Part 4 out of 9
the flood, and havin' so many to feed and look out for--"
"So that's what's a-ranklin' in your heart, is it? You want us to leave
do you? There's too many on us. You want us to pack up and swim. Is
that it? Come!"
"Please be reasonable, Arkansas. Now you know that I ain't the man to--"
"Are you a threatenin' me? Are you? By George, the man don't live that
can skeer me! Don't you try to come that game, my chicken--'cuz I can
stand a good deal, but I won't stand that. Come out from behind that bar
till I clean you! You want to drive us out, do you, you sneakin'
underhanded hound! Come out from behind that bar! I'll learn you to
bully and badger and browbeat a gentleman that's forever trying to
befriend you and keep you out of trouble!"
"Please, Arkansas, please don't shoot! If there's got to be bloodshed--"
"Do you hear that, gentlemen? Do you hear him talk about bloodshed? So
it's blood you want, is it, you ravin' desperado! You'd made up your
mind to murder somebody this mornin'--I knowed it perfectly well. I'm
the man, am I? It's me you're goin' to murder, is it? But you can't do
it 'thout I get one chance first, you thievin' black-hearted,
white-livered son of a nigger! Draw your weepon!"
With that, Arkansas began to shoot, and the landlord to clamber over
benches, men and every sort of obstacle in a frantic desire to escape.
In the midst of the wild hubbub the landlord crashed through a glass
door, and as Arkansas charged after him the landlord's wife suddenly
appeared in the doorway and confronted the desperado with a pair of
scissors! Her fury was magnificent. With head erect and flashing eye
she stood a moment and then advanced, with her weapon raised. The
astonished ruffian hesitated, and then fell back a step. She followed.
She backed him step by step into the middle of the bar-room, and then,
while the wondering crowd closed up and gazed, she gave him such another
tongue-lashing as never a cowed and shamefaced braggart got before,
perhaps! As she finished and retired victorious, a roar of applause
shook the house, and every man ordered "drinks for the crowd" in one and
the same breath.
The lesson was entirely sufficient. The reign of terror was over, and
the Arkansas domination broken for good. During the rest of the season
of island captivity, there was one man who sat apart in a state of
permanent humiliation, never mixing in any quarrel or uttering a boast,
and never resenting the insults the once cringing crew now constantly
leveled at him, and that man was "Arkansas."
By the fifth or sixth morning the waters had subsided from the land, but
the stream in the old river bed was still high and swift and there was no
possibility of crossing it. On the eighth it was still too high for an
entirely safe passage, but life in the inn had become next to
insupportable by reason of the dirt, drunkenness, fighting, etc., and so
we made an effort to get away. In the midst of a heavy snow-storm we
embarked in a canoe, taking our saddles aboard and towing our horses
after us by their halters. The Prussian, Ollendorff, was in the bow,
with a paddle, Ballou paddled in the middle, and I sat in the stern
holding the halters. When the horses lost their footing and began to
swim, Ollendorff got frightened, for there was great danger that the
horses would make our aim uncertain, and it was plain that if we failed
to land at a certain spot the current would throw us off and almost
surely cast us into the main Carson, which was a boiling torrent, now.
Such a catastrophe would be death, in all probability, for we would be
swept to sea in the "Sink" or overturned and drowned. We warned
Ollendorff to keep his wits about him and handle himself carefully, but
it was useless; the moment the bow touched the bank, he made a spring and
the canoe whirled upside down in ten-foot water.
Ollendorff seized some brush and dragged himself ashore, but Ballou and I
had to swim for it, encumbered with our overcoats. But we held on to the
canoe, and although we were washed down nearly to the Carson, we managed
to push the boat ashore and make a safe landing. We were cold and
water-soaked, but safe. The horses made a landing, too, but our saddles
were gone, of course. We tied the animals in the sage-brush and there
they had to stay for twenty-four hours. We baled out the canoe and
ferried over some food and blankets for them, but we slept one more night
in the inn before making another venture on our journey.
The next morning it was still snowing furiously when we got away with our
new stock of saddles and accoutrements. We mounted and started. The
snow lay so deep on the ground that there was no sign of a road
perceptible, and the snow-fall was so thick that we could not see more
than a hundred yards ahead, else we could have guided our course by the
mountain ranges. The case looked dubious, but Ollendorff said his
instinct was as sensitive as any compass, and that he could "strike a
bee-line" for Carson city and never diverge from it. He said that if he
were to straggle a single point out of the true line his instinct would
assail him like an outraged conscience. Consequently we dropped into his
wake happy and content. For half an hour we poked along warily enough,
but at the end of that time we came upon a fresh trail, and Ollendorff
"I knew I was as dead certain as a compass, boys! Here we are, right in
somebody's tracks that will hunt the way for us without any trouble.
Let's hurry up and join company with the party."
So we put the horses into as much of a trot as the deep snow would allow,
and before long it was evident that we were gaining on our predecessors,
for the tracks grew more distinct. We hurried along, and at the end of
an hour the tracks looked still newer and fresher--but what surprised us
was, that the number of travelers in advance of us seemed to steadily
increase. We wondered how so large a party came to be traveling at such
a time and in such a solitude. Somebody suggested that it must be a
company of soldiers from the fort, and so we accepted that solution and
jogged along a little faster still, for they could not be far off now.
But the tracks still multiplied, and we began to think the platoon of
soldiers was miraculously expanding into a regiment--Ballou said they had
already increased to five hundred! Presently he stopped his horse and
"Boys, these are our own tracks, and we've actually been circussing round
and round in a circle for more than two hours, out here in this blind
desert! By George this is perfectly hydraulic!"
Then the old man waxed wroth and abusive. He called Ollendorff all
manner of hard names--said he never saw such a lurid fool as he was, and
ended with the peculiarly venomous opinion that he "did not know as much
as a logarythm!"
We certainly had been following our own tracks. Ollendorff and his
"mental compass" were in disgrace from that moment.
After all our hard travel, here we were on the bank of the stream again,
with the inn beyond dimly outlined through the driving snow-fall. While
we were considering what to do, the young Swede landed from the canoe and
took his pedestrian way Carson-wards, singing his same tiresome song
about his "sister and his brother" and "the child in the grave with its
mother," and in a short minute faded and disappeared in the white
oblivion. He was never heard of again. He no doubt got bewildered and
lost, and Fatigue delivered him over to Sleep and Sleep betrayed him to
Death. Possibly he followed our treacherous tracks till he became
exhausted and dropped.
Presently the Overland stage forded the now fast receding stream and
started toward Carson on its first trip since the flood came. We
hesitated no longer, now, but took up our march in its wake, and trotted
merrily along, for we had good confidence in the driver's bump of
locality. But our horses were no match for the fresh stage team. We
were soon left out of sight; but it was no matter, for we had the deep
ruts the wheels made for a guide. By this time it was three in the
afternoon, and consequently it was not very long before night came--and
not with a lingering twilight, but with a sudden shutting down like a
cellar door, as is its habit in that country. The snowfall was still as
thick as ever, and of course we could not see fifteen steps before us;
but all about us the white glare of the snow-bed enabled us to discern
the smooth sugar-loaf mounds made by the covered sage-bushes, and just in
front of us the two faint grooves which we knew were the steadily filling
and slowly disappearing wheel-tracks.
Now those sage-bushes were all about the same height--three or four feet;
they stood just about seven feet apart, all over the vast desert; each of
them was a mere snow-mound, now; in any direction that you proceeded (the
same as in a well laid out orchard) you would find yourself moving down a
distinctly defined avenue, with a row of these snow-mounds an either side
of it--an avenue the customary width of a road, nice and level in its
breadth, and rising at the sides in the most natural way, by reason of
the mounds. But we had not thought of this. Then imagine the chilly
thrill that shot through us when it finally occurred to us, far in the
night, that since the last faint trace of the wheel-tracks had long ago
been buried from sight, we might now be wandering down a mere sage-brush
avenue, miles away from the road and diverging further and further away
from it all the time. Having a cake of ice slipped down one's back is
placid comfort compared to it. There was a sudden leap and stir of blood
that had been asleep for an hour, and as sudden a rousing of all the
drowsing activities in our minds and bodies. We were alive and awake at
once--and shaking and quaking with consternation, too. There was an
instant halting and dismounting, a bending low and an anxious scanning of
the road-bed. Useless, of course; for if a faint depression could not be
discerned from an altitude of four or five feet above it, it certainly
could not with one's nose nearly against it.
We seemed to be in a road, but that was no proof. We tested this by
walking off in various directions--the regular snow-mounds and the
regular avenues between them convinced each man that he had found the
true road, and that the others had found only false ones. Plainly the
situation was desperate. We were cold and stiff and the horses were
tired. We decided to build a sage-brush fire and camp out till morning.
This was wise, because if we were wandering from the right road and the
snow-storm continued another day our case would be the next thing to
hopeless if we kept on.
All agreed that a camp fire was what would come nearest to saving us,
now, and so we set about building it. We could find no matches, and so
we tried to make shift with the pistols. Not a man in the party had ever
tried to do such a thing before, but not a man in the party doubted that
it could be done, and without any trouble--because every man in the party
had read about it in books many a time and had naturally come to believe
it, with trusting simplicity, just as he had long ago accepted and
believed that other common book-fraud about Indians and lost hunters
making a fire by rubbing two dry sticks together.
We huddled together on our knees in the deep snow, and the horses put
their noses together and bowed their patient heads over us; and while the
feathery flakes eddied down and turned us into a group of white statuary,
we proceeded with the momentous experiment. We broke twigs from a sage
bush and piled them on a little cleared place in the shelter of our
bodies. In the course of ten or fifteen minutes all was ready, and then,
while conversation ceased and our pulses beat low with anxious suspense,
Ollendorff applied his revolver, pulled the trigger and blew the pile
clear out of the county! It was the flattest failure that ever was.
This was distressing, but it paled before a greater horror--the horses
were gone! I had been appointed to hold the bridles, but in my absorbing
anxiety over the pistol experiment I had unconsciously dropped them and
the released animals had walked off in the storm. It was useless to try
to follow them, for their footfalls could make no sound, and one could
pass within two yards of the creatures and never see them. We gave them
up without an effort at recovering them, and cursed the lying books that
said horses would stay by their masters for protection and companionship
in a distressful time like ours.
We were miserable enough, before; we felt still more forlorn, now.
Patiently, but with blighted hope, we broke more sticks and piled them,
and once more the Prussian shot them into annihilation. Plainly, to
light a fire with a pistol was an art requiring practice and experience,
and the middle of a desert at midnight in a snow-storm was not a good
place or time for the acquiring of the accomplishment. We gave it up and
tried the other. Each man took a couple of sticks and fell to chafing
them together. At the end of half an hour we were thoroughly chilled,
and so were the sticks. We bitterly execrated the Indians, the hunters
and the books that had betrayed us with the silly device, and wondered
dismally what was next to be done. At this critical moment Mr. Ballou
fished out four matches from the rubbish of an overlooked pocket. To
have found four gold bars would have seemed poor and cheap good luck
compared to this.
One cannot think how good a match looks under such circumstances--or how
lovable and precious, and sacredly beautiful to the eye. This time we
gathered sticks with high hopes; and when Mr. Ballou prepared to light
the first match, there was an amount of interest centred upon him that
pages of writing could not describe. The match burned hopefully a
moment, and then went out. It could not have carried more regret with it
if it had been a human life. The next match simply flashed and died.
The wind puffed the third one out just as it was on the imminent verge of
success. We gathered together closer than ever, and developed a
solicitude that was rapt and painful, as Mr. Ballou scratched our last
hope on his leg. It lit, burned blue and sickly, and then budded into a
robust flame. Shading it with his hands, the old gentleman bent
gradually down and every heart went with him--everybody, too, for that
matter--and blood and breath stood still. The flame touched the sticks
at last, took gradual hold upon them--hesitated--took a stronger hold
--hesitated again--held its breath five heart-breaking seconds, then gave a
sort of human gasp and went out.
Nobody said a word for several minutes. It was a solemn sort of silence;
even the wind put on a stealthy, sinister quiet, and made no more noise
than the falling flakes of snow. Finally a sad-voiced conversation
began, and it was soon apparent that in each of our hearts lay the
conviction that this was our last night with the living. I had so hoped
that I was the only one who felt so. When the others calmly acknowledged
their conviction, it sounded like the summons itself. Ollendorff said:
"Brothers, let us die together. And let us go without one hard feeling
towards each other. Let us forget and forgive bygones. I know that you
have felt hard towards me for turning over the canoe, and for knowing too
much and leading you round and round in the snow--but I meant well;
forgive me. I acknowledge freely that I have had hard feelings against
Mr. Ballou for abusing me and calling me a logarythm, which is a thing I
do not know what, but no doubt a thing considered disgraceful and
unbecoming in America, and it has scarcely been out of my mind and has
hurt me a great deal--but let it go; I forgive Mr. Ballou with all my
Poor Ollendorff broke down and the tears came. He was not alone, for I
was crying too, and so was Mr. Ballou. Ollendorff got his voice again
and forgave me for things I had done and said. Then he got out his
bottle of whisky and said that whether he lived or died he would never
touch another drop. He said he had given up all hope of life, and
although ill-prepared, was ready to submit humbly to his fate; that he
wished he could be spared a little longer, not for any selfish reason,
but to make a thorough reform in his character, and by devoting himself
to helping the poor, nursing the sick, and pleading with the people to
guard themselves against the evils of intemperance, make his life a
beneficent example to the young, and lay it down at last with the
precious reflection that it had not been lived in vain. He ended by
saying that his reform should begin at this moment, even here in the
presence of death, since no longer time was to be vouchsafed wherein to
prosecute it to men's help and benefit--and with that he threw away the
bottle of whisky.
Mr. Ballou made remarks of similar purport, and began the reform he could
not live to continue, by throwing away the ancient pack of cards that had
solaced our captivity during the flood and made it bearable.
He said he never gambled, but still was satisfied that the meddling with
cards in any way was immoral and injurious, and no man could be wholly
pure and blemishless without eschewing them. "And therefore," continued
he, "in doing this act I already feel more in sympathy with that
spiritual saturnalia necessary to entire and obsolete reform." These
rolling syllables touched him as no intelligible eloquence could have
done, and the old man sobbed with a mournfulness not unmingled with
My own remarks were of the same tenor as those of my comrades, and I know
that the feelings that prompted them were heartfelt and sincere. We were
all sincere, and all deeply moved and earnest, for we were in the
presence of death and without hope. I threw away my pipe, and in doing
it felt that at last I was free of a hated vice and one that had ridden
me like a tyrant all my days. While I yet talked, the thought of the
good I might have done in the world and the still greater good I might
now do, with these new incentives and higher and better aims to guide me
if I could only be spared a few years longer, overcame me and the tears
came again. We put our arms about each other's necks and awaited the
warning drowsiness that precedes death by freezing.
It came stealing over us presently, and then we bade each other a last
farewell. A delicious dreaminess wrought its web about my yielding
senses, while the snow-flakes wove a winding sheet about my conquered
body. Oblivion came. The battle of life was done.
I do not know how long I was in a state of forgetfulness, but it seemed
an age. A vague consciousness grew upon me by degrees, and then came a
gathering anguish of pain in my limbs and through all my body. I
shuddered. The thought flitted through my brain, "this is death--this is
Then came a white upheaval at my side, and a voice said, with bitterness:
"Will some gentleman be so good as to kick me behind?"
It was Ballou--at least it was a towzled snow image in a sitting posture,
with Ballou's voice.
I rose up, and there in the gray dawn, not fifteen steps from us, were
the frame buildings of a stage station, and under a shed stood our still
saddled and bridled horses!
An arched snow-drift broke up, now, and Ollendorff emerged from it, and
the three of us sat and stared at the houses without speaking a word.
We really had nothing to say. We were like the profane man who could not
"do the subject justice," the whole situation was so painfully ridiculous
and humiliating that words were tame and we did not know where to
The joy in our hearts at our deliverance was poisoned; well-nigh
dissipated, indeed. We presently began to grow pettish by degrees, and
sullen; and then, angry at each other, angry at ourselves, angry at
everything in general, we moodily dusted the snow from our clothing and
in unsociable single file plowed our way to the horses, unsaddled them,
and sought shelter in the station.
I have scarcely exaggerated a detail of this curious and absurd
adventure. It occurred almost exactly as I have stated it. We actually
went into camp in a snow-drift in a desert, at midnight in a storm,
forlorn and hopeless, within fifteen steps of a comfortable inn.
For two hours we sat apart in the station and ruminated in disgust.
The mystery was gone, now, and it was plain enough why the horses had
deserted us. Without a doubt they were under that shed a quarter of a
minute after they had left us, and they must have overheard and enjoyed
all our confessions and lamentations.
After breakfast we felt better, and the zest of life soon came back.
The world looked bright again, and existence was as dear to us as ever.
Presently an uneasiness came over me--grew upon me--assailed me without
ceasing. Alas, my regeneration was not complete--I wanted to smoke!
I resisted with all my strength, but the flesh was weak. I wandered away
alone and wrestled with myself an hour. I recalled my promises of reform
and preached to myself persuasively, upbraidingly, exhaustively. But it
was all vain, I shortly found myself sneaking among the snow-drifts
hunting for my pipe. I discovered it after a considerable search, and
crept away to hide myself and enjoy it. I remained behind the barn a
good while, asking myself how I would feel if my braver, stronger, truer
comrades should catch me in my degradation. At last I lit the pipe, and
no human being can feel meaner and baser than I did then. I was ashamed
of being in my own pitiful company. Still dreading discovery, I felt
that perhaps the further side of the barn would be somewhat safer, and so
I turned the corner. As I turned the one corner, smoking, Ollendorff
turned the other with his bottle to his lips, and between us sat
unconscious Ballou deep in a game of "solitaire" with the old greasy
Absurdity could go no farther. We shook hands and agreed to say no more
about "reform" and "examples to the rising generation."
The station we were at was at the verge of the Twenty-six-Mile Desert.
If we had approached it half an hour earlier the night before, we must
have heard men shouting there and firing pistols; for they were expecting
some sheep drovers and their flocks and knew that they would infallibly
get lost and wander out of reach of help unless guided by sounds.
While we remained at the station, three of the drovers arrived, nearly
exhausted with their wanderings, but two others of their party were never
heard of afterward.
We reached Carson in due time, and took a rest. This rest, together with
preparations for the journey to Esmeralda, kept us there a week, and the
delay gave us the opportunity to be present at the trial of the great
land-slide case of Hyde vs. Morgan--an episode which is famous in Nevada
to this day. After a word or two of necessary explanation, I will set
down the history of this singular affair just as it transpired.
The mountains are very high and steep about Carson, Eagle and Washoe
Valleys--very high and very steep, and so when the snow gets to melting
off fast in the Spring and the warm surface-earth begins to moisten and
soften, the disastrous land-slides commence. The reader cannot know what
a land-slide is, unless he has lived in that country and seen the whole
side of a mountain taken off some fine morning and deposited down in the
valley, leaving a vast, treeless, unsightly scar upon the mountain's
front to keep the circumstance fresh in his memory all the years that he
may go on living within seventy miles of that place.
General Buncombe was shipped out to Nevada in the invoice of Territorial
officers, to be United States Attorney. He considered himself a lawyer
of parts, and he very much wanted an opportunity to manifest it--partly
for the pure gratification of it and partly because his salary was
Territorially meagre (which is a strong expression). Now the older
citizens of a new territory look down upon the rest of the world with a
calm, benevolent compassion, as long as it keeps out of the way--when it
gets in the way they snub it. Sometimes this latter takes the shape of a
One morning Dick Hyde rode furiously up to General Buncombe's door in
Carson city and rushed into his presence without stopping to tie his
horse. He seemed much excited. He told the General that he wanted him
to conduct a suit for him and would pay him five hundred dollars if he
achieved a victory. And then, with violent gestures and a world of
profanity, he poured out his grief. He said it was pretty well known
that for some years he had been farming (or ranching as the more
customary term is) in Washoe District, and making a successful thing of
it, and furthermore it was known that his ranch was situated just in the
edge of the valley, and that Tom Morgan owned a ranch immediately above
it on the mountain side.
And now the trouble was, that one of those hated and dreaded land-slides
had come and slid Morgan's ranch, fences, cabins, cattle, barns and
everything down on top of his ranch and exactly covered up every single
vestige of his property, to a depth of about thirty-eight feet. Morgan
was in possession and refused to vacate the premises--said he was
occupying his own cabin and not interfering with anybody else's--and said
the cabin was standing on the same dirt and same ranch it had always
stood on, and he would like to see anybody make him vacate.
"And when I reminded him," said Hyde, weeping, "that it was on top of my
ranch and that he was trespassing, he had the infernal meanness to ask me
why didn't I stay on my ranch and hold possession when I see him
a-coming! Why didn't I stay on it, the blathering lunatic--by George,
when I heard that racket and looked up that hill it was just like the
whole world was a-ripping and a-tearing down that mountain side
--splinters, and cord-wood, thunder and lightning, hail and snow, odds and
ends of hay stacks, and awful clouds of dust!--trees going end over end
in the air, rocks as big as a house jumping 'bout a thousand feet high
and busting into ten million pieces, cattle turned inside out and
a-coming head on with their tails hanging out between their teeth!--and
in the midst of all that wrack and destruction sot that cussed Morgan on
his gate-post, a-wondering why I didn't stay and hold possession! Laws
bless me, I just took one glimpse, General, and lit out'n the county in
three jumps exactly.
"But what grinds me is that that Morgan hangs on there and won't move
off'n that ranch--says it's his'n and he's going to keep it--likes it
better'n he did when it was higher up the hill. Mad! Well, I've been so
mad for two days I couldn't find my way to town--been wandering around in
the brush in a starving condition--got anything here to drink, General?
But I'm here now, and I'm a-going to law. You hear me!"
Never in all the world, perhaps, were a man's feelings so outraged as
were the General's. He said he had never heard of such high-handed
conduct in all his life as this Morgan's. And he said there was no use
in going to law--Morgan had no shadow of right to remain where he was
--nobody in the wide world would uphold him in it, and no lawyer would take
his case and no judge listen to it. Hyde said that right there was where
he was mistaken--everybody in town sustained Morgan; Hal Brayton, a very
smart lawyer, had taken his case; the courts being in vacation, it was to
be tried before a referee, and ex-Governor Roop had already been
appointed to that office and would open his court in a large public hall
near the hotel at two that afternoon.
The General was amazed. He said he had suspected before that the people
of that Territory were fools, and now he knew it. But he said rest easy,
rest easy and collect the witnesses, for the victory was just as certain
as if the conflict were already over. Hyde wiped away his tears and
At two in the afternoon referee Roop's Court opened and Roop appeared
throned among his sheriffs, the witnesses, and spectators, and wearing
upon his face a solemnity so awe-inspiring that some of his
fellow-conspirators had misgivings that maybe he had not comprehended,
after all, that this was merely a joke. An unearthly stillness
prevailed, for at the slightest noise the judge uttered sternly the
"Order in the Court!"
And the sheriffs promptly echoed it. Presently the General elbowed his
way through the crowd of spectators, with his arms full of law-books, and
on his ears fell an order from the judge which was the first respectful
recognition of his high official dignity that had ever saluted them, and
it trickled pleasantly through his whole system:
"Way for the United States Attorney!"
The witnesses were called--legislators, high government officers,
ranchmen, miners, Indians, Chinamen, negroes. Three fourths of them were
called by the defendant Morgan, but no matter, their testimony invariably
went in favor of the plaintiff Hyde. Each new witness only added new
testimony to the absurdity of a man's claiming to own another man's
property because his farm had slid down on top of it. Then the Morgan
lawyers made their speeches, and seemed to make singularly weak ones
--they did really nothing to help the Morgan cause. And now the General,
with exultation in his face, got up and made an impassioned effort; he
pounded the table, he banged the law-books, he shouted, and roared, and
howled, he quoted from everything and everybody, poetry, sarcasm,
statistics, history, pathos, bathos, blasphemy, and wound up with a grand
war-whoop for free speech, freedom of the press, free schools, the
Glorious Bird of America and the principles of eternal justice!
When the General sat down, he did it with the conviction that if there
was anything in good strong testimony, a great speech and believing and
admiring countenances all around, Mr. Morgan's case was killed.
Ex-Governor Roop leant his head upon his hand for some minutes, thinking,
and the still audience waited for his decision. Then he got up and stood
erect, with bended head, and thought again. Then he walked the floor
with long, deliberate strides, his chin in his hand, and still the
audience waited. At last he returned to his throne, seated himself, and
"Gentlemen, I feel the great responsibility that rests upon me this day.
This is no ordinary case. On the contrary it is plain that it is the
most solemn and awful that ever man was called upon to decide.
Gentlemen, I have listened attentively to the evidence, and have
perceived that the weight of it, the overwhelming weight of it, is in
favor of the plaintiff Hyde. I have listened also to the remarks of
counsel, with high interest--and especially will I commend the masterly
and irrefutable logic of the distinguished gentleman who represents the
plaintiff. But gentlemen, let us beware how we allow mere human
testimony, human ingenuity in argument and human ideas of equity, to
influence us at a moment so solemn as this. Gentlemen, it ill becomes
us, worms as we are, to meddle with the decrees of Heaven. It is plain
to me that Heaven, in its inscrutable wisdom, has seen fit to move this
defendant's ranch for a purpose. We are but creatures, and we must
submit. If Heaven has chosen to favor the defendant Morgan in this
marked and wonderful manner; and if Heaven, dissatisfied with the
position of the Morgan ranch upon the mountain side, has chosen to remove
it to a position more eligible and more advantageous for its owner, it
ill becomes us, insects as we are, to question the legality of the act or
inquire into the reasons that prompted it. No--Heaven created the
ranches and it is Heaven's prerogative to rearrange them, to experiment
with them around at its pleasure. It is for us to submit, without
"I warn you that this thing which has happened is a thing with which the
sacrilegious hands and brains and tongues of men must not meddle.
Gentlemen, it is the verdict of this court that the plaintiff, Richard
Hyde, has been deprived of his ranch by the visitation of God! And from
this decision there is no appeal."
Buncombe seized his cargo of law-books and plunged out of the court-room
frantic with indignation. He pronounced Roop to be a miraculous fool, an
inspired idiot. In all good faith he returned at night and remonstrated
with Roop upon his extravagant decision, and implored him to walk the
floor and think for half an hour, and see if he could not figure out some
sort of modification of the verdict. Roop yielded at last and got up to
walk. He walked two hours and a half, and at last his face lit up
happily and he told Buncombe it had occurred to him that the ranch
underneath the new Morgan ranch still belonged to Hyde, that his title to
the ground was just as good as it had ever been, and therefore he was of
opinion that Hyde had a right to dig it out from under there and--
The General never waited to hear the end of it. He was always an
impatient and irascible man, that way. At the end of two months the fact
that he had been played upon with a joke had managed to bore itself, like
another Hoosac Tunnel, through the solid adamant of his understanding.
When we finally left for Esmeralda, horseback, we had an addition to the
company in the person of Capt. John Nye, the Governor's brother. He had
a good memory, and a tongue hung in the middle. This is a combination
which gives immortality to conversation. Capt. John never suffered the
talk to flag or falter once during the hundred and twenty miles of the
journey. In addition to his conversational powers, he had one or two
other endowments of a marked character. One was a singular "handiness"
about doing anything and everything, from laying out a railroad or
organizing a political party, down to sewing on buttons, shoeing a horse,
or setting a broken leg, or a hen. Another was a spirit of accommodation
that prompted him to take the needs, difficulties and perplexities of
anybody and everybody upon his own shoulders at any and all times, and
dispose of them with admirable facility and alacrity--hence he always
managed to find vacant beds in crowded inns, and plenty to eat in the
emptiest larders. And finally, wherever he met a man, woman or child, in
camp, inn or desert, he either knew such parties personally or had been
acquainted with a relative of the same. Such another traveling comrade
was never seen before. I cannot forbear giving a specimen of the way in
which he overcame difficulties. On the second day out, we arrived, very
tired and hungry, at a poor little inn in the desert, and were told that
the house was full, no provisions on hand, and neither hay nor barley to
spare for the horses--must move on. The rest of us wanted to hurry on
while it was yet light, but Capt. John insisted on stopping awhile.
We dismounted and entered. There was no welcome for us on any face.
Capt. John began his blandishments, and within twenty minutes he had
accomplished the following things, viz.: found old acquaintances in three
teamsters; discovered that he used to go to school with the landlord's
mother; recognized his wife as a lady whose life he had saved once in
California, by stopping her runaway horse; mended a child's broken toy
and won the favor of its mother, a guest of the inn; helped the hostler
bleed a horse, and prescribed for another horse that had the "heaves";
treated the entire party three times at the landlord's bar; produced a
later paper than anybody had seen for a week and sat himself down to read
the news to a deeply interested audience. The result, summed up, was as
follows: The hostler found plenty of feed for our horses; we had a trout
supper, an exceedingly sociable time after it, good beds to sleep in, and
a surprising breakfast in the morning--and when we left, we left lamented
by all! Capt. John had some bad traits, but he had some uncommonly
valuable ones to offset them with.
Esmeralda was in many respects another Humboldt, but in a little more
forward state. The claims we had been paying assessments on were
entirely worthless, and we threw them away. The principal one cropped
out of the top of a knoll that was fourteen feet high, and the inspired
Board of Directors were running a tunnel under that knoll to strike the
ledge. The tunnel would have to be seventy feet long, and would then
strike the ledge at the same dept that a shaft twelve feet deep would
have reached! The Board were living on the "assessments." [N.B.--This
hint comes too late for the enlightenment of New York silver miners; they
have already learned all about this neat trick by experience.] The Board
had no desire to strike the ledge, knowing that it was as barren of
silver as a curbstone. This reminiscence calls to mind Jim Townsend's
tunnel. He had paid assessments on a mine called the "Daley" till he was
well-nigh penniless. Finally an assessment was levied to run a tunnel
two hundred and fifty feet on the Daley, and Townsend went up on the hill
to look into matters.
He found the Daley cropping out of the apex of an exceedingly
sharp-pointed peak, and a couple of men up there "facing" the proposed
tunnel. Townsend made a calculation. Then he said to the men:
"So you have taken a contract to run a tunnel into this hill two hundred
and fifty feet to strike this ledge?"
"Well, do you know that you have got one of the most expensive and
arduous undertakings before you that was ever conceived by man?"
"Why no--how is that?"
"Because this hill is only twenty-five feet through from side to side;
and so you have got to build two hundred and twenty-five feet of your
tunnel on trestle-work!"
The ways of silver mining Boards are exceedingly dark and sinuous.
We took up various claims, and commenced shafts and tunnels on them, but
never finished any of them. We had to do a certain amount of work on
each to "hold" it, else other parties could seize our property after the
expiration of ten days. We were always hunting up new claims and doing a
little work on them and then waiting for a buyer--who never came. We
never found any ore that would yield more than fifty dollars a ton; and
as the mills charged fifty dollars a ton for working ore and extracting
the silver, our pocket-money melted steadily away and none returned to
take its place. We lived in a little cabin and cooked for ourselves; and
altogether it was a hard life, though a hopeful one--for we never ceased
to expect fortune and a customer to burst upon us some day.
At last, when flour reached a dollar a pound, and money could not be
borrowed on the best security at less than eight per cent a month (I
being without the security, too), I abandoned mining and went to milling.
That is to say, I went to work as a common laborer in a quartz mill, at
ten dollars a week and board.
I had already learned how hard and long and dismal a task it is to burrow
down into the bowels of the earth and get out the coveted ore; and now I
learned that the burrowing was only half the work; and that to get the
silver out of the ore was the dreary and laborious other half of it.
We had to turn out at six in the morning and keep at it till dark.
This mill was a six-stamp affair, driven by steam. Six tall, upright
rods of iron, as large as a man's ankle, and heavily shod with a mass of
iron and steel at their lower ends, were framed together like a gate, and
these rose and fell, one after the other, in a ponderous dance, in an
iron box called a "battery." Each of these rods or stamps weighed six
hundred pounds. One of us stood by the battery all day long, breaking up
masses of silver-bearing rock with a sledge and shoveling it into the
battery. The ceaseless dance of the stamps pulverized the rock to
powder, and a stream of water that trickled into the battery turned it to
a creamy paste. The minutest particles were driven through a fine wire
screen which fitted close around the battery, and were washed into great
tubs warmed by super-heated steam--amalgamating pans, they are called.
The mass of pulp in the pans was kept constantly stirred up by revolving
"mullers." A quantity of quicksilver was kept always in the battery, and
this seized some of the liberated gold and silver particles and held on
to them; quicksilver was shaken in a fine shower into the pans, also,
about every half hour, through a buckskin sack. Quantities of coarse
salt and sulphate of copper were added, from time to time to assist the
amalgamation by destroying base metals which coated the gold and silver
and would not let it unite with the quicksilver.
All these tiresome things we had to attend to constantly. Streams of
dirty water flowed always from the pans and were carried off in broad
wooden troughs to the ravine. One would not suppose that atoms of gold
and silver would float on top of six inches of water, but they did; and
in order to catch them, coarse blankets were laid in the troughs, and
little obstructing "riffles" charged with quicksilver were placed here
and there across the troughs also. These riffles had to be cleaned and
the blankets washed out every evening, to get their precious
accumulations--and after all this eternity of trouble one third of the
silver and gold in a ton of rock would find its way to the end of the
troughs in the ravine at last and have to be worked over again some day.
There is nothing so aggravating as silver milling. There never was any
idle time in that mill. There was always something to do. It is a pity
that Adam could not have gone straight out of Eden into a quartz mill, in
order to understand the full force of his doom to "earn his bread by the
sweat of his brow." Every now and then, during the day, we had to scoop
some pulp out of the pans, and tediously "wash" it in a horn spoon--wash
it little by little over the edge till at last nothing was left but some
little dull globules of quicksilver in the bottom. If they were soft and
yielding, the pan needed some salt or some sulphate of copper or some
other chemical rubbish to assist digestion; if they were crisp to the
touch and would retain a dint, they were freighted with all the silver
and gold they could seize and hold, and consequently the pan needed a
fresh charge of quicksilver. When there was nothing else to do, one
could always "screen tailings." That is to say, he could shovel up the
dried sand that had washed down to the ravine through the troughs and
dash it against an upright wire screen to free it from pebbles and
prepare it for working over.
The process of amalgamation differed in the various mills, and this
included changes in style of pans and other machinery, and a great
diversity of opinion existed as to the best in use, but none of the
methods employed, involved the principle of milling ore without
"screening the tailings." Of all recreations in the world, screening
tailings on a hot day, with a long-handled shovel, is the most
At the end of the week the machinery was stopped and we "cleaned up."
That is to say, we got the pulp out of the pans and batteries, and washed
the mud patiently away till nothing was left but the long accumulating
mass of quicksilver, with its imprisoned treasures. This we made into
heavy, compact snow-balls, and piled them up in a bright, luxurious heap
for inspection. Making these snow-balls cost me a fine gold ring--that
and ignorance together; for the quicksilver invaded the ring with the
same facility with which water saturates a sponge--separated its
particles and the ring crumbled to pieces.
We put our pile of quicksilver balls into an iron retort that had a pipe
leading from it to a pail of water, and then applied a roasting heat.
The quicksilver turned to vapor, escaped through the pipe into the pail,
and the water turned it into good wholesome quicksilver again.
Quicksilver is very costly, and they never waste it. On opening the
retort, there was our week's work--a lump of pure white, frosty looking
silver, twice as large as a man's head. Perhaps a fifth of the mass was
gold, but the color of it did not show--would not have shown if two
thirds of it had been gold. We melted it up and made a solid brick of it
by pouring it into an iron brick-mould.
By such a tedious and laborious process were silver bricks obtained.
This mill was but one of many others in operation at the time. The first
one in Nevada was built at Egan Canyon and was a small insignificant
affair and compared most unfavorably with some of the immense
establishments afterwards located at Virginia City and elsewhere.
From our bricks a little corner was chipped off for the "fire-assay"--a
method used to determine the proportions of gold, silver and base metals
in the mass. This is an interesting process. The chip is hammered out
as thin as paper and weighed on scales so fine and sensitive that if you
weigh a two-inch scrap of paper on them and then write your name on the
paper with a course, soft pencil and weigh it again, the scales will take
marked notice of the addition.
Then a little lead (also weighed) is rolled up with the flake of silver
and the two are melted at a great heat in a small vessel called a cupel,
made by compressing bone ashes into a cup-shape in a steel mold. The
base metals oxydize and are absorbed with the lead into the pores of the
cupel. A button or globule of perfectly pure gold and silver is left
behind, and by weighing it and noting the loss, the assayer knows the
proportion of base metal the brick contains. He has to separate the gold
from the silver now. The button is hammered out flat and thin, put in
the furnace and kept some time at a red heat; after cooling it off it is
rolled up like a quill and heated in a glass vessel containing nitric
acid; the acid dissolves the silver and leaves the gold pure and ready to
be weighed on its own merits. Then salt water is poured into the vessel
containing the dissolved silver and the silver returns to palpable form
again and sinks to the bottom. Nothing now remains but to weigh it; then
the proportions of the several metals contained in the brick are known,
and the assayer stamps the value of the brick upon its surface.
The sagacious reader will know now, without being told, that the
speculative miner, in getting a "fire-assay" made of a piece of rock from
his mine (to help him sell the same), was not in the habit of picking out
the least valuable fragment of rock on his dump-pile, but quite the
contrary. I have seen men hunt over a pile of nearly worthless quartz
for an hour, and at last find a little piece as large as a filbert, which
was rich in gold and silver--and this was reserved for a fire-assay! Of
course the fire-assay would demonstrate that a ton of such rock would
yield hundreds of dollars--and on such assays many an utterly worthless
mine was sold.
Assaying was a good business, and so some men engaged in it,
occasionally, who were not strictly scientific and capable. One assayer
got such rich results out of all specimens brought to him that in time he
acquired almost a monopoly of the business. But like all men who achieve
success, he became an object of envy and suspicion. The other assayers
entered into a conspiracy against him, and let some prominent citizens
into the secret in order to show that they meant fairly. Then they broke
a little fragment off a carpenter's grindstone and got a stranger to take
it to the popular scientist and get it assayed. In the course of an hour
the result came--whereby it appeared that a ton of that rock would yield
$1,184.40 in silver and $366.36 in gold!
Due publication of the whole matter was made in the paper, and the
popular assayer left town "between two days."
I will remark, in passing, that I only remained in the milling business
one week. I told my employer I could not stay longer without an advance
in my wages; that I liked quartz milling, indeed was infatuated with it;
that I had never before grown so tenderly attached to an occupation in so
short a time; that nothing, it seemed to me, gave such scope to
intellectual activity as feeding a battery and screening tailings, and
nothing so stimulated the moral attributes as retorting bullion and
washing blankets--still, I felt constrained to ask an increase of salary.
He said he was paying me ten dollars a week, and thought it a good round
sum. How much did I want?
I said about four hundred thousand dollars a month, and board, was about
all I could reasonably ask, considering the hard times.
I was ordered off the premises! And yet, when I look back to those days
and call to mind the exceeding hardness of the labor I performed in that
mill, I only regret that I did not ask him seven hundred thousand.
Shortly after this I began to grow crazy, along with the rest of the
population, about the mysterious and wonderful "cement mine," and to make
preparations to take advantage of any opportunity that might offer to go
and help hunt for it.
It was somewhere in the neighborhood of Mono Lake that the marvellous
Whiteman cement mine was supposed to lie. Every now and then it would be
reported that Mr. W. had passed stealthily through Esmeralda at dead of
night, in disguise, and then we would have a wild excitement--because he
must be steering for his secret mine, and now was the time to follow him.
In less than three hours after daylight all the horses and mules and
donkeys in the vicinity would be bought, hired or stolen, and half the
community would be off for the mountains, following in the wake of
Whiteman. But W. would drift about through the mountain gorges for days
together, in a purposeless sort of way, until the provisions of the
miners ran out, and they would have to go back home. I have known it
reported at eleven at night, in a large mining camp, that Whiteman had
just passed through, and in two hours the streets, so quiet before, would
be swarming with men and animals. Every individual would be trying to be
very secret, but yet venturing to whisper to just one neighbor that W.
had passed through. And long before daylight--this in the dead of
Winter--the stampede would be complete, the camp deserted, and the whole
population gone chasing after W.
The tradition was that in the early immigration, more than twenty years
ago, three young Germans, brothers, who had survived an Indian massacre
on the Plains, wandered on foot through the deserts, avoiding all trails
and roads, and simply holding a westerly direction and hoping to find
California before they starved, or died of fatigue. And in a gorge in
the mountains they sat down to rest one day, when one of them noticed a
curious vein of cement running along the ground, shot full of lumps of
dull yellow metal. They saw that it was gold, and that here was a
fortune to be acquired in a single day. The vein was about as wide as a
curbstone, and fully two thirds of it was pure gold. Every pound of the
wonderful cement was worth well-nigh $200.
Each of the brothers loaded himself with about twenty-five pounds of it,
and then they covered up all traces of the vein, made a rude drawing of
the locality and the principal landmarks in the vicinity, and started
westward again. But troubles thickened about them. In their wanderings
one brother fell and broke his leg, and the others were obliged to go on
and leave him to die in the wilderness. Another, worn out and starving,
gave up by and by, and laid down to die, but after two or three weeks of
incredible hardships, the third reached the settlements of California
exhausted, sick, and his mind deranged by his sufferings. He had thrown
away all his cement but a few fragments, but these were sufficient to set
everybody wild with excitement. However, he had had enough of the cement
country, and nothing could induce him to lead a party thither. He was
entirely content to work on a farm for wages. But he gave Whiteman his
map, and described the cement region as well as he could and thus
transferred the curse to that gentleman--for when I had my one accidental
glimpse of Mr. W. in Esmeralda he had been hunting for the lost mine, in
hunger and thirst, poverty and sickness, for twelve or thirteen years.
Some people believed he had found it, but most people believed he had
not. I saw a piece of cement as large as my fist which was said to have
been given to Whiteman by the young German, and it was of a seductive
nature. Lumps of virgin gold were as thick in it as raisins in a slice
of fruit cake. The privilege of working such a mine one week would be
sufficient for a man of reasonable desires.
A new partner of ours, a Mr. Higbie, knew Whiteman well by sight, and a
friend of ours, a Mr. Van Dorn, was well acquainted with him, and not
only that, but had Whiteman's promise that he should have a private hint
in time to enable him to join the next cement expedition. Van Dorn had
promised to extend the hint to us. One evening Higbie came in greatly
excited, and said he felt certain he had recognized Whiteman, up town,
disguised and in a pretended state of intoxication. In a little while
Van Dorn arrived and confirmed the news; and so we gathered in our cabin
and with heads close together arranged our plans in impressive whispers.
We were to leave town quietly, after midnight, in two or three small
parties, so as not to attract attention, and meet at dawn on the "divide"
overlooking Mono Lake, eight or nine miles distant. We were to make no
noise after starting, and not speak above a whisper under any
circumstances. It was believed that for once Whiteman's presence was
unknown in the town and his expedition unsuspected. Our conclave broke
up at nine o'clock, and we set about our preparation diligently and with
profound secrecy. At eleven o'clock we saddled our horses, hitched them
with their long riatas (or lassos), and then brought out a side of bacon,
a sack of beans, a small sack of coffee, some sugar, a hundred pounds of
flour in sacks, some tin cups and a coffee pot, frying pan and some few
other necessary articles. All these things were "packed" on the back of
a led horse--and whoever has not been taught, by a Spanish adept, to pack
an animal, let him never hope to do the thing by natural smartness. That
is impossible. Higbie had had some experience, but was not perfect. He
put on the pack saddle (a thing like a saw-buck), piled the property on
it and then wound a rope all over and about it and under it, "every which
way," taking a hitch in it every now and then, and occasionally surging
back on it till the horse's sides sunk in and he gasped for breath--but
every time the lashings grew tight in one place they loosened in another.
We never did get the load tight all over, but we got it so that it would
do, after a fashion, and then we started, in single file, close order,
and without a word. It was a dark night. We kept the middle of the
road, and proceeded in a slow walk past the rows of cabins, and whenever
a miner came to his door I trembled for fear the light would shine on us
an excite curiosity. But nothing happened. We began the long winding
ascent of the canyon, toward the "divide," and presently the cabins began
to grow infrequent, and the intervals between them wider and wider, and
then I began to breathe tolerably freely and feel less like a thief and a
murderer. I was in the rear, leading the pack horse. As the ascent grew
steeper he grew proportionately less satisfied with his cargo, and began
to pull back on his riata occasionally and delay progress. My comrades
were passing out of sight in the gloom. I was getting anxious. I coaxed
and bullied the pack horse till I presently got him into a trot, and then
the tin cups and pans strung about his person frightened him and he ran.
His riata was wound around the pummel of my saddle, and so, as he went by
he dragged me from my horse and the two animals traveled briskly on
without me. But I was not alone--the loosened cargo tumbled overboard
from the pack horse and fell close to me. It was abreast of almost the
A miner came out and said:
I was thirty steps from him, and knew he could not see me, it was so very
dark in the shadow of the mountain. So I lay still. Another head
appeared in the light of the cabin door, and presently the two men walked
toward me. They stopped within ten steps of me, and one said:
I could not have been in a more distressed state if I had been escaping
justice with a price on my head. Then the miners appeared to sit down on
a boulder, though I could not see them distinctly enough to be very sure
what they did. One said:
"I heard a noise, as plain as I ever heard anything. It seemed to be
A stone whizzed by my head. I flattened myself out in the dust like a
postage stamp, and thought to myself if he mended his aim ever so little
he would probably hear another noise. In my heart, now, I execrated
secret expeditions. I promised myself that this should be my last,
though the Sierras were ribbed with cement veins. Then one of the men
"I'll tell you what! Welch knew what he was talking about when he said
he saw Whiteman to-day. I heard horses--that was the noise. I am going
down to Welch's, right away."
They left and I was glad. I did not care whither they went, so they
went. I was willing they should visit Welch, and the sooner the better.
As soon as they closed their cabin door my comrades emerged from the
gloom; they had caught the horses and were waiting for a clear coast
again. We remounted the cargo on the pack horse and got under way, and
as day broke we reached the "divide" and joined Van Dorn. Then we
journeyed down into the valley of the Lake, and feeling secure, we halted
to cook breakfast, for we were tired and sleepy and hungry. Three hours
later the rest of the population filed over the "divide" in a long
procession, and drifted off out of sight around the borders of the Lake!
Whether or not my accident had produced this result we never knew, but at
least one thing was certain--the secret was out and Whiteman would not
enter upon a search for the cement mine this time. We were filled with
We held a council and decided to make the best of our misfortune and
enjoy a week's holiday on the borders of the curious Lake. Mono, it is
sometimes called, and sometimes the "Dead Sea of California." It is one
of the strangest freaks of Nature to be found in any land, but it is
hardly ever mentioned in print and very seldom visited, because it lies
away off the usual routes of travel and besides is so difficult to get at
that only men content to endure the roughest life will consent to take
upon themselves the discomforts of such a trip. On the morning of our
second day, we traveled around to a remote and particularly wild spot on
the borders of the Lake, where a stream of fresh, ice-cold water entered
it from the mountain side, and then we went regularly into camp. We
hired a large boat and two shot-guns from a lonely ranchman who lived
some ten miles further on, and made ready for comfort and recreation.
We soon got thoroughly acquainted with the Lake and all its
Mono Lake lies in a lifeless, treeless, hideous desert, eight thousand
feet above the level of the sea, and is guarded by mountains two thousand
feet higher, whose summits are always clothed in clouds. This solemn,
silent, sail-less sea--this lonely tenant of the loneliest spot on earth
--is little graced with the picturesque. It is an unpretending expanse
of grayish water, about a hundred miles in circumference, with two
islands in its centre, mere upheavals of rent and scorched and blistered
lava, snowed over with gray banks and drifts of pumice-stone and ashes,
the winding sheet of the dead volcano, whose vast crater the lake has
seized upon and occupied.
The lake is two hundred feet deep, and its sluggish waters are so strong
with alkali that if you only dip the most hopelessly soiled garment into
them once or twice, and wring it out, it will be found as clean as if it
had been through the ablest of washerwomen's hands. While we camped
there our laundry work was easy. We tied the week's washing astern of
our boat, and sailed a quarter of a mile, and the job was complete, all
to the wringing out. If we threw the water on our heads and gave them a
rub or so, the white lather would pile up three inches high. This water
is not good for bruised places and abrasions of the skin. We had a
valuable dog. He had raw places on him. He had more raw places on him
than sound ones. He was the rawest dog I almost ever saw. He jumped
overboard one day to get away from the flies. But it was bad judgment.
In his condition, it would have been just as comfortable to jump into the
The alkali water nipped him in all the raw places simultaneously, and he
struck out for the shore with considerable interest. He yelped and
barked and howled as he went--and by the time he got to the shore there
was no bark to him--for he had barked the bark all out of his inside, and
the alkali water had cleaned the bark all off his outside, and he
probably wished he had never embarked in any such enterprise. He ran
round and round in a circle, and pawed the earth and clawed the air, and
threw double somersaults, sometimes backward and sometimes forward, in
the most extraordinary manner. He was not a demonstrative dog, as a
general thing, but rather of a grave and serious turn of mind, and I
never saw him take so much interest in anything before. He finally
struck out over the mountains, at a gait which we estimated at about two
hundred and fifty miles an hour, and he is going yet. This was about
nine years ago. We look for what is left of him along here every day.
A white man cannot drink the water of Mono Lake, for it is nearly pure
lye. It is said that the Indians in the vicinity drink it sometimes,
though. It is not improbable, for they are among the purest liars I ever
saw. [There will be no additional charge for this joke, except to
parties requiring an explanation of it. This joke has received high
commendation from some of the ablest minds of the age.]
There are no fish in Mono Lake--no frogs, no snakes, no polliwigs
--nothing, in fact, that goes to make life desirable. Millions of wild
ducks and sea-gulls swim about the surface, but no living thing exists
under the surface, except a white feathery sort of worm, one half an inch
long, which looks like a bit of white thread frayed out at the sides. If
you dip up a gallon of water, you will get about fifteen thousand of
these. They give to the water a sort of grayish-white appearance. Then
there is a fly, which looks something like our house fly. These settle
on the beach to eat the worms that wash ashore--and any time, you can see
there a belt of flies an inch deep and six feet wide, and this belt
extends clear around the lake--a belt of flies one hundred miles long.
If you throw a stone among them, they swarm up so thick that they look
dense, like a cloud. You can hold them under water as long as you
please--they do not mind it--they are only proud of it. When you let
them go, they pop up to the surface as dry as a patent office report, and
walk off as unconcernedly as if they had been educated especially with a
view to affording instructive entertainment to man in that particular
way. Providence leaves nothing to go by chance. All things have their
uses and their part and proper place in Nature's economy: the ducks eat
the flies--the flies eat the worms--the Indians eat all three--the wild
cats eat the Indians--the white folks eat the wild cats--and thus all
things are lovely.
Mono Lake is a hundred miles in a straight line from the ocean--and
between it and the ocean are one or two ranges of mountains--yet
thousands of sea-gulls go there every season to lay their eggs and rear
their young. One would as soon expect to find sea-gulls in Kansas.
And in this connection let us observe another instance of Nature's
wisdom. The islands in the lake being merely huge masses of lava, coated
over with ashes and pumice-stone, and utterly innocent of vegetation or
anything that would burn; and sea-gull's eggs being entirely useless to
anybody unless they be cooked, Nature has provided an unfailing spring of
boiling water on the largest island, and you can put your eggs in there,
and in four minutes you can boil them as hard as any statement I have
made during the past fifteen years. Within ten feet of the boiling
spring is a spring of pure cold water, sweet and wholesome.
So, in that island you get your board and washing free of charge--and if
nature had gone further and furnished a nice American hotel clerk who was
crusty and disobliging, and didn't know anything about the time tables,
or the railroad routes--or--anything--and was proud of it--I would not
wish for a more desirable boarding-house.
Half a dozen little mountain brooks flow into Mono Lake, but not a stream
of any kind flows out of it. It neither rises nor falls, apparently, and
what it does with its surplus water is a dark and bloody mystery.
There are only two seasons in the region round about Mono Lake--and these
are, the breaking up of one Winter and the beginning of the next. More
than once (in Esmeralda) I have seen a perfectly blistering morning open
up with the thermometer at ninety degrees at eight o'clock, and seen the
snow fall fourteen inches deep and that same identical thermometer go
down to forty-four degrees under shelter, before nine o'clock at night.
Under favorable circumstances it snows at least once in every single
month in the year, in the little town of Mono. So uncertain is the
climate in Summer that a lady who goes out visiting cannot hope to be
prepared for all emergencies unless she takes her fan under one arm and
her snow shoes under the other. When they have a Fourth of July
procession it generally snows on them, and they do say that as a general
thing when a man calls for a brandy toddy there, the bar keeper chops it
off with a hatchet and wraps it up in a paper, like maple sugar. And it
is further reported that the old soakers haven't any teeth--wore them out
eating gin cocktails and brandy punches. I do not endorse that
statement--I simply give it for what it is worth--and it is worth--well,
I should say, millions, to any man who can believe it without straining
himself. But I do endorse the snow on the Fourth of July--because I know
that to be true.
About seven o'clock one blistering hot morning--for it was now dead
summer time--Higbie and I took the boat and started on a voyage of
discovery to the two islands. We had often longed to do this, but had
been deterred by the fear of storms; for they were frequent, and severe
enough to capsize an ordinary row-boat like ours without great
difficulty--and once capsized, death would ensue in spite of the bravest
swimming, for that venomous water would eat a man's eyes out like fire,
and burn him out inside, too, if he shipped a sea. It was called twelve
miles, straight out to the islands--a long pull and a warm one--but the
morning was so quiet and sunny, and the lake so smooth and glassy and
dead, that we could not resist the temptation. So we filled two large
tin canteens with water (since we were not acquainted with the locality
of the spring said to exist on the large island), and started. Higbie's
brawny muscles gave the boat good speed, but by the time we reached our
destination we judged that we had pulled nearer fifteen miles than
We landed on the big island and went ashore. We tried the water in the
canteens, now, and found that the sun had spoiled it; it was so brackish
that we could not drink it; so we poured it out and began a search for
the spring--for thirst augments fast as soon as it is apparent that one
has no means at hand of quenching it. The island was a long, moderately
high hill of ashes--nothing but gray ashes and pumice-stone, in which we
sunk to our knees at every step--and all around the top was a forbidding
wall of scorched and blasted rocks. When we reached the top and got
within the wall, we found simply a shallow, far-reaching basin, carpeted
with ashes, and here and there a patch of fine sand. In places,
picturesque jets of steam shot up out of crevices, giving evidence that
although this ancient crater had gone out of active business, there was
still some fire left in its furnaces. Close to one of these jets of
steam stood the only tree on the island--a small pine of most graceful
shape and most faultless symmetry; its color was a brilliant green, for
the steam drifted unceasingly through its branches and kept them always
moist. It contrasted strangely enough, did this vigorous and beautiful
outcast, with its dead and dismal surroundings. It was like a cheerful
spirit in a mourning household.
We hunted for the spring everywhere, traversing the full length of the
island (two or three miles), and crossing it twice--climbing ash-hills
patiently, and then sliding down the other side in a sitting posture,
plowing up smothering volumes of gray dust. But we found nothing but
solitude, ashes and a heart-breaking silence. Finally we noticed that
the wind had risen, and we forgot our thirst in a solicitude of greater
importance; for, the lake being quiet, we had not taken pains about
securing the boat. We hurried back to a point overlooking our landing
place, and then--but mere words cannot describe our dismay--the boat was
gone! The chances were that there was not another boat on the entire
lake. The situation was not comfortable--in truth, to speak plainly, it
was frightful. We were prisoners on a desolate island, in aggravating
proximity to friends who were for the present helpless to aid us; and
what was still more uncomfortable was the reflection that we had neither
food nor water. But presently we sighted the boat. It was drifting
along, leisurely, about fifty yards from shore, tossing in a foamy sea.
It drifted, and continued to drift, but at the same safe distance from
land, and we walked along abreast it and waited for fortune to favor us.
At the end of an hour it approached a jutting cape, and Higbie ran ahead
and posted himself on the utmost verge and prepared for the assault. If
we failed there, there was no hope for us. It was driving gradually
shoreward all the time, now; but whether it was driving fast enough to
make the connection or not was the momentous question. When it got
within thirty steps of Higbie I was so excited that I fancied I could
hear my own heart beat. When, a little later, it dragged slowly along
and seemed about to go by, only one little yard out of reach, it seemed
as if my heart stood still; and when it was exactly abreast him and began
to widen away, and he still standing like a watching statue, I knew my
heart did stop. But when he gave a great spring, the next instant, and
lit fairly in the stern, I discharged a war-whoop that woke the
But it dulled my enthusiasm, presently, when he told me he had not been
caring whether the boat came within jumping distance or not, so that it
passed within eight or ten yards of him, for he had made up his mind to
shut his eyes and mouth and swim that trifling distance. Imbecile that I
was, I had not thought of that. It was only a long swim that could be
The sea was running high and the storm increasing. It was growing late,
too--three or four in the afternoon. Whether to venture toward the
mainland or not, was a question of some moment. But we were so
distressed by thirst that we decide to try it, and so Higbie fell to work
and I took the steering-oar. When we had pulled a mile, laboriously,
we were evidently in serious peril, for the storm had greatly augmented;
the billows ran very high and were capped with foaming crests,
the heavens were hung with black, and the wind blew with great fury.
We would have gone back, now, but we did not dare to turn the boat
around, because as soon as she got in the trough of the sea she would
upset, of course. Our only hope lay in keeping her head-on to the seas.
It was hard work to do this, she plunged so, and so beat and belabored
the billows with her rising and falling bows. Now and then one of
Higbie's oars would trip on the top of a wave, and the other one would
snatch the boat half around in spite of my cumbersome steering apparatus.
We were drenched by the sprays constantly, and the boat occasionally
shipped water. By and by, powerful as my comrade was, his great
exertions began to tell on him, and he was anxious that I should change
places with him till he could rest a little. But I told him this was
impossible; for if the steering oar were dropped a moment while we
changed, the boat would slue around into the trough of the sea, capsize,
and in less than five minutes we would have a hundred gallons of
soap-suds in us and be eaten up so quickly that we could not even be
present at our own inquest.
But things cannot last always. Just as the darkness shut down we came
booming into port, head on. Higbie dropped his oars to hurrah--I dropped
mine to help--the sea gave the boat a twist, and over she went!
The agony that alkali water inflicts on bruises, chafes and blistered
hands, is unspeakable, and nothing but greasing all over will modify it
--but we ate, drank and slept well, that night, notwithstanding.
In speaking of the peculiarities of Mono Lake, I ought to have mentioned
that at intervals all around its shores stand picturesque turret-looking
masses and clusters of a whitish, coarse-grained rock that resembles
inferior mortar dried hard; and if one breaks off fragments of this rock
he will find perfectly shaped and thoroughly petrified gulls' eggs deeply
imbedded in the mass. How did they get there? I simply state the fact
--for it is a fact--and leave the geological reader to crack the nut at his
leisure and solve the problem after his own fashion.
At the end of a week we adjourned to the Sierras on a fishing excursion,
and spent several days in camp under snowy Castle Peak, and fished
successfully for trout in a bright, miniature lake whose surface was
between ten and eleven thousand feet above the level of the sea; cooling
ourselves during the hot August noons by sitting on snow banks ten feet
deep, under whose sheltering edges fine grass and dainty flowers
flourished luxuriously; and at night entertaining ourselves by almost
freezing to death. Then we returned to Mono Lake, and finding that the
cement excitement was over for the present, packed up and went back to
Esmeralda. Mr. Ballou reconnoitred awhile, and not liking the prospect,
set out alone for Humboldt.
About this time occurred a little incident which has always had a sort of
interest to me, from the fact that it came so near "instigating" my
funeral. At a time when an Indian attack had been expected, the citizens
hid their gunpowder where it would be safe and yet convenient to hand
when wanted. A neighbor of ours hid six cans of rifle powder in the
bake-oven of an old discarded cooking stove which stood on the open
ground near a frame out-house or shed, and from and after that day never
thought of it again. We hired a half-tamed Indian to do some washing for
us, and he took up quarters under the shed with his tub. The ancient
stove reposed within six feet of him, and before his face. Finally it
occurred to him that hot water would be better than cold, and he went out
and fired up under that forgotten powder magazine and set on a kettle of
water. Then he returned to his tub.
I entered the shed presently and threw down some more clothes, and was
about to speak to him when the stove blew up with a prodigious crash, and
disappeared, leaving not a splinter behind. Fragments of it fell in the
streets full two hundred yards away. Nearly a third of the shed roof
over our heads was destroyed, and one of the stove lids, after cutting a
small stanchion half in two in front of the Indian, whizzed between us
and drove partly through the weather-boarding beyond. I was as white as
a sheet and as weak as a kitten and speechless. But the Indian betrayed
no trepidation, no distress, not even discomfort. He simply stopped
washing, leaned forward and surveyed the clean, blank ground a moment,
and then remarked:
"Mph! Dam stove heap gone!"--and resumed his scrubbing as placidly as if
it were an entirely customary thing for a stove to do. I will explain,
that "heap" is "Injun-English" for "very much." The reader will perceive
the exhaustive expressiveness of it in the present instance.
I now come to a curious episode--the most curious, I think, that had yet
accented my slothful, valueless, heedless career. Out of a hillside
toward the upper end of the town, projected a wall of reddish looking
quartz-croppings, the exposed comb of a silver-bearing ledge that
extended deep down into the earth, of course. It was owned by a company
entitled the "Wide West." There was a shaft sixty or seventy feet deep
on the under side of the croppings, and everybody was acquainted with the
rock that came from it--and tolerably rich rock it was, too, but nothing
extraordinary. I will remark here, that although to the inexperienced
stranger all the quartz of a particular "district" looks about alike, an
old resident of the camp can take a glance at a mixed pile of rock,
separate the fragments and tell you which mine each came from, as easily
as a confectioner can separate and classify the various kinds and
qualities of candy in a mixed heap of the article.
All at once the town was thrown into a state of extraordinary excitement.
In mining parlance the Wide West had "struck it rich!" Everybody went to
see the new developments, and for some days there was such a crowd of
people about the Wide West shaft that a stranger would have supposed
there was a mass meeting in session there. No other topic was discussed
but the rich strike, and nobody thought or dreamed about anything else.
Every man brought away a specimen, ground it up in a hand mortar, washed
it out in his horn spoon, and glared speechless upon the marvelous
result. It was not hard rock, but black, decomposed stuff which could be
crumbled in the hand like a baked potato, and when spread out on a paper
exhibited a thick sprinkling of gold and particles of "native" silver.
Higbie brought a handful to the cabin, and when he had washed it out his
amazement was beyond description. Wide West stock soared skywards. It
was said that repeated offers had been made for it at a thousand dollars
a foot, and promptly refused. We have all had the "blues"--the mere
sky-blues--but mine were indigo, now--because I did not own in the Wide
West. The world seemed hollow to me, and existence a grief. I lost my
appetite, and ceased to take an interest in anything. Still I had to
stay, and listen to other people's rejoicings, because I had no money to
get out of the camp with.
The Wide West company put a stop to the carrying away of "specimens," and
well they might, for every handful of the ore was worth a sun of some
consequence. To show the exceeding value of the ore, I will remark that
a sixteen-hundred-pounds parcel of it was sold, just as it lay, at the
mouth of the shaft, at one dollar a pound; and the man who bought it
"packed" it on mules a hundred and fifty or two hundred miles, over the
mountains, to San Francisco, satisfied that it would yield at a rate that
would richly compensate him for his trouble. The Wide West people also
commanded their foreman to refuse any but their own operatives permission
to enter the mine at any time or for any purpose. I kept up my "blue"
meditations and Higbie kept up a deal of thinking, too, but of a
different sort. He puzzled over the "rock," examined it with a glass,
inspected it in different lights and from different points of view, and
after each experiment delivered himself, in soliloquy, of one and the
same unvarying opinion in the same unvarying formula:
"It is not Wide West rock!"
He said once or twice that he meant to have a look into the Wide West
shaft if he got shot for it. I was wretched, and did not care whether he
got a look into it or not. He failed that day, and tried again at night;
failed again; got up at dawn and tried, and failed again. Then he lay in
ambush in the sage brush hour after hour, waiting for the two or three
hands to adjourn to the shade of a boulder for dinner; made a start once,
but was premature--one of the men came back for something; tried it
again, but when almost at the mouth of the shaft, another of the men rose
up from behind the boulder as if to reconnoitre, and he dropped on the
ground and lay quiet; presently he crawled on his hands and knees to the
mouth of the shaft, gave a quick glance around, then seized the rope and
slid down the shaft.
He disappeared in the gloom of a "side drift" just as a head appeared in
the mouth of the shaft and somebody shouted "Hello!"--which he did not
answer. He was not disturbed any more. An hour later he entered the
cabin, hot, red, and ready to burst with smothered excitement, and
exclaimed in a stage whisper:
"I knew it! We are rich! IT'S A BLIND LEAD!"
I thought the very earth reeled under me. Doubt--conviction--doubt
again--exultation--hope, amazement, belief, unbelief--every emotion
imaginable swept in wild procession through my heart and brain, and I
could not speak a word. After a moment or two of this mental fury, I
shook myself to rights, and said:
"Say it again!"
"It's blind lead!"
"Cal, let's--let's burn the house--or kill somebody! Let's get out where
there's room to hurrah! But what is the use? It is a hundred times too
good to be true."
"It's a blind lead, for a million!--hanging wall--foot wall--clay
casings--everything complete!" He swung his hat and gave three cheers,
and I cast doubt to the winds and chimed in with a will. For I was worth
a million dollars, and did not care "whether school kept or not!"
But perhaps I ought to explain. A "blind lead" is a lead or ledge that
does not "crop out" above the surface. A miner does not know where to
look for such leads, but they are often stumbled upon by accident in the
course of driving a tunnel or sinking a shaft. Higbie knew the Wide West
rock perfectly well, and the more he had examined the new developments
the more he was satisfied that the ore could not have come from the Wide
West vein. And so had it occurred to him alone, of all the camp, that
there was a blind lead down in the shaft, and that even the Wide West
people themselves did not suspect it. He was right. When he went down
the shaft, he found that the blind lead held its independent way through
the Wide West vein, cutting it diagonally, and that it was enclosed in
its own well-defined casing-rocks and clay. Hence it was public
property. Both leads being perfectly well defined, it was easy for any
miner to see which one belonged to the Wide West and which did not.
We thought it well to have a strong friend, and therefore we brought the
foreman of the Wide West to our cabin that night and revealed the great
surprise to him. Higbie said:
"We are going to take possession of this blind lead, record it and
establish ownership, and then forbid the Wide West company to take out
any more of the rock. You cannot help your company in this matter
--nobody can help them. I will go into the shaft with you and prove to
your entire satisfaction that it is a blind lead. Now we propose to take
you in with us, and claim the blind lead in our three names. What do you
What could a man say who had an opportunity to simply stretch forth his
hand and take possession of a fortune without risk of any kind and
without wronging any one or attaching the least taint of dishonor to his
name? He could only say, "Agreed."
The notice was put up that night, and duly spread upon the recorder's
books before ten o'clock. We claimed two hundred feet each--six hundred
feet in all--the smallest and compactest organization in the district,
and the easiest to manage.
No one can be so thoughtless as to suppose that we slept, that night.
Higbie and I went to bed at midnight, but it was only to lie broad awake
and think, dream, scheme. The floorless, tumble-down cabin was a palace,
the ragged gray blankets silk, the furniture rosewood and mahogany.
Each new splendor that burst out of my visions of the future whirled me
bodily over in bed or jerked me to a sitting posture just as if an
electric battery had been applied to me. We shot fragments of
conversation back and forth at each other. Once Higbie said:
"When are you going home--to the States?"
"To-morrow!"--with an evolution or two, ending with a sitting position.
"Well--no--but next month, at furthest."
"We'll go in the same steamer."
"Steamer of the 10th?"
"Yes. No, the 1st."
"Where are you going to live?" said Higbie.
"Too high--too much climbing"--from Higbie.
"I was thinking of Russian Hill--building a house up there."
"Too much climbing? Shan't you keep a carriage?"
"Of course. I forgot that."
"Cal., what kind of a house are you going to build?"
"I was thinking about that. Three-story and an attic."
"But what kind?"
"Well, I don't hardly know. Brick, I suppose."
"Why? What is your idea?"
"Brown stone front--French plate glass--billiard-room off the
dining-room--statuary and paintings--shrubbery and two-acre grass plat
--greenhouse--iron dog on the front stoop--gray horses--landau, and a
coachman with a bug on his hat!"
A long pause.
"Cal., when are you going to Europe?"
"Well--I hadn't thought of that. When are you?"
"In the Spring."
"Going to be gone all summer?"
"All summer! I shall remain there three years."
"No--but are you in earnest?"
"Indeed I am."
"I will go along too."
"Why of course you will."
"What part of Europe shall you go to?"
"All parts. France, England, Germany--Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Syria,
Greece, Palestine, Arabia, Persia, Egypt--all over--everywhere."
"Won't it be a swell trip!"
"We'll spend forty or fifty thousand dollars trying to make it one,
Another long pause.
"Higbie, we owe the butcher six dollars, and he has been threatening to
"Hang the butcher!"
And so it went on. By three o'clock we found it was no use, and so we
got up and played cribbage and smoked pipes till sunrise. It was my week
to cook. I always hated cooking--now, I abhorred it.
The news was all over town. The former excitement was great--this one
was greater still. I walked the streets serene and happy. Higbie said
the foreman had been offered two hundred thousand dollars for his third
of the mine. I said I would like to see myself selling for any such
price. My ideas were lofty. My figure was a million. Still, I honestly
believe that if I had been offered it, it would have had no other effect
than to make me hold off for more.
I found abundant enjoyment in being rich. A man offered me a
three-hundred-dollar horse, and wanted to take my simple, unendorsed note
for it. That brought the most realizing sense I had yet had that I was
actually rich, beyond shadow of doubt. It was followed by numerous other
evidences of a similar nature--among which I may mention the fact of the
butcher leaving us a double supply of meat and saying nothing about
By the laws of the district, the "locators" or claimants of a ledge were
obliged to do a fair and reasonable amount of work on their new property
within ten days after the date of the location, or the property was
forfeited, and anybody could go and seize it that chose. So we
determined to go to work the next day. About the middle of the
afternoon, as I was coming out of the post office, I met a Mr. Gardiner,
who told me that Capt. John Nye was lying dangerously ill at his place
(the "Nine-Mile Ranch"), and that he and his wife were not able to give
him nearly as much care and attention as his case demanded. I said if he
would wait for me a moment, I would go down and help in the sick room.
I ran to the cabin to tell Higbie. He was not there, but I left a note
on the table for him, and a few minutes later I left town in Gardiner's
Captain Nye was very ill indeed, with spasmodic rheumatism. But the old
gentleman was himself--which is to say, he was kind-hearted and agreeable
when comfortable, but a singularly violent wild-cat when things did not
go well. He would be smiling along pleasantly enough, when a sudden
spasm of his disease would take him and he would go out of his smile into
a perfect fury. He would groan and wail and howl with the anguish, and
fill up the odd chinks with the most elaborate profanity that strong
convictions and a fine fancy could contrive. With fair opportunity he
could swear very well and handle his adjectives with considerable
judgment; but when the spasm was on him it was painful to listen to him,
he was so awkward. However, I had seen him nurse a sick man himself and
put up patiently with the inconveniences of the situation, and
consequently I was willing that he should have full license now that his
own turn had come. He could not disturb me, with all his raving and
ranting, for my mind had work on hand, and it labored on diligently,
night and day, whether my hands were idle or employed. I was altering
and amending the plans for my house, and thinking over the propriety of
having the billard-room in the attic, instead of on the same floor with
the dining-room; also, I was trying to decide between green and blue for
the upholstery of the drawing-room, for, although my preference was blue
I feared it was a color that would be too easily damaged by dust and
sunlight; likewise while I was content to put the coachman in a modest
livery, I was uncertain about a footman--I needed one, and was even
resolved to have one, but wished he could properly appear and perform his
functions out of livery, for I somewhat dreaded so much show; and yet,
inasmuch as my late grandfather had had a coachman and such things, but
no liveries, I felt rather drawn to beat him;--or beat his ghost, at any
rate; I was also systematizing the European trip, and managed to get it
all laid out, as to route and length of time to be devoted to it
--everything, with one exception--namely, whether to cross the desert from
Cairo to Jerusalem per camel, or go by sea to Beirut, and thence down
through the country per caravan. Meantime I was writing to the friends
at home every day, instructing them concerning all my plans and
intentions, and directing them to look up a handsome homestead for my
mother and agree upon a price for it against my coming, and also
directing them to sell my share of the Tennessee land and tender the
proceeds to the widows' and orphans' fund of the typographical union of
which I had long been a member in good standing. [This Tennessee land
had been in the possession of the family many years, and promised to
confer high fortune upon us some day; it still promises it, but in a less
When I had been nursing the Captain nine days he was somewhat better,
but very feeble. During the afternoon we lifted him into a chair and
gave him an alcoholic vapor bath, and then set about putting him on the
bed again. We had to be exceedingly careful, for the least jar produced
pain. Gardiner had his shoulders and I his legs; in an unfortunate
moment I stumbled and the patient fell heavily on the bed in an agony of
torture. I never heard a man swear so in my life. He raved like a
maniac, and tried to snatch a revolver from the table--but I got it.
He ordered me out of the house, and swore a world of oaths that he would
kill me wherever he caught me when he got on his feet again. It was
simply a passing fury, and meant nothing. I knew he would forget it in
an hour, and maybe be sorry for it, too; but it angered me a little, at
the moment. So much so, indeed, that I determined to go back to
Esmeralda. I thought he was able to get along alone, now, since he was
on the war path. I took supper, and as soon as the moon rose, began my
nine-mile journey, on foot.
Even millionaires needed no horses, in those days, for a mere nine-mile
jaunt without baggage.
As I "raised the hill" overlooking the town, it lacked fifteen minutes of
twelve. I glanced at the hill over beyond the canyon, and in the bright
moonlight saw what appeared to be about half the population of the
village massed on and around the Wide West croppings. My heart gave an
exulting bound, and I said to myself, "They have made a new strike
to-night--and struck it richer than ever, no doubt." I started over
there, but gave it up. I said the "strick" would keep, and I had climbed
hill enough for one night. I went on down through the town, and as I was
passing a little German bakery, a woman ran out and begged me to come in
and help her. She said her husband had a fit. I went in, and judged she
was right--he appeared to have a hundred of them, compressed into one.
Two Germans were there, trying to hold him, and not making much of a
success of it. I ran up the street half a block or so and routed out a
sleeping doctor, brought him down half dressed, and we four wrestled with
the maniac, and doctored, drenched and bled him, for more than an hour,
and the poor German woman did the crying. He grew quiet, now, and the
doctor and I withdrew and left him to his friends.
It was a little after one o'clock. As I entered the cabin door, tired
but jolly, the dingy light of a tallow candle revealed Higbie, sitting by
the pine table gazing stupidly at my note, which he held in his fingers,
and looking pale, old, and haggard. I halted, and looked at him. He
looked at me, stolidly. I said:
"Higbie, what--what is it?"
"We're ruined--we didn't do the work--THE BLIND LEAD'S RELOCATED!"
It was enough. I sat down sick, grieved--broken-hearted, indeed. A
minute before, I was rich and brimful of vanity; I was a pauper now, and
very meek. We sat still an hour, busy with thought, busy with vain and
useless self-upbraidings, busy with "Why didn't I do this, and why didn't
I do that," but neither spoke a word. Then we dropped into mutual
explanations, and the mystery was cleared away. It came out that Higbie
had depended on me, as I had on him, and as both of us had on the
foreman. The folly of it! It was the first time that ever staid and
steadfast Higbie had left an important matter to chance or failed to be
true to his full share of a responsibility.
But he had never seen my note till this moment, and this moment was the
first time he had been in the cabin since the day he had seen me last.
He, also, had left a note for me, on that same fatal afternoon--had
ridden up on horseback, and looked through the window, and being in a
hurry and not seeing me, had tossed the note into the cabin through a
broken pane. Here it was, on the floor, where it had remained
undisturbed for nine days:
"Don't fail to do the work before the ten days expire. W.
has passed through and given me notice. I am to join him at
Mono Lake, and we shall go on from there to-night. He says
he will find it this time, sure. CAL."
"W." meant Whiteman, of course. That thrice accursed "cement!"
That was the way of it. An old miner, like Higbie, could no more
withstand the fascination of a mysterious mining excitement like this
"cement" foolishness, than he could refrain from eating when he was
famishing. Higbie had been dreaming about the marvelous cement for
months; and now, against his better judgment, he had gone off and "taken
the chances" on my keeping secure a mine worth a million undiscovered
cement veins. They had not been followed this time. His riding out of
town in broad daylight was such a common-place thing to do that it had
not attracted any attention. He said they prosecuted their search in the
fastnesses of the mountains during nine days, without success; they could
not find the cement. Then a ghastly fear came over him that something
might have happened to prevent the doing of the necessary work to hold
the blind lead (though indeed he thought such a thing hardly possible),
and forthwith he started home with all speed. He would have reached
Esmeralda in time, but his horse broke down and he had to walk a great
part of the distance. And so it happened that as he came into Esmeralda
by one road, I entered it by another. His was the superior energy,
however, for he went straight to the Wide West, instead of turning aside
as I had done--and he arrived there about five or ten minutes too late!
The "notice" was already up, the "relocation" of our mine completed
beyond recall, and the crowd rapidly dispersing. He learned some facts
before he left the ground. The foreman had not been seen about the
streets since the night we had located the mine--a telegram had called
him to California on a matter of life and death, it was said. At any
rate he had done no work and the watchful eyes of the community were
taking note of the fact. At midnight of this woful tenth day, the ledge
would be "relocatable," and by eleven o'clock the hill was black with men
prepared to do the relocating. That was the crowd I had seen when I
fancied a new "strike" had been made--idiot that I was.
[We three had the same right to relocate the lead that other people had,
provided we were quick enough.] As midnight was announced, fourteen men,
duly armed and ready to back their proceedings, put up their "notice" and
proclaimed their ownership of the blind lead, under the new name of the
"Johnson." But A. D. Allen our partner (the foreman) put in a sudden
appearance about that time, with a cocked revolver in his hand, and said
his name must be added to the list, or he would "thin out the Johnson
company some." He was a manly, splendid, determined fellow, and known to
be as good as his word, and therefore a compromise was effected. They
put in his name for a hundred feet, reserving to themselves the customary
two hundred feet each. Such was the history of the night's events, as
Higbie gathered from a friend on the way home.
Higbie and I cleared out on a new mining excitement the next morning,
glad to get away from the scene of our sufferings, and after a month or
two of hardship and disappointment, returned to Esmeralda once more.
Then we learned that the Wide West and the Johnson companies had
consolidated; that the stock, thus united, comprised five thousand feet,
or shares; that the foreman, apprehending tiresome litigation, and
considering such a huge concern unwieldy, had sold his hundred feet for
ninety thousand dollars in gold and gone home to the States to enjoy it.
If the stock was worth such a gallant figure, with five thousand shares
in the corporation, it makes me dizzy to think what it would have been
worth with only our original six hundred in it. It was the difference
between six hundred men owning a house and five thousand owning it. We
would have been millionaires if we had only worked with pick and spade
one little day on our property and so secured our ownership!
It reads like a wild fancy sketch, but the evidence of many witnesses,
and likewise that of the official records of Esmeralda District, is
easily obtainable in proof that it is a true history. I can always have
it to say that I was absolutely and unquestionably worth a million
dollars, once, for ten days.
A year ago my esteemed and in every way estimable old millionaire
partner, Higbie, wrote me from an obscure little mining camp in
California that after nine or ten years of buffetings and hard striving,
he was at last in a position where he could command twenty-five hundred
dollars, and said he meant to go into the fruit business in a modest way.
How such a thought would have insulted him the night we lay in our cabin
planning European trips and brown stone houses on Russian Hill!
What to do next?
It was a momentous question. I had gone out into the world to shift for
myself, at the age of thirteen (for my father had endorsed for friends;
and although he left us a sumptuous legacy of pride in his fine Virginian
stock and its national distinction, I presently found that I could not
live on that alone without occasional bread to wash it down with). I had
gained a livelihood in various vocations, but had not dazzled anybody
with my successes; still the list was before me, and the amplest liberty
in the matter of choosing, provided I wanted to work--which I did not,
after being so wealthy. I had once been a grocery clerk, for one day,
but had consumed so much sugar in that time that I was relieved from
further duty by the proprietor; said he wanted me outside, so that he
could have my custom. I had studied law an entire week, and then given
it up because it was so prosy and tiresome. I had engaged briefly in the
study of blacksmithing, but wasted so much time trying to fix the bellows
so that it would blow itself, that the master turned me adrift in
disgrace, and told me I would come to no good. I had been a bookseller's
clerk for awhile, but the customers bothered me so much I could not read
with any comfort, and so the proprietor gave me a furlough and forgot to
put a limit to it. I had clerked in a drug store part of a summer, but
my prescriptions were unlucky, and we appeared to sell more stomach pumps
than soda water. So I had to go. I had made of myself a tolerable
printer, under the impression that I would be another Franklin some day,
but somehow had missed the connection thus far. There was no berth open
in the Esmeralda Union, and besides I had always been such a slow
compositor that I looked with envy upon the achievements of apprentices
of two years' standing; and when I took a "take," foremen were in the
habit of suggesting that it would be wanted "some time during the year."
I was a good average St. Louis and New Orleans pilot and by no means
ashamed of my abilities in that line; wages were two hundred and fifty
dollars a month and no board to pay, and I did long to stand behind a
wheel again and never roam any more--but I had been making such an ass of
myself lately in grandiloquent letters home about my blind lead and my
European excursion that I did what many and many a poor disappointed
miner had done before; said "It is all over with me now, and I will never
go back home to be pitied--and snubbed." I had been a private secretary,
a silver miner and a silver mill operative, and amounted to less than
nothing in each, and now--
What to do next?
I yielded to Higbie's appeals and consented to try the mining once more.
We climbed far up on the mountain side and went to work on a little
rubbishy claim of ours that had a shaft on it eight feet deep. Higbie
descended into it and worked bravely with his pick till he had loosened
up a deal of rock and dirt and then I went down with a long-handled
shovel (the most awkward invention yet contrived by man) to throw it out.
You must brace the shovel forward with the side of your knee till it is
full, and then, with a skilful toss, throw it backward over your left
shoulder. I made the toss, and landed the mess just on the edge of the
shaft and it all came back on my head and down the back of my neck.
I never said a word, but climbed out and walked home. I inwardly
resolved that I would starve before I would make a target of myself and
shoot rubbish at it with a long-handled shovel.
I sat down, in the cabin, and gave myself up to solid misery--so to
speak. Now in pleasanter days I had amused myself with writing letters
to the chief paper of the Territory, the Virginia Daily Territorial
Enterprise, and had always been surprised when they appeared in print.
My good opinion of the editors had steadily declined; for it seemed to me
that they might have found something better to fill up with than my
literature. I had found a letter in the post office as I came home from
the hill side, and finally I opened it. Eureka! [I never did know what
Eureka meant, but it seems to be as proper a word to heave in as any when
no other that sounds pretty offers.] It was a deliberate offer to me of
Twenty-Five Dollars a week to come up to Virginia and be city editor of
I would have challenged the publisher in the "blind lead" days--I wanted
to fall down and worship him, now. Twenty-Five Dollars a week--it looked
like bloated luxury--a fortune a sinful and lavish waste of money.
But my transports cooled when I thought of my inexperience and consequent
unfitness for the position--and straightway, on top of this, my long
array of failures rose up before me. Yet if I refused this place I must
presently become dependent upon somebody for my bread, a thing
necessarily distasteful to a man who had never experienced such a
humiliation since he was thirteen years old. Not much to be proud of,
since it is so common--but then it was all I had to be proud of. So I
was scared into being a city editor. I would have declined, otherwise.
Necessity is the mother of "taking chances." I do not doubt that if, at
that time, I had been offered a salary to translate the Talmud from the
original Hebrew, I would have accepted--albeit with diffidence and some
misgivings--and thrown as much variety into it as I could for the money.
I went up to Virginia and entered upon my new vocation. I was a rusty
looking city editor, I am free to confess--coatless, slouch hat, blue
woolen shirt, pantaloons stuffed into boot-tops, whiskered half down to
the waist, and the universal navy revolver slung to my belt. But I
secured a more Christian costume and discarded the revolver.
I had never had occasion to kill anybody, nor ever felt a desire to do
so, but had worn the thing in deference to popular sentiment, and in
order that I might not, by its absence, be offensively conspicuous, and a
subject of remark. But the other editors, and all the printers, carried
revolvers. I asked the chief editor and proprietor (Mr. Goodman, I will
call him, since it describes him as well as any name could do) for some
instructions with regard to my duties, and he told me to go all over town
and ask all sorts of people all sorts of questions, make notes of the
information gained, and write them out for publication. And he added:
"Never say 'We learn' so-and-so, or 'It is reported,' or 'It is rumored,'
or 'We understand' so-and-so, but go to headquarters and get the absolute
facts, and then speak out and say 'It is so-and-so.' Otherwise, people
will not put confidence in your news. Unassailable certainly is the
thing that gives a newspaper the firmest and most valuable reputation."
It was the whole thing in a nut-shell; and to this day when I find a
reporter commencing his article with "We understand," I gather a
suspicion that he has not taken as much pains to inform himself as he
ought to have done. I moralize well, but I did not always practise well
when I was a city editor; I let fancy get the upper hand of fact too
often when there was a dearth of news. I can never forget my first day's
experience as a reporter. I wandered about town questioning everybody,
boring everybody, and finding out that nobody knew anything. At the end
of five hours my notebook was still barren. I spoke to Mr. Goodman. He
"Dan used to make a good thing out of the hay wagons in a dry time when
there were no fires or inquests. Are there no hay wagons in from the
Truckee? If there are, you might speak of the renewed activity and all
that sort of thing, in the hay business, you know.
"It isn't sensational or exciting, but it fills up and looks business
I canvassed the city again and found one wretched old hay truck dragging
in from the country. But I made affluent use of it. I multiplied it by
sixteen, brought it into town from sixteen different directions, made
sixteen separate items out of it, and got up such another sweat about hay
as Virginia City had never seen in the world before.
This was encouraging. Two nonpareil columns had to be filled, and I was
getting along. Presently, when things began to look dismal again, a
desperado killed a man in a saloon and joy returned once more. I never
was so glad over any mere trifle before in my life. I said to the
"Sir, you are a stranger to me, but you have done me a kindness this day
which I can never forget. If whole years of gratitude can be to you any
slight compensation, they shall be yours. I was in trouble and you have
relieved me nobly and at a time when all seemed dark and drear. Count me
your friend from this time forth, for I am not a man to forget a favor."
If I did not really say that to him I at least felt a sort of itching
desire to do it. I wrote up the murder with a hungry attention to
details, and when it was finished experienced but one regret--namely,
that they had not hanged my benefactor on the spot, so that I could work
him up too.
Next I discovered some emigrant wagons going into camp on the plaza and
found that they had lately come through the hostile Indian country and
had fared rather roughly. I made the best of the item that the
circumstances permitted, and felt that if I were not confined within
rigid limits by the presence of the reporters of the other papers I could
add particulars that would make the article much more interesting.
However, I found one wagon that was going on to California, and made some
judicious inquiries of the proprietor. When I learned, through his short
and surly answers to my cross-questioning, that he was certainly going on
and would not be in the city next day to make trouble, I got ahead of the
other papers, for I took down his list of names and added his party to
the killed and wounded. Having more scope here, I put this wagon through
an Indian fight that to this day has no parallel in history.
My two columns were filled. When I read them over in the morning I felt
that I had found my legitimate occupation at last. I reasoned within
myself that news, and stirring news, too, was what a paper needed, and I
felt that I was peculiarly endowed with the ability to furnish it.
Mr. Goodman said that I was as good a reporter as Dan. I desired no
higher commendation. With encouragement like that, I felt that I could
take my pen and murder all the immigrants on the plains if need be and
the interests of the paper demanded it.
However, as I grew better acquainted with the business and learned the
run of the sources of information I ceased to require the aid of fancy to
any large extent, and became able to fill my columns without diverging
noticeably from the domain of fact.
I struck up friendships with the reporters of the other journals, and we
swapped "regulars" with each other and thus economized work. "Regulars"
are permanent sources of news, like courts, bullion returns, "clean-ups"
at the quartz mills, and inquests. Inasmuch as everybody went armed, we
had an inquest about every day, and so this department was naturally set
down among the "regulars." We had lively papers in those days. My great
competitor among the reporters was Boggs of the Union. He was an
excellent reporter. Once in three or four months he would get a little
intoxicated, but as a general thing he was a wary and cautious drinker
although always ready to tamper a little with the enemy. He had the
advantage of me in one thing; he could get the monthly public school
report and I could not, because the principal hated the Enterprise.
One snowy night when the report was due, I started out sadly wondering
how I was going to get it. Presently, a few steps up the almost deserted
street I stumbled on Boggs and asked him where he was going.
"After the school report."
"I'll go along with you."
"No, sir. I'll excuse you."
"Just as you say."
A saloon-keeper's boy passed by with a steaming pitcher of hot punch, and
Boggs snuffed the fragrance gratefully. He gazed fondly after the boy
and saw him start up the Enterprise stairs. I said:
"I wish you could help me get that school business, but since you can't,
I must run up to the Union office and see if I can get them to let me