ourselves and our fool spasms of industry.
For instance, Wes and I decided to make buckskin
from the hide of the latest deer. We did not
need the buckskin--we already had two in the
pack. Our ordinary procedure would have been to
dry the hide for future treatment by a Mexican, at a
dollar a hide, when we should have returned home.
But, as I said, we were afflicted by sporadic activity,
and wanted to do something.
We began with great ingenuity by constructing a
graining-tool out of a table-knife. We bound it with
rawhide, and encased it with wood, and wrapped it
with cloth, and filed its edge square across, as is
proper. After this we hunted out a very smooth,
barkless log, laid the hide across it, straddled it, and
Graining is a delightful process. You grasp the
tool by either end, hold the square edge at a certain
angle, and push away from you mightily. A half-
dozen pushes will remove a little patch of hair;
twice as many more will scrape away half as much
of the seal-brown grain, exposing the white of the
hide. Then, if you want to, you can stop and establish
in your mind a definite proportion between the
amount thus exposed, the area remaining unexposed,
and the muscular fatigue of these dozen and
a half of mighty pushes. The proportion will be
wrong. You have left out of account the fact that you
are going to get almighty sick of the job; that your
arms and upper back are going to ache shrewdly
before you are done; and that as you go on it is going
to be increasingly difficult to hold down the edges
firmly enough to offer the required resistance to your
knife. Besides--if you get careless--you'll scrape
too hard: hence little holes in the completed buckskin.
Also--if you get careless--you will probably
leave the finest, tiniest shreds of grain, and each of
them means a hard transparent spot in the product.
Furthermore, once having started in on the job, you
are like the little boy who caught the trolley: you
cannot let go. It must be finished immediately, all
at one heat, before the hide stiffens.
Be it understood, your first enthusiasm has evaporated,
and you are thinking of fifty pleasant things
you might just as well be doing.
Next you revel in grease,--lard oil, if you have
it; if not, then lard, or the product of boiled brains.
This you must rub into the skin. You rub it in
until you suspect that your finger-nails have worn
away, and you glisten to the elbows like an Eskimo
By the merciful arrangement of those who
invented buckskin, this entitles you to a rest. You
take it--for several days--until your conscience
seizes you by the scruff of the neck.
Then you transport gingerly that slippery, clammy,
soggy, snaky, cold bundle of greasy horror to the
bank of the creek, and there for endless hours you
wash it. The grease is more reluctant to enter the
stream than you are in the early morning. Your
hands turn purple. The others go by on their way
to the trout-pools, but you are chained to the stake.
By and by you straighten your back with creaks,
and walk home like a stiff old man, carrying your
hide rid of all superfluous oil. Then if you are just
learning how, your instructor examines the result.
"That's all right," says he cheerfully. "Now when
it dries, it will be buckskin."
That encourages you. It need not. For during
the process of drying it must be your pastime
constantly to pull and stretch at every square inch of
that boundless skin in order to loosen all the fibres.
Otherwise it would dry as stiff as whalebone. Now
there is nothing on earth that seems to dry slower
than buckskin. You wear your fingers down to the
first joints, and, wishing to preserve the remainder for
future use, you carry the hide to your instructor.
"Just beginning to dry nicely," says he.
You go back and do it some more, putting the
entire strength of your body, soul, and religious
convictions into the stretching of that buckskin. It looks
as white as paper; and feels as soft and warm as the
turf on a southern slope. Nevertheless your tyrant
declares it will not do.
"It looks dry, and it feels dry," says he, "but it
isn't dry. Go to it!"
But at this point your outraged soul arches its back
and bucks. You sneak off and roll up that piece of
buckskin, and thrust it into the alforja. You KNOW
it is dry. Then with a deep sigh of relief you come
out of prison into the clear, sane, lazy atmosphere of
"Do you mean to tell me that there is any one chump
enough to do that for a dollar a hide?" you inquire.