Part 3 out of 4
"Sure," say they.
"Well, the Fool Killer is certainly behind on his
dates," you conclude.
About a week later one of your companions drags out of
the alforja something crumpled that resembles in general
appearance and texture a rusted five-gallon coal-oil
can that has been in a wreck. It is only imperceptibly
less stiff and angular and cast-iron than rawhide.
"What is this?" the discoverer inquires.
Then quietly you go out and sit on a high place
before recognition brings inevitable--and sickening
--chaff. For you know it at a glance. It is your
Along about the middle of that century an old
prospector with four burros descended the Basin
Trail and went into camp just below us. Towards
evening he sauntered in.
I sincerely wish I could sketch this man for you
just as he came down through the fire-lit trees. He
was about six feet tall, very leanly built, with a
weather-beaten face of mahogany on which was
superimposed a sweeping mustache and beetling eye-
brows. These had originally been brown, but the
sun had bleached them almost white in remarkable
contrast to his complexion. Eyes keen as sunlight
twinkled far down beneath the shadows of the brows
and a floppy old sombrero hat. The usual flannel
shirt, waistcoat, mountain-boots, and six-shooter
completed the outfit. He might have been forty, but
was probably nearer sixty years of age.
"Howdy, boys," said he, and dropped to the
fireside, where he promptly annexed a coal for his pipe.
We all greeted him, but gradually the talk fell
to him and Wes. It was commonplace talk enough
from one point of view: taken in essence it was
merely like the inquiry and answer of the civilized
man as to another's itinerary--"Did you visit Florence?
Berlin? St. Petersburg?"--and then the
comparing of impressions. Only here again that old
familiar magic of unfamiliar names threw its glamour
over the terse sentences.
"Over beyond the Piute Monument," the old
prospector explained, "down through the Inyo
Range, a leetle north of Death Valley--"
"Back in seventy-eight when I was up in Bay
Horse Canon over by Lost River--"
"Was you ever over in th' Panamit Mountains?
--North of th' Telescope Range?"--
That was all there was to it, with long pauses for
drawing at the pipes. Yet somehow in the aggregate
that catalogue of names gradually established in the
minds of us two who listened an impression of long
years, of wide wilderness, of wandering far over the
face of the earth. The old man had wintered here,
summered a thousand miles away, made his strike
at one end of the world, lost it somehow, and cheerfully
tried for a repetition of his luck at the other.
I do not believe the possibility of wealth, though
always of course in the background, was ever near
enough his hope to be considered a motive for
action. Rather was it a dream, remote, something to
be gained to-morrow, but never to-day, like the mediaeval
Christian's idea of heaven. His interest was
in the search. For that one could see in him a real
enthusiasm. He had his smattering of theory, his
very real empirical knowledge, and his superstitions,
like all prospectors. So long as he could keep in
grub, own a little train of burros, and lead the life
he loved, he was happy.
Perhaps one of the chief elements of this remarkable
interest in the game rather than the prizes of it
was his desire to vindicate his guesses or his conclusions.
He liked to predict to himself the outcome of
his solitary operations, and then to prove that
prediction through laborious days. His life was a
gigantic game of solitaire. In fact, he mentioned a
dozen of his claims many years apart which he had
developed to a certain point,--"so I could see what
they was,"--and then abandoned in favor of fresher
discoveries. He cherished the illusion that these were
properties to whose completion some day he would
return. But we knew better; he had carried them to
the point where the result was no longer in doubt
and then, like one who has no interest in playing on
in an evidently prescribed order, had laid his cards
on the table to begin a new game.
This man was skilled in his profession; he had
pursued it for thirty odd years; he was frugal and
industrious; undoubtedly of his long series of
discoveries a fair percentage were valuable and are
producing-properties to-day. Yet he confessed his bank
balance to be less than five hundred dollars. Why
was this? Simply and solely because he did not care.
At heart it was entirely immaterial to him whether
he ever owned a dollar above his expenses. When
he sold his claims, he let them go easily, loath to
bother himself with business details, eager to get
away from the fuss and nuisance. The few hundred
dollars he received he probably sunk in unproductive
mining work, or was fleeced out of in the towns.
Then joyfully he turned back to his beloved mountains
and the life of his slow deep delight and his
pecking away before the open doors of fortune. By
and by he would build himself a little cabin down
in the lower pine mountains, where he would grow
a white beard, putter with occult wilderness crafts,
and smoke long contemplative hours in the sun before
his door. For tourists he would braid rawhide
reins and quirts, or make buckskin. The jays and
woodpeckers and Douglas squirrels would become
fond of him. So he would be gathered to his fathers,
a gentle old man whose life had been spent harmlessly
in the open. He had had his ideal to which
blindly he reached; he had in his indirect way
contributed the fruits of his labor to mankind; his
recompenses he had chosen according to his desires.
When you consider these things, you perforce have
to revise your first notion of him as a useless sort of
old ruffian. As you come to know him better, you
must love him for the kindliness, the simple honesty,
the modesty, and charity that he seems to draw from
his mountain environment. There are hundreds of
him buried in the great canons of the West.
Our prospector was a little uncertain as to his
plans. Along toward autumn he intended to land at
some reputed placers near Dinkey Creek. There
might be something in that district. He thought he
would take a look. In the mean time he was just
poking up through the country--he and his jackasses.
Good way to spend the summer. Perhaps he might run
across something 'most anywhere; up near the top of
that mountain opposite looked mineralized. Didn't
know but what he'd take a look at her to-morrow.
He camped near us during three days. I never
saw a more modest, self-effacing man. He seemed
genuinely, childishly, almost helplessly interested in
our fly-fishing, shooting, our bear-skins, and our
travels. You would have thought from his demeanor
--which was sincere and not in the least ironical--
that he had never seen or heard anything quite like
that before, and was struck with wonder at it. Yet
he had cast flies before we were born, and shot even
earlier than he had cast a fly, and was a very
Ishmael for travel. Rarely could you get an account of
his own experiences, and then only in illustration
of something else.
"If you-all likes bear-hunting," said he, "you
ought to get up in eastern Oregon. I summered
there once. The only trouble is, the brush is thick
as hair. You 'most always have to bait them, or
wait for them to come and drink. The brush is so
small you ain't got much chance. I run onto a she-
bear and cubs that way once. Didn't have nothin'
but my six-shooter, and I met her within six foot."
He stopped with an air of finality.
"Well, what did you do?" we asked.
"Me?" he inquired, surprised. "Oh, I just leaked
out of th' landscape."
He prospected the mountain opposite, loafed with
us a little, and then decided that he must be going.
About eight o'clock in the morning he passed us,
hazing his burros, his tall, lean figure elastic in
defiance of years.
"So long, boys," he called; "good luck!"
"So long," we responded heartily. "Be good to
He plunged into the river without hesitation, emerged
dripping on the other side, and disappeared in the
brush. From time to time during the rest of the morning
we heard the intermittent tinkling of his bell-animal
rising higher and higher above us on the trail.
In the person of this man we gained our first
connection, so to speak, with the Golden Trout. He had
caught some of them, and could tell us of their habits.
Few fishermen west of the Rockies have not heard
of the Golden Trout, though, equally, few have
much definite information concerning it. Such information
usually runs about as follows:
It is a medium size fish of the true trout family,
resembling a rainbow except that it is of a rich
golden color. The peculiarity that makes its capture
a dream to be dreamed of is that it swims in but one
little stream of all the round globe. If you would
catch a Golden Trout, you must climb up under the
very base of the end of the High Sierras. There is
born a stream that flows down from an elevation of
about ten thousand feet to about eight thousand
before it takes a long plunge into a branch of the Kern
River. Over the twenty miles of its course you can
cast your fly for Golden Trout; but what is the nature
of that stream, that fish, or the method of its
capture, few can tell you with any pretense of accuracy.
To be sure, there are legends. One, particularly
striking, claims that the Golden Trout occurs in one
other stream--situated in Central Asia!--and that
the fish is therefore a remnant of some pre-glacial
period, like Sequoia trees, a sort of grand-daddy of
all trout, as it were. This is but a sample of what
you will hear discussed.
Of course from the very start we had had our eye
on the Golden Trout, and intended sooner or later
to work our way to his habitat. Our prospector had
just come from there.
"It's about four weeks south, the way you and
me travels," said he. "You don't want to try
Harrison's Pass; it's chock full of tribulation. Go
around by way of the Giant Forest. She's pretty
good there, too, some sizable timber. Then over by
Redwood Meadows, and Timber Gap, by Mineral
King, and over through Farewell Gap. You turn
east there, on a new trail. She's steeper than straight-
up-an'-down, but shorter than the other. When you
get down in the canon of Kern River,--say, she's a
fine canon, too,--you want to go downstream about
two mile to where there's a sort of natural over-
flowed lake full of stubs stickin' up. You'll get
some awful big rainbows in there. Then your best
way is to go right up Whitney Creek Trail to a big
high meadows mighty nigh to timber-line. That's
where I camped. They's lots of them little yaller
fish there. Oh, they bite well enough. You'll catch
'em. They's a little shy."
So in that guise--as the desire for new and distant
things--did our angel with the flaming sword
finally come to us.
We caught reluctant horses reluctantly. All the
first day was to be a climb. We knew it; and I
suspect that they knew it too. Then we packed
and addressed ourselves to the task offered us by
the Basin Trail.
ON CAMP COOKERY
ON CAMP COOKERY
One morning I awoke a little before the others,
and lay on my back staring up through the
trees. It was not my day to cook. We were camped
at the time only about sixty-five hundred feet high,
and the weather was warm. Every sort of green thing
grew very lush all about us, but our own little space
was held dry and clear for us by the needles of two
enormous red cedars some four feet in diameter. A
variety of thoughts sifted through my mind as it
followed lazily the shimmering filaments of loose spider-
web streaming through space. The last thought stuck.
It was that that day was a holiday. Therefore I un-
limbered my six-shooter, and turned her loose, each
shot being accompanied by a meritorious yell.
The outfit boiled out of its blankets. I explained
the situation, and after they had had some breakfast
they agreed with me that a celebration was in order.
Unanimously we decided to make it gastronomic.
"We will ride till we get to good feed," we
concluded, "and then we'll cook all the afternoon.
And nobody must eat anything until the whole business
is prepared and served."
It was agreed. We rode until we were very
hungry, which was eleven o'clock. Then we rode
some more. By and by we came to a log cabin in a
wide fair lawn below a high mountain with a ducal
coronet on its top, and around that cabin was a fence,
and inside the fence a man chopping wood. Him we
hailed. He came to the fence and grinned at us from
the elevation of high-heeled boots. By this token we
knew him for a cow-puncher.
"How are you?" said we.
"Howdy, boys," he roared. Roared is the accurate
expression. He was not a large man, and his hair
was sandy, and his eye mild blue. But undoubtedly
his kinsmen were dumb and he had as birthright the
voice for the entire family. It had been subsequently
developed in the shouting after the wild cattle of the
hills. Now his ordinary conversational tone was that
of the announcer at a circus. But his heart was good.
"Can we camp here?" we inquired.
"Sure thing," he bellowed. "Turn your horses
into the meadow. Camp right here."
But with the vision of a rounded wooded knoll a
few hundred yards distant we said we'd just get out
of his way a little. We crossed a creek, mounted an
easy slope to the top of the knoll, and were delighted
to observe just below its summit the peculiar fresh
green hump which indicates a spring. The Tenderfoot,
however, knew nothing of springs, for shortly
he trudged a weary way back to the creek, and so
returned bearing kettles of water. This performance
hugely astonished the cowboy, who subsequently
wanted to know if a "critter had died in the spring."
Wes departed to borrow a big Dutch oven of the
man and to invite him to come across when we raised
the long yell. Then we began operations.
Now camp cooks are of two sorts. Anybody can
with a little practice fry bacon, steak, or flapjacks, and
boil coffee. The reduction of the raw material to its
most obvious cooked result is within the reach of all
but the most hopeless tenderfoot who never knows
the salt-sack from the sugar-sack. But your true artist
at the business is he who can from six ingredients, by
permutation, combination, and the genius that is in
him turn out a full score of dishes. For simple
example: GIVEN, rice, oatmeal, and raisins. Your expert
accomplishes the following:
ITEM--Rice boiled until soft, then stiffened by the
addition of quarter as much oatmeal.
ITEM--Oatmeal in which is boiled almost to the
dissolving point a third as much rice.
These latter two dishes taste entirely unlike each
other or their separate ingredients. They are moreover
great in nutrition.
ITEM--Boiled rice and raisins.
ITEM--Dish number three with raisins.
ITEM--Rice boiled with raisins, sugar sprinkled on
top, and then baked.
ITEM--Ditto with dish number three.
All these are good--and different.
Some people like to cook and have a natural knack for
it. Others hate it. If you are one of the former,
select a propitious moment to suggest that you will
cook, if the rest will wash the dishes and supply the
wood and water. Thus you will get first crack at the
fire in the chill of morning; and at night you can squat
on your heels doing light labor while the others rustle.
In a mountain trip small stout bags for the
provisions are necessary. They should be big enough to
contain, say, five pounds of corn-meal, and should tie
firmly at the top. It will be absolutely labor lost for
you to mark them on the outside, as the outside soon
will become uniform in color with your marking.
Tags might do, if occasionally renewed. But if you
have the instinct, you will soon come to recognize
the appearance of the different bags as you recognize
the features of your family. They should contain
small quantities for immediate use of the provisions
the main stock of which is carried on another pack-
animal. One tin plate apiece and "one to grow on";
the same of tin cups; half a dozen spoons; four
knives and forks; a big spoon; two frying-pans; a
broiler; a coffee-pot; a Dutch oven; and three light
sheet-iron pails to nest in one another was what we
carried on this trip. You see, we had horses. Of course
in the woods that outfit would be materially reduced.
For the same reason, since we had our carrying
done for us, we took along two flat iron bars about
twenty-four inches in length. These, laid across two
stones between which the fire had been built, we
used to support our cooking-utensils stove-wise. I
should never carry a stove. This arrangement is
quite as effective, and possesses the added advantage
that wood does not have to be cut for it of any
definite length. Again, in the woods these iron bars
would be a senseless burden. But early you will
learn that while it is foolish to carry a single ounce
more than will pay in comfort or convenience for its
own transportation, it is equally foolish to refuse the
comforts or conveniences that modified circumstance
will permit you. To carry only a forest equipment
with pack-animals would be as silly as to carry only
a pack-animal outfit on a Pullman car. Only look
out that you do not reverse it.
Even if you do not intend to wash dishes, bring
along some "Gold Dust." It is much simpler in
getting at odd corners of obstinate kettles than any
soap. All you have to do is to boil some of it in
that kettle, and the utensil is tamed at once.
That's about all you, as expert cook, are going to
need in the way of equipment. Now as to your fire.
There are a number of ways of building a cooking
fire, but they share one first requisite: it should
be small. A blaze will burn everything, including
your hands and your temper. Two logs laid side by
side and slanted towards each other so that small
things can go on the narrow end and big things on
the wide end; flat rocks arranged in the same manner;
a narrow trench in which the fire is built; and
the flat irons just described--these are the best-
known methods. Use dry wood. Arrange to do your
boiling first--in the flame; and your frying and
broiling last--after the flames have died to coals.
So much in general. You must remember that
open-air cooking is in many things quite different
from indoor cooking. You have different utensils,
are exposed to varying temperatures, are limited in
resources, and pursued by a necessity of haste. Pre-
conceived notions must go by the board. You are
after results; and if you get them, do not mind the
feminines of your household lifting the hands of
horror over the unorthodox means. Mighty few women
I have ever seen were good camp-fire cooks; not
because camp-fire cookery is especially difficult, but
because they are temperamentally incapable of ridding
themselves of the notion that certain things
should be done in a certain way, and because if an
ingredient lacks, they cannot bring themselves to
substitute an approximation. They would rather
abandon the dish than do violence to the sacred art.
Most camp-cookery advice is quite useless for the
same reason. I have seen many a recipe begin with
the words: "Take the yolks of four eggs, half a
cup of butter, and a cup of fresh milk--" As if
any one really camping in the wilderness ever had
eggs, butter, and milk!
Now here is something I cooked for this particular
celebration. Every woman to whom I have ever described
it has informed me vehemently that it is not cake,
and must be "horrid." Perhaps it is not cake, but
it looks yellow and light, and tastes like cake.
First I took two cups of flour, and a half cup of
corn-meal to make it look yellow. In this I mixed
a lot of baking-powder,--about twice what one
should use for bread,--and topped off with a cup of
sugar. The whole I mixed with water into a light
dough. Into the dough went raisins that had previously
been boiled to swell them up. Thus was the
cake mixed. Now I poured half the dough into the
Dutch oven, sprinkled it with a good layer of sugar,
cinnamon, and unboiled raisins; poured in the rest
of the dough; repeated the layer of sugar, cinnamon,
and raisins; and baked in the Dutch oven. It
was gorgeous, and we ate it at one fell swoop.
While we are about it, we may as well work backwards
on this particular orgy by describing the rest of our
dessert. In addition to the cake and some stewed
apricots, I, as cook of the day, constructed also a pudding.
The basis was flour--two cups of it. Into this I
dumped a handful of raisins, a tablespoonful of baking-
powder, two of sugar, and about a pound of fat
salt pork cut into little cubes. This I mixed up into
a mess by means of a cup or so of water and a
quantity of larrupy-dope. Then I dipped a flour-
sack in hot water, wrung it out, sprinkled it with
dry flour, and half filled it with my pudding
mixture. The whole outfit I boiled for two hours in a
kettle. It, too, was good to the palate, and was even
better sliced and fried the following morning.
 Camp-lingo for any kind of syrup.
This brings us to the suspension of kettles. There
are two ways. If you are in a hurry, cut a springy
pole, sharpen one end, and stick it perpendicular in
the ground. Bend it down towards your fire. Hang
your kettle on the end of it. If you have jabbed it
far enough into the ground in the first place, it will
balance nicely by its own spring and the elasticity
of the turf. The other method is to plant two forked
sticks on either side your fire over which a strong
cross-piece is laid. The kettles are hung on hooks
cut from forked branches. The forked branches are
attached to the cross-piece by means of thongs or withes.
On this occasion we had deer, grouse, and ducks
in the larder. The best way to treat them is as
follows. You may be sure we adopted the best way.
When your deer is fresh, you will enjoy greatly a
dish of liver and bacon. Only the liver you will
discover to be a great deal tenderer and more delicate
than any calf's liver you ever ate. There is this
difference: a deer's liver should be parboiled in order
to get rid of a green bitter scum that will rise to the
surface and which you must skim off.
Next in order is the "back strap" and tenderloin,
which is always tender, even when fresh. The hams
should be kept at least five days. Deer-steak, to my
notion, is best broiled, though occasionally it is
pleasant by way of variety to fry it. In that case a brown
gravy is made by thoroughly heating flour in the
grease, and then stirring in water. Deer-steak threaded
on switches and "barbecued" over the coals is delicious.
The outside will be a little blackened, but all
the juices will be retained. To enjoy this to the
utmost you should take it in your fingers and GNAW.
The only permissible implement is your hunting-
knife. Do not forget to peel and char slightly the
switches on which you thread the meat, otherwise
they will impart their fresh-wood taste.
By this time the ribs are in condition. Cut little
slits between them, and through the slits thread in and
out long strips of bacon. Cut other little gashes, and
fill these gashes with onions chopped very fine.
Suspend the ribs across two stones between which
you have allowed a fire to die down to coals.
There remain now the hams, shoulders, and heart.
The two former furnish steaks. The latter you will
make into a "bouillon." Here inserts itself quite
naturally the philosophy of boiling meat. It may be
stated in a paragraph.
If you want boiled meat, put it in hot water. That
sets the juices. If you want soup, put it in cold water
and bring to a boil. That sets free the juices.
Now you start your bouillon cold. Into a kettle
of water put your deer hearts, or your fish, a chunk
of pork, and some salt. Bring to a boil. Next drop
in quartered potatoes, several small whole onions, a
half cupful of rice, a can of tomatoes--if you have
any. Boil slowly for an hour or so--until things
pierce easily under the fork. Add several chunks of
bread and a little flour for thickening. Boil down to
about a chowder consistency, and serve hot. It is all
you will need for that meal; and you will eat of it
until there is no more.
I am supposing throughout that you know enough
to use salt and pepper when needed.
So much for your deer. The grouse you can split
and fry, in which case the brown gravy described
for the fried deer-steak is just the thing. Or you can
boil him. If you do that, put him into hot water,
boil slowly, skim frequently, and add dumplings
mixed of flour, baking-powder, and a little lard. Or
you can roast him in your Dutch oven with your ducks.
Perhaps it might be well here to explain the Dutch
oven. It is a heavy iron kettle with little legs and
an iron cover. The theory of it is that coals go among
the little legs and on top of the iron cover. This heats
the inside, and so cooking results. That, you will
observe, is the theory.
In practice you will have to remember a good
many things. In the first place, while other affairs are
preparing, lay the cover on the fire to heat it through;
but not on too hot a place nor too long, lest it warp
and so fit loosely. Also the oven itself is to be heated
through, and well greased. Your first baking will
undoubtedly be burned on the bottom. It is almost
impossible without many trials to understand just how
little heat suffices underneath. Sometimes it seems
that the warmed earth where the fire has been is
enough. And on top you do not want a bonfire. A
nice even heat, and patience, are the proper ingredients.
Nor drop into the error of letting your bread
chill, and so fall to unpalatable heaviness. Probably
for some time you will alternate between the extremes
of heavy crusts with doughy insides, and white
weighty boiler-plate with no distinguishable crusts at
all. Above all, do not lift the lid too often for the
sake of taking a look. Have faith.
There are other ways of baking bread. In the North
Country forests, where you carry everything on your
back, you will do it in the frying-pan. The mixture
should be a rather thick batter or a rather thin dough.
It is turned into the frying-pan and baked first on one
side, then on the other, the pan being propped on
edge facing the fire. The whole secret of success is
first to set your pan horizontal and about three feet
from the fire in order that the mixture may be
thoroughly warmed--not heated--before the pan is
propped on edge. Still another way of baking is in
a reflector oven of tin. This is highly satisfactory,
provided the oven is built on the scientific angles to
throw the heat evenly on all parts of the bread-pan
and equally on top and bottom. It is not so easy as
you might imagine to get a good one made. These
reflectors are all right for a permanent camp, but too
fragile for transportation on pack-animals.
As for bread, try it unleavened once in a while by
way of change. It is really very good,--just salt,
water, flour, and a very little sugar. For those who
like their bread "all crust," it is especially toothsome.
The usual camp bread that I have found the most
successful has been in the proportion of two cups of
flour to a teaspoonful of salt, one of sugar, and three
of baking-powder. Sugar or cinnamon sprinkled on
top is sometimes pleasant. Test by thrusting a splinter
into the loaf. If dough adheres to the wood, the
bread is not done. Biscuits are made by using twice
as much baking-powder and about two tablespoonfuls
of lard for shortening. They bake much more quickly
than the bread. Johnny-cake you mix of corn-meal
three cups, flour one cup, sugar four spoonfuls, salt
one spoonful, baking-powder four spoonfuls, and lard
twice as much as for biscuits. It also is good, very
The flapjack is first cousin to bread, very palatable,
and extremely indigestible when made of flour, as is
ordinarily done. However, the self-raising buckwheat
flour makes an excellent flapjack, which is likewise
good for your insides. The batter is rather thin, is
poured into the piping hot greased pan, "flipped"
when brown on one side, and eaten with larrupy-dope
or brown gravy.
When you come to consider potatoes and beans
and onions and such matters, remember one thing:
that in the higher altitudes water boils at a low
temperature, and that therefore you must not expect your
boiled food to cook very rapidly. In fact, you'd
better leave beans at home. We did. Potatoes you can
sometimes tease along by quartering them.
Rolled oats are better than oatmeal. Put them in
plenty of water and boil down to the desired consistency.
In lack of cream you will probably want it rather soft.
Put your coffee into cold water, bring to a boil, let
boil for about two minutes, and immediately set off.
Settle by letting a half cup of cold water flow slowly
into the pot from the height of a foot or so. If your
utensils are clean, you will surely have good coffee
by this simple method. Of course you will never
boil your tea.
The sun was nearly down when we raised our long
yell. The cow-puncher promptly responded. We ate.
Then we smoked. Then we basely left all our dishes
until the morrow, and followed our cow-puncher to
his log cabin, where we were to spend the evening.
By now it was dark, and a bitter cold swooped
down from the mountains. We built a fire in a huge
stone fireplace and sat around in the flickering light
telling ghost-stories to one another. The place was
rudely furnished, with only a hard earthen floor, and
chairs hewn by the axe. Rifles, spurs, bits, revolvers,
branding-irons in turn caught the light and vanished
in the shadow. The skin of a bear looked at us from
hollow eye-sockets in which there were no eyes. We
talked of the Long Trail. Outside the wind, rising,
howled through the shakes of the roof.
ON THE WIND AT NIGHT
ON THE WIND AT NIGHT
The winds were indeed abroad that night. They
rattled our cabin, they shrieked in our eaves,
they puffed down our chimney, scattering the ashes
and leaving in the room a balloon of smoke as though
a shell had burst. When we opened the door and
stepped out, after our good-nights had been said, it
caught at our hats and garments as though it had
been lying in wait for us.
To our eyes, fire-dazzled, the night seemed very
dark. There would be a moon later, but at present
even the stars seemed only so many pinpoints of
dull metal, lustreless, without illumination. We felt
our way to camp, conscious of the softness of grasses,
the uncertainty of stones.
At camp the remains of the fire crouched beneath
the rating of the storm. Its embers glowed sullen
and red, alternately glaring with a half-formed resolution
to rebel, and dying to a sulky resignation. Once
a feeble flame sprang up for an instant, but was
immediately pounced on and beaten flat as though by
a vigilant antagonist.
We, stumbling, gathered again our tumbled blankets.
Across the brow of the knoll lay a huge pine
trunk. In its shelter we respread our bedding, and
there, standing, dressed for the night. The power of
the wind tugged at our loose garments, hoping for
spoil. A towel, shaken by accident from the interior
of a sweater, departed white-winged, like a bird, into
the outer blackness. We found it next day caught
in the bushes several hundred yards distant. Our
voices as we shouted were snatched from our lips
and hurled lavishly into space. The very breath of
our bodies seemed driven back, so that as we faced
the elements, we breathed in gasps, with difficulty.
Then we dropped down into our blankets.
At once the prostrate tree-trunk gave us its
protection. We lay in a little back-wash of the racing
winds, still as a night in June. Over us roared the
battle. We felt like sharpshooters in the trenches;
as though, were we to raise our heads, at that instant
we should enter a zone of danger. So we lay quietly
on our backs and stared at the heavens.
The first impression thence given was of stars
sailing serene and unaffected, remote from the
turbulence of what until this instant had seemed to fill
the universe. They were as always, just as we should
see them when the evening was warm and the tree-toads
chirped clearly audible at half a mile. The importance
of the tempest shrank. Then below them next we
noticed the mountains; they too were serene and calm.
Immediately it was as though the storm were an
hallucination; something not objective; something
real, but within the soul of him who looked upon it.
It claimed sudden kinship with those blackest days
when nevertheless the sun, the mere external unimportant
sun, shines with superlative brilliancy. Emotions
of a power to shake the foundations of life
seemed vaguely to stir in answer to these their hollow
symbols. For after all, we were contented at heart
and tranquil in mind, and this was but the outer
gorgeous show of an intense emotional experience
we did not at the moment prove. Our nerves
responded to it automatically. We became excited,
keyed to a high tension, and so lay rigid on our
backs, as though fighting out the battles of our souls.
It was all so unreal and yet so plain to our senses
that perforce automatically our experience had to
conclude it psychical. We were in air absolutely
still. Yet above us the trees writhed and twisted and
turned and bent and struck back, evidently in the
power of a mighty force. Across the calm heavens
the murk of flying atmosphere--I have always maintained
that if you looked closely enough you could
SEE the wind--the dim, hardly-made-out, fine debris
fleeing high in the air;--these faintly hinted at intense
movement rushing down through space. A roar of
sound filled the hollow of the sky. Occasionally it
intermitted, falling abruptly in volume like the
mysterious rare hushings of a rapid stream. Then the
familiar noises of a summer night became audible
for the briefest instant,--a horse sneezed, an owl
hooted, the wild call of birds came down the wind.
And with a howl the legions of good and evil took
up their warring. It was too real, and yet it was not
reconcilable with the calm of our resting-places.
For hours we lay thus in all the intensity of an
inner storm and stress, which it seemed could not
fail to develop us, to mould us, to age us, to leave
on us its scars, to bequeath us its peace or remorse or
despair, as would some great mysterious dark experience
direct from the sources of life. And then
abruptly we were exhausted, as we should have been
by too great emotion. We fell asleep. The morning
dawned still and clear, and garnished and set in
order as though such things had never been. Only
our white towel fluttered like a flag of truce in the
direction the mighty elements had departed.
Once upon a time I happened to be staying in
a hotel room which had originally been part
of a suite, but which was then cut off from the others
by only a thin door through which sounds carried
clearly. It was about eleven o'clock in the evening.
The occupants of that next room came home. I
heard the door open and close. Then the bed
shrieked aloud as somebody fell heavily upon it.
There breathed across the silence a deep restful sigh.
"Mary," said a man's voice, "I'm mighty sorry I
didn't join that Association for Artificial Vacations.
They guarantee to get you just as tired and just as
mad in two days as you could by yourself in two weeks."
We thought of that one morning as we descended
the Glacier Point Trail in Yosemite.
The contrast we need not have made so sharp.
We might have taken the regular wagon-road by
way of Chinquapin, but we preferred to stick to the
trail, and so encountered our first sign of civilization
within an hundred yards of the brink. It, the
sign, was tourists. They were male and female, as
the Lord had made them, but they had improved on
that idea since. The women were freckled, hatted
with alpines, in which edelweiss--artificial, I think
--flowered in abundance; they sported severely
plain flannel shirts, bloomers of an aggressive and
unnecessary cut, and enormous square boots weighing
pounds. The men had on hats just off the sunbonnet
effect, pleated Norfolk jackets, bloomers ditto ditto to
the women, stockings whose tops rolled over innumerable
times to help out the size of that which they
should have contained, and also enormous square
boots. The female children they put in skin-tight
blue overalls. The male children they dressed in
bloomers. Why this should be I cannot tell you. All
carried toy hatchets with a spike on one end built to
resemble the pictures of alpenstocks.
They looked business-like, trod with an assured
air of veterans and a seeming of experience more
extended than it was possible to pack into any one
human life. We stared at them, our eyes bulging
out. They painfully and evidently concealed a
curiosity as to our pack-train. We wished them good-day,
in order to see to what language heaven had fitted
their extraordinary ideas as regards raiment. They
inquired the way to something or other--I think
Sentinel Dome. We had just arrived, so we did not
know, but in order to show a friendly spirit we
blandly pointed out A way. It may have led to Sentinel
Dome for all I know. They departed uttering
thanks in human speech.
Now this particular bunch of tourists was evidently
staying at the Glacier Point, and so was fresh. But
in the course of that morning we descended straight
down a drop of, is it four thousand feet? The trail
was steep and long and without water. During the
descent we passed first and last probably twoscore
of tourists, all on foot. A good half of them were
delicate women,--young, middle-aged, a few gray-
haired and evidently upwards of sixty. There were
also old men, and fat men, and men otherwise out of
condition. Probably nine out of ten, counting in the
entire outfit, were utterly unaccustomed, when at
home where grow street-cars and hansoms, to even
the mildest sort of exercise. They had come into the
Valley, whose floor is over four thousand feet up,
without the slightest physical preparation for the
altitude. They had submitted to the fatigue of a long
and dusty stage journey. And then they had merrily
whooped it up at a gait which would have appalled
seasoned old stagers like ourselves. Those blessed
lunatics seemed positively unhappy unless they
climbed up to some new point of view every day.
I have never seen such a universally tired out,
frazzled, vitally exhausted, white-faced, nervous
community in my life as I did during our four days'
stay in the Valley. Then probably they go away,
and take a month to get over it, and have queer
residual impressions of the trip. I should like to know
what those impressions really are.
Not but that Nature has done everything in her
power to oblige them. The things I am about to say
are heresy, but I hold them true.
Yosemite is not as interesting nor as satisfying
to me as some of the other big box canons, like
those of the Tehipite, the Kings in its branches, or
the Kaweah. I will admit that its waterfalls are
better. Otherwise it possesses no features which are
not to be seen in its sister valleys. And there is
this difference. In Yosemite everything is jumbled
together, apparently for the benefit of the tourist
with a linen duster and but three days' time at his
disposal. He can turn from the cliff-headland to the
dome, from the dome to the half dome, to the glacier
formation, the granite slide and all the rest of it,
with hardly the necessity of stirring his feet. Nature
has put samples of all her works here within reach
of his cataloguing vision. Everything is crowded in
together, like a row of houses in forty-foot lots. The
mere things themselves are here in profusion and
wonder, but the appropriate spacing, the approach,
the surrounding of subordinate detail which should
lead in artistic gradation to the supreme feature--
these things, which are a real and essential part of
esthetic effect, are lacking utterly for want of room.
The place is not natural scenery; it is a junk-shop, a
storehouse, a sample-room wherein the elements of
natural scenery are to be viewed. It is not an arrangement
of effects in accordance with the usual laws of
landscape, but an abnormality, a freak of Nature.
All these things are to be found elsewhere. There
are cliffs which to the naked eye are as grand as El
Capitan; domes, half domes, peaks as noble as any
to be seen in the Valley; sheer drops as breath-taking
as that from Glacier Point. But in other places
each of these is led up to appropriately, and stands
the central and satisfying feature to which all other
things look. Then you journey on from your cliff, or
whatever it happens to be, until, at just the right
distance, so that it gains from the presence of its
neighbor without losing from its proximity, a dome or a
pinnacle takes to itself the right of prominence. I
concede the waterfalls; but in other respects I prefer
the sister valleys.
That is not to say that one should not visit
Yosemite; nor that one will be disappointed. It is grand
beyond any possible human belief; and no one, even
a nerve-frazzled tourist, can gaze on it without the
strongest emotion. Only it is not so intimately satisfying
as it should be. It is a show. You do not take
it into your heart. "Whew!" you cry. "Isn't that
a wonder!" then after a moment, "Looks just like
the photographs. Up to sample. Now let's go."
As we descended the trail, we and the tourists
aroused in each other a mutual interest. One husband
was trying to encourage his young and handsome wife
to go on. She was beautifully dressed for the part
in a marvelous, becoming costume of whipcord--
short skirt, high laced elkskin boots and the rest of it;
but in all her magnificence she had sat down on the
ground, her back to the cliff, her legs across the trail,
and was so tired out that she could hardly muster
interest enough to pull them in out of the way of
our horses' hoofs. The man inquired anxiously of
us how far it was to the top. Now it was a long
distance to the top, but a longer to the bottom, so we
lied a lie that I am sure was immediately forgiven
us, and told them it was only a short climb. I should
have offered them the use of Bullet, but Bullet had
come far enough, and this was only one of a dozen
such cases. In marked contrast was a jolly white-
haired clergyman of the bishop type who climbed
vigorously and hailed us with a shout.
The horses were decidedly unaccustomed to any
such sights, and we sometimes had our hands full
getting them by on the narrow way. The trail was
safe enough, but it did have an edge, and that edge
jumped pretty straight off. It was interesting to
observe how the tourists acted. Some of them were
perfect fools, and we had more trouble with them
than we did with the horses. They could not seem
to get the notion into their heads that all we wanted
them to do was to get on the inside and stand still.
About half of them were terrified to death, so that
at the crucial moment, just as a horse was passing
them, they had little fluttering panics that called the
beast's attention. Most of the remainder tried to be
bold and help. They reached out the hand of
assistance toward the halter rope; the astonished animal
promptly snorted, tried to turn around, cannoned
against the next in line. Then there was a mix-up.
Two tall clean-cut well-bred looking girls of our slim
patrician type offered us material assistance. They
seemed to understand horses, and got out of the way
in the proper manner, did just the right thing, and
made sensible suggestions. I offer them my homage.
They spoke to us as though they had penetrated
the disguise of long travel, and could see we were
not necessarily members of Burt Alvord's gang.
This phase too of our descent became increasingly
interesting to us, a species of gauge by which we
measured the perceptions of those we encountered.
Most did not speak to us at all. Others responded
to our greetings with a reserve in which was more
than a tinge of distrust. Still others patronized us.
A very few overlooked our faded flannel shirts, our
soiled trousers, our floppy old hats with their
rattlesnake bands, the wear and tear of our equipment, to
respond to us heartily. Them in return we generally
perceived to belong to our totem.
We found the floor of the Valley well sprinkled
with campers. They had pitched all kinds of tents;
built all kinds of fancy permanent conveniences;
erected all kinds of banners and signs advertising
their identity, and were generally having a nice, easy,
healthful, jolly kind of a time up there in the
mountains. Their outfits they had either brought in with
their own wagons, or had had freighted. The store
near the bend of the Merced supplied all their needs.
It was truly a pleasant sight to see so many people
enjoying themselves, for they were mostly those in
moderate circumstances to whom a trip on tourist
lines would be impossible. We saw bakers' and
grocers' and butchers' wagons that had been pressed
into service. A man, his wife, and little baby had
come in an ordinary buggy, the one horse of which,
led by the man, carried the woman and baby to the
various points of interest.
We reported to the official in charge, were allotted
a camping and grazing place, and proceeded to make
ourselves at home.
During the next two days we rode comfortably
here and there and looked at things. The things
could not be spoiled, but their effect was very
materially marred by the swarms of tourists. Sometimes
they were silly, and cracked inane and obvious jokes
in ridicule of the grandest objects they had come so
far to see; sometimes they were detestable and left
their insignificant calling-cards or their unimportant
names where nobody could ever have any object in
reading them; sometimes they were pathetic and
helpless and had to have assistance; sometimes
they were amusing; hardly ever did they seem
entirely human. I wonder what there is about the
traveling public that seems so to set it apart, to make
of it at least a sub-species of mankind?
Among other things, we were vastly interested in
the guides. They were typical of this sort of thing.
Each morning one of these men took a pleasantly
awe-stricken band of tourists out, led them around in
the brush awhile, and brought them back in time for
lunch. They wore broad hats and leather bands
and exotic raiment and fierce expressions, and looked
dark and mysterious and extra-competent over the
most trivial of difficulties.
Nothing could be more instructive than to see two
or three of these imitation bad men starting out in
the morning to "guide" a flock, say to Nevada Falls.
The tourists, being about to mount, have outdone
themselves in weird and awesome clothes--especially
the women. Nine out of ten wear their stirrups
too short, so their knees are hunched up. One guide
rides at the head--great deal of silver spur, clanking
chain, and the rest of it. Another rides in the rear.
The third rides up and down the line, very gruff,
very preoccupied, very careworn over the dangers
of the way. The cavalcade moves. It proceeds for
about a mile. There arise sudden cries, great but
subdued excitement. The leader stops, raising a
commanding hand. Guide number three gallops up.
There is a consultation. The cinch-strap of the brindle
shave-tail is taken up two inches. A catastrophe
has been averted. The noble three look volumes of
relief. The cavalcade moves again.
Now the trail rises. It is a nice, safe, easy trail.
But to the tourists it is made terrible. The noble
three see to that. They pass more dangers by the
exercise of superhuman skill than you or I could
discover in a summer's close search. The joke of the
matter is that those forty-odd saddle-animals have
been over that trail so many times that one would
have difficulty in heading them off from it once they
Very much the same criticism would hold as to
the popular notion of the Yosemite stage-drivers.
They drive well, and seem efficient men. But their
wonderful reputation would have to be upheld on
rougher roads than those into the Valley. The tourist
is, of course, encouraged to believe that he is doing
the hair-breadth escape; but in reality, as mountain
travel goes, the Yosemite stage-road is very mild.
This that I have been saying is not by way of
depreciation. But it seems to me that the Valley is
wonderful enough to stand by itself in men's appreciation
without the unreality of sickly sentimentalism
in regard to imaginary dangers, or the histrionics of
playing wilderness where no wilderness exists.
As we went out, this time by the Chinquapin
wagon-road, we met one stage-load after another of
tourists coming in. They had not yet donned the
outlandish attire they believe proper to the occasion,
and so showed for what they were,--prosperous,
well-bred, well-dressed travelers. In contrast to their
smartness, the brilliancy of new-painted stages, the
dash of the horses maintained by the Yosemite Stage
Company, our own dusty travel-worn outfit of mountain
ponies, our own rough clothes patched and
faded, our sheath-knives and firearms seemed out of
place and curious, as though a knight in medieval
armor were to ride down Broadway.
I do not know how many stages there were. We
turned our pack-horses out for them all, dashing back
and forth along the line, coercing the diabolical
Dinkey. The road was too smooth. There were no
obstructions to surmount; no dangers to avert; no
difficulties to avoid. We could not get into trouble,
but proceeded as on a county turnpike. Too tame,
too civilized, too representative of the tourist
element, it ended by getting on our nerves. The
wilderness seemed to have left us forever. Never would
we get back to our own again. After a long time
Wes, leading, turned into our old trail branching off
to the high country. Hardly had we traveled a half
mile before we heard from the advance guard a crash
and a shout.
"What is it, Wes?" we yelled.
In a moment the reply came,--
"Lily's fallen down again,--thank God!"
We understood what he meant. By this we knew
that the tourist zone was crossed, that we had left
the show country, and were once more in the open.
THE MAIN CREST
The traveler in the High Sierras generally keeps
to the west of the main crest. Sometimes he
approaches fairly to the foot of the last slope;
sometimes he angles away and away even down to what
finally seems to him a lower country,--to the pine
mountains of only five or six thousand feet. But
always to the left or right of him, according to whether
he travels south or north, runs the rampart of the
system, sometimes glittering with snow, sometimes
formidable and rugged with splinters and spires of
granite. He crosses spurs and tributary ranges as high,
as rugged, as snow-clad as these. They do not quite
satisfy him. Over beyond he thinks he ought to see
something great,--some wide outlook, some space
bluer than his trail can offer him. One day or
another he clamps his decision, and so turns aside for
the simple and only purpose of standing on the top
of the world.
We were bitten by that idea while crossing the
Granite Basin. The latter is some ten thousand feet
in the air, a cup of rock five or six miles across,
surrounded by mountains much higher than itself. That
would have been sufficient for most moods, but,
resting on the edge of a pass ten thousand six hundred
feet high, we concluded that we surely would have
to look over into Nevada.
We got out the map. It became evident, after a
little study, that by descending six thousand feet into
a box canon, proceeding in it a few miles, and
promptly climbing out again, by climbing steadily
up the long narrow course of another box canon for
about a day and a half's journey, and then climbing
out of that to a high ridge country with little flat
valleys, we would come to a wide lake in a meadow
eleven thousand feet up. There we could camp.
The mountain opposite was thirteen thousand three
hundred and twenty feet, so the climb from the
lake became merely a matter of computation. This,
we figured, would take us just a week, which may
seem a considerable time to sacrifice to the gratification
of a whim. But such a glorious whim!
We descended the great box canon, and scaled its
upper end, following near the voices of a cascade.
Cliffs thousands of feet high hemmed us in. At the
very top of them strange crags leaned out looking
down on us in the abyss. From a projection a colossal
sphinx gazed solemnly across at a dome as smooth
and symmetrical as, but vastly larger than, St. Peter's
The trail labored up to the brink of the cascade.
At once we entered a long narrow aisle between regular
The formation was exceedingly regular. At the
top the precipice fell sheer for a thousand feet or so;
then the steep slant of the debris, like buttresses,
down almost to the bed of the river. The lower parts
of the buttresses were clothed with heavy chaparral,
which, nearer moisture, developed into cottonwoods,
alders, tangled vines, flowers, rank grasses. And away
on the very edge of the cliffs, close under the sky,
were pines, belittled by distance, solemn and aloof,
like Indian warriors wrapped in their blankets watching
from an eminence the passage of a hostile force.
We caught rainbow trout in the dashing white
torrent of the river. We followed the trail through
delicious thickets redolent with perfume; over the
roughest granite slides, along still dark aisles of forest
groves, between the clefts of boulders so monstrous
as almost to seem an insult to the credulity. Among
the chaparral, on the slope of the buttress across the
river, we made out a bear feeding. Wes and I sat
ten minutes waiting for him to show sufficiently
for a chance. Then we took a shot at about four
hundred yards, and hit him somewhere so he angled
down the hill furiously. We left the Tenderfoot to
watch that he did not come out of the big thicket of
the river bottom where last we had seen him, while
we scrambled upstream nearly a mile looking for a
way across. Then we trailed him by the blood, each
step one of suspense, until we fairly had to crawl in
after him; and shot him five times more, three in the
head, before he gave up not six feet from us; and
shouted gloriously and skinned that bear. But the
meat was badly bloodshot, for there were three bullets
in the head, two in the chest and shoulders, one
through the paunch, and one in the hind quarters.
Since we were much in want of meat, this grieved
us. But that noon while we ate, the horses ran down
toward us, and wheeled, as though in cavalry formation,
looking toward the hill and snorting. So I put
down my tin plate gently, and took up my rifle, and
without rising shot that bear through the back of the
neck. We took his skin, and also his hind quarters,
and went on.
By the third day from Granite Basin we reached
the end of the long narrow canon with the high cliffs
and the dark pine-trees and the very blue sky.
Therefore we turned sharp to the left and climbed
laboriously until we had come up into the land of
big boulders, strange spare twisted little trees, and
the singing of the great wind.
The country here was mainly of granite. It out-
cropped in dikes, it slid down the slopes in aprons,
it strewed the prospect in boulders and blocks, it
seamed the hollows with knife-ridges. Soil gave the
impression of having been laid on top; you divined
the granite beneath it, and not so very far beneath it,
either. A fine hair-grass grew close to this soil, as
though to produce as many blades as possible in the
But strangest of all were the little thick twisted
trees with the rich shaded umber color of their trunks.
They occurred rarely, but still in sufficient regularity
to lend the impression of a scattered grove-
cohesiveness. Their limbs were sturdy and reaching
fantastically. On each trunk the colors ran in streaks,
patches, and gradations from a sulphur yellow,
through browns and red-orange, to a rich red-umber.
They were like the earth-dwarfs of German legend,
come out to view the roof of their workshop in the
interior of the hill; or, more subtly, like some of the
more fantastic engravings of Gustave Dore.
We camped that night at a lake whose banks
were pebbled in the manner of an artificial pond, and
whose setting was a thin meadow of the fine hair-
grass, for the grazing of which the horses had to bare
their teeth. All about, the granite mountains rose.
The timber-line, even of the rare shrub-like gnome-
trees, ceased here. Above us was nothing whatever
but granite rock, snow, and the sky.
It was just before dusk, and in the lake the fish
were jumping eagerly. They took the fly well, and
before the fire was alight we had caught three for
supper. When I say we caught but three, you will
understand that they were of good size. Firewood
was scarce, but we dragged in enough by means of
Old Slob and a riata to build us a good fire. And
we needed it, for the cold descended on us with the
sharpness and vigor of eleven thousand feet.
For such an altitude the spot was ideal. The lake
just below us was full of fish. A little stream ran
from it by our very elbows. The slight elevation was
level, and covered with enough soil to offer a fairly
good substructure for our beds. The flat in which
was the lake reached on up narrower and narrower to
the foot of the last slope, furnishing for the horses an
admirable natural corral about a mile long. And the
view was magnificent.
First of all there were the mountains above us,
towering grandly serene against the sky of morning;
then all about us the tumultuous slabs and boulders
and blocks of granite among which dare-devil and
hardy little trees clung to a footing as though in
defiance of some great force exerted against them; then
below us a sheer drop, into which our brook plunged,
with its suggestion of depths; and finally beyond those
depths the giant peaks of the highest Sierras rising
lofty as the sky, shrouded in a calm and stately peace.
Next day the Tenderfoot and I climbed to the
top. Wes decided at the last minute that he hadn't
lost any mountains, and would prefer to fish.
The ascent was accompanied by much breathlessness
and a heavy pounding of our hearts, so that we
were forced to stop every twenty feet to recover our
physical balance. Each step upward dragged at our
feet like a leaden weight. Yet once we were on the
level, or once we ceased our very real exertions for a
second or so, the difficulty left us, and we breathed
as easily as in the lower altitudes.
The air itself was of a quality impossible to
describe to you unless you have traveled in the high
countries. I know it is trite to say that it had the
exhilaration of wine, yet I can find no better simile.
We shouted and whooped and breathed deep and
wanted to do things.
The immediate surroundings of that mountain
peak were absolutely barren and absolutely still.
How it was accomplished so high up I do not know,
but the entire structure on which we moved--I cannot
say walked--was composed of huge granite
slabs. Sometimes these were laid side by side like
exaggerated paving flags; but oftener they were up-
ended, piled in a confusion over which we had
precariously to scramble. And the silence. It was so
still that the very ringing in our ears came to a
prominence absurd and almost terrifying. The wind
swept by noiseless, because it had nothing movable to
startle into noise. The solid eternal granite lay heavy
in its statics across the possibility of even a whisper.
The blue vault of heaven seemed emptied of sound.
But the wind did stream by unceasingly, weird
in the unaccustomedness of its silence. And the sky
was blue as a turquoise, and the sun burned fiercely,
and the air was cold as the water of a mountain spring.
We stretched ourselves behind a slab of granite,
and ate the luncheon we had brought, cold venison
steak and bread. By and by a marvelous thing
happened. A flash of wings sparkled in the air, a brave
little voice challenged us cheerily, a pert tiny rock-
wren flirted his tail and darted his wings and wanted
to know what we were thinking of anyway to enter
his especial territory. And shortly from nowhere
appeared two Canada Jays, silent as the wind itself,
hoping for a share in our meal. Then the Tenderfoot
discovered in a niche some strange, hardy alpine
flowers. So we established a connection, through these
wondrous brave children of the great mother, with
the world of living things.
After we had eaten, which was the very first thing
we did, we walked to the edge of the main crest and
looked over. That edge went straight down. I do
not know how far, except that even in contemplation
we entirely lost our breaths, before we had fallen half
way to the bottom. Then intervened a ledge, and in
the ledge was a round glacier lake of the very deepest
and richest ultramarine you can find among your
paint-tubes, and on the lake floated cakes of
dazzling white ice. That was enough for the moment.
Next we leaped at one bound direct down to some
brown hazy liquid shot with the tenderest filaments
of white. After analysis we discovered the hazy
brown liquid to be the earth of the plains, and the
filaments of white to be roads. Thus instructed we
made out specks which were towns. That was all.
The rest was too insignificant to classify without the
aid of a microscope.
And afterwards, across those plains, oh, many,
many leagues, were the Inyo and Panamit mountains,
and beyond them Nevada and Arizona, and
blue mountains, and bluer, and still bluer rising,
rising, rising higher and higher until at the level of the
eye they blended with the heavens and were lost
somewhere away out beyond the edge of the world.
We said nothing, but looked for a long time.
Then we turned inland to the wonderful great titans
of mountains clear-cut in the crystalline air. Never
was such air. Crystalline is the only word which will
describe it, for almost it seemed that it would ring
clearly when struck, so sparkling and delicate and
fragile was it. The crags and fissures across the
way--two miles across the way--were revealed
through it as through some medium whose transparence
was absolute. They challenged the eye, stereoscopic
in their relief. Were it not for the belittling
effects of the distance, we felt that we might count
the frost seams or the glacial scorings on every granite
apron. Far below we saw the irregular outline
of our lake. It looked like a pond a few hundred
feet down. Then we made out a pin-point of white
moving leisurely near its border. After a while we
realized that the pin-point of white was one of
our pack-horses, and immediately the flat little scene
shot backwards as though moved from behind and
acknowledged its due number of miles. The miniature
crags at its back became gigantic; the peaks
beyond grew thousands of feet in the establishment
of a proportion which the lack of "atmosphere" had
denied. We never succeeded in getting adequate
photographs. As well take pictures of any eroded
little arroyo or granite canon. Relative sizes do not
exist, unless pointed out.
"See that speck there?" we explain. "That's a
big pine-tree. So by that you can see how tremendous
those cliffs really are."
And our guest looks incredulously at the speck.
There was snow, of course, lying cold in the hot
sun. This phenomenon always impresses a man when
first he sees it. Often I have ridden with my sleeves
rolled up and the front of my shirt open, over drifts
whose edges, even, dripped no water. The direct
rays seem to have absolutely no effect. A scientific
explanation I have never heard expressed; but I
suppose the cold nights freeze the drifts and pack
them so hard that the short noon heat cannot penetrate
their density. I may be quite wrong as to my
reason, but I am entirely correct as to my fact.
Another curious thing is that we met our mosquitoes
only rarely below the snow-line. The camping
in the Sierras is ideal for lack of these pests. They
never bite hard nor stay long even when found. But
just as sure as we approached snow, then we renewed
acquaintance with our old friends of the north woods.
It is analogous to the fact that the farther north you
go into the fur countries, the more abundant they become.
By and by it was time to descend. The camp lay
directly below us. We decided to go to it straight,
and so stepped off on an impossibly steep slope
covered, not with the great boulders and granite blocks,
but with a fine loose shale. At every stride we
stepped ten feet and slid five. It was gloriously near
to flying. Leaning far back, our arms spread wide to
keep our balance, spying alertly far ahead as to where
we were going to land, utterly unable to check until
we encountered a half-buried ledge of some sort, and
shouting wildly at every plunge, we fairly shot
downhill. The floor of our valley rose to us as the earth
to a descending balloon. In three quarters of an hour
we had reached the first flat.
There we halted to puzzle over the trail of a mountain
lion clearly printed on the soft ground. What
had the great cat been doing away up there above
the hunting country, above cover, above everything
that would appeal to a well-regulated cat of any size
whatsoever? We theorized at length, but gave it
up finally, and went on. Then a familiar perfume
rose to our nostrils. We plucked curiously at a bed
of catnip and wondered whether the animal had
journeyed so far to enjoy what is always such a treat to
her domestic sisters.
It was nearly dark when we reached camp. We
found Wes contentedly scraping away at the bearskins.
"Hello," said he, looking up with a grin. "Hello,
you dam fools! I'VE been having a good time. I've
THE GIANT FOREST
THE GIANT FOREST
Every one is familiar, at least by reputation and
photograph, with the Big Trees of California.
All have seen pictures of stage-coaches driving in
passageways cut through the bodies of the trunks;
of troops of cavalry ridden on the prostrate trees. No
one but has heard of the dancing-floor or the dinner-
table cut from a single cross-section; and probably
few but have seen some of the fibrous bark of
unbelievable thickness. The Mariposa, Calaveras, and
Santa Cruz groves have become household names.
The public at large, I imagine, meaning by that
you and me and our neighbors, harbor an idea that
the Big Tree occurs only as a remnant, in scattered
little groves carefully fenced and piously visited by
the tourist. What would we have said to the information
that in the very heart of the Sierras there grows
a thriving forest of these great trees; that it takes
over a day to ride throughout that forest; and that
it comprises probably over five thousand specimens?
Yet such is the case. On the ridges and high
plateaus north of the Kaweah River is the forest I
describe; and of that forest the trees grow from fifteen
to twenty-six feet in diameter. Do you know what
that means? Get up from your chair and pace off
the room you are in. If it is a very big room, its
longest dimension would just about contain one of the
bigger trunks. Try to imagine a tree like that.
It must be a columnar tree straight and true as the
supports of a Greek facade. The least deviation from
the perpendicular of such a mass would cause it to
fall. The limbs are sturdy like the arms of Hercules,
and grow out from the main trunk direct instead of
dividing and leading that main trunk to themselves,
as is the case with other trees. The column rises with
a true taper to its full height; then is finished with
the conical effect of the top of a monument.
Strangely enough the frond is exceedingly fine, and
the cones small.
When first you catch sight of a Sequoia, it does
not impress you particularly except as a very fine
tree. Its proportions are so perfect that its effect is
rather to belittle its neighbors than to show in its true
magnitude. Then, gradually, as your experience
takes cognizance of surroundings,--the size of a
sugar-pine, of a boulder, of a stream flowing near,--
the giant swells and swells before your very vision
until he seems at the last even greater than the mere
statistics of his inches had led you to believe. And
after that first surprise over finding the Sequoia
something not monstrous but beautiful in proportion has
given place to the full realization of what you are
beholding, you will always wonder why no one who
has seen has ever given any one who has not seen an
adequate idea of these magnificent old trees.
Perhaps the most insistent note, besides that of
mere size and dignity, is of absolute stillness. These
trees do not sway to the wind, their trunks are
constructed to stand solid. Their branches do not bend
and murmur, for they too are rigid in fiber. Their
fine thread-like needles may catch the breeze's whisper,
may draw together and apart for the exchange
of confidences as do the leaves of other trees, but if
so, you and I are too far below to distinguish it.
All about, the other forest growths may be rustling
and bowing and singing with the voices of the air;
the Sequoia stands in the hush of an absolute calm.
It is as though he dreamed, too wrapt in still great
thoughts of his youth, when the earth itself was
young, to share the worldlier joys of his neighbor, to
be aware of them, even himself to breathe deeply.
You feel in the presence of these trees as you would
feel in the presence of a kindly and benignant sage,
too occupied with larger things to enter fully into
your little affairs, but well disposed in the wisdom
of clear spiritual insight.
This combination of dignity, immobility, and a
certain serene detachment has on me very much the
same effect as does a mountain against the sky. It is
quite unlike the impression made by any other tree,
however large, and is lovable.
We entered the Giant Forest by a trail that
climbed. Always we entered desirable places by
trails that climbed or dropped. Our access to
paradise was never easy. About halfway up we met five
pack-mules and two men coming down. For some
reason, unknown, I suspect, even to the god of
chance, our animals behaved themselves and walked
straight ahead in a beautiful dignity, while those
weak-minded mules scattered and bucked and scraped
under trees and dragged back on their halters when
caught. The two men cast on us malevolent glances
as often as they were able, but spent most of their
time swearing and running about. We helped them
once or twice by heading off, but were too thankfully
engaged in treading lightly over our own phenomenal
peace to pay much attention. Long after
we had gone on, we caught bursts of rumpus ascending
from below. Shortly we came to a comparatively
level country, and a little meadow, and a rough sign
"Feed 20C a night."
Just beyond this extortion was the Giant Forest.
We entered it toward the close of the afternoon,
and rode on after our wonted time looking for feed
at less than twenty cents a night. The great trunks,
fluted like marble columns, blackened against the
western sky. As they grew huger, we seemed to
shrink, until we moved fearful as prehistoric man
must have moved among the forces over which he
had no control. We discovered our feed in a narrow
"stringer" a few miles on. That night, we, pigmies,
slept in the setting before which should have stridden
the colossi of another age. Perhaps eventually, in
spite of its magnificence and wonder, we were a little
glad to leave the Giant Forest. It held us too rigidly
to a spiritual standard of which our normal lives were
incapable; it insisted on a loftiness of soul, a dignity,
an aloofness from the ordinary affairs of life, the
ordinary occupations of thought hardly compatible with
the powers of any creature less noble, less aged, less
wise in the passing of centuries than itself.
Your cowboy is a species variously subdivided.
If you happen to be traveled as to the wild
countries, you will be able to recognize whence
your chance acquaintance hails by the kind of saddle
he rides, and the rigging of it; by the kind of rope
he throws, and the method of the throwing; by the
shape of hat he wears; by his twist of speech; even
by the very manner of his riding. Your California
"vaquero" from the Coast Ranges is as unlike as
possible to your Texas cowman, and both differ from
the Wyoming or South Dakota article. I should be
puzzled to define exactly the habitat of the "typical"
cowboy. No matter where you go, you will find
your individual acquaintance varying from the type
in respect to some of the minor details.
Certain characteristics run through the whole tribe,
however. Of these some are so well known or have
been so adequately done elsewhere that it hardly
seems wise to elaborate on them here. Let us assume
that you and I know what sort of human beings cowboys
are,--with all their taciturnity, their surface
gravity, their keen sense of humor, their courage,
their kindness, their freedom, their lawlessness, their
foulness of mouth, and their supreme skill in the
handling of horses and cattle. I shall try to tell you
nothing of all that.
If one thinks down doggedly to the last analysis,
he will find that the basic reason for the differences
between a cowboy and other men rests finally on
an individual liberty, a freedom from restraint either
of society or convention, a lawlessness, an accepting
of his own standard alone. He is absolutely self-
poised and sufficient; and that self-poise and that
sufficiency he takes pains to assure first of all. After
their assurance he is willing to enter into human
relations. His attitude toward everything in life is, not
suspicious, but watchful. He is "gathered together,"
his elbows at his side.
This evidences itself most strikingly in his terseness
of speech. A man dependent on himself naturally
does not give himself away to the first comer.
He is more interested in finding out what the other
fellow is than in exploiting his own importance. A
man who does much promiscuous talking he is likely
to despise, arguing that man incautious, hence weak.
Yet when he does talk, he talks to the point and
with a vivid and direct picturesqueness of phrase
which is as refreshing as it is unexpected. The
delightful remodeling of the English language in Mr.
Alfred Lewis's "Wolfville" is exaggerated only in
quantity, not in quality. No cowboy talks habitually
in quite as original a manner as Mr. Lewis's Old
Cattleman; but I have no doubt that in time he
would be heard to say all the good things in that
volume. I myself have note-books full of just such
gorgeous language, some of the best of which I have
used elsewhere, and so will not repeat here.
 See especially Jackson Himes in The Blazed Trail;
This vividness manifests itself quite as often in the
selection of the apt word as in the construction of
elaborate phrases with a half-humorous intention. A
cowboy once told me of the arrival of a tramp by
saying, "He SIFTED into camp." Could any verb be
more expressive? Does not it convey exactly the
lazy, careless, out-at-heels shuffling gait of the hobo?
Another in the course of description told of a saloon
scene, "They all BELLIED UP TO the bar." Again, a
range cook, objecting to purposeless idling about his
fire, shouted: "If you fellows come MOPING around
here any more, I'LL SURE MAKE YOU HARD TO CATCH!"
"Fish in that pond, son? Why, there's some fish
in there big enough to rope," another advised me.
"I quit shoveling," one explained the story of his
life, "because I couldn't see nothing ahead of
shoveling but dirt." The same man described ploughing
as, "Looking at a mule's tail all day." And one of
the most succinct epitomes of the motifs of fiction
was offered by an old fellow who looked over my
shoulder as I was reading a novel. "Well, son," said
he, "what they doing now, KISSING OR KILLING?"
Nor are the complete phrases behind in aptness. I
have space for only a few examples, but they will
illustrate what I mean. Speaking of a companion
who was "putting on too much dog," I was informed,
"He walks like a man with a new suit of WOODEN
UNDERWEAR!" Or again, in answer to my inquiry as to a
mutual acquaintance, "Jim? Oh, poor old Jim! For
the last week or so he's been nothing but an
insignificant atom of humanity hitched to a boil."
But to observe the riot of imagination turned loose
with the bridle off, you must assist at a burst of anger
on the part of one of these men. It is mostly
unprintable, but you will get an entirely new idea of
what profanity means. Also you will come to the
conclusion that you, with your trifling DAMNS, and
the like, have been a very good boy indeed. The
remotest, most obscure, and unheard of conceptions
are dragged forth from earth, heaven, and hell, and
linked together in a sequence so original, so gaudy,
and so utterly blasphemous, that you gasp and are
stricken with the most devoted admiration. It is genius.
Of course I can give you no idea here of what
these truly magnificent oaths are like. It is a pity,
for it would liberalize your education. Occasionally,
like a trickle of clear water into an alkali torrent, a
straight English sentence will drop into the flood. It
is refreshing by contrast, but weak.
"If your brains were all made of dynamite, you
couldn't blow the top of your head off."
"I wouldn't speak to him if I met him in hell
carrying a lump of ice in his hand."
"That little horse'll throw you so high the black-
birds will build nests in your hair before you come
These are ingenious and amusing, but need the
blazing settings from which I have ravished them to
give them their due force.
In Arizona a number of us were sitting around
the feeble camp-fire the desert scarcity of fuel
permits, smoking our pipes. We were all contemplative
and comfortably silent with the exception of one
very youthful person who had a lot to say. It was
mainly about himself. After he had bragged awhile
without molestation, one of the older cow-punchers
grew very tired of it. He removed his pipe deliberately,
and spat in the fire.
"Say, son," he drawled, "if you want to say
something big, why don't you say `elephant'?"
The young fellow subsided. We went on smoking
Down near the Chiracahua Range in southeastern
Arizona, there is a butte, and halfway up that butte
is a cave, and in front of that cave is a ramshackle
porch-roof or shed. This latter makes the cave into
a dwelling-house. It is inhabited by an old "alkali"
and half a dozen bear dogs. I sat with the old fellow
one day for nearly an hour. It was a sociable visit,
but economical of the English language. He made
one remark, outside our initial greeting. It was
enough, for in terseness, accuracy, and compression,
I have never heard a better or more comprehensive
description of the arid countries.
"Son," said he, "in this country thar is more cows
and less butter, more rivers and less water, and you
kin see farther and see less than in any other country
in the world."
Now this peculiar directness of phrase means but
one thing,--freedom from the influence of convention.
The cowboy respects neither the dictionary nor
usage. He employs his words in the manner that
best suits him, and arranges them in the sequence
that best expresses his idea, untrammeled by tradition.
It is a phase of the same lawlessness, the same
reliance on self, that makes for his taciturnity and
In essence, his dress is an adaptation to the
necessities of his calling; as a matter of fact, it is an
elaboration on that. The broad heavy felt hat he
has found by experience to be more effective in turning
heat than a lighter straw; he further runs to
variety in the shape of the crown and in the nature
of the band. He wears a silk handkerchief about his
neck to turn the sun and keep out the dust, but
indulges in astonishing gaudiness of color. His gauntlets
save his hands from the rope; he adds a fringe
and a silver star. The heavy wide "chaps" of leather
about his legs are necessary to him when he is riding
fast through brush; he indulges in such frivolities
as stamped leather, angora hair, and the like. High
heels to his boots prevent his foot from slipping
through his wide stirrup, and are useful to dig into
the ground when he is roping in the corral. Even
his six-shooter is more a tool of his trade than a
weapon of defense. With it he frightens cattle from
the heavy brush; he slaughters old or diseased steers;
he "turns the herd" in a stampede or when rounding
it in; and especially is it handy and loose to his
hip in case his horse should fall and commence to
So the details of his appearance spring from the
practical, but in the wearing of them and the using
of them he shows again that fine disregard for the
way other people do it or think it.
Now in civilization you and I entertain a double
respect for firearms and the law. Firearms are
dangerous, and it is against the law to use them
promiscuously. If we shoot them off in unexpected places,
we first of all alarm unduly our families and neighbors,
and in due course attract the notice of the police.
By the time we are grown up we look on shooting
a revolver as something to be accomplished after
an especial trip for the purpose.
But to the cowboy shooting a gun is merely what
lighting a match would be to us. We take reasonable
care not to scratch that match on the wall nor to
throw it where it will do harm. Likewise the
cowboy takes reasonable care that his bullets do not land
in some one's anatomy nor in too expensive bric-a-
brac. Otherwise any time or place will do.
The picture comes to me of a bunk-house on an
Arizona range. The time was evening. A half-dozen
cowboys were sprawled out on the beds smoking,
and three more were playing poker with the Chinese
cook. A misguided rat darted out from under one
of the beds and made for the empty fireplace. He
finished his journey in smoke. Then the four who
had shot slipped their guns back into their holsters
and resumed their cigarettes and drawling low-toned
On another occasion I stopped for noon at the
Circle I ranch. While waiting for dinner, I lay on
my back in the bunk-room and counted three hundred
and sixty-two bullet-holes in the ceiling. They
came to be there because the festive cowboys used to
while away the time while lying as I was lying, waiting
for supper, in shooting the flies that crawled about
This beautiful familiarity with the pistol as a parlor
toy accounts in great part for a cowboy's propensity
to "shoot up the town" and his indignation
when arrested therefor.
The average cowboy is only a fair target-shot with
the revolver. But he is chain lightning at getting
his gun off in a hurry. There are exceptions to this,
however, especially among the older men. Some can
handle the Colts 45 and its heavy recoil with almost
uncanny accuracy. I have seen individuals who could
from their saddles nip lizards darting across the road;
and one who was able to perforate twice before it hit
the ground a tomato-can tossed into the air. The
cowboy is prejudiced against the double-action gun,
for some reason or other. He manipulates his
single-action weapon fast enough, however.
His sense of humor takes the same unexpected
slants, not because his mental processes differ from
those of other men, but because he is unshackled by
the subtle and unnoticed nothingnesses of precedent
which deflect our action toward the common
uniformity of our neighbors. It must be confessed that
his sense of humor possesses also a certain robustness.
The J. H. outfit had been engaged for ten days in
busting broncos. This the Chinese cook, Sang, a
newcomer in the territory, found vastly amusing.
He liked to throw the ropes off the prostrate broncos,
when all was ready; to slap them on the flanks; to
yell shrill Chinese yells; and to dance in celestial
delight when the terrified animal arose and scattered
out of there. But one day the range men drove up
a little bunch of full-grown cattle that had been
bought from a smaller owner. It was necessary to
change the brands. Therefore a little fire was built,
the stamp-brand put in to heat, and two of the men
on horseback caught a cow by the horns and one
hind leg, and promptly upset her. The old brand
was obliterated, the new one burnt in. This irritated
the cow. Promptly the branding-men, who were of
course afoot, climbed to the top of the corral to be
out of the way. At this moment, before the horsemen
could flip loose their ropes, Sang appeared.
"Hol' on!" he babbled. "I take him off;" and
he scrambled over the fence and approached the cow.
Now cattle of any sort rush at the first object they
see after getting to their feet. But whereas a steer
makes a blind run and so can be avoided, a cow
keeps her eyes open. Sang approached that wild-
eyed cow, a bland smile on his countenance.
A dead silence fell. Looking about at my
companions' faces I could not discern even in the depths
of their eyes a single faint flicker of human interest.
Sang loosened the rope from the hind leg, he
threw it from the horns, he slapped the cow with his
hat, and uttered the shrill Chinese yell. So far all was
according to programme.
The cow staggered to her feet, her eyes blazing fire.
She took one good look, and then started for Sang.
What followed occurred with all the briskness of
a tune from a circus band. Sang darted for the corral
fence. Now, three sides of the corral were railed,
and so climbable, but the fourth was a solid adobe
wall. Of course Sang went for the wall. There,
finding his nails would not stick, he fled down the
length of it, his queue streaming, his eyes popping,
his talons curved toward an ideal of safety, gibbering
strange monkey talk, pursued a scant arm's length
behind by that infuriated cow. Did any one help
him? Not any. Every man of that crew was hanging
weak from laughter to the horn of his saddle or
the top of the fence. The preternatural solemnity
had broken to little bits. Men came running from
the bunk-house, only to go into spasms outside, to
roll over and over on the ground, clutching handfuls
of herbage in the agony of their delight.
At the end of the corral was a narrow chute. Into
this Sang escaped as into a burrow. The cow came